Raising Their Banner High: Fascism, Imperialism, and Anti-Communism at the Capitol Hill Riots

Qiao Collective
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The flags of U.S. client states, anti-communist regimes, and pre-revolution puppet states dotted the sea of MAGA hats and Confederate flags at the Capitol Hill mobs. Making sense of why requires understanding the convergence between imperialism abroad and fascism at home.

On January 6th, 2021, in a premeditated plan of action to “stop the steal” of the November presidential election about to be certified by Congress, thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Met with a conciliatory Capitol Police force who literally “opened the gates” with a wink and a nod, the mob swarmed the seat of U.S. power, occupying the House and Senate chambers and taking selfies in the abandoned offices of Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic opponents.

The “insurrection” was a naked declaration of white supremacist extremism: from Auschwitz sweatshirts to absurdist Viking costumes, the aesthetics of racial fascism dominated the landscape. Yet, in addition to explicit symbols of white supremacy, the landscape was littered with curious symbols of international solidarity: flags representing the former South Vietnam, India, Japan, pre-revolution Cuba, and Hong Kong and Tibetan independence, among others, were all spotted in various footage of the chaos.

This multicultural dimension of an overtly white supremacist demonstration is not a contradiction: rather, it reflects the convergence between imperialism abroad and fascism at home. Liberal commentators expressed self-righteous dismay at the vandalizing of “our” “iconic symbol of democracy,” worrying about what the events would do to the U.S.’ hallowed image as the shining “city on the hill.” Republican detractors were perhaps more explicit in their deployment of a racist American exceptionalism: Marco Rubio likened the events to that of a “third world country,” while former U.S. President George W. Bush compared the chaos to a “banana republic.”

The smattering of international flags from U.S. client states, overthrown monarchies, and anti-communist bastions conveys a bitter truth: the Capitol “insurrection” marks not the importation of some decontextualized trope of Third World instability, but the return of the very tactics the U.S. empire has used to enforce its will across the globe.

But the smattering of international flags from U.S. client states, overthrown monarchies, and anti-communist bastions conveys a different truth: the Capitol “insurrection” marks not the importation of some decontextualized trope of Third World instability, but the return of the very tactics the U.S. empire has used to obstruct elections, seed color revolutions, and depose left-leaning political leaders across the world during the so-called era of “Pax Americana.” In Malcolm X’s famous conception, the storming of the Capitol is not an unfathomable assault on U.S. democracy, merely the “leader of the free world’s” imperialist chickens coming home to roost.

Eurocentric World History As Fascist Apologia 

Liberal commentators have framed Trump and his supporters’ “assault on democracy” as antithetical to U.S. democratic norms, likening their violence to a creeping authoritarianism from which the real authoritarians—China, Russia, Iran, or Venezuela—ostensibly seek to profit. But the liberal framing of fascism as antithetical to U.S. democracy sidesteps the rich body of radical thought which identifies imperialism and colonialism as the through lines between liberal democracy and fascism.

Writing in 1950, Martinique anti-colonialist Aimé Césaire eviscerated the self-righteous Western repudiation of Nazism, arguing that the Allied powers—the leaders of modern imperialism—had in fact “tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them…because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.” As agents of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, the so-called bastions of democracy in the post-WWII era had in fact “cultivated” the very Nazism they posed as irreconcilable with their own political economic systems. Indicting capitalist exploitation as the guiding logic of fascism, Césaire declared: “At the end of capitalism…there is Hitler.”

Césaire wrote in a political moment in which the Allied powers, under the leadership of the ascendant U.S. empire, scurried to conflate the horrors of Nazism and fascism with the international communist movement. Consolidating a hegemonic capitalist-imperialist system with the U.S. at its helm required painting communism—epitomized by the Soviet Union—as a form of “totalitarianism” nearly identical in form to Nazism. Such a move enabled the U.S. to pose growing movements for decolonization and socialist revolution in Korea, Cuba, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and beyond as forms of creeping totalitarianism, justifying the U.S.’s endless stream of Cold War invasions, occupations, mass killings, and embargoes as a righteous defense of “freedom.”

President Harry Truman, who oversaw the closing of World War II and its transition into the Cold War, consistently conflated the fights against Nazism and communism. Contrasting Western inaction to Hitler’s rise with the “courage and decisiveness” with which the U.S. “moved against the Communist threat,” Truman praised U.S. intervention in Korea, declaring: “Where free men had failed the test before, this time we met the test.”

In reality, Truman’s lofty rhetoric concealed the U.S.’s ready deployment of fascist forces to cement its imperial authority. Under the pretenses of global democratic leadership, the U.S. actively recruited and rehabilitated German and Japanese fascists who proved useful for the U.S. empire. For instance, Japanese war criminals who conducted biological experiments on Chinese prisoners and facilitated the “comfort women” system of sexual slavery over China, Korea, and the Philippines evaded trial by the Soviet Union in exchange for sharing research secrets with the U.S. Meanwhile, the political infrastructure of Japanese colonialism in “postcolonial” South Korea and the Philippines was often retained and redeployed under U.S. leadership, offering a near-seamless transition between Japanese colonial fascism and U.S. “democratic stewardship” in East and Southeast Asia. And under Operation Paperclip, thousands of high-ranking Nazi scientists were airlifted from Germany to the United States to work for the U.S. military in the campaign for U.S. scientific supremacy over the Soviet Union in the Cold War space race.

The historical collaboration and convergence between German and Japanese fascism and U.S. imperialism continues to be suppressed through counterfactual renderings of World War II and Cold War history. For instance, in 2019 the European Parliament adopted a resolution “on the importance of European remembrance for the future of Europe,” promoting the historical memory of “crimes committed by communist, Nazi and other dictatorships” as the basis of “the unity of Europe.” Left out of this “historical” rendering, of course, are some inconvenient truths: that for every U.S. soldier killed fighting the Germans, 80 Soviet soldiers died doing the same; or that at the time of Japan’s surrender, more than half of the Japanese military’s 3.5 million deployed soldiers were occupied fighting Chinese communist and nationalist troops.

Western imperial history has rendered communism the ideological successor of fascism rather than the primary actor responsible for its defeat. But as the Trump era exposes the blurred line between bourgeois democracy and fascism, these anti-communist myths are finally collapsing under their own weight.

Western imperial history has rendered communism the ideological successor of fascism rather than the primary actor responsible for its defeat. But as the Trump era exposes the blurred line between bourgeois democracy and fascism, these anti-communist myths are finally collapsing under their own weight.

International Fascism Comes Home

In footage livestreamed just before Trump supporters took the U.S. Capitol building, Jake Angeli—the “Q Anon shaman” who donned a horned fur hat and would soon strut behind the Congressional dias—offered a dubious call for internationalist action:

“To the people of Venezuela: know you can take your country back too. We are setting the example…you can put an end to communism and globalism. You, too can take back your nation from this evil. You can win your country back!”

The irony should not be lost: the same Trump extremists who have been condemned by the great majority of both Democrats and “rule of law” Republicans express solidarity with the bipartisan project of U.S. regime change against Venezuela’s democratically-elected president Nicolas Maduro. Though President-elect Biden has labeled Capitol Hill rioters as “[bordering] on sedition,” he nonetheless shares their conviction that socialist figures such as Maduro are, in his own words, “thugs and dictators.” That the interests of far-right insurrectionists and the status quo power elite coalesce around support for anti-communist regime change speaks to imperialism’s thorough monopoly on the spectrum of political possibility in the U.S. landscape.

Liberal media has clung to a comical obtuseness about the internationalist identifications of the Trump rioters, refusing to read the appearance of South Vietnamese, Hong Kong independence, and Batistan Cuban flags as a convergence of U.S. imperialism abroad and white supremacy at home. Quartz, for instance, mused that “it’s unclear why many of these flags appeared.”

But it is no surprise that the flags of U.S. client states, anti-communist regimes, and pre-revolution puppet states accompanied the sea of MAGA hats and Confederate flags at the Trump riots. Writing from San Quentin prison before his murder in 1971, Black revolutionary and political prisoner George Jackson described U.S. fascism as a logical outgrowth of U.S. imperialism and anti-communism. In Blood in My Eye, Jackson opined:

“We have been consistently misled by fascism’s nationalistic trappings. We have failed to understand its basically international character…One of the most definite characteristics of fascism is its international quality.”

If fascism, as Jackson argued, “is international capitalism’s response to the challenge of international scientific socialism,” then anti-communism is the glue that binds the broad fascist coalition behind the pro-Trump mobs. Take, for instance, the small crowd in Miami’s Little Havana that gathered on January 6th. Waving flags of the Republic of Cuba, which until the 1959 revolution functioned as a de facto colony of the U.S. under legislation such as the Platt Amendment, protesters condemned what they considered a “stolen” election. Across the country in San Jose, California, which is home to a large population of the Vietnamese diaspora, organizers of the “Vietnamese Movement for Trump” similarly waved signs saying “America will never be a socialist country,” with many a testimony about their “escape” from communists at the close of the Vietnam War. In uncritically embracing the language of American freedom (“We’re lucky we’re here”), these actors wilfully obscure the use of “democracy” at home to facilitate fascist U.S. occupation and intervention the world over.

The Trump coalition has long brought together a “diverse” assemblage of immigrants and “exiles” who hear in Trump’s MAGA slogan echoes of their own restorationist agenda to reinstate the U.S.-backed puppet governments of their various countries of origin.

Indeed, the Trump coalition has long brought together a “diverse” assemblage of immigrants and “exiles” who hear in Trump’s MAGA slogan echoes of their own restorationist agenda to reinstate the U.S.-backed puppet governments of their various countries of origin. From “Iranians for Trump” who wave the flag of the Pahlavi dynasty—a monarchy widely understood to be a puppet of British and U.S. neocolonialism—to Hong Kong interventionists’ calls for Trump to “make Hong Kong great again,” these right-wing actors wield the language of “diversity” and “authenticity” to add a veneer of progressivism to their programs of imperialist clientelism.

Sinophobia and fascist anti-communism

Likewise, it is no surprise that the flags of India, Japan, and Australia—which together with the U.S. comprise the “Quad” anti-China security alliance—also appeared at the Capitol Hill mobs. If anti-communism binds this diverse group of Trump sympathizers, anti-Chinese sentiment appears to be a driving engine powering the dangerous coalition.

That Tokyo’s “stop the steal” rally brought together both explicit homages to Imperial Japan (and the colonial occupations and Nazi alliance it oversaw) and a popular slur conflating Nazism with the rule of the Communist Party of China only speaks to the depraved logic and willful ahistoricism inherent to both fascism and anti-communism.

Perhaps the most explicit symbol of the convergence of fascism and Sinophobia was found not on Capitol Hill, but in Tokyo, Japan. Hours before the “stop the steal” convening took Capitol Hill by storm, Japanese sympathizers held a parallel march through downtown Tokyo. There, a myriad of pro-Trump, Imperial Japanese, and anti-China regalia decorated the crowds, with U.S. and Japanese flags alongside the “rising sun” flag of imperial Japan and “anti-Chinazi” flags popularized by the right-wing Hong Kong protests. That Tokyo’s “stop the steal” rally brought together both explicit homages to Imperial Japan (and the colonial occupations and Nazi alliance it oversaw) and a popular slur conflating Nazism with the rule of the Communist Party of China only speaks to the depraved logic and willful ahistoricism inherent to both fascism and anti-communism.

Similarly, the presence of flags representing Tibetan, Hong Kong, and “East Turkestan” independence movements at Trump rallies across the country is yet another symptom of the convergence between imperialism abroad and fascism at home (ironically, protesters waved the Hong Kong flag designed by the Communist Party of China in preparation of Hong Kong’s return to China). Just as Hong Kong protesters waved signs calling on President Trump to “make Hong Kong great again,” Trump rioters on Capitol Hill waved the Hong Kong flag, forming a visual shorthand reflecting a transnational alliance of right-wing agitators, colonial nostalgists, and white supremacists.

Confronting a “multicultural” empire

Understanding the international quality of fascism and anti-communism is crucial to confronting the lies that the U.S. tells about itself, including its role as a proud “watchman on the walls of world freedom.” A closer look, however, reveals the “walls of world freedom” to be merely the window dressing of a multicultural empire.

On January 7, Indian American Republican activist Vincent Xavier tweeted photos of a diverse crowd at the Capitol Hill protests. The caption read: “American patriots – Vietnamese, Indian, Korean & Iranian origins, & from so many other nations & races, who believe massive voter fraud has happened joined rally yesterday in solidarity with Trump.” The far-right, like the U.S. empire more generally, has succeeded in instrumentalizing right-wing diaspora populations to provide a multicultural facade to what remains fundamentally a project of racial capitalism.

That a select cross-section of native informants and compradors are willing to prostrate their countries of origin to the U.S. machine in exchange for political power will never change the reactionary nature of American exceptionalism and its Trumpian iterations. If we are to move from the facile belief that “it” cannot happen “here,” we must first grasp the international dimension of fascism and its primary manifestations in U.S. imperialism, settler colonialism, and racial slavery. Behind the gross conflation of fascism and communism is a more unsettling truth: if liberalism breeds fascism, anti-communism ignites it.