Aug 21, 2018

Fascistic theocrats: James Scaminaci comments on Insurgent Supremacists

James Scaminaci III is an independent researcher who has done important work tracing the beliefs and activities of U.S. far rightists for several decades. In Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire I drew particularly on his research regarding the interchange in the early 1990s between Christian Reconstructionists and white nationalists, and the often-ignored role of Christian Reconstructionists in inspiring and shaping the early Patriot movement. 

In the letter below, Scaminaci responds to some of the analysis in Insurgent Supremacists, mainly regarding the relationship between Christian Reconstructionism and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement. Here are some passages from Insurgent Supremacists that outline some of their major features:
[Christian] Reconstructionist ideology is an offshoot of Presbyterianism (itself a branch of Calvinism) that was founded by Rev. R.J. Rushdoony in the 1960s....

...Reconstructionists advocate a totalitarian theocracy based on their interpretation of Old Testament law. In their ideal society, only men from approved Christian churches could vote or hold office, slavery would once again be legal, and death (preferably by stoning) would be applicable punishment for homosexuality, adultery (by women), striking a parent, heresy, blasphemy, and many other offenses. Women would be permanently “in submission” to men and expected to bear as many children as possible. Workers would have a duty to obey their employers, and labor unions would be forbidden.

Unlike most theocracies, the Reconstructionist model does not involve a highly centralized state, but rather puts most of the coercive authority either with local government or with nongovernmental institutions, especially the family and the church (31-32).
Christian Reconstructionism has always been a small movement, but has had disproportionate influence on the Christian right as a whole. Reconstructionists have been particularly influential in the anti-abortion rights movement, in Christian homeschooling, and in promoting the concept of “biblical patriarchy.”

New Apostolic Reformation, which is was formally launched by C. Peter Wagner in 1996, is a much larger Christian right current based among Pentecostals and Charismatics, who unlike Reconstructionists believe in miracles and divinely inspired prophecy as active components of Christian worship today. NAR is more ethnically diverse than the lily-white Reconstructionist movement, and allows women more latitude to play public and leadership roles. However,

like Reconstructionism, NAR theology declares that Christians are called to “take dominion” over all areas of society in preparation for Christ’s return. NAR leaders phrase this in terms of taking control of “Seven Mountains,” i.e., seven key societal institutions: government, media, family, business/finance, education, church/religion, and arts/entertainment.

[In contrast to Reconstructionism,] NAR is a centralizing ideology, whose leaders want to gain control of big government and make it bigger.... NAR combines a theocratic vision with an organizational structure that is far more centralized and authoritarian than most on the Christian right (38).
*                    *                    *
Photo of C. Peter Wagner
C. Peter Wagner (1930-2016), founder of
the New Apostolic Reformation movement
NAR leaders teach that their adherents will develop vast supernatural powers, such as defying gravity or healing every person inside a hospital just by laying hands on the building. Eventually, these people will become “manifest sons of God,” who essentially have God-like powers over life and death. In the End Times, too, some one or two billion people will convert to Christianity, and God will transfer control of all wealth to the NAR apostles (39).
I also argue in Insurgent Supremacists that Reconstructionists have pursued consistently oppositional politics, while NAR has tended to straddle the line between far right (rejecting the legitimacy of the established US political system) and system-loyal right.   --ML

= = = = = =

August 15, 2018

I finished reading most of the chapters of your book. I'm glad my research helped out in spots. Thank you for finding those papers useful.

I agree with your expansion of fascism to include religious fundamentalist movements, an improvement over [Roger] Griffin's seminal idea regarding palingenetic populist ultra-nationalism. [See "Two Ways of Looking at Fascism."]

However, where I disagree with you is your treatment of the differences between the Christian Reconstructionists and the New Apostolic Reformation. There is a real difference between the two in terms of their treatment of women--which was a conceptual breakthrough for me. But, politically, they are virtually identical. Not completely. The Reconstructionists would be happy with 50 theocracies and the NAR want to rule all of America.

But, both of them work within the current system. Leading [Reconstructionist] strategists like Gary North and Edwin Vieira talk about coming to power either by having a majority of the population in favor, or, after a catastrophic economic collapse. Gary North, like the NAR strategists, view political conflict through the prism of a titanic battle between God and Satan. The NAR does not disagree, though it’s unique contribution is engaging in spiritual mapping and strategic spiritual warfareprecursors to real-world operations, including genocide. I've seen NAR "prophets" or "apostles" talking about economic collapse or a civil war, even.

I just do not see significant political methodological differences between the two movements, for example where one is reformist and one is revolutionary, or, [Leonard] Zeskind's mainstreaming and vanguardism.

Colonel Doner's book, Christian Jihad, noted that the Coalition on Revival's Worldview documents were drafted by both the Reconstructionism's and the NAR's leading thinkers. They dominated the COR because they had an agenda and a strategy.

On page 161 he notes that the neo-Pentecostals were "especially enthusiastic" and would later form the NAR.

Those Worldview documents committed the entire Christian Right to replacing the current secular, liberal, pluralist social order with a theocracy. In and of itself, those documents are revolutionary, a point you made with regard to the Reconstructionists who "reject pluralist institutions in favor of a full-scale theocracy based on their interpretation of biblical law."

Where there is a real epistemological difference between Reconstructionists and the NAR "apostles/prophets" is that the Reconstructionists take their legitimacy from the Bible, while the NAR argue that they can make things up through prophecy (the Holy Spirit). C. Peter Wagner has argued that even though abortion is not banned in the Bible, prophecy makes it illegal.

And, if you consider the NAR's "spiritual warfare," their combat against demons, and their belief that the federal government, the Democratic Party, etc are controlled by demons, then these institutions are by definition illegitimate. The whole point of the Seven Mountains doctrine is that these institutions are illegitimate.

And, the NAR folks believe that all other religions are illegitimate, especially the Catholic Church and Islam. So, ideologically, the NAR is revolutionary and aims to build a mass movement. The NAR or Third Wave is huge in numbers in America and worldwide. They have mass.

Moreover, the NAR also has the concept of Joel's Army, a supernatural army of young people trained to kill and conquer. Thus, they very much have the violence of fascism incorporated into their ideology. Joel's Army is linked to the revenge fantasy of the Left Behind novels.

If my assessment of the NAR is correct, that actually strengthens your case regarding the fascistic tendencies of the Christian Right, more broadly speaking.

Thus, I think your book represents another conceptual breakthrough.


Photo credit: By Jandirp [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Aug 10, 2018

“Racial dissidents have lost the ability to organize openly”: Alt-rightists on Trump, ICE, and what is to be done

This report was written on July 29, 2018 and updated on August 5, 2018. Originally published in Insurgent Notes.

The alt-right, or alternative right, represents the most recent major upsurge of far right politics in the United States. Blending white nationalism, misogyny, and aggressive social media activism, alt-rightists helped put Donald Trump in the White House and proclaimed themselves the vanguard of the Trump coalition. Although they never believed Trump shared their politics, most of them hoped he would buy time and political space with which they could further their own goal of a white ethno-state.

Some alt-rightists say ICE is "repelling
the barbarians." Others call federal agents
a "hostile occupation force."
In 2017 alt-rightists made a push to broaden their scope and impact by linking up with more traditional neonazi forces and expanding their activism from the internet to physical rallies and street violence. But since the brutal August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, at which one antifascist counterprotester was killed, the alt-right has suffered a series of setbacks. Several major alt-right websites have been forced to find new platforms or shut down entirely, infighting and personal conflicts have weakened the movement, and antifascist mobilizations have blocked their mobilizing drive. In addition, as Trump embraced conventional conservative positions and priorities on many issues (from cutting corporate taxes to bombing Syria) and pushed out several of his more “America First”-oriented advisors (such as Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon) many alt-rightists became increasingly alienated from Trump. Some declared that he has been bought off or blackmailed by Jewish elites, while others held out hope that his populist-nationalist tendencies could still win out.

Recent actions by Trump (launching trade wars against China and the EU, criticizing NATO allies, and holding friendly meetings with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin) have reintensified his conflict with the conservative establishment, while the crackdown on undocumented immigrants has made his administration look more nativist and authoritarian than ever. How have alt-rightists responded to these developments? In this article I’ll explore alt-rightists’ current outlook, focusing on three issues: attitudes toward Trump, responses to the border crackdown and law enforcement more broadly, and political strategy in a time of weakness.

In broad terms, the alt-right’s views on Trump fall in between those of the Patriot movement (which appears to be squarely behind him) and neonazi groups unaffiliated with the alt-right (which are generally hostile). Alt-rightists like the steps Trump has taken to restrict immigration and punish immigrants, but wish he would go a lot further. Applauding the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Trump’s third ban on travel from majority Muslim countries, Hubert Collins of American Renaissance called on him to ban immigration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica, claiming that “such a ban would save lives and slow the displacement of white Americans.” Identity Evropa (arguably the most successful effort to move alt-right politics from the internet to real world organizing) simply called on the president and Congress to end all immigration to the United States.

Writers at Occidental Dissent have been generally scathing in their assessment of Trump’s administration. Marcus Cicero, for example, wrote, “We were promised isolation and got further Middle Eastern conflict, we were promised a protectionist economy and got watered down free trade, we were promised sealed borders and a wall and got hordes of feral Mestizos, and we were promised realpolitik and got slavish devotion to Israel.” Brad Griffin, Occidental Dissent’s founder who blogs under the name Hunter Wallace, agreed with Mitt Romney (an establishment conservative loathed by alt-rightists) that Trump’s actions in his first year as president were very similar to what Romney himself would have done. But even Griffin and Cicero have praised a few of Trump’s actions, such as ending Obama-era affirmative action policies and holding peace talks with North Korea’s Kim.

In contrast, Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer has tended to downplay his criticisms of Trump. “I know his faults. I know there are Jews in his office. I know he bombed Syria. Twice.... But when I watch these rallies, my heart is saying ‘there’s the leader of my people, he is fighting to protect us.’” And further: “what he is doing, at least with the rallies and the tone, is Fascist in spirit. He is authoritarian, nationalist, and anti-liberal. The racial element isn’t there yet explicitly, but it certainly is there implicitly.”

As a rule, alt-rightists have been strongly supportive of the Trump administration’s border crackdown and “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Hubert Collins declared that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protects Americans against foreign criminals and deserves full support. Many alt-rightists, like Patriot movement activists and other Trump supporters, have deflected criticisms of ICE’s family separation policy by turning pro-family arguments against ICE’s critics. American Renaissance wrote of “illegals” “using children as human shields” and dismissed criticisms Trump’s border policy as “hysteria” and “liberal viciousness.” Huntley Haverstock of Counter-Currents, drawing on the manosphere-type misogyny that has become standard across the alt-right, declared that news media sound clips of immigrant children crying for their parents represented “emotional abuse against women” – more specifically, an “attempt to hijack women’s hindbrains and override all possibility of rational thought” because “ the sound of crying has such a powerful mammalian impact on women that it can literally cause them to lactate.” Haverstock called this supposed physiological reaction healthy and positive in the right context, but in a political context it was “an argument against giving women the vote.”

However, alt-right discussions regarding ICE have gone well beyond these sort of reflexive attacks on immigrant rights politics. Anglin proclaimed that ICE is Trump’s “Praetorian Guard,” the only non-corrupt federal enforcement agency, which the president will use to implement martial law and impose a dictatorship. As with many of Anglin’s statements, it’s hard to know to what extent he was being serious and to what extent he was just mixing wishful thinking with provocation for its own sake. In contrast, VDare columnist Federale has long argued that ICE is a sham immigration enforcement agency that actually prefers to target non-immigrants. R. Houck of Counter-Currents went much further, declaring that all police and federal law enforcement agencies are part of a “hostile occupation force” and “are used first and foremost to protect Jewish interests.” Reversing the arguments of Black Lives Matter activists, Houck claimed that police actually are more likely to use deadly force against whites than blacks, and that “all bias in policing is in fact against the white race.” These assertions, aimed to counteract many rightists’ pro-police sentiments, highlight the difference between system-loyal and oppositional versions of right-wing politics.

The alt-right’s setbacks of the past year and misgivings about Trump have spurred some members to take a sober look at the movement’s strategic prospects. Many Republicans are predicting an electoral triumph this November and see the recent victory of democratic socialist Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez in a New York congressional primary as proof that the Democratic Party is out of touch with most voters. American Renaissance’s Gregory Hood disagreed, and, like other alt-rightists, his political hostility extended not just to liberals and leftists, but also to conservatives:
Despite (or because of) media coverage, racial dissidents have lost the ability to organize openly, while the socialist Left has gained in strength.... The established conservative movement has largely cheered this process. The Trump victory did not lead to a more welcoming environment for identitarians within the GOP but increased scrutiny and barriers.
In contrast, the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] has the most powerful combination in politics—revolutionary cachet combined with support from the power structure.
*          *          *
The Republican message of ‘economic growth’ is uninspiring compared to the Democrats’ racial socialism, especially when corporate America and economic elites are more favorably disposed towards multiculturalism than they are to Trump-style nationalism. Unless President Trump can truly transform the GOP into the ‘Workers Party’ as he promised during the campaign, it’s unlikely his coalition will last.
In this climate, Hood urged white nationalists “not to daydream about Donald Trump’s ‘Red Tide,’ but to build institutions to ensure our people’s survival in the years when whites will be living under an occupation government.”

Writing from a similar perspective, James Lawrence of Counter-Currents dismissed hopes that large masses of whites will embrace white nationalism and rise up against the established power structure as “alt-right victory fantasies.” He urged alt-rightists to learn from how twentieth-century fascist movements achieved power. Using Robert O. Paxton’s analysis in The Anatomy of Fascism (which is also a favorite among many critics of the right), Lawrence drew a number of lessons, including these:
  • “The fascist experience...illustrates the importance, yet also the limitations, of metapolitical action,” i.e., a “process of mental preparation going back decades, in which the failings of liberalism and democracy were exposed and the decline of Western civilization was discussed. This smoothed the way for the creation of fascist movements in the wake of the Great War, but did not guarantee their success.”
  • “successful fascist movements must cultivate not only the masses but also the vested interests of society. They must be encouraged, or at least tolerated, by an established ruling elite focused on the greater threat from leftist revolution.”
  • fascism “cannot be recreated in the present era…. The modern avatar of leftist revolution is not a military threat from beyond the frontier [such as the USSR in the 1920s], but a political enemy ensconced in every official institution, and it is now the ‘antifa’ and ‘SJWs’ who enjoy judicial leniency and elite patronage.”
  • “Of the three stages of fascist pathbreaking, the only one available to us right now is metapolitics…. This can never induce the masses to rise up and replace that oligarchy of their own accord, but it can ensure that they become convinced of its illegitimacy and unwilling to react strongly against threats to its power. That is the first step from which all others must follow."
Lawrence and Hood’s pessimistic but reasoned call for alt-rightists to prepare for many years of base-building stands in stark contrast to Anglin’s glib optimism, in which Donald Trump serves as a deus ex machina for the movement’s own failings. These are two sides of the same movement. Today the alt-right is significantly weaker and more isolated than it was a year ago. However, it has bolstered supremacist violence, expanded the space for hardline rightists in mainstream politics, and demonstrated the political power of internet memes and coordinated online attacks. The alt-right remains a significant political force, which could either rebound or pave the way for other incarnations of far right politics. Andrew Anglin and other in-your-face trolls have been the most public face of past alt-right efforts. But in the years ahead, it is strategic thinkers such as Hood and Lawrence who represent a greater threat.

Addendum – A note about Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer
I want to add some brief comments about Patriot Prayer (PP) and Proud Boys (PB) in light of the August 4th confrontation in Portland, Oregon, when a Patriot Prayer rally faced off against a larger counterprotest—until the counterprotesters were violently attacked by police.

Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer and Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys were both founded in 2016 as part of the wave of right-wing enthusiasm surrounding candidate Donald Trump. The two organizations are not identical, but they represent similar politics and have become closely intertwined. They offer a slightly sanitized version of right-wing racism. Both organizations have longstanding close ties with white nationalists and are staunchly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, yet they disavow explicit white supremacist ideology and include small numbers of people of color as members. Both groups uphold patriarchal ideology and glorify political violence.

Unlike alt-rightists and other white nationalists, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer do not advocate a white ethno-state or a radical break with the U.S. political system. Rather, they want to reassert white male dominance within the existing system. As “The Grouch” put it on the antifascist website Its Going Down: “what they want most of all is to be called on by the State in order to attack perceived enemies of the existing social order. Chiefly this means social movements in the streets, but also journalists who are critical of Trump (or the Proud Boys and the far-Right), migrants, people of color, queer and trans people, and so on.” Unlike the alt-right, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are solidly and unambivalently pro-Trump.

Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys are currently engaged in a drive to rebuild the kind of broad coalition of right-wing streetfighters that operated for several months in 2017. This coalition encompassed alt-rightists, neonazi skinheads, and other white nationalists, alongside “alt-lite” Trump supporters and Patriot movement activists. The effort fell apart in the wake of Charlottesville, amid in-fighting, deplatforming by media companies, and mass antifascist resistance. So far the revival of a right-wing streetfighting force has been limited to the Pacific Northwest. Continued militant opposition is needed to shut it down and keep it from spreading.

The August 4th events in Portland, like previous confrontations, indicate a close, friendly relationship between Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys and the police. As The Grouch commented, despite the fact that militant rightists are perpetrating more violence than their opponents, police look on right-wingers “as a group of victims, and anyone that stands up to them as instead a group of criminals and terrorists.” System-loyal right-wing groups such as Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer are better positioned to develop a collaborative relationship with the police than alt-rightists or neonazis, who don’t accept the existing system as legitimate. However, the intricate ties between Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys on one hand and white nationalists on the other underscores that we can’t treat the dividing line between system-loyal right and oppositional right as rigid or fixed. This is a dynamic situation, and I would not want to predict how things will develop from here.

Photo credit: A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent making an arrest,  30 November 2014. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 9, 2018

Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups (interview)

In this interview with Truthout, I discuss several topics related to the U.S. far right, such as fascism, populism, relations with federal security forces, and Donald Trump’s politics. The interview follows Truthout's publication of an excerpt from Insurgent Supremacists. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.
*                    *                    *
Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.
 *                    *                    *
As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.
Read more

Photo credit: By Tiffany Von Arnim. August 13, 2017 Patriot Prayer and Solidarity Against Hate demonstrations in Seattle. [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Jul 5, 2018

The Far Right Regards Human Inequality as “Natural” (book excerpt)

This book is about far right politics in the United States. It is an effort to understand movements such as the alt-right: what they want, what they do, who they appeal to, and how they interact with other political forces. It is also an effort to place these movements in historical context, to analyze how and why they have developed over the past half-century, and how current circumstances affect their strengths and limitations. has made Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire its latest Progressive Pick of the Week and has published an excerpt from the book's introduction. Here are a few more snippets:

Before 2015 or 2016, most mainstream reporters and political pundits had never heard of the alt-right, and they scrambled to figure out what the movement was and what it stood for. Because alt-rightists didn’t look or act like stereotypical Neo-Nazis, people accused them of trying to hide their white supremacist politics behind a “benign” label, even though in fact many of them went out of their way to sound as offensive and bigoted as possible. Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many Neo-Nazis criticized it. And because some “anti-globalist” conservatives started using the alt-right label, many critics missed the distinction between fellow travelers and committed adherents — between those Trump supporters who wanted to reclaim control of the American republic for white Christian men and those who hoped for the republic’s collapse. Although media coverage of the alt-right gradually improved, this initial confusion underscored the need to rethink superficial, overgeneralized, and outmoded conceptions, and to recognize the far right as a dynamic, changing collection of movements.
*                     *                     *
Instead of focusing on a specific doctrine, my approach begins with a specific historical turning point: in the 1970s and 1980s, for the first time since World War II, rightists in significant numbers began to withdraw their loyalty from the US government. This marked a sharp break with the right’s traditional role as defender of the established order, as one of the forces helping economic and political elites to maintain social control. In my view, the resulting division between oppositional and system-loyal rightists is more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, economics, or other factors.
*                     *                     *
The far right presents multiple kinds of threats. In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several more immediate reasons to take the far right seriously. First, far rightists carry out harassment and violence against targeted groups, and they encourage other people to do the same. Second, far rightists create more space for system-loyal forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, both by offering an example for system-loyal groups to learn from, and also by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look legitimate by comparison. Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Fourth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them.
Read more

Photo credit: By Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA (Charlottesville-1520282) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

May 23, 2018

"The alt-right wants to replace the USA with an ethno-state": interview with Matthew N. Lyons

The German leftist newspaper Junge Welt recently published an interview with me by Gabriel Kuhn, under the title "Die 'Alt-Right' will USA zu Ethnostaat umwandeln" [The "alt-right" wants to replace the USA with an ethno-state]. The interview refers to my 2015 book Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen: Die extreme Rechte in den USA [Aryans, Patriarchs, Supermen: The Far Right in the USA], which Gabriel translated into German and which was published by Unrast Verlag. An English language version of the interview is below.

*                     *                     *

Kuhn: When your book Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen was released in 2015, few people understood how relevant it would be only a year later. How strong are the connections between Donald Trump and the far right?

Lyons: More than any other major presidential candidate in decades, Donald Trump benefited from far right support and emphasized themes that appeal to far rightists, such as Islamophobia, scapegoating immigrants, and a populist attack on the Republican Party’s conservative leadership. His ties with the alt-right, although indirect, were particularly strong through advisors such as Steve Bannon. After the election, alt-rightists proclaimed themselves the vanguard of the Trump coalition. However, alt-rightists never saw Trump as one of their own, but rather as someone who could slow down “white genocide” and open up political space for them to promote their own message. They have been increasingly disappointed as the Trump administration has largely pursued a conventional conservative agenda on issues such as taxes, health care, and deregulation of industry. Trump’s military strikes against the Syrian government shocked and angered alt-rightists and also many Patriot movement activists. They saw the strikes as proof that Trump has been pressured or bought off by neoconservatives and globalist elites, forces which alt-rightists (but not Patriot activists) explicitly identify with Jews.

Kuhn: Which are the forces that constitute the "alt-right"?

Lyons: The alt-right originated around 2010 as a convergence of several rightist forces that were hostile to mainstream conservatism. Major influences included the French Nouvelle Droite and the European New Right more broadly (which began as a post-1968 effort to make fascist ideology more palatable by incorporating elements of liberal and leftist thought, such as an emphasis on “diversity”) and paleoconservatism (an American current that emphasized economic protectionism, cultural nationalism and opposition to most military interventions). Starting around 2015, the alt-right got a big influx of activists from the so-called manosphere, an antifeminist online subculture that promoted intense misogyny and developed coordinated online harassment as a powerful tool for attacking women and their allies. Most alt-rightists embrace some form of white nationalism, involving calls to replace all or part of the United States with a white ethno-state. Some of these activists identify with the tradition of National Socialism while others do not.

Kuhn: What does your new book Insurgent Supremacists add to Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen?

Lyons: Insurgent Supremacists updates Arier, Patriarchen, Übermenschen’s analysis by three years and combines it with a lot of other material, such as a chapter on the origins and development of the alt-right. There are chapters on several themes that cut across different sections of the far right, such as gender politics and anti-imperialism. Insurgent Supremacists also explores the complex interactions between the far right and certain other forces, including federal security services such as the FBI, as well as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and administration. Lastly, there are discussions of fascism both as a theoretical category and as a term of political debate that has often been misused against authoritarian conservatives or liberals, or against the existing U.S. government.

Kuhn: For many years, you've been involved in the blog Three Way Fight. Can you tell us more about the three ways fighting here?

Lyons: Three Way Fight argues that revolutionary leftists face two major poles of opposition: (1) the existing socio-economic order that centers on global capitalism and related systems of oppression, and (2) fascist and other far right forces that grow out of the existing system but also clash with it in real ways. We need to combat both, but they require different strategic responses. Far rightists aren’t simply tools of the ruling class, but rather form an autonomous political force that wants to secede from or overthrow liberal-pluralist political systems such as the United States and replace them with a harsher and potentially more genocidal political and social order. At the same time, by presenting themselves as the only real opponents of established elites, far rightists exploit popular grievances and seek to rally mass support away from any liberatory anti-capitalist vision.

Photo credit: Photo of Richard B. Spencer in 2016 (cropped). By Vas Panagiotopoulos - 19 November 2016, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Colors have been altered.

May 19, 2018

At the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair: Workshop on far right anti-statism

I will be doing a workshop at the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair next weekend, on the topic “Anti-State Politics on the Far Right.” The book fair takes place in Montreal on May 26-27 and is free and open to the public. My workshop will be on Saturday the 26th at 11:00 am.

The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair is “for people curious about anarchism and wanting to learn more.” According to the event website, there will be “over 100 booksellers, zinesters, distributors and groups from all over Montreal, Quebec, North America and beyond, sharing their publications and materials, most of which are hard or impossible to find at mainstream book stores.” There will also be an Anarchist Film Room, displays of works by anti-authoritarian artists, and workshops and presentations in English and Franch. “Some are intended as introductions to anarchism for those who are new to anarchy, while others explore an anarchist-themed subject in some depth.”

Here’s a brief description of my workshop:

Anti-state politics on the far right
In recent decades, some far rightists have combined anarchist language and symbols with white supremacist or other anti-egalitarian philosophies, under labels such as National-Anarchism, anarcho-pluralism, and Autonomous Nationalism. Focusing on developments in the United States and Europe, this workshop will explore these groups’ ideologies, political roots, attempts to recruit or ally with left-wing anarchists, and relationship with broader trends within the far right.

Here is a longer description:

This workshop will explore the appropriation of anarchist themes and other leftist themes by sections of the far right. In recent decades, various sections of the far right – under labels such as National-Anarchism, anarcho-pluralism, and Autonomous Nationalism – have harnessed anarchist language and symbols to political philosophies that promote racial or class oppression or other forms of anti-egalitarianism. Focusing on developments in the United States and Europe, this workshop will explore the following issues related to far rightists’ appropriation of anarchist themes:
  • Opposing centralized political power doesn’t necessarily mean opposing social hierarchy and oppression. 
  • Far right anti-statism has varied ideological roots, including Third Position fascism, the European New Right, and libertarianism. 
  • Far right anti-statism partly reflects a general tendency by far rightists to use distorted versions of leftist politics – such as anti-imperialism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism, or feminism – to present themselves as a radical alternative to the status quo. 
  • Far right use of anarchist themes also reflects a broader trend toward political decentralism among many different far right currents. While fascists traditionally celebrated big, centralized states and top-down organization, many far rightists now advocate leaderless resistance, political secession, small-scale theocracy, or federations of “tribal” communities. 
  • Some anti-statist far rightists have tried to ally with, recruit from, or infiltrate left-wing anarchist circles around shared opposition to the existing state. It’s important to expose and reject these overtures. 

Apr 1, 2018

Insurgent Supremacists – a new book about the U.S. far right

My book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is due out this May and is being published jointly by Kersplebedeb Publishing and PM Press. It draws on work that I’ve been doing over the past 10-15 years but also includes a lot of new material. In this post I want to highlight some of what’s distinctive about this book and how it relates to the three way fight approach to radical antifascism. I’ll focus here on three themes that run throughout the book:

1. Disloyalty to the state is a key dividing line within the U.S. right.

Cover of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire, by Matthew N. Lyons
For purposes of this book, I define the U.S. far right not in terms of a specific ideology, but rather as those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, inevitable, or desirable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. That includes white nationalists who advocate replacing the United States with one or more racially defined “ethno-states.” But it also includes the hardline wing of the Christian right, which wants to replace secular forms of government with a full-blown theocracy; Patriot movement activists who reject the federal government’s legitimacy based on conspiracy theories and a kind of militant libertarianism; and some smaller ideological currents.

Insurgent Supremacists argues that the modern far right defined in these terms has only emerged in the United States over the past half century, as a result of social and political upheavals associated with the 1960s, and that it represents a shift away from the right’s traditional role as defenders of the established order. The book explores how the various far right currents have developed and how they have interacted with each other and with the larger political landscape.

I chose to frame the book in terms of “far right” rather than “fascism” for a couple of reasons. Discussions of fascism tend to get bogged down in definitional debates, because people have very strong—and very divided—opinions about what fascism means and what it includes. Insurgent Supremacists includes in-depth discussions of fascism as a theoretical and historical concept, but that’s not the book’s focus or overall framework.

As a related point, most discussions of fascism focus on white nationalist forces and tend to exclude or ignore other right-wing currents such as Christian rightist forces, and I think it’s important to look at these different forces in relation to each other. For example, critics of the Patriot/militia movement often argue that its hostility to the federal government was derived from Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist and antisemitic organization that played a big role in the U.S. far right in the 1980s. That’s an important part of the story, but Patriot groups were also deeply influenced by hardline Christian rightists, who (quite independently from white nationalists) had for years been urging people to arm themselves and form militias to resist federal tyranny. We rarely hear about that.

2. The far right is ideologically complex and dynamic and belies common stereotypes.

Many critics of the far right tend to assume that its ideology doesn’t amount to much more than crude bigotry, and if we identify a group as “Nazi” or as white supremacist, male supremacist, etc., that’s pretty much all we need to know. This is a dangerous assumption that doesn’t explain why far right groups are periodically able to mobilize significant support and wield influence far beyond their numbers. Yes, the far right has its share of stupid bigots, but unfortunately it also has its share of smart, creative people. We need to take far rightists’ beliefs and strategies seriously, study their internal debates, and look at how they’ve learned from past mistakes. Otherwise we’ll be fighting 21st-century battles with 1930s weapons.

For example: because of the history of fascism in the 1930s and 40s, we tend to identify far right politics with glorification of the strong state and highly centralized political organizations. Some far rightists, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, still hold to that approach, but most of them have actually abandoned it in favor of various kinds of political decentralism, from neonazis who call for “leaderless resistance” and want to carve regional white homelands out of the United States to “sovereign citizens” and county supremacists, from self-described National-Anarchists to Christian Reconstructionists who advocate a theocracy based on small-scale institutions such as local government, churches, and individual families. One of the lessons here is that opposing centralized authority isn’t necessarily liberatory at all, because repression and oppression can operate on a small scale just as well as on a large scale.

This shift to political decentralism isn’t just empty rhetoric; it’s a genuine transformation of far right politics. I think it should be examined in relation to larger cultural, political, and economic developments, such as the global restructuring of industrial production and the wholesale privatization of governmental functions in the U.S. and elsewhere.

We need to take far rightists’ beliefs and strategies seriously, study their internal debates, and look at how they’ve learned from past mistakes. Otherwise we’ll be fighting 21st-century battles with 1930s weapons.

As another example of oversimplifying far right politics, it’s standard to describe far rightists as promoting heterosexual male dominance. While that’s certainly true in broad terms, it doesn’t really tell us very much. Insurgent Supremacists maps out several distinct forms of far right politics regarding gender and sexual identity and looks at how those have played out over time within the far right’s various branches. Most far rightists vilify homosexuality, but sections of the alt-right have advocated some degree of respect for male homosexuality, based on a kind of idealized male bonding among warriors, an approach that actually has deep roots in fascist political culture.

In recent years the alt-right has promoted some of the most vicious misogyny and declared that women have no legitimate political role. But when the alt-right got started around 2010, it included men who argued that sexism and sexual harassment of women were weakening the movement by alienating half of its potential support base. This view echoed the quasi-feminist positions that several neonazi groups had been taking since the 1980s, such as the idea that Jews promoted women’s oppression as part of their effort to divide and subjugate the Aryan race. This may sound bizarre, but it’s a prime example of the far right’s capacity time and again to appropriate elements of leftist politics and harness them to its own supremacist agenda.

3. Fighting the far right and working to overthrow established systems of power are distinct but interconnected struggles.

A third core element that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart is three way fight politics: the idea that the existing socio-economic-political order and the far right represent different kinds of threats—interconnected but distinct—and that the left needs to combat both of them. This challenges the assumption, recurrent among many leftists, that the far right is either unimportant or a ruling-class tool, and that it basically just wants to impose a more extreme version of the status quo. But three way fight politics also challenges the common liberal view that in the face of a rising far right threat we need to “defend democracy” and subordinate systemic change to a broad-based antifascism. Among other huge problems with this approach, if leftists throw our support behind the existing order we play directly into the hands of the far right, because we allow them to present themselves as the only real oppositional force, the only ones committed to real change.

Insurgent Supremacists applies three way fight analysis in various ways. There’s a chapter on misuses of the charge of fascism since the 1930s, which looks at how some leftists and liberals have misapplied the fascist label either to authoritarian conservatism (such as McCarthyism or the George W. Bush administration) or to the existing political system as a whole. There’s a chapter about the far right’s relationship with Donald Trump—both his presidential campaign and his administration—which explores the complex and shifting interactions between rightist currents that want to overthrow or secede from the United States and rightist currents that don’t. During the campaign, most alt-rightists enthusiastically supported Trump not only for his attacks on immigrants and Muslims but also because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. But since the inauguration they’ve been deeply alienated by many of his policies, which largely follow a conservative script.

Three way fight analysis also informs the book’s discussion of federal security forces’ changing relationships with right-wing vigilantes and paramilitary groups. These relations have run the gamut from active support for right-wing violence (most notoriously in Greensboro in 1979, when white supremacists gunned down communist anti-Klan protesters) to active suppression (as in 1984-88, when the FBI and other agencies arrested or shot members of half a dozen underground groups). This complex history belies arguments that we should look to the federal government to protect us against the far right, as well as simplistic claims that “the cops and the Klan go hand in hand.” Forces of the state may choose to co-opt right-wing paramilitaries or crack down on them, depending on the particular circumstances and what seems most useful to help them maintain social control.

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Insurgent Supremacists isn’t intended to be a comprehensive study of the U.S. far right. Rather, it’s an attempt to offer some fresh ideas about what these dangerous forces stand for, where they come from, and what roles they play in the larger political arena. Not just to help us understand them, but so we can fight them more effectively.