After Donald Trump accused Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of “trafficking in vicious anti-Semitic screeds” at a rally in North Carolina, the crowd erupted in the chant “Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!” Trump later claimed he did not agree with the chants and that he had tried to cut them short. A tape of the event, however, makes clear that this was a lie. Moreover, Trump refused to retract the racist tweets that set in motion this frenzied mass expression of racism by renewing his call for the four Congresswomen he attacked to leave the country if they do not embrace his worldview of patriotism and American exceptionalism. In fact, he mentioned to reporters that he was “enjoying” the latest controversy over his comments, which have drawn international condemnation.” This was a spectacle that had the markings not only of a current white nationalist rally but also echoes of the hate-filled spectacles that took place in Germany and Italy in the 1930s and 1940s.
It is both strange and disconcerting that almost none of the mainstream reporting on Trump’s rally examined its clear similarities with staged rallies in Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Much like Nazi rallies, Trump’s rallies seek to turn politics into a grandiose theater of nativism, while presenting the head of state as a kind of demigod. In addition, there is the preaching of hate, which functions as a kind of quasi-religious experience used to trade off and amplify mass anger largely directed at those considered the enemies of the state — in this case women of color who are criminalized by virtue of their political beliefs, race and ethnicity. Seizing upon the potentially violent energy of his followers, Trump transforms their heightened anxieties and collective fears into a mass disdain for Muslims, immigrants, Black people and others.
Trump’s manipulation of the crowds at his rallies brings to mind French reactionary theorist Gustave Le Bon’s depiction of crowds as governed by “impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment and of the critical spirit [and] the exaggeration of the sentiments” — a depiction that Hitler read and was inspired by.