Earlier this month, in Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and other states in the US, anti-social distancing protests occurred, demanding an end to the compulsory quarantine and lockdown measures implemented in the face of the pandemic. It is worth examining the character of these protests – staffed by neoconservative and ultranationalist Tea Party people.
These ultra-rightist protesters are actively encouraging those most exploited by the ruling class to adopt the outlook of their exploiters. Let’s unpack this brief observation.
The far right protests were small; some were armed with semiautomatic weapons – were characterised by participants occupying the lower ends of the intelligence spectrum. There is no shortage of idiots in the United States. But to dismiss the political significance of these anti-quarantine protests would be a serious mistake. They represent not just a ragtag coalition of white supremacists, right wing militias and science denialist anti-vaccination zealots. They are billionaire-funded astroturf (fake grassroots) neoconservative formations, designed to turn workers’ anger at existing inequalities into neo-fascistic channels.
Professor Joel Wendland-Liu, writing in Common Dreams magazine, captures the main reasons why the anti-quarantine protesters are doing the bidding of the capitalist class:
The energized campaign to force people back to work and back into the public puts the lives of workers and their families at risk of infection, illness, and death. It dovetails with right-wing callousness and resistance to public interventions during times of social crisis. It highlights the worst characteristics of neoliberal political strategies that aim to privatize public entities and energize the predatory nature of the corporate sector to profit from disaster.
The political composition of the anti-social distancing protests is neither new nor original, but sheds light on the white supremacist – and religious fundamentalist – underbelly of American society. Not only did US President Donald Trump tweet his support for the ultrarightist protests, major conservative news outlets, such as Fox News, actively promoted the neo-Confederate and conspiracy-theory ideology motivating the protest organisers.
Earlier I used the phrase billionaire-funded to describe the recent anti-quarantine protests. This is neither an exaggeration nor hyperbole. It is well-known that billionaires have financed the campaigns of presidential candidates – and a billionaire made it into the White House. What is not-so well known, is that billionaires, through varied front companies and dummy corporations, have funded these far right ostensibly ‘grassroots’ organisations which purportedly speak for the ‘ordinary American.’
T J Coles, writing in Counterpunch magazine, elaborates how various multi billionaire figures have financed, and actively promoted, ultrarightist groups to pursue an ‘antigovernment’ agenda. The reasons that the billionaire class is ‘antigovernment’ are entirely different from the reasons why working class people protest. Pursuing an anti-immigration, neoliberal agenda, the billionaires want to achieve liberty – for big business. The rhetoric of liberty and freedom is deployed precisely against those government agencies that deploy measures in defence of public health and safety.
Occupational health and safety measures, environmental protections, restrictions on private corporate acquiring state assets, are all produced as evidence of government intrusion’ into liberty. Billionaires have long funded fake ‘citizen climate groups‘, all of which are – funnily enough – involved in promoting the denial of human-induced global warming, and advocate opening up ever-larger areas of the environment to the requirements of transnational corporations.
The Michigan Freedom Fund, one of the groups behind the anti-quarantine protests, is financed by various billionaire donors, including the Trump administration’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. Allegedly speaking for ordinary citizens, the Michigan group advocates the age-old right wing populist slogans of limited government, free enterprise, the rolling back of state laws restricting business – but asking for government bailouts when big business fails.
One of the motivating factors in these protests, encouraged by the Trump administration, is white supremacy. It is no accident that Confederate flags, along with the old conservative Gadsden logo, were on display in the anti-quarantine actions. White racism has long been a feature of ultranationalist antigovernment agitation. White supremacist groups have long utilised arms – and the threat to use them – to undermine even moderate attempts by US legislators to implement anti-racist measures.
The anti-lockdown protesters trace their political lineage to those whites who resisted racial integration and desegregation efforts in the 1950s and 60s. Trump himself embodies the decades of white racist backlash against moves by federal and state authorities to racially desegregate the nation. In 1866, armed white supremacists – including Confederate veterans, stormed the state legislature to stop that body from passing voting rights for newly emancipated black Americans. Scores were killed.
Trump and his ultrarightist supporters seek to preserve the racial hierarchy of capitalist America. Mississippi governor, Republican Tate Reeves, declared April to be Confederate Heritage month. This decision is not merely an exercise in preserving historical memory. It is a deliberate falsification of the causes of the US Civil War, and a repudiation that racism is a major divide in American society. It is no coincidence that Trump and his supporters have ramped up anti-Asian racism, thus empowering the ultranationalist base of the Republican Party – a subject requiring an examination in another article.
When an intricate and clandestine network of billionaires is financing right wing militias and ultranationalist groups, it is time to call out the ideology of corporate neoliberal fundamentalism that underpins them. Let’s listen to the demands of workers, such as at Amazon, or the health care workers and those employed in essential services, for better conditions and a more equitable society.