Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) came under fire from neoconservative pundit Kristofer Harrison in a recent opinion column in The Hill entitled “Did California’s Ro Khanna get duped by Russia’s propaganda?” To call Harrison a neo-conservative is not an exaggeration, as he was previously a Defense and State Department consultant during the Bush administration. The relatively progressive Democratic representative was attacked as a Kremlin stooge by Harrison for the crime of authoring a provision into the Trump administration’s new $47 million arms deal with Ukraine that weapons be banned from supplying the Azov Battalion, a militia incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard widely recognized to have a large number of self-identified Neo-Nazis in its ranks. This exchange was an(other) instance of western media masking the far right in Ukraine that played an instrumental role in the 2014 Maidan protests and U.S.-backed coup that ousted the democratically-elected government of Viktor F. Yanukovych. Smearing of those concerned about Ukraine’s Nazis as “Russian propagandists” has been customary since the right wing putsch. The dangerous political climate legitimating such whitewashing has only increased amid the Russiagate hysteria following the 2016 election. A further examination of the mediasphere shows that this denialism of Kiev’s fascists continues, even as the same publications report on domestic Neo-Nazi organizations that use the exact same iconography as groups like Azov.
Rep. Khanna was not deterred and in addition to the provision barring weapons to Azov also initiated a letter signed by more than 50 members of congress from both parties that condemned the Ukrainian government’s sponsoring of holocaust denial. The letter called on Ukraine and its neighbor Poland to “reject holocaust distortion and the honoring of Nazi collaborators.” This was a direct reference to the state sponsored commemoration of Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) who assisted Nazi Germany in the holocaust. Across the country there are streets, museums, and monuments of Bandera who is considered a national hero by many Ukrainians despite the extensive record of his atrocities. This occurred just days after an outdoor exhibit in the city of Lviv, Ukraine was opened to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formation of the 14th Waffen SS Galizien Division, the SS regiment made up of mostly ethnic Ukrainian volunteers from the Galicia region during the Nazi occupation in WWII. Ukraine’s far right also celebrated the 75th anniversary with a large nationalist march that was condemned by the country’s Jewish Committee. The week prior, anti-semitic vandalism had been rampant across the country on Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Meanwhile in the United States, dominating the headlines was coverage of swastika burnings by neo-Nazis in Georgia after a large white supremacist rally.
In January 2018, a man alleged to have trained in Atomwaffen’s paramilitary camps and attended their events was charged in Orange County, California with killing an openly gay and Jewish college student who had gone missing. A few months later in Tampa Palms, Florida, an 18-year-old member, Devon Arthurs, allegedly killed two of his roommates and fellow Atomwaffen members following a political dispute. Arthurs was arrested following a hostage situation, and confessed to police he shot 22-year-old Jeremy Himmelman and 18-year-old Andrew Oneschuk. His other roommate and another member, 21 year old Brandon Russell, was later apprehended by the FBI and prosecuted for stockpiling explosives. Mainstream news outlets published reports on the criminal activities of Atomwaffen complete with unaltered photographs obtained of the group from their social media with Totenkopf’s (Death’s Head) masking their faces.
Dominating the headlines the past few months in the U.S. of course has also been the Parkland, Florida school shooting and the subsequent “March for Our Lives.” When news broke of the shooting which took the lives of 17 high school students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, Jordan Jereb, leader of the white supremacist militia The Republic of Florida (ROF) made false statements to media and law enforcement claiming that shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of and trained by his organization. The media ran with the story uncritically in the ensuing hours before it turned out that law enforcement was unable to find any connection between Cruz and Republic of Florida, and Jereb was charged with making a false report to police. The media committed this blunder despite groups like ROF having been known to make such claims purely for publicity and this was a successful stunt that garnered widespread notoriety for the group. An examination of ROF’s propaganda shows that among triskelions and other hate symbols is similar use of the wolfsangel. While the media were overly focused on the largely internet based ‘alt-right’ fad during the 2016 presidential campaign, the more serious danger of the already militant far right in the U.S. was becoming emboldened and organized.
Despite the shared use of Nazi iconography, even symbols unique to Ukraine that are not used by the far right in the U.S. or other European countries have historical connections to anti-semitism. Although it is not a racist symbol itself and seemingly benign, Ukraine’s tryzub symbol which is the state coat of arms is historically traceable back to reactionary nationalist roots in the country’s history. As a variation of the crest of Voldomyr the Great from the middle ages, it was first adopted in 1918 as the official coat of arms for the short lived Ukrainian People’s Republic, a predecessor to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917 and collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukrainian territory was initially dismembered and had several different opposing governments before becoming unified under the Soviet Union. Unlike the later Soviet republic, the Ukrainian People’s Republic was a breakaway state headed by the nationalist Symon Petliura with the goal of sovereignty and independence for Ukraine but with a disturbing twist.
As America’s far right is trying to prevent its statues from being torn down, Ukraine is in the midst of building effigies of its fascists. The issue of statues has been symbolic of an ideological battle between politically reactionary and progressive forces in both countries. Following the Maidan, the statues in Ukraine that did come down have been those of Vladimir Lenin in an expression of the anti-Russia fervor of Ukraine’s newly empowered nationalists and right wing government. Emboldened by their manipulators in the ruling oligarchy who in turn are puppets of Washington, it was not just a few statues of Lenin that were removed but more than a thousand since the so-called 2014 ‘revolution.’ Their ultimate aim is to erase every trace of Soviet culture from the collective memory of the nation. Streets with Russian names have all been renamed and hundreds of other Soviet monuments have been removed by laws enacted by Petro Poroshenko in a campaign dubbed by the Chocolate King as ‘decommunization.’ The only part of the country where they remain is in the ethnically Russian east where separatists are fighting to secede from a government now being armed by the Trump administration. The pro-Russian breakaway mini-state, the Donetsk People’s Republic, still has Lenin Square where it annually honors the anti-fascists massacred in the House of Trade Unions in Odessa by Maidan’s thugs. In Ukraine, however, while it is legal for a fascist to be a minister in the government, all of Ukraine’s communist parties have been stripped of the right to participate in elections, all this after the Maidan was billed as a ‘pro-democracy’ movement. This is the culmination of a long alliance between the country’s oligarchs and Banderites since 1991 as Poroshenko has skillfully controlled the typically Euroskeptic far right by enacting anti-communist and anti-Russian policies that appease them just as Viktor Yuschenko did before him.
The catalyst for the violence in Charlottesville was also a fight over the tearing down of a statue, that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The right wingers in the U.S. opposed the removal of the statue on the purported basis of preserving cultural heritage, when it was unveiled more than fifty years after the Civil War was over in the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan flourished. The contemporary political divide in the U.S. where the working class is being driven against each other by the two major political parties can be defined by such divergent beliefs about American history going back to the Civil War. What is still taught in American schools today is that the war was fought over abolishing slavery as an injustice. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin exemplifies this perspective. On the other hand, for the right it was a conflict between the Union‘s strong central government and the Confederates’ states rights which is the same narrative that portrayed John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 as the work of a crazed terrorist traitor. Both narratives are misreadings of history. As historians James W. Loewen and Howard Zinn’s writings explain, the actuality is that it was a war not over slavery as a moral institution or the secession of states, but a battle between the elites of the north and the south as to who would benefit from exploiting the labor power of the four million slaves in the form of wage slavery or chattel slavery. Brown and the Abolitionists were the real moral opponents of slavery and after dying for his ideological convictions, he was depicted as a madman for most of the last century.
Little has changed since then. Americans are still being divided on cultural lines by the two major parties representing the ruling elite, no different from the way the poor in the north and south were manipulated by the industrialists and plantation owners during the Civil War. The Democratic Party would have you believe that the election of Trump and rise of the far right can be reduced solely to racism in a vacuum, and nothing to do with the crisis of global capitalism it is equally complicit in. The increasingly neoconservative and right-of-center Democrats have worked overtime to associate the rise of the far right in the U.S. with Vladimir Putin and Russia as a scapegoat, the sworn enemy of Ukraine’s fascist junta. Nevermind that Putin himself lost much of his family to the Nazis during WWII, including his maternal grandmother and one-year old brother. Following the tragedy in Charlottesville, there were many hit pieces by political centrists such as the NATO-funded Atlantic Council think tank’s ‘Digital Forensic Research Lab’ claiming that the narrative about Nazis in the Ukraine was a ‘conspiracy theory’ exclusive to the Kremlin and the alt-right because conservative Trump supporters like Lee Stranahan and Alex Jones also noted the similarity between Kiev and Charlottesville. Any more sophisticated understanding coming from the left about Ukraine’s regime is mechanically equated with such right wing voices by mainstream media. False equivalency is now a widespread political tactic being employed by the establishment against the left to censor alternative content that goes against the stream with social media as a censorship apparatus.
Not to say that what took place in Ukraine is directly responsible for the far right in the U.S. which already had the Tea Party movement using the Gadsden flag, but fascism is a worldwide movement that cannot be isolated by a nation’s borders especially in the midst of a deepening financial crisis. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently released a study with the thesis that austerity facilitated the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany, critiquing the Keynesian argument that the Great Depression itself caused Germans to vote them into power, since other countries (such as the U.S. and France) experiencing economic downturn did not produce the same result. The Weimar Republic had implemented massive spending cuts and tax hikes which under the circumstances may have been the perfect formula to destabilize Germany and Hitler to come to power. Since the 2008 economic crisis, the U.S. has been in its own fiscal stranglehold but the word austerity isn’t even a part of the American lexicon despite its everyday reality. We can only fear this is just the beginning of a resurgent right as long as the two major parties remain in power, because neither has an answer to the crisis of capitalism.
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