Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Let’s look up Blackshirts on Wikipedia:

The Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (MVSN, “Voluntary Militia for National Security”), commonly called the Blackshirts (ItalianCamicie Nere, CCNN, singular: Camicia Nera) or squadristi (singular: squadrista), was originally the paramilitary wing of the National Fascist Party and, after 1923, an all-volunteer militia of the Kingdom of Italy. Its members were distinguished by their black uniforms (modelled on those of the Arditi, Italy’s elite troops of World War I) and their loyalty to Benito Mussolini, the Duce (leader) of Fascism, to whom they swore an oath. The founders of the paramilitary groups were nationalist intellectuals, former army officers and young landowners opposing peasants’ and country labourers’ unions. Their methods became harsher as Mussolini’s power grew, and they used violence and intimidation against Mussolini’s opponents.

So, these folks were nationalists who volunteered to intimidate and use violence against their leader’s opponents, with a particular view toward smashing labor unions. That doesn’t seem too hard to understand. These were the first fascists.

Let’s fast-forward to yesterday.

Half an hour after Trump tweeted about [president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, Chuck] Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, and I’ve heard everything from people who want to burn my house down or shoot me,” he added. “So I take it with a grain of salt and I don’t put a lot of faith in that, and I’m not concerned about it and I’m not getting anybody involved. I can deal with people that make stupid statements and move on.”

I doubt that Benito Mussolini specifically asked anyone at the outset to volunteer to become a thug for his political movement. It was probably just people responding organically to his message of incitement. He didn’t, however, fail to understand their utility and to quickly incorporate them into his operation. Pretty soon, they even had uniforms. They even fancied themselves “elite troops.”

I think this is a simple case of people walking like a duck, quacking like a duck.

Or, maybe, it’s another example of the old adage that history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.

You know, it can be pretty boring and unoriginal to shout “fascist” at your political opponents. At a certain point, though, it’s no longer a strained comparison.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at