Fascist Murder, State Power, and Unrestricted Warfare

From the Series: American Fascism

A view of the crowd northeast of the Washington Monument, shortly before President Trump's speech, January 6, 2021. Photo by Gregory Starrett.

Early morning light filtered through the towering hardwood trees of one of Virginia’s oldest plantations, where a small group of antifascists gathered in front of a neglected cookhouse to check equipment, review protocols, and function check our rifles. By 9:30 a.m. we were steeling ourselves against a Nazi column marching to attack the counter-protestors assembling behind our line in Justice Park. Already Charlottesville’s air was thick with humidity and imminent violence. Only after a Nazi murdered Heather Heyer and injured nineteen more did police swarm in, pointing rifles, dragging street medics from the injured. They chose to reassert state control after fascist street violence had been enacted.

The night before I had stood with a small number of activists outside St. Paul’s church to repel the vicious torch-bearing mob of white supremacists who streamed out of the night onto the campus of the University of Virginia. The platoon of police who had been idling on the sidewalks when I first arrived had quietly disappeared, and anti-racists were now facing off with mobs of fascists. The chilling chants of “blood and soil!” reverberated between liberalism’s hallowed sites of knowledge and worship and threatened an invigorated, murderously authoritarian peril that most Americans were not prepared for, or even ready to acknowledge and name.

The white men we confronted on Charlottesville’s streets had no difficulty naming us: “race traitor,” “commie f****t,” “Jew lover.” They paired white supremacy with anti-communism, echoing the Klansmen and Nazis who murdered five anti-racist protestors in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979. Prior to that massacre, the ATF had an undercover agent deeply involved with the Nazi perpetrators. This agent knew the Nazis were going armed to Greensboro and even gave them tactical advice, but never alerted his superiors that a dangerous conflict in Greensboro was imminent (Belew 2018, 73). As in Charlottesville, police ceded the streets to white supremacists and tacitly enabled far-right political murder against anti-racists, demonstrating how a shared hostility toward people of color and broader anti-racist/antiauthoritarian coalitions unifies police and ideologically adjacent actors who reproduce and extend violence to maintain American state power.

Trump’s naked encouragement of fascist-racist street movements induced widespread, vertiginous fear, but he simply elevated an enduring element of state power. The protest chant of “Cops and Klan go hand-in-hand” reminds us that state power has always been aligned with authoritarian white supremacy. Police enabling far right murder in 1979 or 2017 is eerily identical to the CIA relationship to Italian neofascist terrorists during the Cold War. An investigating Italian magistrate said, “The role of the Americans was ambiguous, halfway between knowing and not preventing and actually inducing people to commit atrocities.” How smoothly “Trump” replaces “the Americans” to describe the Capitol attack. And are we at all surprised that on January 6, 2021, soldiers and cops went from battles against communists and terrorists abroad and criminalized classes at home, to join the authoritarian insurgents of a state consumed by its own endless violence? The institutions of state violence produced the very subjects intent on the interdiction and seizure of government and the murder of anyone who opposes them. From the Freikorps to rehabilitated Cold War Nazis, to ex-Marine Proud Boys, the far right consolidates violent male power produced through state war waged against Black and Native people, Muslims, women, the poor, Jews, queer and trans people, the houseless, communists, and anarchists (Theweleit 1987).

To believe Trump radically, constitutively refashioned America is to forget that under Obama, from 2014 to 2016, uprisings against murderous police swept Ferguson, then Baltimore, and Charlotte—militant responses to the historically consistent racist violence of police to maintain state power. The uprisings threw into relief the historical war the state—despite Obama’s lofty rhetoric—was carrying out in the streets, courts, and prisons against African Americans. These uprisings created the organizational skills, discourse, social memories, and direct actions of the sustained mass protests after George Floyd’s murder that engulfed the state security apparatus in panic and left hundreds of charred cop cars behind. The state’s brutal hatred of Blackness and anti-racist/anti-state resistance was visible in the targeting of Black Lives Matter and antifa activists as “domestic terrorists.” Far rightists engaged in open conflict as well, intent on seizing the streets for themselves under the kaleidoscopic fascist grammar of Confederate, Nazi, Thin Blue Line, Gadsden, and Trump flags—their own riotous portent of the attack on the Capitol.

Over the past five years, the authoritarian, far-right struggle to claim public space has stretched from Patriot Prayer in Portland to neo-Confederates in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and reached a spectacular and bloody apex in the Capitol riot of January 6th. Ongoing and widespread male fascist violence is one dangerous element within a widening, fractal civil conflict. I appropriate the term unrestricted warfare from military theory to describe this multidimensional crisis marked by uneven and asynchronous temporality, shifting targets scattered throughout society, rapidly evolving tactics, and an expanding variety of actors and motivations. Between nation-states, unrestricted warfare is the weaponization by a weaker state of a more powerful adversary’s vulnerable and critical networks, infrastructure, and civic functions. U.S. society is experiencing something approximate but without the scale or defined structure of inter-state aggression (Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui 1999). Unrestricted warfare smolders in the shape of small wars raging across social media. Lone white men massacre Jewish worshipers and Latinx shoppers. Dark-web Nazis organize to fool 911 dispatchers into sending SWAT teams to attack journalists and transgender online gamers. A professor is questioned by the Department of Homeland Security at the border because their phone has been socially mapped to anti-racist networks. My family’s photos circulated across Nazi websites. This postmodern civil war is altering cultures of trust and security and reshaping lives with sudden force. For statist authoritarians and non-state fascists, the goal is fear, total domination, and death.

In response, the cultures of survival tactics morph at high velocity. Ideological confluences travel across platforms and public spaces allowing new social ecologies to flourish. Liberatory practices are enacted everywhere: somewhere antifascists are exposing a cop’s racist Facebook networks. Abolition organizers are phone zapping a prison. Radical therapists are tending to traumas. Black mothers’ bail funds are delivered. Observers are sending ICE vehicle locations to an alert network. Anarchist lawyers are drafting defenses. Trauma medicine classes are being planned. And somewhere, students are composing poems for Assata Shakur, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman.


Belew, Kathleen. 2018. Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. 1999. Unrestricted Warfare. Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts.

Theweleit, Klaus. 1987. Male Fantasies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.