Dec 3, 2016

Alt-right: more misogynistic than many neonazis

One of the major problems with the campaign to replace the term “alt-right” with “white supremacist” is that it tends to obscure other important dimensions of alt-right politics. The alt-right’s misogyny merits special attention, for a couple of reasons. First, woman-hating shapes and drives alt-right online activism in a specific and important way. Second, the alt-right is actually more misogynistic than many neonazi groups have been in recent decades — further belying claims that “alt-right” is just a benign code word for “neonazi.”

The alt-right’s use of online harassment as a political tactic is one of its most distinctive and important features. In the Spring of 2016, for example, anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University were flooded with racist, transphobic, and antisemitic messages, rape and death threats, and doxxing (public releases of personal information, such as where they live and work), sent from anonymous social media accounts. And it’s not just progressive activists who get this kind of treatment. David French, staff writer at the conservative National Review, describes the year-long stream of relentless online abuse his family has endured because he criticized Trump and the alt-right:
“I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photoshopped into images of slaves. She was called a ‘niglet’ and a ‘dindu.’ The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with ‘black bucks.’ People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.”
It’s no coincidence that sexual violence and the objectification and humiliation of women and girls feature heavily in these campaigns. As a tactic, alt-right online harassment is rooted squarely in the pervasive, systematic pattern of threats and abuse that women have faced online for years. This pattern of harassment, which Anne Thériault has described as “gender terrorism,” often involves threats of rape and other forms of violence, and it’s used to silence women all the time. Whether or not the perpetrators also use physical intimidation or attacks, as they sometimes do, the effects can be devastating.

A key connecting link here is Gamergate, an online campaign starting in 2014 to silence and terrorize women who worked in — or were critical of sexism in — the video game industry. This campaign took the diffuse online harassment of women and sharpened it into coordinated attacks against a series of specific women, who faced streams of misogynistic invective, rape and death threats, and doxxing. Gamergate caused several women to leave their homes out of fear for their physical safety.

The driving force behind Gamergate was the “manosphere,” an online antifeminist male subculture that has grown rapidly in recent years, largely outside traditional right-wing networks. There’s significant overlap between the manosphere and the alt-right, both of which are heavily active on discussion websites such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit. A number of men who promoted Gamergate — such as Theodore Beale (Vox Day), Matt Forney, and Andrew Auernheimer (weev) — are also active in the alt-right, while other alt-rightists — such as Gregory Hood at Counter-Currentsdefended Gamergate as an important front in the war to defend white European culture.

Not surprisingly, the alt-right brought Gamergate tactics into electoral politics. A lot of alt-right harassment targets women — even, as Robert Evans points out, “when they’re ostensibly targeting men”: for example, when alt-rightists’ harassment of Republican political strategist Rick Wilson failed to have an impact, they started harassing his 22-year-old daughter. “[T]hey stalked her at her school, they followed her, they put notes on the door where she used to live…. they’ve got people calling the University of Tennessee saying ‘Eleanor Wilson's involved in prostitution and drug sales and all this other shit.’” The attacks on David French’s family detailed above follow a similar pattern.

Harassing and defaming women isn’t just a tactic; it also serves the alt-right’s broader agenda and long-term vision for society. Thanks partly (but by no means only) to manosphere influence, most of the alt-right declares loudly that women are intellectually and morally inferior to men and should be stripped of any political role. Alt-rightists tell us that it’s natural for men to rule over women and that women want and need this, that “giving women freedom [was] one of mankind’s greatest mistakes,” that women should “never be allowed to make foreign policy [because] their vindictiveness knows no bounds,” that feminism is defined by mental illness and has turned women into “caricatures of irrationality and hysteria.” And while alt-rightists give lip service to the traditionalist idea that women have important, dignified roles to play as mothers and homemakers, the overwhelming message is that women as a group are contemptible, pathetic creatures not worthy of respect.

This might seem like standard far right poison, but it’s actually worse than what many neonazi groups  outside the alt-right have been saying about women — or at least non-Jewish white women — for the past few decades. Like alt-rightists today, neonazis have long argued that gender differences are natural and immutable, and that men and women have distinct but complementary social roles to play. For some neonazis, this means that any public political role for women is dangerous and wrong. Yet since the 1980s other neonazis have promoted a kind of racist quasi-feminism, arguing that white women have important roles to play not only as mothers and nurturers, but also as race warriors in their own right, and that white men's derogation of white women should be combated.

Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance (WAR), one of the most influential neonazi groups of the 1980s, pioneered this line, sponsoring an affiliate called the Aryan Women’s League and denouncing (white) women’s oppression as a product of Jewish influence. Over the following quarter century, a number of neonazi groups, including National Vanguard, SS Action Group, and the National Socialist Movement, also criticized white women's oppression to varying degrees, as historian Martin Durham details in his 2007 book White Rage: The Extreme Right and American Politics (Chapter 6). Today, similar positions are promoted by groups such as the Creativity Movement-affiliated Women’s Frontier, which rejects the idea of male-female equality yet encourages women to become activists and leaders as well as wives and mothers, and the international group Women for Aryan Unity, which calls for “reinventing the concept of ‘feminism’ within the parameters of Race and Revolution.”

Combining white supremacy with elements of feminism traces back to at least the 1920s, when the half-million-strong Women of the Ku Klux Klan criticized gender inequality among white Protestants and recruited many former women’s suffrage activists. It’s one of many ways that far rightists appropriate progressive political themes in distorted form, from anti-capitalism to ecological awareness.

A similar kind of quasi-feminism also had a foothold in the alt-right during its early years. As I wrote in 2010, the original featured some articles that reflected “an old school conservative anti-feminism,” but also others that “reflect[ed] feminist influence”:
“Andrew Yeoman, for example, lists ‘kryptonite to women’ among the alternative right movement's eight major weaknesses. ‘Many women won't associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. ...nothing says “you’re not important to us” [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it.’” [Yeoman was then the leading U.S. spokesperson for National-Anarchism, an offshoot of neonazism that advocates a decentralized system of ethnically pure “tribal” enclaves.]
As far as I can tell, such quasi-feminism is now completely gone from the alt-right, replaced by a near consensus that women should be vilified and excluded. In contrast to Yeoman’s frank acknowledgement that sexism kept women out of the movement, the Traditionalist Youth Network now argues that women have been underrepresented in white nationalist circles because by nature they are “neither designed nor inclined to develop or encourage politically aggressive subcultures.” The Daily Stormer has a policy against publishing anything written by women and calls for limiting women's involvement in the movement —in the face of criticism from women on the more old school neonazi discussion site Stormfront. And Gamergater-turned-alt-rightist Matt Forney declares that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the alt-right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”

Let’s hope that men like Forney continue to believe that women are unimportant — it might just be their undoing. Let’s hope they continue to underestimate women like Alyssa Pagan, one of the anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University who faced alt-right harassment and threats this past Spring:
“‘Much of the online alt-right’s assessment about my lot in capitalist hierarchy is correct,’ Pagan told ThinkProgress. ‘A person like me should be too timid and mired in shame to dare challenge such open chauvinism. Black, Latina, Trans, poor, survivor, etc. But their read of my feminist praxis as fragile is way off,’ she continued. ‘I don’t get triggered, I don’t yearn for safe space, and I don’t have anything to lose.’”

Photo credit: Charlotte Cooper, via Flickr Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
Calling them 'alt-right' helps us fight them, November 2016
Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right, November 2015
Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements, September 2005

Nov 22, 2016

Calling them "alt-right" helps us fight them

If “alt-right” is a benign-sounding label to hide white supremacist ideology, why do so many alt-rightists go out of their way to sound as shockingly bigoted as possible?

 There’s a campaign among Trump opponents to get people to stop using the term “alt-right” — a campaign that I believe is misguided. Supposedly, “alt-right” is a deceptive euphemism that white supremacists created to hide their hateful beliefs. Belt Magazine floated this idea back in July:
“‘Alt-right’ — shorthand for the the Alternative Right — is, like ‘pro-life,’ the term the group gave itself. It is misleading, misrepresentative, and, most importantly, a benign or even attractive term…. So let us pick a new term to refer to this new group… ‘White supremacist’ works for me. ‘White nationalist’ seems apt as well. In some cases, ‘neo-Nazi’ applies.”
Recently, Daily Kos echoed the thought:
“The Neo Nazis know that their usual tags inspire revulsion amongst many Americans. That’s why Bannon and his ilk have invented the term ‘Alt Right’….

They knew they had to rebrand. And they knew using a different term would help obfuscate the truth of what they are.

So stop using the term ‘Alt-Right’ and just come out and call them what they are:

Neo Nazis. And if that’s too raw, then at least have the integrity to call them White Supremacists or White Nationalists.”
Similar arguments have been circulating on Twitter, as Quartz reports.

I completely agree that we should expose and combat white supremacist politics in all its forms, but a campaign to abolish the term “alt-right” doesn’t help us do this and actually makes it harder. If we want to understand the alt-right’s strengths and weaknesses, we need to understand what it shares with older white nationalist currents — but also what sets it apart. By contrast, the “don’t use ‘alt-right’” campaign promotes misunderstanding and ignorance about the movement it’s trying to confront.

To begin with, if “alt-right” is just a benign-sounding label to hide white supremacist ideology, why do so many alt-rightists go out of their way to sound as shockingly bigoted as possible? Here’s how Antifascist News describes one of the most popular alt-right websites, The Right Stuff:
“[On The Right Stuff] they choose to openly use racial slurs, degrade women and rape survivors, mock the holocaust and call for violence against Jews. Their podcast, The Daily Shoah, which is a play on The Daily Show and the Yiddish term for The Holocaust, is a roundtable discussion of different racists broadcasting under pseudonyms. Here they do voice ‘impressions’ of Jews, and consistently use terms like ‘Nig Nog,’ “Muds (referring to ‘mud races,’ meaning non-white), and calling people of African descent ‘Dingos.’  The N-word, homophobic slurs, and calls for enforced cultural patriarchy and heteronormativity are commonplace.”
As Antifascist News points out, the racist language that’s routine on The Right Stuff is so vile it’s not even allowed on Stormfront, the oldest and largest neonazi website.

Far from toning down their politics to sound more benign, many alt-rightists have actually taken the opposite approach. Old school white supremacists such as David Duke and Willis Carto made careers of dressing up their nazi politics as “populism” or “conservatism.” But now alt-right “shitlords” bombard Twitter with swastikas and gas chamber jokes, and ridicule antifascism the way 1960s radicals ridiculed anticommunism.

The Daily Kos idea that Steve Bannon “and his ilk” invented the term “alt-right” compounds the distortion. Bannon is actually a latecomer to the movement, a popularizer who — first at Breitbart News and then as a member of Trump’s team — has offered a toned-down version of alt-right politics for mass consumption. Richard Spencer — who introduced the term “alternative right” years ago to describe a convergence of diverse right-wing forces outside the conservative establishment — has termed this fellow-traveler phenomenon “alt-lite.”

On a deeper level, the “don’t call them ‘alt-right’” campaign embodies the unfortunate idea that white supremacist politics are basically all the same. Supposedly, once we know that alt-rightists uphold racist ideology, the details don’t really matter, and exploring them just distracts us from the central issue. But it’s precisely these “details” that help us understand what has made the alt-right a significant force, its capacity to tap into popular fears and grievances, its relationship with other political forces, its internal tensions and points of weakness. A few decades ago, most of the racist far right abandoned Jim Crow segregationism in favor of white nationalism — the doctrine that people of European descent shouldn’t just rule over people of color, but exclude or exterminate them entirely. Opponents who failed to recognize this shift were caught off guard when white supremacists moved from terrorizing black people to waging war on the U.S. government.

Saying we shouldn’t call them “alt-right” is saying that we don’t need to understand our enemy. It’s like a conservative in 1969 looking at the New Left — spanning from Alinskyites to Yippies, from Clean for Gene canvassers to the Weathermen — saying, “This ‘New Left’ label is just a ploy to hide their subversive agenda. They’re all just communists. That’s all we need to know, and all these petty differences are just a distraction.” This kind of attitude only benefits your opponents.

Here are some distinctive features of the alt-right that I believe antifascists should take into consideration:

* The alt-right is strong in online tactics but weak in on-the-ground organization. White supremacists have long been pioneers in exploiting new communication technologies, but the alt-right is the first far right current that exists mainly online. Alt-rightists have skillfully used online memes such as #Cuckservative and #DraftOurDaughters as propaganda tools to shape mainstream discourse. They have also turned online harassment and abuse into a potent tactic for frightening and silencing opponents. This raises important challenges for antifascists. It’s one thing to shut down a neonazi rally, or even a website, but something else again to shut down a Twitter campaign of vicious threats and abuse sent from a constantly moving array of anonymous accounts.

On the flip side, alt-rightists have little formal organization and very limited capacity to muster supporters for in-person rallies or other events. This could change. Some alt-right groups, such as the Traditionalist Youth Network/Traditionalist Workers Party, are actively building bridges with older school white supremacist groups, in part to help increase their physical presence.

* The alt-right brings together different branches of white nationalism. Some alt-rightists embrace neonazi ideology. Others emphasize a pseudoscientific “race realism” that’s heavy on IQ statistics and genetics. A third major current borrows from the European New Right, which has reworked fascist ideology using concepts borrowed from progressive movements, such as cultural diversity and identity politics. There’s overlap between these currents, and despite some infighting the alt-right has so far succeeded in maintaining a “big tent” approach and avoiding the sectarian splits that have stymied many earlier far right initiatives. But ideological difference could be a point of vulnerability.

* The alt-right encompasses rightist ideologies that don’t center on race. White nationalism has been the alt-right’s center of gravity, but the movement also overlaps with other political currents, including:
  • the so-called manosphere, an internet subculture of men’s rights activists, pick-up artists, and others focused on destroying feminism and re-intensifying men’s dominance over women;
  • the neoreactionary movement (also known as the Dark Enlightenment), a network of authoritarian intellectuals who regard popular sovereignty as a major threat to civilization;
  • the right-wing anarchism of Keith Preston’s Attack the System, which blends opposition to big states with a kind of Nietzschean elitism;
  • Jack Donovan’s male tribalism, which envisions a system of patriarchy based on close-knit “gangs” of warrior men.
These currents have significantly influenced alt-right goals, tactics, forms of organization, and political targets. They have also helped the alt-right reach out to people who may not be white supremacist — and may not even be white. This capacity to extend its reach is part of what makes the alt-right dangerous. But there has also been conflict: for example some alt-rightists dismissing neoreaction founder Curtis Yarvin (“Mencius Moldbug”) as a Jew, or denouncing manosphere icon and would-be ally Daryush Valizadeh (“Roosh V”) as a “greasy Iranian” who defiles white women.

* The alt-right is internally divided about how to deal with Jews and gay men. Antisemitism is standard across the alt-right, but it takes widely different forms. Neonazis within the alt-right regard Jews as the ultimate embodiment of evil, who must be completely excluded from the movement and from any white homeland. But other alt-rightists want to ally with right-wing Jews against Muslims and regard Israel as a healthy outlet to keep Jews from subverting white society. And some alt-rightists — notably American Renaissance, one of the movement’s core institutions — welcome Jews as speakers and writers, and as participants in a future white homeland.

Similarly, while many alt-rightists want to suppress homosexuality, others denounce homophobia as a divisive force that weakens white solidarity and the male bonding needed for civilization to flourish. Some alt-rightists, such as Jack Donovan and James O’Meara, are openly homosexual. Donovan gets a lot of homophobic comments from other alt-rightists but his work is also influential and widely respected in the movement, to some extent even among homophobes. Some alt-rightists have also used Islamophobia in a bid to “wedge gays and Muslims.”

So far, alt-rightists have kept these disagreements within bounds, but they could intensify, for example if Donald Trump pursues the strongly pro-Zionist Mideast policy he has promised.

* The alt-right is overwhelmingly male. This reflects the movement’s patriarchal politics, of course, but also the boys club character of the online networks that furnish the bulk of its recruits, as well the alt-right’s general refusal to address women’s interests or concerns in any significant way. By contrast, the equally misogynistic biblical patriarchy movement has far more female participants and activists, because it at least offers women a sense of belonging and recognition, however distorted. A patriarchal family can’t exist without women, but even this kind of family is peripheral or irrelevant to male tribalism and large swaths of the manosphere.

* Most of the alt-right regards Donald Trump as a useful stepping stone. Most alt-rightists supported Trump’s presidential campaign and were thrilled by his upset victories over both the GOP establishment and Hillary Clinton. But they don’t think Trump shares their politics or will bring about the white ethnostate they want. Rather, they believe a Trump presidency will give them more space to peddle their ideology and “move the Overton window” in their favor. In turn, they see themselves as the Trump coalition’s political vanguard, taking hardline positions that pull Trump further to the right while enabling him to look moderate by comparison. The alt-right’s relationship with Donald Trump has been tremendously beneficial to both parties, but it could also turn sour in any number of ways. Even as he ramps up authoritarianism, Trump will have to navigate between the alt-right and other players, above all an economic ruling class whose majority did not want him to get elected.

                    *                    *                    *

We are moving into a bleak period, when understanding the forces opposing us will be more important than ever. That means exposing supremacist ideologies in all forms and guises, but it also means developing a political vocabulary that lets us make distinctions, rather than treat all enemies as one undifferentiated mass.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
Alt-right: more misogynistic than many neonazis, December 2016

Oct 16, 2016

Red Skies at Night article on far right anti-imperialism

Issue #3 of the independent leftist journal Red Skies at Night includes my article “Anti-Imperialism and the U.S. Far Right.” Here I trace a number of historical roots of right-wing anti-imperialism, such as:
  • the America First movement that opposed U.S. entry into World War II,
  • wartime Axis support for anti-colonial struggles within the British and French empires, and 
  • Francis Parker Yockey’s call for post-war fascists to ally with the USSR and Third World nationalist movements. 
The article also discusses the interactions between current-day far right anti-imperialist currents, including Third Position, the European New Right and its offshoots, and the Lyndon LaRouche network.

Red Skies at Night #3 is available from for $9 within the United States. The same issue also includes articles on transformative justice, the Occupy movement, environmentalism and working class struggles, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Chican@ liberation, and revolutionary strategy. Check it out and help support independent radical analysis and writing!

In “Anti-Imperialism and the U.S. Far Right,” I highlight some of the strategic questions that far rightists are facing today:
“First, in opposing ZOG [the ‘Zionist Occupation Government,’ i.e. Washington] or the globalist conspiracy, should they align themselves with a countervailing power (most immediately Russia, but in the long run maybe China or someone else) or pursue an independent course? Second, should they work together with non-white and non-rightist forces internationally, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, or left-populists such as Hugo Chavez? These issues are actively being debated, and could significantly affect the kind of organizing work that far rightists do and their capacity to attract supporters.”
So I was very interested to read the recent article “Beyond Trump and Putin: The American Alt-Right’s Love of the Kremlin’s Policies” in the online journal The Diplomat. Author Casey Michel argues that many of the white nationalists and fascists supporting Trump’s campaign have also been praising Russian President Vladimir Putin. Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Youth Network/Traditonalist Workers Party called Putin “the leader, really, of the anti-globalist forces around the world.” Richard Spencer, arguably the alt-right’s founder, recently praised Russia as “the sole white power in the world.” A number of American white nationalists, such as American Renaissance head Jared Taylor, have denounced U.S. foreign policy at political gatherings in Russia, such as the 2015 Russian Imperial Movement conference in St. Petersburg and the 2016 Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia conference in Moscow. (I wrote here about the 2014 AGMR conference, which was also attended by various U.S. rightists, as well as by leftists associated with the Workers World Party.)

This phenomenon doesn't mean we should accept every accusation that right-wingers are sympathizing with Moscow. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald, have charged that the Clinton campaign and its supporters have engaged in Kremlin-baiting — using smear tactics to imply that political opponents on both the left and the right are friendly to Russia and therefore disloyal to the United States. Michel is dismissive of this concern as the work of "lefty journalists with little grasp on post-Soviet developments." I disagree. Kremlin-baiting by Clintonites is real — and far right overtures to the Russian government are also real.

Looking beyond the alt-right, Michel reports that several Christian right leaders have also praised Putin, such as Bryan Fischer (former American Family Association spokesperson) and Franklin Graham (evangelist and son of Billy Graham). At the same time, a John Birch Society spokesperson told Michel that the U.S. “should not be partnering with countries [like Russia] that are enemies to American liberty.”

It’s easy to find support for Michel’s argument that many alt-rightists see themselves and Putin’s Russia as on the same side. At Counter-Currents Publishing, a leading alt-right forum, Gregory Hood argued three years ago that the alliance between Russia and Assad’s Syria represented a force for good against the evils of globalism and U.S. dominance:
“The United States is a revolutionary leftist power on a scale that dwarfs anything seen since the days of the French Revolution. It funds opposition to all traditional social systems, it openly defies international law in the name of a more primal creed of universal human rights, and it consistently applies diplomatic, economic, and eventually military force against what remains of Western Civilization.”
* * *
“Syria, like its protector Russia, stands for something different. It stands for autonomy – a responsible governing class that identifies its well-being with that of continued survival of the state and the national population, not just some economic system or abstract creed. It holds that traditional social forms and cultures have a right to survival. It is under the ‘dictator’ Assad that marginalized but longstanding groups like Middle Eastern Christians or minority Islamic sects can survive in relative peace and security. It is under American-backed ‘democratic’ regimes that such populations are either persecuted or destroyed.”
It would be interesting to compare this formulation with the rhetoric of those U.S. leftists who defend the Assad government as a supposed anti-imperialist bulwark against U.S-backed Islamist terrorism.

But not all alt-rightists agree. At the Alternative Right blog, Colin Liddell criticized Putin’s “suppression of Russian nationalist groups and the thought crime laws he has introduced that are aimed at suppressing historical viewpoints critical of the Red Army and the Holocaust/ Holohoax narrative…” Liddell continued, “As a de facto multicultural state, Russia has to be wary of straight-forward ethno-nationalism…” — not a compliment coming from an alt-rightist. Liddell’s fellow blogger “Duns Scotus” continued in this same vein in “The Boundless Insanity of Neo-Russian Imperialism”: “Along with its geopolitical, temporal, and ideological borderlessness, the Russian imperialist entity…believes firmly in racial, religious, and ethnic borderlessness. Muslims, Jews, atheists, Christians—are all weighed and balanced only in as much as they serve the imperialist entity and its essentially soulless interests.”

I have written previously that most white nationalists’ support for Donald Trump is qualified and opportunistic. They see his campaign as useful, but don’t believe he will bring about the changes they want. Maybe their support for Putin is conditional in the same way. Whether they choose sides or not, U.S. far rightists are an autonomous force, not tools of a foreign power.

Thanks to Michael Pugliese for pointing me to Casey Michel's article.

Jul 16, 2016

Making America Worse

[This is the text of a talk that I gave at the event "Trump, White Supremacy, Fascism? Building New Resistance Movements!" on June 25, 2016, in Brooklyn, New York. My thanks to Resistance in Brooklyn, sponsors of the event, for the invitation to speak.]
Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona, 19 March 2016

I want to start by reading a couple of quotes. This first one is by Teju Cole and it’s from Facebook this past December:
“Trump is a dangerous clown, and we must continue to strongly oppose him and his hateful crowds. But it is important to understand that his idea of ‘banning all Muslims,’ scandalous as it is…, is far less scandalous than the past dozen years of American disregard for non-American Muslim lives…. Trump didn’t murder thousands of innocent people with drones in Pakistan and Yemen. Trump didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people with bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump didn’t torture people at Baghram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, or the numerous black sites across the planet. Trump’s weapons aren’t incinerating Yemen now, and didn’t blow up Gaza last year. No American president in the past fourteen years has openly championed Islamophobia, but none has refrained from doing to Muslims overseas what would be unthinkable to do here to Americans of any religion.”
The other quote I want to read is by Mark Rupert. This is also from Facebook, just last month:
“The US now has a massive, institutionalized, globally active surveillance and assassination apparatus…. The President routinely authorizes extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists along with anyone who happens to be in the vicinity. Within the ‘homeland’ we are monitored as never before by the national security state. Our police forces are militarized so that even small towns have armored vehicles and swat teams. People of color are routinely killed by police with apparent impunity. Muslim religious communities have been singled out for surveillance and infiltration by law enforcement agencies at all levels. The immigration enforcement apparatus has been massively expanded, and immigration agents act effectively without constitutional restraints within a zone extending 100 miles from all US borders.

“Now imagine all of that in the hands of a racist, authoritarian narcissist with millions of militant followers who love him precisely for those characteristics and the ‘bold and strong’ actions that reflect them, and who are prepared to scapegoat racial and religious others for seemingly intractable social problems that will not be getting better anytime soon in the absence of radical social change.

“Now add in the real possibility of another major terrorist attack. Or two. Or three. Or urban unrest sparked by concentrated poverty and hyper-policing of these ‘zones of disposability’.

“What kind of America are you imagining right now?”
Both of these quotes help us put Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in context — but they put the emphasis in different places. On one hand, Trump’s racist and authoritarian politics don’t come out of nowhere, and they don’t even just grow out of the Republican Party. They grow out of a system that practices large-scale repression and murder, under both Republicans and Democrats.

On the other hand, it’s a mistake to say that it doesn’t matter whether Trump becomes president or not. Because bad as things are now, Trump has the potential to make them qualitatively worse.

Donald Trump has taken naked bigotry and hate mongering to levels way beyond any major presidential candidate in decades. He has called for massive use of state power against immigrants and against Muslim Americans. He has advocated the use of torture. He has called for stifling freedom of the press. He has encouraged his supporters to use physical violence against opponents. And he has presented himself as a political savior who alone has the strength and the will and the vision to lead America back to greatness.

So it’s not surprising that many people have called Donald Trump a fascist. It is surprising that this charge hasn’t just come from leftists and liberals — it’s also come from conservatives, libertarians, and even prominent members of his own Republican party. If people across the political spectrum are calling Trump a fascist, maybe that’s all the more reason to say the shoe fits. One the other hand, if Trump is being called a fascist by mainstream politicians who support a vast national security state, murderous military policies, and big subsidies for wealthy capitalists, are these politicians speaking out of concern for democracy or to make themselves look more legitimate by comparison?

The question of “what is fascism?” is a complex, emotionally loaded topic that we could talk about for hours. Even among leftists, there’s no consensus about how to even go about defining fascism. Is it based on certain ideological characteristics, or a particular relationship of class forces? Is it a political process? Is it stage of capitalism? So let’s talk about fascism, but let’s not get too fixated on the word. Because what’s more important is how we analyze the situation, and what we decide to do about it.

As a political category, fascism isn’t an objective thing — it’s a tool for analysis, a tool for making connections and distinctions between different political movements or regimes. Definitions of fascism aren’t objectively true, they’re just more or less useful in helping us understand political developments, and helping us choose a course of action. Some people say, the only time we should call a movement fascist is if it looks almost exactly like the movements that Hitler and Mussolini led in the 1930s. That’s not very useful, because far right politics has changed a lot since 1945, or even since 1975. Some other people say, any example of right-wing authoritarianism, especially one that’s racist or militaristic, is either fascist or something close to it. That’s not very useful either, because it lumps together widely different kinds of politics under one label. I wrote about this in 2007 in an article titled, “Is the Bush administration fascist?”:
“militaristic repression -- even full-scale dictatorship -- 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.”
In my political vocabulary, authoritarian conservatism wants to defend the old order, and generally relies on top-down forms of control, while a fascist movement is a kind of right-wing oppositional politics, which uses a popular mass mobilization in a bid to throw out the political establishment and create a new kind of hierarchical, supremacist, or genocidal system. Fascism is a specific kind of right-wing populism. That means it claims to rally “the people” against sinister elites, but the way it defines elites is at least simplistic (like “greedy bankers”) and usually poisonous (like “greedy Jewish bankers”). Right-wing populism combines this twisted anti-elitism with stepped up attacks against oppressed and marginalized communities. Right-wing populism tends to have a special appeal for middle-level groups in the social hierarchy — notably middle- and working-class white people — who feel beaten down by a system they don’t control but also want to defend their relative privilege against challenges from oppressed communities below.

Most right-wing populist movements accept the established political framework, but fascism doesn’t. Fascism rejects liberal-pluralist institutions and principles and wants to impose its totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society. In this sense, fascism is a kind of right-wing, revolutionary politics. It doesn’t want revolution in any liberatory sense, but it wants to throw out the old political class, build a new system of rule, and transform the culture so that everyone is loyal to the same ideas and the same values. Fascism doesn’t abolish class society, but it may radically transform it, as the Nazis did when they reinstituted a system of racially based slave labor in the heart of industrial Europe.

How does all this related to Donald Trump and his campaign? I’m afraid I’m not going to give you a simple answer, because I think the issue is complicated, and it’s also a story that’s still being written. Trump’s campaign has a mix of fascist and non-fascist characteristics, and it represents several different kinds of threats. If Trump is elected president, he will certainly make the United States a more authoritarian and more supremacist society. I think he would probably do this within the framework of the existing political system, and would not be able to impose a full-scale dictatorship — but I could be wrong about that. And whether Trump wins or loses in November, even if he loses by a lot, his campaign has already helped to revitalize the white nationalist far right in this country. Four more years of another centrist neoliberal president will only make that movement stronger.

Let me unpack all that a bit. Clearly, the Trump campaign is an example of right-wing populism. It’s a vortex of rage defending white, male, heterosexual privilege, but it’s also a scathing rejection of the political establishment, both liberal and conservative. Trump’s positions don’t necessarily follow the mainstream conservative script, but they do closely follow the examples set by earlier right-wing populist candidates such as Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. Like Buchanan in the 1990s, Trump claims to defend native-born American workers against both immigrants taking their jobs and multinational capitalists moving their jobs overseas. Like George Wallace in the 1960s, Trump supports some “liberal” measures — such as protecting Social Security and raising the minimum wage — that directly benefit his white working- and middle-class base. This echoes the standard fascist claim to be “neither left nor right.”

The Trump campaign also has many of the trappings we associate with fascism: the cult of a great leader; glorification of violence;  contempt for weakness; an emphasis on emotionally cathartic pageantry over substantive policy; and brazen, systematic lying.

But there are also some important differences. A key part of fascist politics centers on building an organized mass movement, but Trump hasn’t even built much of a campaign organization, let alone any sort of active political network that would live on past November. Also, fascism makes it a priority to impose its ideology on all institutions and all spheres of society, but it’s not clear that Donald Trump actually believes in much of anything except his own importance. Without a committed ideology or an organized popular base, a President Trump would certainly grab as much personal power as he could and use racist persecution and scapegoating to keep his supporters happy, but it’s hard to imagine him leading a fascist revolutionary transformation of society.

But even if the Trump campaign itself isn’t a fascist movement, it’s helping to build one. Trump’s anti-immigrant racism, coupled with his contempt for the conservative establishment, has won him praise from many white nationalist far rightists — the people who want to overthrow multicultural America, or at least secede from it and create an “ethno-state” for white people. Although some white nationalists say that Trump is just another tool of Zionist, Jewish interests, most of them support his campaign. They love that he wants to stop all Muslims from entering the U.S. and end birthright citizenship, and that he has broken the taboo against open racism in mainstream politics. At the same time, white nationalists are clear that Trump is not one of them and isn’t going to make the changes they want. As one blogger put it, “We need to take advantage of Trump, not allow Trump to take advantage of us.” A lot of them are hoping that Trump will weaken or even destroy the Republican Party, to help clear the ground for their version of right-wing politics.

The most dynamic branch of far right politics in the United States today is the so-called “alt-right,” which is short for alternative right. The alt-right mostly exists online and presents itself as new, hip, and irreverent. With some exceptions, most alt-rightists don’t have direct connections with the neonazi and Klan groups of recent decades. Alt-right politics centers on white nationalism but it overlaps with various other right-wing subcultures such as the so-called manosphere, which is anti-feminist and often viciously misogynistic, and the neoreactionary movement, which is an arcane, elitist offshoot of libertarianism. The alt-right ranges from intellectual-sounding journals and conferences to blogs and chat forums that specialize in aggressive insults and mockery. Trump’s candidacy has given them all a big boost.

In return, alt-rightists have helped out the Trump campaign in various ways. The American Freedom Party, which is tiny but has been a mouthpiece for alt-right ideas, funded pro-Trump robocalls in Iowa before the caucuses there. More importantly, alt-rightists have used their internet propaganda skills. In the lead-up to the first Republican presidential debate last summer, alt-rightists on social media promoted the internet meme “hashtag-cuckservative” to attack the mainstream Republican candidates as traitors and sellouts to liberalism. “Cuckservative” combines the words “conservative” and “cuckold,” meaning a man whose wife has sex with other men. It’s implicitly racist because cuckold also refers to a genre of porn in which passive white husbands watch their wives have sex with black men. The cuckservative meme got a lot of attention and helped shift the political climate in Trump’s favor.

A small-scale example happened this Spring at Portland State University, where the group Students for Trump used alt-right tactics to harass anti-Trump protesters. They used anonymous social media accounts to send hundreds of racist, transphobic, and antisemitic messages to the protesters, along with rape and death threats, and also publicized where the protesters lived and worked to make them more vulnerable. These same tactics have been used by manosphere activists to harass and intimidate feminists, as in the so-called Gamergate controversy of a couple of years ago. The Trump campaign has helped bring such tactics back into mainstream electoral politics.

This summer, almost certainly, the Democratic Party will nominate Hillary Clinton for president, and the Republicans will nominate Donald Trump. Ordinarily I don’t give much credence to the argument that leftists should support the Democrats as the lesser evil, because I think the way you lessen evil is by combatting it, by building liberatory movements that make it difficult or impossible for the rulers to do what they want to do. But this year I feel conflicted. If elected, either Clinton or Trump will build up the machinery of state repression even more, widen economic inequality even further, deport more immigrants and refugees, and rain more bombs on civilians in other countries. What I’m struggling with is this: If Trump is elected, I think it’s very possible that meetings such as this one will no longer be able to take place in public. Building liberatory movements will become a lot more difficult than it would be under Clinton, and a lot more of that work will have to happen underground. On the other hand, if we as leftists lend our support to the candidate of neoliberalism, if we ally ourselves with the bulk of the ruling class, we are telling millions of angry, disempowered people that the only real opposition, the only real political alternative, is on the right. And bad as the Trump campaign is, the next version of that opposition may be even worse.

Photo credit:
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SY 2.0)

May 14, 2016

Racist Revolutionaries: The Alt-Right Uprising? (radio program)

The alternative right or alt-right movement is a new incarnation of white nationalism that has  coalesced in recent years. The alt-right has gained attention over the past year because of its support for Donald Trump's presidential candidacy and promotion of the #cuckservative meme to attack mainstream conservatives.

I was recently interviewed by radio journalist Dan Young for a program about the alt-right that he produced for WFHB-FM, a community radio station in Bloomington, Indiana. The program, entitled "Racist Revolutionaries: The Alt-Right Uprising?" was broadcast on May 10th on WFHB's Interchange series. It's available as a podcast here. Using clips from speeches and articles by alt-right figures such as Richard Spencer, Keith Preston, and Matthew Heimbach, the program offers an excellent analysis of the movement's ideology, branches, activities, appropriation of anti-colonial and anti-oppression themes, and relationship with the Trump campaign. Here's an excerpt from the description on the WFHB website:
"You’ll hear in what follows how the 'Alt-Right' often takes liberal or left terminologies and turns these upside down to serve a racist, segregationist, and white supremacist agenda. You’ll hear terms like 'race realism' and 'identitarian' and even 'peaceful ethnic cleansing'–words and phrases crafted to sound sensible, thoughtful, civil. At one point you’ll hear a 19th century canard coming out of the mouth of one of these 'conversos' to 'race realism'–that 'people of color' are not sufficiently advanced in civilization to 'handle' freedom. It doesn’t take a village; it takes a white master."
(My interview was mostly used as background for the segment, but there's a short clip of me speaking about 32 minutes in.)

For more about the alt-right, see the excellent coverage at, such as "Alternative Internet Racism: Alt Right and the New Fascist Branding" and "Going Full Fash: Breitbart Mainstreams the 'Alt Right'." See also my 2010 article " Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century," about the online journal that gave the alt-right its name. I didn't realize back then that was already moving beyond paleoconservatism, but otherwise the article holds up pretty well.

Mar 15, 2016

Trump: “anti-political” or right wing?

[See new post-script at the end of this article.]

Some leftists have declared recently that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is fundamentally “anti-political” rather than right wing. But the evidence they offer actually highlights the similarities between Trump and earlier right-wing populist candidates Patrick Buchanan and George Wallace. This debate also highlights the need to combat both Trump’s demagoguery and the political establishment he is railing against.
Protest at Donald Trump Rally in Chicago on March 11, 2016

A revolt against the political class
Tad Tietze on the blog Left Flank and James Robertson in Socialist Worker (newspaper of the International Socialist Organization) both argue that Trump’s campaign is anti-political in the sense that it centers on attacking the political establishment while ignoring conventional ideological categories. Robertson and Tietze acknowledge that on immigration and Muslims, Trump has staked out more vitriolic positions than any other candidate, but they contend that Trump is actually to the left of the other Republican candidates on a wide range of issues. More specifically, writes Tietze,
“Trump argues for: protectionist trade policies as part of massively reinvigorating industrial production to create quality jobs;… more funding for schools and health services; replacing Obamacare with a system that brings the insurance companies to heel (until recently he’d even supported single-payer); and rebuilding crumbling infrastructure. It’s a fairly traditional populist, government-led pitch of growing the economy (and the government) out of its problems…”
Robertson offers further examples:
“Take, for instance, Trump's unexpectedly aggressive attack on the Bush presidency for lying about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to justify the Iraq War. Or his recent call for the U.S. to play a more ‘neutral’ roe in the Israel/Palestine conflict--a sharp (and controversial) break with the staunchly pro-Israel GOP.

“On domestic issues, too, Trump has been a volatile candidate. Upon the death of Antonin Scalia, he distanced himself from the judge’s attack on affirmative action. Likewise, on abortion, Trump has consistently marked himself as a moderate (relative to his competitors, at least).”
This mix of positions, Tietze and Robertson argue, doesn’t make sense in ideological terms, but is consistent as expression of Trump’s central message: that the current political class is (in Tietze’s words) “inept, bought-off, beholden to corporate donors, and too ineffectual to take the decisive action needed to fix America’s problems.”

Tietze thinks that we shouldn't take Trump’s racist rhetoric too seriously. He claims it's simply Trump's way of showing up the political establishment’s weakness and “attracting attention by causing an uproar,” and that Trump “has started to soften his pitch” as his campaign has gotten stronger. Tietze argues further that “Trump’s strongest support is from GOP voters who self-identify as ‘moderate/liberal,’” and that it’s a mistake to interpret his popularity as “some kind of significant radicalisation on the Right,” as many leftists and others have done.

Robertson's version of the argument is more sophisticated. He acknowledges that Trump has exploited racist and nativist sentiments and that “there does appear to be a general correlation between support for Trump and racist attitudes.” He notes further that “a hardcore minority of the crowd [at Trump rallies] supports and even revels in racist violence” and that “certain groups on the radical right have seen in Trump’s campaign an opportunity to amplify their messages.” But in the end, he says, “Trump's anti-politics are not an add-on to his racist ideology. Rather, his racist outbursts supplement his anti-political campaign.” In his view, identifying Trump too closely with the far right “underestimates the malleability of his anti-political strategy,” which sometimes involves taking anti-racist positions, such as support for removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol building. It also risks “overstating the size and influence of the far right” in the U.S., which despite recent growth remains “marginalized and, on the whole, weak and fragmented.”

To Robertson, Trump’s ideological flexibility “highlights his lack of a social base. He has no significant institutional backing, no real roots in any broad social formations.” This “allows him to position himself in as most divisive a way as possible and so occupy the space of the ‘anti-establishment’ most effectively.” It also means that the “Trump phenomenon is doomed to be ephemeral” and has limited “capacity to fundamentally shift the political landscape.”

A backlash against noeliberalism
A related analysis comes from Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian. Although Frank doesn’t use the term “anti-political” and doesn’t call Trump’s impact “ephemeral,” he agrees with Tietze and Robertson that racism isn’t the best way to explain Trump’s appeal. He argues that Trump’s popularity has more to do with his “left wing” ideas: such as calling for competitive bidding in the drug industry, criticizing arms industry lobbyists, and, above all, denouncing free trade — which seems irrational to the professional class but resonates for millions of working people hurt by deindustrialization:
“Many of Trump’s followers are bigots, no doubt, but many more are probably excited by the prospect of a president who seems to mean it when he denounces our trade agreements and promises to bring the hammer down on the CEO that fired you and wrecked your town, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Frank cites a survey of white working-class voters in suburban Cleveland and Pittsburgh that was conducted by Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate:
“Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude,’ the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs / the economy.’”
Frank has no illusions that Trump actually cares about workers, but argues that his criticisms of free trade “articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades.” Reducing Trump’s appeal to the single issue of racism obscures this reality.
“We cannot admit that we liberals bear some of the blame for its emergence, for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiraling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”
Echoes of Buchanan and Wallace
These articles raise issues that need to be addressed. As Tietze, Robertson, and Frank contend, Trump’s message and popularity can’t be reduced to racism alone. The articles are helpful for focusing attention on Trump’s hostility to the political establishment and for detailing some of the ways he doesn’t sound like a conservative.

But it’s frustrating that all three of these authors write as if conservatism is the only kind of right-wing politics, and that all three of them treat Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric as separate from, and at odds with, his racism. In reality, combining crude or distorted anti-elitism with scapegoating and attacks against oppressed communities is the very essence of right-wing populism. That’s not a new idea, and it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

To take this further, the specific ways that Trump combines overtly right-wing and “moderate” or “liberal” positions closely track earlier right-wing populist presidential candidates, specifically Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. Both Buchanan and Wallace ran campaigns in which ethnoreligious bigotry and reasserting white dominance played a major role. But both of them combined this with anti-establishment positions which, in different ways, broke with conservative orthodoxy.

Buchanan (who ran in the Republican presidential primaries in 1992 and 1996, and on the Reform Party ticket in 2000) is a paleoconservative whose campaigns evoked the economic protectionism and military anti-interventionism of the Old Right. When Donald Trump criticizes free trade agreements, he sounds like Buchanan denouncing “the predatory traders of Europe and Asia” who threatened American industry and jobs. When Trump attacks the Bush administration for falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” or calls for the U.S. to play a more “neutral” role between Israel and Palestine, he sounds like Buchanan opposing the drive toward war with Iraq in 1990 and denouncing the United States’ close alliance with Israel. When Trump criticizes arms industry lobbyists, he sounds like Buchanan opposing “unfettered capitalism.”

Some rightists have recognized these parallels. Former Reagan budget staffer David Stockman writes,
“The Donald is tapping a nationalist/isolationist impulse that runs deep among a weary and economically precarious main street public. He is clever enough to articulate it in the bombast of what sounds like a crude trade protectionism. Yet if Pat Buchanan were to re-write his speech, it would be more erudite and explicit about the folly of the American Imperium, but the message would be the same.”
Justin Raimondo, an anti-interventionist libertarian who runs the website and who supported Buchanan’s presidential campaigns, argues that “Trump represents a deadly challenge to the high command of the War Party – the neoconservatives who lied us into war in Iraq – and were called out for it by him.” Although Raimondo is not a Trump supporter, he believes that
“If Trump secures the nomination, the way is paved for transforming the GOP from the party of perpetual war to the party that honors the long-forgotten ‘isolationist’ Sen. Robert A. Taft… And if Trump actually wins the White House, the military-industrial complex is finished, along with the globalists who dominate foreign policy circles in Washington.”
George Wallace’s brand of right-wing populism was different. Although he ran in the Democratic presidential primaries three times, Wallace is better remembered for his 1968 run on the American Independent Party ticket. His 1968 campaign defended segregation but downplayed explicit racism; it denounced centralized government but — as part of Wallace’s appeal to working-class whites — embraced welfare state policies. Many of Donald Trump’s more “liberal” domestic positions, such as expanding education funding and rebuilding infrastructure, are like a muted version of what Wallace advocated 48 years ago, such as higher Social Security payments, universal access to medical care, and a guaranteed right to collective bargaining. Because of these positions, Wallace was called a liberal by Republican opponents, much as Trump is today.

Only if we ignore this history does it make sense to call Trump’s message “inconsistent,” “irrational,” or “chaotic.” Not all of Trump’s positions follow right-wing populist precedent, but most of them do, and even the outliers may follow a related logic. For example, Michelle Goldberg suggests that Trump’s refusal to demonize Planned Parenthood (he wants to defund it for performing abortions, yet points out that it helps millions of women with other health services) is reassuring to “downwardly mobile white voters who hear how terrible Planned Parenthood is… but who nevertheless rely on the organization for reproductive health care.” That’s an eminently rational approach to take if you want to build a right-wing populist campaign that stands apart from your conventional conservative rivals.

A right-wing realignment
A classic hallmark of right-wing populist movements is that they attract people in the middle echelons of the social hierarchy, who have genuine grievances against economic and political elites above them, but also want to defend their limited, relative privilege against challenges from oppressed groups below. Right-wing populism takes that mix of resentments and channels it in ways that reinforce oppression and hierarchy. This describes Trump’s campaign perfectly.

I can well believe that only a fraction of Trump’s supporters are drawn to his campaign because they they’re actively committed to racist ideology. And while a willingness to ignore racism is certainly a minimum requirement for supporting Trump, that’s not unusual. Millions of white Americans, including many Trump opponents, ignore racism all the time. So it’s true that Trump isn’t just tapping into some pre-existing white nationalist constituency — instead, he is building one. By melding anger against Washington politicians with hatred and fear of Mexicans, Muslims, and people of color in general; by identifying political honesty with open expressions of bigotry; by turning his rallies into events where racist and anti-leftist violence is treated as normal and good; and by giving his followers an iconoclastic leader to rally around, Trump is doing his part to reverse the white nationalist right’s weakness and fragmentation that Robertson finds so reassuring.

Against Robertson’s belief that Trump is just a “chaos candidate” who’s unlikely to build anything of lasting impact, I see Trump as the current focal point for an increasingly coherent and dangerous right-wing challenge to neoliberalism. Benjamin Studebaker argues persuasively that this is one after-effect of the 2008 economic crisis.
“Economic ideologies change when there is an economic disaster that is seen to discredit the prevailing ideology. The Great Depression discredited the classical economics practiced by right wingers like Calvin Coolidge, allowing for left wing policies that in the 1920s would have sounded insane to ordinary people. The stagflation in the '70s discredited the Keynesian egalitarianism of FDR and LBJ, allowing Ronald Reagan to implement right wing policies that would have been totally unthinkable to people living in the 1960s.

“I submit to you that the 2008 economic crisis and the stagnation that has followed have discredited the neoliberal economic ideology of Reagan and Clinton… for supporters of both parties, and that new policies and candidates are possible now that would have been totally unthinkable to people as recently as 10 years ago.”
Studebaker argues that neoliberalism has dominated both major parties since Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the 1970s, but now it’s being challenged from two sides: on one side Bernie Sanders’s “left egalitarianism” (essentially an updated version of the New Deal and the Great Society), on the other the “right nationalism” of both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And while neoliberals will likely keep control of the Democratic Party this year (via a Hillary Clinton nomination), Trump’s prospects to bring about a realignment of the Republican Party are all too strong.

What should we do?
As I’ve discussed here, here, and here, I think it’s a mistake to call Trump a fascist, but his campaign is emboldening the fascist far right, promoting open bigotry and violence, and intensifying the authoritarian and supremacist tendencies of the existing political order. In the likely contest between right nationalist Trump and neoliberal Clinton, Clinton is the less disastrous option, but she is closely identified with many of the disastrous policies that have fueled support for Trump in the first place. Arun Gupta, astute critic of what electoral politics does to movement building, takes a flexible approach to this dilemma that's worth quoting:
“If you live in a true swing state, cast a ballot for Clinton…. This is a tactical choice, not an endorsement of the odious Clintons. But if you don’t vote, I won’t condemn you, especially if you are in the streets opposing whoever assumes office in January 2017…. My energy, as always, is going into independent political action. While Trump is uniquely dangerous and must be stopped, the left needs to build a movement that has the support, flexibility, and creativity to make the work difficult of whichever barbaric party wins the presidential election.”
Sixteen years ago, in Right-Wing Populism in America, Chip Berlet and I called for a two-pronged strategy to deal with this kind of threat: broad alliances to expose and confront rightist scapegoating and violence, but also radical initiatives to attack the structural inequalities that right-wing populism exploits, and to challenge centrism and liberalism’s harmful and repressive policies. This same dual approach remains necessary today.

I support Chip’s urgent call for “organizing now to protect the people being demonized and scapegoated as targets of White rage,” and to “build broad and diverse local coalitions that tactically address local issues while strategically linking them to national struggles.” I also support Dave Zirin’s call on Facebook to “build a fighting left that challenges what Trump is giving voice to: white nationalism as a response to the crisis people feel in their lives.” As Zirin urges, “Every Trump rally should be protested and disrupted…. Repeat: Every Trump rally should be protested and disrupted.” The recent protest at a Trump rally in Chicago — spearheaded by black, Latino, and Muslim university students — won an important tactical victory when Trump cancelled the event rather than face his opponents.

But even forceful protests like Chicago are basically defensive, just one part of what’s needed. The other part is to cut off right-wing populism at the root. Tietze, Robertson, and Frank are correct that Trump’s campaign is fueled by rage at the neoliberal establishment, so if we want to cut off that support, we need to give people better ways to channel that rage, radical alternatives that speak to their reality. At the same time that we combat bigotry and scapegoating, we need to find ways to engage politically with the working- and middle-class whites who are currently being drawn to Trump’s campaign. Clare Bayard of the Catalyst Project wrote about this challenge two months ago, in a blog post about the Patriot movement occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon:
“How do we scale up the scrappy efforts currently underway by grassroots organizations [such as the Rural Organizing Project, is a statewide community organizing project in Oregon] to meet the needs of impoverished, isolated rural communities, as well as working-class and poor urban communities? How do we diminish the appeal of groups like the 3%s, Oath Keepers, and other paramilitaries formations that are speaking to peoples’ fears and the hatred that has been manufactured over generations by people with an interest in distracting us all from whose hands are actually in our pockets? And compete with the real way they are speaking to the material needs of people who are struggling to get by and do not feel supported or valued?
*             *             *
“What is the deep work of healing that needs to happen for the people whose humanity is in such distress that they rally with guns at mosques, and how can we seriously engage that work while also prioritizing protection for the people they stalk?”
I certainly don’t know the answers to Clare’s questions, although I expect there’s a lot to be learned from groups such as the Rural Organizing Project, as well as earlier examples such as the Young Patriots Organization, a radical group formed in 1968 Chicago mostly by poor whites from the South. But this issue is important: it is one of the most important challenges we face.

Image credit:
Photo by nathanmac87, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License).

Postscript, 3/19/2016: Some readers have criticized this article as under-playing the role of racism and Islamophobia in mobilizing Trump supporters. I accept this criticism. At points in the article it sounds like I’m saying that anti-elitism is the main reason people are rallying to Trump, and that’s really not what I meant to say. Trump is certainly using racial and religious scapegoating to mobilize people, extending and intensifying the kind of scapegoating that other politicians have perpetrated for years. And while you can find serious examples of racism in all of the other major campaigns — from Cruz to Clinton to Sanders — the Trump campaign is in a class by itself. There is clear evidence that Trump supporters are significantly more likely to express “white ethnocentrism” and anti-Muslim bigotry than are others polled, including other Republicans. 

But I don’t think that’s enough to explain Trump’s appeal. Because railing against the political establishment is also a big part of his message, and a big part of what people say they like about him. I think it’s the combination of ethnoreligious scapegoating and twisted anti-elitism that’s key here, as it has been over and over in U.S. political history. If we ignore that combination and say it’s simply racism, we’re missing something important, just as Frank, Robertson, and Tietze miss something important by minimizing or denying racism’s role.

Jan 6, 2016

Fascist revolution doesn’t turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump

Part 4 of Alexander Reid Ross’s series on “Trumpism” on the website It’s Going Down is largely a reply to my piece “Trump’s impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers.” Reid Ross makes some valid criticisms and other good points, but he also he misrepresents my position and fails to address my main criticism of his.

In “Trump’s impact” I argued that Donald Trump’s campaign embodies important elements of fascist politics, has fomented racist and Islamophobic bigotry and violence, and promotes many themes that help organized fascists do their work. I also argued more generally — as I’ve argued for years — that it’s a serious mistake to treat fascism as radically separate from other forms of right-wing populism and authoritarianism. So I’m mystified by statements such as the following, near the end of Reid Ross’s article:
“the claim [by Lyons]… that Trump’s campaign is interconnected to fascism, but that Trump, himself, can remain pure and clearly describable as ‘not fascist’ seems inconsistent. To detach the proximity between Trumpism and people like the Leader brothers [who assaulted a Latino homeless man in Boston in August] or [William] Celli [a Trump supporter who apparently set up a bomb-making enterprise in his home] so cleanly seems like an error. And that’s the main point: the radical right is not as simple as a cluster of autonomous ideologies perfectly honed and starkly differentiated.”
This is a total distortion of my words. I didn’t make any of these “pure,” “clean,” or “starkly differentiated” dichotomies, but in fact argued squarely against them.

In “Trumpism, Part 4,” Reid Ross emphasizes the “gray area” and “hybridization” between fascist and non-fascist forms of right-wing populism. In itself, this isn’t that different from my argument that Trump’s campaign displays a mix of fascist and non-fascist characteristics. Where we disagree, as I wrote in “Trump’s impact,” is that I think it’s a mistake to see such mixed political initiatives as having an inherent tendency to move toward full-fledged fascism. This was my one direct criticism of Reid Ross, but in a 3,800-word reply he never addresses it. He finds it strange that I disagreed with him while endorsing David Neiwert’s "similar" approach, but the key difference is that Neiwert made no such claims about inherent tendencies.

Reid Ross only considers his gray areas as stages in the “creep” toward fascism. He offers no framework for addressing other potential outcomes, such as the possibility that Trump’s campaign might lead more white nationalists to work within the existing system. This narrow focus is strategically dangerous, because it limits our ability to understand and respond to multiple possible threats.

I agree with Reid Ross that Trump’s campaign might develop into a more consistently fascist initiative. But it’s more likely that Trump will remain a champion of increasing repression and ethno-religious scapegoating within the existing political framework — which is plenty bad enough. Look at past history: before Trump, there were three major presidential candidates over the previous half century — George Wallace, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan — whose politics resembled fascism to significant degrees. All of them inspired and emboldened far rightists, but all of them ultimately remained loyal to the established order and helped make it worse. Given these precedents, the burden of proof is on Reid Ross to explain why he’s confident that Trump will develop differently.

On a secondary level, I have to concede certain points to Reid Ross. He is right that fascist movements don’t necessarily involve an organized paramilitary force, and it was a mistake on my part to suggest that they do. Also, I overgeneralized when I wrote (paraphrasing Neiwert) that fascists are “absolutists who demand ideological purity.” As Reid Ross points out, in Italian Fascism’s early years Mussolini embraced ideological “inconsistencies and contradictions.” I would argue this was largely calculated bravado on Mussolini’s part as he worked to weld multiple factions into one movement, and that his ideology was already significantly more thought out and committed than Donald Trump’s. But it’s true that fascist movements don’t or can’t always demand ideological purity from their followers.

On the issue of fascist populism, Reid Ross misunderstands my argument that “fascism seeks to actively and permanently mobilize large masses of people.” I didn’t mean that initiatives don’t qualify as fascist if they don’t succeed in building a mass movement. I meant fascists try to get people involved in active, ongoing activities (not just call them out as occasional spectators at campaign rallies) both to mobilize support and enforce control. This type of mobilization isn’t unique to fascism, of course. If you want an example, look at the Christian right, which has painstakingly built an elaborate organizational web, based at the level of church congregations and living room prayer circles. Again, I see no efforts along these lines from the Trump campaign.

Replying to my argument that Trump isn’t fascist because he doesn’t advocate a right-wing revolution, Reid Ross asserts that Trump does indeed have “revolutionary leanings” because (a) some conservatives say or imply that he does, (b) he called for “a revolution” after Obama’s 2012 re-election, (c) Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says that Trump is in some ways more extreme than many white nationalists, and (d) implementing Trump’s proposal to deport 11 million people would require a massive project of “totalitarian social engineering.”

I guess it depends what we mean by revolution. To me, a fascist revolution goes far beyond events like the “Gingrich Revolution” of 1994 (in which Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in decades) or even the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s (which dramatically reduced the welfare state, transferred billions of dollars from lower- and middle-income people to the wealthy, and intensified U.S. attacks on leftist and popular forces worldwide). Fascism is revolutionary in the sense that it
“implies an effort to bring about a fundamental, structural transformation of the political, cultural, economic, or social order. Fascism seeks, first of all, to overthrow established political elites and abolish established forms of political rule, whether liberal-pluralist or authoritarian. Second, fascists also attack “bourgeois” cultural patterns such as individualism and consumerism and aim to systematically reshape all cultural spheres — encompassing education, family life, religion, the media, arts, sports and leisure, as well as the culture of business and the workplace — to reflect one unified ideology. Third, some (not all) forms of fascism promote a socioeconomic revolution that transforms but does not abolish class society — as when German Nazism restructured the industrial heart of Europe with a system of exploitation based largely on plunder, slave labor, and genocidally working people to death.”
Fascism’s revolutionary vision invokes an idealized image of the past, but it does so in the service of creating a new order, not just restoring old traditions. Yes, as Reid Ross tells us, Italian Fascists “harkened back” to the 19th-century Risorgimento (as well as the glory days of Ancient Rome), but they envisioned a forward-looking industrial society where capitalists and workers would work together for the good of the nation. Yes, Hitler “looked to” the military greatness of Germany’s Second Reich and Prussia’s Frederick the Great (as well as the paganism of ancient Germanic tribes), but he wanted a new, racially pure settler-colonial empire and had no interest in restoring the monarchy or deferring to the old Junker aristocracy.

Similarly, it’s not true that white nationalist far rightists in the U.S. “have always upheld segregation and a racialized caste system as an ultimate ideal.” Actually most of them moved beyond old-style segregationism decades ago, toward newer visions, such as creating a white separatist enclave through secession, dividing the entire U.S. into apartheid-style racial homelands, or exterminating Jews and people of color entirely. Compared with these ideas, Trump’s proposals to make (white) America great again represent a much more limited challenge to the established order. His most extreme structural proposal, abolishing birthright citizenship, would intensify racial and national oppression, but unfortunately this change is all too compatible with liberal “democracy” as practiced everywhere outside the Americas.

It is true, as Reid Ross argues, that deporting 11 million people would involve a big expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus. This would be disastrous in all kinds of ways, but it would not require any fundamental break with the existing institutional framework. In the 1950s (under moderate Republican Dwight Eisenhower) the federal government rounded up an estimated 1.1 million people through the odiously named “Operation Wetback” deportation program. In the 1930s (under liberal Democrat Franklin Roosevelt), upwards of one million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were deported, when the U.S. population was about 40 percent of what it is today. Trump’s proposal is bigger than these precedents, but it’s not qualitatively different.

Alexander Reid Ross accuses me of obscuring Donald Trump’s fascist particularities under the vague category of right-wing populism — of “missing the tree for the forest.” But a forest has many trees, and Trump’s candidacy points to different kinds of threats — some at odds with the established political order, others loyal to it. If we only see one threat we will be in trouble.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"On Trump, fascism, and stale social science" (25 October 2015)
"Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers" (22 December 2015)