Donald Trump continues to push his full-throttled assault on the free press by claiming any news report that is critical of him or his policies constitutes “fake news.” Not content with re-writing current events to fit Trump’s agenda, some of his ardent supporters are now pushing the meme of “fake history” to discredit actual chronicles of past events in order to advance false or misleading historical claims or radical religious dogma.
Altering history to achieve totalitarian rule was the basis for George Orwell’s warning in the novel 1984: “Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” Trump’s affectation for “alternative facts” and baseless “fake news” are part of a treacherous attempt on his part to control the present. The efforts of Trump’s alt-right supporters to create fake histories serve to control the past. The overall agenda represents a naked push to control the future.
Outside of the disciplines imposed by academic and archival research and historical and biographical documentation, fake history, like its evil twin fake news, is finding a hospitable nesting ground in social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Google are as responsible for promulgating false historical narratives as the alt-right’s digital cesspools that include Breitbart News, the Daily Stormer, and Infowars. Although the governments of Britain, France, and Germany are attempting to enact laws against pushing fake news and history, there is no legislative solution to this problem. The only answer lies in educating the public, particularly school age youth, in relying on information that has passed the test of accuracy via scholarly vetting and accurate references.
Accurate referencing does not include movies like The Darkest Hour, which erroneously portrays wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as a dogged opponent of German Nazism and Italian fascism. Churchill’s number one priority in World War II was to protect and preserve the British Empire. Unfortunately, Trump believes The Darkest Hour presents an accurate history of Churchill, which only further feeds the Oval Office occupant’s fractured knowledge of history. It is Trump’s myopic knowledge of history that led him to proclaim some sort of equity between neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, and those opposing their presence in the city that has a historical legacy that reaches from the Civil War and antebellum South back to Thomas Jefferson’s founding of the University of Virginia in 1819.
Trump’s racist supporters find the Civil War presents the greatest opportunity to proffer fake historical events. For example, the fake history of African-American Confederate battalions in the Civil War is a creation of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), an outwardly racist organization, which along with its sister group, the League of the South, seeks to restore the Confederate State of America. There is no record of any African Americans having fought under the Confederate flag. The SCV has been able to enlist the support of a few African-Americans like Anthony Hervey of Mississippi, “honorary” SCV member H.K. Edgerton of North Carolina [pictured right], Karen Cooper of Virginia, and 2013 Virginia GOP lieutenant governor candidate Reverend E. W. Jackson to support the flying of the Confederate battle flag, the singing of “Dixie,” displaying Confederate memorials, and the belief in blacks fighting for the Confederacy, but these individuals are cartoonish outliers within their own communities.
There is no evidence that any regimented black soldiers fought for the Confederacy. A belief among some Confederacy supporters that General Stonewall Jackson commanded two battalions of black Confederate soldiers is made from whole cloth. Only when the Union forces were on the verge of defeating the Confederacy in March 1865 did the Confederate Congress in Richmond authorize the military training of a small number of freed slaves. However, the war ended before any African-Americans could take up arms. Internet websites offering “proof” of black Confederate soldiers are echo chambers for the SCV and related neo-Confederate organizations trying to repaint the Confederacy as benevolent toward African-Americans and not the prime protector of slavery as a valued institution of the South’s culture and economic system.
In a Superbowl ad, Fiat-Chrysler decided to use a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King to pitch RAM trucks. King said, “You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.” The ad then ran the slogan: “Built to Serve.” There has been a recent tendency to use King as a corporate logo to sell products. George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s likenesses have been used to sell everything from bed linens and mattresses to recreational vehicles and refrigerators. For those fake historians anxious to turn King into a shill for Wall Street, it should be noted that, far from urging people to buy pickup trucks, King penned the following notes while in seminary: “capitalism has seen its best days in America, and not only in America, but in the entire world.”
There are other attempts by the alt-right to promote fake history. The most absurd theory is that Adolf Hitler was a “socialist” and Franklin D. Roosevelt was a “fascist.” In fact, the opposite—with a few qualifications in the case of FDR—was true. Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—shortened as “Nazi”—but the party was more interested in nationalism and conquest than in workers’ rights or socialism as advanced by the Marxist and democratic labor parties of the interwar era.
Fake history also includes an attempt to portray Senator Joseph McCarthy as correct in his pursuit of “Communists” embedded in the U.S. government and President Harry S Truman as a Communist “fellow traveler.” These falsehoods were originally promoted by the far-right John Birch Society, which, under Trump, has experienced a resurgence, along with its discredited fake history claims. The exchange of telegrams between McCarthy and Truman presents an accurate illustration of McCarthy’s perfidy and Truman’s rejection of McCarthy’s spurious allegations:
Promoting fake history is not the same as researching alternate views of history. Historical research is a dynamic pursuit and newly-discovered documentation often results in acceptable revisionist views of historical events. However, revisionist views of history are different than fake history, the latter having no proof of supporting evidence, but merely unsubstantiated rantings and ramblings found on dodgy websites. Trump, however, in his repeated attacks on “fake news,’ has legitimized those who traffic in fake history.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s billionaire secretary of education, is encouraging taxpayer-funded voucher and charter schools to teach “Christian history.” This curriculum includes discredited “creationism” and the rejection of the scientific evolution of species. DeVos is more interested in America’s public schools building “God’s Kingdom” than in promoting true education, a goal that can only exist in a secular environment free of religious dogma and sectarian indoctrination. DeVos’s and the Republican Party’s overall support for historical illiteracy is compounded by the offerings on what was once known as the History Channel. This eyesore of the vast wasteland known as cable television now offers such mindless fare as “Swamp People,” “American Pickers,” “Counting Cars,” and “The Curse of Oak Island.” Instead of accomplished historians being cited for their work, a charlatan like Bill O’Reilly can claim the mantle of historical “expert” because he wrote a “Killing Series” of pulp fiction novels masked as historical research on the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesus of Nazareth; the alleged assassination of General George Patton; and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck is another purveyor of fake history in his writings and Blaze cable TV network blathering.
After the Dark Ages, Europe emerged into the era of the Renaissance. The arts and the study of history flourished. Hopefully, the United States will emerge from the dark age of Trump into a new renaissance where historical fact wins out over ludicrous claims based on ignorance and intolerance.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).