January 6th, 2021 was not a spontaneous event. It was the culmination of years put into meticulously perfecting the GOP propaganda machine, waging a political war against socially focused policy that would challenge our status quo of white supremacy and savage capital. The GOP’s path has been meticulously designed, shifting our Overton Window to the right enough that today’s “left” Democratic party would be considered conservative anywhere else in the world. In order to get a complete picture of where the GOP is at on its path to outright fascism, we must first analyze their strategy and evolution dating back to the assimilation of Christian sects into the right wing sphere.
America’s history of glorifying constant individual pursuit runs deep; in Poor Richard’s Almanac and other writing, Benjamin Franklin repeatedly referenced the idea that “a sleeping fox can’t catch chickens.” In other words, it was up to the individual to find fortune in the nascent country. Even some of the most foundational ideas behind our early protestant colonies were that we must sacrifice personal pleasure or luxuries in order to be successful, and American capitalist culture has run with that mentality to the extreme.
This individual centric rhetoric has remained prominent in all aspects of American culture, but within religion especially, as Protestant values seeped into the various Christian offshoots that formed since the 16th century. Figures such as Charles Finney rose to prominence during the Second Great Awakening, preaching that the path to fulfillment was through personal responsibility and abstaining from excess by making ‘good’ choices for yourself. Notice how this lines up fairly well with modern day personal responsibility rhetoric that conservatives/libertarians love to cite, and begins to divorce people from a core Christian ideal of helping those in need (which is present in most every major religion). These ideas of self centered action were reinforced further as Finney practiced an emotional style that aimed to appease individuals within the small and tight knit religious circle. His goal was to appeal to his audience that they were in the moral right because they had faith (‘other’ sinners weren’t taking the right personal steps like them), and that it was up to us as individuals to draw out God’s favor and make a better life for ourselves.
The religious movement which arose as a result of Finney’s influence was Pentecostalism, led by Oral Roberts, emphasizing that the Holy Spirit is inside of everyone and needs to be brought out through physical participation in acts of faith. Beginning with large gatherings under mobile tents during the Great Depression era, millions of people were exposed to Roberts and other Pentecostalists as they promoted participation in acts of faith ranging from spontaneous healing to real time exorcisms. These scenes of borderline mass hysteria which generated powerful feelings of belonging to the individuals who experienced them were all taken as proof that they needed to have complete faith in God and amazing things would happen; after all they’d seen Roberts touch someone, scrunch up his face in serious focus as he shouted emotional appeals to God, then watch as the subject before him sprang up seemingly entirely healed of their ailment.
After these miracles Roberts’ employees would walk through the crowd gathering donations, and he quickly bridged the gap between faith and capitalism with his idea of ‘seed faith;’ giving a donation to the church would plant a “seed” that blossoms into individual wealth from God’s grace upon your generosity (obviously very appealing to disenfranchised groups or those struggling through a major economic depression). Roberts began cutting up his tents once services were finished to sell squares of the ‘holy canvas.’ His sermons began to include mentions of how great money was, even Jesus was rich, so individual wealth should be embraced (another diversion from core Christian tenets). Listening to a sermon and feeling like a holy experience was drawn from it either prompted people to donate, or made them feel pressured to as their peers around them dumped their cash into trays being passed around. As Roberts gained fame he transitioned to TV and radio, spreading this idea of seed faith to millions.
This idea of seed faith is so important because it brought concepts of American individualism, personal responsibility, religious faith together and married them into our capitalist culture. It was a down payment that promised future prosperity, and it gave poor communities who had no control over their lives hope that if they were faithful enough they would reap the rewards. Preachers and “megachurches” became increasingly wealthy as they would squeeze money out of every possible avenue, emphasizing the importance of seed size in correlation to outcome. Preachers began to sound more like businessmen than men of God as they made statements that claimed if their audience didn’t like money, then this wasn’t the church for them. Men such as Roberts blasted across the emerging mass media, telling their audience that a seed donation of $1000 would become life changing in a short time. Especially with the rise of psychological ties into faith (self help culture), individualistic, self reliant capitalism became one with American Christianity.
Following passage of the Civil Rights Act, GOP analyst Kevin Phillips recognized that to steal a large swath of voters from Democrats conservatives could lean fully into racism and culture war narratives. He was so bold as to predict an era of mass Republican prosperity into the turn of the century if this strategy was followed. Phillips saw that after the Civil Rights movement many immigrant communities we now think of as ‘white’ (such as his Irish borough in New York), began displaying the same hAtred for the ‘new’ immigrant class of black folks and other POC that traditional Anglo Saxon Americans had shown towards Irish, Italian, Polish, and other groups of Eastern Europeans during the early 20th century. The GOP gave this style of grievance politics a trial run during the 1966 midterm elections, appealing to groups such as Irish immigrants who were now in the ‘white club,’ blaming their struggles in savage capitalism upon the ‘others.’ Needless to say this was a success as the GOP gained 47 House seats and districts such as Bakersfield, CA went red for the first time in their history. The playbook for winning votes by appealing to underlying racism was set; Phillips even stated that conservatives shouldn’t try to repeal or weaken the Voting Rights Act since they were only going to get 10-20% of the black vote anyways, so their path to victory would be letting more POC register as Democrats in the south while the Republicans sat back and watched racist whites run to the GOP.
Side note, Phillips had recognized by the late 60’s that liberals fully abandoned the people in favor of the establishment and rich donors within the Democratic Party. He saw that Democrats profiting off of perpetual poverty and Wall Street would be a catalyst for new identity based GOP rhetoric to sway over disillusioned voters by giving them enemies in the Democratic Party to blame. Black folks and other POC, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.
The 1968 Nixon campaign fully adopted this new playbook and in many ways his ‘southern strategy’ marked the birth of identity politics that would escalate throughout the rest of the century and reach a crescendo in the modern era. Adopting tropes that ‘real Americans’ looked and acted differently than the elitist Democrats and POC, the southern strategy was extremely effective. At the same time Republicans realized that to get fundamentalist groups buying into a free market and limited government, the party needed some kind of bridge between moral and economic life since many religious sects considered the gross excess and consumerism that American capitalism promotes as sinful. Thus the GOP manipulated their rhetoric to reinforce a moral superiority among Evangelical voters by labelling the ‘others’ as evil, Godless sinners beyond redemption.
Reagan may perhaps be a conservative Jesus because he was able to fully solidify the connection between the new style nationalism founded during the late 60’s, neoliberal capitalism, and religious seed faith; creating the basis for modern day GOP values and rhetoric. Success within America’s capitalism demands penance, as its economy is some sort of God like force within neoliberal thought. The harder you work, the stronger your faith and loyalty is, the more reward that you will reap within this new system of Reaganomics. These ideals were further emphasized during and after the Cold War as rugged individualism and earning your own keep was seen as American, while sharing resources and collective governing was what dirty commies did. If our capitalist system seems unstable, it’s because the individual wasn’t flexible enough or adherent in their faith to it. What, you don’t want to work a 2 AM graveyard shift? Then your poverty is on you because you didn’t take the opportunity that was available (and probably had a sinful lifestyle). The economic inequality wasn’t becoming exponentially wider from rampant deregulation and capitalist greed, it was your inability to adapt to the all mighty market.
This type of neoliberal thought has seeped into religion through the same direct appeals that if you’re struggling, it must be because you haven’t donated enough seeds or been adherent enough to your faith. This has led to the sanctification of the market, wherein followers of conservative and Christian ideology worship the idea of the individual absorbing responsibility of making their dreams come true. When a belief system is based on proving itself through results that each individual experiences, it not only shifts the rewards of success to be exclusively personal, but also applies the burden of failure onto the individual.
For every story of miraculous success from what people would attribute to a seed of faith, there are twice as many preachers or megachurches that have grifted their partitioners out of the last spare change they have. Besides, personal success from the prosperity gospel was most likely actually due to an encouragement that initiated one to get their life in order, network and create new opportunities that will uplift them, and finding community within a religious setting can provide all of the above. Or maybe it’s all Jesus, who knows. While megachurch pastors fly in G6s above their followers who may have just lost their car, they coyly smile and say that God intended them to have this jet so they can spread His gospel worldwide. Conveniently their income is all tax free too, and any tiny portion of the millions that would go to help the lower class gets kept within their greedy paws. Weren’t Christians supposed to be about helping the poor, not taking their last few cents?
Similar to how your religious faith is guided by a determination of worth in the eyes of some invisible force, we are forced to accept an invisible hand in the market that determines what the best outcome is, and this has been the insidious creep of neoliberal thought. If we are poor it isn’t because of an economic structure that is meant to only empower a select few, it must be due to a lack of work ethic or personal responsibility. In this vein we have let entities like Wall Street consolidate power to reign over our financial and professional lives, and the mysticism of free markets led to the first conservative Democrat in Clinton who gutted welfare and pushed massive deregulation through actions like the repeal of Glass-Steagall. Both of our political parties have successfully convinced millions to buy into the same kinds of hollow promises that wealth gospel preachers and megachurches do; a one sided bargain that provides opportunity for the corporations at the cost of their employees and consumers. This is the evil of zero sum thought at work.
We saw this connection come full circle when in the early 2000’s many religious leaders were paid by Wall Street loan officers to have a chance to meet with their constituents, with pastors encouraging their audience to meet the officer so God could help ‘guide them to a new home.’ Unwitting worshipers, especially people of color and poor communities, were led into the arms of predatory lenders that would give them loans with massive interest, label them as subprime, and lump them in with similar default risks in massive Collaterized Debt Obligations. A major component that would spiral into the Great Recession and collapse of 2008, causing these same families to lose everything sold to them by religious leaders they trusted most.
People search for gospels that will direct their lifestyle and identity, even if they lead them to fall back on their own responsibility for creating success, because we have such a lack of control in our lives. With how much inequality and disenfranchisement runs through America, we see our personal behaviors as the only thing we can change and unfortunately we internalize the evils of our capitalist system as something that we are doing wrong. Unfortunately, millions of Americans being destitute and unable to pay rent or have $400 on hand for an emergency is part of the system, not a flaw. Thus when a cause is presented that its leader claims will bring us great wealth if we just follow in their footsteps and dedicate our life to it, we gladly agree because we see no other options to get out of the hole the establishment has dug the working class into. Correspondingly this also becomes the one and only way to live and find fulfillment, as people will reject anything that they don’t view as bringing them potential prosperity. Figures like Trump, Manafort, Bannon, or Stone are grifting off of the same type of rabid faith that Oral Roberts did, as are movements like Christian nationalism and other far right ideologies that preach one specific lifestyle as the only ‘good’ existence, fighting against the evil ‘others.’
Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America’ took the connections Reagan had been able to solidify between the right and Evangelicals then cemented them even stronger. He used vague and reactionary stances to launch emotional attacks against GOP opponents, putting his own flair on the style of conservative politics that began under Nixon (it also became a precursor for the ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric that Trump was able to use as a false populist promise). The right was now fighting for the ‘soul’ of America from their perspective; the fabric of our very being depended on adhering to one specific set of ideologies that was the only correct way of living and governing. If you were gay that means you hated God, and if you were pushing for civil rights you were going to tear the all important back bone of America out the, white, Christian, nuclear family! This is around the time when supporting blue collar and working class people became a dog whistle for needing to protect white folks and their ‘culture,’ since a core majority of the GOP base was, and is still, middle to low class white citizens.
Chris Hedges provides fantastic analysis about how mega pastors are the exact same as Trump (according to Hedges with slightly more deviant sexual preferences lol), and how the Christian Right isn’t really Christian; they are zealots being preyed upon by pastors who leverage their suffering into hatred and fervor against the “other” that is causing their disenfranchisement. (When I say they aren’t really Christian I mean they are not Christian according to the values of the faith that communities globally follow; think of this comparison as analogous to the few Islam jihadists who justify terrorism with distorted religious beliefs, as have many other religious based movements in the past. I.e. Nazis and others which we will get to). The irony is that in directing attention away from the root of almost all disenfranchisement in America, savage capitalist pursuit, right wing religious leaders and politicians are able to maintain a strict status quo by dividing the working class against itself. They have been able to detach their audience so far from reality that every issue becomes a result of the evil left, Antifa, and occultist Democrats.
A big part of the reason that Christian faith was able to be manipulated so heavily in this country is that the left failed to organize within these spaces as they became less culturally relevant, leaving these lost souls looking for solace from their real life struggles to the wolves. Hannah Arendt noted that fascists must craft a dream world for their following to exist within because they inherently can’t cope with reality. Whether that be due to crumbling infrastructure in their small towns, poverty wages for back breaking labor that they can’t support families on, or struggles with opioid addiction (that is ravaging the midwest especially), capital interests and those that work directly for them will direct the anger felt from that disenfranchisement towards specific others that become the enemy (Antifa, BLM, immigrants, Q’s beliefs of baby eating cultists, etc.). This is a big part of the reason fascist interests rely on victim complex appeals to their followers, and why conservatives always believe they are the ones being specifically hurt; maintaining the facade of fighting against a vague oppressor is necessary for the charade to continue. Within this world built up with half truths and outright lies to stoke racial tension and further divide the working class from organizing against the true threat, the establishment class, it becomes much easier for the average person to commit violence or say terrible things about people they know on some level aren’t actually evil.
We have to view these people following conservative leaders like Trump as clinging to a thread, because all they have left is their belief that they’ll be saved in a destructive rapture from earthly suffering. Their problems in the real world are factual, but they are caused from the rigors of capitalism, not the presented false solution that gives them zealous hope. (Hedges describes how almost all women among the radical Christian Right survived assault and other abuse, how workers were addicted to drugs and worn down, and they saw this escape into the fantasy of religious fervor as a way to be alleviated from real pain). This is exactly what Nazis did with German Christian churches. As a pillar of German society and tens of millions of members, Nazi propagandists were able to infect these institutions with their messaging and posit to Christian Germans that it was inherently part of the Christian faith to oppose the ‘evil Jewish influence’ that was creating disenfranchisement and struggling within the state (this began as early as the 1920’s, mind you).
Now look at Q-anon and the capitol riots, all driven by the same fervor. Look at how unions and workers rights have consistently been divided by racism sowed from elites, just like Bacon’s rebellion in the 17th century. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that almost every bigot is also a union buster, and also saw that policy such as the ‘right to work’ was disguised by the capital holding class as a Trojan horse to rob workers of civil and labor rights by destroying unions. Wherever you see white supremacy or emotional rhetoric railing against the ‘others,’ if you look past that at the person promoting it you will find a capital owner fearing that their ability to profit off of exploitation is being threatened. The ruling class will always use the same tactics of division to appeal to one group that they are somehow superior, and in that superiority they will take being worked to death, exploited, and used as cannon fodder as long as the ‘others’ have it worse off. The American right has presented an image of saviors with gleaming megachurches and a way to escape the harsh capitalist induced reality of a crumbling nation and mass disenfranchisement.
There is a reason that the right has also made attacks on education a primary focus. If you can erase history, gloss over or whitewash it enough for the group you’re trying to indoctrinate, you can manipulate their emotions and ideas to your will. They will cling to what you tell them they are because they have no historical context for how America has destroyed millions of lives and countless communities, they will only view the country and its top capitalist class as heroic saviors bringing peace and opportunity wherever they go. Hedges makes a fantastic comparison to Yugoslavia’s right wing rise in this regard, as Serbian nationalists insisted that ethnic division would be necessary and began implementing agendas within schools to portray specific ethnicities as superior. The CRT crusade from American conservatives is exactly like this. Figures that grift off of their audiences outrage and lack of understanding, like Robert Malone, Tucker Carlson, Jordan Peterson, or Candace Owens, prey on fears for their audience’s children and how they are being ‘indoctrinated’ in public schools. They scream about a liberal agenda to brainwash children while simultaneously promoting book burnings and bans on teaching evolution or ‘alternative history’ that describes the evils of what the American empire has done (to indigenous people, to black folks, to regions such as Latin America or the Middle East). It is all projection for what they truly want; a weak minded cult that won’t question how they’re being led down the exact same path as some of history’s greatest horrors.
In many ways the radicalism and anger we see out of modern right wing movements is a reaction to voters being frustrated that no matter how hard they work, how faithful they are in ‘the plan,’ their vision of America isn’t reality. They still live paycheck to paycheck and are struggling to feed their families, yet maintain the faith in Republican policies because it is so heavily tied in with their religious faith and lifestyle that they have nowhere else to turn. The problem with framing your existence as a constant battle against forces of evil is that one starts to reject even the slightest compromise or different point of view as a grand conspiracy attempt by the enemy to have their ideology win. You will view any concession of power (even through a lens of bipartisanship), as treason and come up with the most extreme possible reasons to deny change. For example, one of the most popular rallying cries for Gingrich and his fellow party members was to claim that they were all that stood between America and Auschwitz, with any social equality a step towards the ‘evil socialist’ Nazis or Soviets. They may have been correct by stating this, but not in the way they think.
With an emasculated left as the only other option within America’s duopoly, those who actually recognized the issues with our systems as class warfare waged by the establishment have been pushed into the open arms of corporatist Democrats. Think about how even Bernie, the furthest ‘left’ of mainstream politicians, was in the Senate with Biden and Clinton when they crafted the Omnibus Crime Bill, cementing our system of modern slavery. Bernie supporters who may have been part of the Occupy movement or were fighting for true systemic change have been forced to acquiesce with Biden as the slightly better of two options between an outright fascist or a corporate demagogue. Clinton destroyed our welfare system in which 70% of those benefiting were children, Maine just tried to expand welfare benefits and Democrats killed it, Biden and Obama have implemented just as many disastrous (if not more) imperialist policies as any other president and are on their knees for the defense industry. No one has been willing to fully reject the Democratic structure, not even Bernie. He didn’t go independent because he didn’t want to become a pariah like Ralph Nader. If you rebuke the Democratic establishment they and their corporate benefactors will do everything in their power to smear your name and make you a villain in the eyes of the people you fight for. This is because they can’t tolerate any threat to the status quo that leaves corporations able to generate trillions on the back of veritable slave labor in prisons, or poverty wages (the minimum wage hasn’t changed since 1991), or have any less excess than they lavish upon themselves while millions of workers suffer.
The Russiagate hoax proliferated by Clinton and the DNC following Trump’s election laid the ground for the stop the steal campaign and January 6th; without that precedent of denying our democratic results I don’t think we could have fallen that far down the fascist slide. We have such distorted perceptions of what the hell is actually going on because of the media and politicians pushing lies for the sake of corporate profit (think Manchin and corporate leaders using inflation as an excuse to not spend on welfare while those same corporations price gouge us to make record level profits). People don’t know what to believe and so they become apathetic and are easily swayed into radicalization because it seems plausible am one all the other lies being told. Alex jones can connect outrageous false causation with real events and people will believe it because there are too many other false narratives swirling around that are meant to protect the ruling class.
We need to focus on actual policy and not keep feeding into the identity outrage machine which fuels the growing fascist right and lets corporations sink their teeth further into the working class. American politics has become a cult ON BOTH SIDES in which people only want to hear or see what they agree with. It’s too hard to think about other points of view as it threatens people’s identity, the only thing we have to cling onto in a reality in which everything else is out of our control. We need policy to combat corporate greed and exploitation, standing up with conviction to people like Manchin or McConnell, who are just the fall guys for how the entire establishment wants legislation to look (that way someone like AOC can pretend to be for the people while donating to establishment candidates against progressive ones). Think about the last essay in which I called out the squad and Democratic inaction. We just get more stupid identity bullshit (like Biden saying he got into politics for black people while simultaneously crafting modern slavery and ignoring legislation that is disenfranchising them further, including raising police budgets) that allows Americans to suffer while corporations exploit them to the fullest extent (homeless amazon workers, Walmart having the most employees on welfare of any corporation, etc.).
When we demand our elected officials do the things they promise and achieve actual life saving policy, then maybe people will see why a fascist party isn’t a good option. But all the establishment with their 6 figure incomes is resting on their laurels happy that they’ve got theirs, fuck anyone else in our binary individualistic American culture (black folks only own 2% of the wealth in the country they’ve been forced to be in for 400 years). We ignore the real costs that America’s system takes on people like Leonard Peltier or the citizens of Flint, and when we only hear identity fueled outrage it pushes people further into their respective echo chambers. Fascism will continue to rise with its deep roots in conservative communities infecting their very pillars of life. If we want to generate true populist movement we must show Americans how they’ve been lied to their entire lives for the sake of weakening the working class against savage capitalism.
Thank you for reading, I know this was a long one. I hope that readers gained some valuable knowledge as to the roots of conservative radicalism and begin to see ways in which we can combat it. One that I believe would be effective is generating a movement around faith, taking religious ideals rather than abandoning them as the left has done in the past, and appealing to the idea that we all as Americans may look different or have varying lifestyles, but we all generally want the same things out of life.