January 6, One Year Later

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved – I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.” – Abraham Lincoln

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

One year ago today, hundreds of our fellow Americans made a violent attempt to overthrow our democracy, to the delight of an incumbent president who would have been the beneficiary. In the months since, accountability has only come to those who did Donald Trump’s bidding.

While I remain hopeful that Trump, in time, will answer for his criminal behavior, his tyrannical allies have taken advantage of the time to weave a web of deception that extends as far as – and to the immense benefit of – the Kremlin and Zhongnanhai. The events of 1/6/21 and since have made clear that democracy is once again in a global struggle against tyranny. Unfortunately, far too many of our fellow Americans don’t realize it.

We can see it in statements from Trump himself spinning the violent insurrection as a peaceful reaction to nonexistent voter fraud. His allies in Congress, when pressed, have gone so far as to redefine GOTV efforts as voter fraud. Even here on this very site, the Big Lie writ small breaks through, with the notion of tens of thousands of fraudulent votes in Virginia simply taken as a given. All the while, Trump and his cronies are moving into positions that would enable them to succeed in 2025 where they failed in 2021.

There is a great temptation to presume that this battle is merely domestic. That would be a mistake. We know the Trump 2016 campaign and Russian intelligence conspired together. We are seeing the Republican Party slowly (and in some places, not so slowly) become an adjunct of the United Russia Party. We see it on Fox News. We see it in the halls of Congress.

We even see it on this very site.

This is not to say that all of the Republican doves vis a vis Moscow are assets – or even fellow travelers (although I’m all but certain Tucker Carlson and Madison Cawthorne are the latter). Part of the problem is the delusion that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are not allies in the fight against democracy. That would be news to anyone in Eastern Europe, especially Lithuania, which managed to come under special pointed criticism from Beijing for allowing Taiwan to do … what it has done in the US for decades. Why Lithuania? Check out a map.

This isn’t the first time Moscow has found allies – or, as Lenin called them, “useful idiots” – in the United States. But where Communism largely failed to gain a foothold in America, the current Kremlin recruitment tool – white supremacy – has long been here and grown deep roots. Russia is already scoring points on that, as Elizabeth Grimm Arsenault and Joseph Stabile noted in Just Security.

A member of the neo-Nazi terror network the Base told a federal prosecutor in December that he believed the group’s leader, known then as Norman Spear, was a Russian spy. One month later, the Guardian revealed Spear’s true name to be Rinaldo Nazzaro and presented evidence that Nazzaro lives in Russia. BBC subsequently reported that Nazzaro was listed as a guest at a 2019 Russian government security exhibition which “focused on the demonstration of the results of state policy and achievements.”

Though Nazzaro’s relationship with the Russian government remains uncertain, these reports point to a broader trend: a mutual affection between Western white supremacists and the Russian government. It also highlights the reality that the distinction between foreign terrorism and so-called domestic terrorism is increasingly irrelevant. Dating back to 2004, David Duke characterized Russia as the “key to white survival,” and American white supremacist Richard Spencer recently identified Russia as the “sole white power in the world.” Both Jared Taylor—founder of the white supremacist outlet American Renaissance—and Matthew Heimbach—a Unite the Right organizer and leader of the now-defunct Traditionalist Workers Party—have met in person with ultranationalist Russian political leaders in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

For its part, the Russian government has exploited this interest. It has both turned a blind eye to far-right paramilitarism within its own borders and actively cultivated neo-Nazism in the West. These decisions align with its broader project to sow discord in Western democracies and influence transcontinental relations, despite its relatively weak military and economy. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support for right-wing violence in the West constitutes an element in his broader destabilization campaign.

Anyone who says the world would be better off with a stronger Russia might want to examine what that would really mean so long as Putin remains in power.

As for the rest of us, we have to accept that this fight for democracy is global. Moreover, if we treat tyranny as a disease, we have to acknowledge that America is still its most famous patient fighting the infection – and that the co-morbidity of white supremacy is making it infinitely worse.

For as Churchill put it eighty years ago: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

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