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In the glow of lamplight on my desk I gaze upon one of the wondrous signs of our times, full of hope and promise for the future.

Paul Robeson, “Our Children, Our World,” Here I Stand

It was no accident that Mussolini’s adoption of the term fascismo to describe his “little band of nationalist ex-soldiers and pro-war syndicalist revolutionaries” was suggestive of the violence to come. Fascism’s rhetoric alone is violent. Its “great” leader” mesmerized ordinary people who, no surprise, envisioned a world to their liking.

To the “anti-intellectual,” the ones for whom “compromise” is tedious and “contempt for established society” becomes habitual, Mussolini’s dog whistles called them to galvanize and declare their leader, a man for the people!

Few took note of Mussolini’s growing army of the willing. Even fewer took note when the “enemy” of the state, infected with facts and truths, disappeared, never to be seen by family members, co-workers, or neighbors again. The people were hooked! Appealing to “mainly to the emotions” and “intensely charged rhetoric,” Mussolini transformed Italy into a fascist state.

Recently, I read an article written by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian and scholar on fascism, in which she cites Mussolini’s comment after Hitler came into power. Ben-Ghiat wrote this article just a few years ago. I hear in Mussolini’s fear of racial replacement the current crop of American white supremacist, white nationalists, fascist that too-familiar expression of fear. And warning. Beware: “‘black and yellow people’ were ‘at our doors’ armed with a consciousness of the future of their race in the world.’” Civilization could be replaced with barbarism if “‘white people could face extinction’”! Would anyone join him?

Hitler accepts Mussolini’s invite…

I remember reading Adolf Hitler by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland. I would’ve been a college senior when the book was published in 1976, and it wouldn’t have been a book taught in my former education. For that reason, I didn’t think much of fascism, except it was a strange “cult” of very bad people in even stranger attire. Scary folks. But over and done. No threat to the US. To Black Americans, for sure…

Hitler’s Minister of Entertainment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, produced a steady flow of pamphlets and leaflets, informing the “Aryan” citizens that a unite Germany would confront the threat and solve “the Jewish problem.” To Western statesmen, he was a buffoon who would soon become overwhelmed with the tasks of leading a Western nation. Churchill and Roosevelt and Chamberlain acknowledged the German leader’s facade of civility, but for Black Americans looking upon the Fuhrer, he had no clothes!

To a people subjected to legalized segregation and the brutality of lynching and rape, the manufactured propaganda out of the Minister of Entertainment and Propaganda’s office was too familiar. In the US, Blacks endured the creation of giant menacing apes and flirtatious Jezebels, images with narrative appealing to white fear of Black people. Black Americans understood that the more they, the actual victims of legalized oppressed, were made to appear subhuman, the better for Southern legislators to establish policies and laws further prohibiting the movement of Black Americans. Proving that propaganda worked!

Black Americans, distinguishing the perpetrators of violence from the victims, understood Germany’s Aryans-only pogroms and its “solution” to “the Jewish Problem” was no less the ideology of white supremacy. Rituals and ceremonies aside! If “a white Southerner could glibly refer to the ‘Negro Problem’ and blame the South’s troubles on black deficiency,” as the historian Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore notes in Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950,” then the two nations had more in common than anyone one in either American or Germany was willing to believe.

Hitler admired America’s brand of white supremacy. He looked to American institutions, to its legal apparatus, to its civic and social organizations, to its citizens, high and low, and Hitler discovered that what mattered to Americans, as Gilmore notes, wasn’t the Bill of Rights, but rather the cruel and often brutal “state laws that legally institutionalized segregation and oppression.” In American life, state laws were the US “secret strength”!

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Fascism provided the life for the illusion of a whites-only American life to thrive. It was necessary for Southern practitioners of fascist policies, to keep blacks close at hand,” yet sanction, “often by the sin of silence,” all-encompassing circles of terror “to keep them in line.” A whites-only democracy was, in other words, only visible as long as the fear of miscegenation was crushed by one lynching party after another. “Fascist violence,” writes Paxton, “was neither random nor indiscriminate.” In a fascist state, “ordinary citizens” have no fear of violence. “They are reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and ‘terrorists’ who deserve it.” Thus, the history of genocide and enslavement and mandatory internment camps—the history of US violence—can’t be taught for fear of making white American feel guilty!

A whites-only democracy, an illusion, was, nonetheless, an employable lesson for Hitler to learn. He took notes.

America’s brand of fascism, writes James Whitman, author of Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, became the model for pogroms of injustice and brutality in Nazi Germany. Far from “marking a clear German rejection of all American values… Jim Crow laws became a model for Germany’s brand of fascism.” America’s anti-miscegenation legislation, for one, criminalizing “marriage and sexual relations” between white and Black Americans, became “the blood law” in Nazi Germany.

In short, writes Whitman, Nazi Germany situated its brand of fascism “closer in line with American law”!

Yet, in the 1930s, the question as to whether or not fascism could take hold here was quickly dismissed by politicians and community leaders, writes Gilmore, who believed that “the American people were temperamentally opposed to it.” Fascism was already in the US, wrote S. A. Rogers, a Black communist. Hitler and Mussolini “‘copied it from the US… what else’”! What “are Jim Crow laws but fascism laws’”?

Just an aside—Today, when state and local representatives ban the books of an American Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison rather than joining local activists in the dismantling of statues of Robert E. Lee, what policies and laws are they channeling? What era do these supposedly leaders of the people want to see return?

In the 1930, American citizens, writes Gilmore, denied being aware of “Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.” Why would the Germans espouse antisemitism? Americans, she adds, had only to read the Black press as early as 1933. For Blacks to lack understanding of the “persecution of the Jews by the fascists,” to lack empathy for the plight of other human beings whose rights were stripped from them, would have been “‘beyond belief.’” “[I]t was the big story in the black press throughout the remainder of the 1930s.”

Goebbels certainly read Hitler’s proverbial notes, if not the Black press. The Fuhrer’s praise for “US white supremacy” and its practice of lynching” had Goebbels envisioning a “bloody revolution in North America.” For Goebbels, here was a country, he acknowledged with “so many social and racial tensions.” It would be ripe for the Reich “to play on many strings.” And, as if right on cue, Hitler, Paxton notes, increasingly refers to a Weltanscauung, a “worldview,” at his rallies.

W. E. B. Du Bois commented on how “brazenly” the Italian fascist regime declared war on an African nation, announcing their need for “land of the Ethiopians for [Italy’s] own peasants” (Gilmore). Black American men enlisted to fight against the second invasion of Mussolini’s fascists troops in Ethiopia. Paul Robeson spoke before thousands as did Amy Garvey in London, both calling for an internal response from Blacks in the Diaspora. Poets Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén (Black Cuban) left their respective countries to stand with the Republic against fascist Spain.

As Black Americans understood, the staying power of democracy depended upon a people willing to fight for it to remain in play. Fascism, on the other hand, could become the order of the day, with Nazi flag competing with the Confederate flag atop the White House and US Capitol. Black educators and community leaders lost no time calling for the US to condemn German fascism and the South’s Dixie “despotism” (Gilmore).

“Whenever and wherever we, the Negro people, claim our lawful rights with all the earnestness, dignity and determination that we can demonstrate, the moral support of the American people will become an active force on our side,” Paul Robeson.

Let’s hope so…