Burying You With a Good Shovel in the Good Earth: Liberals and Trumpism

(This is a joint post by Douglas and Cato)

Once upon a time, a small group of indigenous people took on the Klan and won in the rural South in 1958.


The Lumbee tribe is not a big or especially well-known tribe outside of North Carolina. Its members make up the overwhelming majority of the population of Pembroke, NC and they constitute 40% of the population of Robeson County, which is on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. The Lumbee are denied access to the funds set aside for most federally recognized tribes despite gaining federal recognition in 1956. This is part of why Robeson is not a rich county: 1 in 3 residents live in poverty as of 2012, with 8% unemployment as of 2015.

Aside from poverty, there was another thing making life hard for the people of Robeson County in 1958. It was a Klan Grand Wizard obsessed with preventing miscegenation. His name was James ‘Catfish’ Cole, and he had come up from South Carolina to teach the Lumbee a lesson about not intermarrying with white people. He deployed two tools from the usual array of Klan terror: night rides and cross burnings. Cole was planning on holding a rally and cross burning near the town of Maxton by a place called Hayes Pond.

It did not go as he wanted it to. When approximately 50-150 Klansmen were all set to rally, 500 Lumbee, armed with rocks and sticks and firearms swarmed them. Four Klansmen were wounded by gunfire, the rest (including Cole) ran for the woods, leaving behind their families. The sheriff ultimately showed up and dispersed the ‘Klan rout’ after the Lumbee tribe took the Klan’s banner as a trophy, which is pictured above with the leaders of the Lumbee group who confronted the Klan, Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine. Cole was ultimately arrested and prosecuted for inciting a riot, and the Lumbee still celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Hayes Pond to this day.

So. What does that have to do with Trump?

The violent confrontations between Trump supporters and anti-Trump protesters did not come from nowhere. Trump supporters have a history of violence against people who disagree with them. Or look different from them. Or have the temerity to protest against Trump inside one of his rallies. And this behavior has been egged on by Trump himself, including promising to pay for the legal bills of those who assault anti-Trump protesters (a promise which he has reneged on).

Something changed, though, on the night of March 11 in Chicago. When Trump attempted to run another of his bund rallies, the city turned out against him. Thousands of protesters filled the hall and congregated outside the venue, forcing him to ultimately cancel the rally and denying him an opportunity to spread his poison. Despite the vacuous concern trolling from media liberals and overheated fury from the right, there was no real violence, few injuries, and five arrests.

This pattern has continued elsewhere and it has worsened. This past Saturday, Trump supporters pepper-sprayed anti-Trump protesters in San Diego. Similar scenes played out in New Mexico. All this came to a head this past Thursday, when in San Jose anti-Trump protesters egged a few Trump supporters and beat up a few more. The incident lead to four arrests, and a stampede of every sniveling pundit to deplore the breakdown in civility.

Liberals, finding themselves entirely unequipped to deal with a candidate and a group of supporters who could care less about the niceties of modern American politics, can do nothing but sit back and complain on social media and in their blogs about how dangerous and uncivil the confrontation of people who are calling for what amounts to ethnic cleansing was. A couple of them have even made the entirely hilarious claim that socialists and communists fighting against fascism in its ascendancy actually made things worse. From Chris Hayes:


And from a piece written by Jamelle Bouie:

There are times when political violence is effective, even permissible. Now is not one of those times. Americans—and those on the left, in particular—have every tool needed to stop Trump. We can use those tools, which show every sign of working. Or we can choose the other option, the one that clears the path to genuine bloodshed. But here’s why we shouldn’t: The simple truth is that reaction feeds on disorder. And when there are legitimate means to stop Trump, you’re just as likely to cause a backlash in favor of his effort by forsaking them to attack his supporters. (At the risk of tripping Godwin’s law, German Communist violence against ultra-right targets in the 1932 elections didn’t stop Hitler and his enablers as much as it emboldened and enabled them.) If anything, Trump wants violent attacks on his supporters. Don’t give them to him.”

Time for a history lesson, y’all.

In 1921, Prime Minister Luigi Facta was faced with the March on Rome by the Blackshirts, led by Benito Mussolini and the National Fascist Party. Facta was a member of the Liberal Party, one of two dominant parties in pre-war Italy. What did Facta do about this? History has not judged him well on this front:

“The weak coalition government led by Luigi Facta knew that Mussolini was planning a coup, but at first the prime minister did not take the Fascists’ intentions seriously. ‘I believe that the prospect of a March on Rome has faded away,’ Facta told the King. Nor were all of the Socialists eager to confront the Fascist threat. Indeed, some radical Marxists hoped that Mussolini’s ‘reactionary buffoonery’ would destroy both the Socialists and the Liberals, thus preparing the way for a genuine Communist revolution. For their part, the Liberals worried most about the Socialists, because of their anticapitalist ideology.” (Delzell 1976, 124)

Facta guessed wrong: in order to save his place on the Italian throne, King Vittorio Immanuel III dismissed Facta and Liberal-led coalition government. Amazingly enough, he gave Mussolini the keys to power even though it is debatable whether Mussolini could have survived an assault from the Royal Army were it to have intervened to save Facta. Some of his top lieutenants stated that they would not break against the King, and Mussolini had drawn up alternate plans to leave the country were the King to stand and fight the fascists.

It seems that the tendency for establishmentarians to dismiss the fascist threat was common in that time, as it is now. For in Weimar Germany, a situation emerged that was similar to the one faced by Facta in Italy. The Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), once a small formation in the conservative south of Germany, had grown to become a real political force. By 1930, the Nazis, as supporters of the NSDAP had become popularly known, led by Chancellor-candidate Adolf Hitler, had captured about 19 percent of the vote in that year’s federal election. Aided by big business in Germany, former Chancellor Franz Von Papen of sought an alliance with Hitler that would, Von Papen thought, allow Hitler to become a puppet chancellor, with Von Papen’s Centre Party and German industry calling the shots:

“Most of the leaders of big business were, to the very end, under a basic misapprehension about the nature of the new cabinet taking shape in January 1933. Their information came mainly from Papen and his circle, and they were led to believe that what was coming was a revival of the Papen cabinet, with its base widened through the inclusion of the Nazis. Even when it was learned that Papen would be Vice-Chancellor under Hitler, big business continued to assume that he would be the real leader of the new government. In the eyes of the business community, January 30, 1933, seemed at first to mark the fall of the hated Schleicher and the return of the trusted Papen, not the advent of a Nazi dictatorship.” (Turner 1969, 68)

Lest we think, however, that business was appalled at Hitler’s suspension of parliamentary rule under the Enabling Act, Turner goes on to state that, “By the time the leaders of big business were disabused of this illusion, they were ready to make their peace with Hitler.” As for those dastardly Communists that Bouie and Hayes seem to blame for the rise of Hitler? They were actually the targets of Nazi violence in the lead-up to the November 1933 federal election, along with the Social Democratic Party and the Centre Party. That election would be the last to feature multiple parties until 1949.

Leftists had more success against fascists, however, in situations where the latter were not backed by the power of the state. Perhaps the most famous example of this was the Battle of Cable Street, which occurred on the East End of London in October 1936. The background for that conflict was the rise of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by former Conservative MP Sir Oswald Mosley. After a tour of Mussolini’s Italy, he returned to the United Kingdom a strong adherent of fascism and set about forming the BUF in 1932. The BUF grew rapidly, and claimed over 50,000 members at one point. On October 4, 1936, the BUF were to march through the East End, which was home to a politically and ethnically diverse community, including the UK’s first ever elected Communist MP. When the Metropolitan Police and the BUF showed up, however, they were confronted by 100,000 working-class Londoners; they were promptly routed. Afterwards, the House of Commons passed the Public Order Act of 1936 soon after the conflict, which banned the wearing of political uniforms and required police consent for marches beforehand. The BUF was dead by the end of the decade, and Oswald Mosley lived on in disgrace.

And what of the South and the Klan? The latter was an entrenched force by the term ‘fascist’ came into vogue, despite being perhaps the first true example of a fascist movement and having taken power as one. While the resistance to Jim Crow and the Klan during the Civil Rights Movement largely took on the characteristic of nonviolent resistance, this narrative is frequently exaggerated and occludes the militant resistance that took place contemporaneous to the more-publicized efforts of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Freedom Riders and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to say nothing of the Battle of Hayes Pond. Given the Redeemer governments were completely unwilling to let Black men and women even vote (and were restricting poor, frequently illiterate whites from voting as well through literacy tests), how would have an electoral strategy to stop them even get off the ground?

All of this history underlines a basic truth: electoral politics in a liberal democracy are not enough to stop (or even contain) a fascist political movement. Concepts like the rule of law, property rights, and the exclusion of violence from the political process are things that only work if an overwhelming majority of those participating in the process agree to them and are willing to unite and drive off those who do not. Since fascists never challenged the entrenched business interests that have historically dominated countries about to fall to fascist movements, the existing parties involved in the electoral politics of those states were never able or willing to unite and exclude them in the way they historically had against the Left. And since fascists have no compunctions about rigging elections through fraud, false crises, and intimidation, those parties never got the chance to do so after the blackshirts took over.

All of the confrontational actions by anti-Trump protesters share a basic element: they are reactive in nature, like a fever when faced with a serious infection. Trump’s call for mass deportation and his wall are right-wing wonk approved ways of saying ‘ethnic cleansing.’ By rallying thousands of people who support his program of ethnic supremacism into diverse cities, Trump is absolutely provoking the people who would be the target of his ire. Is it any wonder, then, why these people turn out with such hostility to prevent him from spreading such bile in their communities?

Finally, there is a staggering dissonance here when it comes to the concept of resistance. The liberals who complain about the actions in Chicago and San Jose seriously believe that mobilizing people to vote is resistance against fascism. It is an appeal to authority against authoritarianism: just elect these people, and you will not have to get your hands dirty engaging in any kind of battles against these hooligans sullying our cherished democratic institutions. And for those who dissent, liberals seem pretty open to some harsh measures:

That’s right. Chris Hayes thinks that the folks who are engaging in actual resistance to Trumpism should be arrested and prosecuted, while the folks who would happily have those protesters shot get to attend their political rally in peace. Hayes also believes, apparently, that arresting people of color and prosecuting them for what he describes as “assault” will not likely result in prison time. Which is a pretty insane assertion in a country where a 19-year old kid gets a 12-year suspended sentence for breaking a car window during a riot.

In the end, we have to ask a relatively simple question. If it was wrong for (mostly) Latino and Latina protesters to egg and sucker-punch Trump supporters, does that mean it was wrong for the Lumbee tribe to run the Klan out of Robeson County with guns in hand? Where would the piously civil liberals of today stand on the Battle of Hayes Pond? Would they join the Klan in demanding that the “kinky-haired so-called Indians”, as ‘Catfish’ Cole’s wife put it, be charged and prosecuted for assault? These are (barely) rhetorical questions, but they reflect the uncomfortable truth that these issues are not as cut and dry as some in the media have made them seem.

Liberals literally want to bring a book and a well-reasoned argument to a gunfight. That may work in a Sorkin drama or Hamilton, but the world we live in is not a well-scripted drama where the good guys always win in the end. It is a place where justice and equality will only be won by battling those who would place the boot of revanchism, reaction, and repression upon the throats of all who reject their vision of society.

This is not a debate. It is a fight. Which side are you on?