So I finally got around to Dave Neiwert’s response to my response to his review. Or at least I think I have. It’s hard to make heads or tails of the mess over there. He seems to have become something of a leftwing remora attaching himself to my whale of a book. (Prediction! He calls me fascist for referring to him as a parasite!).
Here’s my grand theory about this guy. He’s made his career hyping the terrible threat from the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations and American Nazi Party and so like the bureaucrats in Office Space who think TPS reports are the most important thing in the world, he can’t seem to grasp that they’re pretty trivial.
In other words, he came to his understanding of fascism by following bands of racist white losers in the Idaho woods while using some Marxist tract or other as a field guide to identify the various species he encountered. In other words, he’s internalized every cliché and propagandandistic talking point I set out to demolish in my book. Moreover, his career depends on maintaining his version of the fascist peril. So, he’s banging his spoon on his highchair a lot because my book undercuts his whole reason for being.
So let’s talk about his whole reason for being for a second.
In his original review he wrote:
What goes missing from Goldberg’s account of fascism is that, while he describes nearly every kind of liberal enterprise or ideology as representing American fascism, he wipes from the pages of history the fact that there have been fascists operating within the nation’s culture for the better part of the past century. Robert O. Paxton, in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, identifies the Ku Klux Klan as the first genuine fascist organization, a suggestion that Goldberg airily dismisses with the dumb explanation that the Klan of the 1920s disliked Mussolini and his adherents because they were Italian (somewhat true for a time but irrelevant in terms of their ideological affinities, which were substantial enough that by the 1930s, historians have noted, there were frequent operative associations between Klan leaders and European fascists).
Beyond the Klan, completely missing from the pages of Goldberg’s book is any mention of the Silver Shirts, the American Nazi Party, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, or the National Alliance — all of them openly fascist organizations, many of them involved in some of the nation’s most horrific historical events. (The Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, was the product of a blueprint drawn up by the National Alliance’s William Pierce.) Goldberg sees fit to declare people like Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and Hillary Clinton “American fascists,” but he makes no mention of William Dudley Pelley, Gerald L.K. Smith, George Lincoln Rockwell, William Potter Gale, Richard Butler, or David Duke — all of them bona fide fascists: the real thing.
This is a telling omission, because the continuing existence of these groups makes clear what an absurd and nakedly self-serving thing Goldberg’s alternate version of reality is. Why dream up fascists on the left when the reality is that real American fascists have been lurking in the right’s closet for lo these many years? Well, maybe because it’s a handy way of getting everyone to forget that fact.
In his follow up, he goes on to repeat all of this, all the while complaining how I ignored it all the first time. I ignored it because I thought it was unworthy of much of a response beyond the other things I said. I still basically feel that way.
But he feels differently. So, you want my short answer to why I don’t discuss, say, the Posse Comitatus? Okay here it is: Who gives a rat’s ass about the Posse Comitatus?
I’m sure Neirwert’s gorillas-in-the-mist reportage on these guys is top notch, and I’ll take his word for it their bad guys. But being bad guys alone doesn’t in and of itself make them fascists. Indeed, from my limited understanding of what these guys believe, they are radical localists , who don’t believe any government above the county level is legitimate. Do I really have to spell out why that’s not exactly in keeping with hyper-statist ideology of Nazis and Italian Fascists? “Everything in Hazard County, nothing outside Hazard County,” has a nice ring to it, but the Hegelian God-State it is not.
As for the Klan, I discuss it quite a bit. He simply shrugs off that discussion so he can get back to his own little dog and pony show. I don’t dispute that the Klan is bad, that it had ties to the Nazis in the 1930s, or any of that. It’s just not an important part of the story I have to tell. However, two points are worth making about the Klan. The first is, they’re a joke. An evil joke to be sure, and they should be prosecuted for their crimes as aggressively as possible when the evidence warrants it. But they’re essentially a nostalgic cargo cult. If you want to call them fascist, at the end of the day that’s fine with me, particularly if you define fascism the way Neiwert does. Like neo-Nazi skinheads, the Klan play a game of make-believe. Indeed, as I note, the Second Klan has its start as a basically a fanboy craze for Birth of A Nation – a film admired and promoted by none other than Woodrow Wilson (he actually screened it for congressmen and Supreme Court justices in the White House). To say that today’s Klan is even close to as serious as the Klan of the 1920s and 1930s, strains credulity.
Second, the threat from the Klan isn’t existential or even severe. I’m sure they want to do bad things and the government should try its best to prevent those things from happening. But, come on, fascism ain’t coming to America in pillowcase with eye holes cut out. I mean really. If fascism comes to America it will be in a form that large numbers of Americans see as popular and progressive. The Klan will never be that. Leftwingers who think so need to get over their nostalgic ego trips.
Oh, and for the record, Neiwert continues to distort what is and isn’t in my book. For example, I do mention George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party. Specifically I mention where Rockwell was invited to speak at the Nation of Islam National Convention in 1962 where he praised Elijah Muhammed as the black Adolf Hitler. I also mention how Malcolm X was dispatched to meet with the KKK to negotiate support for a separate black state.
As for the others in Neiwert’s seemingly impressive list of omissions, I don’t mention them, largely because it’s not necessary, but for a different reason than the one that left the Posse Comitatus on the cutting room floor. Take Gerald L.K. Smith. Well, Smith was one of the populist radicals affiliated with both Father Charles Coughlin and Huey Long, two figures I deal with at some length. Smith was essentially the Ed MacMahon to Long’s Johnny Carson. He was also a peripatetic populist prophet evangelizing for Huey Long’s “Share our Wealth Program” (which hardly appears on the to-do list of The Club For Growth or Americans for Tax Reform). When Long died, he joined forces with Coughlin. I deal with both Long and Coughlin – far more important figures than Smith – by correctly placing them on the political left. I’ll post some passages about Coughlin in a subsequent post.
Yes, Smith was anti-Semitic, so was Coughlin. Coughlin was even avowedly pro-Fascist at the end of his career. But the important point is that Coughlin was a man of the left. Until he broke with FDR, he was defended by the liberal-left in the Congress and in the press. When he broke with FDR, he did so largely because FDR’s economic program wasn’t radically leftwing enough. In 1936, Smith was Coughlin’s stand-in for President. I agree entirely that Gerald L.K. Smith was a vile and grotesque figure but he was at best a footnote to the more important and revealing story of Coughlin and Long. I think it would be interesting to trace Smith’s roots in the Social Gospel and populist-progressives. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were deep.
All this points to the source of large swaths of Neiwert’s confusion. Anti-Semitism and racism are bad. And frankly, I don’t much need leftwingers to tell me that. But insisting that they are inherently rightwing and fascistic doesn’t make it so. Here are a bunch of questions that should flummox Neiwert.
Stalin was an anti-Semite, was he not a leftwinger? Mussolini wasn’t an anti-Semite, was he therefore not a rightwinger? Karl Marx was an anti-Semite – was he left or right? Wilhelm Marr, the anti-Semite who made up the word “anti-Semite” to give some pseudo-scientific-sounding, progressive oomph to Jew hatred was a leftwinger. I could quite literally do this all day. But instead here’s a bonus question. I’m thinking of a military leader who seized power in his country by stirring up populist rage against foreigners and foreign powers and promising a sweeping program of national-socialism. He claims that he is the true expression of the will of his people and is using every trick to make himself dictator for life. He is currently harassing the Jewish population, a quarter of which has already fled the country.
Give up? The answer is Hugo Chavez, world famous Buckleyite Conservative and devotee of Milton Friedman.
Neiwert makes the same predictable mistakes when it comes to economics. He repeats the leftwing myths about how the Nazis rose to power on the backs of big business and all that. I demolish those myths in the book. But don’t take it from me, the definitive scholarship on this is Henry Ashby Turner’s German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler.
He also revisits, like a dog returning to his vomit, this idiocy about Bush grandfather funding Hitler. It’s really a tiresome topic. But let’s assume for two seconds it’s true. The most common criticism I get from the left is that I’m playing guilt-by-association. The New Republic crowd liked Fascism and therefore I’m supposedly insinuating that today’s New Republic crowd does too. I take great pains not to make that argument in the book. Still, if that were a legitimate line of criticism of me, surely it also applies to all of these lefties tittering about how Bush’s grandfather was pro-Nazi. It’s all the more frustrating because the charge against Prescott Bush is so flimsy while the charge against, say, Joseph Kennedy – Daddy to JFK, RFK and Teddy – is ironclad. Joe was outright pro-Nazi. But, as we’ve seen, these sorts of arguments are always fair when pointed rightward and always silly when aimed leftward.
In short, Neiwert and his crowd want to own the right to use the word fascist as a cudgel against forces he doesn’t like. And any attempt to wrest away their well-worn weapon will be greeted by every other weapon in their arsenal. It’s not pretty but it is predictable.
After today, I doubt I will deal with Neiwert again — at least not at any length — for one simple reason. Virtually every rebuttal to what he’s said about my book can be found in my book. He simply doesn’t care what I say, he only cares about discrediting me at all costs. There’s no percentage in debating such people.