Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at NYU, accused Trump on Wednesday of encouraging violence.
Trump is “re-educating” his followers, she said, wanting them to see violence “in a positive light.”
Ben-Ghiat spoke at a conference in New York City hosted by The New Republic.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian and expert on the far right in the United States and abroad, is convinced that former President Donald Trump and his MAGA movement are the real deal: a “right-wing counter-revolution in the fascist tradition.”
Speaking Wednesday at a summit in Manhattan hosted by The New Republic, a liberal magazine, Ben-Ghiat — who urged Trump’s prosecution in an interview last year with Insider — likened the United States to Chile in the years before a 1973 coup d’etat saw a socialist president overthrown and replaced by a conservative military dictator.
The forces of the right in Chile first spent years working to “discredit democracy and build an appetite for authoritarian rule,” according to Ben-Ghiat, who teaches at New York University. It’s the same kind of campaign she accused Trump of leading himself since he announced his first run for the presidency, setting the stage for the January 6 insurrection with years of aggressive rhetoric.
Trump “has been re-educating Americans since 2015,” Ben-Ghiat said, “using his rallies, using his events, to see violence differently; to see violence in a positive light.” He’s a “superb propagandist,” she said, and in his appeals to the baser emotions — of resentment and vengeance — he’s helped his followers come to view “violence as necessary and patriotic.”
“That’s why he went to Waco,” she said, referring to where Trump rallied his followers in March. Waco is where dozens of cult members died in a confrontation with the FBI under President Bill Clinton. It has ever since been a rallying cry for anti-government extremists. “That’s why he went the gun store,” she continued (the former president said he wanted to buy a Glock handgun but ultimately, according to his campaign, did not). “His campaign is a radicalization vehicle.”
Some certainly took the president’s comments on January 6, 2021, as a license to storm the US Capitol and try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, having already lost at the ballot box and in the courts. Prosecutors also accuse Trump of encouraging violence against anyone involved in the federal case over his efforts to stay in power, intimidating not just court staff but prospective jurors.
Violence, Ben-Ghiat argued, has indeed been normalized in MAGA politics. And it’s not just Trump anymore. That’s a troubling sign, she said, pointing to a rise in anti-democratic thinking.
“You have extremism that becomes mainstream,” she said. “We’re seeing that in our country. You have violence seen as the only way to change history and move things forward.”
In August, for example, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz appeared at the Iowa State Fair, where he insisted that “only through force do we make any change in a corrupt town like Washington, DC.” That, Ben-Ghiat argued, is a chilling bit of incitement.
“I read that as him saying, ‘Excuse me, elections won’t work, democratic reform doesn’t work,” she said. But violence does.
“Trumpism and its allied movements… they’re all hitting notes that go back to the original fascist years,” Ben-Ghiat said.
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