'Death Squad' karma: Pinochet would have been proud of the Proud Boys
COMMENTARY It's fitting that the Proud Boys' former leader has been sentenced for sedition in the U.S. just as the 50th anniversary of Pinochet's right-wing death squad coup in Chile approaches.
The Proud Boys — the white supremacist hate group and MAGA street enforcers whose former leader, Enrique Tarrio of Miami, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison this week for seditious conspiracy — are, of course, pathetic thugs and losers.
But in the coming days, and especially next Monday, they’re also a reminder that the pathetic thugs and losers who’ve so often and so violently strangled democracy in Latin America can show up here in America — and come remarkably close to accomplishing the same damn thing.
Nothing showcases that more darkly than the menacing four letters the Proud Boys wear in bright red on their black caps and shirts — RWDS — which stand for “Right-Wing Death Squad.”
They’ve sported the initials at their rallies, their marches — and the destructive, deadly assault they helped lead on the U.S. Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. They invoked RWDS as they tried to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 presidential election that their unhinged right-wing demigod, then President Donald Trump, refused to admit he lost.
That red badge of cowardice makes it all the more fitting that Tarrio was sentenced just as this hemisphere is getting ready to recall the barbarity that inspired the term “right-wing death squad” in the first place:
Sept. 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the murderous 1973 military coup that installed Gen. Augusto Pinochet as dictator of Chile.
It was a putsch that made Pinochet the archetype of the right-wing Latin American tyrant — the Dracula despot in epaulettes, gray cape, black gloves and sunglasses who turned the word “disappear” into a transitive verb. During his 17-year-long regime, his hitmen killed or “disappeared”more than 3,000 Chileans.
His RWDS methods would leach into countless copycat reigns of terror across the region, from the Dirty War next door in Argentina — where the junta imitated the Chilean practice of pushing victims to their deaths from planes and helicopters into the ocean or the Andes — to the ghastly paramilitary executioners of El Salvador, where new corpses seemingly lined the airport highway every morning in the early 1980s.
Are the Proud Boys a 21st-century dose of karma for all the 20th-century RWDS’s the U.S. aided and abetted — like the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile?
Pinochet certainly didn’t invent goon government in Latin America. He may even have been a student of Papa Doc Duvalier’s Tonton Macoute in Haiti, Rafael Trujillo’s SIM in the Dominican Republic or, for that matter, Fidel Castro’s firing squads in Cuba.
Still, Pinochet’s come down to us as the consummate, caricatured reference point for democracy’s doomsday villains, especially the hellhounds who exploit the fear of comunismo.
House of horror
Granted, the radical excesses of Chile’s leftist Salvador Allende government at that time made it easier for Pinochet to hijack the country at gunpoint — and Allende (who committed suicide during the 1973 coup) and his followers deserve a lot of blame in that regard.
But nothing excuses the reactionary house of horror Pinochet ushered in. And nothing excuses the U.S. government back then for lending him the Cold War hand that helped make it possible.
Which raises the question: Are the Proud Boys a 21st-century dose of karma for all the 20th-century RWDS’s the U.S. aided and abetted?
Sure, why not? After all, Pinochet would have been proud of the Proud Boys.
I remember CNN’s Jake Tapper and all the other cable news talking heads on Jan. 6, 2021, pointing out that the insurrection we were watching on Capitol Hill was more reminiscent of Latin America than America. What they didn’t bring up was how complicit the U.S. has been historically in saddling Latin America with that reputation.
And what they also didn’t suggest was the not-too-far-fetched notion that America was receiving a little payback that day — a little taste of the castor oil it so often made other countries across the Americas swallow for so many decades.
I’ll be the first to admit the worst dictatorships in Latin America today, from Cuba to Venezuela to Nicaragua, are left-wing instead of right-wing. But at the end of the day there’s not much difference between the brutality of a socialist Nicolás Maduro and a fascist Augusto Pinochet.
And there’s certainly no difference between pathetic left-wing thugs and losers like Nicaragua’s turbas and their right-wing U.S. counterparts, the Proud Boys.
Except one: in the U.S., thankfully, the pathetic thugs and losers can still be sent to prison.