Refuse Fascism Podcast + A Little Matter of Genocide (Book Selection)
Happy National Genocide Day
I’m not doing a real essay tomorrow because it’s an official day off, which I very much need. Still, two things for you here in anticipation of National Genocide Day:
1. An interview/discussion/podcast I did with my fellow Refuse Fascism Editorial Board members Samantha Goldman and Coco Das last Saturday. It’s an (I hope) informative conversation about (among other things) why liberals need to drop the smug satisfaction they seem to be feeling over the 2022 midterm elections, and why and how the Amerikaner-fascist menace is very much alive in the United States in the wake of the midterms Listen to it here.
The Paul Street Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Please consider clicking on to the Refuse Fascism podcast every Monday. For two years plus, it has been the single best ongoing source of deeply informed commentary on 21st Century US-American fascism. Before diving into important and enlightening discussions with expert authors, commentators, and activists each week, Samantha Goldman always provides an indispensable 5 or so minute survey of the previous week’s most important political developments relating to the real and ongoing danger of fascism in the United States.
2. A “Thanksgiving”-relevant historical selection from the sixth chapter of my most recent book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America . This chapter is titled “America Was Never Great: On ‘The Soul of This Nation.’” It is dedicated to bursting the bubble of Joe Biden’s recurrent claims that Trumpian neofascism is an historical “aberration” that had no foundation in the supposedly exceptionally glorious, inclusive, and democratic history of the United States. The following sub-section of this chapter looks at the grisly story of the Native American genocide that was a fundamental part of “exceptional” US-America’s rise to continent-wide power.
I’m sending out my seccod weeky Substack today instead of my usual Thursday dispatch becasue folks are more unlikely than usual to be reading stuff online (or otherwise) on Thanksgving/National Genocide Day morning.
Here’s the book selection, from pages 222-229 in This Happened Here:
A Little Matter of Genocide
Beneath the Heroic Mythology of a “Settler State”: Dehumanization, Extermination and Enslavement
When was America “great” for white nationalists in the neofascist mode, Trumpist or otherwise? Above all during the great 19th Century expansion, when a rugged white male republic pushed its territorial frontier ever further westward, subjugating and often destroying and rolling over every living person, being. and thing in their way. Perhaps nobody has captured the at once violent, racist, sexist, nationalist, and ecocidal savagery of this expansion more eloquently than the prolific cultural historian Richard Slotkin, who said the following to Bill Moyers in December of 2013:
‘Every nation, every nation state requires a historical mythology, because a nation state is a kind of political artifice…you need an account of history that explains that you’re actually all the same kind of person or that your different natures have been blended through experience…. The United States is a settler state. And this begins with colonial outposts in the wilderness. And our origin has a story then, has to be how did we go from being these small outposts to being the mightiest nation on planet earth? Well, we did it by pushing the boundaries of the settlement out into Indian country. We did it by ultimately fighting wars against Native Americans, driving them out, displacing them, exterminating them in some cases.’
‘And in the process of pushing our boundaries out, we acquired certain heroic virtues— an ability to fight cleverly both as individuals and cooperatively, and a connection with nature which is particularly critical. As a country really develops you get a kind of American exceptionalist notion of progress which is that American progress is achieved not by man exploiting man, but it’s achieved by conquering nature, by taking resources from nature, farmland originally, timber resources, ultimately gold, minerals, oil and so on. In the American model, in order for it to work, you have to say that Native Americans, Indians, are not quite human. And therefore they, like trees in the forest, are legitimate objects of creative destruction. And similarly blacks, African Americans, are legitimate objects of exploitation because they are considered to be not fully human.’
‘So what you get in this, the evolution of the American national myth, really up through the Civil War is the creation of America as a white man’s republic in which, different from Europe, if you’re white, you’re all right. You don’t have to be an aristocrat born to have a place in the society. You don’t absolutely even have to be Anglo-Saxon, although it helps.’
‘But so among whites you can have democracy. But the white democracy depends on the murder, the extermination, the driving out of Native Americans and the enslavement of blacks. Both of those boundaries, the western frontier, the Indian frontier, and the slave frontier, are boundaries created and enforced by violence, either literal or latent, potential violence’.
Savagely and Mercilessly Exterminating “the Common Enemy of the Country”
Let’s take a closer look at “the soul of this nation,” the exterminist “white democracy” that “settled” America. How new is lethal racist cruelty in the supposedly once “great” U.S.-American experience? North American white “settlers’” eradicated millions of the continent’s original inhabitants – in what the Indigenous scholar Ward Churchill once called “a little matter of genocide.”– and populated their southern colonies and states with Black slaves they mercilessly tortured, raped, maimed, and murdered in forced labor camps that provided the critical raw material for the rise of American capitalism long before Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler rose to power. Trump’s favorite president prior to himself, Andrew Jackson, first rose to prominence in the early 19th century as the head of the Tennessee militia who exterminated the Creek Nation. As Greg Grandin writes:
‘Jackson instructed his men…to “pant with vengeance” and turn themselves into “engines of destruction.” Jackson laid waste to Creek villages and declared himself “Justifiable.” He threatening to continue burning houses, killing warriors, mutilating their bodies (he ordered his men to cut off the noses of the Indian corpses, so as to more easily tally the dead), and enslaving their women and children “until I do obtain a surrender,”… [thereby] previewing the misery he would later, as president, nationalize” [with the 1830 Indian Removal Act]…Jackson kept the skulls of Indians he killed as trophies, and his soldiers cut long strips of skin from their victims to use as bridle reins…”We have seen the ravens and the vultures preying upon the carcasses of the unburied slain,” Jackson told his troops, following an especially gruesome 1814 massacre. “Our vengeance has been glutted.”’
Jackson as president ordered the 1830s “Trail of Tears,” a giant and sadistic death march that finalized the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Nation from the nation’s Southeastern seaboard. The terrible story of this genocidal policy is one Google search away on History.com, where one can learn the following:
‘By 1838, only about 2,000 Cherokees had left their Georgia homeland for Indian Territory. President Martin Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 soldiers to expedite the removal process. Scott and his troops forced the Cherokee into stockades at bayonet point while whites looted their homes and belongings. Then, they marched the Indians more than 1,200 miles to Indian Territory. Whooping cough, typhus, dysentery, cholera and starvation were epidemic along the way, and historians estimate that more than 5,000 Cherokee died as a result of the journey.’
Consider the conclusion of the one-sided “Black Hawk War” – just one of many examples of a ferocious white history of North American extermination. The Sauk and Fox Indians lost 600 people, including hundreds of woman and children. Just 70 soldiers and settlers were killed. The conflict culminated in the so-called Battle of Bad Axe, on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River, near the present-day community of Victory in southwest Wisconsin. Better described as a massacre than a battle, this American military triumph involved U.S. General Henry Atkinson killing every Indian who tried to run for cover or flee across the Mississippi River. On August 1, 1832, Black Hawk’s band reached the Mississippi at its confluence with the Bad Axe River. What followed was an atrocity, committed despite the Indians’ repeated attempts at surrender, “While the Sauk refugees were preparing rafts and canoes,” writes historian Kerry Trask, “the armed [U.S.] steamboat Warrior arrived, whereupon Black Hawk tried to negotiate with its troops under a flag of truce. The Americans opened fire, killing twenty-three warriors.” “As we neared them,” one US officer who “served” in the U.S. assault recalled, “they raised a white flag and endeavored to decoy us, but we were a little too old for them.”
Hundreds of Sauk and Fox men, women and children were shot, clubbed, and bayoneted to death. US soldiers scalped most of the dead. They cut long strips of flesh from dead and wounded Indians for use as razor strops. The slaughter was supported by cannon and rifle fire from the aptly named US military ship Warrior, which picked off tribal members swimming for their lives. The United States suffered 5 dead and 19 wounded in the “Battle of Bad Axe.” In a popular account of the “battle” published two years later, US Major John Allen Wakefield offered some interesting reflections. “It was a horrid sight,” Wakefield wrote:
‘to witness little children, wounded and suffering the most excruciating pain, although they were of the savage enemy, and the common enemy of the country…It was enough to make the heart of the most hardened being on earth to ache. [But, Wakefield wrote]…I must confess, that it filled my heart with gratitude and joy, to think that I had been instrumental, with many others, in delivering my country of those merciless savages, and restoring those [invading white] people again to their peaceful homes and firesides.’
“Our Great Father,” a government agent told the Sauk Indians, “will forbear no longer. He has tried to reclaim [Native Americans] and they grow worse. He is resolved to sweep them from the face of the earth. … If they cannot be made good, they must be killed.” By Wakefield’s account, the U.S. troops at Bad Axe “shrank not from their duty. They all joined in the work of death for death it was. We were by this time fast getting rid of those demons in human shape… the Ruler of the Universe, He who takes vengeance on the guilty, did not design those guilty wretches to escape His vengeance…” (Such sentiments were common among American army and militia members, who reveled in the mass murder of indigenous people.)
This was just one of many such genocidal moments in the rapacious white “settlement” of North America – the abject annihilation and ethnic cleansing of native people. This gruesome history is pock-marked with such horrid atrocities as the razing of 20 Cherokee towns in 1776, the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole nations to Oklahoma (1828-1840), the savage clearance of the Sauk nation from their ancestral home in northern Illinois (1832-1833), the massacre of at least 75 Pomo Indians trapped on an island in the Russian River area of California (1850), the mass hanging of 38 Lakotas in 1862, the brutal murder of as many as 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado (1864)), the slaughter of more than 100 Cheyenne, including women and children, by Lieutenant George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh U.S. Cavalry at Washita (in Oklahoma in 1868), the openly extermination-ist clearance of Lakota Sioux from the Black Hills (1876-1877), and the Seventh Cavalry’s massacre of 350 unarmed Lakota at Wounded Knee (1890).
The United States’ first and heralded president, the “father of the country,” George Washington was a determined vicious killer of Native Americans known to the Iroquois as Conoctocaurious, meaning “Town Taker,” “Burner of Towns,” “Village Destroyer,” and “Town Destroyer.” In 1779, during the American War for Independence, Washington ordered and organized the Sullivan Campaign, which carried out the genocidal destruction of 40 Iroquois villages in New York. Along the way, Washington owned more than 300 Black slaves. He expected the Black chattel humans on his 1790s Mount Vernon estate to work from before sunrise to after sunset six days a week. At the end of the U.S. “revolutionary” war, he demanded that the British return all escaped slaves in their possession to their “rightful owners.”
This genocidal history received hearty approval in future US President and Spanish-American War instigator Theodore Roosevelt’s epic six-volume white nationalist turn-of-the -century panoramic history The Winning of the West. Penned by a heralded symbol of “the American soul,” The Winning of the West was a white-supremacist paean to Anglo-America’s near- eradication of North America’s original civilizations. “During the past three centuries,” Roosevelt opined, “the spread of English-speaking people over the world’s waste spaces” (meaning spaces not occupied by “progressive” capitalist-developmental Caucasians) was a great and welcome “feat of power,” for which the “English-speaking race” could justly feel proud. No “feat” of “race power” was more laudable for the “Bull Moose” than “the vast movement by which this continent [North America] was conquered and peopled” – the “crowning and greatest achievement of a series of mighty movements.” The Anglo-American pioneers conducted what Roosevelt called the noble civilizing “work” of “overcoming the original inhabitants.” The North American settlers performed the most heroic “work” of all, for they “confronted the most formidable savage foes ever encountered by colonists of European stock.”
No 20th century fascist had anything on Roosevelt’s Winning of the West when it came to the heralding of white supremacist violence. “The settler and pioneer,” the future war president wrote, “have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid savages…The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages, though it is apt to be also the most terrible and inhuman.” Roosevelt considered the destruction of the continent’s original civilizations to be part of Teutonic Saxons’ long and noble crusade to master inferior races. “Let the sentimentalist say what they will,” Roosevelt wrote, “the man who puts the soil to use must of right dispossess the man who does not,” with “put the soil to use” understood to mean enclosing the earthly commons, fencing it off as private property and exploiting natural resources and human labor power.
“American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori, – in each case the victor,” The Winning of the West instructed, “horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.”
“It is of incalculable importance,” Roosevelt opined, “that America, Australia, and Siberia should pass out of the hands of their red, black, and yellow aboriginal owners, and become the heritage of the dominant world races…The world would have halted had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands; but the victories of Moslem over Christian have always proved a curse in the end. Nothing but sheer evil has come from the victories of Turk and Tartar.”
Destroying the Indian “savages,” Roosevelt claimed, was white North America’s third greatest work to date, exceeded only by “the preservation of the Union itself and the emancipation of the blacks”– this as African-Americans suffered under the terrorist Jim Crow regime in the former U.S. slave states and faced countless indignities throughout the U.S.
Raping and Screaming Like Fiends
The “winning of the West” also included savage racist and sexist war crimes against Mexico, which lost the land that makes up current day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming and Utah to the United States in one sided 1846-48 Mexican American War. Ulysses S. Grant would later call it “one of the most unjust [wars] ever won by a stronger against a weaker nation.” He would have known a thing or two about that since he was an officer in the U.S- white-Protestant assault on brown-skinned and Catholic Mexico, which had committed the unpardonable sin of abolishing slavery years before. Here is Grandin’s account of just two of many atrocities that U.S.-American soldiers committed during that conflict, long before the No Gun Ris, Operation Tiger Forces, My Lais, Bola Boluks, and Abu Ghraibs of future centuries:
‘On February 9, 1847, for one example, a member of the Arkansas volunteer regiment raped a Mexican woman near the regiment’s camp at Agua Nueva, in the state of Coahuila, and Mexicans retaliated by killing a U.S. soldier. Afterwards, over one hundred Arkansans cornered a group of war refugees in a cave. According to one eyewitness, the volunteers screamed “like fiends” as they raped and slaughtered their victims, with women and children “shrieking for mercy.” By the time the killing had ended, scores of Mexicans lay dead or dying on the cave floor, which was covered with clotted blood. Many of the dead had been scalped (more than a few volunteers in the U.S. Army had, before the war, made their living on the borderlands scalping Apaches for bounty money, or ‘barbering,’ as one infamous Texas scalp-hunter called his trade.)’
The march of “Saxon civilization” in its glorious campaign against “savagery” was something to behold. Just more than six decades after the vanquishing and dismemberment of Mexico, murderous anti-Mexican U.S. savagery broke out on now U.S.-American soil. When the anti-U.S.-imperialist 1911 Mexican Revolution brought refuges form the fighting into Texas, the Texas Rangers and “their sheriff adjuncts carried out ‘mass executions’” As Grandin writes, “bodies of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans piled up, victims of a killing spree that was “welcomed…and instigated at the highest levels of society and government…One Texas [news] paper descried a serious surplus population that needs eliminating.” The Refusing to Forget project reports that U.S. political elites “proposed putting all those of Mexican descent into ‘concentration camps’…For a decade, people would come across skeletons in the south Texas brush, marked with execution-style bullet-holes in the backs of their skulls.”
Because God: “The Sword of the Lord”
Evangelical Christian barbarism wedded to lethal American white nationalism? American evangelicals have been terrorizing their fellow Americans and others around the world for as long as the United States has existed – and indeed before that. The historically astute political sociologist Carl Boggs reminds us that contemporary American right-wing Christianity is “an extension of traditional, homespun, God-fearing Protestantism that historically intersected with racist, colonial, and exceptionalist currents of Manifest Destiny.” Further:
‘We know that slavery, along with every step toward extermination of Native Americans, was justified and even celebrated as part of God’s will. Did not President William McKinley, as the U.S. was preparing for a war in the Philippines that would slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians, inform Americans that this was a Christian duty?…Replete with images of great violence, hatred, and repression, [the Christians’ ancient holy text] the Bible in fact justifies all forms of mass murder, torture, warfare, and slavery. We have a text, as Michael Parenti notes, that takes enormous gratification in the mass slaughter of humans and animals, with few limits. In the Bible we find executions for taking God’s name in vain, death to practitioners of ‘idolatry,’ and horrific punishment for adulterers not to mention genocidal military attacks on heathen nations and culture. Such fundamentalist views, resonant of the Dark Ages, Parenti correctly likens to a modern fascist outlook (emphasis added).’
Nearly two decades ago, the evangelical Christian George W. Bush, neo-fascistically turbo-charged by the Reichstag Fire-like gift of the Islamist 9/11 attacks, concluded that God had told him to invade Mesopotamia. The invasion led to more than a million Iraqi deaths accompanied by countless explicitly racist and often evangelically infused acts of torture and murder committed by feral U.S. military forces.
The use of messianic Christianity to justify murdering and maiming people of color en-masse goes back to the original British invasion of what would be called New England. The U.S. Declaration of Independence’s description of North America’s original inhabitants as “merciless Indian savages” anticipated Orwell by projecting onto Native Americans the genocidal practices that white “settlers” exhibited from day one. Consider the celebrated progressive historian Eric Foner’s textbook description of the grisly and religiously infused Mystic River Massacre of 1637:
‘A force of Connecticut and Massachusetts soldiers, augmented by Narraganset allies, surrounded the main Pequot fortified village at Mystic and set it ablaze, killing those who tried to escape. Over 500 men, women, and children lost their lives in the massacre. By the end of the war [of New England settlers on the once powerful Pequot tribe], most of the Pequots had been exterminated or sold into Caribbean slavery. The treat that restored peace decreed that their name should be wiped from the historical record…The colonists’ ferocity shocked their Indian allies, who considered European military practices barbaric. A few Puritans agreed. “It was a fearful sight to see them frying in the fire,” the Pilgrim leaders William Bradford wrote of the raid on Mystic. But to most Puritans, including Bradford, the defeat of a “barbarous nation” by “the sword of the Lord” offered further proof that they were on a sacred mission and that Indians were unworthy of sharing New England with the visible saints of the church.’
The Puritans wept with joy and thanked “God” for helping them flame-broil Indian women and children who stood on ground they would turn into a heavenly “City on the Hill.” A glorious moment in the unfolding of the great democratic “Saxon” ideal that American historians before Frederick Jackson Turner considered to be the distinctive genius of the United States and its British-colonist forbearers!
After a cruel campaign of ethnic cleansing (at the conclusion of “King Phillips’ War”) in which the white (un-) settlers pushed most of the last Indians they had not killed out of New England in the mid-1670s, “the image of Indians as bloodthirsty savages,” Foner writes, “became firmly entrenched in the New England mind.”
“America” (the U.S.) was born lethal, merciless, and savage.
(This all and much more horrible to contemplate happened here.)
The Paul Street Report is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
For more on American atrocities in Mexico I recommend "Bad Mexicans" by Kelly Lytle Hernandez.
Paul your Refuse Fascism podcast was very well done, informative and a good supplement to your columns on the midterm elections. If your schedule permits, you should do more of them.