May 21, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Say it over and over: Samuel Alito is a fascist insurrectionist

When they tell you who they are, believe them, writes Noah Berlatsky.

Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.
Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.

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Editor’s note: The following, which is for Editorial Board subscribers only, first appeared in Everything Is Horrible, Noah’s newsletter. –JS

Last week, the Times reported that an inverted flag flew outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021, shortly after Trump’s coup attempt. The upside-down flag was a far-right symbol of support for the “Stop the Steal” campaign, which promoted Trump’s conspiracy theories that Joe Biden had committed election fraud and that his victory was illegitimate. “Stop the Steal” was the justification for the insurrection — which, again, occurred shortly before Alito flew the flag.

So just to be completely clear, Alito, a Supreme Court Justice, displayed a symbol of support for fascist insurrection shortly after an attempted fascist insurrection. The obvious conclusion would be that Sam Alito, Supreme Court Justice, supports fascist insurrection.

Some pundits and commenters, and Alito himself have disputed this interpretation. Maybe, some have speculated Alito didn’t know what the symbol meant. Maybe he wasn’t responsible. Maybe we need to hear more context.

Nuance and context are useful and worthwhile. But you don’t want to get so distracted by nuance and context that you deny reality or make excuses for evil. We can go further into why Alito did what he did and what it says about the support for heinous causes. But we shouldn’t doubt that Alito supports a heinous cause. He told us who he is. We should believe him.

Alito explains why he is horrible
When I say that Alito told us who he is, I’m referring not just to the insurrectionist flag, but to his explanation of the insurrectionist flag. In response to the Times reporter’s questions about the incident, Alito said:

“I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag. … It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

The statement is phrased as if it provides an excuse, or as if it presents exculpatory details. But it does not. Alito does not condemn his wife Martha-Ann for flying the flag. He does not say that he asked her to take it down. Instead, he says that it was flown in response to objectionable language on yard signs. In further discussions in the press, he specified that a neighbor had put up a “Fuck Trump” sign and that someone had “personally” suggested Martha-Ann was complicit in January 6.

Obviously, some people would rather not credit the idea that a Supreme Court justice is a fascist who wants to tear up the Constitution. Judicial ethicist Stephen Gillers, for example, told the Post that he found it “impossible to believe” that Alito knew the flag was flying, or, if he did know, that he understood and approved of the insurrectionist symbolism. Gillers added that while Alito’s explanation was “hard to believe, it is more credible than the view that he knowingly chose to fly the flag upside down knowing its political message.”

Fascism is fueled by resentment and hatred
Gillers clings to Alito’s unbelievable story as if it means Alito is unbiased. But it says nothing of the kind. On the contrary, Alito says that he knew that the upside-down flag was a partisan attack on Democrats, and a sign of support for Donald Trump and insurrection. Why else fly it in response to Democratic criticism of Trump and January 6? Alito’s explanation for the insurrectionist fascist flag flying outside his house is that his neighbors, who oppose insurrectionist fascism, needed to be taught a lesson — that lesson being that insurrectionist fascism is good and is coming for them.

Fascists often say that their hateful rhetoric is ironic or intended as provocation. Their language is justifiable because they are taunting the really bad people — ie, leftists or anyone who objects to fascism in any way. Alito excuses his wife’s actions on the grounds that she was trolling neighbors who had suggested she supported insurrection and Trump. It’s as if one were to respond to accusations of racism by replying, “it is ridiculous to say I am racist, and I’m going to show you just how ridiculous it is by shouting the n-word over and over, but ironically.”

Alito’s excuses aren’t confusing or hard to parse. They’re just not excuses. They’re a reassertion of the evils of Democrats, and of Alito’s and his wife’s belief that those Democrats need to be shown their place. Alito isn’t denying his support for fascism; he’s just explaining the dynamics by which fascism works. Fascists see their critics as innately illegitimate. Mary-Ann Alito was criticized, and she used a symbol of insurrection to tell her critics that she wants to overthrow democracy so she can grind them under her heel. Sam Alito looked at that dynamic, considered it for some time, and now in 2024, he can come forward and explain he thinks it’s fine.

Ideally, a Supreme Court justice who believes that fascism and insurrection are good and reasonable should be removed from office. Unfortunately, Alito has a lifetime appointment, and fellow Republican insurrectionists and fascists in the Congress will eagerly forestall any effort to censure him or restrain him. Democratic leaders, recognizing the barriers, have largely shied away from condemning Alito forcefully as a far-right goon.

I think Democratic reticence here is misguided. Even if the mechanisms for removing Alito are slim, we should nonetheless repeat over and over, as many times as necessary, that Alito is a fascist and an insurrectionist who should resign immediately. We should repeat that because it’s true. And also because we have clear evidence that Alito and his wife can’t stand to hear the truth about themselves.

Noah Berlatsky writes about the political economy for the Editorial Board. He lives in Chicago. Find him @nberlat.

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