Invitation to an Antifascist Reading Space

The fascist creep is quickening. We have been forced to acknowledge it anew, and Trump’s departure seems likely not to slow it. Many and perhaps most of the people who took over the Capitol building last week place their allegiance in a culture more explicitly devoted to an unbroken legacy going back to the Reconstruction-era KKK and slavery than contemporary Republican politics. Though the overlap is obvious, the difference is functionally significant for anyone who wants to stop them from carrying out more violence.

Sure, the thin blue line flags were raised among the crowd that assaulted police and killed an officer. Yes, the “law and order” crowd smashed windows, destroyed property, looted, rioted, spread their feces on the walls, and reveled in doing so. Their loyalty has never been with the police or with the idea of law and order. The groups that have latched on to Trumpism have produced a long list of felonies, from murder with a sword to trying to blow up an Amtrak train to mass shooting. They cloak themselves in acceptable symbols and phrases until they can show their true intentions. These last five years have been an escalated unveiling of what they want and what they will do to attain it.

They are increasing in numbers and confidence, promising and planning more murder. Every day infiltrators uncover more evidence in their chat rooms that they want to kill Jews, people of color, LGBTQ folks, Muslims, non-European immigrants, and anyone they deem their political opponents.

Trump Supporters Hold "Stop The Steal" Rally In DC Amid Ratification Of Presidential Election : News Photo
(c) Spencer Platt / Staff, Getty Images News

Significantly, there are Catholics among them. That is, the church is part of this problem. I mean that in the sense that church members were there in the Capitol, there on a megaphone riling up the crowd, there on Twitter reveling in the insurrection for their 72,000 followers, there working with Trump in the Oval Office the last four years, there giving speeches trying to garner him votes at conventions. But I also mean this in the sense that there is a MAGAsterium within the magisterium, led by Cardinal Dolan, which has been enabling Trump’s proto-fascist culture and normalizing it in the church.

Some Catholics are speaking out. James Martin, SJ, recently detailed how some among the Catholic hierarchy contributed to the conditions that allowed for the murderous insurrection. The editors at National Catholic Reporter argued that our religious leaders must do the “hard work of trying to rebuild a political culture of trust and unity” after perpetuating the white supremacist culture on display.

I agree, but there is no basis to expect them to do so. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has proven that as a body it is not equipped to deal with or even name the problems of white supremacy or fascism. If we are to become an antiracist and antifascist church, we need to look elsewhere for guidance.

Similarly, just hours after the riot in DC, Fr. Bryan Massingale wrote that this violent attempt at a white dictatorship was partly due to religious leaders who “refused to confront the cancer of white nationalism.” He ended by asking whether the nation would strive to become a place that pursues liberty and justice for all. I would like to second Massingale’s question and add another: will the church become a community that opposes and confronts the fascist creep?

As Charlottesville activists Jalane Schmidt, Emily Gorcenski, and others argued yesterday, the time is overdue to get used to the “f-word.” People who opposed a similar glut of white violence at the Unite the Right riot in 2017 weren’t terribly surprised by what happened in DC. In fact, the two events bore deep similarities, including some of the same neo-Nazi, militia, and alt-Right faces. The beginnings of fascism have been here, growing in our midst for years, visible for anyone to see. The church has not as yet mustered any sort of coordinated effort to join those combating it. We cannot wait fruitlessly for bishops or cardinals to lead us in this effort. The responsibility is on all of us to organize ourselves.

The whole point of stopping a fascist creep is that you can’t stop fascism without extreme bloodshed once it’s in full motion.

Communities of dedicated antifascists have been struggling to keep it at bay at great personal risk, and Heather Heyer – rest her soul – is not the only one to be killed in this struggle. I have talked with many Catholics who are critical of these people. They may disdain white supremacy and anti-Semitism, but they are wary of joining efforts to oppose them partly because they don’t like the tactics of antifascists.

However, every person who avoids joining this effort because of a stated devotion to nonviolence, which often seems to mean in practice simply staying home, makes it more likely that violence will occur. The way ahead for those wanting to claim a gospel tradition is not to sit on the sidelines while our vulnerable kin get assassinated. I sense that Catholics as a whole have not grappled with the meanings of fascism and antifascism or come to terms with the emergency all around us.

The time is now for Catholic antifascism. Confronting and opposing fascism and its enablers is sacred work, and it needs to happen high and low inside and outside of our church. We cannot leave it to others.

Towards this aim, a small group of Catholic Workers and friends have assembled a space on the collective curriculum-building website Perusall, where anyone can learn the basics of antifascism. For those new to the idea it has simple, bite-sized introductions to what it is, written by antifascists. It also includes short histories and philosophical inquiries on the topic to begin thinking through what it has to do with anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and colonialism. We are starting with around thirty readings to keep things focused, but over time material will be added, including some on what religion’s role has been and can be now.

The readings are designed to be marked up by everyone. This allows for conversations to take place, questions to be asked and answered, and community to grow between friends and strangers directly on the pages of the texts. Invite your friends and have a reading club or curl up by yourself for a while. Write all over the margins. No matter how much you do or don’t know about antifascism, whether you’re enthusiastic or cautiously curious, you are welcome in this space.

For those interested, simply go to Perusall, set up a free account, click “Enroll in Course” at the top of the page, and type in the course code MARTIN-Z3ZNL when prompted. (If you don’t want your name to appear in the group, feel free to conjure a creative pseudonym when you set up an account.) Feel free to share widely!

There are many ways of doing antifascist work – including religious ways – as these readings will make clear. The mob at the Capitol and the publicly documented plans for future attacks suggest this will be a long-term struggle. Our hope is that these readings will encourage us to integrate this work into our faith lives as individuals and as a church, and to join those already doing it.