James Waterman Wise, a U.S. Representative from the sixth dis­trict of Georgia from 1915 to 1925, is cred­it­ed with mak­ing the fol­low­ing state­ment: “American fas­cism would like­ly come wrapped up in the American flag and her­ald­ed as a plea for lib­er­ty and preser­va­tion of the Constitution.”

The state­ment was made dur­ing a time when fas­cism was on the rise in Italy, not long after the close of the first world war and very short­ly before the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The state­ment has incor­rect­ly been often mis­quot­ed as “When ter­ror­ism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and car­ry­ing a Bible” although, as the pic­ture below shows, the lat­ter state­ment could be just as accurate.

Former President Trump holds a Bible in from of a Washington church.

Mr. Wise was obvi­ous­ly very pre­scient in fore­see­ing the advent of cir­cum­stances that would be on the rise in this coun­try near­ly a cen­tu­ry later.

The fas­cism that so con­cerned Mr. Wise showed its ugly face in Charleston, South Carolina in May 2020 when report­ed­ly peace­ful protests were dis­rupt­ed by vio­lent agi­ta­tors who turned the protests into out­right riot­ing and loot­ing, and result­ed in the death of a woman when one of the agi­ta­tors delib­er­ate­ly drove over her with his car.

This was the riot after which President Trump described those involved as “good peo­ple… on both sides.”

Terrorism is becom­ing appar­ent near­ly every day now as shoot­ers are killing num­bers of peo­ple at once in var­i­ous loca­tions.  But even though these mass shoot­ings usu­al­ly involve only one per­pe­tra­tor, there should be lit­tle doubt that the urges that dri­ve them are root­ed in the same brands of hatred that fos­tered fas­cism and Nazism and the cur­rent ter­ror­ism, an unequiv­o­cal detes­ta­tion of a sin­gle group of peo­ple or race.

And fas­cism near­ly raised its head again more recent­ly in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho when 31 indi­vid­u­als were appre­hend­ed before their planned dis­rup­tion of a Gay Pride cel­e­bra­tion.  While they were appar­ent­ly not armed with guns, they car­ried items intend­ed to inflict harm to any­one oppos­ing them.

But the most fla­grant dis­play of domes­tic ter­ror­ism occurred just over a year ago, on January 6th, 2021 when hordes of armed and care­ful­ly pre­pared indi­vid­u­als assault­ed the nation’s house of democ­ra­cy, attempt­ing to over­throw a nation­al elec­tion and a peace­ful trans­fer of pow­er in the presidency. 

Now, with the ongo­ing com­mit­tee hear­ings on that event, the American pub­lic is final­ly able to see the real hor­ror of that day, of the machi­na­tions of a defeat­ed pres­i­dent to ille­gal­ly hold office while insti­gat­ing his fol­low­ers to take pow­er by force, some­thing that has nev­er occurred in this nation in its over-two-hun­dred-year his­to­ry, even in the most tur­bu­lent times.

Rioters invade the US Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.

Now we are see­ing, in vivid detail, how nar­row­ly this attempt failed and at the same time are being exposed to con­tin­u­ing efforts to cre­ate the same atmos­phere that exist­ed lead­ing up to that day, with the ongo­ing false asser­tions that, some­how, the 2020 elec­tion was a fraud and was stolen, even after every legal attempt to illus­trate that asser­tion failed and con­tin­ues to be debunked at every turn.

Every American, regard­less of their polit­i­cal per­sua­sion, should real­ize that the demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples that they have enjoyed their entire lives were threat­ened and near­ly lost that day, all to accede to the nar­cis­sis­tic rav­ings of one man.  And those who con­tin­ue to believe and espouse the delu­sion that Donald Trump did not lose the 2020 elec­tion will bear the eter­nal shame and appro­ba­tion of those beliefs. 

Our elect­ed offi­cials who refuse to acknowl­edge the over­whelm­ing truth of what hap­pened on that day will be the ones whose his­to­ry will live long after they have vacat­ed the pub­lic stage because they know the truth.  They know how near was the defeat of the form of gov­ern­ment that they had sworn to uphold.  They know that the lies con­tin­ue and fes­ter and grow and infect our pub­lic discourse.

And they know — and should know even bet­ter than all the rest of us — that if our future elec­tions turn on the base­less lies that have emerged from the last one, the lega­cy of democ­ra­cy that is hand­ed down to our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will not be the one that we inherited.

And there­in lies the great­est shame of all.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.