Documenting a Fascist Ascent – Jack Smith IV | The Open Mind

Documenting a Fascist Ascent – Jack Smith IV | The Open Mind

HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Hefner,
your host on The Open Mind, one of the leading
chroniclers of the modern age fascist and
anti-fascist movements is our guest today,
senior writer for Mic, Jack Smith IV has
resonated as a most audacious truth-telling
journalist when the status quo of reporting is to
magnify the sensational, on the one hand or to
normalize extremism. Think Donald Trump’s “very
fine people” remark in response to Nazis
and white supremacists marching, Smith
is forthright, forthcoming, demanding
that we confront hate and hold accountable those who
infect our society with it. Smith also movingly
captured the spontaneous airport demonstrations,
rallying against the administration’s
Muslim ban. It has exposed a
nationwide surge in antisemitism and hate
crimes capturing viral portraits of everyday racism
posted to social media. In response to one CNN
anchors criticism of a guest who called out
a documented white nationalists, I tweeted,
“Civility is speaking truth to power for the
preservation of civil society. It’s necessary to call out
bigots for their bigotry and it’s uncivil to
not do so.” Jack would. That is our preamble.
It’s really great to meet you. Thank you for
being here today. SMITH: Thanks
for having me. Strong lead. HEFFNER: Strong lede,
but I’m inspired by your reporting all the way
from the advent of this administration and its
implementation of the travel
ban. Take us back
to that moment, maybe recognition in our
society in America that this administration
was governing within authoritarianism or a
discriminatory attitude that we haven’t seen in the oval
office in recent decades. SMITH: Particularly
the work I do. You know, I’m no, I’m
no beltway journalist. My experience of
the administration is generally I try to be
present where there is activism, where
there is radicalism, extremism where there’s
sudden outpourings of grassroots energy. I think it became clear
from the outset of this administration that
this was going to be an audacious offensive, a
brash loud moment in which people didn’t know what
stood anymore in the realm of acceptable politics,
or the realm of what’s possible sort of
in our civic life. And so, right out
the gate in the Trump Administration, we have
people challenging the realm of possibility. We have an incredibly,
we have an incredible excitement from the left,
this is going to be an opportunity, this crisis
offers us an opportunity to really re-imagine what
liberals and progressives and the left should be
asking for and how they should carry out
those demands, and on the right, an
opportunity to shift the boundaries of conversation
more in their favor. And so right out the gate
we had the administration and we had activists both
on the right and the left immediately issuing
their challenges. And one of the,
you know, I was so, so the first thing that happens
is the J20 riots, right? It’s inauguration day. And for the first time in
really recent memory for somebody as young as
me, we have hundreds of antifascists and
anti-capitalists taking to the streets and burning a
stretch limo. We have. HEFFNER: That was on
Trump’s inauguration. SMITH: That was on
Trump’s inauguration day. Many people don’t. I’m sort of spend a lot of
time talking about the J20 riots because immediately
sort of comfortable a progressive liberals
who fancy themselves, respectable citizens and
maybe even centrists were very quick to
decry the violence. I got back to the hotel
in DC from inhaling smoke from a burning limo to see
Rachel Maddow looking on the activists and
shaking her head. What a shame to have distracted
from the protest that day. So immediate
consternation, but hundreds
of people were, I think around 200
and I’m ashamed. I don’t have the
number of top of head, something like 198 were
facing felonies 10 years in, in jail or whatever,
rounded up en masse and have been prosecuted.
And batches. Now, luckily most of those
cases have been dismissed. But the prosecutorial
effort towards a J20 antifascist who broke a
Starbucks window and a McDonald’s window,
burned a limo and, and otherwise create a
little mess that was mostly cleaned up
by the next day, these people have
faced in incredible, incredible and
indiscriminate crackdown. So we had the
J20 at the outset, immediately
explosions of uncommon, what you might call
uncommon activism. And then the, what’s
called the Muslim ban, or more accurately,
obviously the travel ban protests, right,
which would be, it would have been about a month
later, you know, mid- January. As soon as people realized
that individuals were being detained and
held indefinitely at the airports, it wasn’t just
people who were rushing in to stand outside of JFK’s
international arrivals and protest by the thousands.
There were lawyers, you know, the, one of the untold
stories of that day is the dozens of lawyers who
showed up working pro bono, setting up a shop in the
terminal, taking 24 hour shifts. You know, those are
some of the fascinating progressive
stories from this thing. But obviously the right
has been hard at work in terms of
grassroots activism. HEFFNER: We’re taping on
a day that Trump’s travel ban was upheld. Seems to me that when
Donald Trump called for a total shutdown of Muslims
entering this country, that that was
a particular, not a peak moment because
we haven’t necessarily reached peak bigot
for Donald Trump, but it was an alarming
recognition that whether it was for Breitbart’s
extremist readers or for the body politic, this man was
going to govern in a way, again, as I said
from the outset that was different from his
immediate predecessors that was actually
targeting people, potential
immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and our
own Americans – targeting them based on
their religion, targeting based on
their skin color and so connecting the dots of that
decision being realized. It’s different from
the tears of the Clinton supporters not breaking
that glass ceiling at the Javitz Center, because the
tears that I myself shed that day when we were
denying entry of people on the basis of
their religion, that was a different tear that
was not a partisan tear. SMITH: Yeah. And I think that
kind of denial, it’s denied, it’s a, fundamental
denial of humanity. Right? And you know, when
today, while this is being recorded, we’re also
dealing with the issue, which hopefully by the
time this is airing is not so much our or in
our conversation, but the issue of detaining
immigrant children, family separation
just yesterday, I believe some of the
same antifascists who have been, have been protesting
white nationalism, the Trump Administration
for the past year and a half or so, have of
shutdown in immigration courts here in New York to
sort of throw their bodies at ICE to prevent them
from doing their work. It is of a
different character. But, I, I reject
the notion that, for example, the anti
Muslim sentiment of the Trump Administration
is, of a new character, you know, that Donald
Trump would him that President Trump
would employ anti Muslim sentiment speaks to sort
of what the heart of much of the modern conservative
movement has become. We talk about anti
blackness as an important demography of racism
in this country because anti-blackness is very,
very strong form of racism in our national
history, clearly, but one of the things that
we don’t talk about in terms of Donald
Trump’s presidency is the Christian nationalism
that drove it and the Anti Islam sentiment
that drove it. We like to think of the
Evangelical Movement of something that was
a Bush era problem. Remember that we were
young and everybody thought to themselves, Oh
God, this whole thing’s just. It’s the New York Times
says the heart of the new American suburb is the
mega church in and now you know, God is
out the window. Well, actually we, what we
know now is that Christian nationalism, some
studies out of, I believe it was Clemson
show that Christian nationalism is one of the,
probably not being a white Protestant, but
holding Christian nationalist beliefs that
America should be a Christian nation, et cetera, is
one of the highest predictors for Trump support and
controlled for controlling for Christian nationalism
and anti Islam sentiment taken together, predict
Trump’s support higher oftentimes than anti-feminism,
than generalized xenophobia, than anti black sentiment
and more than economic, what we call
economic anxiety. And so this anti Muslim
rhetoric is incredibly important to
speaking coherently, and directly to the fears
of modern conservatives, not just in the US, but
most certainly in Europe. HEFFNER: The idea that
permits would be awarded or rewarded to documented
white nationalists, when we think of
that reality in 2018, how do we deal with it as
journalists and as citizens? I think there is a
legitimate argument to deny white pride permits,
at least in certain spaces where there is an
acknowledgement of what is the public good and the public
good is not white nationalism. SMITH: And I will say it
will be a comfort to those at home, maybe to know
that’s in Charlottesville they’ve had a
pretty rough time, the, the formal
ultra right movement, sort of what we
think of as the 10 to 20 figureheads of modern
white nationalism and white and White Neo
Nazi as you know, the real fringe, right,
they’ve had a real tough time in the past year
since Charlottesville. Charlottesville really
heightened the sense of anxiety and heightened the
rejection of those movements. Many of the leaders have
a fallen into disgrace, gone to jail, uh, tried
holding follow-up permits to getting drowned
out embarrassingly. Many of them have had
domestic abuse scandals. It’s really been, they’ve
had a pretty miserable time of it and were
rejected for follow-up rallies in
Charlottesville. So on the one hand, there
will be a follow-up rally, Jason Kessler, who who
initially held the unite the right rally in
Charlottesville, finally got one for
outside the White House. You know, Washington DC
is pretty permissive. I think it’ll be
him 10 sympathizers, 100 reporters and
a thousand counter protestors, but I think
when you say how do we handle this thing,
we have two things. There’s two things that we
can deal with explicitly. We can deal with
the alt-right, so we’ve got a combination
of a misogynist extremists, but more viral
and racists people who believe that America
should be a whites only nation or that or
white separatists, people who believed that
white people should break off, that there should be
self determination that we should read gerrymander
and segregate the nation. These are extremists and
we … HEFFNER: Including the newest supreme court
member, Neil Gorsuch. SMITH: Well then we have
American conservatism, reactionary thought and
mainstream racism at large. And I think one of the
ways that we can address white nationalists, the
fringe guys explicitly, is by looking at the
through lines between what they believe and
seeing the common threads between what were
white nationalism, the white nationalist
leaders and movement are similar to and different
from modern conservatism. On the one hand,
modern conservatists, modern good
conservatives, sorry, are nominally
pro constitution, right? Very not a white
nationalist belief. On the other
hand, if you watch, and I’ve done plenty of
work documenting sort of like Tucker Carlson’s
slide into some pretty ugly rhetoric, Tucker
Carlson’s show and, and many other
conservative media outlets are channeling some
very, very ugly and dark narratives that explicitly
mainstream fringe white nationalist
lines of thinking, for example, of one
idea is the concept that immigration, that there’s
there’s going to be a demographic shift that
black and brown people from within and without
will overthrow the order and displace
White Protestants. Well, if you watch
Tucker Carlson and he is, his segments on the
panic of the state of men, what do you see when you
see a major news media figure, national
news figure linking, delicately linking, but
linking immigration to declining
fertility in white men, well, men in America, but
I think the implication is meant to be white men. It’s that I think is the
way we can look at white nationalists
responsibly is by, is by becoming
expert at it, by the way. Because then you’ll be able to
see it. Then we can see it. HEFFNER: You identify in the more encouraging news,
the marginalization of the folks like Richard
Spencer at the top. SMITH: That’s right. HEFFNER: But in a
most depressing reality, you cite simultaneously
that the elite, the Fox News hosts, are
signaling and president Trump too, to those very fine
people that it’s okay. So you have on the
one hand campaigns like Sleeping Giants, and for
those in the audience, Google Sleeping Giants,
Sleeping Giants is a campaign to make
bigotry less profitable. SMITH: They’ll go to,
they’ll see a Sears ad on some horrendously racist
Breitbart article and they’ll screen grab it and
send it to Sears and say, can you believe that your,
your ads are showing up on the site and Sears or whoever it
is, will, will say, oof, I’m
out. HEFFNER: And one of the
notable examples of a mega corporate giant that has
not acted responsibly is Amazon because, according
to Sleeping Giants, Amazon will still
advertise Breitbart and hosts the NRA TV show,
which is engaged in, I would say, hateful
rhetoric that could be very much aligned with
white nationalists SMITH: And sells white
nationalist literature by the
way. HEFFNER: And sells white
nationalist literature. SMITH: If you want to get
writers like Jared Taylor, the head of
American Renaissance, if you want to
get his books, all of the foundational
texts of the modern, what we might call
the modern intellect, you know, that the elite
racist literature of the day, oh, it’s all
available on Amazon. Amazon Prime probably. HEFFNER: We had
Shane Burley here, an expert on modern day
fascism and talked about how do you transcend the
Antifa or antifascist idea that you’re
calling out outrages, but you don’t have a
counter vision that is also rooted in civil
society and civil norms. The vast majority of
folks in those inaugural protests, were not setting
a blaze the streets. There were certain people
who probably were… SMITH: Oh, probably a
couple hundred antifascist protestors,
several thousand, uh, Mic, Mic, my news
organization and one or two others, you know,
the Washington Post live blog covered them. But yes, sorry, I didn’t
mean to interrupt=to maybe 10,000 peaceful
protesters marching through the streets. Black Lives Matter
shut down an entrance. Remember what we saw the
inauguration lawn and the famous picture of like
there’s not many people there, and everybody sort of
teased Trump about that. Well, that was because
peaceful protesters and Climate Justice,
Black Lives Matter, Antiwar coalitions shut
down the entrances almost nobody talks about
that to this day. Black Lives Matter
activists chained themselves, wrapped
themselves in chains and closed down, I think there
are eight entrances to the inauguration or
something like that, maybe three of
them closes, astounding, but yet the
many peaceful protesters. HEFFNER: In this
environment where Trump and his allies want to
bemoan in and demonize the other, how do you
coalesce around a vision of democracy and an
American pluralism that is going to
unify this country? SMITH: Well, it’s an
enormous question. I think that
the… Here’s what I, I could say without,
because I think the funny thing is a lot of
journalists who cover activism from the sitting
in the office in writing op-eds perspective, proselytize
over proselytize to protesters. Antifascists will
behave however they want. I think that what well
meaning progressives would maybe might recognize
right now are what their values are independent of
what they are opposed to. I think one of the great
criticisms of the 2016 Democratic campaign was
that it identified only by its opposition to
Trump’s garishness. Right now we have
a Democratic Party struggling and its
messaging and struggling to articulate its vision. That’s been pretty well
documented by political
reporting. I mean it’s, it’s pretty
uncertain who’s going to take up the
mantle for 2020. It feels like a
pretty broad game. There’s some very
interesting research and some fascinating writers
who write of a big truism that we should
come to terms with, with, which is that
progressives are actually pretty firmly united
on certain issues like antiracism, Universal
Healthcare and such broadly to the left of
the Democratic Party, broadly to the left of
the Democratic Party poll. If you polled
Democrats something, the Democratic
base, you know, they don’t have problems
with identity politics. 76 to 80 percent of
Democrats poll for repealing Obamacare and
replacing with Single Payer healthcare. And we don’t see
that as reflected as a, as a Democratic
talking point. More and more we do,
but I think that modern progressivism has maybe,
I think many people will say, has lost its sense
of shared values that yes, as you said, present a
vision for the future. The Conservatives right
now have an incredibly active imagination for what’s
possible in conservatism. What if we shut
down the borders? What if we
separate children? It would do well for
progressives to imagine if we, if a progressive, if
we as progressives could imagine
whatever we wanted, Universal
Healthcare, different, a much more broad
pathway to immigration, a return of the labor
movement which used to be so important to the
progressive vision. What is a
progressive stand for? And if you could say
what you wanted without apologizing,
what would you say? The great, the
great trick, you know, progressive,
every progressive, somebody wrote this
in Rolling Stone. Every progressive grows
up being told that you’re a utopian
who has to compromise when you come to the table,
come ready to appease the conservatives. We had Obamacare written
into law with a hundred, I think 100 or so
provisions meant to appeal to conservatives and not a
single one voted for it. Well, what, what would you
ask for if that if that center that you’re appealing to
didn’t really exist, because a lot of
the good data that says that it maybe doesn’t
as much as Democratic establishment would
like you to believe. HEFFNER: And I also
think a question for the Democratic Party
and progressive is do they acknowledge the betrayal
of actual conservatism because what conservative
thinking has become is Willie Horton on steroids
– directed animus at Muslims, and there
are definitions of conservatism that can fall
actually squarely within more forward thinking
Democratic Party or progressive ideas defending
the Constitution. That was at one juncture
a conservative idea. So how do you channel both
the progressive ideals and at the same time appeal
to people who really are now no longer registered
Republicans because since Trump’s election, they’ve
become unaffiliated or now they’re willing to
vote Democratic. And I will just
say to our viewers, I think that there is an
understanding among the citizenry that in 2018,
voting for a Democrat is not a political or
partisan choice if you care about oversight and
restoring democratic norms, it’s a patriotic
duty and I think there’s at least the beginning
of that understanding. We only have a
minute or so left Jack, but I want to just present
this final question to you, which is thinking about
the authoritarian’s playbook. We have every reason to
be alarmed at what’s going on, but we don’t want to
be fatalistic in believing that Trump’s way or Trump-ism
has to be the future. What can you say from your
reporting on those who fought tooth and
nail, the rise of that authoritarianism that
gives us inspiration that we shouldn’t be fatalistic
about Trump’s erosion of democratic norms. SMITH: Both sides
rightly see a crisis. There’s a crisis,
there’s ecological crisis, there’s economic crisis. We face all sorts of crises and
there are two opposing visions. One comes from
the far right. One of the things that
are wrong about so much, they are right about one
thing is that we have a crisis in their
solution is shut it down, bring back hierarchy, set up the
— make the walls higher. There isn’t enough. What would an alternative vision
look like? I’ll just end like
this. In England, the when, when
the Prime Minister called for reelection of all the, of
all the, of all the MPs, okay. She believes she’s going
to have a super majority and the left made
a very big move. Jeremy Corbyn on the
left made a very big move. Let’s have a manifesto. We’re going to
nationalize the railways. We’re going to shore up
Universal Healthcare. We’re going to make
college free for all. He said we don’t need
anything except for up an unapologetic
vision of solidarity. It was one of the greatest
electoral upsets in British
history. They thought they were
going to move from a majority, to a super
majority and she almost lost her seat as
Prime Minister. It would do well to think
not what do we say to those who are afraid and
want to build the walls higher, but what would it
mean if we actually live in a society where
everyone can be taken care of and what can we do to
actualize the distribution of those resources for
the benefit of all people. HEFFNER: To be continued. Jack, a pleasure. Thank you. SMITH: Thanks so much. HEFFNER: And thanks to
you in the audience. I hope you join us again
next time for thoughtful excursion into
the world of ideas. Until then,
keep an open mind. Please visit The
Open Mind website at to
view this program online or to access over 1,500
other interviews and do check us out on Twitter
and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on
future programming.

3 thoughts on “Documenting a Fascist Ascent – Jack Smith IV | The Open Mind

  1. Just read about your sex life Jack. How does it feel to be basically accused of rape with out due process and losing your reputation and job because of it? Ouch.

  2. Jack Smiith reminds me of one of the Bolsheviks in 1920s, who was happy shooting Kulaks and then found themselves executed by Stalin in the 1930s. What comes around goes around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *