Coups Make a Comeback as GOP Elites Declare "Total War" on US Democracy
Extremists Gather on Park Avenue to Celebrate Authoritarian Actions Past and Present
Authoritarians love coups, and the attendees of the recent New York Young Republicans Club's (NYYRC) annual gala are no exception. Many extremists who prepared and supported the coup attempt former president Donald Trump instigated on Jan. 6 to remain in office illegally were present. They are mentoring a new generation of Republican operatives who welcome the GOP's transformation into a Fascist party, are immersed in far-right international networks, and believe, in the words of their leader Gavin Wax, that a "total war" on our democracy is long overdue.
There was conspiracy theorist specialist Jack Posobiec, much admired for getting millions to see Democrats as a cabal of pedophiles (a core of his Pizzagate propaganda) who also steal elections. The "Stop the Steal" campaign Posobiec and Roger Stone spread inspired the rallies that led up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was supposed to undo Joe Biden's supposed heist of the 2020 election from Trump. At the gala Posobiec received the NYYRC's Allen W. Dulles award. This is given to "an individual who embodies the virulent anti-Marxist spirit" of Dulles, who as CIA head oversaw the U.S.-backed 1953 Iran and 1954 Guatemala coups.
Convicted criminal Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani (the 2021 Dulles award recipient), both core conspirators of the Jan. 6 coup attempt, also attended, as did representatives of foreign far-right parties like Alternative for Germany and the Austrian Freedom Party.
And there was the new star of the radical right, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who on Jan. 7 had characterized the assault on the Capitol as "our 1776 moment." She maintains she had no direct role in the coup. "I will tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I organized that, we would have won," said Greene in her remarks to the NYYRC crowd. "Not to mention, it would've been armed."
Here Greene repeated the false Republican claim that no arms were used on Jan. 6, while also acknowledging that any future such operation would have to be dramatically scaled up to be successful. "That's what we fucking need to have, 30,000 guns up here," one insurgent had stated that day, frustrated at the Capitol Police's ability to delay his entry into the Capitol. "Next trip," someone answered him.
The GOP found out on Jan. 6 what generations of authoritarians already knew: coups are hard to pull off. Of 471 coup attempts staged around the world from 1950 to 2000, half were defeated due to operational failures or lack of unity among participants.
Successful coups require the backing of powerful individuals and institutions, whether the military, security forces, or political parties. Peruvian head of state Pedro Castillo's recent "self-coup" to avoid impeachment ended quickly with his imprisonment, for example, because the military, the police and other authorities declined to support his power grab. As the Venezuelan publication Arepita quipped, Castillo "had breakfast as a president, lunch as a dictator, dinner as a detainee.”
Coups also travel internationally. Jan. 6 has been studied by authoritarians abroad who see it as a blueprint for armed actions. Bannon, an advisor to Jair Bolsonaro, hoped that Brazil (where a 1964 coup led to two decades of military dictatorship) would experience its own Jan. 6 after Bolsonaro's loss to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Brazilian elites and institutions mobilized to certify Lula’s victory promptly, short-circuiting any such attempt, but hard-core Bolsonaro supporters persist, encouraged by GOP activists such as Matthew Tyrmand (another attendee of the NYYRC gala).
The recent coup attempt in Germany, where domestic terrorists wanted to storm the Reichstag to liberate Germany from the "deep state" and replace it with a "Fourth Reich," is another example of the momentum Jan. 6 has given to the global far right. Germany has its own neo-Nazi and extremist traditions, of course, and this group is part of a home-grown sovereign citizen (Reichsbürger) movement responsible for over 180 acts of violence in 2021 alone.
Yet the group has also adopted American QAnon thought as a basis for action. QAnon, like anti-science aggression, took hold in Germany during the pandemic, and the conspiracy theory offers Germans a way to express antisemitic and other banned hate speech. As the German intelligence official Stephan Kramer remarks, "Qanon doesn't openly fly the colors of fascism; it sells it as a secret code."
This matters because the German coup plotters cannot be dismissed as fringe extremists: they include a sitting judge, an aristocrat, and members of the police and the military. "Right-wing extremists are present in all areas and parts of German society," warns Pia Lamberty, a German psychologist and CEO of a nonprofit that monitors extremism.
The same can be said about far-right extremists in America. The GOP's characterization of the Jan. 6 coup attempt as "legitimate political discourse" means that one party in a bipartisan system accepts violence as a means of achieving political goals. As Robert A. Pape, author of numerous studies on participants in the Jan. 6 coup attempt, puts it, "the insurrectionist movement is mainstream, not simply confined to the political fringe."
How fitting, then, that QAnon and insurrection supporter Greene gave her remarks to the future Republican elite and their international partners dressed in an elegant black gown. And that NYYRC head Wax had gathered everyone in a beautiful prewar Park Avenue venue to hear a message that has sparked a century of extremist actions, including coups, around the world. "We want total war," Wax declared. "We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets...This is the only language the left understands. The language of pure and unadulterated power."