Hobbits and the Rebirth of Italian Fascism

The Hobbitisation of Ideological Indoctrination?

As a teenager, Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s first female Prime Minister and leader of the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, a national-conservative and right-wing populist political party with neo-fascist roots, joined a local youth section of the neofascist Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) which was ‘founded in a semi-clandestine way in 1946 by veterans of the Italian Social Republic.’ It governed Northern Italy between 1943 and 1945. While it was officially led by Mussolini, in practice, it functioned as a puppet state of the Nazi regime. Many Italians would like to see Meloni’s attraction to fascism as simply a youthful indiscretion; in doing so, however, they would likely be disappointed, as her ideological platform, which includes hypernationalism, authoritarianism, populism, the defence of conservative values, opposition to diversity quotas for women in politics, Atlanticist positions on foreign policy, state ethno-racial Christianity, so ruefully attests. Ruth Ben-Ghiat writes:

Meloni, in many ways, sounds more like other modern national-conservative politicians such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and America’s MAGA Republicans than Il Duce. ‘There’s a leftist ideology, so-called globalist,’ she told The Washington Post recently, ‘that aims to consider as an enemy everything that defined you – everything that has shaped your identity and your civilisation.’

Meloni has led the Brothers of Italy since 2014, a party ‘formed a decade ago to carry forth the spirit and legacy of the extreme right in Italy, which dates back to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party that formed in place of the National Fascist Party, which was banned after World War II.’

Very much in the style of France’s Marie Le Pen, Meloni is an example of what political scientists call ‘genderwashing’:

when female politicians adopt a non-threatening image to blunt the force of their extremism. Meloni’s signature look involves flowing outfits in pastel shades. To uninformed foreigners, her ascent could look like female empowerment; she poses as a defender of women, even as her party has rolled back women’s rights. In localities it governs, Brothers of Italy has made abortion services – the procedure has been legal in Italy since 1978 – harder to access. Municipal authorities in Verona, where the party has shared power with Salvini’s League, declared the city ‘pro-life.’

In December, 2022, Meloni commented that her beloved postwar neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) party, from which her conservative Brothers of Italy (FdI) party is descended, has a salutary role to play in Italian history:

I believe that the MSI had a role in the Republican history of ferrying towards democracy millions of Italians who emerged defeated from the (Second World) War, …. it was a party of the Republican right, it took part in elections for the Italian presidency, it was fully present in democratic dynamics, and it arrived in government before the (1995) congress that turned it into the (post-fascist) National Alliance…. You can agree or not, but it was a party of the democratic right, of democratic and republican Italy.

Meloni’s words reportedly went against ‘the historic break with the MSI’s heritage made by former MSI leader and head of its main former heir, the National Alliance, former deputy premier and foreign minister Gianfranco Fini, at a landmark conference at Fiuggi south of Rome in January 1995.’ Ghiglione notes: ‘By the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the advent of the Silvio Berlusconi era, MSI had exhausted its role as a neofascist party. Its new leader, Gianfranco Fini, dissolved it and founded, from its ashes, Alleanza Nazionale (AN), a conservative party that embraced democracy.’ Fini eventually disavowed his statement that Mussolini was the 20th century’s ‘greatest statesman’: he ‘formally renounced fascism in his famous 1995 Fiuggi speech and later went so far as to call it an “absolute evil” in a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel.’

What was especially offensive to many Italians and anti-fascists around the world was that Meloni made her comments during the 75th anniversary of the promulgation of Italy’s postwar anti-fascist Constitution (December 22, 1947). And to add oil to the fire, during the same month that Meloni delivered her remarks defending the MSI, Senate Speaker Ignazio La Russa, a leading member of Meloni’s conservative FdI party, launched another commemorative ceremony, marking the 76th anniversary of the MSI’s founding on December 26, 1946 by Giorgio Almirante, chief of staff of the fascist WWII Italian Social Republic (RSI), a puppet State of the Nazis. It’s well known that La Russa, Meloni’s predecessor as the head of the Brothers of Italy, once remarked: ‘We are all heirs of Il Duce.’ La Russa claims that his extensive collection of fascist memorabilia was done to honour the memory of his father, one of the founders of the Sicilian branch of the MSI. Understandably, La Russa’s commemoration ceremony did not sit well with Italian Jews, who vigorously protested the commemoration of the founding of the MSI, arguing that ‘the neofascist party was a continuation of a government of fascist diehards who helped the Nazis take Italian Jews to their death camps.’

Before being voted in as Prime Minister of Italy, Meloni had condemned fascism ‘for its suspension of democracy and its ‘odious’ racial laws against the Jews’ and rejected attempts ’to over-emphasise FdI’s lineage … to the MSI, while also rejecting calls to remove the MSI’s Tricolor Flame from the party logo, a flame originally representing the one burning over Mussolini’s tomb.’ This was all the more worrying since the commemoration of MSI coincided with the 75th anniversary of the promulgation of Italy’s postwar anti-fascist constitution. The president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), Noemi Di Segni, condemned the anniversary of the MSI:

Today we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the … Republican Constitution, the affirmation of our anti-fascist democracy…. And yet there are those who have decided to hail another anniversary, that of the foundation of the MSI, a party which, after the fall of the fascist regime, placed itself in ideological and political continuity with the RSI, a government of fascist diehards which actively collaborated in the deportation of Italian Jews…. [It is] grave that it is the bearers of high institutional posts that reaffirms this, legitimising those nostalgic sentiments.’ Meloni paid an official visit to the Jewish ghetto in Rome to reassure the Jewish community that she still condemned antisemitism.

While MSI no longer exists in its original form (there is The New Italian Social Movement or New MSI (Nuovo Movimento Sociale Italiano or Nuovo MSI), which is an ultranationalist, chauvinist and totalitarian party renamed the New MSI-National Right (Destra Nazionale), it is still remembered as an organisation that deeply embraced the regime of former dictator, Benito Mussolini. Meloni condemned one of Mussolini’s racial laws as a ‘disgrace’ and wept on the shoulder of Ruth Dureghello, the president of the local Jewish community. Yet, only two weeks later, Meloni went on to publicly defend MSI in a press conference, claiming that the neofascist movement ‘ferried millions of Italians defeated by the war towards democracy.’

Georgio Ghiglione captured the crafty essence of this rhetorical move with the words: ‘Meloni’s savvy but ultimately misleading communications strategy: Rather than distancing herself from her neofascist past, as some people might have expected, she’s trying to distance her neofascist past from fascism itself’ in an attempt to take advantage of MSI’s ‘contrarian underdog narrative’ that saw itself as ‘a counterhegemonic force to the existing one.’

What does this say about Italian politics today? Nicole Winfield writes:

Some historians explain that by noting a certain historical amnesia here and Italians’ general comfort living with the relics of fascism as evidence that Italy never really repudiated the Fascist Party and Mussolini in the same way Germany repudiated National Socialism and Hitler.

While Germany went through a long and painful process reckoning with its past, Italians have, in many ways, simply turned a wilful blindness to their own.

Historian David Kertzer of Brown University notes that there are 67 institutes for the study of the Resistance to Fascism in Italy and virtually no centre for the study of Italian Fascism.

In addition, Mussolini-era architecture and monuments are everywhere: from the EUR neighbourhood in southern Rome to the Olympic training centre on the Tiber River, with its obelisk still bearing Mussolini’s name.

The Italian Constitution bars the reconstitution of the Fascist party, but far-right groups still display the fascist salute, and there continues to be an acceptance of fascist symbols, said Brennan.

‘You don’t have to look very hard for signs,’ Brennan said in a phone interview. ‘Fully a quarter of all manhole covers in Rome still have the fasces on them.’

So, do Italians, in the main, support fascism? Again, Nicole Winfield provides at least a partial response to that question:

If history is any guide, one constant in recent political elections is that Italians vote for change, with a desire for something new seemingly overtaking traditional political ideology in big pendulum shifts, said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Rome-based Institute of International Affairs.

Tocci said the Brothers of Italy’s popularity in 2022 was evidence of this ‘violent’ swing that is more about Italian dissatisfaction than any surge in neo-fascist or far-right sentiment.

‘I would say the main reason why a big chunk of that – let’s say 25-30% – will vote for this party is simply because it’s the new kid on the block,’ she said.

Meloni still speaks reverently about the MSI and Almirante, even if her rhetoric can change to suit her audience.

This summer, speaking in perfect Spanish, she thundered at a rally of Spain’s hard-right Vox party: ‘Yes to the natural family. No to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sexual identity. No to gender ideology.’

Back home on the campaign trail, she projected a much more moderate tone and appealed for unity in her victory speech Monday.

‘Italy chose us,’ she said. ‘We will not betray it, as we never have.’

My beloved high school teacher, Dennis Hutcheon, introduced me to the works of Marshall McLuhan and J.R.R. Tolkien in 1968. He remarked that Tolkien would be a better alternative than psychedelic drugs and that I would benefit in my understanding of contemporary media culture if I attended McLuhan’s lectures. I regret to this day that I never made it to McLuhan’s Monday night seminars at the University of Toronto’s Coach House during the 1970s, but I did purchase Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, and his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And I instantly became a fan. My girlfriend at the time, whom I called Emma, The Magic Rabbit Lady (she bore an uncanny resemblance to Emma Peel of the television series, The Avengers), and I would secretly meet in a secluded ravine we called Bag End.

Given the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the extraordinarily brilliant films based on the books directed by Peter Jackson (among my favourite films to date), it’s difficult to fathom how ‘Hobbit Camps’ set up in 1970s Italy ‘rebirthed Italian fascism.’ John Last (2017) says it best: ‘It’s hard to imagine Tolkien’s furry, gluttonous protagonist goose-stepping the halls of Bag End or organising mass rallies in the idyllic Shire countryside. But for thousands of Italian fantasy fans, hobbits are the symbol of a radical movement to reimagine fascism and restore far-right movements to glory.’

Shortly before Tolkien first published The Hobbit in 1937, Italian youth were culturally impacted by the reactionary philosopher, Julius Evola, ‘one of history’s most influential philosophers of fascism’ who held strongly to aristocratic, chauvinistic, traditionalist, hyper-masculinist and heroic values. He was not a lover of progress. It was progress – ‘progress away from mythical traditions and perennial wisdom, toward industrialisation and cultural miscegenation’ that Evola claimed was responsible for the decline of European civilisation. Evola regarded Benito Mussolini as his great fascist hope for the rebirth of ‘traditional’ society, ‘even authoring for the dictator a doctrine of “spiritual racism” that would rank the world’s races according to their closeness to the “perennial” tradition.’

But the Second World War saw Mussolini embrace ‘scientific’ racism instead and champion the rhetoric of ‘progress.’ Evola saw this as a betrayal. Yet elements of Evola’s philosophy, known as ‘traditionalism,’ lay dormant, waiting to be picked up again by disaffected Italian youth decades later. Unlike the case of Italy, Tolkien’s work was never associated with traditionalism in the English-speaking world. Last writes that ‘when The Lord of the Rings was first published in Italian, in 1971, the latent politics of his stout-hearted heroes bubbled to the surface.’ Appearing when it did, The Lord of the Rings had an ‘outsized influence’ on the Italian cultural scene culminating in fascist Woodstock events known as Hobbit Camps. Camp Hobbit brought together musicians, journalists, artists, and militants in a festival atmosphere where they could discuss Evola’s radical program designed ‘to resurrect the myths of ‘traditional’ societies through art, religion, and, initially, politics.’

Horowitz (2023) writes that

with the support of hard-liners, Camp Hobbit festivals emerged as formative touchstones for the young activists. Celtic cross flags that meshed perfectly with the Tolkien aesthetic waved. The band Fellowship of the Ring played songs about European identity, including what became the anthem of the party’s Youth Front, ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Us.’

The song echoed a ballad ’Tomorrow Belongs to Me,’ sung by a member of the Hitler Youth in a chilling scene in the movie ‘Cabaret.’

Horowitz reports that despite the efforts of the Italian fascists after World War II, they failed to integrate the Italian Social Movement into Italy’s post-war institutions. But younger members of the Italian Social Movement saw something special in The Lord of the Rings when it was published in Italian. The Italian version was prefaced by Elémire Zolla, ‘a philosopher who was a point of reference on the hard right’ who argued that Tolkien was ‘talking about everything we confront every day.’ That message hit a chord with a small group of the party’s Youth Front, who were not happy with ‘the cultural dominance of the left.’ They identified with ‘inhabitants of the mythical Middle-earth, also struggling with dragons, orcs, and other creatures.’ Instead of ‘quoting Mussolini’s speeches and spray-painting Swastikas,’ they created the first Camp Hobbit festival. The strategy was to ‘move beyond the old symbols and to capitalise on the party’s isolation, smallness and victimisation by violent leftist enemies.’ Their hero was not the obvious Aragorn but rather ‘the little hobbit.’ It was a determined effort to move away from the ‘militarist, heroic idea’ of the early fascists.

Last points out that in the early 1970s, Italy was in the midst of a cultural upheaval as great as that felt by Evola in the aftermath of the First World War. Because of its racial essentialism, black-and-white morality and love of rural shire life, Tolkien’s works have often been accused of crypto-fascism. During that time, the defeat of fascism across Europe was beginning to be challenged by the nouvelle droite or ‘New Right’ movement, which made Tolkien required reading by some fascist organisations and which portrayed fascism in mythological terms, such as the worship of powerful pagan gods and an appreciation of ‘simpler times of cultural homogeneity and ethnocentrism.’

The MSI, which Meloni praises, was one of the original organisers of Camp Hobbit, which included teach-ins, lectures, and live concerts in an attempt to ‘recode the language of the hippie left with the traditionalist philosophy of Evola, according to historian of fascism Roger Griffin.’ Camp Hobbit continues in Italy, and, to this day, Georgia Meloni sees The Lord of the Rings as a sacred text.

Meloni once dressed up as a Hobbit. According to Horowitz:

[a]s a youth activist in the post-Fascist Italian Social Movement, she and her fellowship of militants, with nicknames like Frodo and Hobbit, revered The Lord of the Rings and other works by the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien. They visited schools in character. They gathered at the ‘sounding of the horn of Boromir’ for cultural chats. She attended ‘Hobbit Camp’ and sang along with the extremist folk band Compagnia dell’Anello, or Fellowship of the Ring.

All of that might seem like some youthful infatuation with a work usually associated with fantasy-fiction and big-budget epics rather than political militancy. But in Italy, The Lord of the Rings has for a half-century been a central pillar upon which descendants of post-Fascism reconstructed a hard-right identity, looking to a traditionalist mythic age for symbols, heroes and creation myths free of fascist taboos.

‘I think that Tolkien could say better than us what conservatives believe in,’ said Ms Meloni…. More than just her favourite book series, The Lord of the Rings was also a sacred text. ‘I don’t consider The Lord of the Rings fantasy,’ she said.

If The Lord of the Rings isn’t a fantasy, then what exactly does it represent? In our secular, pagan culture, mythological fantasy figures abound in literature, radio, film, and television and I recall in my own youth how identifying with fantasy figures such as Superman often helped me through some tough adolescent years. But I never attended Superman camps (are there such things?) designed to bolster fascism (we didn’t have an equivalent of Captain America in Canada during those years, which is probably a good thing), which isn’t to deny that any fantasy figure in the hands of shrewd and desperate political operatives is fair game for manipulating the political sensibilities of the vulnerable. According to Horowitz,

Ms Meloni attended a new iteration of Camp Hobbit in 1993, which she called a ‘political laboratory’ and where she sang along with Fellowship of the Ring and discussed culture and books.

‘We read everything,’ Ms Meloni said.

The bookstore of choice for the hard right in Rome was Europa, just outside the Vatican walls. On a recent visit, it displayed titles like ‘Mussolini Boys’ and ‘The Occult Origins of Nazism.’ A picture of Hitler stood watch above the register next to a cup of pens.

Europa has a section dedicated to Julius Evola, an esoteric, deeply taboo, Nazi-affiliated Italian philosopher who became a favourite of Italy’s post-Fascist terrorists and bourgeoisie-loathing nostalgists. Evola argued that progress and equality were poisonous illusions.

Disturbing trends are presenting themselves in Europe, across North and South America and around the globe that could be characterised as a ‘world-historical existential moment.’ And Meloni’s Italy is but one example of this moment. Trump’s MAGA cult is another example. Witness the symbols used to depict groups that attended the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, 2017, that included the Roman Legion flag, the Kek logo, the Black Sun, an Eagle carrying a fasces – symbol of authority in Fascist Italy – while some white supremacists carried crusader shields with a red cross on it that said ‘deus vult’ – a Latin rallying cry meaning ‘God wills,’ used by some Christian knights in the original Crusade. Far-right groups like to create ‘shield walls’ when they fight anti-fascists in the streets of America’s cities. They taunt and attack immigrants and people of colour, spread conspiracy theories about the ‘deep state,’ ANTIFA, and blood-drinking democrat paedophiles who fillet the faces of young children and wear them as masks. They worship Trump as ‘one of them’ chosen by God and call for the public executions of liberal democrats. But will we see in the United States more Unite the Right rallies with fascists dressed up as fantasy cosplay figures? Does Meloni’s example hold the key?

Horowitz notes:

In her early 20s, [Meloni] surfaced in chat rooms under the nickname Khy-ri, calling herself the ‘little dragon of the Italian undernet.’ More recently, she named her political conference Atreju, an Italian rendering of the name of the hero of ‘The Never-Ending Story,’ best known as a 1980s cult film featuring a flying animatronic character that appeared to be half dragon, half Labrador retriever.

As a government minister in 2008, Ms Meloni posed for a magazine profile next to a statue of the wizard Gandalf. In 2019, she honoured a manga character, Captain Harlock, the ‘space pirate,’ as a ‘symbol of a generation that challenged the apathy and indifference of people.’ Last month, she lamented that her busy campaign schedule had kept her from mainlining Amazon’s new ‘Rings of Power’ series.

What is the exact relationship between Meloni’s affective investment in the figure of Frodo or Gandalf and her demonisation of immigrants? Does she associate them with orcs or goblins, or Uruk-hai, originally bred by Sauron in the late Third Age, and affiliated with the Nazgûl and Saruman? To do that, she would benefit from taking lessons from Donald Trump. Trump famously dehumanised Mexican immigrants as ‘rapists’ and ‘murderers’ and he regularly dehumanises his Democrat opponents. Brian Resnick uses the example of Trump’s attack on a woman of colour, Omarosa, whom Trump called a ‘dog,’ ‘wacky,’ ‘vicious’ and ‘not smart,’ in retaliation for her tell-all book about her time in the White House. Trump has a propensity to compare those he does not like to animals, which psychological science claims can increase our anger and disgust toward them and shut down our empathy toward them. The film The Eternal Jew depicted Jews as rats and was used in Nazi propaganda. During the Rwandan genocide, Hutu officials called Tutsis ‘cockroaches.’ Resnick writes that ‘Dehumanisation and increasing acceptance of prejudice won’t immediately lead to atrocities – but it will make it easier to make life worse for the marginalised.’ What is clear is that Meloni does not identify with Tolkien’s orcs or goblins.

David Broder warns:

Ms Meloni’s administration has spent its first months accusing minorities of undermining the triad of God, nation and family, with dire practical consequences for migrants, nongovernmental organisations and same-sex parents. Efforts to weaken anti-torture legislation, stack the public broadcaster with loyalists and rewrite Italy’s post-war constitution to increase executive power are similarly troubling. Ms Meloni’s government isn’t just nativist but has a harsh authoritarian streak, too.

For Italy, this is bad enough. But much of its significance lies beyond its borders, showing how the far right can break down historic barriers with the centre right. Allies of Ms Meloni are already in power in Poland, also newly legitimised by their support for Ukraine. In Sweden, a centre-right coalition relies on the nativist Sweden Democrats’ support to govern. In Finland, the anti-immigrant Finns Party went one better and joined the government. Though these parties, like many of their European counterparts, once rejected membership in NATO and the European Union, today they seek a place in the main Euro-Atlantic institutions, transforming them from within. In this project, Ms Meloni is leading the way.

Across the globe, human subjectivity and agency are being shaped, remodelled and repurposed in tandem with developments within the social relations of production which has seen the rise of racialised nationalism and far-right militia movements – creating the urgency for a renewed analysis of both populism and fascism and their discernible overlapping elements. There is little to admire in these instantiations of fascism, even though some of the fascist groups today look not so much like members of the Gestapo – undercut, curtained, shaved-sides or high-and-tight hairstyles, and military uniforms, the French brand ‘Respect Nature’ with ‘HTLR’ in block letters and the SS motto, Italian creators of sweaters bearing the letters ‘WPWW,’ for ‘White Pride World Wide’ – but strikingly like they have just emerged from a Renaissance Fair: flowing translucent robes, pre-Raphaelite hair, ornate gowns, doublets, padded trunk hose, stockings, gleaming shields and helmets.

Contemporary forms of fascism have grown out of the failure of neoliberal capitalism to assist the working classes as the real income growth of the world population has been severely diminished, eroding confidence in established democratic socio-political formations. Fascism is given birth in the absence of hope for the future. Meloni’s government is but one example of the appeal of fascism in current geopolitics, but it is an example that is actively influencing the future of European politics. Broder is worth quoting at length:

Ms Meloni has referred to Italy’s post-war anti-fascist culture as a repressive ideology, responsible even for the murder of right-wing militants in the political violence of the 1970s. It’s not just history to be rewritten. The post-war constitution, drawn up by the Resistance-era parties, is also ripe for revision: The Brothers of Italy aims to create a directly elected head of government and a strong executive freer of constraint. No matter its novelty, Ms Meloni’s administration has every chance of imposing enduring changes in the political order.

For all its Mussolinian roots, this government is no return to the past. Instead, in galvanising the political right behind a resentful identity politics, it risks becoming something else entirely: Europe’s future.

Donald Trump has been singled out in much of the recent literature on fascism which has provoked debates over whether Trump is a right-wing populist, a neo-fascist or ‘aspirational fascist,’ as argued by William E. Connolly. Takamichi Sakurai, for instance, views Trump’s speeches as not undergirded by fascist formulations per se, but rather as simple ‘mobilisations without fascist consciousness.’ After all, Trump had not managed to destroy plebiscitary models of democracy during his time in office and ‘his fascist-like behaviour is essentially involuntary.’ (But if he wins in 2024 that is very likely to change). Whether the ‘affective contagion,’ ‘visceral register’ and ‘necrophilous desire’ animating Trump’s political rhetoric should be described as ‘postideological,’ or whether right-wing populism and right-wing extremism should be included in the genealogy of fascism in the context of liberal democracy, and whether Trumpism can be legitimately described using analogies with Nazism, we need to address this as a crisis of democracy. The above are not unimportant questions and answers to them will provide a necessary compass for understanding the fractious antipathy of contemporary politics in the United States. Another question we must ask, is: What is the relationship of fantasy epics to fascism: Horowitz writes:

Tolkien’s agrarian universe, full of virtuous good guys defending their idyllic, wooded kingdoms from hordes of dark and violent orcs, has for decades prompted scholarly, and convention center, debate over the author’s racial and ideological biases, his view of modernity and globalisation. More recently, his works have also provided a fertile shire for nationalists who see themselves in his heroic archetypes.

But in Italy, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and the maps of Mordor have informed generations of post-Fascist youths, including Ms Meloni….

What we appear to be facing today is postfacism. Postfascism is a term that attempts to describe a species of fascism consequent to the defeat of the revolutions (both on the left and right) of the twentieth century – that include the essential features of traditional fascism – and that thrives under free market capitalism and neoliberal governmentality, whereas neofascism has been described by Sakurai as a revolutionary form of ultra-nationalism designed to regenerate the nation-state by ‘demolishing deliberative processes of democracy while resting on modernity.’ More urgent than creating a definitive architectonic for defining fascism, however, is the question of whether or not liberal democracies will survive the next decade, regardless of how we formulate our categorical frameworks and terminology.

Tolkien was no fascist. A libertarian, yes. An anarchist, very likely. A devout Catholic who despised Hitler and Nazism, yes. A man who had misgivings about the advent of modernity with its increasing industrialisation, its destruction of the countryside, the disappearance of traditional village life, modern developments in inhumane machine technology and atomic weapons capable of destroying the entire human race. Absolutely. Those who invoke the fascist imaginary are quite adept at conscripting the works of Tolkien and other writers of fantasy into the structural unconscious, such that targeted others are able to identify with its black-and-white cosmology, its heroes and champions, and align their values with the revanchist ambitions of those representing ‘the good’ and their ‘exotic spiritualities.’ All the easier to face off against the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly.’ Let’s not forget that Nazi Germany glorified ‘the Goths, who triggered the fall of Rome, as well as the Teutonic Knights, who conquered Slav countries during medieval times.’

Nicolas writes that

In 1935, a research group known as Ahnenerbe (‘ancestral heritage’) was founded in Germany, gathering experts from various expertise fields. Hence the involvement of biologists, archaeologists, astronomers, zoologists, runologists and other scientists into the birth of the Third Reich. The think tank was led by Heinrich Himmler (also head of the Waffen-SS, a shadowy character fascinated by occultism), and it was tasked with ‘scientifically’ proving the Aryan race’s supremacy over other people.

It may sound crazy, but Himmler actually went on scientific trips across Europe and Asia to locate vestiges of a mythical Aryan civilisation and trace back its origins. Did the Ahnenerbe scientists find anything? Indeed. Were their scientific methods flawed? Obviously. Most of the ‘discoveries’ were intended to match Hitler’s radical political strategy, and it featured pseudoscience methods such as anthropometry. Compared to their findings, the whole Indiana Jones franchise looks like a documentary.

Is Camp Hobbit a decaffeinated knock-off of Himmler’s Ahnenerbe?

These days, Vladimir Putin often speaks the language of traditionalism while deploying technologically advanced weaponry to invade Ukraine, a country he believes has no right to exist. Many Trump-supporting Americans glowingly admire Putin’s demonisation of LGBTQ rights, his attacks on transgender individuals, and his support for traditional family values – and, as a result, have converted to the Orthodox Russian Church, often for reactionary reasons. These homophobic and transphobic individuals (mostly white males) who resent the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community and who seek to commune with those who support only heterosexual marriage, traditional gender roles, and restrictive reproductive laws see Putin as a heroic figure.

As Putin’s armies of terror blast hypersonic missiles into apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and shopping centres in Ukraine, Putin’s actions would seem more reflective of the land of Mordor than the Shire, especially in places such as Bucha, a site of the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians, many of whom were bound before they were mutilated and shot. I wonder what the next Camp Hobbit will have to say about this.

Currently, Donald Trump, who is being indicted again in Washington, D.C., is using his charisms of fascist cult-speak to transform himself into a martyr. No doubt it will work charmingly with his base: ‘Am now going to Washington, D.C., to be arrested for having challenged a corrupt, rigged, & stolen election,’ he proclaimed. ‘It is a great honour because I am being arrested for you. Make America Great Again!!!’

A focus on the fundamental kerygma of the Gospel – mercy – is gut-wrenchingly difficult today, especially since mercy is not part of the plan of impossibly abhorrent, ignoble and morbidly rich charlatans such as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, who enjoy torturing their enemies with mean-spirited ripostes and policy directives, their learned biases leading them to traumatise and displace vast populations within the United States. These fascist politicians intuitively grasp the narrative structure of the brain enough to construct stories that trigger audiences who feel betrayed by politicians who favour diversity and multiculturalism, stories dealing with immigrants, people of colour, RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), communists and socialists. One morbid example of Trump’s scorchingly merciless behaviour has been reported by Thom Hartmann, who makes the case that, on April 7, 2020, Trump signed off on Jared Kushner’s plan to let half a million Black and Latinx Americans in Blue States die of COVID.

Hartmann has reminded those of us prone to forgetting uncomfortable truths that April 7, 2020 ‘was the day everything changed in America.’ It was the day that caused Jared Kushner to decide that letting Black and Latinx Americans in Blue states die of COVID – yes, intentionally using the force of law and social pressure ‘to push people into death’s jaws’ – could become part of what he called ‘an effective political strategy’ to help them win the 2020 election, and Donald Trump signed off on it. Hartmann writes that ‘That was the day everything changed because Trump and Kushner were willing to let Black and Hispanic people die on a gamble they could still put the economy back together fast enough to win the 2020 election.’

Why did more people die of COVID, as a percentage or in absolute terms, than any other developed country in the world? Hartmann answers his own question with a shocking revelation: ’Why? Because Trump and his Republican enablers and co-conspirators were just fine with getting the economy back on track to win an election over the bodies of dead Black and Hispanic people, particularly when they could blame it on Democratic Blue-state governors.’ Hartmann deserves to be quoted at length:

Former Attorney General Kennedy’s grandson Max Kennedy Jr, 26, was one of the administration’s volunteers who blew the whistle to Congress on Kushner and Trump. As Jane Mayer wrote for The New Yorker:

‘Kennedy was disgusted to see that the political appointees who supervised him were hailing Trump as “a marketing genius,” because, Kennedy said they’d told him, “he personally came up with the strategy of blaming the [Blue] states.”’

This might seem overly cynical and something akin to a left-wing conspiracy theory that rivals anything QAnon is capable of introducing. But the statistics lend credence to Hartmann’s accusations regarding the fact that death rates from coronavirus of of African-Americans and Latinx groups far outweighed those of whites:

The most unreported story of the pandemic, the one that seems destined to be overlooked as histories are being written, is what Trump did when he learned the COVID coronavirus was largely killing Black and Hispanic people and mostly sparing whites.

The moment he came to that realisation, he completely altered the US response to the pandemic, leading to the unnecessary death of 300,000 to 500,000 Americans.

Deaths that he and his advisors apparently believed (correctly) would be, outside of nursing home residents, disproportionately Black and Hispanic people.

Hartmann writes that ‘once Trump and Kushner put that death-based re-election strategy into place in April, it became politically impossible to back away from it, even as more and more Red state white people became infected.’ This is what fascists do, not Hobbits, and they are only getting started.

What is important to remember is that Trump and Meloni share similar symptoms of being ‘cult vulnerable,’ that is, being in the hypnotic thrall of a cult. Meloni has fused Tolkien’s Middle Earth with authoritarian populism and elements of neofascism, which is animated by a longing to resurrect a glorious historical time for Italy that has been lost. She draws upon Tolkien’s fantasy world to suture mythical events together with real-world events and heroic archetypes, which gives her worldview a sense of false purity. For Trump, it is quite a different scenario. Trump’s narcissism weaves his life out of the fabric of the historical narrative, where he is able to see himself through the lens of mythic time, in which case he is able to view himself in terms of brute power and greatness, as a political Magus who controls the wheel of destiny. His ego has become a willing receptacle for the worship of his followers. Making America Great Again is synonymous with making himself great within the larger metanarrative of humankind. Trump imposes his own sense of greatness upon the narrative fabric of history – as evidenced by his countless public pronouncements that he is the greatest president in US history. He is able to speak his greatness into the leger of history because his disaffected followers need to surrender themselves to someone who is able to channel their rage. Trump becomes the mythic Everyman, and the key to the success of his corruption is that he can disguise his own fascism and elitism by railing against fascists and elitists. There is no right or wrong side of history for Trump; there is only Trumpian history. Trump is trapped in his own cult, he is in the thrall of being The Donald, whereas Meloni has surrendered herself to the heroes of the Shire and their capacities for virtue and the wisdom of the White Wizard. She has tethered her own fascist positions to those of the Shire by reading back the brave actions of Frodo, Bilbo and Sam into her own political agenda. Psychiatrist Robert Lifton argues that we should not view the victims of a cult as passive agents who have been brainwashed into submission. They are not victims to an irresistible force because, as Seth D. Norrholm writes (after psychiatrist Robert Lifton), ‘there is “voluntary self-surrender” in one’s entrance into a cult.’ In addition, ‘the decision to give up control as part of the cult process may actually be part of the reason why people join.’

Seth D. Sorrholm, who believes Trump’s MAGA cult is the most dangerous cult in American history, explains:

Research and experience tell us that those who are ‘cult vulnerable’ may have a sense of confusion or separation from society or seek the same sort of highly controlled environment that was part of their childhood. It has also been suggested that those who are at risk for cult membership feel an enormous lack of control in the face of uncertainty (i.e., economic, occupational, academic, social, familial) and will gravitate more towards a cult as their distress increases. I would argue that many of these factors are at play when we see the ongoing support of Trumpism and MAGA ‘theology.’

Finding a middle ground to political positions is no longer possible in today’s sociopolitical climate. According to Norrholm: ‘Although members of the GOP still refer to themselves as a political party with principled stances, the reality is they have now morphed into a domestic terror organisation and, to use the umbrella term, a cult – the largest and most dangerous cult in American history.’ That there is a voluntary submission to cultism is nowhere more evident than senator Marco Rubio of Florida: ‘Rubio, for example, identified all of the reasons why the 45th President was not qualified when he himself was running for President in 2016. However, perhaps due to his own intolerance of uncertainties in his life, he volunteered for Trumpism.’

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is fast becoming the Wewelsburg Castle of the United States, a modern-day Temple of Doom reminiscent of the palace where Heinrich Himmler once pondered the secret societies of Thule or the Germanenorden and met with the SS elite. It is a fitting location where Trump can entertain his fellow fascists and plan his revenge on his political detractors. It’s unlikely you’ll find any Hobbits roaming the grounds.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2023). Hobbits and the Rebirth of Italian Fascism: The Hobbitisation of Ideological Indoctrination?. PESA Agora. https://pesaagora.com/columns/hobbits-and-the-rebirth-of-italian-fascism/

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.