Oct 4, 2018

Two interviews about the U.S. far right

Photo of vintage microphoneI recently recorded two radio interviews about my book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire. Between them, the interviews touch on many of the book’s major themes.

Christina Aanestad interviewed me on September 16 for The Sunday Show on KPFA of the Pacifica Radio Network. The interview aired on September 23 as part of the station’s pledge drive and is available in KPFA’s online archives, here. Our 45-minute conversation explored a range of issues, including the following:
  • federal security agencies’ history of widely varied relationships with violent right-wing organizations – ranging from sponsorship to crackdown
  • Christian theocratic forces – Christian Reconstructionists and New Apostolic Reformation
  • the contrasting racial politics of white nationalists and Christian theocrats
  • Patriot movement ideology and conspiracist anti-elitism
  • the alt-right’s political origins – especially European New Right, paleoconservatism, and manosphere
  • Proud Boys – distinct from but in coalition with white nationalists
  • the alt-right’s relationship with Donald Trump
  • some pitfalls in analyzing the far right
  • the need for a multi-pronged antifascist strategy.
The second interview was with Rob Seimetz for the program Moving Forward on the Progressive Radio Network. We spoke for an hour by phone on September 22 and the interview aired a few days later. It’s available here. Some of the points addressed include:
  • the concept of fascism and whether the U.S. should be considered a fascist country
  • white supremacism and color-blindness as different forms of racist ideologies
  • the distinction between rightists who are loyal to the existing U.S. political system and those who are not, and how these forces are also interconnected
  • anti-establishment and leftist-sounding elements of far right politics, and the difference between systemic analyses of power and anti-elitism based on conspiracy theories
  • the recent “shift in the center of gravity of patriarchal politics in the US” from the Christian right’s emphasis on the patriarchal family (and mobilizing women) to the alt-right/manosphere emphasis on predatory sexuality (and excluding women from politics altogether)
  • paleoconservatism’s role in shaping the alt-right
  • the alt-right’s mixed success since Trump took office, and the longer-term threat posed by far right forces. 
Photo credit:
Vintage Astatic Silver Eagle Microphone, by Joe Haupt from USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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.
Truthout.org 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.

*                    *                    *

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.

Mar 17, 2018

Fascism Today Conversation Part 2: author Shane Burley interviews Matthew N. Lyons

Cover of book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It
This is the second half of a dialog between Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, and myself, author of the book’s foreword. In the first half, I interviewed Shane about the book. Here Shane interviews me about various related topics.

Burley: Your more recent work has looked heavily into how the far right has gained ground in creating alliances in the anti-imperialist left. How did this trend start in the far right? Where have white nationalists and “identitarians” made inroads in larger anti-imperialist struggles?

Lyons: The roots of the trend go back to the very origins of fascism, or even earlier. In Italy, one of the groups that helped to lay the groundwork for Mussolini’s Fascist Party was the Italian Nationalist Association, which in the early 1900s promoted a theory that Italy was a “proletarian nation” in conflict with more powerful “capitalist nations,” especially Britain and France. It was a way to reframe the idea of class struggle so that Italian workers and capitalists were on the same side against external enemies. And it was a way to claim that Italy was suffering from imperialist oppression while also claiming that it deserved to expand its own colonial possessions in Africa. The Fascist Party absorbed the Nationalists and embraced their idea of proletarian nations.

Since then, anti-imperialism has been a recurrent theme in fascist politics. During World War II, the Nazis forged ties with right-wing factions within the Palestinian and Indian nationalist movements that were struggling for independence from British rule. During the cold war, the majority of fascists sided with the United States and other western powers against the Communist bloc and against leftist insurgencies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. But some fascists, such as the National Renaissance Party and Francis Parker Yockey, argued that the movement should ally with the Soviet Union and anti-colonial struggles against western imperialism, which was supposedly controlled by Jews. Later forms of fascism, such as Third Positionism and the European New Right, developed the idea of fascist anti-imperialism further and adapted it for new conditions after the Soviet Union collapsed.

In recent decades, far rightists have periodically tried to link up with leftists around anti-imperialism and related issues. The 2002 book My Enemy’s Enemy is primarily an exposé of far right forces and tendencies in the anti-globalization movement. In 1999, for example, Matt Hale of the neonazi World Church of the Creator voiced support for the anti-globalization protests in Seattle. A couple of years later, William Pierce’s National Alliance sponsored a front group called the Anti-Globalism Action Network. Since the start of the civil war in Syria, fascists in both North America and Europe have converged with some left groups such Workers World Party around shared support for Assad’s government as a supposed bulwark against western imperialism. In Italy, leftist and rightist supporters of Assad have held demonstrations together. It’s a poisonous development that’s seriously damaging for efforts to advance a genuinely liberatory anti-imperialism.

Also seriously damaging is that critiques of imperialism rooted in far right ideology have circulated and gained legitimacy among a lot of people who think of themselves as on the left. A lot of right-wing conspiracy theories about “globalist elites” (which is often a code-phrase for Jews) have been repackaged to appeal to leftist audiences, by outfits such as GlobalResearch.ca and the Voltaire Network, and by researchers such as Webster Tarpley and William Engdahl, both of whom are former members of the Lyndon LaRouche network. The recent report on red-brown alliances by the anarchist blogger “Vagabond” (which I recently reviewed on Three Way Fight) includes extensive documentation about this.

Burley: One of the successes that the European New Right (ENR), and by extension the alt-right, had was in reframing fascist politics in leftist jargon. They focused very heavily on post-colonialism, supporting national liberation movements and issues like indigenous sovereignty. Is this simply a disingenuous attempt at entryism? Have they actually had any success connecting with indigenous resistance movements? At the same time, how can anti-fascists take a strong analysis of colonialism into that work?

Lyons: To some extent, the ENR’s embrace of “indigenous sovereignty” and “diversity” is disingenuous, in that it is a calculated move to deflect charges of racism. So for example, European New Rightists such as Alain de Benoist have argued that, in calling for ethnic separatism and exclusion of non-European immigrants, they are simply defending “indigenous” European cultures against the oppressive cultural homogenization being forced on them by global capitalism. Some far rightists, such as Guillaume Faye and Michael O’Meara, have actually criticized this as a hypocritical concession to liberalism. As far as the alt-right goes, there’s been less hypocrisy, in that most alt-rightists really aren’t concerned about hiding their white supremacist beliefs.

But it’s not just a matter of hypocrisy. Because far right ethnic separatism really does clash with the policies and interests of global capitalist elites. This conflict with global capitalism isn’t about dismantling economic exploitation, but it’s a disagreement about how economic exploitation will be structured and how the benefits will be distributed. This genuine conflict is important and we tend to miss it if we only focus on the hypocrisy.

Has the ENR or the alt-right had any success connecting with indigenous resistance movements? Not that I’m aware of. But I certainly wouldn’t discount it as a possibility. It depends on what you mean by “indigenous resistance movements,” but there are plenty of right-wing political organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and some among communities of color in Europe and North America, and some of them share the ENR and alt-right’s combination of anti-egalitarianism and hostility to “globalist elites.” Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was popular among Third Positionists, and he hosted neonazis at some political conferences. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam met with neonazi leader Tom Metzger in the 1980s and had a cordial relationship with the Lyndon LaRouche organization for a while in the 1990s. It’s not hard to imagine similar dynamics happening again.

How can antifascists put forward strong anti-colonial politics? For one thing, it’s crucial to analyze colonialism and imperialism as systems of exploitation and violence – rooted in the system of capitalism – rather than try to explain them in terms of subjective factors such as greed, or a specific policy such as neoliberalism, or the secret machinations of some group of evildoers. Those are all superficial, subjectivist explanations, and are the space where liberal (i.e. non-leftist) and far right critiques of the established order converge.

Coupled with that, we need to look critically at who the supposed anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist forces are and what they stand for. Just because they’re at odds with the U.S. government doesn’t make them anti-imperialist, and just because they’re anti-imperialist doesn’t mean they represent any sort of liberatory alternative. If the Ba’ath government of Syria is anti-imperialist, why did it torture people for the CIA? Why did it impose neoliberal policies? Why does it have a history of massacring Palestinians—not to mention Syrians?

Burley: Can there be a non-white fascist movement, or is it owned entirely by white supremacists and colonialism?

Lyons: How you answer this, of course, depends on how you use the term fascism. To me fascism isn’t necessarily built on a racial or even a nationalist ideology. I see fascism as a current that sets out to radically transform the political system and the culture through popular mass mobilization. It aggressively promotes an ideological vision that’s deeply hierarchical, exclusionary, and often genocidal, but also disruptive of the old order, old elites, and old mores. To me there’s a basic difference between authoritarian conservatism, which represents capitalist ruling-class interests in basically top-down fashion, and fascist movements, which may cut a deal with capitalists but represent an autonomous, right-wing force—not a ruling-class tool—and conflict with ruling-class interests in significant ways.

To get back to your question: internationally speaking, I don’t think there’s any question that fascist movements can exist and have existed outside of Europe and its settler offshoots. In the 1930s there were strong fascist movements in a number of Latin American countries, many of which had ideologies and organizational forms pretty similar to classical fascist movements in Europe. India’s Hindu nationalist movement, which is probably the largest right-wing movement in the world, is built around an organization that’s either fascist or something close to it, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was founded in 1925 around a vision to reshape Indian society based on a kind of authoritarian corporatism. It has spearheaded mass terrorism against Muslims, including some of the most horrific street violence seen in recent decades. Today its affiliate, the Bharatiya Janata Party, leads India’s coalition government, and the movement has branches among the Indian diaspora in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere.

Certain sectors of the Islamic right, such as the Taliban and the Islamic State, also fit my concept of fascism, although their ideological vision is defined in religious rather than nationalist terms. You can find a lot of non-European examples that have some but not all elements of fascism. The Mengistu government in Ethiopia had a lot of fascistic features, although it’s not clear to me how much it actively mobilized a mass movement. The 969 Movement in Myanmar or Burma, which has helped to foment murderous hatred of Rohingya Muslims, is a populist mobilization but doesn’t really challenge the old order as far as I can tell.

In the United States, the system of white racial oppression as an immediate, pervasive reality makes for a very different context, but here too there are right-wing groups based in communities of color that have at least important fascistic tendencies, including a combination of militant anti-establishment politics and conspiracist scapegoating. A prime example is the New Black Panther Party, which has been repudiated by veterans of the original Black Panther Party because of its antisemitic and racially based ideology. These groups aren’t particularly large, but they have the potential to grow if people perceive them as the main oppositional force and don’t see a radical leftist alternative that speaks to them. Don Hamerquist, in “Fascism & Anti-Fascism,” urged leftists to jettison the assumption that fascist movements have to be white supremacist or even that they have to be based among white people, and he envisioned scenarios where white and non-white fascist organizations collaborate, compete, or conflict with each other. (There’s nothing says fascists can’t go to war with each other. We’ve seen that in the Ukraine in recent years, where fascists have worked in coalition with other forces on both sides of the conflict.)

Another point is that a few predominantly white fascist groups, notably the Lyndon LaRouche network, have disavowed white supremacy and made efforts to recruit people of color. The LaRouchites uphold a kind of cultural racism, glorifying “western civilization” over other cultures, but they also present themselves as champions of civil rights, and were able to recruit at least a couple of 1960s civil rights movement veterans, including James Bevel, who was their vice-presidential candidate in 1992. On a much larger scale, New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) is a movement that's genuinely multi-ethnic in its membership (but still mostly white led). It’s rooted in the Pentecostal and Charismatic branches of evangelical Protestantism. NAR advocates a Christian theocracy and embodies a kind of authoritarian mass politics, but it kind of straddles the line in terms of working within the existing political system or trying to dismantle it, so I would not call it a full-blown fascist current.

Burley: The alt-right has been floundering quite a bit as it heads from the world of message boards and podcasts and into real-world activism. They seem to be attempting to mimic the "identitarian" movements in Europe, but do you think that they could have the same kind of success? What potential for growth could they have in the coming few years?

Lyons: The alt-right has suffered from having its violence exposed in Charlottesville last summer, and from losing a lot of its online platforms. It’s suffered from infighting and from conflict with alt-lite groups. And it’s much more alienated from the Trump administration than it was a year ago. One of the things that alt-rightists loved most about Trump was his attack on establishment conservatism, and while they’ve applauded some of his moves, they’ve been disappointed by how much his administration has followed a conventional Republican line in practice.

So the alt-right is arguably weaker than it was a year ago, but its setbacks haven’t fundamentally undermined its longterm “metapolitical” strategy, which calls for transforming the political culture and shifting the parameters of acceptable discourse as a prelude to transforming institutions. Alt-right groups are actively recruiting on college campuses. Alt-right activism both fuels and is fueled by the current sharp upsurge in supremacist violence and scapegoating. And the movement has the potential to rebound or lay the groundwork for another incarnation of far right politics. The alt-right is small, but it has a huge reservoir of potential supporters in the millions of white men who feel threatened by immigrants of color and Black Lives Matter and feminism and LGBT activism. Even if most of those folks gravitate toward system-loyal political forces in or around the Republican Party, some fraction of them may be drawn to groups that have rejected loyalty to the United States in favor of ethno-state white nationalism. As Trump betrays and abandons people who looked to him to turn things around, the alt-right may benefit.

Burley: There seems to be some confusion in the terms that we talk about the alt-right, Trump, and populism. Given your extensive work on populism in America, how do you define the term? What does Trump have in common with the rise of populist movements in Europe, from Brexit to the AfD and Marine Le Pen? What role does populism play in the rise of fascism?

Lyons: In Right-Wing Populism in America, Chip Berlet and I used Margaret Canovan’s definition—populism combines two elements: celebration of “the people” and some form of anti-elitism. I still think that’s a good definition. It means that populism is a broad political category that encompasses many different specific forms. All kinds of populism tend to oversimplify social conflicts, but some of them challenge real structures of inequality and oppression to varying degrees, while other kinds of populism bolster these structures by diverting popular anger and frustration into anti-elite scapegoating—blaming oppression on groups that aren’t actually the main oppressors, or may not be oppressors at all.

John Judis in The Populist Explosion boils down the distinction between left-wing and right-wing populism this way: left-wing populism frames the struggle in binary terms, as “the people” versus “the elite,” while right-wing populism sees the people as targeting both the elite and one or more outgroups (such as immigrants or people of color), who aren’t seen as powerful but rather as tools being use by the elite to attack the people. This is similar to the framework Chip and I offered, although Judis puts it more succinctly. So Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was an example of left-wing populism, because it tended to frame everything in terms of a big binary economic struggle, which was meaningful but also tended to gloss over a lot of other important social divisions such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Donald Trump’s campaign, on the other hand, exemplified right-wing populism, in that it invoked anti-elitism in both economic and cultural terms, but combined it with quite blatant scapegoating of outgroups, starting with Muslims and immigrants and continuing from there.

There are definitely parallels between Trump’s rise and the upsurge of right-wing populist movements in Europe: all of them draw strength from people’s economic frustrations and anger but channel it into anti-immigrant and Islamophobia scapegoating, coupled with a distorted kind of anti-elitism that doesn’t challenge the underlying systems of power. Similarly, there are parallels between the left populism of a Bernie Sanders and European left-wing populist parties such as Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, all of which avoid right-wing populism’s focus on ethnoreligious scapegoating but also offer only a simplistic anti-elitism. That kind of binary politics is inadequate for addressing the dynamics of oppression—for example, the ways that many people can be genuinely angry at the rich and also scared of losing their own relative privilege over other groups—and it’s inadequate for developing a radical alternative.

What role does populism play in the rise of fascism? In my view, all fascist movements are examples of right-wing populism. We tend to focus on fascism’s terroristic and repressive side, but fascism also centers on a drive to actively and continually mobilize large masses of people outside of traditional channels, to reshape the culture and institutions according to the fascists’ ideological vision. In classical fascism that mobilization happened in a number of different ways: through mass ritual and spectacle, through paramilitary street fighting organizations, through groups for specific constituencies such as youth and women, and through mass political parties. Two of the main reasons I think it’s a mistake to describe the Trump administration as fascist are that you don’t have that kind of mass mobilization, and you don’t have a substantive challenge to the established political order. The two reasons are connected. During the Trump presidential campaign there were mass rallies, but there was no effort to build a lasting organization. Once he came into office, Trump had no independent base of his own, no organized counterweight to the conservative establishment and governmental bureaucracy he had railed against. So whatever his intentions, he didn’t have much choice except to rely on the organized forces that were already in place.

*                    *                    *

Cover of Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right's Challenge to State and Empire, by Matthew N. Lyons
Several of the points in this post are addressed in more detail in my forthcoming book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (PM Press and Kesplebedeb Publishing, forthcoming April 2018).

Feb 4, 2018

Major report on red-brown alliances from new anarchist website

Marchers carrying flags with black hammer and sickle in a white circle on a red field
Demonstration of the National Bolshevik Party in Russia,
9 May 2006
The term “red-brown alliance” refers to political collaboration or synthesis between fascists and radical leftists. Such alliances strengthen the far right, spread ideological poison and confusion among left-minded people, and are disastrous for building liberatory movements. Fascists have been pushing red-brown politics for generations – sometimes openly, sometimes by repackaging their ideas to sound leftist. Unfortunately, sections of the left have repeatedly gone along by forming coalitions with far rightists or offering platforms for far right propaganda.

Principled leftists have criticized this dynamic repeatedly, for example with regard to anti-Gulf War activism, the anti-globalization movement, Occupy Wall Street, and leftist media. However, the problem has continued and in some ways arguably has gotten worse.

Last month a highly detailed and informative new report appeared, titled “An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances: Third Positionism, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and the Western Left.” The 46,000-word report is the first post on a new blog, Ravings of a Radical Vagabond, whose author, “Vagabond,” is identified simply as “an Anarchist [who is] currently unaffiliated to any party, group or organization.” This means that the report (which I’ll call “Red-Brown Alliances” for short) can only be judged on its own merits. In my view, “Red-Brown Alliances” is a major contribution that’s based on careful research and solid politics, as witness the following excerpt from the conclusion:
“[P]olitical confusion [specifically referring to far right conspiracist ideas presented as left wing analysis] is dangerous as it serves as recruitment for fascism, which is obvious in how...the American neo-fascist movement is explicitly aiming to attract leftists by using anti-capitalist rhetoric, and how sections of the so-called ‘anti-imperialist Left’ repeat the same positions as fascists, for example concerning Syria, Libya and Ukraine, while remaining in denial about this fact and labeling all criticism of their reactionary positions as ‘McCarthyism’.
“As radical leftist anti-fascists, anti-racists, anti-colonialists, and anti-capitalists struggling for liberation, we can fight against imperialism, against racism, and against fascism at the same time, and we can oppose the American war machine and oppose colonialism without siding with reactionary and oppressive entities. We can support liberation in Palestine, Bahrain, India, Venezuela and everywhere else where people are struggling against oppression without allying to fascists or allowing them to try co-opting our movements. Unfortunately sections of the radical movement have failed or have been purposely misled by crypto-fascists.... [W]e badly need to do better, comrades.”
As corollary to the above, Vagabond emphasizes the importance of opposing both “the nationalist and colonialist ideology of Zionism” and the racist ideology of antisemitism – including hatred and scapegoating of Jews that is presented in the name of anti-Zionism.

“Red-Brown Alliances” begins with historical background on “some lesser known forms of fascism” that advocated an alliance with the Soviet Union or a synthesis of anti-capitalism with antisemitism and other far right themes. These included National Bolshevism and Strasserism in Germany of the 1920s and 30s, Francis Parker Yockey in the 1940s and 50s, and the origins of the European New Right and Third Positionism in the 1960s and 70s. The report continues with sections on Duginism and other fascist currents centered in Russia, the Lyndon LaRouche movement, Syrian far right groups such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and Mussalaha, and conspiracist organizations such as the Voltaire Network and the Centre for Research on Globalisation. There is extensive documentation of researchers and activists who have been featured on leftist media yet have far right politics. The last part of “Red-Brown Alliances” focuses on leftist organizations (such as Workers World Party and its offshoot the Party for Socialism and Liberation) and ostensibly left-leaning individuals (such as Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney) who have long patterns of making common cause with fascists and other right-wing authoritarians in the name of anti-imperialism.

“Red-Brown Alliances” includes an extraordinary amount of information, and I can’t evaluate all of its statements, but for topics on which I am knowledgeable nearly everything rings true. For example, the report includes an unusually rich and nuanced discussion of the LaRouche network, noting its shifting uses of racism, complicated relationship with the Russian far right, and ripple-effect influence through former members (and still active conspiracists) William Engdahl and Webster Tarpley. On Ramsey Clark, the report doesn’t just detail his decades of support for LaRouche and other far right figures, but also notes that as U.S. attorney general in the 1960s, Clark set up coordination between the FBI’s COINTELPRO and the CIA’s own illegal domestic surveillance program.

In recent years, red-brown politics has often taken the form of far rightists and sections of the left converging in support of, or collaboration with, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, policies, and international allies – notably the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – because they clash with U.S. and western imperialist interests. Three Way Fight has addressed these convergences in the past, for example here, but Vagabond does so far more systematically and in greater detail.

“Red-Brown Alliances” emphasizes that Russia is under a right-wing capitalist state and “the very idea that the Russian government of Vladimir Putin might be anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist is pure propaganda with no basis in reality....” At the same time, the report warns against “Russophobic hate” and liberal conspiracy theories that blame right-wing successes in the United States on Putin’s secret manipulations. For example, Vagabond criticizes 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for meeting with Putin and whitewashing the authoritarian nature of his rule, yet cautions that “the claims of American liberals that Stein is a ‘Russian asset’ are clearly conspiracy mongering meant to deflect from Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss due to her own mediocrity as a neoliberal candidate by scapegoating third party voters....”

In a report of this kind and on this scale, it’s to be expected that there will be some factual errors. So far, all I’ve found is that Vagabond garbles the name of the Bharatiya Janata Party (political vehicle of India’s fascistic Hindu nationalist movement and dominant force in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governing coalition) as “Bharat Janatiya Party” and incorrectly says it supported the Axis powers during World War II. (In fact the BJP was only created in 1980, but leaders of its parent organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS], openly praised Hitler and the Nazis.) Hopefully Vagabond will correct such mistakes as they are identified. [Note: Vagabond immediately corrected the two errors in response to this post.]

“An Investigation into Red-Brown Alliances” is an important work that deserves to be widely read and discussed on the left. It has already been picked up by some other leftist sites, such as libcom.org. For supplemental links in English and French, see Tendance Coatesy blog’s useful commentary.

Thanks to John Garvey for alerting me to the “Red-Brown Alliances” report.

Photo credit: 

By Psalti Michel - 9 May 2006, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been flipped to display flag emblems more clearly.