Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR) held an event Monday night at Morning Star Baptist Church where Joan Braune, a philosophy professor at Gonzaga University, explained how the alt-right is ideologically fascist, what fascism is, how it exists among hate groups and what communities can do to combat it.
The term alt-right is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as a right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism.
The Rev. Walter Kendricks, pastor at the church, provided some background on SCAR before introducing Braune saying that it started out of “a few people’s anger and disgust at the criminal justice system” and how the group has taken part in marches and protests.
The organization’s website states that its mission is to identify and address racial disparities through a variety of community efforts including education, advocacy, research, community engagement, impacting policy and “challenging existing organizations and structure.”
During her presentation, Braune, who was there as an expert and was not representing Gonzaga, discussed how the alt-right is ideologically fascist, what it means to be ideologically fascist and the uses of the word fascist.
“So the term fascism, even though some people think it’s irrelevant now or just an insult, there’s actually a very strong body of literature and study around fascism,” Braune said.
She added that there are three meanings to the word such as a government/state being fascist, an individual/group being fascist in its beliefs and a person/group behaving or speaking in a fascistic way.
“And the last meaning of fascism you will often hear, is you will hear people say fascist as sort of a moral condemnation of something,” Braune said.
Using a detention facility of immigrant children in Texas that requires these children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning as an example, Braune said, that people would call it fascist. However, she added that they do not mean that the prison guards are fascist, but rather that the guards are behaving in a way that is fascistic.
“It’s very difficult to define fascism…the reason why is that fascism is not actually a coherent belief system,” she said. “It has many different avenues of influence and draws from many different sources, but it’s inherently a justification for violence and for blaming the other.”
She added that it does not operate the same as religion and religious creed.
The core beliefs of fascism, Braune said, include people being naturally unequal, cult of violence where it is seen as a good in of itself, expectation around youth and recruitment of young people, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry and other beliefs.
With how the alt-right and fascists recruit, she said that it is not done by reason and fact, but rather through identity, meaning, a sense of belonging, pride and being an outlet for rage.
“If you’re an alienated, depressed teenager, a white male one in particular, and you are angry at the world, think about how seductive this ideology is,” Braune said. “So someone contacts you and says, ‘Guess what? You’re not lonely and sad because high school sucks or your parents are getting a divorce or you don’t want to go to college…no, actually you’re angry and sad because as a white man you are oppressed and so we’re gonna come and give you a sense of meaning and purpose in your life’.”
After being drawn into a movement like that, she said that it develops a sense of wanting to defend that sense of self. She added that an attack on the movement becomes an attack on that person’s identity, explaining why it is difficult to get people out of those kinds of movements.
One group she discussed during her presentation was Identity Evropa, a campus-based organization founded in 2016 that has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group. She described how they were founded, their activities and how they used Twitter to gain support.
In one tweet Braune showed, the group said they spent a day giving out free food and water in Spokane to “Americans neglected by our globalist ruling class.”
For those who do not know what the group is about, Braune said that this message would appear to be good. However, she added the term globalist is their code for Jews and by Americans they were referring to white people.
Close to the end of her presentation, Braune used historical examples to describe how Spokane has defeated fascism in the past. One example was from July 1938 when 700 people protested the speech of a leader of the Silver Legion of America, an American fascist organization that dissolved in 1941, with the charges against arrested protestors being dropped.
At the end, she explained that working against fascism requires direct aid to those in need, working for positive social change that addresses root causes of injustice, providing better explanations than fascists on poverty, injustice and violence and building alternative sources of community, meaning and identity through events, discussion groups and taking care of each other.
Along with that, she provided a list of false beliefs about opposing fascism, including talking about fascism always strengthens fascists, de-platforming violates freedom of speech, protesting is what fascists want and fascists should have a public hearing so they feel less persecuted. She added that the last one is a mistake because fascists “consider all press as good press to a certain degree.”
Braune concluded her presentation by saying they will defeat fascists again and that they have work to do.
A flier handed out to attendees included a list of hate groups and individuals with a presence in Spokane such as Pacific Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Identity Evropa and several others. It also encouraged people to look at SPLC’s “hate map” for additional organizations in Washington and Idaho.
The flier included actions people can take to combat fascism such as attending/organizing demonstrations, working with youth, sending messages through the media, educating themselves and their friends, networking with charities, engaging in “community-building against prejudice” through block parties and asking neighbors how they can support each other and stay safe, among other methods.
On top of all that, the flier provided a list of books, videos and organizations such as Shane Burley’s book “Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It,” Michael Kimmel’s book “Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into – And Out of – Violent Extremism,” the film “White Right: Meeting the Enemy,” as well as the organizations Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, Political Research Associates, One People’s Project and the website lifeafterhate.org where people can seek help in leaving hate groups.
There was a Q&A at the end of the event.
Afterward, Braune said that everyone, who is a person of good will, has the power to make a difference and make the alt-right less socially acceptable.