December 30, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

In 2020, There Will Be Blood

5 reasons to believe the fascists' own words.

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On Friday, I told you about Barry, the man I worked under when I was 17. He was the manager of a local Italian restaurant. He was big and ugly and mean. Dumb, too, so dumb he once set himself on fire stripping the paint off a pizza oven with turpentine.

He also wanted to torture a stray dog coming round looking for food. I feared Barry, but I somehow screwed up the courage to stand up for the dog even if I got hurt. In the end, Barry backed down. Assaulting a minor would have been a state crime after all. (For inquiring readers, alas, I do not remember what happened to the dog. Sorry!)

My larger point, however, was that Barry is a quintessential Donald Trump supporter. What motivated him wasn’t ideology or self-interest. What motivated him wasn’t religion or fear. What motivated him was acting violently toward those he believed deserve it. He behaved cruelly because he liked it. Looking for other logical reasons would have been giving more credit to Barry than was needed to understand him.

He told me who he was, and I believed him.

In truth, I don’t know if Barry voted for Trump. He might be dead for all I know. But there are millions of Barrys. They are the fascists among us, veiled sadists whom the majority must continue taking seriously long after the Trump presidency is over. For proof, consider Astead Herndon’s reporting Sunday. The Times reporter went to rural Arizona in October to write about Trumpstock, a cultural celebration of the president. If Trump loses next year, a source said while reaching for his sidearm, “nothing less than a civil war would happen. I don’t believe in violence, but I’ll do what I got to do.”

Using Barry as my guide, here are five thoughts on Herndon’s reporting.

IT’S NOT ABOUT FEAR. Herndon is one of the few reporters, perhaps the only one, to have said what needs saying. Lots of white Americans who support the president don’t do it despite his racism, sexism, bigotry and the rest. They support him because of them. “These voters don’t passively tolerate Mr. Trump’s ‘build a wall’ message or his ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries—they’re what motivates them.”

Sadly, Herndon attributes bigotry to fear, as if to suggest the president’s supporters are afraid of what they don’t understand—as if that fear is why they support Donald Trump. Herndon: “They see themselves in his fear-based identity politics, bolstered by conspiratorial rhetoric about caravans of immigrants and Democratic ‘coups.’”

It’s not about fear, though. Attributing fear to fascism overlooks what fascists are doing: punishing people who are “defying” the “natural order of things,” which is to say, defying whatever it is some white Americans believe is rightfully theirs. For the people at Trumpstock, the election of the first black president upended the natural order.

IT ALL GOES BACK TO OBAMA. Herndon’s reporting should finish off the idea that Trump took over the Republican Party. He didn’t. It was already primed for a fascist leader. Whatever “conservatism” used to mean ended after 2008. Herndon’s sources “described a white America under threat as racial minorities typified by Mr. Obamagain political power. They described Mr. Trump as an inspirational figure who is undoing Mr. Obama’s legacy and beating back the perceived threat of Muslim and Latino immigrants, whom they denounced in prejudiced terms” (my italics).

In 2016, when Trump held rallies in rural Arizona, he emphasized Obama’s middle name—Hussein—to suggest he was a secret Muslim and not an American citizen. The people at Trumpstock were still making a fetish of Obama’s middle name by the time Herndon arrived. One of them was explicit in connecting Obama and Trump. Herndon: “Stacey Goodman, a former police officer from New York who retired to Arizona …, said her distrust of Mr. Obama’s birth certificate had led her to Mr. Trump.”

SOCIALISM? THEY DON’T CARE. Thanks to Herndon, it should now be clear these people would not know socialism if they stepped in it. That word is merely one of a number used to express the same emotion, which is rage against undeserving people upending the natural order of things. When the Democrats wanted nothing to do with socialism (2008-2016), they accused them of socialism. Now that they want something to do with “socialism,” they accuse them of socialism. It’s meaning doesn’t matter. What matters is it’s a byword for the enemy. “There is no difference between the democratic socialists and the National Socialists,” said Evan Sayet, a conservative writer who spoke at [Trumpstock]. Democrats, he said, “are the heirs to Adolf Hitler.”

DEMOCRATS AS DEVILS. One of the reasons liberals believe Trump supporters are afraid of what they don’t understand is because they totally “misunderstand” the Democratic Party. They see it as something it’s not—e.g., a bastion of socialism.

But this itself is a misunderstanding. Fascists understand perfectly well what the Democratic Party is: a meaningful mechanism by which Americans who have been without power gain power. That’s the problem. The solution, for the fascists, is characterizing the Democrats as being so evil any action justified in defeating them.

This is why the president’s supporters swim in conspiracy theory. It isn’t just irrational belief in made-believe. To the contrary, it’s quite rational. They are using make-believe to justify whatever they want. Herndon: “Democrats were portrayed as not just political opponents, but avatars of doom for Mr. Trump’s predominantly white voter base and for the country.” Many have embraced the “QAnon conspiracy theory, which claims that top Democrats are worshiping the Devil and engaging in child sex trafficking.”

THE NEW BROWNSHIRTS. When you have given up on the idea of sharing power—which is to say, when you have given up on democracy—then it makes sense, to the fascist, to start organizing in ways outside the norm. Herndon’s reporting should demonstrate that Trump supporters, now and after his presidency is over, constitute a new kind of Sturmabteilung. In plain English, this was the Nazi Party’s paramilitary wing, the people willing to use violence to advance political objectives. Their enemies, like Trump’s enemies, were so bad, anything was justified. They went around the German countryside assaulting and killing people who stood in the party’s way.

We aren’t there yet, of course, but the Brownshirts took decades to grow into what they became, the SS. We may never witness organized murder quite like that, but Trump supporters don’t need to be that organized. There are plenty of lone wolves out there with plenty of access to plenty of firepower who are highly attuned to the president’s grievances. It may not be a civil war in 2020, but this much is certain.

There will be blood.

—John Stoehr


  1. Mitch Marks on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for clearing up my confusions about the initial Barry story.
    Of course, I do understand that was just leading to your larger point, as developed in today’s message.

  2. RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    Thanks for elaborating. I’d read the article and though Trumpstock attracted relatively small numbers, the ferocity of their misunderstanding and hatred was frightening. I’m perpetually ashamed at what Trump has wrought; only hope that resisters can reclaim our democracy before this new Brownshirt iteration can really flourish.

  3. dan tynan on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    I have been saying this for a while — really, since Trump was ‘elected’ (I can never use that phrase without quote marks). And if he is ‘elected’ in 2020 — through multiparty candidates splitting the anti-Trump vote, voter suppression, purging of likely Democratic voters, Putinesque hacking of the vote count itself, pick your poison — there will be no limits on what could happen. (If he loses — and admits to losing — that will have its own bloody consequences.)

    Not to be even more of a downer, but what I worry about is how our institutions will react to this. I’m sure Trump has many supporters in law enforcement and the military. Where will their loyalties lie when blood is spilled? How far will Trump appointed judges go to protect them, if it even gets to the courts? Either way, we’re in for a very rough period over the next few years. And people who have been the most public in their opposition to Trump will be the ones who are targeted first.

    Be safe.

  4. Fred Pollack on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    it is really frustrating to hold a conversation with die-hard Trump supporters. There is one I sometimes talk to at a local Starbucks. Anything by mainstream print media (eg, NYT, WaPo, AP, Bloomberg News, etc), he won’t believe, but he will believe Fox News, Limbaugh, Breitbart, and, of course, Trump, liar-in-chief. And, according to him, the deep state (including the FBI, CIA, and state dept) are just part of a vast conspiracy, so evidence coming from them is not to be believed either. BTW, he is African-American, late 60’s, Vietnam veteran (wounded in combat, and still with some residual health issues), and was in the military for 20+ years. And, a nice guy. Conversation never gets heated.

    And, he believes that if Trump is removed as the result of the senate trial, there would a civil war.

    In these conversations, it is difficult for me to not come across as an arrogant elitist asshole, which is unproductive.

  5. Fred Pollack on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    On the same theme as the NYT article, there is this one on the lawfare blog from Oct 2nd:

  6. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    One of the main reasons why I read the Editorial Board is John Stoehr’s ability to recognize and bluntly articulate what we’re dealing with. I don’t fear these people because we know they exist and who they are. Recognizing the threat they pose is the first step to being prepared if and when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan.

    My biggest fear is two-fold: a mainstream media that treats these people and by the extension the oval office occupant with “deference and understanding” instead of seeing their fascistic impulses as reality and a complacent Democratic party and its voters who are caught up in finding perfect candidates and policy positions instead of turning our full political arsenal on the real threat. For me, witnessing these dynamics is a replay of what happened in late 1920’s-early 1930’s Germany where too many ignored or downplayed the lust for violence and retribution of the Nazis and their followers. The mainstream media, Democrats, and liberals in general need to wake the f*ck up asap and understand that these people see politics literally as a blood sport and are happy to spill our blood to accomplish their goals.

  7. RUArmyNavyMominTX on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

    With all respect to John Stoehr, I’m enjoying the commentary as much as his original posts. Living in a ruby red area of a potentially blue state makes me question my sanity on a daily basis. Happy New Year fellow patriots…am truly looking forward to 2020.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

      I keep saying the Editorial Board has the best readers and the best comments. But also, to your point: You are not crazy and you are not alone. We’re in this together. Onward!

    • Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 8:02 am

      Hang in there. So long as we are committed to fighting the good fight, we will prevail in the long run.

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