Yesterday, President Trump retweeted a video of a man on a New York subway platform shoving and injuring a white woman. In normal times, it would have been unfathomable to determine why the president of the United States would take an interest in this case. The assault took place a year ago, and the perpetrator was arrested in short order.
But the actual source of Trump’s interest is perfectly obvious. The perpetrator was Black, and the victim white. The video was shared, and seems to have come to Trump’s attention, by an account called “I’m With Groyper.” For those unfamiliar, “Groypers” are a white-supremacist sect who criticize other far-right groups for failing to be explicitly “pro-white.”
Trump has a way of wearing down journalists by violating norms so often and so shamelessly that it ceases to be newsworthy. During the 2016 campaign, when he shared a white-supremacist image using a Jewish star to depict Hillary Clinton as being bought and controlled by the Jews, it caused enough of a controversy that Trump’s campaign was forced to insist it had somehow mistaken the image for a sheriff star.
But Trump has retweeted enough decontextualized, random videos of nonwhite people attacking white people — indeed, he shared the same 2019 subway attack clip in June — that it has lost its shock value. But it is this very banality that makes Trump’s behavior so significant. The president is in the habit of promoting a wide array of his supporters, and we all have grown accustomed to the fact that some of those supporters are, well, Nazis.
Last week, Mary Ann Mendoza was removed at the last minute from the Republican National Convention after a reporter discovered she had promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Perhaps Mendoza was confused as to why it was acceptable to promote racist theories that smear a population of recent immigrants as inherently criminal yet unacceptable to promote racist theories that target a population of early-20th-century immigrants as inherently criminal. Or maybe she failed to understand why the president is allowed to endorse Nazi propaganda but she is not.
Perhaps even more confusing is the fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican nominee for Congress in Georgia, and an avid proponent of QAnon. In addition to evangelizing for the notorious conspiracy theory that is advocated publicly by ten fellow Republican congressional nominees, Taylor Greene has promoted racist and anti-Semitic videos and other social-media content.
Last week, Media Matters found that she has promoted a far-right video that “features anti-Muslim propaganda, quotes an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier saying that ‘Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation’ and, as one reporter wrote, ‘implies that Jews are at the heart of a project to destroy Europe as we know it.’” The next day, she attended Trump’s RNC acceptance speech at the White House lawn.
Is Trump a Nazi? Not exactly. He does embrace a certain fascist aesthetic elevating strength over all other values. He reportedly asked for his inauguration to include a military parade — “I want tanks and choppers. Make it look like North Korea” — citing the world’s most totalitarian state as his visual model. He often speaks as though he’s Dwight Schrute being tricked into reading bits from a Mussolini speech:
But Trump’s evocation of racist tropes is not Nazism, exactly. It is better described as Nazi-adjacent. He has activated and energized open white supremacists, who for the first time in decades have been given a president who reflects their values closely enough to inspire open defense. If you peruse Nazi propaganda sites, they contain defenses of Trump on such matters like the Russia scandal, and — when excised of references to Jews — read pretty much the same as the polemics found in normal conservative publications like the Federalist, Breitbart, and so on.
Where Nazis were once treated by both parties as an unambiguous source of pure evil, now they inhabit a gray area on the fringe of the Republican coalition. His now-infamous description of “Unite the Right” Nazi protesters as “very fine people” was not a flub or a one-off. Trump would never come out and praise Hitler, but he will stoke their race-war dreams. They are marginal members of the coalition, to be handled delicately.
Many Trump critics have reacted to this development with pure hysteria, which is a perfectly understandable response, given the history. We should be careful not to overstate the situation. The United States is not headed into world war and industrialized murder factories. But Trump has changed the orientation of the political landscape in ways that include creating a new opening for the far right.
He is calling armed men into the streets. There are pickup trucks bearing Trump fans itching for blood. One of his delusional idolaters brought a rifle to Kenosha and blundered into a bloodbath. The question now is, having come this far in four years of Trump, what would lie ahead if we have four more?