Resolute Square

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Praising "Force," Goes Full Fascist At The Iowa State Fair

"(For Matt Gaetz) even the Iowa State Fair, a family event, is fair game: working in calls for violence while people are enjoying themselves is ideal for receptivity. Would you like some Fascism with your pork chop on a stick?," writes Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Published:August 14, 2023

Published with the generous permission of Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Read all of her outstanding writing in her Lucid newsletter.

By Ruth Ben-Ghiat

These days, I'm often thinking about early Fascism: the years between 1922 and 1925, when Benito Mussolini was Prime Minister of a coalition government and focused on expanding his powers, including through the kinds of militia violence that had brought him to power.

Today's post takes us back to that period. It is prompted by a comment made by Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a MAGA extremist who loses no opportunity to wage war against our democracy and engage in mass indoctrination. For this seasoned information warrior, even the Iowa State Fair, a family event, is fair game: working in calls for violence while people are enjoying themselves is ideal for receptivity. Would you like some Fascism with your pork chop on a stick?

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), at the Iowa State Fair, Aug. 12, 2023. Stefani Reynolds/AFP, via Getty Images.

Gaetz had come to the fair to support his cult leader, Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate, and he opened with a repetition of the Big Lie, addressing Trump as "Mr. President."

"I cannot stand these people that are destroying our country," said Gaetz. "They are opening our borders. They are weaponizing our federal law enforcement against patriotic Americans who love this nation as we should. We are having a great time at the fair. We love standing with you. But we know that only through force do we make any change in a corrupt town like Washington, D.C. And so to all my friends here in Iowa, when you see them come for this man, know that they are coming for our movement and they are coming for all of us."

The casual insertion of an incitement to violence in a "light" remark --"we are having a great time at the fair" is what makes this statement so chilling.

Of course, Gaetz was careful to couch this incitement to violence within more conventional political rhetoric. "We're going to win Iowa, we're going to march to the nomination and we're going to save the greatest country," he concluded, sounding like myriad other politicians, Democrats included.

But make no mistake: Gaetz is telling the audience of jolly fairgoers that they are all threatened, that Democrats "are coming for all of us," and that the political changes needed to save them cannot come from elections, reform, or legislation. "Only through force" can change in Washington D.C. occur.

This is language of coups, and it is the language of Fascism. Literally.

As it happens, the other day I was re-reading an article entitled "Force and Consent," written by the original Fascist, Mussolini, 100 years ago. Here is an English translation. Mussolini argues that liberalism is irrelevant in the 20th century, not least because its fundamental preoccupation with rights is illegitimate. "Liberty is not an end, it is a means. As a means it ought to be controlled and dominated. Here falls the talk of 'force'."

Mussolini had only been in power as Prime Minister for six months, but he was already damaging the institutions of Italian democracy. He was building up his personality cult and using violence against the opposition. He had just created a militia to place squadrists, who administered that violence, under his direct personal control.

Soon, Mussolini would figure out how to rig elections to consolidate his power. In this article, though, he is worrying about the problem of having to rely on the whims of an electorate and the dangers of a political system where a leader's destiny is determined by the will of the people.

"Consent is as changeable as the sands of the seashore," he muses, concluding that a consent-based political system means having to deal with "discontented people." "And how are you to prevent this discontent from growing and become a danger to the safety of the State? You prevent it by means of force; by surrounding the mass with force; by employing this force without pity when it is necessary to do so."

Mussolini had already used force to effect change in Italian politics. In the preceding years, Fascist squadrists had killed thousands of liberals and leftists, and the timid King appointed him Prime Minister rather than call out the armed forces against him.

Now he was in power, and we see in this article the dawning of his strategy for the next phase: you prevent changes you don't want --like those malcontents voting you out of office--through violent action that suppresses and silences "consent." That's dictatorship, and Mussolini's lasted over twenty years.

That's why Matt Gaetz's remark about force being the only way to bring change to Washington D.C. got my attention. It should be taken seriously and treated as an expression of intent. The Fascist fanatics of the GOP know that they must use all opportunities for mass radicalization . Popularizing the notion that force is the only way forward is central to their goal of ending American democracy.