An analysis of the Trump movie shown at the Capitol Rally: An exercise in fascism

February 4, 2021 • 12:45 pm

This is an interesting analysis of the two-minute film shown to the crowd that assembled at the Washington, D.C. pro-Trump rally on January 6, right after Donald Trump, Jr. and Rudy Giuliani spoke. And you know what happened after that! (Thanks to reader Ken for calling this to my attention.) The analysis by Jason Stanley goes through the movie frame by frame, and gives a written discussion of how it fits into the tradition of fascistic propaganda. I recommend watching the movie first (click on the Vimeo site below), then read the article and then re-watch the movie with fresh eyes.

Jason Stanley is the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and an expert in the history and workings of fascism. His piece appears at the site Just Security, described by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU Law School as

“an editorially-independent online forum co-founded by CHRGJ Faculty Co-Chair Professor Ryan Goodman. It provides rigorous analysis of US national security law and policy, aiming to promote principled and pragmatic solutions to national security problems faced by decision-makers. Just Security‘s masthead includes people with substantial government experience, civil society attorneys, academics, and other leading voices.”

This is just to show you that this is no basement-dwelling YouTuber who did the analysis. You should take it seriously.

Okay, first skip the headlines below and watch the short movie. Then go back, click the headlines below and read Stanley’s analysis. I have a few thoughts at the bottom.

 

Stanley appears to know what he’s talking about, and emphasizes the many tropes of fascism that appear in this movie. There’s the father figure (Trump), the emphasis on the nation’s fears, the identifying of an enemy (apparently blacks and Jews), and the reliance on the military. The only thing I’m dubious about is Stanley’s identification of the Jews as the explicit enemy that needs to be overthrown. On the other hand, he does make some good points: this movie was carefully confected, and some of the images seem to make sense only in an anti-Semitic context.

Clearly, Stanley sees the movie as good fascist propaganda, and I can’t say I disagree. But was it really intended to prompt the demonstrators’ assault on the Capitol? I don’t do psychologizing so much, but Stanley seems to say, “yes”:

Each of us can decide what moral responsibility Trump personally has for a video to rouse his supporters at the rally. How much of a role the White House or Trump himself may have played in deciding to show the video and sequencing it immediately after Giuliani’s speech, we don’t know. But it is worth noting that the New York Times recently reported that by early January, “the rally would now effectively become a White House production” and, with his eye ever on media production, Trump micromanaged the details. “The president discussed the speaking lineup, as well as the music to be played, according to a person with direct knowledge of the conversations. For Mr. Trump, the rally was to be the percussion line in the symphony of subversion he was composing from the Oval Office,” the Times reported.

Worldwide, there have been many fascist movements. Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal. Early on, Italian fascism was not anti-Semitic in its core, though it later turned that way. British fascism was not genocidal (though it also was never given the opportunity to be). The most influential fascist movement that takes a shadowy Jewish conspiracy as its central target is German fascism, Nazism. Nazism did not start out in genocide. It began with militias and violent troops disrupting democracy. In its early years in power, in the 1930s, it was socialists and communists who were targeted for the Concentration Camps, torture, and murder. But it must never be forgotten where Nazism culminated.

As a secular Jew, I have to take particular care when leveling the charge of anti-Semitism because it feeds into my own biases. So I reserve judgment here, but ask you to watch the movie and read the analysis with a clear head, and then come to your own conclusions. I’d advise you to do both watching and reading, for this kind of authoritarianism, no matter what you call it, is still heavily afoot in America.

47 thoughts on “An analysis of the Trump movie shown at the Capitol Rally: An exercise in fascism

  1. What puzzles me is how such video presentations, especially with their thin content as measured in word count, clearly evince a reaction disproportionate to the actual words.

    That is, simply reading the words on a piece of paper would be far less impressive than when eyes are pointed at blinking lights and sound effects. I see this as a feature of Fantasyland – mile-wide, inch deep, but absolutely indelible.

    1. Part of the reason for the disproportionate reaction is that these particular audiences are already primed to be incited. I don’t think you’d get the same reaction from skeptical observers.

      L

    2. These people aren’t convinced by a single film but have been massaged towards this set of views for decades. The film is just a reminder of what they already believe. The film is just a nudge off the cliff.

      1. “just a reminder”

        Ahhhhh – another reader said this too – a _reminder_ – that is key to the production, and not just obvious – it is actually hidden behind its obviousness … (obviousness?…)

        Hannah Arendt(s?) book must have something on this…

  2. Scary shit. It just reminds me of how very close America came to losing its democracy. And even now, our democracy is still teetering. And Trump is still calling the shots in regards to the GOP; which really has become a party of fascism. And if it isn’t, it wants to be; I can’t really see what else it stands for anymore.

    1. Trump is only partly calling the shots. I was fascinated by the level of support for Liz Cheney from the House republican Caucus when the ballot was SECRET.

      As long as the spineless shitweasels don’t have to own it, they are not for Trump.

      I just finished writing to both my Senators asking them to ask for a secret ballot when they vote on Trump’s conviction. I’m not sure they would get a conviction, but I bet they’d be a lot closer if the Repubs don’t have to declare themselves.

      L

      1. I hear what you’re saying, Linda, but I would also like to hear the spineless shitweasels have to stand up to their decisions (which might be cutting off our noses to spite our facea…)

      2. It’s tempting to wish it for the reasons you cite, but any secret voting in Congress is a very bad idea, even if it might in this case see justice done.

    2. What is your evidence for saying America came close to losing its democracy? As far as I see it, a ragtag of disorganised delinquents gained entry to the Capitol in the face of abysmally poor defences. There were no simultaneous actions throughout the Country such as would normally occur in a coup, eg. The take over of industry, transportation and media by organised factions within the military. Are you suggesting that had the Orange One called on the military to support the insurrectionists they would have done his bidding? I assure you that from this side of the Pond US democracy looks secure, but let us hope that once bitten they will be twice shy and never elect anything like Trump again.

      1. I don’t think the danger was so much from the Capitol mob unless you were a politician. As many have commented, if the US loses its democracy it will be through somewhat lawful means, just as the Nazis took over Germany. If those in charge of counting votes had sided with Trump instead of doing their jobs, things might have been different. If the riot had been more organized such that Trump called for martial law, it might have been different. If Trump had legitimately won re-election, it might have been different. Now that Trump has shown how you can get large swaths of the electorate to believe outright lies, all that is needed is someone a bit smarter and more diabolical than Trump to take advantage of it. Trump has shown the way in which it might be done.

      2. Evidence? You’re wrong about ragtag people and/or groups. I would say they’re likeminded, but not networked. My metaphor is the ragtag factions of Islamist fundamentalists that eventually became Al-Qaeda. I don’t have the mind or space to get into that right now, but never underestimate “disorganized delinquents”. At your peril. There are millions here in America that have proven they either don’t understand what their government represents, or simply don’t trust this democracy anymore. They want a strong man leader to impossibly set back the clock and idealize their fears as a conquered people making another comeback. The fears are a feature, and they will continue as long as “fascism” in America is fueled by the grand old party. To clarify, for me, a few features of American fascism include blatant opposition to common law…e.g. a Congressional subpoena can be ignored/overruled without consequence by the Executive. You can have a “fair” trial without witnesses. Or, the President is above the law, as some, including Trump’s personal lawyer, AG Barr believes constitutes jurisprudence. Lastly, 1/6/2021. Mic drop.

  3. “Fascism” might have the particulars called out here, but they are universal in all collectivist tyrannies.

    “There’s the father figure (Mao Zedong), the emphasis on the nation’s fears (invasion by USSR/Russia and USA), the identifying of an enemy (counter-revolutionaries, The West and “the old”), and the reliance on the military (gigantic People’s Liberation Army).”

    “There’s the father figure (Stalin), the emphasis on the nation’s fears (invasion by The West), the identifying of an enemy (White Russia and other counter-revolutionaries), and the reliance on the military (stupendous Soviet army).”

    The essence of Fascism is: vestigial existence of free “companies and businesses” yet with so much control over them by the dictator, they are de facto arms of the state.

    Antifa and other actors in on the left ignore the actual definition, with the goal of wresting the abhorred term “Fascist” onto any action they don’t like. ‘Trump issued executive orders against “immigration” therefore he is fascist.’ or ‘Republicans resist the minimum wage laws because they are fascist.’

    It helps to know that actual fascism does not need persecution of Jews; it was embraced by Nazi Germany, yes, but a political system that is fascist simply means an autocratic central dictator or bureau ‘allows’ seemingly non-state businesses to exist, but controls them at their core.

  4. I’m pretty annoyed that the video butchered Linkin Park’s “In the End,” a decent song on its own for this fascist propaganda garbage.

    The 1984 Big Brother clichés are also apparent in this video too, especially with the closeup on Trump’s face at the end.

  5. Before I comment let me inform you of some news just out. The democrats that will be presenting the case against Trump in the Senate have asked that he appear and testify under oath. So they are calling him out and what do you think the chances are that he will show up and do it? Slim or none.
    I do not doubt the similarities between the nazis propaganda and the Trump show. Trump is not the originator of anything, he just uses all that is available. But as mentioned there was much more that led up to the 6 Jan. insurrection and it was all manufactured by Trump and his people, including republicans in the congress. This is not in dispute at all. All of screaming about voter fraud and voter actions was part of the propaganda to make the big show on the 6th a reality.

    I will also say that professional mental health experts pretty much gave us a preview of all the stuff Trump has done. Did anyone listen – no. Did anyone even try to put 2 and 2 together with this guy. No. He ran over this country like Hitler ran over Europe at the beginning of WWII. We are just lucky we still have a country at all. No matter how many times you run this movie, it still works.

    1. Professional mental health expert here (retired).

      I foresaw all of this the night he was elected. I had a major anxiety attack when John woke me up to tell me Trump had won, and I couldn’t go back to sleep I was shaking so hard.

      Authoritarians are very predictable.

      L

  6. I wish the actual origin of the film shown at the rally was discussed in the source article. I was not able to easily find it. “Women for America First” was the organizer of the rally, so it was possibly their production.
    It does appear that the Trump remarks featured in the film were from his inaugural address, and not recorded specially for the film.
    As for Dr. Stanley’s analysis, he is a specialist in fascist propaganda, so he is very likely to see political content from that perspective, especially when it comes from a source he opposes. If we asked Kendi about the film, he would almost certainly find that it is a portrayal of institutional racism. Bob Woodward would likely compare it to Watergate, and find it worse.
    Dr. Stanley does spend a large part of his essay focusing on antisemitism, a claim that is hard to pin on Trump himself or conservatives in general. I suspect it is just easier to assume that someone you are comparing to Hitler will share his racist views.
    Lots of people oppose Shumer’s policies for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with his heritage or religion. Claiming that opposing him makes one an antisemite seems itself to be a form of propaganda.

    But reading Dr. Stanley’s other works, it seems like he cheers for all the typical far left causes. He is a free speech skeptic, and co-wrote the following-
    “The Trump administration’s attempt to banish Critical Race Theory is itself evidence of the power it has to unmask white nationalism.”
    That is Kafkaesqe.

  7. I’m not a philosophy professor, and not an American. I’m and old Jewish woman who grew up in Communist Poland and I’ve seen plenty of Nazi propaganda films and Communist propaganda films (quite similar to each other). I didn’t manage to see a trace of neither Fascism, rasism or antisemitism in this very badly made film.

    1. I’m only one* of those things but I too see nothing resembling fascism, racism or antisemitism in that execrable film. I do, however, see an analysis by a man who sees what he wants to see in it.

      *well, two, but I’m clinging to the fiction that “old” is in the eye of the beholder.

    2. The target audience for this video is clearly not an older Jewish woman reared in Poland; it is an American alt-right audience steeped in the prevailing memes and with an attention span geared to the rapid editing of modern US media. That being the case, while it is certainly crude, it is hardly poorly made.

      (FWIW, I don’t believe I’m the “Ken” who brought this to Jerry’s attention, since I don’t recall having seen it before, though if I had, I might have done so.)

      I think Prof. Stanley has an interesting take on the video’s fascistic and anti-Semitic content, though one that’s thinly supported on the evidence presented. Nevertheless, I think the video likely served as an effective tool for its intended purpose of riling up it audience and stirring it to action.

      1. You write: “…video’s fascistic and anti-Semitic content, though one that’s thinly supported on the evidence presented “

        Notions of „Fascism”, „racism” and „antisemitism” have definitions and are not dependent on the audience. This video might have “served as an effective tool for its intended purpose of riling up it audience” but it didn’t meet the criteria of the definitions of these notions.
        When a Catholic bishop says about abortion that it is a “Holocaust of the unborn” he is using the word to show his strongest condemnation of abortion but his usage of the word is wrong no matter what audience he is speaking to.

        1. Notions of „Fascism”, „racism” and „antisemitism” have definitions and are not dependent on the audience.

          Do they?

          What is the universally acknowledged definition of “Fascism”?

          And as for antisemitism, opposition to the existence of the state of Israel doesn’t meet the express criteria, but I think it often serves as a proxy for antisemitism — and, from your comments here, I know you do too.

          Der Stürmer was anti-Semitic. The characters “Fagan” and “Shylock” are anti-Semitic, too — but they are hardly anti-Semitic in the same way or to the same degree.

          As you no doubt know better than I, antisemitism can rear its ugly visage in myriad ways. Sometimes it’s simply in the way that Jewish names are stressed. Sometimes it takes the form of playing upon hoary anti-Semitic tropes — regarding parsimony or cupidity, regarding clannishness or shrewdness. What constitutes antisemitism is frequently context-dependent.

          In the linked article, Prof. Stanley makes his case. You can accept it or reject it. As I’ve said, I find his arguments, particularly as they relate to antisemitism, to be weak. But I do not think they can be dismissed out of hand as entirely baseless.

          1. There are whole libraries explaining definitions of both Fascism and antisemitism with every last letter (or coma) explained up to the last microscopic detail. Undoubtedly, many historians and philosophers earned their livelihood analyzing both phenomena. For the purpose of judging a 2 minutes long video shown to Trump’s supporters after a lost election definitions of Fascism from Encyclopaedia Britannica and even Wikipedia are quite sufficient:

            Encyclopaedia Britannica
            … extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: “people’s community”), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.

            Wikipedia:
            Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism[1][2] characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy

            There is also a very good definition of antisemitism from IHRA, accepted by many governments, institutions and organizations. (BTW, contrary to what you wrote, opposition to the existence of Israel is listed there as antisemitism.)

            The fact that antisemitism has many different forms and degrees (from animosity towards Jews for being Jews to genocidal frenzy) doesn’t mean that something in this spectrum (or any of the extremes) is not antisemitism.

            Antisemitism is less context dependent that you present it. A comedian telling an anti-Semitic joke to a broad audience is most probably an antisemite. A Jewish comedian telling the same joke to his Jewish audience is most probably not an antisemite but the joke is still antisemitic in exactly the same way.

  8. The problem in describing a person or movement as fascistic is that there doesn’t seem to be a universally accepted definition of the word fascist. Scholars have different definitions of the term and whether Trump is one, but seem to agree that it can take different forms in different countries. Stanley’s description of fascism in the article cited in the post captures at least part of how fascism can be understood. He states:

    “Fascism is a patriarchal cult of the leader, who promises national restoration in the face of supposed humiliation by a treacherous and power-hungry global elite, who have encouraged minorities to destabilize the social order as part of their plan to dominate the ‘true nation,’ and fold them into a global world government. The fascist leader is the father of his nation, in a very real sense like the father in a traditional patriarchal family. He mobilizes the masses by reminding them of what they supposedly have lost, and who it is that is responsible for that loss – the figures who control democracy itself, the elite; Nazi ideology is a species of fascism in which this global elite are Jews.”

    By Stanley’s reckoning Trump is undoubtedly a fascist. He is a cult figure that has gained power by convincing a segment of the population that there was once a golden age that the “others” are attempting to take away from them. Only he, the consummate grafter, can return the nation to its previous glory by suppressing those groups that threaten the dominance of racists and white Christian nationalists. To accomplish this he would retain the forms of democracy, such as elections, but if they don’t up in his favor, he would cry fraud and attempt to have the results overturned. When a nation is experiencing demographic or economic change, the stage is set for the rise of the demagogic fascist. Quite simply, the fascist demagogue appeals to groups that fear their societal dominance is threatened and are not at all happy about this.

    1. As you say there are many definitions of fascism, but I don’t see how you can leave militaristic nationalism (or nationalistic militarism if you prefer) out of the definition.

      Has Trump been especially militaristic?

  9. Dr. Stanley’s interpretation is certainly plausible. I’m not sure if the anti-semitism is really as explicit as he makes it out to be, but it tends in that direction.
    What I find scary is how people can be emotionally manipulated by a series of images that, in the end, cannot be argued with – it’s literally a kind of black magic. And the few words that are spoken don’t make any sense. They might be credible from a guy running for office as an anti-establishment candidate, but after four years, he wants this to put an end to all this “right here, right now” – makes you want to ask “what have you been doing the last four years, bro? Playing golf?”

  10. Watched it once only, to try to understand what the crowd who watched it once, there, would have experienced from it. It elicited fear of losing security and possessions, and dread that these losses would occur except for the will of the man who would prevent it by using the might of the military and his governing power over those who would oppose him. I did not notice the film showing who those “enemies” were, but the film did not need to show them, as the audience was already primed via Q-anon and many republican politicians and far-right activists to “know’ implicitly who the “enemies of their way-of-living” are.

  11. Also spread throughout, scenes of masses of people, like the pageantry in Leni Riefenstahl’s cinema altho of course without her cinematography. Also characteristic of mega churches. Or are they MAGA-churches?

  12. Although the definition of “fascism” may be a bit muddy in general, I like Stanley’s definition:

    Fascism is a patriarchal cult of the leader, who promises national restoration in the face of supposed humiliation by a treacherous and power-hungry global elite, who have encouraged minorities to destabilize the social order as part of their plan to dominate the “true nation,” and fold them into a global world government.

    Assuming you buy his definition, Trumpism is fascism for sure. Jews and anti-Semitism do not have to play the dominant role, or any role at all. Trump may well be anti-Semitic but this isn’t important to his movement. He tries to invoke everyone’s fears to get people to his side. If you are anti-Semitic, he’ll tell you that Jews are part of the elites that are preventing your success. If you are a Jew that likes him, you are welcome to join his movement. If you don’t like Black people moving into your neighborhood, he’s with you. He tries to do this with every group. If you are Black, he’ll tell you that he wants only the best for you and that he’s done more than any other president to help you.

    As Stanley says, “Not all fascist movements focus on a global Jewish conspiracy as the enemy, and not all of them were genocidal.” I think his definition of “fascism” is a good one and applies here.

  13. Wow. That might be the best piece of propaganda I’ve ever seen. Leni Riefenstahl – spin in your grave! EVERYTHING – the match to action shots, the mise-en-scene, the music, the lighting (note dark UN), text… all top notch.

    If you didn’t know HOW propaganda was made – and had poor analytic skills – I can understand the kind of effect it’d have on a hyped up band of Chriiiistian crazies convinced “we’ve been robbed!” of their cult leader’s presidential “win”. Let’s not forget the religious angle here – recent analysis of the incident put Christianity front and center.

    This is especially so if the piece is dolloped on the big turd sundae that is Faux Noos, OAN, Newsmax, 700 club and the entire hard right porn industry working on them for decades now. Where are my body paints and antlers? Goodness!

    I agree with Stanley but I’m not sure “the Joos” were the prime target here – it is more a hagiography of their orange psychopath and his (and their) stupid grievances.

    D.A., J.D., NYC
    https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/

  14. “Exercise in fascism”? What are you talking about? Trump’s mini-movie is just a collection of the usual patriotic boilerplate, like all the dozens of campaign ads we’ve seen this year. It was cliche’d, stereotyped, and ultimately boring. It wasn’t even original; I saw shots that were taken whole cloth from political ads for Martha McSally and Mark Kelly last year. It’s nice to know that advertising companies are so willing to recycle their material. This is supposed to be the height of “right-wing propaganda”? Don’t make me laugh; I’ve seen more persuasive beer ads.

    1. I will remind you to be polite in your criticism. “What are you talking about?” and “Don’t make me laugh” are rude and uncivil comments towards the host. And the commercial was not intended to persuade you.

  15. I took a look at parts of Triumph of the Will – that is a terrifying film. I guess we are looking mostly at images and our reactions to them, rather than substance, and I’d say that plus 1984 imagery – the Sergio Leone style close up – is right in the same form.

    I wonder if Triumph of the Will uses matte paintings – because that film was a watershed moment for cinema, apparently.

    Oh also – in TotW, the folk music and images in Weimar Germany transform to the then modern sounds and images. In the Trump propaganda film, there is mostly one minor key vamp with different sounds layered on – at one point, a modern rap/rhythmic section along with modern imagery. Perhaps that serves as the parallel – with weapons, aircraft as the archetypes of the fallen Golden Age which is purported to be the gift from the father…

    Which brings up the deep unsolved/ignored social/family problems that are appealed to.

  16. As someone who follows history and who had a grandfather who served in WWII, I can say that Trump is NOT fascist, nor is he anti-semitic. His daughter married a conservative Jew and converted to Judaism, yet he appointed her to his cabinet. He ALSO moved the embassy to Jerusalem (I might remember this incorrectly.) In any case, he has not shown any anti-semitic actions. As far as fascism, this would be a situation under heavy state control. Fascists used kids to spy on adults and others who might be threatening to the regime and report them. Right now it’s the far left who are using these tactics, as well as harassment by mobs and exclusionary tactics used by the third reich and chinese maoist regimes. Trump REDUCED federal controls and allowed for more state controls. In fact, he was scolded by the left for not taking MORE CONTROL of the situation during the Covid-19 lockdown. None of this is supported by factual evidence. The actual tweets of Pres Trump during the capitol invasion actually prove that he repeatedly called for PEACEFUL demonstrations. See them here https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ny-20210106-dbnwdjibifawbbaupzvbzrbqwy-story.html

    1. I’ll take your word for it on Trump’s lack of anti-Semitism.

      Trump clearly has fascist tendencies. He’s more of a failed fascist at this point. I’m pretty sure Trump would be fine with using kids to spy on adults. It just never got that far. As far as that being a tactic on the far left, I’ve never heard of that, though it sounds like something from the fevered minds of right wing talk radio.

      Here’s Trump’s tweet, later deleted, from 6 pm the day of the Capitol invasion, after it was over. He’s clearly happy with the insurrection he called for:

      These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long, Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!

  17. “The very word “fascism” comes from the Roman “fasces”, a bound bundle of logs that was used to signify the authority of the state.”

    Source:

    Andrew Sullivan’s latest excellent piece of writing from The Dish. Check it out!

Leave a Reply