Sam speaks to the Rachael Wachstein (first interviewed on Episode #35 in December 2020 – find her on Facebook) again, this time to discuss Robert Crimo, Jr., the mass shooter who murdered people at the Highland Park July 4 parade this year, 2022. Wachstein witnessed not only this horrific event but recognized Crimo as one of the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” fascists she had been counter-protesting in her community over the past couple of years. She makes a forceful case for his fascist motivations and discusses why it’s so hard for people to take these violent fascists seriously as an organized movement, rather than “lone wolves.”
Music for this episode: Penny the Snitch by Ikebe Shakedown
Episode 120 Refuse Fascism
Sunday 7/24 4:46PM •
Rachael Wachstein 00:00
Who would think that two years later an associate of the same guys who were after me would slaughter seven human beings at our Fourth of July parade? There are so many people who are emboldened now because they’ve seen that not only are people not punished, they’re put on a pedestal. The longer that Trump and all of the others who were actively involved in the insurrection, until they’re held accountable, it’s a free-for-all.
Sam Goldman 00:51
Welcome to Episode 120 of the Refuse Fascism podcast, a podcast brought to you by volunteers with Refuse Fascism. I’m Sam Goldman, one of those volunteers and host of the show. Refuse Fascism exposes, analyzes, and stands against the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in the United States.
This is our 120th episode! Thank you for listening. Thank you for being on this journey with us as we engage, dialogue and debate with a broad array of writers, activists, scholars, legal experts, and people from different walks of life on the roots, nature and trajectory of fascism in this country. Together, we are working on changing the way people think that prevents them from taking necessary action, helping people to look at uncomfortable truths and act with a daring the times demand. Together we are forging understanding and relationships aimed at preventing the consolidation of fascism. Thanks to everyone who goes the extra step, rates and reviews on Apple podcasts, shares and comments on social media or YouTube. It helps us reach more listeners and we read every one.
Here are some from the past few weeks. On YouTube, BlondeFox69 wrote: “Love you Sam Goldman.” Well, thanks, love you too. On YouTube Matt B wrote in reference to our recent episode with Wajahat [Ali]: “Spot on. Definitely deserves more views. Christian nationalist GOP would scheme to kill Jesus today, just like the Sadducees did 2000 years ago. I’m a Christian with a psychology degree and have studied the rise of right-wing extremism and their manipulation tactics for eight years. I’ve seen enough. They’re winning the psychological war. That McResistance b.s. Dems do won’t cut it.” Fact, Matt, facts. We agree. We need to share this more. It needs to be seen more. So share, share, share.
On Apple podcasts, Arkie Okie Exile wrote regarding the last episode: “Copying the link to share with my friends. I love this interview with Sam.” Well, thanks and right on, copy that link, share it away. So after listening, go help us find more people who want to refuse fascism by rating and reviewing on Apple podcasts or your listening platform of choice and encourage your friends and family who listen to do the same. And of course keep all that sharing and commenting going on at social media.
Sam Goldman 03:22
In today’s episode, we’re doing something a bit different. While typically we provide analysis of stories told, today we are sharing a story that hasn’t been. We’re sharing a story that the media has not covered, one that has been all but covered up. How fascism denialism twisted the investigation and coverage of the Highland Park massacre on July 4, 2022. You’ll hear from Rachael Wachstein of Highland Park, Illinois on the massacre, the perpetrator, and both her personal knowledge and public knowledge that you should have seen and heard that this was part of a growing national epidemic of fascist violence.
Sam Goldman 04:01
But first, Steve Bannon has been convicted of contempt, but not for his actual participation in the coup attempt. Booo. The story of January 6 has become clearer and clearer through the hearings, pieced together with what else we know about what it represented: a culmination of months of build up, the result of different converging strategies from different elements of the Trump fascist coalition: the fake electors, the massive disinformation about voter fraud; the violent storming of the Capitol, which was intended as a pretext for Trump to invoke the insurrection act and use the military to seize the ballots and, potentially, “rerun the election.”
But at the end of the day, it’s what Bannon was quoted as saying on the recording played last Thursday: “Trump was going to declare he won no matter what,” and they all knew it and participated and supported this attempted self-coup, including, apparently, members of the Secret Service, including the current head of the agency appointed by Trump, James Murray, who was hired after swearing loyalty to Trump, and is now resigning.
This is dangerous territory. As the facts become clear that Trump was indeed the Commander-in-Chief of the auto-coup, and the calls for accountability increase, at the end of the day, if the Department of Justice doesn’t arrest Trump people on all sides will hear a clear message: Go ahead and try this again, but next time, you better succeed. After Bannon’s conviction, he boasted: “Well, I would tell the January 6th staff right now: Preserve your documents, because there’s going to be a real committee,” implying the fascists would soon have full control again.
Is there anything else about the role that the Secret Service played and could have played in the attempted coup? What would have happened if Trump’s detail had agreed to bring him to the Capitol to confront Mike Pence alongside his minions chanting “Hang Mike Pence”? What if Pence had allowed himself to be whisked away by the agent trying to move him away from the ballots? It’s dizzying how close we came. It bears repeating: All these Republicans knew and incited and supported the January 6th insurrection. Some warned him, some privately condemned it, they all knew what was wrong.
Nearly every single one kept quiet until now, and will vote for MAGA fascism again in 2024. The entire Republi-fascist party is complicit in this. As the world laughs at Josh Hawley scampering away from the mob he incited — I mean it is funny — and all too many liberals revel in shaming him and his cohorts. The fascists are responding: Shame, what shame? Just look at Turning Points this weekend, acting like Vince McMahon, WWE Grand Slam, with Trump proclaiming he won two presidential elections and may just have to do it again, as speaker after speaker, from Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to DeSantis and Gaetz to Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert attack every marginalized group with increasing viciousness, while whining that they are the true victims.
Axios is reporting how the former president’s allies are learning from their first term and first coup attempt and are already planning a purge of the national security and law enforcement apparatus. Even beyond the actual campaign still not publicly announced, Axios has reported in depth on how dozens of loyal advisors and strategists and millions of dollars are already working day and night on how to secure and wield their power after Trumpism has retaken the White House and legislatures.
What would you say if you saw this happening anywhere else in the world? You might not be so quick to laugh. There’s powerful exposure out there about the gaslighting by what mainstream media call conservatives regarding January 6th, the coup, the overturning of Roe, the moves to strip away other rights like gay marriage, that there is nothing to see here, no reason to alarm. But what is even more sinister and paralyzing, is the gaslighting by so-called progressives who will continue to tell you there is no drumbeat to civil war, that MAGA has no chance in hell. Ignore, for instance, that when Pence and Trump squared off through Arizona rallies, it was Trump they flocked to, and please ignore that DeSantis, Trump’s protege, offers no comfort, no respite from fascism.
I want you to remember that they are the same people who tell you: “No… no … Blue Wave in November is the magical reset button that will resolve the fascism.” They’re the same people who told you that we could do without Roe; the same people who said you were crazy to think Trump would try to subvert the election, and if he tried he had no shot in hell. The same ferocity with which we refute the fascists who tell the world: Nothing to see here, as they fascism away, must be directed at calling out the outright liars who try to pacify you into inaction by telling you to look away from what’s happening right in front of you, or only to look just enough to get you to vote. Stop listening to them, and kick that voice out of your head. Now, here’s my interview with Rachel.
Sam Goldman 08:59
Today’s episode is a story of how a neo-Nazi carried out a heinous, heinous crime — the killing of people at a July 4th parade — and how the police, the media and society at large saw it as just some random killing. We are now over two weeks after the Highland Park shooting, and I’m going to talk with Rachel. Rachael Wachstein is a progressive organizer in the North Shore suburbs of Chicago. She’s a supporter of Refuse Fascism. She was on our show, mere weeks before the siege of the Capitol.
When we spoke then, we spoke at length about the danger posed in that December moment, how we could see exactly where this was heading, as Trump called forth his mobs, and that there seemed to be no force that was going to stop it. We also talked at length about her experience organizing Protect the Vote vigils in our area, which she had been doing for several months, and the fascist threats, harassment and thuggery she endured. Today, I’m glad to bring her back on to talk about Highland Park, and the man that was part of those attacks towards her, and the fascist violence and the fascist movement that this is all a part of.
So welcome, Rachel. Thanks for joining us.
Rachael Wachstein 10:24
Thanks so much, Sam. So, I have to tell you that I was listening to our conversation from December 2020, before the insurrection and after the election, and it’s haunting to me. We were talking about my experiences as a human rights activist and about the angry MAGA fanatics who doxxed me and waited for me after protests and all of these things. Who would think that two years later, an associate of the same guys who were after me, would slaughter seven human beings at our Fourth of July parade? It feels like we’re living in the Twilight Zone.
Sam Goldman 11:11
I completely agree. It does feel that way.
Rachael Wachstein 11:14
First, I’ll tell you where I was when the shooting happened.
Sam Goldman 11:18
Yeah, please walk our listeners through.
Rachael Wachstein 11:21
That part, I was actually very surprised about. I actually got out of going to the parade this year, because my youngest and husband were out of town, but my mother called the night before and wanted to go to a restaurant in downtown Highland Park for breakfast. She picked us up, myself and my teenager, at around 10:10, she was supposed to be there at 10. The shooting happened somewhere around 10:15. I live about two blocks from downtown, so we were getting out of the car at the time when the shooting was happening and we very clearly heard it. We looked at each other but in my head it registered as fireworks. We kept walking towards the restaurant and we see people just running towards us. Then I saw that there were kids strollers and saw kids wagons just turned over and abandoned in the middle of the street.
It really registered with me when I heard people just wailing for their family members and friends. Then we turned around, got back in the car and started to find out what happened. Later that day, they showed pictures of the shooter and I started getting text messages from other people, other progressives in the area, who had been in attendance at these Stop the Steal counter-protests, and they said: We all know him. I took a look and it was the Where’s Waldo guy. I remembered him. The first time I met him was in September, early September, of 2020. He participated in a militia pro-Trump rally in downtown Highland Park, and I remember him being very strange. A lot of us had photos of him on our phone, and video as well. He was holding a Blue Lives Matter flag.
Later I’d see him in Northbrook, later in the month, and that’s where the Stop the Steal crowd got very aggressive, crossed the street when it got dark. They were bashing people around with flagpoles and whatever else they had in their hands. I remember the shooter being there and being part of that. Now I’m reading things like he already owned guns at that point in time. So it’s very strange, but at the same time, it’s not unexpected. I say it’s not unexpected, because we were very freaked out by the way that they were acting, waiting for us and being very aggressive and…
Sam Goldman 14:02
Putting posters up about you, I remember.
Rachael Wachstein 14:05
Yeah, with my photo, my home address, my phone number, everything, and saying that I was violent and dangerous. The thing is that when something like this happens, and it does happen a lot, it really does feel like it couldn’t happen in your town or it couldn’t happen to you. But after this happened and I started talking online about my experiences with the shooter and sharing the articles from the time that came out in the Chicago Tribune and a variety of other media outlets.
When I started publishing what I knew and then reposting newspaper articles that had the shooter standing next to other young men who are more aggressive than him, people from all over the country started messaging me and telling me their stories, their militias, their ordeal with Proud Boys members and all kinds of far-right activity in their community. They are all scared.
One of the messages I want to get out there is that Crimo, or the shooter, is not a lone wolf. He may have acted alone. He may not have even told anyone exactly what he was going to do, but he and these guys who are still in our community are being radicalized in similar ways. They’re participating in neo-Nazi online groups. They’re fetishizing Nazism. They’re encouraging each other. They get a signal from the White House to stand back and stand by. They’re invited in to the Capitol to overturn democracy, and they are encouraged to bring weapons. This is something that is growing in America, it is literally everywhere. I’m a pretty proactive person, and I’m feeling pretty helpless.
Sam Goldman 16:07
What you experienced, is traumatizing, and my heart goes out to you, your family, the whole community. I have been wrestling with, and I know you have too, with the framing of this Crimo being a lone shooter, or possibly mentally ill or just infatuated with violence. I spoke to someone recently — I wound up not running this part of my conversation because I found it to be so problematic — but I had brought up Highland Park and they had basically said that even though this person had all these ideas and all this evidence, that because they didn’t write it out — their anti-semitism as some kind of declaration on why they did it — that’s why it wasn’t a hate crime.
I’m struggling with how this is not seen by the media, by the police, by society at large. There’s a resistance to put it in the frame of a political act. This was not about anti-semitism — forget about the fact that he staked out a synagogue, forget about the fact that Highland Park, I think you would said, has more Jews per capita than New York. Forget about all of that. Forget about who was targeted and killed in the attack. You’re supposed to forget all of that and just believe that this was just somebody who was obsessed with violence and wanted to do violence. I was just curious as to your thoughts on it. What’s happening here and why is it happening? And why does it matter that we talk about this as an act of fascist violence?
Rachael Wachstein 17:38
I think a couple of things are happening. When the media, even residents of Highland Park, talk about the shooting, they want to say, or they do say that it’s not political or it’s not racist, or it’s a lone wolf, or it’s somebody who’s mentally ill, or it’s simply a gun issue. I think they do that, because that’s a coping mechanism. If you admit that there’s this vile, anti-semitic, racist, fascist current in the US, and we’re on the brink of a time where political violence is pretty much inevitable. There are so many guns out there.
There’s so many people who are emboldened now because they’ve seen that not only are people not punished or held accountable, they’re actually exalted. They’re put on a pedestal. There is hero worship of people like Kyle Rittenhouse. So if you admit that, that’s a very scary place to be, which is where I’m at right now. So I think that, in part, people want to just shut it down. But as soon as I knew what those bullets were, I felt in my soul that there was something to the fact that it happened in Highland Park where we don’t have a lot of guns. We have gun bans. We’re basically the border between Chicago and MAGA militia country, but we are a bastion of liberalism. We’ve got a mix of people. We’ve got a mix of socioeconomic statuses, but Highland Park was described as an affluent white suburb, because Jews are white, and they have white privilege — which there is a degree to which that may be true, especially as Jews have become more accepted in the United States, but it’s hasn’t been that long, and we definitely don’t have privilege when it comes to this crazy conspiracy-filled ancient hatred.
I just felt like there had to be something; Highland Park is 30% Jewish. The rest of the United States is somewhere between 1 to 3%. We are disproportionately a Jewish town. The synagogue that the shooter was kicked out of and was staking out is on the same street that the shooting happened. You can throw a rock and hit a synagogue. I think that that at least warrants exploring further, especially considering the climate that we’re in today, where we saw people in Camp Auschwitz shirts, and “6 Million Wasn’t Enough” shirts in DC. So to just completely whitewash it, not talk about that may be a coping mechanism, but it’s a very dangerous one.
What I didn’t know about the shooter — I knew that he was radical and far right and committed because he showed up — It wasn’t like we saw him one time, we saw him again and again and again. He was a supporter, But what I didn’t know at the time was that he had painted God Is Not Dead, which is a Christian nationalist cult classic film, on the side of his house. He had lightning bolt tattoos for the SS on the back of one of his hands. He had started some sort of SS group online. There are photos of him wearing the alt-right, Pepe the Frog meme shirt. He was staking out a local synagogue.
Then we start seeing posts that he made at the end of June, where he said the math is all screwed, the logistics of 6 million Jews doesn’t make sense. Then two days before the mass murder, he wrote, just Jews are retarded. He also said that he wanted to get rid of all Blacks, and that all Asians should be gassed and cleaned. And still, even though all of this has come out, there are very, very few media outlets who have touched on this at all, and that sets us up to be very unsafe.
Sam Goldman 22:03
Yeah. I was reading in a Counterpunch piece written by Anthony DiMaggio and Paul Street — Paul is one of our editorial board members. They get into some of the data they analyzed the coverage around this and they found in regarding to the word fascism, there wasn’t a single reference to “fascism” or “fascist” in 15 of the New York Times articles, 67 CNN transcripts, 12 Fox News transcripts, 10 MSNBC reports. There wasn’t one mention in reference to him using terms like “terrorists” or having engaged in an act of terror. It was just used once in the New York Times, not at all by MSNBC, three out of 12 programs on Fox, and nine times on CNN out of 67. So I’m bringing up that to talk about; it wasn’t there. They didn’t talk about it in the terms that you’re talking about it.
Rachael Wachstein 22:59
Only Jewish media did and what would be considered far-left or very progressive outlets.
Sam Goldman 23:06
Yeah, I mean, even there, there wasn’t that much. I found it in The Forward and I found it in another Jewish affiliated paper, but I haven’t seen it really anywhere else. So it really is [RW: It’s whitewashed]… Yeah, it’s whitewashed. You said it really powerfully in something that you shared online — you shared it on your social media ten days after an incident — you wrote: “The problem is that we as a society don’t see them. When we speak up we aren’t believed. When we point them out, we’re ignored. Why? Because the shooter and his associates hide behind Blue Lives Matter flags and claim to support law and order. In reality they glorify violence, kill police at the capital, shun democracy, and espouse racist and anti-semitic tropes. MAGA is a death cult that conflates violence with patriotism. To add insult to injury, we are expected to treat them like any normal political party or opponent and adherence as any American with the right to voice their opinion. Meanwhile, across the country, paramilitary groups, militias, and “lone wolf” mass murderers, threaten communities and democracy itself. This is not normal. White supremacy and violence are not American values, but they are currently the laws of our land. If you ignore the Jewish Latino victims and the MAGA component in Bobby Crimo’s crime, you are complicit in whitewashing the Highland Park massacre.”
And yes, that summarizes how I feel.
Sam Goldman 24:36
I just I thought it walked through what is happening here. If you can tell myself and our listeners, what’s happening now in Highland Park? Is that discussion happening in the community itself?
Rachel Wachstein 24:52
No. I’m actually kind of embarrassed to say I was kicked out of a community group on Facebook for trying to talk about the fact that anti-semitism and the Jewishness of the community is not being looked at or discussed at all. I’m actually not kicked out, I just can’t make any comments or engage in any way. I was told that the page is not for politics; they’re trying to heal. And it’s for, you know, selling “HP Strong” bracelets to raise money, which is important. I appreciate the fact that we are just hurting. There’s so many people who knew people who were hurt or killed. There’s so many people who witnessed it with their little kids. It is trauma, and it is raw.
But my thought was that if we don’t talk about this, and we don’t talk about the associates of his that we know have the same weaponry, who have been doing the same kinds of activities. If we’re not realistic about what’s going on here, you cannot keep yourself safe. You may feel better for the time being, but there is extreme pushback against that. What I always say is that they’re absolutely right, that mass murder should not be a political issue. It makes no sense. But this is not about Democrats versus Republicans.
This is about democracy versus fascism. These killers are not going to leave a signature saying that they hate one particular group. That’s not how life works all the time. Sure, there are the manifesto writers, but that’s not your usual. They leave these trails online. They leave trails in the community. They’re not unknown. If I had been asked to give a list of who I thought could commit violence in our area, I would have picked up one of the articles from the 2020 Stop the Steal rallies and said here, these guys. But this isn’t just about Jewish people. Where there’s anti-semitism, there’s racism. Where there’s racism, there’s homophobia, there’s transphobia, and pretty much what brings them all together is the idea that anyone who falls outside of being a good Christian or having traditional family values needs to be eliminated, and there are a lot of us who don’t fit into that.
Sam Goldman 27:26
Exactly. It’s a program of genocide and program of elimination. What do you want to see? What do you hope will happen? Not just in this case, but this isn’t the only incident of fascist violence, and it’s, unfortunately, without change, not going to be the last, so what are you hoping to see?
Rachael Wachstein 27:47
I’m hoping, and I see that there’s a lot of momentum around gun control, and that needs to absolutely happen. We’re a country of guns. There are guns everywhere and now you can conceal carry, and that needs to be dealt with, but that’s not enough. What we really need is de-radicalization programs. We need to identify and reach out to people and to be smart about how we can actually get people to think differently. In the very least, if we can’t change their heart and change their mind, we need to make sure they don’t have guns, and that they know that they are being looked at. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. If we can’t hold people accountable, who on national television tried to overthrow our democracy, murdered police while carrying Blue Lives Matter flags, what hope do I have that they’re going to look into the guys that I reported previously, for harassing me? It doesn’t feel like things are gonna get better anytime soon.
Sam Goldman 28:58
I think that they’re not going to get better if people refuse to confront the danger and listen to people like yourself. I think that it’s not gonna get better if people keep pretending that things are just going to somehow snap back to normal.
Rachael Wachstein 29:17
Right. Or that it’s politics as usual [SG: Yeah], because it’s not. We need to stop acting like MAGA and whatever comes after MAGA is politics as usual. It should be offensive to every American regardless if they’re a Democrat, a Republican, a communist, a socialist, an anarchist. It doesn’t matter. It should be a united front, and that’s one of the saddest things to me is that in all of these human rights fights, whether it’s LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter or abortion and reproductive freedom, you see infighting on the left. The right can bring together church going Bible bangers and Bubba with a beer and a shotgun and get them together to get things done. They’ve taken over the courts. They’re threatening our rights in so many ways. If there’s anything that we can take from Germany and the failure to stop Nazism is that they lack the United People’s Front, and we can be different.
Sam Goldman 30:25
Thank you for sharing that perspective. We’re talking right before the eighth and final hearing, I believe, for the January 6th Committee, and we were talking about a fascist act of violence. They’re going to be talking about this violent coup attempt, which was the culmination of a rolling coup that Trump had been announcing and carrying out for months that we talked about. I think that there is a connection between, the reality that Trump continues to roam free and across the country, wherever these Republi-fascists are in power, there goes the rights of abortion, voting, protest, speech, threatening public officials is normalized. I think that there’s a connection between that ongoing and the violence of the mob that we continue to see.
Rachael Wachstein 31:22
Absolutely. The prime example of how what’s going on nationally and with the committee hearings, to me, I flashback to when Trump was at the debate with Biden and said to the Proud Boys, when asked to disavow them, “stand back and stand by.” We’ve heard at the hearings that that drove up the membership. We felt that in our local area. We all of a sudden had people who were members of the Proud Boys showing up at Stop the Steal rallies that we were counterprotesting. When it’s on a national stage like that and it’s made to seem like it’s okay, or it’s normal, or it’s politics as usual, people act accordingly. The longer that Trump and all of the others who were actively involved in the insurrection, until they’re held accountable, it’s a free-for-all.
Sam Goldman 32:23
Yeah, the fact that not only are they not held accountable, but they’re gearing up and positioning so that they can do it again and be successful next time.
Rachael Wachstein 32:34
With more guns on the street [SG: exactly], with more concealed carry, with… oh yeah.
Sam Goldman 32:39
And doing it legally, so they can change the laws and they can get in power, you know, with changing who the electors are, and things like that, and transforming things so that they’re highly militarized, highly organized fascist base is also there. So I think people are fooling themselves if they think that as things stand now, there won’t be another violent attempt.
Rachel Wachstein 33:10
This, unfortunately, is not the first time that people have acted like this in history when faced with fascism. We know for a fact that German Jewry was highly educated. They were people of means. They were in Germany for hundreds of years. They were participating as soldiers in World War I, and there were many who saw what was happening and brown shirts in the street and all of that. That didn’t happen overnight. That built up over 10 years. There were people who saw it, and if they could, they got out, but there were a lot of people who didn’t, because they could not believe that things could go that badly. Who could have believed that at that time? There wasn’t really any precedent in history, but we have a precedent. We have museums to the precedent. We are raised on the slogan Never Again. And here we are.
Sam Goldman 34:14
Well, thank you, Rachel, for joining us. I know we didn’t end on a very uplifting note, but this is something that people can then go to work with and be part of changing and transforming and making sure that that people don’t make the same mistakes that have been made historically.
Rachael Wachstein 34:31
Absolutely. There’s still hope for us.
Sam Goldman 34:33
Yes. Well, thank you, Rachel.
Rachael Wachstein 34:35
Thanks so much, Sam.
Sam Goldman 34:36
Glad we could do this. [RW: Me too.] Since this interview was recorded. We’ve learned that this past Thursday’s January 6th Committee hearing was the last for the summer, and that they will resume in the fall.
Sam Goldman 34:47
Thanks for listening to Refuse Fascism. Over the past 120 shows, we are proud to have established with you a strong community of people who care enough about the world to confront the threat of this American fascism head-on at this epic juncture. So I just want to take a moment to ask you to take one step out and grow the base of listeners. Share the show, discuss it and contribute to the site to refuse fascism. We want to hear from you. Share your thoughts, questions, ideas for topics or gas or lend a skill. Thanks to Scott for sending your guest idea this week.
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