The US Republican Party Will Continue Its Christo-Fascist Crusade — Clyde W. Barrow

Scholars have long considered Trump a threat. Back in November 2020, Caucus for a New Political Science member Clyde Barrow published this piece on the Legal Form Blog, and in light of the insurrection on 1/6/21, we repost it now. Prof. Barrow is the author of The Dangerous Class: The Concept of the Lumpenproletariat (University of Michigan Press, 2020), available here.

The presidency of Donald J. Trump has been simultaneously disconcerting and entertaining. But Trump’s antics should not distract us from the fact that he successfully implemented a tax reform plan that redistributed $1.5 trillion to billionaires and profitable corporations, while seeking to strip millions of people of health care coverage in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed 236 000 Americans. He has created the largest network of detention centers on US soil—some call them concentration camps—since the Japanese internment camps of the Second World War. He has separated mothers from their children at the US border and put children in cages. He has consistently defended the use of threats, intimidation, violence, and even murder by his supporters, and in doing so he has opened a window onto the future of US politics. 

If Trump loses the election, it will not be the end of Trumpism. Trumpism has always been about more than Donald Trump. Trumpism, properly speaking, is Christo-Fascism. And Christo-Fascism is now the official ideology of the Republican Party. In the event that Trump is removed from office, the doors to the halls of power would simply be opened to up-and-coming princes of the lumpenproletariat supported during election time by a decaying petit bourgeoisie and funded by the most parasitic elements of finance capital. [1] First, the underlying process of post-industrial capitalist development has generated what I regard as an army of lumpenproletarian shock troops, supported by the petit bourgeoisie, who stand ready for action regardless of the election’s outcome. Second, it is my contention that Trump did not capture or change the Republican Party, but merely opened a Pandora’s box that unleashed the Furies building within the party for at least four decades. Thus, the Republican Party will not be restored to some mythical “normalcy” if Trump is voted out of office. It will instead continue down a path-dependent road charted for it since Ronald Reagan was first elected president in 1980. This makes the party a clear and present danger to democracy. 

After the Counter-Revolution

In the final weeks leading up to the election, a steady stream of psychiatrists have reminded US citizens that President Trump has a “narcissistic personality” that “makes him very dangerous” in the event that he loses the election. Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology who is an expert on narcissistic personality disorder, warns that the results of Trump losing the election “could be very ‘frightening’”. It could trigger “a rampage of destruction and reign of terror in revenge against an entire nation that has failed him”. [2] A retired Harvard Medical School psychiatrist predicted as early as July 2020 that Trump would create a “Reichstag incident” giving him the excuse to impose martial law and stay in power indefinitely. As Dr. Lance Dodes observes, dictators routinely reverse the truth by accusing others of doing what they have themselves done—and this includes “destroying democratic governments in order to ‘restore democracy’”. [3]

We have already seen the build-up to this scenario beginning on June 21, 2019, when eleven Republican Oregon state senators paralyzed the state legislature with an illegal walkout. When the Democratic governor order the state police to seize the senators and return them to work, members of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenter militias rallied to their defence. On May 1, 2020, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Michigan’s state capitol for an “American Patriot Rally”, and during this rally several demonstrators openly carrying guns entered the Senate gallery. Police did not intervene until some of the armed protesters tried to enter the Senate chamber. Many of the state senators wore bulletproof vests to the legislative session in anticipation of potential violence. On August 25, 2020, several dozen unmasked protesters, some of them armed, pushed their way into the fourth-floor gallery of the Idaho House of Representatives, breaking a glass door panel in the process. Four people were arrested, including far-right militia leader Ammon Bundy, who had earlier led an armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Reserve in 2016. Finally, on October 8, 2020, thirteen individuals linked to the Wolverine Watchmen were arrested for a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, planning to put her on trial for treason and execute her, while also plotting to overthrow several other state governments, including Virginia, which they claimed were violating the US Constitution.

Some have argued that Trump’s Reichstag incident came and went with the plot to kidnap Governor Whitmer. I want to suggest that these previous incidents are only test-runs for what likely lies ahead. Between the election on November 3, 2020 and Inauguration Day on January 21, 2021, Donald Trump will remain in office for another ten weeks and he will command the full powers of the US presidency. However, beyond the formal powers of the presidency, Donald Trump has clearly demonstrated that he commands a motley private army of paramilitary shock troops and that he can count on local and federal police forces that are personally loyal to him to “defend democracy” against what he will surely call a rigged and corrupt election. Moreover, even if Trump is removed from office, his erstwhile advisor Steve Bannon has stated that he will run again in 2024. The alleged grievance of a corrupt election will provide his supporters with more than enough justification to “defend the US Constitution” against an “illegitimate president”.

Trump has long boasted that his own security team is “rough” with those who challenge him at his rallies. He has cultivated the support of local police officers by routinely encouraging them not to be concerned about preventing physical harm to those being taken into custody, thereby legitimating police brutality. In response to Black Lives Matters protests in cities across the United States, the president has activated cells of masked Homeland Security Investigations “jump out boys” who whisk away protestors in unmarked vehicles reminiscent of Argentina’s desaparecidos during the Dirty War. William Barr, the US attorney general, has systemically deputized local and state police officers into service, while mobilizing US Bureau of Prison guards into domestic police duty against law-abiding US citizens. 

Trump has described armed neo-Nazis, fascists, and white supremacists as “fine people”, and he has hinted that civil war is looming by claiming that “I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump—I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough—until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad”. More recently, in response to direct questions from reporters, he has refused to condemn the doctrine of white supremacy, and has in fact moved in the opposite direction by directing the Proud Boys, a designated hate group, to “stand down and stand by”. By all accounts, the message was received loud and clear and the Proud Boys, along with their militia brethren, are standing by and awaiting orders from Il Duce

I have long been concerned that liberals and leftists in the United States do not take the threat of right-wing violence and insurrection seriously, because they find it more comforting to dismiss these groups as “fringe” fanatics. However, in the United States, there are now a multitude of local, state, and national right-wing organizations that are loosely knit together by overlapping belief systems, web pages, online blogs, gun clubs, gun shows, and political rallies. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) currently tracks 687 right-wing hate groups that “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics”. [4] These groups have an overlapping set of beliefs that generally fuse white nationalism, Christianity, toxic masculinity, and fear of a liberal “deep state” into hybrid variants of Christo-Fascism that Trump has successfully mobilized and legitimated in a multitude of ways. These groups include general hate groups, such as the Proud Boys, but they also include a long list of white nationalist (White Aryan Resistance), neo-Nazi (Atomwaffen Division), neo-Confederate (League of the South), Christian identity (American Identity Movement), and Anglo-Saxon neo-völkisch (Wodon’s Folk Kindred) groups.

These hate groups often show up at Black Lives Matter protests to intimidate protestors, but they are technically distinct from the armed militias in the United States. However, hate groups provide a reservoir of recruits and sympathizers for the militias. The SPLC has also identified 165 armed militia groups in the United States, with 2016 membership estimated as high as 60 000—an army equivalent to six infantry divisions if organized on a proper basis. The most prominent militias with national organization and membership are the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and the Constitutional Sheriffs, each of which have aggressively recruited police, soldiers, and veterans to their ranks and openly declare their intent to prepare for civil war. [5] These are not amateur gun clubs that target-practice at a gun range, but well-trained, experienced, and disciplined soldiers who understand military tactics and military weaponry. They have been probing the enemy lines for several months, and I have no doubt that they have found those lines soft and poorly defended.

The Oath Keepers claim 35 000 members and they recruit primarily from active duty and former military and police for the stated purpose of defending “the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. The Oath Keepers encourage members who are active duty military or police to not obey orders which they believe violate the US Constitution. The Three Percenters are a paramilitary organization that advocates “ownership rights” and resistance to any federal government involvement in local affairs. One of the persons arrested in the Whitmer kidnapping plot has been identified as second in command of the Wisconsin branch of the Three Percenters. 

Finally, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which claims 400 members, emerged out of the Posse Comitatus, a defunct white nationalist group founded in the 1970s. The Constitutional Sheriffs are organized on the principle that federal and state government authority is subordinate to local authority. According to this view, sheriffs are the highest elected governmental authority in the United States, having the power and duty to defy and disregard laws they deem unconstitutional, such as gun control and mask mandates. Dar Leaf, the Sheriff of Barr County, Michigan, is a member of the Constitutional Sheriffs, and has been shown to have a close association with at least two of the persons involved in the Whitmer plot. [6]

It is a tangled web they weave, but a deadly one for democracy. Importantly, the SPLC has tracked these groups for several decades and has documented that hate group and militia activity tends to decline during Republican presidencies, when they evidently feel some level of comfort. However, the number of organizations, members, and activist work within these groups increases dramatically under Democratic presidents, who are deemed to pose a threat to their version of the US Constitution and Christianity. Thus, if past trends repeat, we can expect a surge of right-wing militancy in the event of that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected. It should be noted, though, that each surge builds off an ever larger numerical base. This brings us to the problem of the lumpenproletariat.

Lumpenproletarians and the Logic of Decay

Regardless of the election’s outcome, it is certain that 35 to 40 percent of the US electorate will support Donald Trump. Just as importantly, millions of people who do not vote—largely white, poor, and disenfranchised—will continue to support Trump and Trumpism. As such, it is important to recognize that Trump has not been the cause of anything. He is not the cause but the effect of the underlying development of the American social formation. Specifically, the adoption of neoliberal policies in the 1980s in the capitalist metropoles—the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany—set the stage for the export of neoliberalism in the 1990s. The development of these core capitalist economies was determined simultaneously by the processes of post-industrialization and globalization—both could be called euphemisms for de-industrialization.

In this respect, Trumpism has deep roots in the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s, which grafted a mass base of poor white evangelical Protestants to the economic neoliberalism of the capitalist class (large and small) to make moral conservatism and free-market capitalism the twin pillars of “traditional American values”. Reagan and the Republican Party forged an unholy alliance between God, Money, and the State that can accurately be described as an ideology of Christo-Fascism. While Reagan’s regime was often deemed a “friendly fascism” [7], Trump removed the mask that hid the ugliness of what had long been unfolding in the United States. This Pandora’s box of Christo-Fascism had been protected inside the Republican Party for forty years, but it was Trump who finally dared to unleash its Furies on the United States and the world.

In my book The Dangerous Class, I argue that Marx clearly articulates a logic of de-industrialization in volume one of Capital, where he discusses how the general law of capitalist accumulation points to a future in which the relative surplus population will continue to grow larger as a proportion of society. This developmental logic means that ever larger portions of the working class will be thrown into the surplus population, and also that the surplus population itself will increasingly be pauperized, as those with “an incapacity for adaptation” are thrown out of the working class altogether and dropped into what Marx calls “the lowest sediment of society”—that is, the lumpenproletariat. As Marx put it, “[t]his is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. . . . The fact that the means of production and the productivity of labour increase more rapidly than the productive population expresses itself, therefore, under capitalism, in the inverse form that the working population always increases more rapidly than the valorization requirements of capital”. [8] Marx argues that the only event that can possibly forestall this dystopian endpoint of capitalist development is the abolition of the general law of capitalist accumulation, which can only occur by abolishing capitalism. Yet, instead of the abolition of capitalism, we have witnessed the unfettering of capitalism on a global scale over the last four decades.

A few scholars on the left have responded with warnings about an impending sociological and political crisis of the industrial working class. Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone, for instance, called attention to the deindustrialization of America, but they were convinced that “the great U-Turn” of the Reagan Revolution could be reversed quickly with liberal and progressive workforce development policies, such as those adopted by President Bill Clinton. [9] These types of recommendations set the stage for three decades of neoliberal education reform under both Democratic and Republican administrations, which claimed that American workers could reverse their declining real wages with a little re-skilling and a new public school–to-work curriculum. [10] Joseph Biden continues on this trajectory by telling unemployed coal miners that the remedy for their misery is to “learn to program”. [11]

In contrast to these sanguine recommendations, Ruy Teixeira, a researcher at the progressive Economic Policy Institute, has argued that there would be dire political consequences if neoliberal Democrats continued ignoring “America’s forgotten majority”—namely, the white working class—in favour of an electoral strategy based on the demographics and rhetoric of identity politics. [12] The most prescient analysis, however, came from the philosopher Richard Rorty, who wrote in 1998 that

“[m]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.” [13]

This emerging white lumpenproletariat, spun off from the ruins of the United States’ decaying industrial base, found an outlet for their grievances in Donald Trump. 

The Unholy Alliance of God, Money, and the State

As the new lumpenproletariat emerged in the United States, the Republican Party also mobilized religion to enlist this burgeoning social category in the service of US capitalism. Here too Marx offers prescient insight with his observation that “religious distress is the same time, the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” [14]

The historian William G. McLoughlin reminds us that the United States periodically experiences collective paroxysms of religious fervour called “Great Awakenings”. McLoughlin observes that these evangelical “Great Awakenings” emerge in the United States during times of cultural confusion, and they tend to appear bizarre or even frightening to non-Americans. According to McLoughlin’s periodization, the United States is currently in the midst of its fourth “Great Awakening”. McLoughlin argues that “Great Awakenings” occur in response to “critical disjunctions” in Americans’ self-understanding of what it means to be American. He suggests that these periods of religious revivalism are the consequence of profound cultural transformations, and that they tend to extend over a generation or more. [15] Significantly, however, Max Weber’s comparative study of world religions and H. Richard Niebuhr’s study of the social sources of denominationalism in the United States document historically that it is the non-privileged strata of any society that gravitate toward the type of eschatological and messianic salvation that lies at the centre of these “Great Awakenings”. [16]

It was Ronald Reagan who first invoked eschatological religious rhetoric as a way to express and capture the cultural disorientation generated in the United States by de-industrialization and globalization. He incorporated it into the Republican Party’s core ideological principles. It was in a 1982 speech that Reagan announced that “the emergency is upon us”. He called for “a crusade for freedom” that would establish the “conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries”. [17] In 1983 he developed these ideas further in his globally publicized “Evil Empire” speech at the annual convention of the National Association of Evangelicals. In this speech, Reagan emphasized that the crusade for freedom could not be reduced to an economic struggle between capitalism and communism. Nor, he stated, could it be viewed solely as a political struggle between democracy and totalitarianism, because “the basis of those ideals and principles … is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted”. He claimed that “the American experiment in democracy rests on this insight”. Reagan pointed out that “the Declaration of Independence mentions the Supreme Being no less than four times”, while “‘In God We Trust’ is engraved on our coinage. The Supreme Court opens its proceedings with a religious invocation. And the Members of Congress open their sessions with a prayer.” [18] In the “Evil Empire” speech, Reagan reaffirmed the early Puritans’ covenant with God by declaring a “war against communism not simply [on the basis] that it was an alternative economic and political system, but because it posed a fundamental threat to Christianity”, stating that “we will never abandon our belief in God”. The Reagan Revolution was not only a class war to defend capitalism; it was “the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil”. [19]

After winning the war against godless communism, the inauguration of George Bush Sr. continued the unholy alliance between God, Money, and the State. “I have just repeated word for word the oath taken by George Washington 200 years ago”, Bush declared at his inauguration, adding that “the Bible on which I placed my hand is the Bible on which he placed his …. my first act as President is a prayer”. [20] Thus, in responding to an incident that shocked the faith and confidence of the American people on September 11, 2001, it was hardly idiosyncratic that his son, President George H. W. Bush, would continue the crusade for Christianity and capitalism by announcing that “our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil”. [21]

The question of American identity, and the cultural confusion it generates, has been an undercurrent of US society and its current “Great Awakening” going back to the Billy Graham Crusades (the fourth “Great Awakening”) of the 1950s and 1960s, which Reagan brought inside the Republican Party. The evangelical right has steadily moved from the fringe of the party to its mainstream. Pundits who argue that Trump hijacked the Republican Party are oblivious to long-term trends within it, which has been drifting toward Christo-Fascism for four decades. Leading members of the party did not fear Donald Trump, nor were they cowed by his bluster on Twitter. Instead, he gave them permission finally to say out loud what old party elites had kept hidden. In the world-view of Christo-Fascists, immigrants, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, socialists, feminists, and environmentalists are not only the culprits who steal or destroy the jobs of displaced workers; they fundamentally threaten the “traditional American values” of free markets, limited government, the nuclear family, and Christianity. If Trump wins the election, the United States will continue its fast march to fascism. If he loses, it will be a signal to Christo-Fascists that it is time to unleash a holy war to defend their ancient and dying way of life.

Clyde W. Barrow is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Toward a Critical Theory of States: The Poulantzas-Miliband Debate After Globalization (SUNY Press, 2016) and his newest book is The Dangerous Class: The Concept of the Lumpenproletariat (University of Michigan Press, 2020).


[1] Clyde W. Barrow, The Dangerous Class: The Concept of the Lumpenproletariat (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2020).

[2] Matthew Rozsa, “What Happens When a Narcissist Loses? Expect ‘Rage’ and ‘Terror’, Psychologists Warn”Salon (28 October 2020).

[3] Chauncey Devega, “Renowned Psychiatrist Worries ‘Psychopath’ Trump will create ‘Reichstag Incident’ Before Election and ‘Destroy Democracy’“, RawStory (2 July 2020).

[4] See the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC)’s “Hate Map“.

[5] Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans“, The Atlantic (October 2020).

[6] James Crump, “Michigan Sheriff Urged to Resign after Ties to Domestic Terrorists in Governor Kidnapping Plot Emerge“, The Independent (13 October 2020).

[7] Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (New York: M. Evans, 1980).

[8] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991 [1867]), 798.

[9] Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, The Deindustrialization of America (New York: Basic Books, 1982); Bennett Harrison and Barry Bluestone. The Great U-Turn: Corporate Restructuring and the Polarizing of America (New York: Basic Books, 1988).

[10] Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, United States Department of Labor, What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for America 2000 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1991); Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, US Department of Labor, Learning a Living: A Blueprint for High Performance (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1992); Robert B. Reich, The Work of Nations (New York: Vintage Books, 1991).

[11] Quoted in Kathryn Krawczyk, “Joe Biden Tells Coal Miners They Should ‘Learn to Program’“, The Week (31 December 2019).

[12] Ruy Teixeira and Joel Rogers, America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters (New York: Basic Books, 2000).

[13] Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998) 89.

[14] Karl Marx, “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law. Introduction” [1844], in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975) 175 at 175 (original emphases).

[15] William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Religion and Social Change in America, 1670–1977 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978).

[16] Marx Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, ed. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, vol. 1 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978 [1921]) 481–529; H. Richard Niebuhr, Social Sources of Denominationalism (New York: Meridian Books, 1957). 

[17] Ronald Reagan’s speech to the House of Commons (8 June 1982).

[18] Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire Speech” (remarks at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, Orlando, Florida, 8 March 1983).

[19] Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire Speech”.

[20] George H. Bush’s Inaugural Address (20 January 1989).

[21] George W. Bush, quoted in Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence, “The Biblical Sources of the Crusade Against Evil“, Religious Studies News (April 2003).

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