Fascism in America
Is calling Trump a fascist tantamount to indulging in some kind of essentialist trope? Should we describe him as an authoritarian or para-fascist instead? Is comparing him to Hitler a form of political opportunism or engaging in a strawman argument? Is Trump merely a bloviating apologist for sexism, racism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, nationalism, isolationism and misogyny?
Some may object to the label fascism being applied to Trump because he did not create a one-party system or because he could always have institutionalised more horrific policies (perhaps torturing migrant children in addition to separating them from their parents and putting them in cages?). Encouragement of civic violence and urging his base to overthrow an election by attacking the Capitol building is, admittedly, not enough for Trump to pass the historically high watermark of being officially recognised as a fascist – at least, not if we are comparing Trumpism to Franquismo, Mussolini or Hitler. But whether or not Trump is a true fascist, or he just borrowed some motifs and ideas from fascist leaders that he admires is not as urgent an issue as the fact that he has, without question, politically mobilised fascists and emboldened neo-Nazis, white nationalists, internet trolls, groypers, neo-confederates, bikers for Trump, armed militias and sovereign citizens; he has amplified the anti-Semitic chorus against George Soros, incited violence at political rallies among his supporters such as the Proud Boys, and basked in the sanctified aura of being regarded by evangelical religious leaders as ‘chosen by God’ to lead the country back to its former glory. (Unlike Romania’s infamous fascist mystic, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, Trump is an avid materialist seemingly uninterested in spiritual issues.) The list goes on. And, surely, Trump has emboldened both evangelical Christians and the Catholic right-wing. The Catholic right has supported fascist governments throughout history, and, no doubt, will continue to support them and silence theologians whose work challenged Catholic orthodoxy such as Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx and Yves Congar, Franciscan Leonardo Boff and the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal.
According to Roger Griffin, we insult fascism by describing Trump as a fascist since, as crude as he was, Trump was ‘not consistently ‘ultra-nationalistic,’ striving to create an organic (and hence ethnically exclusive) national community beyond the limits of democracy in a new order’ (see Paul Jackson on Trump and fascism). Griffin suggests that the radical left wanted Trump to be considered a fascist since ‘the prospect of a Republican coup might galvanise the masses into a carrying out a Marxist revolution.’ I am unsure of what Griffin is referring to when he uses the term ‘Marxist revolution,’ since, here, he seems to indicate that he knows little of Marxist revolutionary politics. There certainly does appear to be strong tendencies towards fascism in today’s Republican Party, or, at the very least, we could describe them as attacks against democracy. Thus, when I refer to Trump as a fascist, I am doing so in recognition of incipient changes in the political landscape of American democracy that are strongly tilting in the direction of fascism, and, by labelling those tendencies as fascist, I am signalling this downward spiral as a danger to the survival of American democracy.
Trump may not be sitting behind his desk in Mar-a-Lago, planning his own version of the Legion of the Archangel Michael or Iron Guard, or writing the manifesto for some other clerical-fascist dictatorship, but he is certainly inspiring others to do so. Christian evangelicals who regard Trump as the ‘Chosen One’ seem more in keeping with the morbidly dark fascist precepts of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu in their desire for the redemption and resurrection of nations in the name of Jesus Christ and in their conviction that enemies of the nation must be punished by stalwart warriors of the faithful who must always remain joyful at the prospect of becoming martyrs, engaging passionately in morbid rituals that include sucking the blood from slashes in the arms of other members, and, for the members of the echipa mortii (death squads), a special treat consisting of drinking from a flask of their members’ collectively pooled blood.
I agree with Barbara Epstein, who writes that ‘[t]he danger we face is of fascism, not authoritarianism. Authoritarianism means rule by one person or group. It may not be accompanied by major upheavals or conflict. Fascism, on the other hand, describes a system in which a group comes to power and maintains its power by inflaming existing prejudices and conflicts and setting one or more sectors of a population against others.’ She also underscores that ‘[f]ascism thrives on internal conflict and violence. In the US, it rests on racism and, to a lesser but growing extent, antisemitism, and it also rests on sharpening the differences between cultural and or political groups, creating crises that escalate and promote violence, inflaming racism, and creating conflicts among whites as well.’ We need to be reminded that the promotion of violence is a key characteristic of fascism. We forget at our peril the systematic extermination of ‘other’ races carried out by fascist regimes, even as these regimes were allied with the Catholic Church. Ante Pavlick, founder of the Independent State of Croatia and leader of the Ustaše (also known as the Croatian Revolutionary Movement, the fascist group that controlled Croatia during World War II), managed to yolk together fascism and right-wing Catholicism. Its Black Legionmilitia terrorised, tortured, and murdered Jews, Serbs and gypsies with a ferocity that even disturbed some Nazi officials. In the first editorial of the Ustaše newspaper in 1931, Pavlick wrote: ‘The KNIFE, REVOLVER, MACHINE GUN and TIME BOMB; these are the idols, these are bells that will announce the dawning and THE RESURRECTION OF THE INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA.’ The Vatican helped Ustaše members escape to Argentina at the end of World War II through the infamous German ‘Rat Line.’
Sentiments expressed by right-wing extremist groups in the US chillingly reveal a germinating spirit of violence redolent of earlier fascist regimes, such as the chants: ‘Jews Will Not Replace Us,’ ‘Blood and Soil,’ ‘The South Will Rise Again,’ ‘White Lives Matter,’ and ‘Hail Trump’ and ‘We Will Be Back’ that filled the night sky during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Recounting the success of the Nazi victory in Germany in the 1930s, Barbara Epstein asserts that in order not to make a mistake similar to the tragedy that befell the Weimar Republic in the 1930s, we need to form a coalition against fascism that will include other political groups in addition to the socialist left. She writes: ‘Had the German Communists recognised that socialism was not around the corner, but that fascism was, and had they been willing to ally with the Social Democrats and other parties and speak to a broad audience, a movement capable of resisting fascism might have been formed.’ The right loves to see the left bogged down in fights over culture and identity, and while these issues are important, I agree with Epstein ‘that the left needs to shift its focus from culture and language to developing the organisations and strategy that might prevent the right from coming to power.’ We also need to reach out to poor working-class Whites, including those residing in rural communities. We cannot allow the spirit of fascism to structure our collective sense of belonging and our personal identities, since, as I have noted, fascism is prodigious in its ability to create chaos and violence.
In modern democratic societies, fascism reveals itself least immediately to the self-reflexive subject. Hence, we remain perilously vulnerable to its appearance on our own geopolitical stage. We even go so far as to believe that it can’t exist in sophisticated societies such as our own. Democracy appears to us to be natural and immutable, and we forget that fascism is a virus that is dormant in capitalist democracies, ready to materialise when fear and panic overtake the populace who seek out scapegoats when communities begin to disintegrate, and mimetic rivalries turn violent. Once democracy is lost, it may never return. We cannot forget what or who may spring up in its absence. The Black Legion and the Waffen SS did not magically appear on the streets of Eastern and Western Europe. There were warning signs that were ignored or that rendered the left unable to mount an effective challenge. We cannot make the same petty-minded calculations as our forebears. History can be unforgiving. In fact, it most often is.
QAnon: The Virus of Political Pathology
Since Trump got elected in 2016, our interest in fascism has become increasingly preponderant. We have learned that fascism and its unholy marriage to racism are prodigious in their ability to create chaos. Trump needs that species of chaos in order to perpetuate the discord that is his lifeblood. We cannot allow the free-ranging spirit of either to structure our collective sense of belonging and our personal identities. We must remain resolutely aware of the consequences of fascism, from the free speech debates on campus, to voter suppression acts, to mimetic rivalries among nations and beyond. But we are being overwhelmed by fascism today in the United States. We have QAnon to thank for this.
QAnon has become one of the largest conspiracy cults worldwide, with adherents in at least 71 countries. QAnon followers in the United States are still pacing back and forth along the streets of Dallas, Texas, waiting for John F. Kennedy (who has been dead since 1963), or his deceased son, John F. Kennedy Jr. (who died in 1999), to appear miraculously on a street corner and assist in Trump’s ‘secret war’ against the Cabal, a Satan-worshiping, child-molesting and cannibalistic group of deep state operatives that include members of the Democratic Party, Hollywood actors, George Soros, billionaires and members of the Illuminati. Followers believe that Donald Trump is secretly leading the fight against the Cabal and look forward to judgment day, known as the ‘Storm,’ when the US military under Trump’s command will take over the country and execute the leaders of the Cabal – most notably Hillary Clinton – in riotous public spectacles of wanton bloodletting.
How can we explain this obsession with this ‘End of Days’ mythology? It’s certainly the case that many religions, most notably Christianity, prophesize an ‘end times’ of apocalyptic slaughter in which only true believers will be spared. We need merely to read the Book of Joshua or the Hindu Vedas for confirmation that God or Gods do not always act with benevolence or compassion. And there is the death cult of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia that we know only too well from 9/11. And we would be remiss to forget the slaughter of the Muslim Rohingya people in Myanmar by the Buddhist majority, who looked to their religion to justify their mass murder. No doubt there are numerous classified government organisations that are operating today out of the public eye, that make fateful decisions well beyond the purview of the public on issues related to health, crime, national security, technology, the banking industry and other areas.
Many Americans, for instance, know about the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. In this study, a group of nearly 400 African Americans who had contracted syphilis were deliberately withheld treatment (even though penicillin was readily available) and subsequently went blind, insane and died – all done so that their corpses could be examined as part of the study.
And US citizens have very likely read about COINTELPRO, a series of covert and illegal projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1956 to 1971 that aimed at infiltrating and disrupting domestic American political organisations, which included the secret monitoring of Martin Luther King’s phone calls and those of his associates with the aim of discrediting civil rights groups. And it has long been made public that during the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA had been funding experiments in mind-control and brainwashing that included electroshocks, drug-induced sleep and the use of LSD on unsuspecting patients at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal. This was part of a North America-wide project known as MK Ultra. This history alone fosters a credible suspicion that citizens are still being victimised and subject to social control and biological engineering experiments.
So, for some, it has not been a very great leap from the history of these secret government operations to believing the bizarre fabrications of QAnon, which appears to have a makeshift, do-it-yourself approach to conspiracy theories. With the internet, you can now post whatever dark dime store machinations that you think are going on behind the deep state curtain and hope that your tabloid imagination resonates with a sufficient number of readers – and suddenly, within minutes of working your keypad, you could effect a digital tsunami with a global reach. Most people drawn to QAnon are ideologically committed to the political right, so the hegemony of the group will always favour Trump (who once bragged he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in New York and not lose any voters). If, for instance, some members tried to claim Trump is the Anti-Christ and it is actually Joe Biden who is secretly poised to destroy the Cabal, they would no doubt be shut down quickly by Trump-defending, Branch Covidian digital soldiers.
It is understandable that during the current economic crisis that is hurting so many, and in the midst of a pandemic that seems to be fading a little but still has no end in sight, that QAnon ideology is incubating and spreading quickly, proportionate to the effect that the coronavirus and the economy are having on struggling families. And, not surprisingly, countries that would benefit from the US erupting into political chaos are seizing on a golden opportunity to destabilise the US further, instructing their own clandestine digital operatives to plant pro-QAnon stories on US internet platforms. People in need of emotional succour and who would benefit the most from feelings of group connectedness, mutuality and reciprocity during these pandemic times, and who already tilt ideologically to the right, are perfect candidates for recruitment into the QAnon death cult with its Christian-friendly and anti-Semitic theories. Democratic-party aligned, and leftist neighbours of QAnon members should be concerned. As Thom Hartmann writes, half the insurgents who stormed the Capitol were QAnon believers. One believer has already murdered two of his children, claiming they had ‘serpent DNA’ and had to be killed in order to save the human race. The idea of the serpent DNA echoes the conspiracy theories of David Icke, which interlock with many QAnon theories. Of course, we can’t rule out the idea that many QAnon followers are suffering from some kind of psychological stresses and challenges, including ‘post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Munchausen syndrome by proxy.’
But not all members of religions or religious cults suffer from mental illness. And what about Facebook’s algorithm and ‘new group’ system for mobilising QAnon adherents? Hartmann reports: ‘Last summer on a warm Sunday night in the small Oregon town of Klamath Falls, about 200 locals showed up downtown with guns, baseball bats and whatever other weapons they could find around the house to fight off the busloads of Black Antifa marauders who they believed Jewish billionaire George Soros had paid to put on a bus in Portland and was sending their way.’ Of course, this was all a hoax, but ‘the warnings were all over the Klamath Falls Facebook group, and, it turns out, similar Facebook groups for small towns all over America.’ These warnings about Antifa could have been from white supremacist organisations or foreign governments, and they were effective: ‘Literally, from coast to coast, that weekend white residents of small towns showed up in their downtown areas with guns, rifles, hammers and axes prepared to do battle with busloads of Black people being sent into their small white towns by George Soros…. In the tiny town of Falls, Washington, frightened white people brought out chainsaws and cut down trees to block the road leading to their town.’
A 2019 Gallup Poll showed Americans’ membership in houses of worship to have dropped below 50%, setting a precedent in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, the results showed that 47% of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999. According to Jones, ‘Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.’ Even considering the correlation between age and affiliation with houses of worship, it remains the case that ‘[t]he US remains a religious nation, with more than seven in 10 affiliating with some type of organised religion. However, far fewer, now less than half, have a formal membership with a specific house of worship.’
The increasing overt involvement of churches in politics (churches have always had covert relationships with political leaders and ideologies) has likely been a factor in the decline in church attendance in recent years, certainly among progressive and left members who identify Christianity with current Republican politics. It is not unreasonable to assume that many QAnon followers have chosen to abandon their former houses of worship in favour of worshipping at the secular altar of the Church of Donald Trump.
The Republican Party of Death and the Culture of Everything Goes
The Republican Party has its still-ongoing cloddish and unmannerly group of nincompoops – the least perspicacious of these being Lauren Boebert, Margorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar – who enjoy roiling up Trump’s splenetic base with a style of political buffoonery that is unprecedented for its amateurish, petty-minded loutish – but nevertheless extremely dangerous – antics that work well with millions of Trump’s followers who are galled and affronted by those they regard as ‘woke’ liberal elites who want boys to be able to use bathrooms for females, who want Disney to make movies of Goofy having sex with Minnie Mouse, who encourage teens to identify themselves with their furry pets, who want to make elementary school children bear the burden of slavery in America. Their opponents in the Democratic Party, who are mainly unpoised centrist and establishment politicians, are derided as communists, child molesters, murderers, and Satanists whose unquenchable thirst for adrenochrome causes them to slurp down buckets of children’s blood soon after the children have been slain, after which time they are able to transform themselves from their human Capitol Hill disguises back to their original reptilian bodies (since they are not of this planet). It is indelicate politicians such as these who are moving ineluctably towards a politics of the spectacle whom Bannon likes to invite on his War Room podcast because they are exceptionally adept at creating political chaos. Without her outlandish racist spectacles, Margorie Taylor Greene would just be another stumblebum with a one-way ticket to political Palookaville. Her anti-Semitic rants and outrageous attacks on Democrats have made her a valuable asset to keeping Trump’s base dumbfounded and happy.
With shock jock radio broadcaster and provocateur extraordinaire Alex Jones blaming Joe Biden and his ‘weather weapons’ (secret geoengineering and terraforming programs ‘that are sucking carbon dioxide out of the air’) for creating power outages in Texas when the state was hit by a historic winter storm and recent hurricanes in Kentucky, and self-admiring Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene blaming California wildfires on Jewish space lasers controlled by the Rothschild banking firm, we can begin to discern the conceptual architecture in place for creating a new species of climate change denial on the ability of science to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or increasing the Earth’s reflectivity. Millions of his listeners hang on Jones’ every word, even after he admitted that he was wrong to claim the deadly 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a false flag hoax set up by liberals. Put these attitudes together with Tucker Carlson of Fox News (the most popular television host in the US) claiming that White Americans are being replaced by immigrants of colour and Donald Trump Jr. proclaiming to his followers that the messages of peace found in the Bible have ‘gotten us nothing’ – ‘We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand sort of the biblical reference, I understand the mentality, but it’s gotten us nothing,’ he complained. ‘OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution’ – and we have a license to use violence in bringing Trump back to power by any means necessary. The theocratic (government in which priests rule in the name of God) or theonomic (as in a theonomic society ruled by divine law) worldview pushed by evangelical Christians has made its way into the schools, thanks to the 1776 Project Pac and ‘School Board Boot Camp’ run by FRC Action, the political action arm of the Family Research Council, and FEC United (‘Faith, Education, and Commerce’) and a Christian nationalist organisation, the Truth and Liberty Coalition (TLC), that are fighting critical race theory in schools in a larger effort to infiltrate and undermine public education. We now have a perfect storm for the destruction of public schools.
But the universities, they will save us from this madness, correct? Well, not so fast. Charles Murray, American white nationalist extremist and one of the most well-known advocates of the false idea that Black people cognitively inferior to white people, was a guest speaker on November 12, 2021, at Cambridge University at the invitation of Dr James Orr, apparently under the auspices of free speech on campus. Ahmed describes Murray as ‘one of the world’s foremost pioneers of scientific racism’ and ‘one of the most well-known advocates of the idea that Black people have lower IQs than white people due largely to genetic inferiority, and that nothing can be done to improve this situation.’ The funding for Murray at this November 12, 2021 event was a charity that has connections with the British Government, Trinity Forum Europe, a self-described Christian organisation whose executive director is Jonathan Aitken – a former Cabinet Minister and Conservative MP for 23 years. Murray’s storied claim in his 1994 book, The Bell Curve (written with Richard Herrnstein), makes the controversial and seemingly social Darwinist claim – and one that is patently false – is that Black people tend to have lower IQs than Whites for reasons mostly unrelated to environmental factors, but as a result of genetics. But we need to consider the scientific basis of this research. As it turns out, Murray’s bold assertions are based on ‘pseudoscientific research funded by the Pioneer Fund – a Nazi eugenics foundation with links to the notorious Nazi SS officer and psychopath Josef Mengele.’ Mengele was the notorious ‘Angel of Death’ who performed inhumane medical experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz death camps. In fact, ‘[t]he Pioneer Fund was founded by Nazi sympathisers with the purpose of promoting ‘racial betterment’ and was originally set up to promote the ‘repatriation’ of black Americans to Africa.’
The American Behavioural Scientist journal described The Bell Curve as fraudulent in the sense that it represents ‘a deliberate, self-conscious misrepresentation of the evidence.’ Ahmed underscores that Murray’s book was hugely influential among white supremacist circles since it underwrites many of their positions on the inferiority of Blacks and Latino/s. The Washington DC-based Southern Poverty Law Centre describes Murray as ‘a white nationalist extremist’ who uses ‘racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.’ Ahmed agrees, describing Murray’s pseudoscientific claims as egregious assertions ‘that Black people, women, the poor and Latinos are overall genetically inferior – and that the rise in their birth rate therefore explains the rise in inequality between racial groups.’ What does it mean to associate group membership and IQ or group difference in intelligence in the US today? The answer is that this issue is one of social importance only to racists and white supremacists.
The Pioneer Fund is a continuation of America’s eugenics movement that Adolf Hitler greatly admired. Ahmed writes:
Henry Laughlin, who served as its president from its founding until 1941, opposed efforts to allow Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany entry into the US. He had testified in Congress that 83% of Jewish immigrants from eastern and southern Europe are feeble-minded and once claimed that the US and the Third Reich ‘shared a common understanding of… the practical application’ of eugenic principles to ‘racial endowments and… racial health.’ Throughout the 1930s, Laughlin published articles in Eugenical News promoting Nazism and approving its antisemitic laws. In The Bell Curve, Murray praises Laughlin as ‘a biologist who was especially concerned about keeping up the American level of intelligence by suitable immigration policies.’
The Pioneer Fund also bankrolls the Ulster Institute for Social Research. Have you had the occasion to read the lurid works of Richard Lynn, unapologetic eugenicist and pioneer of scientific racism, associated with the Ulster Institute? Read it only if you enjoy whips and spiked cilice garters. Or have you heard about the white supremacist think tank, American Renaissance, also funded by the Pioneer Fund, which gives support to various neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan activists. We need to be wary of a network of academics influencing ‘free speech’ policies in universities that is being steered by pro-Donald Trump lobbyists and donors linked to Republican billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel. Theil is the chairman and co-founder of the data analytics giant Palantir Technologies, which is supported by $2 million in start-up money from the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. Cambridge University had no problem inviting fellow-Canadian, Jordan Peterson, as a guest speaker, who may not appear to support Charles Murray’s ideas on natural biological hierarchies, but who confidently disputes the idea of structural racism, according to H. A. Hellyer, who writes:
When Prof. Peterson and his fellow travellers attack the notion of structural racism, it is not due to some kind of abstract or esoteric objection to the idea of an overarching system that is underpinned by, supports and results in racism. Rather, his obfuscation of the system is designed, clearly, to reduce the importance of going beyond a few ‘rotten apples,’ as it were.
Individual racists are bad for their racism, he might admit, but they do not thrive, he argues, because of a wider system. They are just bad people, and the surrounding environment of laws, policies and institutional arrangements has nothing to do with it. Perhaps this has something to do with why Prof. Peterson has previously described Donald Trump as a ‘liberal’ whom he would have voted for, or his well-publicised meeting with Viktor Orban, the deeply controversial President of Hungary.
Hellyer correctly points out that sociologists who study race and ethnic relations have revealed that societal norms between different ethnic groups ‘are established and upheld by clear flaws in society’s institutions, including in law and policy. In other words, systems that fail to prevent racism at best, and encourage it at worst.’ He raises an important question: ‘[W]hy is it that such nonsense around racism can be uttered so easily, with very little consequence to one’s credibility, it seems, by a man like Prof. Peterson? One is forced to ask: does the fact that he is a well-to-do, white professor have anything to do with it? And if so: is not his own denial of structural racism simply, frankly, more evidence of structural racism itself?’
According to historian Mikael Nilsson, Peterson is a revisionist when it comes to the history of Nazi Germany. He criticises Peterson’s claim that the Nazis were ‘too civilised,’ and takes him to task for valorising Hitler. He finds unconvincing Peterson’s claim that Hitler participated in the Holocaust because he was a victim of psychological trauma during World War I, not because he was a violent anti-Semite. He suggests that Peterson’s revisionist history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is largely conditioned by his aversion to postmodern cultural Marxism – a theoretical perspective and political ideology that he appears not to comprehend with any granular insight. National Socialism developed by the Nazis is about as far away from the Cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt School as one could imagine (the Frankfurt School was comprised of Jewish scholars who were forced to flee Germany during the Second World War). Stalinism is based on a crude and largely discredited scientific Marxism underwritten by an economic determinism that culminated in a form of state capitalism that was far from the communism that Marx envisioned. Peterson needs to read the Frankfurt School theorists for a glimpse of what Cultural Marxism is really about – and he would be wise to read within the Marxist humanist tradition to correct his CliffsNotes comprehension of Marxism. (Did you see his televised debate with Slavoj Zizek? That should tell you all you need to know about Peterson’s comprehension of Marxism.) Frankfurt School theorists such as Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse were, in fact, concerned about the rise of fascism in countries such as the United States – and it turns out that they were correct.
Peterson betrays a deep hatred of the left that blinds him to the fact that the right is much more violent and much more dangerous ideologically than his own bogeyman, Antifa. Race science is being normalised under the guise of free speech on university campuses. Its exponents have also produced conspiratorial pseudoscientific disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also been involved in ‘platforming white identity politics,’ as well as attacking left movements such as Black Lives Matter. Turning Point USA has a vast presence on university campuses, and Turning Point US founder Charlie Kirk has decried the concept of white privilege as racist and tried to make the case that white conservatives rather than Black people are the true victims of discrimination on university campuses. Have you ever tried to talk to Turning Point operatives on college campuses? It’s like talking to wind-up propaganda machines.
Okay, so the debates over critical race theory are ongoing; how is that turning out? Critical race theory does not maintain that white people are inherently racist; rather, it is pointed out that, throughout their settler-colonial past, they have been socialised not to recognise racist practices – or to ignore them – and, thus, racialised social relations and white privilege tend to become institutionalised over time and part of the systemic architecture of everyday life. When critics point out racist practices and analyse how they have become embedded in our political, educational and legal systems (as in the era of Jim Crow, for instance), they are labelled by conservatives as Cultural Marxists attempting to undermine the institutions of US democracy. To claim that some groups are oppressed on the basis of race, class, gender, sexuality or religion is seen by far-right groups as disruptive and designed to make students critical of the United States and make white people feel guilty for the plight of people of colour, especially straight, white Christian males.
Given that most of the electorate is white, attacks on critical race theory are a perfect campaign strategy – a bit of legerdemain put to use by the fascist right in the era of groups such as Black Lives Matter. Okay, one can imagine how white Americans feel about being labelled as racist or privileged or part of a group that is to blame for injustices suffered by others. But nobody is labelling them as racists simply by being born white. Given the breadth and depth of contemporary historical research on race and racism, it is only reasonable for white folks to acknowledge the privilege afforded to whites in relation to other racial groups. But this is America, let’s not forget. At the same time that they should be learning about the history of slavery and Jim Crow and the failure of Reconstruction in school, white students are clearly vulnerable to white supremacist ideology that attempts to justify their privileged status by attacking and demonising other racial groups, creating a political backlash against organisations such as Black Lives Matter and those groups that promote ‘social justice’ –we can’t forget that Donald Trump wanted Black Lives Matter to be labelled as a ‘terrorist’ organisation. The strategy is simple but effective: make people of colour the enemy – deepen the already existing Manichean divide into an unfathomable gulf. Whites vastly outnumber people of colour. That’s in the far-right’s favour, so is playing on their fear of being ‘replaced’ demographically as the dominant racial group. Demographic winter, some call it.
Encouraging whites to believe that they now occupy the role of the oppressed is tricky, but it is a frequent ploy of far-right groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, and it’s not devoid of irony, given that this has been the historical role forced upon African Americans and people of colour. But now the narrative is twisted – white supremacists deftly turn that structured hierarchy upside down so that it appears to whites that they are the new victims of racism in public schools and universities. After all, White Lives Matter! After all, they may be required to read slave narratives! Or James Baldwin! Or bell hooks! And that could cause untold trauma among these innocent white victims. Any discussion of race is a de facto form of racism! Another more cynical plan: Deploy propaganda to enhance the perception that we inhabit a Hobbesian world of bellum omnium contra omnes, ‘the war of all against all,’ and convince the white population that a world committed to justice for all will only diminish the chances of survival and quality of life of the most dominant group. This is a similar argument that is used by the rich to justify their attacks on democracy. As Richard Wolff notes:
There is a reason why calls for equality so often accompany calls for democracy. Members of communities that tolerate vast inequalities of wealth and income quickly discover that the rich use their wealth to block, manipulate, or destroy any democracy that arises. For example, they have always understood that universal or even widespread suffrage risks a non-wealthy majority voting to undo society’s wealth inequality. So the rich block democracy, prevent varying forms of democracy from acquiring any real content, or, when pressed, subvert even those forms. Fresh from huge increases in US wealth inequality, the rich nonetheless abet the Republican Party’s anti-democratic electoral claims and manoeuvres, tolerate the party’s restrictions on mass voting, and fight particularly hard even against the modestly progressive tax dimensions of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposals.
The white supremacist counternarrative to democracy consists of convincing White people to perceive other groups as obstacles to a life to which they, alone, are entitled, since their European ancestors not only ‘discovered’ America but ‘founded’ the United States and fashioned it singlehandedly into a land of freedom and prosperity, championed by the brave and the true. Immigrants and those not of European stock are only trying to take advantage of all that banner history of white sacrifice dating back hundreds of years. Until we move beyond this lie of lies, we will never be able to overcome lies about stolen elections.
The Republicans know that getting their ‘confidence trickster’ Donald Trump back in power is their ‘meal ticket’ and spreading lies about voter fraud is the way that they get fed. The media propaganda machine that is Fox News and other far-right platforms appears to be unstoppable. Are there any viable means of escaping these fact-free zones in our post-digital universe? Can we stop politicians like DeSantis from shutting down school discussions of race and racism?
The Metaverse – The Final Frontier?
Some are holding out hope for the metaverse to help us escape from these perilous times. We pledge allegiance to digital technology! In the digital we trust! Very likely, the so-called metaverse will make things worse. Have the tech-utopias promised since the advent of the internet helped people ‘escape parts of their identity, such as race, gender and class distinctions’? Breigha Adeyemo argues that ‘the automated dissemination of propaganda on social media,’ coupled with ‘the bias in the algorithms that shape your online experience’ are key factors that must be accounted for when considering how life will be transformed by the coming metaverse. The consequences, she notes, will not be the same for everyone. When we carefully consider the values that are being encoded into the next-generation internet and examine current pre-metaverse immersive environments, we learn that avatars are being priced differently based on the perceived race of the avatar. So how do we keep Big Tech accountable to the public interest? The problem is that popular technologies ‘assume white male identities and bodies as the default’ – which has become the ‘coded gaze’ on the internet. This has been confirmed in facial recognition software that ‘performs worse on women and even more so on women with darker faces.’ People who shape the technology insinuate their own prejudices into their work. According to Adeyemo,
However, advertisers are still able to target people based on their presumed race through race proxies, which use combinations of users’ interests to infer races. For example, if an advertiser sees from Facebook data that you have expressed an interest in African American culture and the BET Awards, it can infer that you are Black and target you with ads for products it wants to market to Black people. Worse, Facebook has frequently removed Black women that speak out against racism and sexism. Ironically, Black women’s comments about racism and sexism are being censored – colloquially known as getting zucked – for ostensibly violating Facebook’s policies against hate speech. This is part of a larger trend within online platforms of Black women being punished for voicing their concerns and demanding justice in digital spaces.
As it stands, federal laws have shielded social media companies from legal consequences around what their users post on their platforms. In other words, ‘they have the right but not the responsibility to police their sites.’ How is it possible to make Facebook’s metaverse democratically accountable? Will the metaverse become another version of DeSantis’s Stop WOKE Act? Will anti-racist efforts in the metaverse be twisted so that they are perceived as nothing more than rank racism? How will the metaverse define hate speech, especially if it profits financially from racism? And what about more direct methods of deploying technology in the service of creating a surveillance state capable of selective elimination of so-called enemies of the state such as journalists, political activists from Antifa or Black Lives Matter? And what about the metaverse being used to promote panic and fear that we need new weapons of death to defend ourselves from ‘ethnic genetic attacks’ from other races who are ahead of us in biotechnology?
Fear of the Day: Could There Be Weapons that Are Programmed to Kill Only White People?
The US has accused China of weaponising biotechnology for military purposes. As part of China’s ‘civilian-military fusion strategy,’ the US claims that these weapons could be programmed for ‘specific ethnic genetic attacks’ on minority groups within China. This is allegedly part of a far-reaching Chinese government strategy to develop ‘brain-control weaponry’ that would allow ‘a Chinese commando to discharge a weapon with just a thought, not a trigger finger.’ Fear-mongering to justify our own experiments in weaponising technology? It seems highly likely that as far as weaponised biotechnology is concerned, the US already has such technology available for its own use, should conditions demand it. Excuses can always be made for using such advanced technology in wartime situations, and it is easy to justify the development of such weapons by claiming that the ‘other side’ has them. The only country on earth to have unleashed atomic bombs on civilian populations should be the first one to look in the mirror.
And Back to Ukraine …
We have blood-soaked battles going on in Ukraine. Putin has heard the sirens of war singing from the coast of Crimea, and nobody dared lash him to the mast of his 700 million superyacht. He may forego vodka for a swimming regime, but he is not averse to imbibing the bitter elixir of war. The Russians have invaded, and the slaughter of innocents has begun. And we’ve got weapons galore being used by Russians to flatten cities and kill civilians. And high-tech weapons are being sent to Ukraine from the US, Canada, and their NATO allies.
What drives technologies of mass destruction – value production (monetised wealth in the form of profits) – also fosters its own dissolution. The bioweapons we create, the kamikaze drones we use to ‘protect’ our nation from attack, will not only provoke an arms race (we are seeing it now with the war in Ukraine) that will kill us eventually but will destroy all human life on the planet. FLIR Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System consisting of pocket-sized drones, or kamikaze drones fired out of cannons, or hypersonic weapons, only doom us as a species.
The alienated form of appearance of weapons of war, when challenged through historical materialist analysis, can give us a new conception of a world without war, and can reveal to us a new understanding of freedom that is immanent in history, a positive dimension hidden within negative dialectical critique; it can shed light on our struggle as self-acting human subjects to free ourselves from the dominating logic of capital and value production that is one of the fundaments of all modern wars and the violence at the core of the movement of history. Absolute negativity (exercised through the negation of the negation) is not fixed. It’s not a closed ontology; it can point to a new beginning, to a new future immanent in the present. A new beginning committed to transcending war by replacing the accumulation of social wealth that is congealed in the objectified form of capital with a socialist alternative. Yes, a socialist alternative. No, this is not a QAnon plot. It’s a potential to make history together. There are no guarantees, but it’s an experiment that is worth making as a human species. The doomsday clock is ticking, and it is only a few seconds from midnight.
The task at hand of building such an alternative will likely be more difficult throughout the remainder of the decade since the Republicans are poised to win the 2022 midterm congressional elections and the 2024 presidential election. The figure of Donald Trump looms large, and so does the spectre of Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. I perceive DeSantis to be willing to go further than Trump down the path to fascism. In my younger days as a featured speaker at various conferences, I was careful to avoid Miami after I received a series of death threats by phone in my hotel room prior to my conference presentation (I had published a book on Che Guevara and Paulo Freire, which apparently had upset some members of the Cuban exile community.) In the early 1960s, the CIA’s planned retaliation against Fidel Castro’s partnership with the Soviet Union enabled the revolution’s achievements to be sabotaged as the CIA contracted thousands of exiled Cubans residing in Florida to undertake terrorist raids on Cuban soil. But the attacks were not always carried out on Cuban soil. In fact, in the 1970s, the FBI designated Miami as ‘the terrorist capital of the United States.’ Alan McPherson writes that ‘after the failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs, and then-President John F. Kennedy’s promise not to invade the island following the Cuban Missile Crisis, CIA money to the exiled Cubans dried up. Without government support, these erstwhile counter-revolutionaries morphed into terrorists.’ McPherson describes Miami’s reputation as a terrorist hub as follows:
Though it’s largely forgotten today, some Cuban-American exile groups in the mid-1970s were responsible for one of the most impactful waves of terror in US history. Authorities in that period tied them to 113 bombings on US soil, killing around a dozen people. In 1974, Cuban exiles accounted for 45 per cent of all terrorist bombings on the planet, according to José Luis Méndez’s Los Años del Terror. While some attacks were intended to attract public attention more than cause physical harm, that wasn’t always the case. The most infamous example came in September 1976, when the New Jersey-based Cuban Nationalist Movement (CNM) worked with the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship of Chile to car bomb former diplomat and activist Orlando Letelier in Washington. Both Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt, were killed.
Recently, DeSantis has vowed to make Florida a so-called ‘constitutional carry state,’ which would allow people to publicly carry firearms without permits – that is, without having to take a gun training course and submitting proof of competency. A permit is not required to carry a handgun in 23 states. In 2018, Florida was the site of a deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, which left 17 students and staff dead. DeSantis seems unperturbed. He will do anything to win the presidency and is the second most popular potential candidate next to Trump himself.
Colleagues in other countries have asked me if there is a potential for civil war in the United States. I believe there is. The Southern Poverty Law Centre identified 92 militias currently operating in the US. Catrina Doxee reports that ‘A third wave in the militia movement began during the 2016 presidential campaign and subsequent Trump presidency. Similarly, this growth was enabled by what militia members perceived as a more permissive, or even legitimising, political environment. Militias were emboldened by policy changes and rhetoric that they perceived to validate their beliefs, such as hard-line immigration control.’ Trump and DeSantis will no doubt try to rival each other in adopting extremist political positions, and their followers will rally right behind them, shredding the trappings of whatever democracy we have left as they go.