• President Joe Biden met with historians at the White House last week, The Washington Post reported.
  • People familiar with the conversation said they warned Biden about the rise of totalitarianism around the world.
  • They also made comparisons to before the Civil War and pro-fascism sentiments around World War II.

President Joe Biden privately met with a group of historians at the White House last week who warned him about ongoing threats to democracy, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Sources familiar with the August 4 meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, told the outlet the experts described the current moment as among the most dangerous to Democracy in modern history.

The people in the meeting included Princeton University history professor Sean Wilentz, University of Virginia historian Allida Black, journalist Anne Applebaum, and presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Also in the meeting was speechwriters for Biden, including Vinay Reddy and Jon Meacham, and White House senior adviser Anita Dunn.

The small group almost exclusively discussed totalitarianism around the world and threats to American democracy, according to The Post.

The outlet reported the scholars compared the current state of affairs to the era that preceded the Civil War, as well as fascist movements that emerged ahead of World War II. They specifically noted Abraham Lincoln's 1860 election and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1940 election.

Some of the experts said to have been in the meeting have spoken publicly about threats to democracy. For instance Applebaum, a staff writer at The Atlantic, published a book in 2020 called "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism" about the rise of right-wing populism and democratic decline.

The White House did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The meeting was in step with Biden's habit of seeking outside experts to provide guidance on domestic and foreign policy issues. He also met with former President Bill Clinton in May to discuss inflation and the midterms, and with a group of foreign-policy experts in January ahead of an anticipated Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The meetings also continue a tradition of US presidents seeking big picture context from historians that started with President Ronald Reagan but stalled under former President Donald Trump, according to The Post.

Historians have publicly been sounding the alarm on threat to democracy in recent years, especially after the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Insider's Charles R. Davis in June that the Capitol attack, which she described as an attempted coup, still poses a threat to US democracy. Ken Hughes, another historian and expert on Watergate, told Insider's Erin Snodgrass in July that democracy is in a "dangerous" position as the systems that usually protect against a presidential abuse of power are no longer functioning.

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