Trump’s 5-step fascist plan

by Robert Reich

On March 29, Trump posted a video featuring an image of President Biden hog-tied — with hands and feet bound together.

Trump has previously posted doctored photos and videos depicting him physically attacking Biden, such as hitting Mr. Biden with golf balls.

It’s all part of Trump’s 5-step fascist plan.

In a previous column, I laid out the defining traits of fascism and how MAGA Republicans embody them, and I suggested that Trump and his lackeys shouldn’t be seen as simply “authoritarian.” They need to be understood as fascist.

But how could Trump actually turn America into a fascist state?

In five steps, which he’s already signaled he plans to take. Here they are:

Step 1: Use threats of violence to gain power.

Hitler and Mussolini relied on their vigilante militias to intimidate voters and local officials. We watched Trump try to do the same in 2020. Even before he incited the attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said on national television: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

Now, Trump is vilifying his political opponents as “vermin” who needed to be “rooted out.”  

After Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg requested a gag order, providing some 300 pages of exhibits documenting the real-world consequences of Trump’s attacks, Judge Juan Merchan found the filing persuasive. He said Trump’s statements “were threatening, inflammatory, denigrating, and the targets of his statements ranged from local and federal officials, court and court staff, prosecutors and staff assigned to the cases, and private individuals including grand jurors performing their civic duty,” citing Bragg’s filing, and had caused “the assignment of increased security resources to investigate threats and protect the individuals and family members” of those Trump targeted.

Meanwhile, Republican election officials have testified to the threats they faced when they refused Trump’s demands to falsify the 2020 election results.

Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state who refused Trump’s demand to “find” the votes needed to flip the state into Trump’s hands, said “my email, my cell phone was doxxed.”

Rusty Bowers, the Arizona state speaker and a pro-Trump Republican who resisted pressure from Trump and Rudy Giuliani and refused to go along with an illegal scheme to replace Arizona’s legal slate of electors, remains a target of pro-Trump partisans. As he said, “They have had video panel trucks with videos of me proclaiming me to be a pedophile.”

Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for the Georgia secretary of state who helped manage the 2020 presidential election and recount in Georgia that found no widespread fraud, has faced death threats.

Step 2: Consolidate power.

After taking office, a would-be fascist turns every arm of government into a tool of his will. One of Hitler’s first steps was to take over the civil service, purging it of non-Nazis.

In October of 2020, Trump issued his own executive order that would have enabled him to fire tens of thousands of civil servants and replace them with MAGA loyalists. He never got to act on it, but he’s now promising to apply it to the entire civil service if reelected.

Trump has urged making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States. This has become the centerpiece of something called Project 2025, a presidential agenda assembled by MAGA Republicans, that would, as the AP put it, “dismantle the U.S. government and replace it with Trump’s vision.”

Step 3: Demonize a group of people and establish a police state to round them up into detention camps.

Hitler used the imaginary threat of “the poison of foreign races” — mostly Jews — to justify taking control of the military and police, placing both under his top general, and granting law-enforcement powers to his civilian militias.

Now Trump is using the same language to claim he needs similar powers to deal with immigrants. At a rally on March 16, Trump baselessly claimed that other countries were sending gang members and other undesirables to the U.S. He then referred to them as “animals.”

Trump plans to deploy troops within the U.S. to conduct immigration raids and round up what he estimates to be 18 million people who would be placed in mass-detention camps while their fate is decided.

Even though crime is actually down across the nation, Trump is citing an imaginary crime wave to justify sending troops into blue cities and states against the will of governors and mayors: “You’re supposed to not be involved in that, you just have to be asked by the governor or the mayor to come in — the next time, I’m not waiting.”

Trump insiders say he plans to invoke the Insurrection Act to have the military crush civilian protests. We saw a glimpse of that in 2020, when Trump deployed the National Guard against peaceful protesters outside the White House.

With promises to pardon Jan. 6 criminals and stop prosecutions of right-wing domestic terrorists, Trump would empower groups like the Proud Boys to act as MAGA enforcers.

Step 4: Jail the opposition.

As Putin and other of the world’s dictators do, Trump is now openly threatening to prosecute his opponents: “If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ They’d be out of business.”

He’s looking to remake the Justice Department into a tool for his personal vendettas: “As we completely overhaul the federal Department of Justice and FBI, we will also launch sweeping civil rights investigations into Marxist local district attorneys.”

In the model of Hitler and Mussolini, Trump describes his opponents as subhuman: “the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country…”

Step 5: Undermine the free press.

As Hitler well understood, a fascist dictator needs to control the flow of information. Trump has been attacking the press for years, calling them “the enemy of the people.”

He’s threatening to punish news outlets whose coverage he dislikes. On his “Truth Social” platform, he wrote: “Our so-called ‘government’ should come down hard on them and make them pay for their illegal political activity. Much more to come, watch!”

He has helped to reduce trust in the media to such a historic low that his supporters now view him as their most trusted source of information. He tells them: “I will never lie to you,” although his lies are constant and continuous.

Trump has not hidden his plans. You’ve heard him promise to “be a dictator for one day.” History shows there are no “one-day” dictatorships.

We must take Trump’s 5-step fascist plan seriously and do everything in our power to stop it.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.