Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Slow Violence of American Fascism: Candace Owens at University of Pennsylvania

It’s hard to imagine a better example of just how far the far right will go to weaponize the first amendment to the ultimate ends of repressing dissident voices than Candace Owens’ appearance at University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), April 2019. While we might be tempted to merely point out that her race-baiting name-calling of ANTIFA as “the new KKK” is as historically false as it is morally obscene, the issues are actually far greater and they begin with University of Pennsylvania’s administration. I’d like to make an argument that may be as unpopular on the left as it plainly is on the right (despite the latter’s patent mendacity on this point) that I think makes clear some of the real issues with the presence of Turning Point USA (TPUSA) on college campuses—including my own—but also reveals something far larger and more menacing in scope, namely, the face of contemporary American fascism on the battleground of the university.

First, Candace Owens has a right to be invited and to speak at UPenn. And at any university campus. 

Second, university administrations have the crucial responsibility not merely to vet speakers, but to advertise for them honestly and forthrightly. I don’t know with what due diligence university decision-makers approached the possibility of Owens’ visit to U. Penn, but what I do know is that, if they’re like my own university when TPUSA tried to establish a chapter here, it didn’t extend much beyond a gander at the TPUSA website mission statement. UPenn’s advertising of the event suggests something less than what a cursory vetting would require. As I’ve shown, TPUSA’s mission statement is profoundly deceptive; it’s aim is to provide cover for university administrations who can use it to claim innocence if things go bad. It allows for universities to claim they’re giving equal time to conservative voices. The problem is that Candace Owens is not a conservative—not, at least, unless “conservative” now means “racist,” “anti-Semitic,” “misogynist,” and rabidly anti-Islam.

To invite Owens on the basis of the TPUSA mission statement is thus manifestly dishonest. Owens is not merely a “controversial” figure, and she is not a conservative. If UPenn wants to invite an Alt-Righter applauded by Paul Joseph Watson, Alex Jones, Tucker Carlson, and Jeanine Pirro (less loved now by Ye), who actively promotes conspiracy theories, grotesquely distorts the history of slavery in America, claims that the Democratic Party is actually worse for African Americans than being commodified as human chattel, and is, according to Joshua Shanes of Haaretz, beloved by the Trump GOP because she “sells their brand of fascism,” fine. But UPenn has a critically important duty to tell us who Owens is, and advertise her appearance with the facts. They didn’t. 

Here are the facts. Candace Owens:
·     Is cited as the primary inspiration for a terrorist massacre of Muslims. 
·     Feels comfortable making an approving claim about Hitler’s “if he’d just remained with Germany” intentions. 
·     Is affiliated with a host of conspiracy theories whose ideological agendas are white nationalist, ethnostate racist, and nativist—including the absurd view that the Christchurch, New Zealand terrorist attack on a mosque was motivated by the “Left.”
·     Has tweeted images that include white genocide conspiracy theorists. 
·     Denies the historical reality of the Southern Strategy.
·     Promotes the “Democrat Party Plantation” conspiracy theory and the view that being a black Democrat is tantamount to selling oneself into slavery.

It’s no accident that Owens would come to U. Penn ready to take advantage of the opportunity to call ANTIFA the new KKK—however laughably contrary to fact and a text-book example of the fallacy of projection. Moreover, it takes little more than a perfunctory Google search to locate every bit of this list and so much more.  It’s simply morally incumbentof UPenn administration to inform its campus community what exactly “controversial” means, and to direct the sponsoring student organization, the College Republicans, to do the same. 

There are, in fact, two critical questions here:
1.    Did decision-makers at U. Penn perform their due diligence vetting Owens and TPUSA? If so, what governed their decision to give the green light to the College Republicans?  The right answer is “respect for first amendment rights.” But that respect absolutely is not permission to engage in false or misleading advertising. And that suggests that UPenn administration did not perform their due diligence, or at least that they didn’t follow up with council to the College Republicans about what honest advertising requires.

2.    If due diligence by UPenn was conducted, why do the College Republican advertising posters make it appear as if Owens is a conservative—that is, just another Republican sponsored by college Republicans? Why don’t they reflect some semblance of in just what “controversial” in her case actually consists? This Campus Reform (a far right hit machine whose raison d’etreis to harass, vilify, and silence professors) copy of the poster implies Owens is a patriot, and presumably a Republican. It quotes Kanye West’s earlier tweet, but it offers not even a hint of what a “conversation” with Owens might be about, or that some of the possibilities of that conversation may involve precisely the racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim rhetoric for which she is known. Students becoming acquainted with Owens and TPUSA for the first time would have no idea from this misleading poster what #BLEXIT is really about. They might not be aware of Owens’s Tweet about Cesar Sayoc insisting that his multiple package bomb threat was a leftist conspiracy. They might not know about the McCarthy-esque Professor Watchlist.

Members of Philadelphia ANTIFA, of course, know exactly what Candace Owens is all about, and their protest was to make sure the public knew what Candace Owens and TPUSA is about. I do not condone the use of violence under any circumstances. Full stop. And ANTIFA committed no act of violence. To thus accuse ANTIFA of violence in this instance—to claim that that they’re the new KKK—is absurd not merely because they’rethe anti-fascists, but because the worldview actively promoted by Owens is both violent and fascist—indeed, violent precisely becauseit is so profoundly fascist.

Any rational person living through these dark times in the land of the free, home of the brave must recognize that the prohibition against violence does notmean that we’re not well over-due for a profoundly important discussion about what constitutes “violence.” About one thing I am perfectly clear: violence is not reducible to the street brawls of which Owens, standing high up on a park bench to make her #Blexit pitch over the ANTIFA gaggle, had not the slightest fear at UPenn—but which she’d apparently solicit to distract us from the violence to which she is a party:

Violence is a planet suffocated by toxic waste.Violence is a woman forced to carry to term the fetus of the father who raped her.Violence is the police brutality routinely condoned by the far-right.Violence is a white-supremacist terrorist massacre at a mosque, a church, a synagogue.Violence is a country that values its guns over its people.Violence is the wrenching of children away from their refugee parents.Violence is a million species on the brink of extinction.Violence is dying from treatable disease because of lack of access to health care.Violence is a president who actively solicits praise and approval from autocrats and butchers.Violence is a country whose institutions have been expropriated by kleptocrats.Violence is a future of a planet burnt down to the ground by unrelenting human excess and greed.Violence is the worldview personified by Owens, by Charlie Kirk, by Stephen Miller, by Sean Hannity, by Alex Jones, by Donald Trump.

Such a worldview is, in short, fascist: an ideologically informed essentially kleptocratic ideology that utilizes a wide array of violence “justified” to carry out an array of “theories”—conspiracy, eugenicist, patriarchal, “free market”—that insure the maintenance of a hegemonic class of beneficiaries defined by race, class, sex, and access to wealth and weapons. The goal of its mercenaries is to subvert democratic institutions and practices through the union of corporate ambition and state power. In its current incarnation in the United States, we’re witness to the institutionalization of fascist objectives both as de-regulative, for example, the gutting of environmental protections, and regulative—for example, the obscenely repressive “fetal heartbeat” laws recently passed in Georgia and Alabama, apparently endorsed by Owens: “Pro-choice = Murdering your offspring.” (Tweet, 5.12.19)

Violence does not characterize the small cadre of ANTIFA activists on scene at Owens’ arrival at UPenn. They yelled at her, in some cases obscenities. They filmed her. Some folks—don’t know whether they were with ANTIFA or not—filmed her and tried to ask her questions about the infiltration of TPUSA by KKK operatives. The video Owens provides does not include the leveling of any audible threats, nor does anyone accost her in any fashion.1In fact, Owens obviously feels perfectly safe. How do I know? She climbs on top of a park bench, presumably, to be able to garner greater attention. Had she felt in any way threatened, she would certainly not have made her person so fully vulnerable. But she did. She remains there for more than a full minute. Then she gets down, and walks slowly, chatting along the way, into the building, calling out ANTIFA as the new KKK. She’s clearly afraid of no one.

These facts, of course, in no way prevent the white nationalist website Breitbart from running an inflammatory headline “ANTIFA threatens Candace Owens event at University of Pennsylvania,” or from posting ANTIFA tweets aimed at “shutting down” the event.2Someone even tweeted something about throwing a tomato at her. We don’t see that in the video. But if so, is that OK? No.Candace Owens has the same right to safety we all do. The incalculable irony is that the worldview Owens actively espouses is guaranteed to insure a world—in fact, a planet—vastly less safethan the one where she feels secure enough to climb up on a park bench and chat with those closest to her instead of answering tough questions. But answering tough questions would require courage and honesty—not qualities Owens is known for, although she does have the “guts” to blame African Americans for slavery.3

The Breitbart click-bait piece also cites an incident from last Summer where Owens and fellow TPUSA chief Charlie Kirk were allegedly harassed out of a restaurant because, claims Owens, she is black. The point, of course, was to bolster the demonizing of ANTIFA as the new KKK. The problem is that it’s groundless. ANTIFA’s protest of Owens is because she promotes a worldview that’s consistent with conspiracy theory driven white nationalism—that she is in fact the racist, and nothing supports the claim that ANTIFA promotes a racist ideology. Quite to the contrary, in fact.

Fact is, Owen’s characterization of ANTIFA’S motives as racist is false, but it’s also simply mercenary. That the protesters at UPenn were pelleting her with questions about her support for white supremacist conspiracy theories makes pretty clear where they stand. I’m sure Owens isn’t deaf. In fact, I’m sure she knows that calling ANTIFA the new KKK is intended to distract us from Owens’ own courting of white nationalist figures. It affords her the opportunity to make the racist politics of TPUSA appear rational by comparison; it makes her the victim—a theater performance she has perfected and knows will be filmed. She knows her faux-martyrdom will be front-page at outlets like Breitbart. The irony, again, is that if Owens seems to be just fine standing up on that park bench, it’s not only because she knows she’s safe, but because she knows she’s staged an incident to promote a political agenda that, given its own dangerously faulty or false premises, will make the world profoundly unsafe for the very people she’s chatting with at that moment—especially young black men. That is violence.

And it’s no wonder at all that it’s not only Breitbart, but the full weight of the white supremacist blogosphere that exploits the UPenn event, including Campus Reform,4Powerline,5and One American News,just for example. 

What’s most disappointing, however, isn’t that far right conspiracy theory machines would come out swinging in defense of Owens. It’s not that Owens uses her TPUSA platform to demonize whatever gets in the way of her Alt-Right propaganda program. She not only calls ANTIFA the new KKK, The Democrat party a “plantation,” she also heaps scorn on sexual assault survivors like Christine Blasey Ford (“Lock her up”), says the Me Too movement “makes women look stupid,” calls feminist “manhaters,”7and supports criminalizing the constitutionally protected right to abortion, yet calls president Trump “the savior of the West,”8itself a dog whistle to white supremacists.

What’s most disappointing—and laughable—is that the UPenn College Republicans, smart young adults who should know better, defend her as “a clear pro-black figure,” “a powerful Republican voice that advocates for the black community,” and as a victim of “social ostracization because of different political beliefs,”9She is none of these. That Owens legitimately bemoans fatherlessness and the educational achievement gap in the black community as issues that need to be addressed more effectively is undermined (for anyone who does the research) not only by her support for a president whose policies are patently racist, but by her flatly false claim that affirmative action programs have not benefitted African Americans. Such a claim does, of course, support the far-right call to abolish such programs.10Let’s not be fools. Owens mixes in just enough legitimate argument to make her appear credible so that when she begins to roll out the bullshit, the conspiracy theories, and the patent lies, we’re already suckered. 

The UPenn College Republicans also applaud Owens for calling out “politicians who use fears of racism and exacerbate racial hatred for political gain” not apparently realizing that this is precisely the card Owens attempts to play against ANTIFA, or that it’s consistent with her particularly absurd CPAC claim that “racism doesn’t exist in America,” (although apparently an ANTIFA KKK does)—yet another otherwise incoherent position that supports the Alt-Right worldview with which she’s consistently associated.11Although the UPenn College Republicans insist that “a rudimentary knowledge of her [Owens’] personal history and #BLEXIT advocacy work reveals the ridiculousness” of claims that associate her with white supremacism, they neither bother to directly confront the mountainous evidence to the contrary, nor do they acknowledge that #BLEXIT is built on the unsteady sand of conspiracy theory and fear-mongering. 

None of this, however, is surprising given that the Breitbart piece aims to sucker its readers from the outset by comparing an incident that specifically demonizes a Democrat with Antifa, referring to the latter as a hoard. The Young Republicans don’t apparently get it that Owens deploys a strategy in her public speeches (well, not CPAC) similar to that of Charlie Kirk: in order to effectively utilize public presentation as a vehicle for recruitment, reserve it to topics and arguments that preserve the veneer (however thin) of conservatism, all the while sprinkling in dog whistles (ANTIFA is the new KKK) aimed at confirming the worldview of your Alt-Right base, and making sure to craft a carefully-coifed public persona that makes you look like the victim.  

And this all brings me back to where this essay began—with the right to free speech; with a right absolutely critical to a healthy democratic republic, a right that President Trump’s Trojan Horse of a free speech executive order would seek to quash. Candace Owens has a right to free speech. TPUSA should not be barred from giving speeches at universities. But university administrations have a solemn responsibility to be forthright with the campus community and the public about the violent worldview espoused by the speakers their student organizations sponsor. It seems this didn’t happen here. Indeed, had University of Pennsylvania or the UPenn College Republicans taken their responsibilities seriously, the non-violent protest would have been far greater—and the turnout of those ready to be suckered by Owens far fewer. And that would have been a first amendment success story.


2.    Mastrangelo, Alana. “Report: ANTIFA threatens Candace Owens at University of Pennsylvania,” Breitbarthttps://www.breitbart.com/tech/2019/04/15/report-antifa-threatens-candace-owens-tpusa-event-at-university-of-pennsylvania/
4.    Aminov, Joshua. “Philly ANTIFA promotes “shutting down” Candace Owens event.” Campus Reformhttps://www.campusreform.org/?ID=12110.
5.    Hinderaker, John. “Candace Owens fights the new KKK.” Powerline,https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/04/candace-owens-fights-the-new-kkk.php.
6.    One American News, “ANTIFA targets college guest speaking event featuring conservative activist Candace Owens,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8ze6ooie_w.
8.    Young, Cathy. “The trouble with Candace Owens,” The Bulwarkhttps://thebulwark.com/the-trouble-with-candace-owens/.
9.    University of Pennsylvania College Republicans. The Daily Pennsylvanian, “Why we invited Candace Owens to campus,” https://www.thedp.com/article/2019/04/candace-owens-conservative-turning-point-usa-antifa-ivy-league-upenn-philadelphia.
10.Richman, Jackson. “No, Candace Owens” blacks are actually better off today than in the 1940’s.” The Washington Examinerhttps://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/no-candace-owens-blacks-are-actually-better-off-today-than-in-the-1940s
11.Judge, Monique. “Candace Owens thinks racism is over because she has ‘never been a slave’.” https://www.theroot.com/candace-owens-thinks-racism-is-over-because-she-has-1833034080.

Monday, April 15, 2019

When the Call to Free Speech Becomes the Trojan Horse of Fascism: Turning Point USA and Trump’s Executive Order for College Campuses

Trump’s Trojan Horse

One way to describe President Trump’s recent executive order concerning the exercise of free speech on college campuses is as a “Trojan Horse,” not a very well concealed or well-designed Trojan horse (I’m writing about it after all), but a “bigly,” clunky weapon on wheels “disguised” as a horse.1

 As in the original myth, when the city of Troy allows entry to the giant wooden horse thinking it to be a tribute and a trophy, so too American colleges and universities are invited to believe that Trump, and the young “conservatives” of his mercenary entourage at Turning Point USA (TPUSA), are paying tribute to the first amendment’s protections for free speech. And just as the soldiers concealed within the Trojan Horse were at the ready to materialize at dawn against their enemy, so too Trump’s executive order arms its TPUSA Hoplites to carry out a smear campaign of harassment, shaming, and intimidation in the war to rid college and university campuses of whichever discipline, course, or instructor that cannot be made to fit Trump’s white nationalist worldview. While I take it to be as well-established as that the Earth is round that President Trump is a racist bigot who thinks the country (and the world, for that matter) belongs to wealthy white men like himself, Democracy in Color’s “The Trump Administration’s Record of Racism” offers more than 200 reminders, including Inauguration speech dog whistles referencing  the “invasion” of “our border,” the infamous Muslim Ban, the attack on a Gold Star family of a fallen Muslim-American soldier, the attack on Judge Gonzalo Curiel in virtue of Curiel’s Mexican heritage, the Whitehouse appointments of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, “good people on both sides,” separation of undocumented parents from their children, and his retweeting of a Southern Poverty Law Centerdesignated hate group, the Center for Immigration Studies. The incident list goes on and on.2

Given this worldview—and the absolute necessity of deploying whatever stealth or subterfuge is available to fortify it against those who call Bull Shit on dog whistle hate-mongering—it’s hardly surprising that an executive order ostensibly crafted to reinforce the right to free speech on college campuses is actually just the Trump administration’s most recent gambit to squash free speech on college campuses—at least whatever doesn’t comport with Trump’s white America. The trouble of course, is that the very pretext of the order is the demonstrableliethat conservative students are victims of discrimination in virtue of their conservatism on their college campuses. Put differently: Trump’s executive order is premised on the liethat Young Republicans are victimized by their lefty, feminist, Marxist, environmentalist, non-Christian, LGBTQ, non-white professors, that they’re real victims of an indoctrinating cabal of “liberals.” The problem, however, is that no evidence supports this claim—not a damn shred—despite decades of effort by the far-right (for example, David Horowitz) to make it stick. Indeed, once we peel back the thin veneer of this lie, it becomes apparent that behind the charade of respect for freedom of expression lay the darker calculated motives of a presidential regime whose aims are to weaponize speech in the service of demonizing and silencing the regime’s critics—to use speech to repress… speech, leaving the ideological ballast of the extremist far right to fill in the void. As I have argued many times, the deliberate and nefarious conflation of teachingideas in the service of their thorough and critical examination with indoctrination amounts to an obscene debauchery of education. Ideas are not in and of themselves conservative or liberal, per se; they’re opportunities to think. And it is thinkingthe Trump administration and its venal champions cannot brook. That’s what the Free Speech Executive order is really about: if you can stomp out critical thinking where it lives, on college and university campuses, you can fashion the future—in Trump’s case, a very white, very patriarchal, very straight, very Christian theocratic (Mike Pence’s Handmaid’s Tale) future. 

Few organizations better personify the embrace of conservative student victimhood than TPUSA whose mission statement touts protections for free speech and free markets, but whose words and deeds tell a very different and far darker story. The irony is that TPUSA is manifestly not a “safe space” for actualconservative or even Republican students; conservatives and Republicans, after all, aren’t necessarily racist hate-mongers. The TPUSA agenda is to convert college campuses into safe spaces for what can only be accurately described as the white nationalist fascism. And that agenda makes sense of why

·     Founder Charlie Kirk attracted “a contingent of white nationalists from the Traditionlist Worker Party” during his speech at Colorado State University, and why the anti-immigrant fliers posted on campus before the event were attributed to TPUSA. Although Kirk denied any affiliation with the TWP Nazis, his repeated insistence that there exists no such thing as white privilege is plainly interpreted as a dog whistle much like President Trump’s dehumanizing references to invaders and aliens at the Mexican border.Kirk routinely refers to undocumented immigrants as “invaders” and “aliens,” as he applaudes the president.4

·     Communications director Candace Owens is cited as a key inspiration for the anti-Muslim massacre of 49 people at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15th, 2019. In his 73-page manifesto, Terrorist Tarrant refers to the “Great Replacement” and “White Genocide” conspiracy theories. He refers to himself as an ethno-nationalist, and claims that “the person that has influenced me the most is Candace Owens.”5Less than a month later, and directly after Owens gave testimony to Congress denying racism is still an issue for the U.S.,TPUSA tweeted a photograph of white genocide conspiracy theorist, Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi.7In classic up is down, red is green fashion, Owens also tried to blame the New Zealand massacre on the Left “despite the explicit white nationalist ethos of the murderer”8

·     Owens remarked at the inauguration of Turning Point UK (TPUK) that “[y]ou know, he [Adolf Hitler] was a National Socialist,” … “but if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well—okay, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany, he wanted to globalize…”9Yet, despite the fact that she has since denounced Hitler as a “psychotic maniac,” she denies white nationalism is real, insists that it’s a Democrat Party 2020 campaign strategy,10and claims that police brutality is not “a major issue for black Americans.11  Owens regularly applauds Dinesh D’Souza—who claims that avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer is a….Democrat.12 

·     TPUSA is regularly called out for its penchant for racist and anti-Semitic memes,13and in a telling expose by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, has a well-documented history of hiring national field directors like Crystal Clanton whose texts to fellow TPUSA-ers include remarks like this: “I hate black people. Like, fuck them all…I hate blacks. End of story.”14 For anyone who thinks this is a one off, the Anti-Defamation Leaguereports that:

October 2018:  The Miami New Times revealed leaked messages from a TPUSA WhatsApp group connected to Florida International University that included a racist Pepe the Frog meme about Syrian refugees raping white women, as well as a joke about dressing up as ICE agents to “grapple Latinas and deport them.” The messages also included this advice on how to avoid scrutiny: “Just avoid saying the n word and don’t reference Richard Spencer too much and don’t Jew hate…all the time.”15 

·     The Anti-Defamation League(ADL) and the Southern Poverty Law Center(SPLC), among a host of other public watchdog organizations, publicize Owens’ and founder Charlie Kirk’s histories of racist, homophobic, anti-feminist, anti-Muslim remarks (and Tweets) as well as their associations with far-right figures like Alex Jones,16Paul Joseph Watson,17, Pamela Geller,18Marshall DeRosa,19 Mike Cernovich,20Sean Hannity,21and Gavin McInnes.22   

The only way this virulent form of white supremacist hate speech stands a chance of being heard is where every voice of reason is silenced. That is the mission of the Trump free speech executive order Trojan Horse. 

Silence and Trumpian Fascism

Silence—that is the point of President Trump’s Free Speech Executive Order. The TPUSA list goes on for a longmile,23and it’s just these facts that serve to remind us that like so much else in the age of Trump, the executive order isn’t a causeof either the elevation or erosion of first amendment protections; it’s merely a symptomof a very old anti-democratic trinity composed of corporate interests, racist, nativist, and xenophobic sympathies, and tyrannical aspirations newly personified by the Trump regime. The most appropriate name for this is fascism.

What TPUSA richly illustrates is simply that the Trump regime suffers no shortage of recruits ready to carry out the executive order’s repressive mission. The more difficult task, however, is to explain why the recruitment to so anti-democratic a vision of America has been even modestly successful among a demographic whose own futures will be markedly impaired by it, namely, college age young adults and students. There are many reasons, but some are surely these: Trump’s Trojan Horse executive order offers

·     A cornucopia of scapegoats, including so-called “leftist, feminist, environmentalist, Marxist, Postmodern” professors who provide a convenient, if wrong-headed, avenue of blame for the fact that traditional white and/or male and/or affluent college-goers must now compete with “others” for the social status to which a college education had been presumed as an entitlement. Re-securing that entitlement is among the primary drivers of TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist.24

·     A righteous patriotic-sounding balm to disaffected Republican-leaning young adults bolstering the promise of a chance to take back, as Trump puts it, an “our country,” allegedly stolen through government spending on social programs aimed at reducing the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor—falsely blaming them for college debt borne by millennials.25

·     A promise to restore the sort of “natural order” made popular in, for example, the lobster-hierarchy nostalgia of far-right pop-psychology gurus like Jordan Peterson. Peterson’s crude determinism has been soundly debunked by real scientists who make clear that the brain chemistries he associates with male domination are also shared by bee colonies where “the queen is much larger than the male,” and where after the queen is fertilized all the males are driven out and subsequently die.26Facts, however, don’t appear to deter the nearly entirely white male audiences that flock to his wildly expensive presentations. Although the cost of reaffirmation of native superiority be very high, the appetite for it appears to be equally insatiable. It’s thus no wonder that it’s this same crowd that forms the twitter-brigade for Candace Owen’s #Blexit blather, the conspiracy-mongers that flock to Infowars, the Daily Caller, and Rush Limbaugh, or the bottom-feeders that skitter around in that white nationalist sewer that is GAB.

But the Trojan Horse of Trump’s faux free speech executive order offers even more—and does so even though in the weeks that follow the signing, Trump himself seems to have forgotten all about it, namely,

·     An opportunity to eliminate or at least substantively deface the first amendment’s establishment clause protecting minority religious traditions, replacing these with Charlie Kirk’s vision of a Christian America where what we teach in public schools is that “[t]he Bible is the most powerful, significant, and important book of all time 66 books, 40 authors, and 5,000 years of history Four direct accounts of the most influential person ever to live Answers to every challenge you will face So why don’t we teach it in our schools?”27

·     A chance to make the just-under-the-surface always-simmering racism and sexism so deeply enmeshed in U.S. history sexy-cool again, (see, for example, Andre Chung’s “Trump’s man on campus”).28 At this point in the Trump  regime, it’s actually hard to imagine having to defend the claim that the president and many of his cohorts actively court racist tropes quite literally all the time—but a reminder is always helpful: Trump’s retweeting of the New York Posts flagrantly racist Anti-Muslim comparison of Representative Ilhan Omar to 9-11 terrorists,29or his threat to use desperate undocumented immigrants as weapons against his political opponents,30or, well, his endless history of racism going all the way back to the 1970’s.31 

What Trump-brand fascism needs are young folks to make it real, and disaffected young white men are just the ticket. Or: disaffected young black men who can be convinced that the only alternative to a disappointing Democratic Party is, for example, Candace Owens’ Blexit,32the Black exit, a particularly deceptive iteration of straight-up racist nativism cast as salvation from a party so demonized we might as well imagine Democrats with horns and pitchforks. Blexit personifies Owens’ need for an enemy so blighted and evil that “[w]ithout question, it is more difficult today to come out as a conservative than it is to come out as gay.”33Owens’ reasoning is, of course, absurd, and would be absurd even if the Dems were every bit as malevolent as she makes them out to be. The trouble is that there’s not just one alternative to the Democratic party; there are many—libertaerians, independents, greens…  The Democratic Party is flatly not, as Owens’ calls it, a “slave plantation,”34and the “conservatism” of Blexit is not conservative; it’s Turning Point USA white nationalism masquerading as liberation from enemies made up just for them—a “made up” that requires a lot of lying. But like the white brethren she regularly dog whistles, Owens’ is rarely without her magic bag of mendacity. From insisting that the GOP Southern Strategy never happened,35 to denying that police brutality disproportionately impacts young black men,36to claiming that the greatest threat to “The West” is Islam,37to trashing the Me Too Movement,38 Owens appears willing to entertain virtually any claim (or conspiracy theory) that she can use to recruit fellow African Americans to a Blexit that would be a better acronym for the exodus of the blowhard grifters.

What TPUSA, Blexit, and Trump’s free speech executive order offer is the opportunity to be disgorged from the back end of the Trumpian Trojan Horse to do righteous battle with the Infidels, that is, the “leftists,” “feminists,” “Muslims,” “undocumented immigrants,” the world full of “others” whose defeat promises catharsis for vanquished jobs and poor wages. Volunteering to climb aboard, buys you scapegoats and, with them, an outlet for the misplaced sense of having been cheated out of the entitlement to dominate, exploit, and discard those “others.” Along with an array of other executive orders, deregulations, and the histrionics of Trump’s endless campaign, the free speech order helps to drown out the black, brown, and female voices daring to call out the fact that the myths that undergird white entitlement have become threadbare. That is the order’s purpose, and that’s why the deception of a Trojan Horse is imperative: the myth of a white “Western” cultural, religious, and economic superiority is the bone marrow of other biggermyths—like American Exceptionalism or Manifest Destiny. Speech that interrogates their mythical foundation, that threatens to reveal just how existentially dependent its white supremacism is on the institution of slavery, the systemic oppression of women, the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the rape of the fruited plain, is speech that must be silenced—or, as is Owens’ strategy, subverted to the defense of bizarre claims like a defense of Hitler.  That’s how far she’s apparently willing to go doing her part to insure we continue to believe the hogwash of an entitlement that will benefit her for exactly as long as she remains willing to defend its falsehoods—and not a minute longer. That’s the enigma of Candace Owens. She apparently thinks that, as she likes to put it on her Candace Showon Dennis Prager’s fake university website that she having open-minded conversations where people can actually exchange ideas and change their minds. Well, just no. Did Owens change her mind and, for example, recognize the countless reasons why Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King would find in her political posturing a horrifying race-baiting charlatan, she’d be disowned by her old white dude nationalist entourage faster than you can say “grifter.”

It’s no easy thing to defend the throng of falsehoods TPUSA seems hell-bent to champion. The planet, for example, is not a vault of endless resources. “Western” values are not superior to “Non-Western” values. Whether Owens has ever been subjected to slavery is irrelevant to whether racism is “over,” as she puts it, in America.39Men have no natural right to dominate women. Modern feminism is not a “war on men,”40Christian conservatives were not “responsible for the Renaissance,” and they are neither the sole arbiters nor the creators of culture.41 The market is not free and it doesn’t insure a just distribution of goods.42Climate change is real and it’s anthropogenic, despite Owens,43and Kirk’s denial.44Each of these myths are demonstrably false—yet they provide the scaffolding for the biggest myth of all: that America is the land of the free; that the country is a democratic republic whose governing agents work tirelessly to insure equal opportunity and freedom of expression to all. From the point of view of this big fat lie, we can see that Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens are just hucksters trying to cash in on an American Dream built on hot sand. But this doesn’t make them any less a very real threat. TPUSA’s profoundly divisive, fear-mongering Trumpian rhetoric and its efforts to amplify it in every cyber-venue available is the tell that there’s something more: the desperation that accompanies recognition, however dim, that neither the planet not its clamoring masses are prepared to put up with their destructive chicanery for very much longer; that no matter with what zeal the Kirks and Owens of the world align themselves with the repression of dissident voices, no matter what characters from the so-called hype of the intellectual dark web they’ll entertain as authoritative, no matter how wide they open the Turnstile doors of Turning Point’s roster of speakers and personalities, they know in their guts that the rest of us know they’re charlatans, grifters, and false prophets. 

Here’s just one sample: Vicewriter Tess Owen documents the efforts of white nationalist Identity Europa(now “American Identity Movement”) to infiltrate Turning Point in the interest of rebranding themselves as a more “PG-13” white nationalism after the riots at Charlottesville that left one person dead. That Identity Europarecognizes TPUSA as an ideal home for their recruitment efforts is hardly surprising, but even less so is that the effort has apparently been met with some success: 
It’s not entirely clear how many members Identity Evropa has accrued since Nathan Damigo, an Iraq War veteran, founded the group in 2016. The Discord server had nearly 900 members, which isn’t necessarily a reflection of the group’s membership but does speak to the numbers of people who are curious, if not sympathetic, to its ideas… Part of Identity Evropa’s strategy now relies on its ability to weaponize metaphors to make their white nationalism seem more acceptable, like referring to “European heritage” — which white nationalist often use as a euphemism to mean “white” — or seizing on mainstream conservative issues like immigration… In the leaked Identity Evropa Discord chats, one server member wrote that his “ultimate goal” was a “subversion of my school’s TPUSA chapter into a front for IE [Identity Evropa.]” “Broke: Infiltrating GOP,” another user wrote. “Woke: Infiltrating TPUSA.” Another member claimed that he’d been recruiting with the leader of his school’s Turning Point USA chapter at the club fair… “To the best of TPUSA’s knowledge, no Evropa representative — or sympathizer — has ever or would be invited to participate in one of our events,” Kirk told VICE News. But just last week, white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, who attended Unite the Right, spoke at Iowa State University. During his speech, blamed people of color, immigrants, and “globalists” for America’s problems, according to the Des Moines Register. Iowa State University's College Republicans released a statement the following day condemning Fuentes and claimed that he’d been invited to speak by Turning Point USA.45 
Here's the point: it’s easy to track down the fact thatTPUSA’s donors and benefactors are wealthy white men,46that its conventions47are sponsored by far-right organizations likeCenter of the American Experiment,48that TPUSA is popular with white nationalist conspiracy theorists,49, avowed anti-Semites,50and figures like Paul Joseph Watson.51  It’s also not hard to see that, however thinly concealed in the Trojan Horse of Trump’s executive order, TPUSA’s objective isn’t the restoration of democratic ideals, but rather the preservation of an America where the pretense to democracy was never met with any real commitment to carry out its promise of equality, opportunity, and freedom.

What the rise of organizations like TPUSA have achieved, in other words, and utterly contrary to their intentions, is the disillusion of the myth that is “America.” You can smell the desperation. We can tell the jig is up from the sheer lengths they’re willing to go to hold onto power.  We can see right through to their grifter fame-mongering motives, and we can tell that the “land of the free, home of the brave” narrative is collapsing by just what-all TPUSA and its analogues are willing to do to preserve it… for the few. In every racist, sexist, anti-gay association, white supremacist dog whistle, and act of denial; in each reaffirmation of “Western” values, Islamophobic tweet, trashing of “Me Too,” reference in a terrorist manifesto, and threat to sue for defamation (Twitter, 11:38AM, 3.14.19), is the faint stench of that they knowwe seethem for what they are. We’re catching on to the lie. We’re woke to the xenophobic fa├žade that isTPUSA. We know why Candace Owens is cited as inspiration for a racist massacre; we get it that Charlie Kirk’s faint rejections of white nationalism are really dog whistles intended to mainstream hate. Hell, we even get why Kanye West wants out.52

Day is not Night and Freedom of Expression is not the Repression of Dissent

At one level, Trump’s is the ordinary fascism of branding a country as a dynasty. But at another, epitomized by the executive order, we’re now witness to a fascism crafted for a time where the truth—about the climate, about human migration, about access to clean water, about extinctions—stand in such stark contrast to the preservation of the privileges of this ruling class that not only must truth-tellers be silenced—they must be vilified as the oppressors so that rulers can be “victims” of oxymorons like “presidential harassment.” In this latter sense, Trump’s executive order is not merely about consolidating power; it’s about the survival of an entire way of life on a planet whose dwindling resources cannot support it, and whose increasingly desperate and disenfranchised populations inch closer and closer to that truth.

It’s thus no wonder that the new enemies of the state are the scientists, the teachers, the scholars, and the public intellectuals who dare to speak truth. What threatened the Greeks were the warriors of Troy.  What threatens the way of life that is Trump is the production of knowledge that informs an educated citizenry, the capacity for critical evaluation and appreciation of fact that is the mission of university education. Did Turning Point USA not already exist to provide loyal foot-soldiers in the war on that production, the Trump regime would surely have to create them. Fortunately for the Trumpian Troglodytes, grifters like Kirk and Owens, and their counterparts at smear-machines like The Daily Caller, Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, and Breitbart, have arisen to fill that vacuum. Like the warriors crammed into the belly of the Trojan horse ready to disgorge at the first light of dawn, the soldiers of the Trump regime ready their cyber-spears, their memes, their doxing expertise, and their good old-fashioned first amendment rights to bludgeon any scientist who names the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change, any academic who dares to suggest that capitalism may not be the great liberator, any “social justice warrior” who’d dare to tell the truth about the rising number of hate crimes in the land of the free, or hell, any parent—just like me—who cannot fathom being torn away from her baby for the crime of seeking asylum in a foreign land. Consider, for example, Faye Higbee, a writer for Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children:

We received an email from John Fromille, a Marine veteran who served three combat tours in Iraq and received two Purple Hearts. He is a student at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. He told us about a professor at his school who is using her position to push a left-wing, vicious, anti-Trump ideology. This kind of thing has been occurring across the country in our schools from elementary to college and everywhere in between.53

Channeling the narrative of the evil indoctrinating professor, it’s easy to imagine Higbee leaping from the belly of Trump’s Free Speech Trojan Horse to defend innocent college students from their “left-wing, vicious, anti-Trump” teachers. The problem, of course, is that Higbee provides not an iota of evidence for indoctrination, and apparently doesn’t ask veteran John Fromille to supply any either. From Fromille’s letter:

“Professor Wendy Lee is a professor at my university. From her office window in a major thoroughfare that thousands of students have to walk by a day, she has an upside down American Flag and a sign that reads “Biggest Shithole In The World Is Donald Trumps Racist Soul.” My issue with this is the fact that she’s using a government/state owned building, payed for with taxpayers’ money, to display the American Flag upside down and her sign, pushing her own ideologies and indoctrination upon our children. 
Furthermore, she has a history of doing this and has discriminated against students who have either been military, or who oppose her ideology by kicking them out of class, threatening to call the cops on them, or punishing them by giving them substantially lower grades. I feel the hypocrisy is astounding. If a conservative professor would do the very same things she has been doing, such as displaying signs from their office windows, the university shuts these people down immediately.
Everyone is entitled to their own 1st amendment rights. But she’s using her position of authority and power, abusing it, by pushing her own ideologies and agenda on children in an academic setting, using state/government owned buildings.
My goal is to create AWARENESS to EFFECT change. Students have complained about this before using the appropriate chains of command within the university. However, the university does nothing because there is no public awareness about this. So far, my original post has over 1,000 shares and and has almost 2k in comments. I’ve conducted two interviews with local media outlets. Already, Bloomsburg University is feeling the pressure. They have recieved dozens and dozens of phone calls from concerned citizens.”54

Let’s be very clear here: professors are citizens, and no professor at a public university gives up their right to free expression. A display like my upside-down American flag is an act of free speech and, contrary to Ms. Higbee’s hate-mongering title, an expression of patriotism. Indeed, it is exactly the defense of the first amendment that Trump’s executive order would seem to protect. Except that neither Trump, nor his allies at Turning Point USA, nor Mr. Fromille, nor Ms. Higbee mean any such thing. How can we tell? Easy—Ms. Higbee’s screed exemplifies precisely what Trump’s free speech executive order is intended to do: repress speech by publicly shaming and demonizing the administration’s critics. How does she achieve this? By a slight of hand—convincing exactly the sort of primed-pump reader “Uncle Sam” attracts that an act of free speech is the same thing as an act of indoctrination—especially when it comes from those already suspect “lefty” (not to mention female) professors. It’s question-begging and ad hominem(attack the credibility of the person) all wrapped up in one big fallacious flag. Higbee cites Fromille’s letter as if it were evidence the indoctrination claim is true, as if his veteran status somehow authorizes his claims without additional evidential support. 

But that’s just not how evidential support works: claiming that something is true doesn’t make it so just because someone writes it down, says it in anger, expresses indignance, or occupies some position of authority. Claims are true when their supported by evidence; full stop. But evidence is plainly no more Ms. Higbee’s (TPUSA’s, President Trump’s) goal than respect for truth informs one iota of her screed or Fromille’s letter. 

As for Mr. Fromille, note how glibly he slides from “display the American flag” to “pushing her own ideologies,” as if the latter followed from the former as a matter of course. It does not. Note too that Fromille follows this with a cascade of unsubstantiated claims that include:

·     Lee has a long history of indoctrinating students.
·     Lee discriminates against military students.
·     Lee discriminates against those who oppose her ideology.
·     Lee punishes students who disagree with her by giving them lower grades.
·     Lee is abusing her position of authority.
·     Students have complained through the appropriate channels.

What’s critically important here isn’t merely that Fromille offers precisely no supporting evidence for these defamatory claims. It’s not merely that they’re flatly and unequivocally false. It’s not even whether there exist reports in Lee’s personnel file, or whether there have been “dozens” of phone calls.  There are no such reports in Lee’s file, and the public doesn’t get to decide a professor’s expression of patriotism. What isimportant here is that examples like this show how entirely free from fact is the ideologically driven myth of the victimized conservative student. That there’s not really even a pretense to respect for fact is, in other words, the tell that what does inform this sort of “reporting” is fear—unvarnished, screeching, nothing matters except winning terror. And that is the Modus Operendiof Brietbart, the Daily Caller, the Daily Wire, and their countless analogues and posers. Fromille apparently thinks himself entitled to deliver a deluded rant without bothering to contact his target. Higbee apparently takes herself to be entitled to make a “report” on the basis of Fromille’s rant. Both play victim very much after the model of the Turning Point USA playbook—now codified in the Trump Free Speech Executive Order. 

The right response to a Trojan Horse, however, is to recognize it as a Trojan Horse

This clunker is naught but a barometer of Trump’s ever-expanding vulnerabilities. For despite his rabid base, the president’s position isas fragile as the necessity of securing it through deception, corruption, graft, and the weaponizing of grifters and sycophants. It’s a barometer not of the extent to which Trump is confident that he’ll keep, as he puts it, winning bigly; were the Greeks so certain of their chances they’d have simply stormed the gates. No—Trump’s executive order is, like the Trojan Horse, a nefarious effort to steal in through camouflage what would be swiftly defeated if we knew what was up. And we do:

The only way to execute a vision of America so

·     Cruelas to take babies from the arms of their mothers and fathers,
·     Mercenary as to help cover for the butchering murder of journalists,
·     Xenophobicas to destroy its own economy by walling off its Southern border,
·     Nativistas to debauch the Statue of Liberty’s promise of sanctuary and opportunity,
·     Tyrannicalas to trample the separation of powers and defy Congress as a co-equal branch of government,
·     Arrogantas to attempt to brand an entire country as the private property of a single family with dynastic aspirations, and
·     Fascistthat profiteering is normalized as the point of elections rigged to benefit corporations…

is to silence its dissidents. That’s what Trump’s night is day, black is white, true is false, free speech executive order is about. But it’s also symptomatic of the sloppy-desperate gambit to which the beleaguered resort in their effort to stave off what endangers them the most—the prospect that enough of the public will catch on. Trump and his allies wrap themselves in the flag as if it were made of Kevlar because they know just what a whole cloth lie this administration really is. They know we just might figure out that the Trump Trojan Horse is actually full of shivering ignorant self-aggrandizing cowards fouling their skivvies at the very prospect of being disgorged from their comfy seats inside the belly of the beast. 

They need to hear our raucous laughter.

Land of the free. Home of the brave. The reversed American flag covering my office window facing out onto my university quad? Seventeen carefully preserved death threats and countless abusive, harassing, violent, rape-fantasy, shaming, dehumanizing comments later: it stands. 

Wendy Lynne Lee
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania


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