How Border Fascism Explains the Trump Movement

Brendan O’Connor has covered the far right, militia movements, and inequality since 2013

This article appeared original in The Nation

Since Donald Trump’s election, pundits and reporters have been debating how to describe the movement that propelled him to the White House. Did his supporters’ attacks against immigrants, street brawls with antifa, and cheeky embrace of authoritarianism really constitute 1930s-style fascism? Or was it rather the “Southern strategy” on steroids, strongman populism, or savage capitalism?

When journalist Brendan O’Connor considered the question, he saw echoes of the 1930s, but realized that Trump’s movement deserved an entirely new category: border fascism.

When O’Connor started on his book in summer 2018, Trump had just begun implementation of Stephen Miller’s zero-tolerance border policy; soon, thousands of migrant children would be caged and separated from their parents. As O’Connor finished his book, police across the country were arresting, beating, and launching tear gas at participants of the largest anti-racist movement in US history. In Blood Red Lines: How Nativism Fuels the Right, O’Connor tries to get to the root of this mix of xenophobia and state violence. Border fascism, he explains, is a new strain of a far-right nationalism that fetishizes boundaries. The racism of this movement isn’t always overt, but its underlying ideology is based on a racialized understanding of citizenship that idolizes “law and order” and attacks “the illegals” for violating the supposed sanctity of the country’s border.

—Jared Olson

JARED OLSON: The big idea I got from the book was the idea of border fascism. How did you come to that? And was there any distinct moment in your report or research when that became clear to you?

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Guatemalan Indigenous Journalist Censured for Reporting on a Protest

This piece originally appeared in El Faro English

Anastasia Mejía was already uneasy by the time the authorities reached her door last September. An indigenous Maya journalist in the rural Guatemalan department of Quiché, and a prominent woman in a community stained by widespread sexism and a country known for its anti-indigenous racism, Mejía had no shortage of antagonists. But after reporting on an August 2020 protest against the mayor of Joyabaj, accused of corruption, which devolved into the sacking of a municipal government building, she’d felt more on edge than usual. The arrival of the National Civil Police to her house on September 22 confirmed the worst of her fears: she was accused of participating in the disturbance she’d reported on and, alongside twelve participants, was being charged with sedition, arson, aggravated assault and robbery. 

It was the beginning of an ongoing nightmare for Mejía. Confined to conditional house arrest, the court forbade her from writing about or approaching the mayor against whom the protest was staged over half a year ago and from leaving the department of Quiché.

“It’s a way of continuing to silence me,” Mejia said last December. For seven years, she’d been able to use the radio equipment, installed on a rickety wood table in her house, to report on the protests and steadily mounting corruption allegations against Florencio Carrascoza. Now, according to the terms of her arrest and release, saying even a word about him would send her straight back to jail. 

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Florida Man Goes Fascist: An Encounter With Enrique Tarrio

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, antagonizes a group of counterprotesters outside the February 2021 CPAC conference in Orlando, Florida.  (Matthias Winsor)

The piece appeared originally in The Nation magazine

ORLANDO, FLA.—It would be easy to see the relative calm of Donald Trump’s post-insurrection career as an ignominious end to six years of MAGA. For those of us used to waking up every day for the past four years wondering what wreckage he left behind overnight—and then compulsively scrolling through Twitter to find out—it’s been tempting to regard Trump as a spent force. But the atmosphere outside the hotel here last weekend hosting the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)—with demonstrators cavorting in cheerful defiance of Trump’s election defeat—gave a very different vision of that movement’s future. It didn’t take long for me to realize that these people have no plans of going away.

I’d come to Orlando to interview MAGA supporters and get a taste of their plans following the unwelcome loss of the presidency. Few of them captured the tenor of the crowd better than Enrique Tarrio, the current chairman of the Proud Boys and one of the most controversial luminaries of the far right, whom I found slipping along the sidewalk with his own coterie of diehard supporters. To him, the reason everyone was out there braving the heat that afternoon was clear.

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All-American Nativism Review

This piece originally appeared in Toward Freedom

THERE WAS SOMETHING UNSETTLING about the self-perception of the killer. After a six hour drive from his home in Allen, Texas to the Mexican border at El Paso, his head swimming with fever dreams of invading Hispanic hordes, twenty-one-year old Patrick Crusius walked up to a Walmart frequented by Latinos and, raising an AK-47 style assault rifle to his shoulder, opened fire. It took less than six minutes to carry out the deed, in which he slaughtered twenty three people and injured dozens more. The manifesto he released the day of the attack invoked The Great Replacement theory—the conspiracy that global Jewish elites are importing immigrants to destroy the white race. It then paid homage to the killer who gunned down fifty-one Muslims in a New Zealand mosque. But the second paragraph of the poorly-worded treatise contained an unexpected tribute: he invoked, as his antecedents, the slain Native Americans.

“The natives didn’t take the invasion of Europeans seriously,” Crusius wrote, making an absurd comparison between the European genocide of natives in the past to the influx of Latinos in the present, “now what’s left [of native Americans] is just a shadow of what was.”

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Honduran storm survivors form US-bound migrant caravan

This piece first appeared in The New Humanitarian

FOR MANY HONDURANS already suffering widespread poverty, government corruption, and one of the highest rates of violence in the world outside a war-zone, back-to-back hurricanes in November, which razed paths of destruction and displaced hundreds of thousands from their homes, were the final straw.

Hundreds began trickling out of the northern city of San Pedro Sula on foot on 9 December – the first US-bound caravan since early October, and potentially the start of a new wave of Central American migrants that would test Joe Biden’s commitment to moving on from the anti-migration policies of the Trump era.

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MS-13 Is Getting Rich From Chemically-Altered Weed That’s ‘More Addictive Than Cocaine’

Inside a drug house controlled by MS-13, packets of product are scattered on the table. “Tiburon” a chemically altered marijuana in factory sealed square packages, is their biggest seller. Seth Berry for Vice World News.

This report original appeared in Vice News

SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS – In a drug house in the heart of a slum controlled by the MS-13 street gang in the city of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a gang member saunters in and dumps his product on the table. 

On one side is cocaine, each portion twisted into wraps of parchment paper. On the other lie several dozen impeccable plastic baggies of the gang’s newest cash-cow: a powerful strain of chemically-altered marijuana known as Krispy, or Tiburón (which means “shark” in English).

It’s unclear what chemicals or substances have made the new drug so addictive, but the gang has been making a killing off it.

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Lecture and Q&A on the systematic injustices in Honduras

A friend who runs a non-profit helping schoolchildren in Honduras invited me to give this online lecture and Q&A about systematic injustices in that country. I’m no expert on these issues. But I like to think that, after a year and a half of periodically reporting on and studying them, that I am an eager student. I’ve learned a lot. Attached below is the link to the Youtube of my talk.

In storm-hit Honduras, a climate crisis drives needs and fuels migration

Photo by Seth Berry

This piece originally appeared in The New Humanitarian

AS HONDURAS ENDURES it’s second storm in as many weeks, international aid agencies and local volunteer groups are scrambling the best responses they can to assist people displaced by flooding and landslides.

But aid experts and rights activists, as well as local residents and politicians, say longer-term problems are being neglected in a country where years of devastating drought have caused mass hunger and are leading thousands of Hondurans to flee annually towards the United States.

Yamely Cáceres was displaced from her Chamalecón neighbourhood in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras after flooding from Hurricane Eta, and then prevented from returning due to resurgent floods from Hurricane Iota, which crashed through the region from 16-18 November

“People are losing everything,” Cáceres, who is now living under a highway overpass, told The New Humanitarian via WhatsApp. “They’re already losing so much with the El Niño droughts before this. I bet more and more people are going to leave after this.”

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Green Devolution

Originally published in the Los Angeles Review of Books

VICTORIA DEL PORTETE, an Ecuadorian town, had decided the time had come for a vote.

Residents of the marshy Andean village came to the parish council building in 2011 to vote “yes” or “no” on the following question: are you in agreement with mining activity in the wetlands and watershed of Kimsacocha? The results, counted by hand, became undeniable by day’s end. Ninety-three percent of the participants said they didn’t want foreign gold extraction in the vicinity of their watershed. “No one and nothing will stop our fight in defense of water and in defense of our territories,” one organizer said afterward, “to construct a better Ecuador, without mining in our territories.”

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa arrived at the village not long after with an entourage of apparatchiks and pro-government reporters. Correa reprimanded the anti-mining activists for their “lies,” painting the electoral outcome as the result of rural zealotry. Those who voted no, he said, suffered from “mental fundamentalisms.”

A Year of BLM: Reflections on 2020


ONE OF THE EARLIEST MEMORIES I can recall in the birth of my political consciousness came on a blustery fall night, when I was a sophomore in high school. The exact details remain murky, almost indistinguishable in my memory from the countless weekend nights I spent at my dad’s house in that era. But one variation, looking back now, set that night apart from all the others. Not long after sunset, my dad, his friend and I had sunken into the ripped leather couches set adjacent to the TV, the living room littered with empty cans of beer, unfolded Taco Bell wrappers, the camo hunting equipment and shotguns in their plastic padlocked cases all laid out on the dusty, leather cover of the pool table. As my dad and his friend nursed Bud Lights, we sat back, talked, and watched a riot unfold on CNN. 

Ferguson, at over a thousand miles away from us, had never once before figured into my mind. Now it was a lightning rod in the national imagination. Footage of that chaotic night—one of several disturbances that convulsed the Missouri town in the year after Michael Brown was killed, though I regret not remembering which one it was—was being live-streamed onto the TV from a news helicopter circling above town. Panning shots captured scenes of people, far below, running over cars, piling like amoebas into intersections where they brought traffic to a standstill, gathering in crowds that stretched out of sight around the police station. Darren Wilson, the officer who pumped seven bullets into the black boys back, was to be proclaimed innocent. And there were police everywhere: stolid lines of officers in tactical military gear, silhouetted by floodlights against a backdrop of armored vehicles and snipers. The livestream would be intercut with an anchor with a microphone, shuffling crowds of people chanting behind them, assuring that those carrying out peaceful protests constituted the majority. But the footage always returned to the helicopter, to the broken windows and overturned cars and raging flames of incinerated buildings. To the hazy scrim of teargas. Ferguson, an American town, burning.