This article includes a statement from Bruin Republicans. The statement can be found at the end of the article.
Fascists are organizing at UCLA.
It’s no secret that the word “fascist” has largely lost its meaning in casual conversation. Liberals accuse conservatives of fascism for hardline stances on policing and immigration, and conservatives accuse liberals of fascism for supporting the expansion of federal government bureaucracy. “Fascist,” as the word is usually used, is a generic epithet for anything that somebody dislikes. What, then, actually is fascism?
It’s tricky to nail down a single definition since societies and governments which are traditionally labeled as fascist, including Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and Francisco Franco’s Spain, were not identical to each other. There are, however, common criteria which can be used to identify ideologies which may be fairly classified as fascist. Umberto Eco’s essay Ur-Fascism (1995) provides a compelling account of fascism. For brevity, I will list a few key elements which Eco identifies, though the full essay is worth reading.
Fascism advocates for a government which is both authoritarian, having great power over its citizens to whom it denies political freedoms, and totalitarian, controlling every aspect of every person’s life. It calls for a return to pre-rational traditionalism, and identifies modernity and intellectualism as corrupting influences. It derives power from a personal and collective feeling of frustration and humiliation and promises to wind back the clock to an imagined “golden age.” The fascist narrative promises the rebirth of a people with a mythic destiny, often led by a charismatic leader. Fascism exploits a natural fear of difference, whether racial, national, political, or religious, and defines the fascist life as one of endless war against enemies both internal and external.
Having done our homework, let’s examine the SOLE-recognized club “America First Bruins,” which recently co-signed a letter with the Bruin Republicans calling for a complete moratorium on immigration amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
For starters, while the slogan “America First” comes off as generic and innocuous, it’s worth establishing that the phrase has a dark history. Formed in 1940, the America First Committee advocated strongly for American non-intervention in the Second World War, oftentimes by defending the fascist regimes of Europe and scapegoating Jews as warmongers. Spokesman Charles Lindbergh claimed at a 1941 rally that “the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.” According to Lindbergh, the “greatest danger” Jews posed to the U.S. “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”
A few things should already be apparent. The words “America First” can be understood as a dog-whistle to fascists. It suggests that American interests, as opposed to the interests of a foreign Other (i.e. Jews), are not currently being pursued by American institutions. It insinuates that foreign (i.e. Jewish) elements control American government and media corporations and direct their activities towards foreign (i.e. Jewish) interests.
But, to be fair, that’s a lot of extrapolating. Let’s let America First Bruins speak for themselves. Here’s their Twitter profile:
Two things should stand out. One, the banner “communists aren’t people” fits squarely into the fascist model of dehumanizing political opponents. Two, the profile picture caption “embrace tradition” gels with what Umberto Eco describes as the first characteristic of fascist ideology: the “cult of tradition” and rejection of modernism.
Still, let’s not make a snap judgement. Let’s see what club president and SOLE signatory Christian Secor (@fullautonat) has to say.
Let’s not kid ourselves; this is textbook fascism, espoused by the signatory, founder, and president of America First Bruins. From this sampling alone, we can see the valorization of the 2017 Charlottesville tiki torch march (“Jews will not replace us!”), the antisemitic canard that Jews are collectively responsible for communism (Judeobolshevism), the canard that Jews and the state of Israel control the politics of other governments (Zionist-Occupied Government), and that Jews in prominent government and media posts are loyal to the Jewish collectivity and not to America (dual loyalty). One is almost impressed by the comprehensiveness of his antisemitism.
It’s concerning enough when a fringe group espouses hateful views, but what’s even more concerning is when mainstream groups like the Bruin Republicans legitimize them.
UCLA is unfortunately no stranger to antisemitism, but this is a new extreme. Liberals and conservatives alike should condemn it unreservedly, and it should have no place in the UCLA community. So, what can be done?
Legally, the university’s hands are basically tied. The First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, prevents a public university from discriminating against a student organization by denying it access to university resources and facilities available to other groups or suspending its activities.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there’s no way to respond to fascism.
Students, faculty, and university should condemn America First Bruins and other culpable organizations like the Bruin Republicans who legitimized them. Free speech means freedom from government censorship, not freedom from social or professional consequences. Those who traffick in hate speech on publicly visible social media profiles and in university-sanctioned student groups can and ought to be held accountable.
We’ve seen this before, and we know how it can end.
Bruin Republicans decided to respond to this article. Their statement was sent to Ha’Am and is posted below:
“The Bruin Republicans find this article disturbing in a multitude of ways. First of all, we would like to note that our club was not contacted before the publication of this article to confirm the accuracy of the contents. Our initial clarifications sent to Ha’Am and the author were dismissed and no timeline for the editorial process was presented to us. Instead, we were told that the author was trusted to have done his research. Ha’Am, as a newspaper, must value the accuracy of articles written on its site, opinion or not. We find it disappointing that it would allow such an article and other posts to be published without editorial oversight, worrying calls to action, and contradictions to the truth.
Ha’Am should be concerned about the validity of what they publish. This key step of journalism was neglected in order to push a false narrative that we are responsible for the statements of members of another organization. While the author is entitled to his opinions, these must be differentiated from the facts of the matter. It is a fact that we cosponsored a resolution authored by the University of Maine College Republicans. America First Bruins cosponsored the resolution separately. However, fact changes to opinion when the author states that we “legitimize” them. We are a separate organization and are not responsible for the statements or actions of members of America First Bruins. Ha’Am, and the author of this article, stated with confidence that an entirely separate organization (our club) “legitimize” America First Bruins, because both organizations cosponsored a letter authored by students at another University. In addition, the editor stated we are ‘associating’ with America First Bruins when we have done our best to make it clear that we are separate organizations and the individual in question does not speak for us. The attempt to apply blanket associations and therefore establish guilt by such disingenuous association are clearly unethical and were ignored despite our efforts. Our club defends the right of free speech on campus. Free speech includes controversial and offensive ideas. While our organization wishes for rhetoric that is professional and civil, we do not make judgement calls on lawful speech.
As soon as we were made aware of what the individual in question had posted, we took appropriate action, resolved the matter internally, and notified all relevant parties. It became clearer to us, as we corresponded with the author, that the only reason Bruin Republicans were included in the article was an attempt to link us to the statements of America First Bruins and their president.
The worrying call to action in the article was amended after our many inquiries. The author invited members of the UCLA community to “expose and publicly shame” members of our organization and America First Bruins. The author did this knowing full well that he had many of his “facts” wrong. This indicates that Ha’Am is content with publishing an article that supports and advocates for the public shaming, harassment, and confrontation of members of our club (almost akin to doxing) without a complete understanding of the full truth. It became clear that the author did not understand the full story behind his words and was jumping to conclusions without confirming the facts. We explained many salient details to the author but the author “disagreed” and disregarded them, claiming that he wrote an “opinion piece” and was therefore not beholden to the truth.
What is most worrying of all is that the author, once contacted to correct the article, threatened our organization with demands and claimed that he would not make any corrections unless we acquiesced. We find this behavior deeply troubling as it contradicts the values of ethical journalism and decency. It is clear that the ethical practices of a news organization, whether the piece is “opinion” or not, were not followed and even flagrantly opposed to push an agenda.
Social media posts by Ha’Am claimed that we were “collaborating” with America First Bruins. We, again, were not contacted about the article and had to reach out to Ha’Am to have them edit, or in one case take down their post because of this inaccuracy. We responded to all the claims and communicated our concerns with Ha’Am. However, Ha’Am should strive for accuracy on their own accord, not our club after the piece’s publication.
We are disappointed by the many flaws in the timeline as well as the content in this article. Ha’Am and its authors should strive for ethical journalism that is appropriate for a news organization. The author of this article engaged in and advocated for worrying behavior towards our club and our fellow students. We would hope that out of all of this, members of the campus community strive for civil discourse and intellectual arguments to make UCLA a better campus for all.”