At the beginning of the pandemic then president Trump and his movement reacted to the news of a deadly new plague arising from China with a mix of bravado and arrogance. China, Trump’s favorite target for channeling American paranoia to a foreign target was ladled with scorn and fear mongering by the Trump administration in the winter and early spring of 2019. This proved to be politically expedient for Trump, a man as always more acquainted with rhetoric rather than planning or really much action at all. But once Covid-19 reached American shores, and it became clear that some kind of action had to be taken to contain the looming threat. Trump while continuing to decry the “China Virus”, basically did nearly nothing from a federal standpoint leaving the response to be coordinated on the state level.
As Covid spread, it first began to impact major cities along the eastern and pacific seaboards. Democratically controlled areas that owing to their higher population densities and more numerous international ties were pretty much fated to be pandemic hotspots if robust action was not taken quickly. But for Trump and his enablers, all that could be seen was an issue that could be weaponized. Before Covid reached more rural areas, it was pretty common to hear Republican leaders dismiss Covid as a blue state problem and erroneously blamed the sinking economy on public health officials rather than a once in a lifetime plague carving its way through the US. For a figure that seemed to pride himself on being tough, as most fascists do, it seemed paradoxical that when faced with national crisis that by and large Trump’s response has been more or less to deny that anything is going wrong.
Evidence that covid killed the economy not lockdowns. Spoiler: the economy crashed in areas without lockdowns and unemployment skyrocketed before any lockdowns were put in place.
It could be imagined that Trump having no real idea what to do about Covid in the near term decided it would be in his best interests to downplay the crisis. Keep people calm and ignorant and hopefully not calling their grandparents dying in nursing homes. With his re-election coming up this may have been tempting and also we should remember that early on in the pandemic less was known about Covid. While it was reckless and irresponsible to believe so, one could imagine that Covid-19 would just be another SARS, something that would come and go in the matter of months. It’s definitely not the first time Trump had made a risky bet. Throughout the pandemic behind the scenes we had countless actors dong their part to try and enable Trump’s attempt to keep the American people docile, just long enough to secure another term it seemed. We had the usual conspiracy theorists blathering at first about how the virus was a weapon engineered in China, how it was 5G technology. I doubt these elements were found as useful as the peddlers of fake cures or deniers of Covid’s impact, polite looking men and women in lab coats. As the things dragged on little slips would get out here and there showing the true intentions behind Trump’s Covid denial. Most poignant in my mind was the occasion where outright human sacrifice was suggested by certain official in Texas in order to keep the economy going. Taken in hindsight it seems rather ludicrous now with the Republican party in shambles and Trump having exited his term as a historically hated figure. And while I have no doubts that Trump’s movement is one with dysfunction and incompetence baked into it. I feel that there is more behind what led to him and his movement being nearly the single greatest source of covid denial and face mask paranoia. In short, they’re fascists and fascism’s universal characteristics lends itself to a lot of the behavior we observe from the likes of figures like Peggy Hall and Alan Hostetter (the later of which was a confirmed participant in the attempted coup on the 6th of January 2021 and is currently be investigated by the FBI ).
For my purposes I mainly draw upon Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay Ur-Fascism aka Universal Fascism to describe and identify fascist ideas, policies, and rhetoric. Since this blog is mainly about anti-maskers, I’m not going to go too far into all the strokes of how Trump fits into fascism, though I would encourage everyone to give the essay a read and carefully ponder it’s implications on our current age. Instead I’ll describe how anti-maskers demonstrate fascistic instincts by pointing out how Eco’s descriptors of fascism match things you’ll hear anti-maskers say or do. In case you haven’t read Eco’s essay the following headers are a subset of Ur-Fascism’s 14 descriptors of fascistic ideology
Irrationalism and a rejection of modernism
There is overwhelming evidence that masks are effective at slowing the spread of Covid-19. At this point this is an undisputable fact, anti-maskers rarely have very sophisticated or well reasoned arguments for why they’re so opposed to face masks or why they think covid isn’t real or not very serious. What they lack in calm reasoning is a lot of emotional outbursts. It also goes without saying that the anti-maskers and their adjacent false beliefs about covid underpin a deep distrust and suspicion of modern medical expertise, and really expertise in general which is a feature of modernism. That is the idea that empirical expertise and rationality should govern society. This they would push back against claiming to have done “their own research” but it really doesn’t take too long to realize that their “research” is little more than fantastical conspiracy theories that amount to little more than thinly veiled gloss on a general fear of the changes happening in modern American society.
Disagreement as Treason
Trump consistently characterized his opponents as not just people who disagreed with him, but as the “fake news” deceiving the American people. Without much pause for consideration he immediately characterized Black Lives Matter as Un-American and unilaterally characterized any activities by activists not explicitly for him as dangerous. Instead of addressing the real concerns of people opposing him, he continuously referred to himself as a the symbol of Law and Order. Similarly you won’t really find yourself having pleasant conversations with anti-maskers, they’re aggressive and are usually the first to start using foul language. They frequently use dehumanizing language to describe anyone who disagrees with them while referring to themselves are the “true” American patriots.
Fear of difference
Peggy Hall and Lenka Koloma in particular frequently claim that face masks are akin to Islamic women’s head scarves and dog whistle that face masks are a part of some kind of plot to turn America muslim. At times they also point out that face masks are common place in parts of Asia and suggest that it just because Asians are “diminutive” in nature. But overall the pandemic and face masks in particular are something new, something different and fascism tends to be incredibly incapable of dealing with new and unfamiliar challenges.
Appeal to a frustrated middle class and selective populism
Anti-maskers are largely a middle and upper class phenomena, they almost never talk about working class peoples’ concerns or safety. But instead mostly talk about small businesses but rarely the people who work at them. It was telling to me that when lockdowns were first introduced the principle concern coming from anti-maskers on social media was dismay over where they would get brunch. Here’s an article about Alan Hostetter and the capital riots that describes the kind of demographic that anti-maskers appeal to and it’s definitely not reflective of Orange County’s actual demographics which is increasingly diverse in recent years.
Contempt for the weak
Trump’s strange tough guy persona and crass indifference towards immigrants, refugees, and the “libs” is well known. Anti-maskers employee similar rhetoric but instead usually boast about the strength of their immune systems and are quite flippant about people who die from Covid who they unilaterally classify and just the elderly and/or people whom they see as disposable.
Everyone is educated to become a hero and embrace death
Another fun feature of both Trumpism and anti-maskers is this kind of fetish for the “Patriot” which is a clear break from being a good and caring member of the community but is instead applied to followers of their movement who do things to obstruct or harass activities or people that do not fit into their conception of America. Anti-maskers frequently describe people who defy mask mandates or stay at home orders as true patriots, even though the general public just see a loud obnoxious person yelling at kid working for minimum wage at a grocery store. We also do seem anti-maskers in their most saneness just admit that they don’t care about death. “If I die I die” is basically the response you’ll get at the end of an argument with an anti-masker or worse they just comment “people die all the time”. Completely ignoring the reality that we are currently experiencing a mass death event that is in large part preventable.