“We have a recurring problem”: Rachel Maddow isn’t done learning America’s fascist history

Rachel Maddow is back with another history lesson about the fight against authoritarianism and fascism in the United States. The first season hers Extremely The podcast, about the little-known Great Sedition Trial of 1944, was a huge success Steven Spielberg was selected to be made into a feature film. It takes listeners back to the 1940s, when a Nazi spy infiltrated Congress and colluded with more than 20 sitting members in a plot to overthrow the U.S. government before World War II. She remains haunted by stories of the demagogic and anti-democratic tactics at the heart of the Extremely, used part one’s research as inspiration for her latest book, Prequel: America’s War Against Fascism, and now returns to the series with its second installment.

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Extremely is one of the projects the MSNBC host was able to pursue through the mega deal she negotiated a few years ago, which allowed her back to host one day a week and focus on longer-term efforts, such as more documentary series and scripted projects. Season two, the first episode out today, tells another little-known story about the far right in America, taking listeners back to the postwar 1950s, in which, as Maddow told me in an interview last week, “a bunch of absolutely crazy things happened.” “An American Nazi ends up being a mole in the war crimes trials, working for the Nazis,” she explains, and “basically becomes the godfather of denial.” Holocaust Recognition in America”. It also involves two senators – one carrying out Nazi propaganda hoaxes in the Senate, the other trying to stop them – who become sworn enemies. “In the end, one of them blackmailed the other, and the one who was blackmailed committed suicide, and the other one almost became president — and it wasn’t a good guy,” Maddow said.

The idea that the second senator “was brought up as an American demagogue political figure struck me as very relevant, given what we’re going through right now,” Maddow added. . “Demagoguery works and has a powerful history in right-wing American electoral politics that we would like to forget.”

Below, Maddow talks to Vanity fair on the point of delving into history, what she learned from the work, and what she thinks are the most important factors in the 2024 election.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Vanity Fair: Can you give me a brief overview of how you discovered this story and realized that this would be your next big project?

Rachel Maddow: So the origin story of this is a bit similar to the origin story of Extremely season one. I’m a little confused by the rise of Trumpism and the Republican Party to the extent that it also seems to coincide with a veritable explosion in Holocaust denial and crazy conspiracy theories that I used to associate with the faction very far away, and has nothing to do with the election. politics. And so as this new movement is emerging in electoral politics, why is Holocaust denial becoming a more popular thing? And that’s what started me down this path, trying to find, what were the earliest instances of Holocaust denial in America and where did they come from?

It was very helpful for me in understanding where we are. And history is cumulative, not recurring. It piles up. And so seeing what we’re standing at is really helpful. And knowing that the country is deeply worried about de facto forms of anti-democratic, right-wing extremism in electoral politics—it’s good to know that we can learn some lessons from those who have against it.

The first season of Extremely comes out just as the Oath Keeper’s treason trial begins, and it’s coming out just in time [Donald] Trump has been convicted. Have you thought about that moment yet? I assume you believe there is something to learn about the threat of fascism and totalitarianism through these historical narratives, but it seems like there is more to it than that, not even right on the nose…

Yes. Do you think it’s too on the nose?

Are not. I need another phrase, since ‘on the nose’ is often considered an insult—

Shocking parallel?

Sure. That’s it. I mean, listening to you talk at the end of episode one, I thought it could easily be like the monologue you gave last night. I think some people might wonder why Rachel Maddow doesn’t do a podcast about our current moment. What would you say to that?

She is. [laughs] I mean, the reason I do these history-related projects is because this is how my brain works. When I try to understand what’s happening now, I don’t look for puzzling moments in history that offer parallels with which I can decorate my current thinking. The thing is, if you go back to figure out where these things came from, there are all kinds of previous events and figures and movements and all kinds of political challenges that have brought us to where we are now. . All of these accumulate over time.

If you look back at the mainstream newspapers and magazines that regularly wrote about politics in 1952, 1953, early 1954, it’s impossible to believe that you weren’t reading about Trump: How they were crazy about a democracy, Simple, fast. is developing, practically without foundation, a kind of un-American movement, moving up towards the American right and which will pervade American politics. And that if the Republican party does not find a way to police itself against the extremism now spreading within its ranks, the American Republic will collapse. I think it’s helpful to know that these fears have existed before. It’s helpful to know that tactically, about how other people fought these things and how they were defeated and why the worst fears didn’t come to pass. But it’s also helpful to know that this problem is recurring in the country, and if we don’t detect that it’s recurring, we’ll never find a way to stop it from happening again.


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