I went to the AMC Classic Greensboro 18 on Tuesday to see the pro-Trump docu-polemic Death of a Nation, half expecting to see a mob kitted in MAGA hats and “Molon labe” T-shirts spill out into the parking lot after the movie ready to round up “illegals,” harass antifa, dehumanize high school “gun-grabbers” and shower disdain on libtards.
It wasn’t that kind of party.
In fact, I almost ended up occupying the theater myself until a friendly, graying white couple came in.
“She asked me how many people do you think will be there?” the man chuckled. “Ten?” Then he assured me: “You’re not alone.”
Even if the theater had been full, it would have likely been a somber affair: The conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza narrates the film with a kind of earnest chagrin that strikingly contrasts the gleeful trolling that his hero uses to whip supporters into a frenzy. Throughout the film, D’Souza wears the pained expression of a man haunted by the fact that the subjects of his fragile, torturously constructed historical narrative don’t play along with their assigned roles.
With the ridiculous notion of Trump as the second-coming of Abe Lincoln at the film’s centerpiece, D’Souza argues that the Democratic Party and the left in general are a kind of cancer threatening to destroy America. Contrary to the conventional historical view that the two parties have gradually swapped ideologies, D’Souza contends that the white supremacist Democratic Party of the 19th Century was actually a “progressive” institution that promoted slavery as a kind of European-style social welfare state. And the Democratic Party of today supposedly promotes a “plantation” mentality of “big government” that maintains “black ghettos, Latino barrios and Native American reservations.” While the polemicist never explores the questions of why African-Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, the black choir singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” at the film’s conclusion is surely intended to underscore D’Souza’s sincerity.
So, no Confederate flag-waving in this sanitized hymn to “Make America Great Again.” Dang, that must take all the fun out of it for Trump’s red-blooded American true believers.
D’Souza makes the case that Trump is not a racist or a fascist. He carries a heavy burden, and to vanquish the notion, he must prove that the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini was a movement of the left as opposed to the right. While alleging a chummy relationship between Hitler and FDR — who of course epitomized Democratic progressivism in America — he never explains why the United States went to war with Nazi Germany. And while fascism was supposedly a left-wing movement, he fails to mention that American leftists — communists and anarchists — went to Spain as volunteers to fight against the fascist forces led by Franco. He also conveniently leaves out the part about right-wing noninterventionist Charles Lindbergh leading the “America First” movement, and how Trump appropriated the slogan.
You know where this is going: The real racists, the real fascists, D’Souza insists, are the progressives and the Democratic Party. Of course, he must summon antifa as the ultimate bogeyman — an incarnation of the supposed violent left that though they claim to be “antifascist,” are in fact the true fascists — or so the argument goes. It’s a line of argumentation well worn by the assortment of Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and neo-Confederates that populate the fringes of the far right. Oddly, D’Souza turns to James O’Keefe, the conservative provocateur whose undercover videos have targeted ACORN and Planned Parenthood, among others, for answers. D’Souza asks O’Keefe who “funds” antifa.
O’Keefe responds sketchily.
“Tom Steyer’s name has come up,” he says, referring to the California billionaire who is financing a campaign to impeach Trump. Then the film lurches into a segment about the Hungarian-born financier George Soros that explores his childhood dealings with the Nazis while suggesting that Soros is funding antifa without explicitly stating it. There is zero evidence to connect Soros to antifa.
D’Souza’s argumentation about antifa is oddly similar to an idea advanced by Jovanni Valle, a Proud Boy leader in New York City mostly famous for getting assaulted by a Manhattan bar patron who didn’t like his Trump hat. Valle interviewed Rufio Panman, a Proud Boy who came into the public eye with the help of right-wing media provocateur Alex Jones after punching a leftist in Portland, Ore. earlier this summer.
“They’re there to vandalize and try to terrorize the people,” Valle tells Panman in a Facebook video posted on Monday. “And you guys look at them like: ‘You’re malnourished, you don’t get enough sun, you weigh as much as a wet napkin. There’s no possible way you’re gonna try to run us out of our own cities.’”
Not five minutes later, Valle adds, “You know this already: Those guys are not antifa, the ones that they’re hiring. These are thugs for hire. I’ve seen ’em. They’re pretty big guys. They’re not malnourished and starving children, you know…. They’re hiring thugs to help antifa, because they look at antifa and they’re like, ‘Yeah, you guys are horrible. We’re gonna need to get you some muscle.’ I think when these convicts come out of jail, they paid ’em. That’s what I think.”
Panman agrees: “At this point in the game I wouldn’t doubt any of that happening.”
The timing for the release of Death of a Nation is curious, coming just before the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally. “Charlottesville” — the word drips from D’Souza’s mouth like a radioactive sneer, as he complains that the left continually throws the debacle in Trump’s face. To deal with this inconvenient truth, D’Souza gets white nationalist Richard Spencer alone and all but accuses him of being a dupe of the left sent to discredit Trump. While Spencer acknowledges that he wants to repatriate brown immigrants, D’Souza makes the spurious argument that Trump is only concerned about illegal immigration. The term “s***hole countries” somehow never figures into the conversation.
As D’Souza’s hero might say, “Sad!”