Dec 22, 2015

Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers

In some ways it doesn’t matter whether we call Donald Trump a fascist or “just” a right-wing populist. However we categorize him, his presidential campaign represents a serious danger. Whatever direction he takes in the future, whatever happens to his presidential fortunes, Trump is galvanizing organized white supremacists and fueling racist and Islamophobic bigotry and violence across the United States. Trump’s campaign has to be seen in context — it grows out of long-term developments in the Republican Party and the U.S. political system as a whole — but it has become a destructive force in its own right.

Two months ago, I argued that calling Donald Trump a fascist distorts our understanding of fascism and obscures his demagoguery’s roots in mainstream U.S. politics. Criticizing scholarly definitions of fascism that remain stuck in the 1940s, I also highlighted the divide between rightists who remain loyal to the U.S. political system and far rightists who want to overthrow it -- including many but not all white nationalists as well as Christian theocrats and others. That tension is pivotal for understanding Trump's relationship with fascism.

However we categorize Trump, opposing his poison is not about defending democracy. The United States is not and never has been a democracy. It’s a mix of pluralistic openness and repression, an oppressive, hierarchical society where most political power is held by representatives of a tiny capitalist elite, but where there is real political space for some people and some ideas that would not be permitted in a wholly authoritarian system, including opportunities to organize, debate, participate in electoral politics, and criticize those in power. This space has been won through struggle and it’s important and worth defending, but it’s not democracy. One of the reasons the U.S. political system has been so durable and successful (at serving those in power) is that it's really good at shifting between openness and authoritarianism. Even anti-fascism itself can become a rationale for some of the most serious repression, as Japanese Americans experienced seventy years ago. Someone like Trump can push very far in the authoritarian direction without challenging the system on any sort of basic level.

Given the danger Trump poses, some people have asked: does it really matter whether he fits somebody’s definition of fascist or not? Is this question useful, or is it just an abstract intellectual debate? I think it does matter, because it can help us understand the danger more clearly: not just his politics but also his relationship with — and capacity to mobilize — organized white nationalist far rightists. Saying it doesn’t matter whether Trump is a right-wing populist or a fascist is like saying it doesn’t matter whether Bernie Sanders is a social democrat or a communist. I think we should apply the same kind of intelligent analysis to the right as we do to the left, because it’s just as important for us to understand our enemies as it is to understand our (would-be) allies.

Radicals facing major candidates, left and right
Let’s stay with the Bernie Sanders analogy for a moment. In this presidential race, U.S. radicals — people who advocate a fundamental transformation of the socio-economic order — are faced with a major party candidate who breaks a serious political taboo by calling himself a socialist, says some of the things we think are important, and is generating new interest in socialist politics. On the other hand, a lot of us have serious problems with some of his positions, he works within the existing system, and he has a long history that shows he’s really not a radical. What should we do? Some people who consider themselves radicals support him, others reject him as an apologist for U.S. capitalism and empire, and others are conflicted. People may say it’s pointless to get behind him because he couldn’t make meaningful change as president even if he wanted to, or they may say his campaign is raising important issues and could be a stepping stone to genuinely radical initiatives.

If somebody said, “Sanders says a lot of the things communists say, so he must be a communist,” or “he may not be a full-blown communist now, but his kind of politics inherently leads to communism,” most leftists would not take this very seriously. Whether we support Sanders or not, we would recognize this as sloppy analysis, if not McCarthyite smear-mongering. (Predictably, some rightists have taken this very approach. The Libertarian Republic called Sanders a “communist sympathizer,” while FrontPage Mag just called him a communist, as of course did Donald Trump.)

The Sanders analogy doesn’t prove anything one way or another about Donald Trump and fascism, but I hope it offers a useful perspective on the question and how we think about it. While Trump is not Sanders’s mirror image, some of the issues he poses for far rightists are similar. A lot of white nationalist far rightists — who believe that racial renewal demands a radical break with the established social and political order, and who draw on traditions of both homegrown white supremacy and European fascism — are very interested in Trump’s candidacy, because he’s defying the political establishment, saying a lot of the things they believe, and generating new interest in their politics. But they’re also clear that he’s not one of them, they disagree with some of what he says and some of what he’s done, and they’re skeptical about how much they can trust him. So they have to decide how they want to respond. Some of them reject his campaign while many others have welcomed it. They generally don’t think he’s going to bring the kind of far-reaching change they want, but many of them see him as raising important issues and as a possible bridge toward more radical initiatives.

The specifics are worth a look. Michael Hill of the neo-Confederate League of the South commented, “I love to see somebody like Donald Trump come along. Not that I believe anything that he says. But he is stirring up chaos in the G.O.P. and for us that is good.” David Duke praised Trump’s call to deport all undocumented immigrants but cautioned that Trump is “1,000 percent dedicated to Israel, so how much is left over for America?” Brad Griffin, who blogs at Occidental Dissent under the name Hunter Wallace, complained that unlike Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, “Trump wants to keep the US Empire,” but added “there is no one else running who isn’t far worse… I’m kinda hoping he wins the primary and provokes a fatal split that topples the GOP.” And the Traditionalist Youth Network characterized Trump’s candidacy as follows:
“While Donald Trump is neither a Traditionalist nor a White nationalist, he is a threat to the economic and social powers of the international Jew. For this reason alone as long as Trump stands strong on deportation and immigration enforcement we should support his candidacy insofar as we can use it to push more hardcore positions on immigration and Identity. Donald Trump is not the savior of Whites in America, he is however a booming salvo across the bow of the Left and Jewish power to tell them that White America is awakening, and we are tired of business as usual.

“The march to victory will not be won by Donald Trump in 2016, but this could be the stepping stone we need to then radicalize millions of White working and middle class families to the call to truly begin a struggle for Faith, family and folk. For this reason alone I will campaign for Donald Trump because as the saying goes ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and that is doubly true if that person is viewed as an enemy by the International Jew.”
As these quotes suggest, even those far rightists who welcome Donald Trump’s campaign have serious reservations about him. This ambivalence is politically important and we should try to understand it. To do that, it’s important to delineate fascism clearly from other forms of right-wing authoritarianism and racism — and also to see them as interconnected.

Trump campaign and fascism: distinct but interconnected
One of the few Trump-related articles I’ve seen that offers this kind of nuanced analysis is David Neiwert’s “Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path.” There are points in Neiwert’s article that I disagree with — he counterposes fascism to democracy, for instance — but I think his basic approach here is sound. Rather than treat fascism as something radically separate and in a class by itself, Neiwert emphasizes that there’s a dynamic interrelationship between fascism and other forms of right-wing populism. And while “merrily” might be a bad choice of words, Neiwert isn’t making light of the danger at all. He argues that (1) Trump’s campaign embodies many of fascism’s core features — but not all of them, and (2) this actually makes Trump more dangerous than a full-blown fascist, because it masks his very real fascistic tendencies and enables him to be much more effective in “creating the conditions that could easily lead to a genuine and potentially irrevocable outbreak of fascism.”

Acknowledging that there’s no agreed-upon definition of fascism, Neiwert offers a composite sketch from definitions by several leading fascism scholars, including Stanley Payne, Robert O. Paxton, and Roger Griffin, and uses this to summarize Trump’s fascistic and non-fascistic aspects. On the one hand, he argues, Trump shares fascism’s emphasis on “eliminationist rhetoric” (such as vowing to deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.), “palingenetic ultranationalism” (an apocalyptic vision of national rebirth out of a serious crisis), hostility to both liberalism and establishment conservatism, charismatic leadership by a man of destiny, and contempt for weakness (such as mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability).

On the other hand, Neiwert notes two key points that set Trump’s candidacy apart from fascism. First, although Trump has encouraged spontaneous violence against his critics and targets of his rhetoric, he’s made no moves to develop or ally with a political paramilitary force along the lines of the Italian Blackshirts or the Nazi Stormtroopers. Second, and more importantly, Trump “lacks any kind of coherent, or even semi-coherent, ideology.” While fascists are absolutists who demand ideological purity, “Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald.” He is pushing a kind of gut-level hatred and paranoia, Neiwert argues, not because of his own belief system, but because it’s a way to win votes.

I would extend this line of thought further, drawing particularly on Roger Griffin’s analysis of fascism. Point One: it’s true that Trump’s candidacy, like fascism, emphasizes a kind of populism, in that Trump has presented himself as an advocate of the common people against corrupt or sinister elites. But as Griffin argues, fascism isn’t populist only in a rhetorical sense. Rather, both as a movement and a regime, fascism seeks to actively and permanently mobilize large masses of people through a network of top-down organizations, constant propaganda, and elaborate public rituals such as the Nazi Party’s Nuremberg rallies. I see no indication that Trump has attempted anything like this. His campaign rallies are a short-term means to the end of winning the presidency — not the germ of any sort of lasting mass organization.

Point Two: again following Griffin, fascism isn’t just an “extreme” form of right-wing politics — it’s a revolutionary form of right-wing politics, in that it aims to create a radically new type of society, state, culture, and human being. In the fascist “new order,” all individual and private interests would be subordinated to those of the nation — as dictated by the fascist leadership. Yes, both Italian Fascism and German Nazism came to power through the parliamentary process and both of them, especially Italian Fascism, made huge compromises with the old order. They left major institutions such as the military, the church, and (in Italy) the monarchy more or less intact. But even in Italy, fascism radically transformed the country’s cultural, educational, and political landscape to conform to Mussolini’s explicitly totalitarian vision, and this transformation got stronger, not weaker, as time went on. In Germany, the fascist revolution went much further, forcibly imposing a program of “racial purity” through sterilization and mass killing, and reshaping the class structure through the mass enslavement and importation of non-Aryan workers. Again, Trump is good at pandering to popular fears and hatreds and feeding his own ego, but that’s a far cry from promoting an actual vision of cultural or social change.

Although people often use the term fascism interchangeably with dictatorship, most dictatorships aren’t fascist, because they’re all about preserving the old order rather than creating a new one, and they generally don’t involve any real populist mobilization. So even if we assume that Trump wants to outlaw elections, shred the Bill of Rights, and make himself president for life, that doesn’t make him a fascist. There are different ways to be dangerous, and the differences matter.

A "powerful trend" toward fascism?
What about the argument that while Trump may not be a fully fledged fascist yet, he’s heading in that direction? Alexander Reid Ross argues this. He writes that we should “look at fascism as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘outcome,’ or as [fascism scholar Alexander A.] Kallis states, ‘it is more accurate to describe fascist ideology as a powerful trend, appealing to the most utopian and extreme nationalist vision and articulating suppressed energies which had previously no place in the conventional political agenda of either conservative or liberal nationalism.” More specifically, Reid Ross argues, “Trumpism as it appears today has the necessary components that make it a fascist ideology, but it has not manifested full form in power,” and “Trumpism can be seen as a manifestation of sufficient ‘fascistic’ positions to qualify it not just as ‘proto-fascist’ but as part of a process of ‘fascist creep,’ meaning a radicalization of conservative ideology that increasingly includes fascist membership while deploying fascist ideology, strategy, and tactics.”

In an earlier Facebook discussion, I cautioned Reid Ross that we shouldn’t use a teleological approach to fascism. What I meant was, we shouldn’t treat certain political initiatives as having an inherent tendency to move toward fascism, as Reid Ross appears to be arguing above. Reid Ross conceded the point but thought I meant that we shouldn’t treat the fascist creep process as inevitable, which is not the same thing. Serves me right for using a pretentious word like teleological.

I agree with Reid Ross that politics isn’t static — that movements, systems, and people can change — but they can change in lots of different ways, and we should be wary of interpreting these changes in terms of inherent tendencies. Depending on the circumstances and balance of political forces, non-fascists may be pulled toward fascism, but the opposite is also true. Both Mussolini’s and Hitler’s original governments included non-fascists, who were co-opted and eventually absorbed into fascist “projects” (while those who refused to be absorbed were destroyed). But during the same era, as Griffin has argued, fascists were co-opted into supporting conservative authoritarian regimes in several other countries, including Antonescu’s Romania, Vichy France, and Franco’s Spain. Since many people will argue that some or all of those governments were actually fascist, another example is western Europe and the U.S. during the Cold War, when most western fascists were co-opted into a broad anti-Soviet coalition in support of a non-fascist system for over four decades.

Bringing all this back to Trump, there are at least two different ways to read the friendly reception his campaign has gotten from many white nationalist far rightists. One is that these fascists represent the logical endpoint of Trumpism in development, and while he draws the crowds they provide the ideas. This is at least consistent with Alexander Reid Ross’s position quoted above. Another interpretation, however, is that Trump’s campaign is co-opting far rightists into, if not renewed loyalty, at least suspending their disloyalty to the existing political order. JM Wong has argued on Facebook that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric comes at a time when “the legitimacy of the state is increasingly challenged for white people” as “the wages of whiteness are dwindling.” In that context, Trump “is calling for an investment in the state, restoring it to some semblance of ‘america is great,’ for folks to continue to have faith in the state apparatus, as long as it is tweaked into more white supremacist overtones.” To the extent that far rightists support this call, they are buying into the system they claim to oppose. Conversely, the defeat of Trump’s candidacy could further intensify the white nationalist far right as an oppositional force.

Neglected factors: capitalists and theocrats
One issue that’s gotten very little attention in most of these discussions is fascism’s class politics. Although many leftists (and not a few liberals) have treated fascism as ultimately a tool of big business, I’ve argued that fascism is an autonomous force whose relationship with the capitalist class is contradictory: “As a movement or a regime, fascism attacks the left and defends class exploitation but also pursues an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways.” In both Italy and Germany, capitalists helped fascists gain power, trading control over state policy for a crackdown against the working class. In the U.S. as it exists today, any drive to impose fascism would need support from at least a major faction of capital. The white nationalist far right currently enjoys little if any such support. If real estate billionaire Donald Trump were somehow to transform himself into an ideologically committed fascist movement builder, a major question would be how many other capitalists would back him.

Another factor rarely considered in discussions of Trump and fascism is Trump's relationship with the Christian right, a movement that in the U.S. is vastly larger than organized white nationalism. Although a majority of Christian rightists want to make changes within the existing political system, such as outlawing abortion and homosexuality, a significant hard-line wing wants to impose a totalitarian theocracy based on their interpretation of biblical law. This current arguably represents a version of fascism that emphasizes religious obedience and heterosexual male dominance before racial purity or nationhood. Trump's campaign has gotten significant but not overwhelming support from rank-and-file Christian rightists, although a number of movement leaders have criticized his lack of Christian faith, history of supporting abortion rights, and even his anti-immigrant politics. So far I haven't been able to get a clear sense of what the hardliners think of him, but I suspect they would be enthusiastic only to the extent they are willing to subordinate their theocratic ideology to other political goals.

*                    *                    *

Donald Trump is not a fascist, but his presidential campaign is dynamically interconnected with fascism. Trump has emboldened fascists and is promoting many of the themes that they can and do exploit. A bigger immediate threat, I believe, is that he is helping to intensify the authoritarian and supremacist tendencies of the existing liberal-pluralist state, by feeding open bigotry and violence and making the brutal policies of other politicians — Republican and Democrat — seem more legitimate by comparison. Even Trump's loss in the primaries or the general election could drive far rightists into renewed militancy, and this in turn could offer centrist or liberal politicians another scapegoat to justify expanded repression across the board. If the choice Trump poses is less stark than democracy versus fascism, that’s hardly cause for celebration.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"On Trump, fascism, and stale social science" (25 October 2015)
"Fascist revolution doesn't turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump" (6 January 2015)

Photo credit:
"Make America Great Again" is Donald Trump's slogan in his 2016 presidential campaign, seen emblazoned on the official campaign hat. Photo by Spartan7W, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nov 23, 2015

Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right

Donovan: "Ur-fascism is the source of honor
culture and authentic patriarchal tradition."
All far rightists promote male dominance, but the kinds of male dominance they promote differ enormously. The Christian right’s revolutionary wing — the folks who don’t just want to ban abortion, same-sex marriage, and teaching evolution, but replace the U.S. government with a full-blown theocracy — advocates “biblical patriarchy,” a doctrine that urges men to keep close control over everything their wives and children do, from the books they read to the time they go to bed. In this schema, for women to make decisions or speak for themselves isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a revolt against God.

Jack Donovan’s version of male supremacy is radically different from that. He’s a former Satanist, not a Christian, and he doesn’t anchor his ideas in the Bible, but rather in evolutionary psychology — an approach that’s probably meaningless, if not satanic, to Adam and Eve creationists. He doesn’t focus on the family, but on championing a kind of male comradeship free of female constraints. This comradeship allows room for sexual relations between men, and Donovan is himself openly homosexual, which would of course be taboo in the Christian right. And while even the most hard-core biblical patriarchs aim to recruit women as well as men (claiming their path offers women security and respect, not to mention salvation through Jesus), Donovan doesn’t write for women at all. His audience, his community, his hope for the future, is entirely male.

Over the past eight years, Jack Donovan has published a stream of articles and several books about men and masculinity. His best-known work is the self-published The Way of Men (2012 - hereafter referred to as Way for short), which reportedly sold an impressive ten thousand copies in its first two years. His ideas are important, in part, because they appeal to different sectors of the right, including members of the “manosphere,” white nationalists, right-wing anarchists, and (with a few modifications) even some Christian rightists.

Gang masculinity
“The Way of Men,” Donovan argues, “is the way of the gang.” “For most of their time on this planet, men have organized in small survival bands, set against a hostile environment, competing for women and resources with other bands of men” (Way, p. 3). These gangs, he claims, have provided the security that makes all human culture and civilization possible. They are also the social framework that men need to realize their true selves. Donovan’s gangs foster and depend on the “tactical virtues” of Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor, which together form his definition of masculinity. Gang life centers on fighting, hierarchy, and drawing the perimeter against outsiders (“separating us from them”). This, in turn, dovetails with many of Donovan’s core philosophical precepts — that human equality is an illusion, violence (specifically male violence) is universal, and moral accountability should be limited to the members of one’s own tribe.

In Donovan's ideal order, only male
warriors would have a political voice
Donovan advocates “androphilia,” by which he means love or sex between masculine men. He doesn’t call himself gay, rejects gay culture as effeminate, and justifies homophobia as a defense of masculinity rooted in the male gang’s collective survival needs. This might sound like self-hatred, but Donovan isn’t hiding or apologizing for his own sexuality; he’s defining it in a way that’s radically at odds with prevailing LGBT politics. His version of homosexuality is a consummation of the priority that men in his ideal gang place on each other. As he has commented, “When you get right down to it, when it comes to sex, homos are just men without women getting in the way.”

In Donovan’s worldview, patriarchy is the natural state of human affairs, rooted in that primeval survival scenario where women are a prize that male gangs fight over. And seen through his eyes,  patriarchy doesn’t look so bad. Since Donovan is fundamentally uninterested in women’s experience, he repeats lots of “common sense” male ideas without question. For example: “A rapist is something that no right-minded man wants to be,” so the whole idea of rape culture is a feminist lie, “a tool to silence criticism of women and exert control over men’s sexual behavior and conceptions of their own masculinity.” Similarly, “men have always had to demonstrate to the group that they could carry their own weight” (Way, p. 46), while it’s supposedly much more common and accepted for women to be supported by others. Never mind that women actually work longer hours than men and do the bulk of unpaid domestic labor, enabling men in all regions of the world to do less work.

Against globalism and feminism
Donovan sees a basic tension between the wildness and violence of gang life and the restraint and orderliness that civilization requires: civilization benefits men through technological and cultural advances, but it also saps their primal masculinity — their strength, courage, mastery, and honor. For most of human history, he says, men have fashioned workable compromises between the two, but with societal changes over the past century that’s become less and less possible. Today, “globalist civilization requires the abandonment of the gang narrative, of us against them. It requires the abandonment of human scale identity groups for ‘one world tribe’” (Way, p. 139). Who is leading this attack on masculinity? “Feminists, elite bureaucrats, and wealthy men” — who “all have something to gain for themselves by pitching widespread male passivity. The way of the gang disrupts stable systems, threatens the business interests (and social status) of the wealthy, and creates danger and uncertainty for women” (Way, p. 138).

With the help of globalist elites, feminists have supposedly dismantled patriarchy and put women in a dominant role. As Donovan argues in No Man's Land: “For the first time in history, at least on this scale, women wield the axe of the state over men.” Women have “control over virtually all aspects of reproduction,” and “a mere whisper from a woman can place a man in shackles and force him to either confess or prove that he is innocent of even the pettiest charges.” Faced with the bumper sticker slogan, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings,” Donovan retorts that this should be rewritten as “Feminism is the radical notion that men should do whatever women say, so that women can do whatever the hell they want.”

Unlike Christian rightists, who argue that feminism misleads women into betraying their true interests, Donovan sees feminism as an expression of women’s basic nature, which is “to calm men down and enlist their help at home, raising children, and fixing up the grass hut” (Way, p. 137). Today, feminists’ supposed alliance with globalist elites reflects this: “Women are better suited to and better served by the globalism and consumerism of modern democracies that promote security, no-strings attached sex and shopping” (Way, p. 148). It’s not that women are evil, Donovan claims. “Women are humans who are slightly different from men, and given the opportunity they will serve their slightly different interests and follow their own slightly different way” (Way, p. 150). But that slight different way inevitably clashes with men’s interests and therefore needs to be firmly controlled, if not suppressed.

The Brotherhood
Donovan’s social and political ideal is a latter-day tribal order that he calls “The Brotherhood.” The Brotherhood is rooted in the primeval gang experience, where all men of the group affirm a sacred oath of loyalty to each other (spoken or unspoken) against the outside world. In this order, a man’s position would be based on “hierarchy through meritocracy,” not inherited wealth or status. The Brotherhood might be run as a democracy or it might have a king — Donovan isn’t particular as long as the leaders prove their worth and are accountable to the men of the group. All men would be expected to train and serve as warriors, and only warriors would have a political voice. Women would not be “permitted to rule or take part in the political life of The Brotherhood, though women have always and will always influence their husbands” (A Sky Without Eagles, hereafter Sky, p. 158).

Women’s main roles in this system would be to birth and raise children, and to help preserve memories of the ancestors, because “young men should grow up knowing what their great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers did, and who they were, and what they believed” (Sky, p. 160). To some extent this sounds like standard conservative gender ideology, but there’s a difference. “The family is a means for the continuation of The Brotherhood, and gives a sacred role to women in The Brotherhood. The ideal woman is Queen Gorgo of Sparta,… boasting that only women of her tribe give birth to worthy men” (Sky, p. 158). This is a reversal of the idea that men become hunters and warriors to protect and provide for their families. As Jef Costello noted on the white nationalist website Counter-Currents, Donovan is saying that women exist in order to bring men into the world, and the family exists because it makes idealized male gang life possible.

Relationship with Men’s Rights Activists and the Manosphere
Donovan shares some ideas with Men’s Rights Activists (“MRAs”) — notably that the legal system and the media unfairly discriminate against men — and has published several essays in the MRA-oriented journal The Spearhead. But he criticizes MRAs from the right, arguing that their stated goal of equity between men and women is a capitulation to feminism. Donovan is more favorably disposed toward the so-called manosphere, a loose online network of men who promote vicious hostility toward feminism and sexual predation toward women. In Donovan’s words, “The manosphere is an outer realm where male tribalism rules…. [It] is not about what women want, or about making sure men and women are equal. The manosphere is about men writing about who men are and what they want, without supervision.” In turn, influential manosphere figures such as Roosh V (Daryush Valizadeh) have praised Donovan’s work. Roosh V commented on The Way of Men, “Ironic that a gay man wrote one of the manliest books I've ever read.”

White nationalism and fascism
Donovan is a sort of white nationalist fellow traveler. He has written for white nationalist websites including Counter-Currents and Radix and spoken at white nationalist gatherings such as National Policy Institute conferences. As he writes in "Mighty White," he is “sympathetic to many of their general aims,” such as encouraging racial separatism and defending European Americans against “the deeply entrenched anti-white bias of multiculturalist orthodoxies.” White nationalism dovetails with his belief that all humans are tribal creatures. But race is not his main focus or concern. “My work is about men. It’s about understanding masculinity and the plight of men in the modern world. It’s about what all men have in common.” His “Brotherhood” ideal is not culturally specific and he’s happy to see men of other cultures pursue similar aims. “For instance, I am not a Native American, but I have been in contact with a Native American activist who read The Way of Men and contacted me to tell me about his brotherhood [probably Vince Rinehart of Attack the System]. I could never belong to that tribe, but I wish him great success in his efforts to promote virility among his tribesmen” (Sky, p. 166).

Donovan has also embraced the term “anarcho-fascism,” which he explained in terms of the original fascist symbol, the fasces, a bundle of wooden rods that stands for strength and unity. Rejecting the common belief that fascism equals a totalitarian state or top-down bureaucratic rule, he identified the fasces with the “bottom-up idea” of “a unified male collective…. True tribal unity can’t be imposed from above. It’s an organic phenomenon. Profound unity comes from men bound together by a red ribbon of blood.” “…the modern, effeminate, bourgeois ‘First World’ states can no longer produce new honor cultures. New, pure warrior-gangs can only rise in anarchic opposition to the corrupt, feminist, anti-tribal, degraded institutions of the established order…. Ur-fascism is the source of honor culture and authentic patriarchal tradition.”

Elsewhere, Donovan cautions that he isn’t “an anarchist or a fascist proper,” but simply wanted to make the point that “revitalizing tribal manliness will require a chaotic break from modernity” (Sky, p. 14). Still, there are strong resonances between his ideas and early fascism’s violent male camaraderie, which took the intense, trauma-laced bonds that World War I veterans had formed in the trenches and transferred them into street-fighting formations such as the Italian squadristi and German storm troopers. Donovan also echoes the 1909 Futurist Manifesto, a document that prefigured Italian Fascism: “We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.” All this is part of what J. Sakai meant when he wrote that fascism “is a male movement, both in its composition and most importantly in its inner worldview. This is beyond discrimination or sexism, really. Fascism is nakedly a world of men. This is one of the sources of its cultural appeal.” I don’t completely agree, because fascism can also appeal to women on a mass scale, but the inner worldview Sakai was highlighting is an important aspect of fascism, and Donovan articulates that view as well as anybody.
Toward a failed state
In the preface to his latest book, A Sky Without Eagles, Donovan writes that a few years ago he advocated a “resurgence of masculine virtue” in America, but he came to realize “that contemporary American and Western ideas and institutions were actually causes of men’s decline and inseparable from it” (p. 12). He has written repeatedly that he doesn’t believe in the existing political system and that it offers no viable solutions. For example: “The best thing you can do for your country — for the men around you, for the future — is to let the system tear itself apart. The way to increase personal sovereignty for men is to decrease the sovereignty of the state by withdrawing the consent of the governed…. If American men stop thinking of the government as ‘us’ and start thinking of it as ‘them’ — if we stop thinking of ourselves as Americans and start acting in our own interests, things could get really interesting.” Donovan believes that the U.S. is on the road to becoming “a failed state — a state where no one believes in the system, where the government is just another shakedown gang, where no one confuses the law with justice.” And he looks forward to that collapse: “In a failed state, we go back to Wild West rules, and America becomes a place for men again — a land full of promise and possibility that rewards daring and ingenuity, a place where men can restart the world.” He urges far rightists to “build the kinds of resilient communities and networks of skilled people that can survive the collapse and preserve your identities after the Fall.”

Donovan’s repudiation of the existing political system, more than anything else, separates him from anti-feminist conservatives and places him squarely in the far right. However, urging men to sit back and wait for the system to fail is an oddly passive strategy for someone so fixated on being “manly.” Maybe Donovan just hasn’t had time to develop more active plans for helping to bring down the globalist-feminist state. Or maybe he recognizes that if you’re serious about revolution, it’s not always best to advertise your intentions in public. As Three Way Fight has discussed before, government counterinsurgency operations don’t just target the left, but also the right.

Male tribalism in context
As I argued in “Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements,” far rightist positions on gender draw on four distinct ideological themes. One is patriarchal traditionalism, which promotes rigid gender roles and women’s subordination through the nuclear family. Another is demographic nationalism, which declares that women have a duty to the nation, race, or other collective to have lots of babies. A third theme is quasi-feminism, which advocates specific rights and an expanded political role for women while accepting men’s overall dominance. The fourth ideological theme is something that I called “male bonding through warfare” or the “cult of male comradeship”:
“This theme emphasizes warfare (hardship, risk of death, shared acts of violence and killing) as the basis for deep emotional and spiritual ties between men. It is often implicitly homoerotic and occasionally celebrates male homosexuality openly, and is frequently at odds with ‘bourgeois’ family life. In the cult of male comradeship, women may be targets of violent contempt or simply ignored as irrelevant and invisible.”
When I wrote these words, I was thinking of European far rightists of the 1920s and 30s such as Ernst Jünger and the Nazi stormtroopers’ leader Ernst Röhm, as well as, more recently, Afghanistan’s Taliban. But while the Taliban combine their militaristic male comradeship with patriarchal traditionalism, Jack Donovan represents the ideology of male bonding through warfare in pure form.

Donovan’s work is part of a trend on the far right toward increasingly harsh and explicit male supremacy doctrines. Quasi-feminism, which gained some influence among neonazi groups such as White Aryan Resistance in the 1980s and 1990s, has lost ground, while many Christian rightists and white nationalists have shifted toward starker forms of “traditional family” politics or moved into the manosphere. Biblical patriarchy is a prime example of this. Donovan’s male tribalism is another.

Anti-Fascist News recently noted a growing respect in white nationalist circles for Donovan’s vision of male warrior culture.
“Though this is radically different than what many on the ‘alt right’ think [is] socially productive, they do note that society may need these cultural elements and that they are rightist in that they celebrate in-group/out-group distinctions, tribalism, and hierarchy.” 
AFN frames this as part of a broader shift way from homophobia among many white nationalists:
“We see a mixing of queer identity with open fascism with bands like Death in June, and all through the ‘manosphere’ there is a deep misogyny and white nationalism expressed by gay authors who have been invited into the fold. Though the stereotyped ‘gay culture’ is always derided by these groups, they play hard with the idea that queerness is biologically determined.” 
White nationalist intellectual forums such as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute and Greg Johnson’s Counter-Currents have given Donovan a forum, and Counter-Currents has also published homosexual white nationalist James O’Meara. Even in Klan and Nazi skinhead circles, where Donovan’s homosexuality is often vilified, AFN notes that “more often than not…there is tacit approval of his inclusion and even a sort of backhanded support.”

Donovan’s celebration of “small, nimble” gangs, failed states, and “anarcho-fascism” also meshes with the trend toward political decentralism across much of the far right. This trend reflects influences as varied as Posse Comitatus, the European New Right, laissez-faire economics, and Calvinist theology. Donovan’s work has been embraced by the anti-state far rightists of Attack the System. He himself cites ENR theorist Guillaume Faye as an influence on his vision of an ideal society, “The Brotherhood.”

Dispossessed men versus the new capitalist order
To put this in some kind of socio-economic context, it’s helpful to look at Bromma’s important essay, Exodus and Reconstruction: Working-Class Women at the Heart of Globalization. As Bromma notes, globalization is dramatically eroding the old patriarchal system of controlling women through families:
“A unifying theme of the new capitalist order is that the labor of working-class women is too valuable to leave in the hands of the ‘man of the house.’ Women’s labor is now to be controlled more directly by capitalists and their professional agents, without all the clumsy and inflexible local mediation formerly assigned to husbands, fathers and brothers. Working-class women must be ‘free’ to move from country to country, from industry to industry, from household to household. They are needed in the industrial zones, needed in giant factory farms, needed as nurses and ‘entertainers.’ Their domestic work is increasingly moved out of their own families and merged into great global service industries.”
As women have been drawn into the capitalist labor market, growing numbers of men “have been forced into the margins of the labor market, if not out of it altogether.”

These changes, Bromma argues, have brought with them new forms of violence against women on a large scale:
“Where they are concentrated, capitalists and warlords manipulate and encourage dispossessed men to terrorize them, to push them off the streets and out of public life.

“And there is something more: the destruction of traditional family-based rural patriarchy brings with it a powerful reactionary male political backlash.

“Millions of men are losing ‘their’ women, and ‘their’ jobs, and it’s driving them crazy. Today, the main opposition to capitalist globalization comes not from the weakened anti-imperialist Left, or — yet — from working-class women, but rather from militant right-wing men. The anger of male dispossession fuels reactionary populist, fundamentalist and fascist trends in every part of the world.”
These dispossessed right-wing men “are increasingly resorting to radical and violent measures to ‘defend’ and ‘reclaim’ their patriarchal birthright, or at least grab a piece of the action in a new male order.”

Jack Donovan, who couples anti-feminism with a hatred of globalizing elites, offers a voice to some of these men. As Karl Kersplebedeb has noted,
“Donovan's gang has to be understood as also representing specific (patriarchal) class interests. Keeping in mind Bromma's observations in the piece Exodus and Reconstruction…we can see these gendered gangs as aspiring managers of women's labor, and a vision of a world system based on gangs like this would be a form of capitalism in which class and gender divisions were more explicitly and violently maintained in sync. (After all, someone has to feed the warriors, and here as elsewhere that will be the [female] proletariat.)” (Email communication, 5 October 2012)
It’s unclear how much staying power Donovan’s ideas have or whether they can win over men on a scale comparable to Christian right gender politics, but it’s safe to say that support for his ideas is growing. Donovan offers a philosophy of resurgent male power that’s just as sweeping and systematic as biblical patriarchy and that can appeal to men who are indifferent or hostile to evangelical Christianity, including pagans, atheists, and non-heterosexuals. This philosophy is congenial to white nationalism but not limited to it. It’s one more indication that the far right does not stand still.

Image credits:

1. Cincinnatus Statue, at Sawyer Point, Cincinnati, photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 2. Les lutteurs (the wrestlers) by Wilhelm Haverkamp [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oct 25, 2015

On Trump, Fascism, and Stale Social Science

Donald Trump's rise as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination set off a flurry of articles labeling him a fascist. These pieces -- which have appeared on sites as varied as Newsweek, Common Dreams, and CounterPunch -- are misguided. Calling Trump a fascist promotes a distorted understanding of fascism and obscures the fact that Trump's demagogic hate-mongering is deeply rooted in mainstream U.S. politics.

I was planning to blog about this until Chip Berlet, my friend and former co-author, made a lot of the points I wanted to, in a piece entitled "Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry," for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Chip's article (I'll call it "Trump Bigotry") emphasizes the need for historical context and clear analysis, an approach that I strongly support. At the same time, I disagree with some of the specific ideas about the far right that the article presents. These ideas are drawn from recent scholarship about right-wing movements, but I think they make it harder for us to understand -- and effectively combat -- what many rightists are saying and doing today. This response to Chip's article is offered in the spirit of friendly, constructive criticism and moving the discussion forward.

"Trump Bigotry" debunks claims that Donald Trump is a fascist or that he represents "a new force in American politics." The article rightly places him in right-wing populist traditions that go back to Andrew Jackson in the 1820s, traditions that blend scapegoating, repression, and mass violence with distorted anti-elitism. Chip's article also outlines some of the historical dynamics of the past few decades -- ranging from the erosion of traditional social privileges to increased infusions of cash -- that have contributed to the rightist upsurge we see today. As Chip argues, there are dangerous synergies between Trump-style nativism and the fascism of, say, accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, but there are also vital differences between those rightists who work within the existing political system and those who seek to overthrow it.

This delineation isn't just an intellectual exercise -- it's about recognizing qualitatively different opponents so we can respond to them intelligently. As I wrote in the 2007 article "Is the Bush administration fascist?":
"militaristic repression -- even full-scale dictatorship [or racist populism, in Trump's case] -- doesn't necessarily equal fascism, and the distinction matters. Some forms of right-wing authoritarianism grow out of established political institutions while others reject those institutions; some are creatures of big business while others are independent of, or even hostile to, big business. Some just suppress liberatory movements while others use twisted versions of radical politics in a bid to 'take the game away from the left.' These are different kinds of threats. If we want to develop effective strategies for fighting them, we need a political vocabulary that recognizes their differences."
Where I take issue with "Trump Bigotry" has to do with the specifics of what fascism and neo-fascism mean and how to delineate different branches of the right. Here Chip relies on recent work by social scientists, especially Cas Mudde, a choice that may largely reflect editorial constraints or the limits of writing a short article for a broad audience. I'll highlight and respond to three quotes from the article:
1. "For many scholars, right-wing populism is classified as part of the 'radical right,' while the term 'extreme right' is reserved for insurgent groups seeking to overthrow the constitutional order."
This statement is accurate as far as it goes, but points to problems with the scholarship that should be addressed. Right-wing populism refers to political initiatives that seek to mobilize "the people" against both oppressed or marginalized social groups and against some image of elite power (Jewish bankers, globalist corporations, the secular humanist conspiracy, etc.). Many, if not most, extreme rightists in the United States, past and present, have embodied some kind of right-wing populism -- and this is in fact crucial for understanding their mobilizing potential. Witness the original Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction Era, which was a mass-based movement of southern Whites that used violence and terror in an effort to resubjugate Black people and overthrow "northern military despotism." Witness the sovereign citizens movement today, a 300,000-strong offshoot of the Patriot movement that claims the U.S. government is a fraud and imposter and urges people to declare their independence from it. There are lots of other examples. (As a secondary point, I take issue with the scholarly terminology: why is the "radical" right called radical if the "extreme" rightists are the ones advocating more radical change?)
2. "In his Ideology of the Extreme Right, [Cas] Mudde wrote: 'The terms neo-Nazism and to a lesser extent neo-fascism are now used exclusively for parties and groups that explicitly state a desire to restore the Third Reich (in the case of neo-fascism the Italian Social Republic) or quote historical National Socialism (fascism) as their ideological influence.'"
Mudde may be "the pre-eminent scholar in this area," as Chip suggests, but his delineations in the above quote are way too narrow, and don't account for the fact that far right politics have changed enormously over the past 70 years. Lots of neo-fascists don't invoke classical fascism explicitly, but hide their true beliefs under a more innocuous veneer. Liberty Lobby founder Willis Carto, for example, made a career of this for half a century. Others have developed new forms of fascist ideology that are very different from, and often reject, those of Hitler or Mussolini. The European New Right is a prime example. Whether or not Mudde acknowledges these developments (I haven't read him, so I can only comment on Chip’s quotes and paraphrases) there are other fascism scholars who do. Roger Griffin, for example, has written about them a lot.
3. "In his book Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Mudde lists as common 'extreme right' features nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and the strong state, including a law-and-order approach."
Like the Mudde quote above, this list doesn't adequately describe far right currents today. Sure, some far rightists still glorify a strong state, but one of the biggest developments in far right politics since the 1970s has been the rise of political decentralism -- ranging from the European New Right's vision of autonomous ethnically pure communities to Posse Comitatus's rejection of state authority above the county level to Christian Reconstructionists' dream of a libertarian theocracy, in which God-fearing men rule through local and non-state institutions. Even the emphasis on nationalism, racism, and xenophobia overlooks the dramatic growth of far rightist currents -- such as Christian Reconstructionism -- that want to overthrow the established political system and replace it with a new order centered on religion (and patriarchy), rather than race or nation.

None of this calls into question Chip's basic point that we need to apply terms like fascism clearly and thoughtfully. But it does highlight the need for more scholarship that addresses the full, living reality of right-wing politics. A typology of fascism and more broadly of the far right or extreme right, whatever we call it, needs analytic precision, but it also needs to be flexible enough to account for variations and changes in what rightists say and do.

*               *               *

After almost a century of debate, there’s still no agreement among scholars, or among activists, about what fascism is or what it encompasses. My own thinking on this question has continued to evolve. In 2007, I offered a descriptive profile of fascism based on four core features: radical break with the established order, totalitarian mass politics, twisted anti-elitism, and autonomy from business control. In 2008 I argued for a synthesis of Roger Griffin’s ideology-based analysis of fascism and independent Marxist class-based approaches and offered a new draft definition: Fascism is a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while bolstering economic and social hierarchy.

More recently, I’ve concentrated more on delineating the far right -- which arguably includes both fascists and non-fascists -- from other currents. In the context of the United States today, I use the term "far right" to mean political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural or inevitable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. That covers some (but not all) white nationalists, the theocratic branch of the Christian right, the hardline wing of the Patriot movement, and a few other currents. In other words, I see the far right as cutting across standard political categories, because I think the emergence of a truly oppositional right -- which doesn’t want to just take over the U.S. political system, but bring it down -- is ultimately more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, or other factors.

But oppositional and system-loyal rightists aren't just in conflict. As Chip Berlet points out in "Trump Bigotry," they also fuel each other. For example, "the Trump candidacy and the shooting in Charleston are connected thematically by a mobilization to defend white nationalism while the racial and ethnic face of America changes hue." This is a complex, fluid situation, with different branches of the right both divided and interconnected, and we need a dynamic approach to understand it. Debates about terminology or definitions aside, I know that Chip and I agree about this.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers" (22 December 2015).
"Fascist revolution doesn't turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump" (6 January 2016).

Aug 28, 2015

Oath Keepers, Ferguson, and the Patriot movement’s conflicted race politics

When a group built around right-wing conspiracy theories sends heavily armed white men onto streets filled with Black Lives Matter protesters, it makes sense to be worried. But if these are white supremacist vigilantes, why are they proposing to arm black protesters and march alongside them?

Police sharpshooter at Ferguson protests - a repressive
response strongly criticized by Oath Keepers
Oath Keepers has drawn a lot of discussion and criticism for deploying men with guns to Ferguson, Missouri, last fall and again this summer. As a part of the Patriot movement, Oath Keepers’ politics are predictably right wing on a host of issues — it glorifies private property, promotes homophobia and anti-immigrant scapegoating, and accuses Marxists of making common cause with radical Islamists to destroy western civilization. But Oath Keepers doesn’t fit the white supremacist profile that many leftists expect. Not only has the group disavowed racism (which in itself doesn’t mean much), more surprisingly it has also supported African Americans’ right to protest and even their right to practice armed self-defense. Very recently — apparently in the past few days — Oath Keepers has split over this very issue, suggesting a larger conflict within the Patriot movement over whether to maintain white centrism or pursue a more inclusive strategy. While some leftists may see this as a hopeful sign, I believe it has the potential to make the movement more dangerous.

Backgound on the Patriot movement
Oath Keepers is a Patriot movement organization for current and former military, law enforcement, and emergency personnel. Like other Patriot groups, Oath Keepers believes there is a conspiracy by globalist elites to turn the United States into a dictatorship. Members of Oath Keepers declare they will refuse to follow orders to impose martial law, round up U.S. citizens, or take away their guns. In a speech earlier this year, Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes warned that the U.S. government is plotting to cause economic chaos, start a race war, unleash ISIS cells, and keep new immigrants from assimilating — all paving the way for a police state.

The Patriot movement is a political hybrid, a meeting place for several different rightist currents. Its ideology is rooted in a mix of libertarianism, John Birch-style conspiracy theories, white nationalism, and Christian theocracy. Although all Patriot movement activists are hostile to the federal government to a degree, some have taken an essentially defensive position while others reject the federal government in principle, and a few have planned or carried out physical attacks against federal institutions or personnel. Many Patriot groups avoid explicit racism, yet ideas rooted in white supremacist or antisemitic ideology circulate freely, such as the belief that black people have far fewer rights than whites, because most of them did not become U.S. citizens until passage of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution after the Civil War. Anti-immigrant politics and the implicitly racist claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States (and therefore is ineligible to be president) have also become major movement themes in recent years.

The Patriot movement had its first big upsurge in the 1990s, when hundreds of thousands of activists (or more) — claiming core state functions for themselves — formed “citizen’s militias,” “common law courts,” and related groups. That movement wave didn’t last long, but Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008 sparked a second, even larger upturn. Since then, the number of Patriot groups rose from less than 150, peaked at 1,360 groups in 2012, then dropped to 874 in 2014. Oath Keepers, founded in 2009 and with a (disputed) claim of 30,000 members in 2015, has been on the leading edge of the movement’s resurgence. The movement got another boost in the spring of 2014, when hundreds of activists (including Oath Keepers) gathered at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch to support his “right” to graze his cattle on federal lands without paying the grazing fees. Guns drawn, the heavily armed activists forced federal officers to back down.

Oath Keepers to Ferguson
Last December, after Ferguson, Missouri, exploded in fury over racist police violence and the legal system that protects it, Oath Keepers sent armed volunteers to guard Ferguson businesses and homes against arsonists and looters. This month, as protesters commemorated the anniversary of Michael Brown’s police killing, several heavily armed Oath Keepers were back on the streets of Ferguson. They said they were protecting reporters with, Alex Jones’s right-wing conspiracist website, as well as businesses and residents. Both times, all of the Oath Keepers present were apparently white men.

The Oath Keepers first appeared in Ferguson after reports that Ku Klux Klansmen were converging on the Ferguson area to protect white-owned homes and businesses. One Klan group referred to Darren Wilson (whose killing of Michael Brown touched off Ferguson’s 2014 protests against deadly police racism) as “the cop who did his job against the negro criminal,” and the group’s leader declared, “we can’t have blacks robbing and murdering innocent whites.” Many other rightists, including Patriot groups, echoed this view. When Oath Keepers showed up, a lot of people assumed it was following in the Klan’s footsteps. Many Ferguson activists pointed out that the Oath Keepers had the privilege to carry heavy weapons openly while black people were being arrested just on the suspicion that they were armed. Whatever Oath Keepers’ intentions, as Andrew O’Hehir noted in Salon, “the icon of the white man with a gun” is bound up in American mythology with the long history of Klan terror and racist lynchings.

But Oath Keepers is not the Klan. In some ways it’s rooted in the same legacy, and old-style racist attitudes can be found in its ranks. But overall its response to the Ferguson protests and the Black Lives Matter movement has been very different. It’s worth looking at this response closely, as well as the organizational split it generated, if we want to understand what the Patriot movement is about and why it dwarfs the openly white supremacist right. The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC News, and National Public Radio haven’t done this — and neither have the Southern Poverty Law Center or even Political Research Associates in their reports on right-wing responses to Ferguson. Here’s some of what they left out:
  • In August 2014, while the Klan was cheering Officer Wilson, Oath Keepers’ Missouri Chapter sent an “open letter of warning” to Missouri Governor Nixon. The letter harshly condemned the Ferguson police for violating people’s right to protest, and offered detailed criticisms of its “spectacularly unsafe weapons discipline and methodology” such as pointing automatic weapons at unarmed protesters. “The militarized police response we saw in Ferguson did not work. All it did was violate the rights of peaceful protesters and media, alienate the community, and make our country look even more like a police state…”
  • The Oath Keepers’ open letter to Governor Nixon related the Ferguson crackdown to earlier examples of militarized, abusive police practices, including tactics used against Occupy Wall Street and the lockdown after the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Oath Keepers also connected police militarization with U.S. aggression abroad. “[M]uch like over-the top and indiscriminate threat displays and use of force in Iraq lost the hearts and minds of the locals, so too does it lose the battle for hearts and minds here at home – assisting in the agendas of those who wish to divide us along racial lines and create an ‘us vs. them’ mentality among both the people and the police.”
  • In November, Oath Keepers followed up with an open letter to the people of Ferguson, which began by declaring that “you have an absolute, God given, and constitutionally protected right to protest and speak your mind,” and that “the police have no right, no authority, and no power to violate those rights…” The letter reiterated Oath Keepers’ earlier criticisms of police repression in Ferguson, while also urging protesters to “‘police their own’ by looking out for hot-heads in the crowd who may resort to violence, looting, or property destruction,” so as not to distract from the reasons for the protest.
  • Addressing the local community, Oath Keepers specifically urged black military veterans to form armed patrols and neighborhood watches to keep Ferguson safe, and cited the Deacons for Defense and Justice (whose armed members defended 1960s civil rights marchers in the Deep South and helped to inspire the Black Panther Party) as a “proud and noble” example to follow, “except this time, you must defend against violence by anyone, whether outsiders or locals, of any race, against anyone, of any race.”
  • As an example of what they had in mind, Oath Keepers reposted an article about a group of armed black men in Ferguson who were standing guard protecting a white-owned gas station and convenience store. “They said they felt they owed it to [the store owner], who has employed many of them over the years and treats them with respect.”
  • In August 2015, an Oath Keeper interviewed on the streets of Ferguson offered an angry litany of recent police killings around the U.S., beginning with twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and other African Americans, then noting that police have also killed several whites, such as James Boyd, a homeless man in Albuquerque. In a separate interview, when St. Louis County Oath Keepers leader Sam Andrews was asked what he would like to say to Ferguson protesters, he replied, “The first thing I would say is ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The second thing I would say is that the Oath Keepers are there to protect your rights. We care about you, regardless of all the lies that the media and some other instigators have tried to propagate. Black lives matter, we care about you, we love you and we are there to protect you.”
  • Andrews also announced plans to hold a march through downtown Ferguson in which Oath Keepers members would accompany fifty African Americans armed with long barrel rifles. “Every person we talked to [among black protesters] said if they carried [guns] they’d be shot by police. That’s the reason we’re going to hold this event and it will be a legal demonstration,” Andrews said. “I’m sick and tired of law enforcement who doesn’t think they have to abide by the law.”
Color blindness and self-defense
These statements and actions by Oath Keepers reflected an ideology of color blindness, as expressed in their November 2014 letter to Ferguson residents:
“For us, this is not about race. This is about defending the Bill of Rights, which is a shield against government abuse that is meant to protect ALL Americans, of whatever color. Those of us who served in Marine or Army infantry learned to see only one color: green. Some of our brothers in our fire-teams and squads were dark green, while others were medium or light green, but they were all our brothers, and in combat, they all bled the same color – red – in defense of this nation and in defense of the Constitution…”
Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers founder and leader
Oath Keepers’ color blindness ideology set them miles apart from the Klan and other white nationalist groups. Their criticism of the Ferguson cops and support for the community’s right to protest contrasted with, for example, the Patriot Action Network (a Tea Party group), which claimed that Ferguson protesters had threatened to rape the wives of police officers. And by invoking the Deacons for Defense and urging African Americans to arm themselves, Oath Keepers stomped on one of the traditional core principles of U.S. white supremacy, that black people must never practice — or be able to practice — self-defense.

To be clear, color blindness is not an anti-racist ideology. It opposes overt racial discrimination but also masks (and thus helps to protect) the implicit but powerful racial oppression that remains central to U.S. society. Oath Keepers’ critique of police repression, for example, didn’t acknowledge the fact that cop violence systematically targets people of color. And some of its members echoed other racial messages that are common in the Patriot movement. The group’s New York state chapter dismissed the Black Lives Matter movement as a pawn of Communist, anti-American “race-baiters.” One Oath Keeper interviewed in Ferguson referred to President Obama as a “mulatto” and suggested he was a Muslim born in Kenya, which is right-wing code-speak for “a black man has no business being in the White House.” As a national organization, Oath Keepers has also called for a crackdown against “illegal aliens,” who it claims are being ushered in by the Obama administration in a large-scale, planned “invasion” of the United States — although the group’s leader denies that this position is “about race.”

To further illustrate its approach to racial politics, Oath Keepers has co-sponsored two “Racial Reconciliation of the Races” events with the African American pastor James David Manning, who is virulently homophobic. At the July 2015 event, Manning led the crowd in chanting, “Sodomites, go to Hell!” and offered similar comments throughout his sermon.

Although Oath Keepers was apparently the only Patriot group to show up on the scene, color-blind responses to Ferguson have also come from others within the movement. Chuck Baldwin — an anti-gay, anti-Muslim, pro-Confederate pastor who was 2008 presidential candidate of the Patriot movement-oriented Constitution Party — declared that the August 2014 crackdown on Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson represented “A Preview of America’s Burgeoning Police State.” Baldwin conceded (to other rightists) that “race-baiters” were exploiting the conflict and suggested that the federal government was using “paid provocateurs” to inflame it, but chastised fellow pastors who keep silent about “the way our policemen are being turned into soldiers” and argued that the Republican Party has been “the most aggressive” in militarizing local police. Baldwin concluded, “This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it is not a liberal or conservative issue; it is not a black or white issue; it is not a Christian or secular issue. It is a liberty or slavery issue!”

On the issue of African American self-defense, in 2012 the Lone Star Watchdog (apparently now defunct) published an article under the headline “Hidden History of Militias Protecting Liberty in the 20th Century. Before they Were Called Oath Keepers,” which was reposted on a number of Patriot movement sites. The anonymous article celebrated the role of “Black Militia” groups such as the Deacons for Defense and Robert Williams’s Black Armed Guard in deterring racist violence against the civil rights movement. “Hidden History” argued that these groups were demonized and discredited by an FBI disinformation campaign and referred to the Klan as “an arm of COINTELPRO.”

Oath Keepers split over arming black people
In late August, the Oath Keepers national leadership reportedly withdrew support from the planned Ferguson march involving armed black residents, causing a split in the organization. Sam Andrews and his “tactical team” withdrew from Oath Keepers, vowing to carry out the march on their own, and a group of Oath Keepers in Florida also quit. Andrews commented, “I can’t have my name associated with an organization that doesn’t believe black people can exercise their First and Second Amendment rights at the same time.”

Both Andrews and “James Wise” (a former Oath Keeper in Florida who used an alias) pointed to the inconsistency of Oath Keepers’ willingness to confront police at the Bundy ranch but not in Ferguson. As Wise, who is Cuban American, put it:
“Unwilling to confront the cops. What the hell are we here for then? Who is going to violate the rights of the people? The Boy Scouts? If you plan on keeping your oath, you had better be willing to confront cops….You know race isn’t a huge issue here, but I have to believe that an organization that is OK with a bunch of white guys pointing guns at cops in Nevada over grazing rights shouldn’t turn into complete [multiple expletives deleted] [cowards] at the thought of blacks just holding guns in a march protesting people getting beaten and killed by cops. You know there’s something wrong there…”
A related issue, Andrews said, is that the new Oath Keepers’ board is made up almost entirely of retired police. He, most of his tactical team members, and Wise are all former military special forces.

Patriot movement racial politics
Differences within the Patriot movement over racial politics are not new. A point that Chip Berlet and I made twenty years ago (about what we then called the militia movement) remains true today:
“While some militias clearly have emerged…from old race-hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nations, and while the grievances of the militia movement as a whole are rooted in white-supremacist and antisemitic conspiracy theories, many militia members do not appear to be consciously drawn to the militia movement on the strength of these issues…. To stereotype every armed militia member as a Nazi terrorist…lumps together persons with unconscious garden-variety prejudice and the demagogues and professional race-hate organizers.”
Today, the split in Oath Keepers indicates that some Patriot activists are willing to pay more than lip service to the idea that constitutional rights should apply to everyone regardless of race.

In addition, while the Patriot movement has been predominantly white and male, it has also included a few African Americans, such as J.J. Johnson, who co-founded the Ohio Unorganized Militia and described militias as “the civil rights movement of the 1990s.” Johnson urged black people to join the Patriot movement and argued, “If our ancestors would have been armed, they would not have been slaves!” Today, among the members profiled on the Oath Keepers website are several people of color, reflecting the group’s claim that “Oath Keepers come in all colors, shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds…”

The emphasis on gun rights, which Oath Keepers shares with the rest of the Patriot movement, helps us understand the movement’s often muddled racial politics. In the United States there’s an organic connection between racism and guns, because an armed white male populace was historically one of the cornerstones of the whole system of racial oppression. Frontier settlers needed guns for conquering Indian and Mexican lands, and white men in the South needed to be armed to keep control over enslaved black people, who were not allowed to have guns. Armed, decentralized white power has generally served ruling elites but has also fueled right-wing populist upsurges that clashed with elite interests — such as the original Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan, which fought a guerrilla war against “northern military despotism.” And people of color and their allies, too, have invoked the right to bear arms — from anti-slavery activists to Chicano land rights defenders and the Black Panther Party. As a result, gun control has sometimes been used to enforce white rule, as when conservatives in the late 1960s advocated stricter gun laws because they were afraid of the Black Panthers.

All of this history is in the mix when Patriot groups talk about the Second Amendment. And while the predominant thread of that history is about defending white privilege, other threads are sometimes visible.

Capitalist individualism
There’s room for disagreement about race, too, because the Patriot movement’s common denominator isn’t defending white privilege (or heterosexuality, or national borders) — it’s a vision of unregulated property rights, a capitalist individualism that’s militantly opposed to government “interference.” That’s why the Oath Keepers often talk about “protecting life, liberty, and property,” and why they initially went into Ferguson to guard businesses. Defending supposed property rights against federal government intrusion was what drove the Bundy ranch action in 2014. For similar reasons, armed Oath Keepers and other Patriot activists have more recently protected disputed mining claims in Oregon and Montana against “unlawful” federal action. These Oath Keeper operations reflect a Patriot movement consensus. When over 100 Patriot movement delegates met in a 2009 “continental congress” outside Chicago, they declared that “The United States is the only nation on earth specifically based on the premise of the right of individuals to own and control property," and that owning private property was “the root of our individual Freedom.”

Capitalist individualism and racism are historically and culturally connected, but they’re not inseparable. In an era when overt racial bigotry is widely discredited, it shouldn’t be a surprise when even hardline right-wingers want to move beyond the white supremacist legacy. Andrew O’Hehir may well be right when he suggests that the group’s Ferguson foray was a “kind of attempt at cross-racial outreach, however deluded and misguided in execution.”

We should have no illusions that such outreach represents a move to the left. It’s highly unlikely — given that he’s a Donald Trump supporter — that Sam Andrews is going to turn his splinter group into a progressive version of Oath Keepers. However, capitalist individualism (coupled with anti-globalist conspiracism, homophobia, and a strong emphasis on gun rights) could well provide the basis for collaboration between some Patriot groups and right-wing black nationalist organizations such as the New Black Panther Party. There are precedents, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network’s cordial dealings with the Nation of Islam in the 1990s. New or not, it’s hard to see this kind of right-wing alliance-building as anything but ominous.

Photo credits:

Police sharpshooter - By Jamelle Bouie [CC Attribution 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Stewart Rhodes - By Gage Skidmore [CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0], via Flickr Commons

Jul 3, 2015

The LaRouche network’s Russia connection

In the United States, Lyndon LaRouche is widely dismissed as a wing-nut conspiracist — a guy who claims that Queen Elizabeth pushes drugs. But in Russia, LaRouchite ideology is taken seriously by high-ranking politicians and scholars, and is cross-pollinating with the ideas of Russian far rightists such as Aleksandr Dugin.

The LaRouchites’ wing-nut reputation actually masks a lot of their more dangerous politics and history. LaRouche, a former Trotskyist, founded the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC) in 1969 as a Marxist organization, but in the 1970s transformed it into a fascist political cult with a unique ideology centered on grandiose, arcane conspiracy theories. By the 1980s, LaRouche’s followers had built an extensive network of organizations on several continents, dedicated to propaganda, fundraising, intelligence gathering, and political dirty tricks. (For details, see Dennis King’s 1989 book, Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism, which is accessible online.) For several years, the LaRouchites had a friendly relationship with the Reagan administration and its security services, but illegal fundraising eventually got them in trouble, and LaRouche himself went to prison for fraud and conspiracy from 1989 to 1994. However, his organization rebounded by shifting to more “leftist” positions, with an emphasis on opposing U.S. military interventionism and international finance capital.

Having lost the U.S. government connections they enjoyed in the 1980s, the LaRouchites worked to expand their ties with political elites in other countries — above all, Russia. In recent years, the LaRouchites have increasingly emphasized the importance of Russia on the world stage, and have largely aligned themselves with President Vladimir Putin’s international policies, for example on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

A recent article by Anton Shekhovtsov traces some of the story behind this new alignment:
“With the demise of the Soviet Union,… LaRouche became genuinely interested in Russia and its economy, arguing against adoption of Western liberal economic models by Russia. In 1992, the Schiller Institute for Science and Culture was established in Moscow as a Russian branch of the LaRouchite international Schiller Institute, and started publishing Russian translations of LaRouche’s essays.”
During the 1990s, LaRouche visited Russia and spoke at a number of academic meetings. His economic ideas sparked interest among some members of the elite who were unhappy with the laissez-faire policies that prevailed under then President Boris Yeltsin.
“LaRouche’s contacts in Russian academia and the Moscow-based Schiller Institute for Science and Culture actively promoted his ideas in Russia, and, since 1995, he was trying to exert direct influence on Russian policy-making in the economic sphere. Representatives of the Schiller Institute for Science and Culture presented LaRouche’s memorandum ‘Prospects for Russian Economic Revival’ at the State Duma, while later that year LaRouche himself appeared in the Russian parliament to present his report ‘The World Financial System and Problems of Economic Growth.’ His conspiracy-driven economic theories that denounced free trade and commended protectionism, as well as attacking the workings of the International Monetary Fund, stroke a chord with many a member of the Duma largely dominated by the anti-liberal and anti-democratic forces such as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia and other ultranationalists.”
Shekhovtsov’s article centers on LaRouche’s relationship with Sergey Glazyev, who in the early 1990s was minister of external economic relations (but resigned because of a disagreement with Yeltsin) and then a member of the State Duma, or parliament. Since 2012, Glazyev has been a prominent adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“During the 1990s, the LaRouchites praised Glazyev as ‘a leading economist of the opposition to Boris Yeltsin’s regime’ and published Glazyev’s interviews and articles in their weekly Executive Intelligence Review. In 1999, LaRouche published an English translation of Glazyev’s book Genocide: Russia and the New World Order in which the author exposed his theories about ‘the world oligarchy’ using ‘depopulation techniques developed by the fascists’ ‘to cleanse the economic space of Russia for international capital.’”
* * *
“Glazyev’s promotion of LaRouche and his ideas in Russia resulted in the latter’s growth in popularity as an opinion-maker and commentator on political and economic issues in Russia – a status that LaRouche could not enjoy in his home country where he has remained a fringe political figure.”
In some ways the LaRouchites’ current stance resembles that of Russian nationalists who combine support for Putin with romanticism about the Soviet Union. Although Shekhovtsov writes that “In the 1970-80s, the LaRouchites were highly critical of the Soviet Union and believed that it was controlled by the British oligarchs,” that’s not entirely true. Dennis King offers a fuller account:
“LaRouchian publications until the death of Leonid Brezhnev [in 1982] expressed an affection for hard-line Stalinism because of its no-nonsense attitude toward Zionists and other dissenters and its commitment to central economic planning. New Solidarity’s obituary on Brezhnev praised him as a ‘nation builder’ and avoided any mention of his invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. Thereafter, as LaRouche became more heavily involved in supporting Star Wars and NATO, the NCLC line changed. Moscow became the ‘Third Rome,’ a center of unremitting Russian Orthodox evil. When Gorbachev took power, the LaRouchians said he was the Antichrist.”
As King details, from 1974 to about 1983 members of the LaRouche network also repeatedly met and shared information with KGB officers and other Soviet officials. The LaRouchites claimed that they served as “the ‘open channel’ through which the KGB could pass ‘policy-relevant’ information to the CIA, and vice versa.”

The LaRouchites don’t like to talk about this part of their own history nowadays, but they have nothing but praise for ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin. In 2011, for example, LaRouche applauded the nomination of Putin (who was then serving as prime minister) to return to the office of president (which he had previously held in 2000-2008): “"This assertion of leadership sends a clear message of defiance against the British Empire's divide-and-conquer games, and represents a major step forward toward a new Pacific-centered recovery program for the entire world.”

Map of the Trans-Siberian Railway, an early example of the
kind of big infrastructure project the LaRouchites glorify.
The LaRouchites like Putin not only because he has challenged the United States and European Union, but also because they see him as a kindred spirit on questions of national development. The LaRouchite program, for Russia and elsewhere, emphasizes a strong state role in society, classical culture and religion as the moral basis for politics, and big, high-tech infrastructure projects — notably a “Eurasian Land Bridge” transportation network — to drive economic recovery.

The Eurasian Land Bridge idea highlights the question: how much does LaRouchite fascism have in common with the politics of Aleksandr Dugin, which centers on the vision of a new Eurasian empire?  In some ways the two are very different. While the LaRouchites wrap themselves in the mantle of science and rational humanism, Duginists call for Russian ethno-cultural rebirth in much more mystical terms. LaRouchite publications rarely mention Dugin, but a 2012 article in Executive Intelligence Review refers to his “gloomy Germanicism” with “a strong metaphysical component, but almost nothing by way of a coherent economic program.”

Yet both LaRouche and Dugin offer a deeply authoritarian, culturally elitist vision of society, and a conspiracist critique of international elites, while claiming to reject racism and antisemitism. Hearing LaRouche demonize Britain as the center of the global oligarchic conspiracy, it’s not a big jump to Dugin’s view of history as a secret geopolitical contest between the good land power (Eurasists) and the evil sea power (Atlantists). And, above all, both LaRouche and Dugin see Russia as the key hope for humanity today.

So it’s not a big surprise that Sergey Glazyev is on friendly terms with both the LaRouche network and Dugin. Glazyev participated in the founding conference of Dugin’s Eurasia Party in 2002 before helping to found a separate far right party, Rodina (Motherland), the following year. Glazyev and Dugin are both members of the Izborsky Club, an influential far right think tank that proclaims Peter the Great and Josef Stalin as the main heroes of Russian history. And one of Glazyev’s main jobs for Putin has been to negotiate greater economic integration of former Soviet republics under the rubric of a Eurasian Union — a project dear to both Dugin and LaRouche.

Glazyev isn’t the only link connecting LaRouche and Dugin. Another is Nataliya Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. Vitrenko is a member of Supreme Council of Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement, which has branches in 22 countries. But she is also a close ally of the LaRouche network, who has for years promoted LaRouche’s ideas, addressed LaRouchite-sponsored meetings and conferences, and received favorable coverage in LaRouchite publications. In February 2014, for example, Executive Intelligence Review published a statement by Vitrenko under the headline “U.S.A. and EU, With Ukrainian Terrorists, Establish Nazi Regime.”

These indirect ties between LaRouchites and Duginists in Russia are particularly striking given how politically isolated the LaRouchites are in the U.S. — even from other far rightists. This doesn’t mean the two movements are likely to join forces directly. Differences of ideology and political culture — not to mention their leaders’ egos — stand in the way of an actual alliance. But figures such as Glazyev and Vitrenko may serve as conduits — or “open channels” in the LaRouchites’ spy-novel terminology — that promote a sharing of ideas and information between the two. Glazyev and others in the political elite may also borrow ideological and programmatic elements from both movements to make something stronger. This is a level of influence most wing-nuts can only dream of.

Image credits:
LaRouchePAC poster collage - By Racconish (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Trans-Siberian Railway map - By User:Stefan Kühn (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.