Among the most brazen cries of victimhood pouring from the American right these days is former president Donald Trump’s tribute to Ashli Babbitt, the rioter killed by a Capitol Police officer who was defending legislators on Jan. 6. “Her memory,” Trump said in a recorded video played at a recent birthday commemoration, “will live on in our hearts for all time,” and “we must all demand justice for Ashli” — obscuring the fact that she was shot while attempting to storm the halls of government with an angry mob. A subtler instance is the Glenn Youngkin campaign ad in which a mother claimed that her son was victimized by having to read Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s slavery novel “Beloved” in his high school English class — and that Youngkin’s opponent in the Virginia governor’s race, former governor Terry McAuliffe, was to blame.
The tactic isn’t new; groups of all stripes elevate individuals to martyrdom as they try to manipulate a narrative to fit their ends — and it’s often the aggressors playing the victim. But lately there has been a twist. Increasingly, some on the right openly embrace fascist symbols and rhetoric while portraying themselves as fascism’s historical victims. In addition to being absurd, ironic and offensive, this has the effect, perhaps intended, of pushing the real victims of right-wing extremism out of the spotlight.
Examples run the gamut and emerge from different strands of right-wing ideology, but recent ones have concerned government responses to the coronavirus pandemic. At a city council meeting in Anchorage in September, while Alaska struggled with its worst surge of covid-19, anti-mask protesters wore Stars of David resembling those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust. The words “Do Not Comply” were written on them. The Anchorage mayor said that the stars meant “we will not forget, this will never happen again” and that “borrowing that from [the Jews] is actually a credit to them.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) has also compared mask mandates to the stars — and to the gassing of Jews during the Holocaust. She later apologized for those remarks but not for likening the Democratic Party to the Nazi party. Herschel Walker, a Trump-endorsed Republican running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia, was forced to cancel a fundraiser hosted by an anti-vaccine supporter displaying a swastika made of syringes on her Twitter profile, but a Walker campaign spokesperson minimized the use of the image, calling it “clearly an anti-mandatory vaccination graphic.”
The most extreme examples come from the right’s furthest fringes, which are closest to Trump. In a podcast, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser and a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, invoked Nazism in denouncing Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease doctor: “Faucism is a component of the health side of fascism and Nazism,” said Flynn, who once had a meeting in Trump Tower with Austrian far-right figure Heinz-Christian Strache, “and it really does have to do with eugenics, and Dr. Fauci would be right in there in the same room with people like Dr. Mengele . . . who worked for the Nazis at the time of all of Hitler’s experimentation on human beings.”