Facing Fresno Fascism

Fresno City Council Member Michael Karbassi’s attack mailer on candidate Matthew Gillian embodies Democrats’ service to local elites and inability to confront the growing fascist movement. Karbassi accepted a $5,500 campaign contribution from Mayor Jerry Dyer in late January. Photo by Kevin Hall
Fresno City Council Member Michael Karbassi’s attack mailer on candidate Matthew Gillian embodies Democrats’ service to local elites and inability to confront the growing fascist movement. Karbassi accepted a $5,500 campaign contribution from Mayor Jerry Dyer in late January. Photo by Kevin Hall

No local Republican elected officials have denounced Donald Trump, his violent political movement or the MAGA takeover of the GOP.

This means every Republican office holder—from the mayor and district attorney to county supervisors, school board trustees and city council members—is on board with Trump’s overtly fascist movement. They seek to end democracy in the USA, exert full control over women’s bodies and demonize immigrants, refugees and every “other” they can target along the way. Discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community continues to spread.

As was pointed out after Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer, if you’re in a parade with people carrying Confederate and Nazi flags and don’t leave that parade, you’ve joined them. Judging from the presidential primary results, a full 75% of registered Republicans are in support of Trump’s MAGA agenda. That’s a long parade, and the flags are flying high.

But if you stand alongside the road and passively observe them marching, what does that make you?

Fresno City Council members pose for the cameras with Mayor Jerry Dyer at every ribbon cutting, flag raising and groundbreaking possible.

District 2 representative Michael Karbassi accepted a $5,500 campaign contribution from Dyer in late January and churned out a vicious attack ad on political opponent Mathew Gillian for supporting the Advance Peace program, signaling his support for the upcoming racist, anti–Prop 47 campaign.

District 3’s Miguel Arias teamed up with northeast Fresno’s Garry Bredefeld to target people living on the streets with a harsh redlining ordinance, boosting Bredefeld in his race for county supervisor. The lists of cross-party endorsements and shared conservative backers are endless.

It’s time for locally elected Democrats to take a stand against their counterparts and call on them to denounce Trump; Democrats must stop normalizing this new breed of MAGA politician by refusing to appear with them at public events beyond meetings required by their official duties.

“You have to fight the entire thing, root and branch,” says Dr. Lars Maischak, author and lecturer in the Fresno State history department, “the Republican Party at every level of government to start with, but also the various organizations that work in a division of labor with it to smear, harass, attack and at times kill those who oppose the program of fascism.”

A useful example of resistance can be found in Maischak’s homeland, Germany. All five major democratic parties—from the Social Democrats through Greens to Christian Democrats—are responding in unison to the emergence of the extreme right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. They are all refusing to cooperate or collaborate with AfD members; they denounce AfD ideas and goals and won’t appear publicly with members. They call on all Germans to not work with those who work with AfD and to mobilize to drive AfD from schools and universities, workplaces and courtrooms, shopping malls and every public space.

Maischak, my co-host on the bimonthly Climate Politics broadcast on KFCF 88.1 FM, speaks from direct experience. He was targeted by national MAGA forces and local operatives back in 2017 for calling out Trump’s already treasonous behavior. Maischak witnessed, and suffered professionally as a result of, the inability of liberal colleagues and administrators to understand the dynamics of fascism and the only appropriate response: a direct refutation of their demands. Instead, he was victim-blamed and worse.

Maischak recently taught a course on fascism, available on his YouTube channel. “When you fight fascism, you learn what it is,” he says. “If you don’t learn what it is, you can’t fight it. Liberals look for a definition of the problem that lets them carry on as before without risking changes that threaten their comfort.”

“Of course, the fascists cry ‘freedom of speech,’ but a concerted effort to stamp out a movement hostile to democracy is needed to preserve this and other freedoms that fascism will instantly squash when in power—they’re already doing that in this country,” says Maischak.

“Of course, it is a monumental task to shun and drive from public life an organization with roots in this society going back 170 years. But it has been turned into an instrument of fascism, and there is simply no way around it.”

So far, so good. Democratic activists like to protest against Trump, but this isn’t mere Red versus Blue politics. As important as it is to defeat Trump and the MAGA party in November, and recapture Congress, we have a deeper problem. The largest campaign contributors, including some unions, are very conservative. They’re owners and executives of development and construction companies, fossil fuel giants and agricultural interests, mostly with their related workforces in tow.

“Fascism is driven in large part by elites, including local ones,” says Maischak. “Democrats like to cater to that group: business. If you want to defend democracy, you have to be willing to pick a fight with capital.”

He explains that Democrats treat the threat of fascism as a problem exclusively with Trump, aided by Russia, assorted demagogues (Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, etc.) and a mass of privileged working-class white men who are upset about their perceived loss of status because they have no real problems and are actually privileged and powerful.

“Liberals see fascism as a problem from the margins and the outside of a society that is basically fine,” says Maischak. “I see the threat of fascism originating from the center of a capitalist society.

“As an ideology, fascism is a radicalization of inhumane attitudes that are ‘normal’ in such a society: Social Darwinism, nationalism, racism, patriarchy. As a movement, fascism draws on a middle class that is fearful of decline, identifies with those above them in the hierarchy and [is] willing to mobilize in defense of the interests of the ruling class (‘capital’).

“As a political system, it is an alternative means to liberal democracy for administering the common affairs of the bourgeoisie; as such, it is always an option for the ruling class to push the fascism button.”

And they’re leaning heavily on that button now. “Fascism is not just the demagogues and the Proud Boys, the leaders and the MAGA hats. It is a division of labor from the skinheads to the pinstripes, from swastika to diamond-studded cross,” warns Maischak.

In short, it’s time for Democrats to go beyond “Vote Blue and Keep Your Head Down” politics and take real action against their fellow pinstriped, cross-wearing politicians. Time is running short, and the fascist tide is surging all around us.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org. Contact him at sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com for presentations and information.

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