Capitol Hill Rioters’ Use of Uniforms and Symbols

Written by Emma Bronsema

The apparel worn by the rioters storming the Capitol on January 6th demonstrate how far-right extremists use their clothing, adorned with specific symbols, to get attention, instill fear, and gain a following. They focus on appearance so the public will pay attention and, in some cases, be more receptive and truly listen to their ideas and ideologies. What people see is more impactful than what they hear. It is what turns people’s heads and sticks with them.

Clothing, or the uniforms worn by extremist group members, was, and still is, effective. It provides a way for individuals to advertise their mind state and shared purpose. It can be used as a way for someone to embody another character – to become a person whom they believe should be idolized. Moreover, it allows for people to rebel against what they disagree with, and stand up for their ideologies and views. 

This was seen through the costumes used during the riots; which included Proud Boys logos, sweatshirts with 1776 written across the front, clothing with Q-Anon and Oath Keepers symbols, ranging from discrete to plastered across the front, and many others. There were also some people who wore clothing with anti-Semitic sayings and symbols. This included a black hoodie with “Camp Auschwitz” emblazoned on the front. The symbols adorning these clothing items were meant to break a taboo and resurface painful memories, and the associated fear and emotions.

The popularization and saturation of these symbols are meant to normalize the extremes to which they represent. Members of these far-right groups want to share and spread their ideologies amongst the general population. Through the use of their uniforms and costumes, they are able to gain traction on social media platforms and grab people’s interests and attention. This creates a receptive audience who intentionally engage with the messages they are being fed.

Marketing tactics and quality-made clothing makes these groups accessible, and encourages the normalization of their opinions and ideologies. Through the use of clothing, they are able to foster a sense of belonging and promise relationships and fulfillment. This is especially attractive to those who feel alienated or rejected by the status quo.

The wardrobe choices of the rioters were intentional. Historically, uniforms needed to foster a sense of intimidation and fear. Shaved heads and combat boots was one way to do it. Symbols aided in the provocation of fear, uncertainty, and provided a reminder of a previous time. They are historically grounded and used because of their association with past events and or peoples.

In general, clothing is now more modern and trendy. Hoodies, hats, and shirts fit in with what the general population wears. However, they still have historical roots and allow for loud statements by those who step out of their uniforms with a clear message. 

Some clothing is garish, outlandish and stands out, while others blend in with the crowd and popular styles. Both extremes grab attention and make a statement, but to different extents. The latter is more relatable and makes the individuals in the onlooking audience question the generalizations surrounding the group and what they stand for. In other words, it goes against historical stereotypes of the group to which they belong, and are more open to listening to what they have to say. The former pays homage to their “origins” and those who came before them, sharing similar values. For example, one of the rioters, known as the “Q Shaman”, was dressed to make a large and clear statement. The use of the viking symbolism with the horn helmet and knot tattoos are a nod to the idea of the “aryan” race, and the associations of the vikings with strength, honor, violence, and superiority. 

During the riots, the images circulated through social media and made their way out of the United States to Europe. They sent messages of hatred, of fear, of anti-semitism, of strength of the group, of pain and suffering, of white supremacy, and of far-right ideologies. The fixation, fascination and horror that came as a result of looking at the clothing adorned by the rioters allowed for their messaging to be widespread and gain traction. Out-there clothing demands attention, and their messaging was captured and spread throughout media outlets. Therefore, far-right groups are able to gain momentum through the use of what they wear and the symbols they choose to adorn themselves with.

Fascism resurgence in Croatia

A country with an infamous fascist past, Croatia faces resurgence of this movement since its independence from Yugoslavia.

From the 1990s up to today, Croatia had to redefine its identity as an independent country. One of the ways of concretely splitting from the Yugoslavian period was to bring back the “kuna”, or at least, introduce in 1994 a new devise with the same name that the Croatian fascist government used during the Second Word War. (See more)

Officials denied a link with the fascist past, or with an apparent attempt to revive it. Instead, the then president Franjo Tudjman explained that it was a final step in establishing the national sovereignty of Croatia. It still seems like a thoughtless act, considering the many victims of the fascist regime in Croatia, in neighboring countries like Serbia, and in the Jewish and Roma minorities of the region that were persecuted by the Ustaša Movement. It was indeed a currency from a time where Croatia was an independent country, but a lot of other symbols from Croatia’s centuries of history could have been the new face of the national money. Today the kuna seems to have been accepted, but more events suggest other resurgences of fascism.

During the socialist period of Yugoslavia, many monuments and statues were erected in order to commemorate the anti-fascist struggle of the Partisans fighters. The socialist narrative presents them as heroes who liberated Croatia from Nazi Germany. As such, they deserved public recognition. Several monuments are also dedicated to countless victims of the war, for example memorial plaques in villages that suffered population loss in massacres. Together, they represent an important historical heritage of the Croatian people.

Throughout the 1990s and up to today, Croatia is going under what can be interpreted as a historical revisionism. (See more on this process)

Anti-fascist monuments and statues are vandalized by the local population. Some events are more of an anecdotal nature, like the story of a man who ended up in the hospital after getting stuck under a statue he was vandalizing. (See more)

But this is far from being an isolated case: there have been more than 3000 monuments vandalized in the independence war of the 1990s. (See pictures here)

In an apparent process of changing the narrative of the newly independent country, monuments or memorial plaques were destroyed or changed, in order to commemorate the victims of the latest socialism regime. This can be interpreted as a way of consolidating the sovereignty of Croatia, as the fascist period was one of freedom that socialist Yugoslavia took away. It also can mean that socialism is now seen as the darker period of Croatia, and the fascist crimes are erased from the collective heritage. (See more)

If there is nothing to commemorate them, they don’t exist, right?

Today, the main issue, beside the fact that monuments are still being vandalized or destroyed, is the lack of concern. The ones that are still standing are slowly decaying, since next to nothing is done to preserve them. As an example, the Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija at Petrova Gora is disappearing because people are stealing materials from it. (See more)

A few dozen of monuments have also been vandalized between 2015 and 2017( see more), which could mean a resurgence in the extreme nationalist ideas of the 1990s. While any political groups are entitled to their opinion, the destruction of historical heritage and the memory of victims should not be the way to express it. Authorities should not tolerate this behavior and concrete measures of protection must be put in place. The message that the vandalizing and its tolerance send about a new rise of fascism is worrying in the way it seeks to erase the historical legacy of the Croatian anti-fascist struggle, and disrespectful in the name of the victims who fought and suffered under the former fascist regime. National awareness must be raised to protect this part of Croatia’s history.

The Navalny Saga and the Future of Russia’s Opposition Movement

The speed of democratic backsliding in Russia has never been more apparent than it has been in the last several months. In the summer of 2020, a pair of ominous events demonstrated the lengths to which Vladimir Putin is prepared to go in order to consolidate his power and eliminate political opposition. In July, an ostensibly fraudulent referendum paved the way for sweeping changes to Russia’s constitution, including a provision that could allow Putin to remain in power until 2036. The next month, the popular opposition leader and Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny was poisoned and nearly killed, after which he was detained and imprisoned for over two years. The overwhelming consensus in the international community is that the poisoning was orchestrated by Russia’s Federal Security Service, acting on Putin’s orders. The targeting of dissidents in Russia has a long history, but the Navalny incident strikes a graver chord because of his prominence and influence as an activist.

As the world watched these developments with deep concern, it was disheartening to see the lukewarm response of the West. Apart from a handful of sanctions levied against Russian officials, the assassination attempt against Navalny failed to generate significant outrage in many democratic nations. To be fair, many of the same countries were struggling with their own issues concerning the defence of democracy, so it is not entirely surprising that the incident barely registered on the radar. However, if anything is clear from studying the history of authoritarianism, it is of supreme importance that the attack on Navalny should not be swept under the rug and that those responsible be brought to justice. It certainly will not be an easy task. As many who have experienced the Russian political system firsthand have stated, including Navalny himself, corruption in the country is not merely an aberration; it is institutionalized.

At a time when the Kremlin is taking increasingly bold steps to secure energy independence and nurture its blossoming relationship with China, perhaps it is time to reimagine the tried-and-true tactic of economic warfare as a means of keeping Russia in check. With construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russian and Germany in full swing, the latter country can send a powerful signal to Putin if the project is halted or cancelled entirely. If Angela Merkel and her successor are true guardians of democracy, they should be prepared to take drastic steps like this, even if means sacrificing part of Germany’s economic growth. It is also crucial that states within Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, like Ukraine, resist the urge to cooperate with Moscow and instead forge deeper relations with the democratic West.

As far as others in the West are concerned, the recent protests in Russia over Navalny’s detainment and subsequent imprisonment have presented another opportunity to challenge Putin and voice support for the demonstrators. Just this week, three brave diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden took to the streets in Moscow to join thousands of other Russians protesting Navalny’s sentencing. Although the diplomats were promptly expelled from the country, they set an example for the type of actions that are becoming increasingly necessary to confront autocrats and preserve democracy. Their actions should serve as a rallying cry for other politicians and officials to make tangible sacrifices, instead of resorting to the usual diplomatic cliches and niceties. With any luck, a sustained campaign of street protests and more robust economic sanctions will force Putin’s hand and embolden Navalny’s allies to confront corruption more seriously.  

As 2021 continues, the Kremlin is showing no signs of halting its assault on democracy. They also have little hesitation in supporting other states who have demonstrated a similar disdain for these sacred ideals. It is often difficult to ascertain the moment at which a country has crossed the threshold to become a rogue state. However, it should be abundantly clear to international observers that Putin’s Russia has, indeed achieved this status and should be treated as such. The notion that a country with extraordinary influence and power can bypass international law with such ease and little resistance should shake us all to the core. If the concerned parties fail to act with sufficient desperation, not only will the future of democracy in Russia be exceedingly grim, it will also be threatened worldwide.

As One of the Final Defenders of a “Full Democracy,” It is Time for Canada to Leave Behind First-Past-the-Post.

By: Bryce Greer

As of today, the Economist Intelligence Unit has categorized only 23 countries as a “full democracy.” Looking at all that happened in the first month of 2021, with the military coup of Myanmar or the storming of the U.S Capitol Building on January 6th, I do not doubt it. Luckily, here in Canada, we remain a staunch defender to the title of “full democracy,” but do not let that fool you. There are cracks in our own democratic foundation that is letting in the tides of far-right populism. One of these cracks is our current electoral system, First-Past-the-Post (FPTP).

The FPTP system is arguably fueling an environment that will allow for the rise of far-right populism, already noticeable with the new People’s Party of Canada. To elaborate, political scientist Cas Mudde has defined populism as a “response to the perceived lack of options within an increasingly closed political space.” As a result, many in the environment become discontent, turning to non-voting as a solution in many cases, but begrudgingly feeling as though they suffer the “us” (or the people) versus “them” (the elites) rhetoric. If this definition sounds close to home, it should.

Over the winter holidays, controversy broke out over the shocking number of Canadian politicians who travelled, some internationally, despite orders by the government for all Canadians to stay home and avoid unessential travels. Look at the clear hypocrisy: “Rule for thee, but not for me.” Certainly, the “us” versus “them” rhetoric can be expressed openly at news like this. And yet, in many of these ridings where these politicians were voted in, they represented only a minority of the voters due to the FPTP system. There is clear misrepresentation of the people.

Look further at the Canadian Federal Elections. In 2019, Trudeau’s Liberals won the government, albeit a minority, with 33% of the popular vote. The Conservatives, on the other hand, lost despite having 34% of the popular vote. In 2015, Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority while representing 39% of Canadian voters, and in 2011, Harper’s Conservatives won a majority with 39% also. In what sense does this speak “democracy” when many people do not support the party in power? The system is clearly failing in proper representation.

Not only does FPTP create a misrepresented democracy, but it also creates a polarized pseudo two-party system even though Canada is anything but. Every federal election narrows down to whether the Liberals or the Conservatives earn power, both earning roughly the same popular vote. In 2019, this was around 33% each. Looking at the seat distribution, however, and it is advantageous only to these two parties, treating alternatives like the NDP or Green Party to be a wasted vote. Again, consider the 2019 election. The NDP earned 16% of the popular vote, about half of the Liberal’s 33%, yet the Liberals earned 157 seats and the NDP earned only 24. The numbers do not add up. Despite 16% of Canadians voting the NDP, they represent only 7% of the seats in government.

So, as FPTP clearly misrepresents the people, what is the alternative? Well, there are several, although the predominant choice is Proportional Representation (PR) which in its simplest form means that the percentage of voters equals the percentage of seats in parliament. One of the largest critiques of PR, however, is this idea that it gives platforms to populists. Certainly, as we see the PPC represent the far-right, populists may gain seats in this electoral system. Yet, under FPTP, we already see the efforts of populist tendencies that creates examples of democratic backsliding, like false claims of election fraud, according to political scientist Nancy Bermeo.

FPTP is dated, misrepresents the Canadian voters, and can spawn the threat of an undermined democracy. Days following the storming of the U.S. Capitol, the Conservative Party claimed Trudeau was rigging the next election. Others have called him a mini fascist. Through a system that allows for polarized and forced voting of the lesser of two evils, the rise of a populist is not an unlikely possibility. Remember, it was FPTP and not PR that saw Maxime Bernier, a far-right populist, lose by a margin of 2% to Scheer despite only 28% of Conservatives voting him in the first round the 2015 Conservative Leader Election. If he had not split off, perhaps Bernier would have been the Conservative voted due to many wishing for Trudeau to be out. In such world, perhaps we would have lost our proud title that is “full democracy.”

The “Anti-Putin”: Navalny’s Attempt to Save Russia from a Fascist Future

by Sydney Linholm

“I have deeply offended him by surviving the assassination attempt that he ordered”. This is what Alexei Navalny said of Vladimir Putin from the glass cage inside the courtroom where he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison on February 2. Navalny was arrested for violating parole terms from his 2014 suspended sentence for embezzlement, and the period in which he was said to have been violating these terms was when he was seeking treatment in Berlin following his August 2020 poisoning. But why is Navalny’s outspokenness so important to the future of Russian society?

While many of us are appalled and horrified at the injustice surrounding this situation, Navalny’s push back against the Kremlin sparks an ideological conversation about the corruption that has defined Russia’s government since the beginning of the Putin years. Putin’s 21-year rule has seen corruption, fraud, unlawful arrests, convictions, and deaths of those who openly disagree with their policies and practices. An example of this is the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, whose death is detailed in Bill Browder’s 2015 book Red Notice and is the driving force behind the Magnitsky legislation. Implemented by Canada, the U.S., Britain, the EU, and others, the legislation imposed sanctions on foreign individuals involved in human rights violations. Mr. Magnitsky’s death is just one of many brutal deaths of those who chose to openly disagree with the Kremlin’s practices.

Increasingly, the Kremlin’s regime is being described as a fascist one, and that might just hit the mark. A fascist regime is a far-right, authoritarian dictatorial regime that can be characterized by forcible uniformity of society and the economy, and by the continued repression of opposition—which is what we have seen in recent events surrounding Alexei Navalny. This is not unlike the strict authoritarianism seen under Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, although ideologically, they opposed fascism. In fact, a better historical parallel for Russia’s current situation could be Fascist Italy: under Mussolini, Italy saw censorship laws, forcible suppression of opponents, and the implementation of the Acerbo Law that would rig elections in favour of the Fascists—all a part of Italy’s former fascist political dictatorship that is beginning to bear more and more affinities with Putin’s Russia. Effectively, Russia has done a 180 in their ideological leanings—in moving away from the Soviet Union’s communism, they found themselves entangled in a corrupt, fascist system that is exactly what Stalin opposed during the USSR.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Putin years, Putin and his gang of oligarchs have proved they’ll stop at nothing to ensure they remain in power, like any good fascist would. The Kremlin’s brutal and never-ending drive to remain in power and strict control over society and the economy is exactly what has allowed Russia to be categorized as being run by a fascist regime, and if the recent protests by Russian citizens were any indication, people are tired of it. But how does Alexei Navalny fit into this status quo?

The Russian opposition leader’s outspoken criticism of Putin has thrown a wrench into the Kremlin’s staunch control of the country in the form of hope. The mass protests that immediately followed Navalny’s arrest are fuelled by anger towards Putin’s suppression of the opposing voice. Navalny presents hope for a future that moves towards an ethical and non-corrupt democratic government, rather than one where citizens continue to be oppressed and silenced. He was called the “Anti-Putin” by CBC news, because of his goal to break Russia away from its fascist regime under Putin and instead, along with his Russia of the Future party, decentralize power, end censorship and repression, and battle corruption. Having been described as having David versus Goliath bravery, Navalny represents for the citizens of Russia someone who is willing to challenge the looming authority and fight for democracy in Russia. His power struggle against the Kremlin is a phenomenally important one, and because he does not fear speaking out against Putin, he presents a challenge for the future of the regime. Navalny is pushing hard for a future without fascism for Russia and being that he is one of the few brave enough to do so, he presents a ray of hope for those that have had enough of corruption.

Speak when Spoken to: Corruption and Free Speech in Putin’s Russia

The man who rose to international prominence by organizing anti-government demonstrations, and running for office to advocate political reforms against corruption in Russia, Alexi Navalny has been a thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin for quite some time. Active in Russian politics for some time with heavyweight attempts under his belt for running for the mayor of Moscow and his attempt to run in the 2008 presidential election, he is a stark reminder of the fight that is going on to highlight Vladimir Putin’s “party of crooks and thieves” where Navalny has showcased the United Russia ruling party of being involved in widespread corruption, embezzlement and political suppression. Being a staunch critic of Putin does not go without its dangers and ironically Navalny himself has been accused, charged and found guilty of embezzlement, a tactic used for the intention to bar him for any further attempts to run in any election and wildly criticized as an unscrupulous and blatant attempt at silencing the staunch critic. Navalny was also convicted of embezzlement from a state timber company in Kirov in 2013 but was still allowed to run for mayor of Moscow while appealing against the ruling.

Creating trumped-up charges to prevent an official opposition is one thing but taken to the extreme Putin and the Kremlin are also accused of carrying out the poisoning of Navalny on August 20th, 2020 while on a plane travelling from Tomsk to Moscow with a deadly nerve agent placed in tea that he had consumed some hours before the flight. Had it not been for a quick emergency landing and attentive crew he would have surely died. After being transported to Belin to receive emergency medical treatment where it was announced that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, from the same family of nerve agents that were used to poison Sergei Skripal, another prominent critic of Putin. Navalny was subsequently flown to Germany where he was put under a medically induced coma, an investigation thus ensued where it was discovered that a special unit of the FSB, which specializes in chemical substances, had been tracking Navalny’s movement for over three years. It has been speculated that the reasoning for this came from Navalny’s announcement in 2018 that he would be running in the Russian federal election as well as his ongoing critiques of Putin and his allies.

On January 17th, 2021, Navalny returned to Russia from Germany and was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport for allegedly violating the terms of his probation from those past embezzlement charges by leaving the country and on February 2nd, his suspended sentence was replaced with a prison sentence, meaning he would spend over two and half years in a penal colony. Navalny described the procedure as “ultimate lawlessness” and called on his supporters to take to the streets.

While in jail, an investigation and release of the documentary “Putin’s Palace: History of the world’s largest bribe” was released by Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) on January 19th. Navalny alleged that an expansive property near Gelendzhik, a town in the southern Russian region of Krasnodar, was constructed for Russian President Vladimir Putin with illicit funds of $1.35 billion, provided by members of his inner circle and that Putin is the real owner of the palace.

The reaction to Navalny’s attempted political assassination, imprisonment, and release of the information related to the report and documentary, widespread anti-government protests erupted around major Russian cities where it was estimated up to 40,000 protesters gathered in Moscow alone. Reactions to these protests have had an international impact which Navalny wanted all along from the Russian ruble dropping in value against the dollar and euro, to state departments world wide condemning the actions of the Russian government such as German chancellor Angela Merkle stating “Those responsible must be identified and brought to justice” and the U.S state department releasing a statement in which they “strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia. Before today’s events, the Russian government sought to suppress the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression by harassing protest organizers, threatening social media platforms, and pre-emptively arresting potential participants. This follows years of tightening restrictions on and repressive actions against civil society, independent media, and the political opposition.”

What this means for the future of Navalny and the the rest of Russia is unsure, this is not the first or last time we will hear of these clandestine operations to silence any criticisms of Putin’s regime and with a referendum on a constitutional change held in July that would let Putin run for election after his term ends in 2024 it does not look like he will be leaving anytime soon. But that does not mean that the rest of the world should ignore the struggle that Mr. Navalny and the rest of the Russian population are feeling in trying to combat what feels like a resurgence of a dictatorship like Russia and help steer Russia towards the path of democracy.

From the SA to the Proud Boys – A Common Tradition of Far-Right Violence

By: Willem Nesbitt

On January 6th, Donald Trump and the Republican Party had their very own Beer Hall Putsch moment, the circumstances that led up to the storming of the Capitol drawing parallels to the tactics employed by a rising NSDAP over eighty years ago, specifically with the actions of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups drawing parallels from the Nazi Party’s Sturmabteilung (SA).

            “Stand back and stand by” were the words of former President Donald J. Trump during a presidential debate when asked about denouncing white supremacist and militia groups, words which demonstrate the Republican courting of these very groups. This question was asked following a summer in which America was witness to the largest protests the nation has seen since the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and in these modern protests, opposing sides of the American political spectrum clashed. Self-proclaimed “anti-fascists” made appearances in small groups, meeting stiff opposition from the likes of the Proud Boys and state militia groups.

            When these groups clashed in the cities of Portland, Washington, and Kenosha, an interesting parallel of this important moment in American history emerged with the history of Germany from events in the 1920s and 30s. The rise of the NSDAP during this time saw the employment of similar tactics and actions, ranging from violent clashes between political street gangs, to the storming of an important political building.

            Infiltrating a gathering of the Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, independent reporter Andrew Callaghan (better known as “All Gas No Brakes”) engaged with the members of this gathering, creating an uncensored, rather humorous glimpse into the workings of this white nationalist group. Breaking out into chants of “F*ck Antifa!” following a prayer, the interviewees of this video made claims of how Antifa are a communist/Marxist group, and, most puzzlingly, “Antifa is the real fascists.”

            Over the course of the summer of 2020, groups of these very Proud Boys and militia groups clashed with Black Lives Matter protestors and pockets of Antifa, some of these protests and counter-protests turning violent. This type of clash between left and right groups is nothing new. In the wake for the First World War, Germany was left in a state of political and economic turmoil, with political groups and parties, ranging from monarchists to communists, taking to the streets to spread their message and build their support.

            With these range of parties all taking to the streets to hold demonstrations and political rallies, it is no surprise that these opposing groups violently clashed. The NSDAPs primary street gang, the “Sturmabteilung” or “SA”, was the party’s paramilitary wing during their initial rise to power and came into form following the events of November 4th, 1921. At the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl beerhall in Munich, NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler gave a lengthy speech that was interrupted by a brawl between the Nazi’s “protection detachment” and socialist and communist individuals who had infiltrated the meeting.

            From here, the SA would go on to act as the NSDAPs muscle into the 1930s, engaging in street fights against the NSDAPs left-wing opponents, and eventually being the ones behind the infamous Kristallnacht.

            While the Proud Boys are most certainly not an official detachment of the American right-wing in the same way the SA was for the NSDAP, former President Trump’s comments in the presidential debate are certainly damming, even more so in the wake of their participation in the events of January 6th. The actions of the Proud Boys and militia groups in cities across America can be seen as a continuation of a tradition from the early days of fascism in Europe. Intimidation, the use of violence against opponents, and eventual attempted insurrection are tactics common to both the Proud Boys and the SA.

            With the recent designation of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups as terrorist organizations in Canada, along with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, one may think that these events and issues are behind us. That is not so. As with the floundering of the NSDAP following the arrest of its leaders after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the Republican party, too, seems to be staggered following the loss of the White House and Senate and the threatening of the founding of a splinter Patriot’s Party. But as history shows, even following its failures, the NSDAP resurged and eventually democratically took hold of power in Germany. American Democrats and leftists may be content with the results of the last few months, but a failure to further pursue actions against white nationalist and extremist right-wing groups may result in a further mirroring of Germany’s past.

Poland’s Anti-Abortion Debate

Sara Dix

The topic of abortion has been an important issue that many women are struggling with around the world as there are an increasing number of far-right groups that use it as an argument to support their ideology of a patriarchy. Women deserve to have the right to decide what is best for themselves as well as their unconceived children.

However, the far-right government in Poland is attempting to completely ban any abortion, even if the decision is based on the risk of a fetal deformity. This decision, made by the Constitutional Tribunal, has resulted in mass protests as it declared that abortions made in the case of fetal defects will be considered unconstitutional.

While there may be some ability to work around this new law, Poland’s current abortion law is already one of the strictest among European Union (EU) members besides Malta. This will have major implications for women who are looking to having an abortion and they may have to travel to other countries in order to have the possibility of getting one.

The current limitations and restrictions for abortions only includes cases of rape, incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life, so the protests are essential for the livelihood of Polish women. The destructive consequences of a complete ban of abortions will be catastrophic.

The complete ban on abortions will effect the majority of all abortions within Poland as it was found that 98% of the abortions in 2019 were carried out within these cases.

The Polish government’s reasoning for the ban against abortions is also unclear and vague as to what constitutes as protecting human life and whether a fetus is considered a human being.

From the historical perspective, Poland has a unique perspective on abortion. It can be attributed by the fact that legal abortion existed for forty years under communism and so it was based on instrumentalist and needs-based approaches rather than the concept of rights.

Not only was it believed that, as a result of being a product under communism, there was no need for a woman’s movement but gender equality was not considered to be a part of the strong cultural traditions within Polish society.

Poland has frequently flip-flopped between legalizing and de-legalizing abortions since 1932 and this inconsistency has a major impact on the struggles in the modern day. The mass protests against the Constitutional Tribunal’s recent decision reveals the continuous struggle that women in Polish society face.

When the ruling was first announced in October 2020, it was followed by a month of protests that had not been witnessed since the collapse of communism in 1989. The timing of the decision furthered the anguish and was further accentuated by the current pandemic and the economic recession that has negatively impacted the Polish population and revealed gender disparities.

The lead protest organizer of Women’s Strike, Marta Lempart, stated that “this decision is a declaration of war” and considering that during the revolution against communism, women were also an important force for Poland’s independence.

However, on the other end of the spectrum, far-right supporting groups and lawmakers support the ruling and legal enforcement of it. A Polish member of the European Parliament, Beata Kempa, even stated that abortions should be prohibited, even with the case of fetal abnormalities and that the unborn child has its own rights to live.

Karolina Pawlowska, from the Ordo luris international law centre, stated that by having a ban on all abortions, it will mean that there will no longer be “discrimination against children who are sick or disabled”. But this is not a viable reason for all cases as fetal defects are not the only causes for getting an abortion.

It does not account for pregnancies caused by rape, pregnancies that put the mother’s life and health at risk, but also for specific circumstances such as if the mother is unable to financially or emotionally support the child once it is born.

Unfortunately, as a result of having strong ties with the Catholic Church, the government attempted to cast the abortion debate as an attack on the church, thus an attack on the people. Since it has been a long contested topic, it has really emphasized the division within Polish society between the traditional and religious values and the more secular, open-minded values.

‘Jewish Space Lasers’: Disiplin for Some, But Not for All in the United States Congress

By: Austin Pellizzer

With the ousting of Georgia’s Congresswomen, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from several US House committees this week following recently surfaced antisemitic and conspiratorial remarks made from social media, one thing is certain. The Democrats are quick to point fingers at others without looking in the mirror first. On Friday, The House voted to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees after controversial comments surfaced that she had made and interacted with back in 2018-19 concerning different conspiratorial movements such as the Qanon movement and making antisemitic remarks about ‘Jewish space lasers’ from 2018. With these comments being outrageous and problematic for any person in elected Government to have, I could not help but think if Rep. Greene is to be vilified, why don’t we see these actions also directed at several populist Democratic figureheads who have over and over again espoused dangerous and antisemitic rhetoric all the same? 

Making their first appearance in Congress in the 2018 Midterm Election and again in the 2020 Presidential Election, prominent left-wing Democratic populist figureheads  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib won their respective State races. Their youthful energy, progressive attitudes, and diverse backgrounds made them some of the most popular Democratic figureheads within the last decade. That being said, a more sinister and problematic attitude has been a recurring and very prominent theme since these women have taken office. Antisemitism disguised as anti-zionism. 

One of the most outspoken darlings of such vehement hatred towards the Jewish State is Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Starting back in 2012, Rep. Omar tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”  Since then, she has been caught time and time again spouting antisemitic tropes. In 2019 she once again came under fire for saying in a speech, “So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” alluding to the antisemitic trope of Jews having dual-loyalties to different governments. While these comments rightfully stirred up controversy and public uproar, Rep. Omar did have to apologize but surprisingly still holds committee seats on the Education and Labour committee and Committee on Foreign Affairs. However, she is not the only one to have a checkered past riddled with conspiratorial and antisemitic views. 

Another member of the so-called ‘squad’ who has also been in the hot seat for pushing conspiratorial and antisemitic tropes in the Democratic party would be Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Rep. Tlaid, a Palestinian-American has a history of making such claims. Such as in November of 2020, she deleted a tweet that said “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a common slogan anti-Israel opponents use to not just unequivocally call for Israel to cease military or State presents in the West Bank or Gaza, but rather to eliminate the Jewish nation. While in another instance and more recently, she commented on President Biden’s pick of Tony Blinken as the new US Secretary of State as saying, ‘So long as he doesn’t suppress my First Amendment right to speak out against Netanyahu’s racist and inhumane policies. The Palestinian people deserve equality and justice.’ due to the fact Secretary of State Blinken is Jewish and is the son of Holocaust survivors. These examples highlight a few of the many examples of the antisemitic and hateful rhetoric that has virtually done unpunished by her Democratic colleagues.

While the comments made and shared by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene are troubling and  unacceptable, it is quite interesting to see how the Democratic Party which prides itself on being the party of ‘unity’, ‘healing’,  and ‘progressivism’ seems to show time and time again willful blindness and a lack of discipline when it comes to addressing conspiracy theories and antisemitism within its own ranks.

Watchin’ the Tide Roll Away?

By Absalom Sink

It’s becoming a tiresome cliché, isn’t it? Almost as tiresome as the cliché from a few years ago: that of a ‘rising tide of far-right populism’ in Europe. And while that old number is still getting plenty of play, it seems like every month there’s a handful of new articles and op-eds pontificating on whether the ‘populist tide’ has peaked and begun to ebb.

To be fair, I can understand the urge behind writing pieces like those. The ‘populist right’ has been dealt a number of blows this year. There was the “stunning rebuke” against populism in Slovakia with the election of centre-left, liberal Zuzana Caputova. Just over a week ago in Bologna, Italy, a rally held by the populist Matteo Salvini and attended by a little under 6000 supporters was counter-protested by between 12000 and 15000 people. Similarly, far-right rallies held last week by Pegida in Dresden and the ultranationalist NPD in Hannover were dwarfed by counter-protesters. And it’s hard not to see 13500 people marching in Paris against Islamophobia as a raised middle finger aimed at the Rassemblement National (RN), the political embodiment of Islamophobia in France. Finally, let’s not forget the “collapse of the far-right” in the Austrian election this past September, when the FPO lost 10% of the overall vote as compared to the last election because of a corruption scandal.

The problem is when we try to use events like these to extrapolate out over the whole of Europe. In fact, just framing it as the populist right is problematic. Certainly, there are transnational connections between populist movements/parties, but there is no single, monolithic populism. These groups cooperate to the extent that it’s practical. But if, say, Germany’s AfD were to suddenly founder, it’s a fair bet that the Swiss Peoples’ Party and the RN and the Sweden Democrats—far-right populists, all—would let them sink before risking their own positions. By lumping all these groups together when declaring that the ‘populist tide is receding’, we massively oversimply a complex transnational political situation.

Aside from oversimplifying things, there’s also the worry that such statements might make voters complacent; believing the threat to be behind them, voters might have less impetus to vote. The problem is a number of far-right populist parties in Europe still have fairly robust polling numbers. Germany’s AfD has held steady at 13-14% in the national polls for two years, while in Thuringia’s state election last month it came second, with over 23% of the vote. In France, Marine Le Pen’s RN is actually leading the presidential poll, hovering around 28%. Even in Austria, where the ‘Ibiza affair’ saw the FPÖ drop by 10% in the last election, they picked up enough seats that they were able to maintain their coalition government with the winning ÖVP. How can we claim that far-right populism has peaked when a party like the ‘formerly’ fascist Sweden Democrats are poised to become the biggest party in their country, and could conceivably with the 2022 election?

My point in all of this is simply that journalists and political observers alike should be wary of making sweeping declarations on the state of far-right populism. Europe is bigger and more diverse than we sometimes recognize; when we’re talking about an entire continent, it’s worth remembering that high tide happens at different times in Helsinki, Finland and Cadiz, Spain. The same goes for the metaphorical tide. While populism might ebb in one region, it can still be in flood in another.