Blake Masters, Don Bolduc and the militant right
Cameron Joseph and the team at VICE News have a story out this week documenting the numerous times U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona Blake Masters has argued for the need to install ideologically friendly generals atop the United States military. The VICE report comes on the heels of Joe Biden’s condemnation of the more extreme elements of the Republican party as “semi-fascist,” a label some have already observed is well suited to such a highly politicized view of the military.
Masters has attempted a sort of pivot since winning the nomination, including the removal of his most outrageous language on both abortion and the 2020 election from is campaign website. But the VICE report is damning, noting that “Masters called for the wholesale firing of the generals at least seven times between August 2021 and March 2022…” These instances included tweets, campaign videos and comments made in public forums like Twitter Spaces.
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In New Hampshire, Republican voters just nominated the kind of general Masters appears to have in mind as their nominee for the Senate. Don Bolduc has endorsed a range of conspiracies from the Big Lie to the supposed presence of microchips in mRNA covid vaccines.
It’s worth highlighting the fact that Bolduc celebrated his nomination holding a Spartan shield, decorated with arrows stuck into it. Spartan imagery—particularly that associated with the mythologized images made famous by the movie “300”— has become a hallmark of the American far right’s broader fetishization of militarism. At the beginning of her time in Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene wore a face mask embroidered with “Molon Labe,” the ancient Greek phrase attributed to the Spartan King Leonidas that means “come and take them.”
“Come and take it” has been a hallmark of Second Amendment activism for some time — in Texas the reference is more often made, not to Leonidas, but to the 1835 Battle of Gonzales and the now ubiquitous flag that bears the slogan. More recently, the Greek expression of the sentiment has been popularized among QAnon adherents as one of many symbols of their fight against a supposedly menacing state.
Sam Adler-Bell has done an excellent job of highlighting the threat of violence running through Blake Masters’ campaign. Adler-Bell notes that Masters has said that people should consider using “any political power” available to them in their struggle against their political opponents. If there is doubt that “any power” includes that of political violence, Masters had this to say of non-violence: “You can recite an eloquent poem about pacifism right before they line you up against the wall and shoot you.” This is language that conscripts everyone, down to the most everyday rightwing voter, into a fight. It isn’t just that Blake Masters and others like him view the military as something that should, rightfully, be under the control of them and their ideological allies. It is that the whole of politics is militarized.
It is important to stress that this fusion of politics and militarism cuts both ways. Masters’ comments show how many of the far right see the military as something to be subjugated to their political worldview. We can recall Trump’s frequent references to “my generals.” But Bolduc, Greene and others also show how the far-right views itself as engaged in something like warfare and how far-right actors see themselves as warriors in an increasingly less figurative sense. Jan. 6, 2021 offers one such example of where this thinking can lead. As the title of The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert’s review of HBO’s “Four Hours at the Capitol” puts it, “January 6 wasn’t a riot. It was war.”
In his victory speech, Bolduc proclaimed, “we have taken their arrows!” He gestured to the rounded shield, its Spartan lambda displayed upside down, continuing on to say “we are now going to rally around the circle: unity, freedom, liberty.” The implications here are profoundly worrying. They’re barely implications at all.
Part of what has been made clear in the wake of Trump’s attempted subversion of democracy and the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol is that many simply believe that these efforts were thwarted by the presence of too few MAGA loyalists in key positions. Masters’ calls for “purges” and the recklessly confrontational rhetoric of other extremists like Bolduc and Greene suggest that, for them, the key to succeeding next time is to make sure that those positions, from county-level election officials to military brass, are filled with their kind of people — or, as Trump would say, “my generals.”