Sep 14, 2019

Multiracial Far Right: a conversation with Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Cloee Cooper

How do we make sense of militant right-wing groups, such as Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, that include people of color in significant numbers? Antifascist researchers Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Cloee Cooper discuss the “multiracial far right” in this Three Way Fight interview with Matthew Lyons. The interview expands on some of the themes in Daryle and Cloee’s September 2019 article “Culture and Belonging in the USA: Multiracial Organizing on the Contemporary Far Right,” published by Political Research Associates.
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Photo showing slips of paper on the ground, with printed text, "It's okay to be white"
Trash left behind by Patriot Prayer after rally,
Portland, OR, 9 December 2017
ML: In the article you two co-wrote, “Culture and Belonging in the USA," you talk about the rise of what you call the Multiracial Far Right. Can you explain, what is the Multiracial Far Right and what kind of groups it includes and what’s distinctive about its politics?

DLJ: I guess it's basically the closest thing to an Alt Right that you can say exists. What makes it alternative from what we have seen on the Right is the incorporation of people of color into ideas that we have always considered to be antithetical to people of color. White supremacist ideas are being parroted by Black people, by Latinx, by Jews even. That’s a new phenomenon. At least large numbers of people flocking to it is the new phenomenon. We try to make the point that it makes sense because as we come along in our development in this society, naturally there are going to be folks that consider themselves conservative. And to that end, there are going to be folks receptive to a far right version of conservatism. It makes sense. The more we become a part of society, the more we are going to find folks on the fringe like that.

ML: What are examples of groups that are included in the Multiracial Far Right and is there something distinctive about their politics or is it just the same old, same old?

CC: In the article Daryle and I wrote, we mostly focus on the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer -- two system-loyal organizations loosely associated with the Alt Right. Defending notions of “western chauvinism” and traditional gender roles are not a major departure from the far right’s playbook, but the degree of participation and leadership of people of color within their ranks seems new. While many of the overtly White supremacist groups receded from public spaces after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer continued to attract a base in the streets, including people of color. As the authors Daniel Ho-Sang and Joe Lowndes explore in their newly released book, Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity, shifts in racial inclusion in the far right may be a result of economic factors. While racial categories were once legally bound more tightly with class, with the end of de jure segregation and then globalization, that has shifted. I think some people of color are attracted to Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer for their libertarian leanings. In interviews, members of color of the Proud Boys have mentioned the idea that government handouts to people of color is keeping them oppressed.

ML: The libertarian tendency is part of a tradition going back some decades, with Black conservatives echoing this idea that the welfare system is something that oppresses people of color and keeps them from rising. Is that one of the elements you see as part of the ideology here?

DLJ: Yes, I do. Absolutely. But, it’s different than what we had seen amongst Black conservatives 30 years ago. Black conservatism 30 years ago back then seemed out of place. It looked like it was a grift. Even more so when you talk about Jessie Lee Peterson or that Diamond and Silk crowd, it looks even more like a grift. But today when you see Black conservatives, it doesn’t seem as out of place as it did 30 years ago because of what I was talking about earlier. We are becoming a part of the mainstream. You see more of us adopt a conservative principle. We’ve had them in the community to begin with, but it was within our communities. I went to a conference just a couple of days after the OJ trial in 1995. Pat Buchanan was invited to speak. He spoke there and it was ridiculous, but the main thing they focused on was how to grow Black commerce. They weren’t so focused on political power. They were focused on commercial power, economic power. That speaks to what we see in Black conservatism today. When we start dealing with far right crowd, then it really stops making sense. It starts looking again, out of place. Now, they are adopting ideas that are a threat to Black people. These are folks that want to make America great again. What they think makes America great is a threat to Black people and yet we have people of color and others simply saying we are going to give it a shot anyway.

In the Proud Boys I see a lot of middle class Blacks and Latinx. They don’t consider themselves to be a part of the disenfranchised Blacks over there. They consider themselves to be a part of “America.”
--Daryle Lamont Jenkins

ML: What is known about the people of color who are attracted to far right multiracial groups? Is it related to widening class disparities within communities of color? Do either of you have thoughts about that?

DLJ: Again, I do see folks in disenfranchised neighborhoods, you do see some conservatism there. But when it comes to the Proud Boys for example, I see a lot of middle class Blacks and Latinx. They don’t consider themselves to be a part of the disenfranchised Blacks over there. They consider themselves to be a part of “America.” I would say that is exactly what we see. You have more people of color in the mainstream and middle class settings and that’s where we see what we see.

ML: So, it’s in part expressing a defense of class privilege? How does that get expressed?

DLJ: I would say it gets expressed as though it’s not so much race that matters, but maintaining traditions that gave rise to the middle class. That’s the best way to put it. Protecting the economic status of the middle class section of society is a lot of what drives these folks. Yes, racism is a backdrop, mostly anti-Muslim sentiment. That is all still there, but they pretend that it isn’t.

ML: Is there an emphasis on property or property rights? Is that a significant theme?

DLJ: I don’t think as much. It may be a concern of theirs. Insofar as conservatism goes that route, it is. But, I don’t think it’s anything extra special. I think they focus on the socioeconomic standing of their class.

ML: This ties into something else I was going to ask about. If we look at the ideology of groups like the Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer, how does it relate to groups like Oath Keepers or Patriot Movement groups which profess a colorblind ideology and say “we don’t see color” and “all Americans are welcome”? To what extent are these similar and to what extent are they different? I do see the Oath Keepers as a group that puts a big emphasis on property rights (and defending what they see as property rights) and opposition to government interference in the rights of individuals. To what extent is there similarity and to what extent are there differences there?

DLJ: You have Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, coming out of Patriot Movement circles. He considers himself half Japanese. If we are talking about the difference of the western chauvinism of the Proud Boys, and the color blindness of the Oath Keepers (and the Proud Boys works closely with Patriot Prayer in Oregon), I think the fact that they marry themselves to each other so much, they most certainly don’t find too many differences between them. When you talk about Patriot Prayer, you are talking about something being faith based. When that particular crowd talks about faith based, they are talking about western chauvinism.

ML: You use the term “secularized Christian Right traditionalism.” It jumped off the page for me. Say more about what that means and what your thinking is there.

CC: We were trying to understand the glue that holds these groups together. Opposing abortion, refugee resettlement and Islam are pillars of their program, but they are also motivated by a defense of traditional gender roles and a defense of “western chauvinism.” While western chauvinism is partially a code word for “White,” it also is a defense of a society in which Christian values are dominant. In some ways, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer seem to reflect a contemporary fusion of the Christian and xenophobic Right. I think it’s interesting that Steve Bannon embraced a Christian traditionalism in his defense of the West and of nationalism as well.

ML: Would it be fair to say there is a consensus within groups like Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer that Christianity is a positive force and is part of the framework of the civilization and culture they are trying to defend, whether or not they as individuals see themselves as practicing Christians? There are certainly currents within other parts of the far right that are anti-Christian whether because of pagan ideology or atheism or whatever.

DLJ: That is the bind -- they believe more or less Christianity is a positive force in the world. Every time you see Joey Gibson, he has the Jesus fish on his hat. Proud Boys on the other hand is definitely secular. Even if Proud Boys don’t express a certain faith -- remember, some of the Proud Boys are Jewish -- they respect each other’s beliefs, even though they are going about it in somewhat different ways in that regard.

ML: I want to shift gears and come back to an earlier question. How does the Multiracial Far Right relate to loyalty or disloyalty to this political system or to capitalism? Does Far Right Multiculturalism make rightists more of an oppositional force, or less? To what extent are they defining themselves as supporting the socio-political order and to what extent are they defining themselves in opposition to it?

CC: Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are not advocating for a revolution. They are very supportive of the Trump administration. That said, they are engaged in a sort of three way fight in Portland. The fact that Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys have gone after Mayor Ted Wheeler publicly, and pushed right wing pundits across the US to denounce Wheeler as an antifa sympathizer, points to their role in attempting to divide local government. But, ultimately, rather than some White nationalists who are fighting for another society and form of government all together, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are flanking the Republican Party. While communities of color joined right-wing militia in the 90s precisely in support of the anti-government stance, this appears to be something different.

DLJ: I would say the Unite the Right rally was an attempt at that. Enrique Tarrio, the current head of the Proud Boys, was in Charlottesville, joining the Three Percenter line. They are trying to blur the line just to make themselves relevant. Ironically, I think what they are doing is dangerous in the sense that, if you give rise to these movements, it’s only a matter of time before those circles turn on you. When we see it happening at Unite the Right at the levels they were happening there, it shows it could turn into something that is really nefarious. That was one hell of a slippery slope there.

ML: So there are significant differences in how groups define themselves on the right, not only in terms of White supremacy and race politics, but also in terms of relating to the existing power structure in the US, and that creates conflict and division but also some interchange.

DLJ: Here’s where I would make it personal. When you talk about those far rights, those straight up neo-nazis and White supremacists. Even our group had an infiltrator. He was a Black Dominican but a National Socialist. He infiltrated us and provided whatever information he could gather to the National Socialist Movement, one of the groups that initiated all of the violence in Charlottesville.

ML: At a minimum, then, Far Right Multiracialism creates opportunities for infiltration they wouldn’t have if they were Aryan only. What you all are describing in terms of the multiracial far right goes against a lot of assumptions and preconceptions that of both liberals and leftists often have about right-wing politics and race politics in this country. What are the implications of the multiracial far right for antifascist work and organizing more broadly?

DLJ: I think one thing we need to take away, is to start thinking outside of the box for dealing with the neofascists. That’s why I don’t call them White supremacists anymore because we are dealing with a different set of politics. It avoids us being caught in the gaslight. They repeatedly use people of color to say, “How can I be a racist, I have people of color saying the same thing as me.” When I was in DC (during the July 6 free speech rally put on by the Proud Boys), I got that all day long. I think my line has been, you still are holding the same beliefs I have been fighting for 30 years or so. Once you make it clear you are not going to fall for that gaslight, that neutralizes them. That’s what we are going to have to do as we go forward. We have to look at how they damage disenfranchised people. We can’t allow them to use people from those hurt groups to advance themselves because as they try to do with Andy Ngo, where they hurled allegations, “how can you go after Andy Ngo, he is a protected class.” No, he’s not a protected class, he’s one of them. I just responded, we are looking at the content of his character, like we are supposed to, not the color of his skin. We have to school people on it.

CC: Older categories that we’ve used to understand far right and neofascist movements are not going to be the same categories that will help us counter them today. Some of the features of the multiracial far right are new and some are not. I wish I had a better sense of what categories could help counter and build alternatives to these forces. For now, I can say I think we need to come up with better chants than, “No racists, No KKK, No Fascist USA.” We need to develop wider and yet more distinct categories. When Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer or any new far right formation attacks abortion providers, LGBTQ people, immigrants of color and/or people who appear Muslim, we need a better framework than simply calling them racist, especially if the folks leading are people of color. Moreover, developing a deeper understanding, as you suggest, whether groups are system loyal and what aspects of government groups are trying to align with, will be critical to our ability to disrupt their organizing and build alternatives.

ML: Maybe part of the point is a recognition that we don’t have all the answers and there needs to be some open-mindedness and willingness to rethink and develop some new analyses to more effectively counter these forces. Are there other things you would like to say? Are there other issues we haven’t touched on?

CC: I think it is going to be interesting to see if there does become in the future a multiracial far right that is more revolutionary. On the other side, there’s been whole areas of research looking in to the New Chinese Right and the influence of Hindu Nationalists. A lot of this is pushing forward an important conversation around assimilation. But folks are also examining right-wing factions within communities of color, and how clumping communities of color into a category often associated with the Left needs to be further interrogated. On the other hand, clearly it’s not like White supremacy is over in this country. I think it’s just being reconfigured in some way.

ML: Maybe part of the implication of what you are saying is to look more broadly from just US currents to what is happening internationally. Hindu nationalist forces are an example of a right-wing current that is rooted in a movement in another country, but is also a significant force in the US. I think there are a lot of examples of that. We may start to see more of that, for example, in relation to Brazil with the Balsanaro government there representing a particular kind of militant rightwing politics. How those forces interact with each other and interact with other right-wing currents that are more directly rooted in the US framework—it seems like there are a lot of possibilities. And these forces are not necessarily going to join together. There is nothing that says fascists need to be on the same side, as the Ukraine model demonstrates. Again, we can’t assume that the old framework or the old categories are going to apply.

DLJ: Absolutely not, but that has always been a staple with right-wing politics: The more things change, the more things stay the same. As society evolves, the right wing evolves along with it, if only to keep themselves relevant in that society as they work to undermine it. Not only that but because of the Internet, we see a lot more of how things work in other parts of the world than past generations did, and both the right and the left have been able to network around the world more effectively. That just means that the eternal vigilance against neo-fascist ideals is that much more challenging.

Photo credit: Old White Truck, 9 December 2017 (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons.