In this way, Trump broke with moderate Republicans to ally with far-right activists such as those we meet in this book, while painting Antifa as a far greater threat. Never mind that over the past 25 years, as Mogelson notes, right-wing extremists in the United States have killed 320 people, and those claiming an antifascist agenda have killed one. Since Trump’s inauguration, right-wing terrorists have carried out 140 violent attacks; left-wingers, a dozen.
But just who are these extremists? In a recent interview, a neo-Nazi co-organizer of the 2017 Charlottesville march, now struggling with repentance, told me: “My buddies were my family. We all drank too much, were angry fists looking for a fight, and I was ready to die a hero’s death.” Such men — and generally they are men — welcome violent protest as prime-time theater in which they can play heroic figures of high rank in some fearsome hierarchy of rage.
They are the extreme edge of a vaster red-state America that feels hidden beneath the sunnier narrative of a more prosperous blue-state America: Work hard and success will follow. “Most people outside Appalachia ignore us,” one man in his 40s in Pike County, Ky., told me. “But the rest blame us for our problems. We’re drawing government checks. We have drug problems. But they don’t see all the things we’ve lost — good jobs, closeness to family, community trust, a debt-free life, pride.”
Whether a grievance, or a promise, is based on fact can come to feel beside the point. A former coal miner in an Appalachian county where 80 percent voted for Trump in 2020 told me he had recently gotten back on his feet after losing his job and falling into drugs. “When Donald Trump came to town in 2016, he told us he was going to bring back coal,” he said. “I knew Trump was telling me a lie. But I felt like he saw who I was.” The storm is here, Mogelson’s important book warns us, in the threat of public violence and at the ballot box. It’s here because a loss has for too long gone unrecognized, and because a lie that ties itself to this loss can feel more compelling to some than a truth that ignores it.
Arlie Russell Hochschild is writing a follow-up to her book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” a National Book Award finalist.
THE STORM IS HERE: An American Crucible | By Luke Mogelson | 360 pp. | Penguin Press | $29