“Of course American fascism would have a merchandising tie-in,” I found myself typing into the live stream comments as the camera panned over endless rows of MAGA merch tables at last week’s fascist insurrection. The stream went to a shot of a sea of kitted-out Trump supporters, and I thought about all of the things people must be making some sweet bank on: “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, guns, bullets, plus-size tactical vests, bear mace, and, of course, the ubiquitous American flags. It came as absolutely no surprise when I found out the next day that someone had set up a food stand at the fascist coup.
Sure, it’s funny in the way many American quirks are, but it’s also pretty tragic, in the way many American quirks are. The thing is, there have been a lot of people making bank during, and off of, the country’s long march towards last Wednesday. The chief fascist is a reality TV star and corrupt real estate developer. He’s a repeated failure as a businessman but a noted success as a profiteering conman. It’s pretty obvious that he became president for marketing reasons, and not due to an interest in governance or civil service. The last four years were one long horrifying advertisement for the Trump brand.
The receptive far-right audience he had at his disposal was the result of rich capitalists spending large amounts of money to promote those ideas. It’s the result of podcasters, radio hosts, “journalists,” and paid agitators willing to mainstream fascism for money. It’s the result of publishing houses that are willing to put out works legitimizing fascist thought (e.g. Jordan Peterson), because controversy sells and the personality cult established by some figures means guaranteed sales. It’s the result of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” using Koch Brothers money to normalize fascists and their ideas under the guise of free speech and intellectual curiosity.
Infowars sells t-shirts and lead-laced dick pills alongside fascist conspiracy theories and misinformation. Alex Jones’ brand of paranoid fascism also generates big business for those “buy gold now!” people, the makers of survivalist prep kits, the pseudo-science-based quack medicine industry, and a whole host of other grifters and snake-oil salesmen. Ever since a friend from university introduced me to Alex Jones around 2004 or so, I’ve wondered whether he believes the insanity he spews, or if he’s just a shrewd businessman and top-notch method actor all rolled into one amoral package. His own divorce lawyer argued that Jones is just a “performance artist” during a pre-trial hearing back in 2017. I’d say there’s mounting evidence for the former. What happened to that friend from university? He blocked me on Facebook sometime in mid-2020 because he was posting a storm of Q Anon content, and I accused him of spreading fascist propaganda.
Aside from overt fascists like Jones, there are also those sit on the periphery of the far-right and profit from the paranoid insanity under the guise of just being “free thinkers” who are “just asking questions.” I’m talking about people like Joe Rogan, who has made ridiculous amounts of money amplifying the voices of conspiracy theorists and the far-right while giving zero shits about his responsibilities as a broadcaster with a large audience. He even hosted Alex Jones back in October, when a perfect storm of political conspiracy theory and COVID conspiracy theory was laying waste to the United States; two things which are still happening months later. But of course, social responsibility is not an argument in America; being a pathological individualist because you feel you’re entitled to it is. “The show is Joe’s and Joe can platform and normalize fascists if he wants to” is what I’ve heard from his completely uncritical acolytes. The thing is, it’s working for him; Spotify reportedly paid $100 million for his podcast. Rogan has no incentive to put on his adult pants and accept criticism for his content when the capitalist system rewards him so richly for what he’s already doing, and an army of grunting fan-boys stands ready to defend his every action.
Financial incentives spur Candace Owens to attack civil rights activists, spread far-right propaganda, and generally downplay the dangers posed by fascism and white supremacy. Dave Rubin frequently does not understand the arguments he is trying to make. His show largely involves the repetition of right-wing talking points, making vague attacks against the “woke” left, and plugging whatever literary toilet paper his right-wing guests are there to plug. There’s no analysis happening; just propaganda and marketing. Rubin, a gay man, finds himself defending far-right figures on his show who would deny him his basic rights, and it’s all for a bank account. Tommy Sotomayor, a far-right “Men’s Rights Activist” he had on his show, did not know Rubin is gay at the time of their interview. Sotomayor spent his time on Rubin’s show attacking the LGBTQ community, and completely freaked out when someone later pointed out to him that he’d been interviewed by a gay man: ““I did not know! I was in his presence! I didn’t know! I shook his hand! Ahhhhhhhhh!” Yes, you can totally be a Goebbels for hire in the United States.
Then, there are the social media and tech companies who turn a profit hosting the content. I should start by saying that I am in favour of Trump’s banning from Twitter and other social media. I see this as an effective measure in the short-term to limit his ability to incite actual violence. However, this gesture is more self-interested damage control than a genuine concern for the health of American democracy. Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies have been perfectly fine profiting from his divisiveness up until now. According to research, people are more likely to engage with content if they are angry or scared. Facebook’s VP of Augmented and Virtual Reality, Andrew Bosworth, made the company’s goals and mentality pretty clear in a leaked 2016 memo, where he said that any growth on the platform is “de facto good,” even if people are harmed or killed as a result. Bosworth has also said that most political misinformation on the platform during the 2016 election campaign came from those with “no political interest whatsoever” creating fake headlines to draw people to sites that were just trying to sell them stuff. We should be happy that fascists have lost the platforms they’ve been using to spread bigotry and misinformation, or to incite violence, but should refrain from praising these companies for bailing out after they’ve already made their money. There needs to be a serious and complex discussion about public ownership/management of social media platforms once the immediate fascist threat has been (hopefully) dealt with. Allowing these to be run as for-profit enterprises has been significantly damaging to democracy.
These were just some examples that suggest a correlation between the resurgence of fascism and the workings of the capitalist system. There is so much more that goes beyond the scope of this rant. My point is that American fascism cannot be addressed without addressing American capitalism (and, well the totality of American history; yet another topic). I find it very troubling that the “profit above all else” nature of capitalism has allowed fascism to not just to enter the market, but to secure itself a legitimized position in the marketplace of ideas. Getting them out of there is going to be a bitch.