Alex Constantine - June 3, 2022
By Alex Constantine
When Vietnam raged and Nixon took the White House, Mae Brussell was on the air in central California blasting American fascism like no one else alive. She was so far ahead of the media pack that they had a hard time following her. The average reporter didn't spend the better part of a decade on a mission, cutting up dozens of newspapers and magazines a day, compiling files on federal malfeasance, and lining walls with books about Nazis, corporate ties to Hitler's Germany, and the intelligence community. Most reporters turned up at news conferences to take dictation. Then they returned to their offices to turn their notes into coherent copy on a deadline. So who was qualified to judge the other, the voracious anti-fascist bookworm or her condescending detractors?
To the average reporter, Mae Brussell appeared to be a conspiracy theorist -- she was so far ahead of them that they had no idea what she was talking about. American corporate ties to Hitler? CIA recruitment of Nazis after the war? Nixon a "fascist?' It struck them as berserk. After all, America and its allies had defeated fascism in the '40s. Didn't they?
This shallow understanding of history held on until 2016, when gullible yahoos, whipped into a froth of disdain for liberals by Fox News, voted Trump into office. Gradually, the word "fascism" gained currency. It was the most common search term that year. Journalists took note, rallied their forces, and a few decades after the death of Mae Brussell, allowed the word to creep into their lexicons. (They still prefer euphemisms, though, "authoritarian," or "autocrat." Safe terms. No journalist's reputation will be bruised if they stand in for the more specific and pertinent "fascist.")
Madeleine Albright penned a book about fascism after the election, an unfocused analysis that seemed to explain all of the lying and duplicity emanating from the White House. She appeared on MSNBC to explain vaguely that her book was about Trump and fascism -- but, she explained, she wasn't saying he is a fascist, necessarily. There were certain "warning signs" that the US had taken a turn toward fascist fascism, but she didn't seem to understand when or why or who was responsible.
A few years later, her book is described as "prescient." Albright "warned" the nation (of the, by then, obvious). Her needlessly murky and poorly researched book was prescient.
In contrast, on the rare occasion that Mae Brussell's name is even mentioned these days, she is still described as a "conspiracy theorist." This is because the press has belatedly discovered fascism in American politics. Its obscure history and evolution aren't at all understood. And if the media do not understand it, neither do consumers of their work product. Most Americans aren't quite as ignorant as they were when Mae Brussell was on the air, but as a lot, the locals are still poorly informed and unaware of the beast breathing on their necks.
Albright didn't step too far out on a limb to open their eyes, either. Still, she had issued a "warning." Many years too late. Anyone who doubts this has only to consider the body count.
Day by day after the 2016 presidential election, the average newspaper began to read like a Mae Brussell transcript. Robert Mueller learned that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton. Paul Manafort, a name that caused any student of Mae Brussell to bristle, suddenly occupied space in the world. The press noticed that he was a criminal, after decades of skullduggery. The conspirator was convicted and frog-marched off to orison.
America's "professional" and "responsible" press corps took dictation. Russiagate swelled into a huge scandal, like Watergate but worse. Reporters wrote books, some of them openly discussing fascism. They weren't as deep or comprehensive as a Mae Brussell broadcast, but they named the beast.
Of course, books about fascism and its mortal byproducts have been published since Hitler's rise to power. George Seldes sounded the alarm in the '30s, but the press didn't pay attention. A minor cottage industry of anti-fascist writers followed suit. The American press simply refused to review their books. In subsequent decades, some of these books were bought up and burned by the CIA. The press continued to marginalize and ignore the truly prescient. For one reason or another, we had to wait for Albright to come along with her "warning" that came far too late -- long after Nixon secretly colluded with the leaders of South Vietnam to prolong the war. After Grenada and Panama. After "patriot" Oliver North sold TOW missiles to the world's ranking terrorist state, and gave the proceeds to Nazi-trained Nicaraguan terrorists. After GW Bush lied about Iraq and Fox News propagandists drummed up support for an invasion. And so on, ad nauseum.
The bodies piled up, and it was unfortunate the press didn't have the training, integrity or nerve necessary to report the truth.
Film producer Robbie Pickering has released a documentary series about Martha Mitchell, a Watergate casualty. Gaslit concerns her brutalization at the hands of Nixon's cohorts. Mae Brussell referred to Mitchell as "The Mouth that Roared," because Martha, under extreme duress, attempted to notify the world that the White House was a nest of criminal political conspiracies.
In a Washington Post podcast interview anchored by Sally Quinn, Pickering was asked if he considers Trump election fraud antics to be based on conspiracy theories.
Pickering replied: "You know, we didn't really deal with the kind of conspiracy theory part of ... I see 'Stop the Steal' as a conspiracy‑theory movement, general movement in this country that's pretty alarming." This is obvious to any rational political junkie. Bogus conspiracy theories have great destructive power. But Mae Brussell wasn't a right-winger, and she didn't invent theories to galvanize fascist action. She fought the fabricators of disinformation we have since come to know so well, but she is still dismissed as a "conspiracy theorist" to this day.
Pickering clarifies, "we didn't really dwell on that aspect of that, but this‑‑the scandal, we really wanted to show an insider version of everything that happened. ... We did have an episode about Mae Brussell, who was a conspiracy theorist at the time, but we kind of scrapped that earlier on. ..."
Pickering wasn't the first to kind of scrap Mae Brussell. The media have been scrapping her since she broke Watergate to for them. She reported first, but all credit goes to others. Brussell cracked Watergate open when she picked up the Washington Post one day to find Cubans --- whose names she recognized from her work on the John Kennedy assassination -- had been arrested for involvement in the Watergate break-in. Funny how a "conspiracy theory" led a humble housewife in Carmel Valley to scoop the "professional" press corps. exposing a real felonious underworld they knew nothing about. The media have been trying to catch up with Brussell for decades. They don't know it, though.
Mae Brussell was a little like an Eskimo who has learned 112 words for "snow." Most reporters only know one or two. From their point of view, all those other words are meaningless figures of speech. But the wider vocabulary is indicative of wider knowledge. The subtle differences of meaning open the obscure to scrutiny, contextualize, differentiate, sort it all out.
Mae had the wider vocabulary for comprehending and sorting out fascism in American life. She took down names, kicked ass. The forementioned Cubans arrested at the Watergate meant nothing to the press. But follow Mae Brussell's reasoning. The Cubans broke into DNC headquarters. Who sent them? Republicans, because Brussell knew them as such. Why? To filch files or find dirt on the Democrats, maybe even to plant bugs. Who had the most to gain? Nixon. The Kennedy assassination ties linked Nixon to political murder. Based on a few Cuban names, Mae Brussell could have written a book.
She took it to the air. The Fifth Estate scratched its head and called her names. But those who scratched and cursed didn't cross-reference the 35 volumes of the Warren Report. Mae Brussell did. She sought facts, reality, not theories. But to a typical reporter, it all sounded like a far-fetched conspiracy yarn. Crazy. But she was right and they were wrong. The press is slowly learning -- slow enough to enrich the undertaker. But in another 50 years, the press may finally catch up with Mae Brussell and realize who was truly prescient, and who huffed along for decades on the slopes of the learning curve.
(Postscript: a draft of this article was posted here earlier today. This is the final version.)