When Populism and Socialism Marry
Mainstream media headlines are sensationalizing a round-up in Germany of alleged "far-right" conspirators determined to overthrow the Federal Republic of Germany. Such extremists doubtless exist, but parallels of the arrests — and of the neo-liberal American media's reporting about them — with rising claims of "far-right extremism" in the United States are worthy of study.
Increasingly, American mainstream media clamor against "Christian Nationalism," "right-wing extremism," and so-called threats to democracy by those (on the right only) who question election or voter integrity, the science of COVID vaccinations, Critical Race Theory, gender theory in schools, or the existence of a "Great Reset." Per the leftist mantra, these ideas demand militant campaigns to silence "disinformation." Free speech must not be permitted to include erstwhile protected expressions of opinion or political views if they are labeled "hate speech" or dangerous.
The parallels in American reporting about Germany's recent arrests are similar to histrionic claims that January 6 displayed a 911-like attack on American democracy. According to the ubiquitous (and lockstep) MSM reports, 25 people were detained, on "suspicion of 'membership in a terrorist organization,'" from a group of "an estimated 50 people" called Reich Citizens Movement, who "follow a conglomerate of conspiracy myths consisting of narratives of the so-called Reichsbürger as well as QAnon ideology."
The idea of Germany being overtaken by a Reich monarchy of 50 fringe nationalists is a tad difficult to imagine.
The German prosecutor's office said in a statement ... there was "the suspicion that individual members of the association have made concrete preparations to forcibly invade" the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, "with a small armed group." ... "The details are yet to be worked out," it added.
American law would require more than mere "suspicion" — people are allowed to hold fringe ideas. Yet American media outlets have pounced on this story like a California wildfire, with headlines that echo the rising fear-mongering against conservatives in the U.S., such as "Searching for an emperor and fascinated by guns." Comments reference Trump, the Rule of Law, and parallels between this tiny group of arrestees and Americans.
These Germans believed in a "deep state" controlling their nation, included many military veterans, and challenged the COVID narrative. NBC reports:
Reichsbürger activists and members of other closely-related groups commonly take part in protests against Covid-19 restrictions. The pandemic was a rallying cause for far-right actors across Europe, adding to baseless accusations of a wider government plot to control citizens.
The article links ("far-right extremist plot") to an NBC article from 2021 titled "Far right spies an opportunity in Europe's new wave of Covid pain and protest," the crux of the "plot" being this:
"He has politically mobilized against the Covid-19 vaccines," said Katharina T. Paul, an expert on vaccine hesitancy at the University of Vienna. "He has disseminated misinformation, to put it mildly."
"I think he and the Freedom Party play a significant role in the mobilization of the politicalization of the vaccine," she added. "What's particular about Austria, especially recently, is the relationship between populism on the one hand and vaccine hesitancy on the other."
QAnon, veterans, guns, misinformation, fears of a global cabal, and opposition to COVID — sounds familiar. So too does the language of "populism."
In his 2005 book Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred, historian John Lukacs chronicles the devolution of modern democracies into populist derogation of critical thought in favor of media-informed publicity. Regarded as one of the foremost experts on Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, Lukacs writes:
After the war Hitler, who suddenly chose to become a politician in 1919, recognized that nationalism and socialism coils and must be married, with the emphasis on the first. ... It is a great mistake to think that Hitler made (or was compelled to make) compromises with capitalism, that he was not a "real" socialist. ... Mussolini, Hitler, Peron, Stalin: all of them nationalist socialists, with the emphasis on the first word. In 1870 and even decades later it seemed impossible that nationalism and socialism would ever be allied. Yet — considering the ubiquity of the welfare state — we are, at least in one sense, all national socialists now (pp. 39, 40–41).
Nazism wore the pretense of socialism but was at root nationalistic and populist. Lukacs cautions that the abandonment of democratic principles and intelligent participation threatened to usher in another future Hitler, seeded by irresponsible journalism:
"Opinion governs the world[.]" ... In the democratic age we are confronted with another enormous dimension of this reality: because the accumulation of opinions can be manufactured and even falsified through the machinery of publicity, at times even against contrary appearances. ... That opinions can be molded, formed, falsified, inflated has always been true. But it is the accumulation of opinions that governs the history of states and of nations and of democracies as well as dictatorships in the age of popular sovereignty. It is the main ingredient of nationalisms, the cause of wars, and of the majority support of fanatical speakers like Hitler, or of the less enthusiastic majoritarian support of less than mediocre presidents. (p. 45, 46).
From Hunter Biden's laptop to the Steele Dossier to "Don't Say Gay" to "MAGA Republicans are a threat to democracy," the mainstream media are actively molding public opinion around a false narrative that paints all conservative Americans as far-right extremists bent on destroying the nation. (Despite "contrary appearances" that Democrats seek to eliminate free speech and free worship, the Second Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Electoral College, and whatever they label as "disinformation" or hate speech.")
The lesson of history teaches that fascism has more often risen from the far left, twinned with populist anger and fear. Whatever the evidence may be of far-right conspiracies in Germany, the narrative being shaped against conservative and Christian Americans is disturbing. It is being carefully crafted ideologically to use media to shape public opinion, to dehumanize neighbors and family members for possessing (or rejecting) certain ideas. It would seem that even the German arrests are being highlighted as bait for American fears of conservatives in general — on suspicion, without any overt acts aside from holding contrary opinions.
It is populist publicity to demonize whole swaths of fellow countrymen. It is a bad idea, and it threatens not just conservatives, but the entire nation.
Image via Max Pixel.