Romancing the Apocalypse

Christopher Rufo’s Self-Righteous Crusade to Destroy America

Rejecting a world of communal solidarity and love that values affirmation, respect and reciprocal relations among diverse groups of human beings is irredeemably antagonistic to the purported values we associate with American citizenship. Yet such a rejection seems today to be in lockstep with the privatising and utilitarian logic of exchange value – in other words, with a logic that subordinates American identity to economic rationality, to the logic capital. The romantic utopias of the mass media and other domains of capitalist mythology expunge the idea that workers (those who do not own the means of production) can have dreams beyond wages and income alone. Given the current normalisation of capitalism and fascist valuation, it is no wonder that people from all class fractions turn to violence as a conduit for their disaffection, offer up cringe-worthy challenges to masculinity, and learn to perfect the demeaning art of menacing one’s rivals. It cheers the levelling of all civility, which it derides as woke, mocks those who call for reciprocal values of trust, mutual recognition and respect for both self and others.

The country has turned into one giant UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) event, a type of troll culture that is hailed among our Republican MAGA politicians who are cheered for talking smack and demeaning their rivals. It is as if those who willingly shed their trappings of civility and present themselves as Freud’s unvarnished id are the most ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ and thus to be admired for being a ‘real savage.’ But do you really want them in leadership positions? Being-in-the-world under capitalism demands utility-oriented calculative action that penetrates the very capillaries of the ontological pursuit of our identity. We are trapped in the privatising logic of exchange value; friendship exists only within the logic of consumer practices. Forms of life that admit of creative production are rarely to be seen. We need an alter-rationality that can hobble the self-interest of capitalist social relations and replace the technocratic rationality that dominates capitalism by creating counterpublic spheres. We pressingly long for ways of mitigating the logic of capital in our lives by creating modes of being that transcend the logic of exchange value. But being-in-the-world cannot occur outside of group formations.

We must reject valuations in capitalist society that praise individualism over collective struggle, equality and mutuality. Not long after our coming-into-being, we are being prepared for capitalist consumption, and, regrettably, we have been abandoned to what Ernst Bloch described as a ‘swindle of fulfilment.’ As the great Marxist himself pointed out, we all live in the Now, but not all people exist in the same Now. The MAGA crowd exists in a very different Now than you or I do. Some call me a romantic anti-capitalist, and, in marshalling such a critique, they are not entirely unfounded since it is important to point out that as ugly and reactionary as the MAGA movement is, it does have its utopian dimensions of which I, as a Marxist and a Catholic, find it important. I wish to create conditions of possibility for their actualisation and to point out how such a utopia needs to be made concrete or, as Bloch put it, ‘concretely mediated.’ We can exist physically with each other but still occupy different moments of time. Bloch stressed the importance of recognising that nonsynchronous contradictions exist alongside synchronous contradictions. A synchronous contradiction relates to conflicts between those who own the means of production and those who are dependent on the owner – for example, the contradiction between a proletariat who is class-conscious and a member of the ruling class.

But there are other contradictions that mark society that Bloch recognises. A nonsynchronous contradiction with capitalism may reside in a MAGA supporter who lives in a different sense of historical time, defined by the determinations and utopian desires of an earlier sense of time, such as a more agrarian way of life prior to today’s overwhelming penetration of industrialism into all realms of the body politic. My own utopian desires are defined by 1950s social relations prior to the World Wide Web. Historical moments are comprised of different temporal and ideological schemas. The left needs to accommodate some of these utopian longings that emerge from the right and fit them into a socialist future. We must, in other words, capture the revolutionary imagination of the right, their fragmentary access to utopian pleasures and re-situate them in a socialist imaginary. Socialists are mocked for not being able to establish a successful socialism anywhere, conveniently ignoring the fact that they have been and continue to be forced to create such a socialism within the boundaries of capitalism. Parties of the working class and peasantry are mocked for their failure to produce a utopia within the boundaries of capitalism; they are mocked for their projects, which are said to be unrealistic. The swindle of fulfilment, capitalism’s deceptive cathedral of dreams, is seen as realistic, whereas the necessity of socialism as a means of challenging the exploitation of workers is portrayed as unrealistic.

The appeal of fascism can also be characterised as a swindle of fulfilment. Our own minds have a functional complexity enabling them to become their own digital platforms, replete with a wearying algorithmic calculus of hate, spite, and vengeance that is put into service for protecting the ego during intense internet battles with rivals, bullies and trolls, often accelerating violence, expanding it in scope and, in the worst-case scenario, posting manifestos and threats to harm others. Ricky Crano notes how the micropolitics of fascist desires, affects and impulses circulate through particular forms (i.e., apps such as Instagram and TikTok) constitutive of digitally mediated encounters in our communications ecosystems that create a ‘joyful passion’ of ‘fascist belonging’ and affiliation. Such joyful impulses of being a follower are rechannelled ‘into reactionary social forms’ that ‘barbarises critical thought.’

Such barbarism can be seen in the rise of Christian nationalism throughout the US. Consider the rising popularity of far-right pastors such as Hansel Orzame, who has established an ‘unwoke church’ where he urges his parishioners – that include members of the Proud Boys – to conduct ‘spiritual warfare’ and use Jesus as a justification for nationalist attacks on the gay population, multiculturalists and ‘globalists.’ He and Chen note that, ‘[r]egarding cultural and institutional basics, nationalists uphold neoliberalism, social Darwinism, the law of jungle, and individualism, whereas globalists advocate for social democracy and collectivistic ethnic codes.’

Tess Owen sounds a warning:

In the last four years, churches that fuse rabid nationalism with Christianity have sprung up nationwide, thumbing their noses at the tax breaks offered by 501c3 status, which has historically incentivised pastors to at least maintain the illusion of keeping politics out of the pulpit. There’s even a website, ‘MyChurchFinder,’ that ascribes a letter rating to churches based on their pastor’s level of Christian nationalist views. Orzame’s church received an A: ‘Biblically Sound, Culturally Aware & Legislatively Active.’ ‘We cannot beat these globalists, this globohomo machine alone,’ Orzame appealed to God in a recent prayer broadcast on the streaming platform Rumble. ‘We need Your strength. We need Your guidance. We need strategies from Heaven and God.’

Orzame’s rising profile in southern California’s far-right scene and his extensive links to the Proud Boys are the latest indication that the gang and their allies are increasingly seeking religious justifications for their continued culture war activities, even as their uniformed public appearances have waned. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which tracks extremism and unrest worldwide, found that since the Jan. 6. Capitol riot, Proud Boys have been more likely to appear in public alongside Christian nationalist and conservative groups compared to years prior to 2021, when they often aligned themselves with militias.

Michael Peters writes that, in developing a philosophy of education, it behoves us ‘to try to understand how we become fascist and exhibit fascistic behaviour in the neoliberal mode where we can at once espouse humanist ideals and anti-neoliberal rhetoric in our writing, but, then, as neoliberal managers, engage in fascistic habits in our work environments.’

The Republican Party (a.k.a. the Republican fascist crime family) appears to be working in concert with Vladimir Putin, and the fact that this has not sent shock waves throughout the country reveals just how deep the cult of MAGA has penetrated the brainpans of its constituencies throughout the country. Thom Hartmann has revealed how far afield this working arrangement extends. His insights into the cult of MAGA and its connection to Russia are worth quoting at length:

There’s little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in achieving near-total control over the Republican Party. They’re gutting aid to Ukraine (and have been for over a year), working to kneecap our economy, whipping up hatred among Americans against each other, promoting civil war, and openly embracing replacing American democracy with authoritarian autocracy. Putin has declared war on queer people, proclaimed Russia a ‘Christian nation,’ and shut down all the media he called ‘fake news.’ Check, check, check.

Most recently, the three-year ‘Biden bribery’ hysteria Republicans in the House have been running – including thousands of hits on Fox ‘News’ and all over right-wing hate radio – turns out to have been a Russian intelligence operation originally designed to help Trump win the 2020 election. The Russian spy who’d been feeding this phony info to ‘Gym’ Jordan and James ‘Gomer Pyle’ Comer is now in jail.

Over the past two years, as America was using Russia’s terrorist attacks on Ukraine to degrade the power and influence of Russia’s military, Putin was using social media, Republican politicians, and right-wing American commentators to get Republican politicians on his side and thus kill off US aid to Ukraine. The war in Gaza is making it even easier, with Putin-aligned politicians like Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeting: ‘Any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.’

Russia’s battlefield, in other words, has now shifted from Ukraine to the US political system and our homes via radio, TV, and the internet, all in the hopes of ending US aid to the democracy they’ve brutally attacked. And the momentum is following that shift: Russia is close to having the upper hand in Ukraine because of Putin’s ability – via Trump and Johnson – to get Republican politicians to mouth his talking points and propaganda. Now, with Speaker ‘Moscow Mike’ Johnson shutting down the House of Representatives so nobody can offer a discharge petition that would force a vote on Ukraine aid (and aid for Palestinian refugees, Taiwan, and our southern border), it’s becoming more and more clear that Vladimir Putin is running the Republican party via his well-paid stooge, Donald Trump.

Russia is not a nation self-selected for credulity. And while Putin may be personally bland in appearance and is not your smiling, grip-and-grin, baby-kissing, politically centrist, aw-shucks politician confidently awaiting the return of Jesus, he cannot be underestimated in what he will do should he be facing defeat on the battlefield. Super-normality is not his predisposition. But with the imprimatur of his adoring Patriarch Kirill, he is more likely than not to use tactical nuclear missiles on the battlefields of Ukraine. And that could easily be the start of an all-out thermo-nuclear war. In the meantime, as we whistle Waltzing Matilda, checking our cellphones for the latest updates on the war, fixating on pictures of ruined apartment buildings, hospitals and cathedrals, remembering the dead and the dying, feeling guilty for our spatial privilege that prevents us from spending nights in air raid shelters and lamenting the lack of our ritual adequacy in commemorating those Ukrainians who have been lost fighting for their homeland, we would do well to challenge Russia-centric colonial narratives in the academy to gain a deeper understanding of the damaging dimensions of Russia’s colonial history and the dangers of World War III if Russia defeats Ukraine on the battlefield. And, more urgently, given the 2024 US presidential election, Putin’s relationship with Donald Trump. Hartman underscores that Russian money kept the Trump organisation afloat in the early 1990s. He also worked with professional money launderers to keep money stashed in places hidden from the government:

Donald Trump would have been reduced to homelessness in the early 1990s if it weren’t for Russian money, as both of his sons have said at different times. He’d burned through all of his father’s estate, even stealing a large part of it from his siblings. He’d lost or hidden almost two billion dollars running a casino.

As Michael Hirsch noted for Foreign Policy magazine: ‘By the early 1990s, he had burned through his portion of his father Fred’s fortune with a series of reckless business decisions. Two of his businesses had declared bankruptcy, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City and the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the money pit that was the Trump Shuttle went out of business in 1992. Trump companies would ultimately declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy two more times.’

He’d been forced to repeatedly declare bankruptcy – sticking American banks for over a billion dollars in unpaid bills – after draining his businesses of free cash and stashing the money in places he hoped nobody would ever find.

No American bank would touch him, and property developers in New York were waiting for his entire little empire to collapse. Instead, a desperate Trump reached out to foreign dictators and mobsters, who were more than happy to supply funds to an influential New York businessman … for a price to be paid in the future.

Russia was a key to keeping Trump rich, and it still is:

He sold over $100 million worth of condos to more than sixty Russian citizens during that era and partnered with professional criminals and money launderers to raise money for Trump properties in Azerbaijan and Panama. According to Trump himself, he sold $40 to $50 million worth of apartments to the Saudis.

He then partnered with a former high Soviet official, Tevfik Arif, and a Russian businessman, Felix Sater, who’d been found guilty of running a ‘huge stock fraud scheme involving the Russian mafia.’

As the founders of Fusion GPS wrote for The New York Times in 2018, ‘The Trump family’s business entanglements are of more than historical significance. Americans need to be sure that major foreign policy decisions are made in the national interest – not because of foreign ties forged by the president’s business ventures.’ Thus, when it came time to run for president, Trump had to pay the price. He and the people around him were inundated with offers of ‘help’ from Russians, most associated directly with Putin or the Russian mafia.

Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had been paid millions by Putin’s oligarchs and ran Trump’s campaign for free. Reporters found over a dozen connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, and, during the 2016 campaign, Trump was secretly negotiating a deal to open a Trump tower in Moscow. Trump’s son and his lawyer met with Putin’s agents in Trump Tower.

Most egregiously, Trump is willing to destroy the United States in order to reclaim the presidency:

Meanwhile, under Trump’s and Putin’s direction, Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to damage the people of the United States.

They believe it will help them in the 2024 election if they can ruin the US economy while convincing American voters that our system of government is so corrupt (‘deep state’) that we should consider replacing democracy with an autocratic strongman form of government like Putin’s Russia. Tucker Carlson is even suggesting that Russia is a better place to live than the US. They revel in pitting racial, religious, and gender groups against each other while embracing a form of fascism that pretends to be grounded in Christianity, all while welcoming Putin’s social media trolls who are promoting these divisions.

Republican-aligned think tanks are working on Project 2025, a naked attempt to consolidate power in the White House to support a strongman president who can override the will of the people, privatise Social Security and Medicare, shut down our public school system, fully criminalise abortion and homosexuality (Sam Alito called for something like that this week), and abandon our democratic allies in favour of a realignment with Russia, China and North Korea.

Trump got us here by openly playing to the fears and prejudices of white people who are freaked out by the rapid post-1964 ‘browning’ of America. Putin jumped in to help amplify the message a thousandfold with his social media trolls, who are posting thousands of times a day as you read these words.

Trump is not known for making calm, rational decisions in pursuit of a strategy. More often, he is portrayed in his Truth Social posts and during his rallies as a man boiling over with a blind rage that’s disproportionate to the situation and seemingly without cause, his outbursts of fury directed towards any and all perceived slights to his person. Republican critics, like Christopher Rufo, are not as overburdened by analytical thinking as Trump, yet, at the same time, have difficulty understanding the essential imperatives of critical race theory or critical pedagogy (the appreciation of which demands not more intelligence but a more granular and nuanced processing of information that is cognitively demanding) and resorts to the kind of reporting you might expect from an internet troll employing malicious software designed to deceive human users and social bots (algorithmically controlled by software) that seems to have taken over social media and politics. I liken Rufo’s attacks to the kind of gob-smacking jock-sniffery that you find at a UFC presser exchange between combatants, where the favourite is often the fighter who uses the most shockingly racist, homophobic remarks (that usually contain the word ‘pussy’) to describe his opponent. Dana White, the president, has a habit of calling his favourite fighters ‘savages,’ which seems appropriate. The fighter who gets the last word or provokes the greatest moral flinch from the audience often becomes the most popular consumer choice, judging from crowd reaction.

The appeal of the far-right to white women has evolved significantly. While it initially offered a sense of patriarchal security, today’s far-right presents something more provocative by aligning itself with destructive and antisocial forces, as seen in the martyrdom of Ashli Babbit. This curious shift resembles the very values it claims to reject – equality and freedom – providing a justification for white women’s discontent and offering outlets for expressing their anger. In an insightful discussion in Historical Materialism, Robyn Marasco sheds light on the paradox emerging in the era of authoritarian populism and ‘platform capitalism.’ Women on the far-right, who staunchly oppose the feminist movement, find themselves unwittingly influenced by its essence. They simultaneously mirror and oppose neoliberal feminism, embodying aspects of freedom from the 1960s counterculture, all while being transformed by modes of algorithmic agitation in niche market consumerism. This transformation responds to the growing influence of an ‘aggrieved white male supremacism’ that increasingly relies on women in unprecedented ways. The result is a reconceptualisation of women’s work under neoliberalism, leading to unique forms of ‘female antifeminism’ across the political spectrum. This paradox is exemplified by figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who appears to be indebted to countercultural feminist politics of the 1960s while promoting an anti-feminist platform.

During an anti-socialist video ad, Greene stepped out of a Humvee, donning boots, aviator glasses and an army-green jacket, and took aim at a Toyota Prius with the word socialism painted on the side with a military-grade Barrett M82A1 sniper rifle. Interested viewers could enter a raffle to win the gun by visiting The critique extends beyond femonationalism. Marasco writes:

The martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt underscores Macciocchi’s argument about a ‘death drive’ at the root of fascism and its peculiar expressions in women. It confirms Dworkin’s hunch that the new right-wing women would be the product of the feminist movement that they oppose. The concept and critique of femonationalism are important but insufficient to the complexities of this situation. From a different direction, Moira Weigel coins the term ‘Authoritarian Personality 2.0’ for those parts of the Right that have made a home online and among the powerful players in Silicon Valley. Weigel shows how these players, shaped by Big Tech and responsive to the material conditions of platform capitalism, have absorbed elements of the 1960s counterculture and its ideas about freedom. ‘AP 2.0’ is not a program for the mobilisation of the masses, as fascism once was. It is the algorithmic identification and agitation of niche consumer markets. Weigel, a brilliant media historian, is alert to the gender dynamics that surface everywhere online and how media technologies have shaped our gendered lives offline. But she leaves the sexual politics of ‘AP 2.0’ largely untouched.

Recently, reports have surfaced about Christopher Rufo’s close relationship with a ‘dissident right’ magazine, IM-1776, reported on by Jason Wilson in The Guardian. Like many far-right magazines that read like they are conduits for Russian intel operations and Kremlin propaganda, IM-1776 has been accurately described as a magazine that undermines liberal democracy and sings the praises of authoritarian demagogues. It is no surprise that it is now publishing work by Christopher Rufo.

I have written previously about Rufo’s attacks on Critical Race Theory and, more recently, Critical Pedagogy (see here and here). Rufo’s attacks are examples of far-right lunacy that would, under normal circumstances, be considered laughable if it were not so dangerous in this contemporary moment when the MAGA cult has spawned fascist offshoots run by men like Rufo, whose fever dreams of being the next great far-right activist hero portends a strong volatile current of fascist demagoguery that is not likely to dissipate any time soon. If history remembers men such as Rufo at all, it will be barroom comparisons of Rufo with Alabama Governor George Wallace, or perhaps Pat Buchanan or Father Charles Coughlin. Gerrys accurately describes Rufo as a ‘right-wing activist who has cooked up messaging strategies against critical race theory and other hot-button culture war issues‘ and ‘who has the ear of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump, contributes to the far-right IM-1776 magazine and maintains an explicitly collaborative and supportive relationship with its editors and writers, including would-be ‘warlord’ Charles Haywood who leads a network of armed extremists bent on ending liberal ideals.’

Jason Wilson writes that the editors and writers of IM-1776 – ‘many of them so-called ‘anons’ working under pseudonyms – have variously advocated for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act; celebrated figures such as the ‘Unabomber’ Ted Kaczynski and the proto-fascist Italian nationalist Gabriele D’Annunzio; and advanced conspiracy theories about the Covid pandemic and what they term a leftist power structure that they imagine unites the state, large corporations, universities and the media.’ On Rufo’s connection to IM-1776, Wilson comments:

The Guardian has previously reported on Rufo’s links with an outlet that experts described as pushing scientific racism, with a Danish data scientist who had previously co-authored scientific-racist papers, and on co-hosting an audio stream on X in which one participant advocated cooperating with a hypothetical white nationalist leader.

Rufo, who played a leading role in the downfall of Harvard president Claudine Gay, has said such reporting is ‘guilt by association,’ but his relationship with IM-1776 is explicitly collaborative and supportive, and the association is apparently mutually beneficial.

Last month, a ‘manifesto’ written by Rufo – The New Right Activism – ran in the online and print versions of IM-1776, and Rufo has publicly urged his audience to buy and subscribe to the outlet. He has also co-hosted a series of Twitter spaces with the magazine’s editors, beginning in July last year. In one of them, recorded in October, he indicated an interest in incorporating the ‘dissident right’ more fully in mainstream political discourse, saying: ‘I think there is a room for engaging the dissident right and the establishment right. I think we need to have a bridge between the two and engage in thoughtful dialogue.’

More recently, he has expressed a personal interest in expanding the range of acceptable political discourse. On the Pirate Wires podcast earlier this month, he told host Mike Solana of his own activism: ‘I try to play that game, I try to lay traps, I try to provoke certain reactions, I try to launder certain words and phrases into the discourse.’ The Guardian emailed Rufo detailed questions about his relationship with IM-1776, what, if any, concerns he had about content on the site, and which words or phrases he had laundered into the discourse but received no response.

Clearly, Rufo’s mission is to make far-right discourse and fascist politics more acceptable in the public square, just as Trump has made name-calling, sexist comments, character assassination, racist commentary directed at immigrants and pathological lying acceptable in candidates for political office. Wilson quotes Dr Julian Waller, a research analyst at the Centre for Naval Analyses and a professorial lecturer at George Washington University: ‘Rufo is very intentionally acting as a bridging actor between people to his right – in a variety of dimensions and different ideological segments – and the more institutional establishment world: the harder right of American politics…. In the American context, the closest thing we have to a post-liberal government – and I won’t say dissident right, I’ll say post-liberal – is the DeSantis administration in Florida, and Chris Rufo’s activist legislative packages have been used by that state forthrightly.’

Wilson also quotes Mark Granza, an Italian national living in Hungary and the founder and editor-in-chief of IM-1776. Granza is quoted in the Hungarian Conservative, an outlet aligned with the authoritarian government of Viktor Orbán, as saying that Rufo ‘doesn’t care about convincing the other side or battling in the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ He’s going to tell you what he’s going to do, and then do it, whether you agree with him or not…. That’s what I believe conservatives should do: use whatever power they have or can get and impose their views onto society.’

MI-1776 supports world leaders such as El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele, ‘who suspended civil liberties in 2022 as part of a crackdown on alleged gang members that has seen about 75,000 people arrested without charge – more than 1% of the country’s total population.’ Granza has warned that ‘America needs its own Bukele. Build massive prisons and start by throwing in every single regime apparatchik.’ Other political figures given accolades in the magazine include the Italian proto-fascist D’Annunzio and Vladimir Putin. Wilson reports that ‘IM-1776 regularly runs articles that attempt to rehabilitate lesser-known far-right thinkers and even convicted terrorists. Benjamin Braddock bylined a May 2022 interview with Renaud Camus, the French novelist, white nationalist and conspiracy theorist who coined the ‘Great Replacement’ as a book title and as description of a purported plot by ‘replacist elites’ to substitute immigrants for white Europeans.’

Wilson reminds us that ‘Camus’s slogan inspired white nationalist chants at Charlottesville, Virginia; was borrowed as the title of the manifesto written by the man who massacred 52 Muslims in two mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019; and also motivated the man who killed 10 Black people in the car park of a market in Buffalo in May 2022.’ In Braddock’s deferential interview, Camus characterises these ‘replacist’ elites as ‘Davos, bankers, international finance, multinational companies, pension funds, hedge funds, big five, and all kind of more or less private powers.’ IM-1776 also published an obituary of Ted Kaczynski, who received a life sentence for a 17-year mailbombing campaign that killed three of his targets and injured 23 others. The obituary praised his ‘devastating critique of the left [that] included in his famous manifesto, Industrial Society and Its Future.’

Another ideologue featured in IM-1776 is Erik Prince, whom Jon Schwartz of The Intercept describes as ‘the wealthy heir to an auto supply company; a Navy SEAL; the founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater, which conducted a notorious 2007 massacre in the middle of Baghdad; the brother of Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s secretary of education; a shadow adviser to Trump; and the plaintiff in a lawsuit against The Intercept.’ Schwartz reports that ‘Last November, Prince started a podcast called ‘Off Leash,’ which in its promotional copy says Prince ‘brings a unique and invaluable perspective to today’s increasingly volatile world.’

Schwartz writes:

On an episode last Tuesday, his unique and invaluable perspective turned out to be that the US should ‘put the imperial hat back on’ and take over and directly run huge swaths of the globe. Prince is quoted as saying: ‘If so many of these countries around the world are incapable of governing themselves, it’s time for us to just put the imperial hat back on, to say, we’re going to govern those countries … ‘cause enough is enough, we’re done being invaded. …

You can say that about pretty much all of Africa, they’re incapable of governing themselves.’

Prince confirmed that he was referring to both Africa and Latin America. Later in the interview, Prince referenced Black Lives Matter as the ‘Hamas militia’: ‘You get the BLM and the Hamas militias of the Democrat Party, very active in the United States this summer…. When that BLM or Hamas militia shows up to start wrecking things, you show them what law and order looks like, immediately.

Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman of the New York Times report that Prince set up a domestic spying venture against critics of Donald Trump. They write:

During the summer of 2018, as Richard Seddon, a former British spy, was trying to launch a new venture to use undercover agents to infiltrate progressive groups, Democratic campaigns and other opponents of President Donald J. Trump, he turned for help to a long-time friend and former colleague: Erik Prince, the private military contractor.

Mr. Prince took on the role of celebrity pitchman, according to interviews and documents, raising money for Mr. Seddon’s spying operation, which was aimed at gathering dirt that could discredit politicians and activists in several states. After Mr Prince and Mr Seddon met in August 2018 with Susan Gore, a Wyoming heiress to the Gore-Tex fortune, Ms Gore became the project’s main benefactor.

Mr Prince’s role in the effort, which has not been previously disclosed, sheds further light on how a group of ultraconservative Republicans employed spycraft to try to manipulate the American political landscape. Mr Prince – a former CIA contractor who is best known as the founder of the private military firm Blackwater and whose sister, Betsy DeVos, was Mr Trump’s education secretary – has drawn scrutiny over the years for Blackwater’s record of violence around the world and his subsequent ventures training and arming foreign forces.

His willingness to support Mr. Seddon’s operation is fresh evidence of his engagement in political espionage projects at home during a period when he was an informal adviser to Trump administration officials.

Charles P. Pierce has described Prince as follows:

One thing we’ve learned over our four-year indenture to the rule of Camp Runamuck is that there is evil, there is Trump evil, and there is a level of evil beyond that, on which you find Erik Prince and his extended empire of spies and crooks and international ratfckers. (That’s not even to mention his sister, who against all odds has survived for the full four years as Secretary of Education without learning anything at all about education.)’ He concludes his article with the following remarks: ‘Enough of this. Enough with the private armies and the private covert-ops brigades, enough with the semi-organised deer camp militias who show up armed to terrify the children of elected officials whom they do not like. The militarised police are bad enough, and there will be more about that here in the shebeen later today. A militarised pirate sector and a militarised political opposition are two things that do not end well for a democracy. Sedition is no less sedition if it’s inchoate and has Bud Light on its breath. Meanwhile, Prince apparently is making pros out of this bunch.

Charles Haywood, a former shampoo manufacturer, is one of the funders of IM-1776 whom I mentioned in a previous article with respect to a debate hosted by Rufo and reported by The Guardian’s Jason Wilson. I wrote:

Rufo hosted the debate on X, formerly known as Twitter. Charles Haywood, one of the participants in the social media debate, known for his tumid oratory and firebrand hate of the left, maintained, hypothetically, and apparently with a straight face, that conservatives should cooperate with a white nationalist dictator ‘in order to destroy the power of the left.’ And not just any steely-eyed dictator, but one in the order of a Franco, a Pinochet and a Salazar. Salazar would be bad enough for America, but an Augusto Pinochet and a Francisco Franco? The latter two went well beyond brutal repression and a censored press but were mass murderers. And what was Rufo’s response? He commended all the speakers, Haywood included, for their ‘thoughtful points’ and described the discussion in a positive light as a model for engagement with ‘the dissident right.’

By commending his fellow far-right extremist, Haywood, for making thoughtful points about supporting the idea of a white nationalist, fascist dictator rising up in America, we can see in Rufo’s comments the clear trajectory of today’s far-right, which is all about power, control, hate, retribution and death, and not necessarily in that order.

In his new report, Wilson emphasises Haywood’s ‘eliminationist language in relation to his perceived enemies’:

In one, a dialogue with fellow IM-1776 regular Daniel Miller, Haywood writes that the goal of the right must be ‘the total, permanent defeat of the left, of the ideology at the heart of the Enlightenment,’ and later that ‘our society is commanded to excise the limitless, satanic evils brought on us by the left.’

Elsewhere, in a glowing review of Rufo’s book, America’s Cultural Revolution, Haywood says that it shows that ‘we might have to accept we can’t live with these people, the five or ten per cent of our nation who lead or are most active in supporting the left,’ and goes on to demand the repeal of the ‘so-called Civil Rights Act.’

Waller, the political analyst, included Haywood as one of three case studies in a working paper on writers providing ‘advocacy in favour of genuine authoritarian regimes – ones which outright reject the basic structural and constitutional premises of modern electoral democracy.’

In a recent article for IM-1776, Rufo writes about how the ends must triumph over means in far-right political activism. He proclaims a new era where conservatives will outproduce the left in knowledge and culture in order to ‘shift the balance of ideological power’ by using the language of God:

We must recruit, recapture, and replace existing leadership. We must produce knowledge and culture at a sufficient scale and standard to shift the balance of ideological power. Conservative thought has to move out of the ghetto and into the mainstream. And we must be capable of resisting, and perhaps even embracing, a constant barrage of media coverage, with a hundred negative stories for every positive one. In other words, we must risk ruin in pursuit of victory.

Why would anyone embrace these risks? Fame, revenge, and power have all been powerful motivations in political life in the past, and they remain powerful today. But in order to realise the ultimate promise of the political, there also must be something higher – a telos.

The language of ends has almost vanished from American life, and this disappearance supplies the greatest opportunity for the New Right. Because of its religious adherence, the Right still has access to the language of ends – the language of God, or, in its more contemporary form, ‘Nature and Nature’s God.’ My conviction is that ends will ultimately triumph over means; men will die for truth, liberty and happiness but will not die for efficiency, diversity and inclusion.

So, the question that immediately follows from Rufo’s hollow commentary is this: How is diversity and inclusion inimical to truth, liberty and happiness? He treats diversity and inclusion as if they are swearwords reserved for the most scatological-minded drunks you could find projectile vomiting in the corner of your local pub. Rufo’s essay already assumes he will be preaching to the choir, so he has no need to explain himself or at least mount a half-hearted argument. There are parts of Rufo’s essay – mainly his ‘call to arms’ against misery and unhappiness – that could have been lifted right out of many left-wing publications. Where Rufo talks about the struggle for happiness in a misery-laden culture, the left and right could both agree that this is indeed the case. At the same time, it is apparent that Rufo has difficulty condemning the dark stains on US imperial history, including imperialist wars, genocide, ecocide and epistemicide. Major world hegemons tend to bury the past in mystification or outright denial, and Rufo appears proud to be adding to such mystification.

Rufo cannot bring himself to consider that many of the crimes of US history – such as institutionalised racism – have been refracted through the profit-bearing prism of value augmentation, including institutionalised racism and racial capitalism (i.e., racialised exploitation and capital accumulation are mutually constitutive). What is striking is that Rufo blames all of the ills of contemporary US society and ‘the degradations of American institutional life’ on postmodernism and the left. He offers no arguments, just hortatory and empty heroics. He clearly wants the public to view him as some kind of New Right hero.

What is clear is that Christopher Rufo and all the other contributors to IM-1776 know little about how capitalism works and how it creates what both the far right and the left describe as a world of pain and misery. Rufo and his minions clearly need to be educated about the left’s understanding of capitalism, yet critics such as Rufo appear to lack the requisite theoretical vocabulary to achieve the necessary type of granular excavation.

Below are some statements and ideas that I regard as essential to understanding some of the more essential aspects of capitalism:

  1. The essence of labour as a form of value underlies all social interactions, leading us to scrutinise labour itself to gain insight into the societal framework shaped by capital, which moulds our identities through various labour activities.
  2. The logic of capitalism permeates all aspects of human interaction and renders society a conglomerate of diverse labour forms, emphasising the need to analyse labour’s specific manifestations in capitalism.
  3. It’s crucial to view value not merely as a tool for measuring exploitation or dominance but as a social construct shaping our societal fabric, as highlighted by Marx’s labour theory of value.
  4. Labour isn’t merely a given but should be critically examined as a social construct, elucidating its abstract structure in society.
  5. Marx’s value theory doesn’t solely reduce labour to an economic concept; rather, it illustrates how labour, as a form of value, shapes our social reality, influenced by capital’s logic.
  6. Value isn’t a superficial concept but integral to Marx’s societal framework, embodying power dynamics rather than being a neutral entity.
  7. The creation of value differs from the production of wealth and is historically contingent, emerging when labour assumes its dual nature.
  8. Labour’s duality within commodities enables money to serve as the measure of value, representing abstract labour in a social context.
  9. The essence of capitalist production lies in extracting surplus value from labour, indicating a shift in focus from market dynamics to the production process itself.
  10. Labour isn’t merely opposed to capital but constitutes its human dimension, showcasing the dominance of capitalist logic in societal interactions.
  11. Capital’s hegemony is consolidated as abstract production processes overshadow concrete ones, perpetuating the dynamics of capitalist work.
  12. Moving beyond the fetishisation of labour forms, attention should be directed towards evolving social interactions.
  13. Central to research on capitalism is understanding how labour functions as a social construct in capitalism.
  14. The driving force of capitalism lies in augmenting value through labour, perpetuating scarcity despite enhanced productivity.
  15. Capitalism’s distribution relations stem from its production relations, limiting consumption for most of the population.
  16. Capitalism distorts wealth into a quest for value production, necessitating scrutiny of its universalising tendencies.
  17. Abstract labour’s objective manifestation underscores its personal impact, influencing individual experiences and perceptions.
  18. Critical education initiatives must confront capitalism’s inherent contradictions in labour-capital relations, affecting both objective conditions and subjective agency.
  19. Acknowledging capitalism’s influence on individual psychology reveals its pervasive impact on personal identities.
  20. Advocating for wealth redistribution falls short of addressing the fundamental capitalist relation between labour and capital, which perpetuates inequality.

Below are some points that the far-right ideologues would do well to keep in mind regarding the capitalist mode of production as it relates to forms of anti-capitalist movements such as revolutionary critical pedagogy.

  1. Different modes of production exist, some of which are historically intertwined with capitalism. Not all modes of production adhere to capitalism. Some are socialist.
  2. A fundamental characteristic of the capitalist mode of production is the dual nature of labour, encompassing both use value and exchange value. This means that living labour embodies both concrete and abstract labour.
  3. Abstract labour serves as the basis of value for capital. Capital inherently requires labour for its social existence due to labour’s ontological and creative power.
  4. Here, we must raise a pivotal question: What type of labour should humans engage in? Strategising against capital may involve collaborating with those in technologically underdeveloped regions and transcending empirical analyses of Marx’s categories through dialectical engagement.
  5. Marx elucidates capital as a social relation of labour, entailing objectified, abstract, and alienated labour. Controlling or abolishing capital necessitates dispensing with value production and establishing non-alienated forms of labour.
  6. The creation of non-alienated labour forms represents hope for the future.
  7. The persistence of mass unemployment, contingent labour, and historical worker revolts suggests that capitalism doesn’t eclipse class struggle or worker subjectivity.
  8. Marx’s concept of Absolute knowledge, akin to Hegel’s, emphasises the emergence of a new society. This notion underscores the need for a dialectical approach to transcend alienation and establish positive humanism.
  9. Liberal reform movements often serve petit-bourgeois interests and don’t fundamentally challenge capital. Their focus on rights-based justice stems from capitalist property rights, neglecting the abolition of private property and alienated labour.
  10. Advocating for a comprehensive assault on capital, rather than just capitalism, is more productive. This approach aims for proletarian hegemony and the establishment of a new society based on collective struggle.
  11. Critical pedagogy’s revolutionary potential has been diminished, particularly in the United States, where it’s been reduced to superficial practices. However, there’s enthusiasm for critical pedagogy globally, indicating its continued relevance.
  12. Emphasising the dialectical relationship between labour and symbolic gestures, as well as the commodification of desire, is crucial in pedagogical discussions. This requires a deeper examination of commodification’s impact on social life.
  13. Critical pedagogy should focus on transforming social realities by decoding everyday life and fostering critical consciousness. Educators play a directive role in this transformative process, guiding students toward understanding and changing the world.
  14. The essence of critical pedagogy lies in its connection to the working class’s ability to shape society for freedom and justice. Educators must empower students to engage in anti-capitalist political praxis, including mass mobilisation and revolutionary action, to challenge capitalist hegemony effectively.

Peter Hudis emphasises that the

real problem is the ‘peculiar social character of labour’ that defines the capitalist mode of production. This refers to labour that is forced to produce commodities according to the average amount of time necessary to do so on the world market. Marx calls this ‘socially necessary labour time.’ If your labour produces a commodity within this average time frame, it counts as a source of value; if it fails to do so, it is not considered valuable at all. This is why domestic or reproductive labour is so undervalued in modern society.

We remain trapped within capitalism so long as its form of labour is not replaced by new human relations, beginning but not ending at the point of production, in which ‘time becomes the space for human development.’ It does not matter whether labour is owned by private individuals and corporations (as with neoliberalism) or by statist and public entities (as with Keynesian welfare states and Stalinist regimes). As Marx wrote, ‘Although private property [and the free market] appears to be the reason, the cause of alienated labour, it is rather its consequence.

Regarding prioritising class oppression, I argue that class struggle is strategically central because capitalism commodifies everything, posing a credible threat to the capitalist system. I see an intrinsic link among race, class, and gender oppression. Capitalism co-opts struggles like multiculturalism and feminism, redirecting them towards resource redistribution rather than challenging capitalist relations. I support projects exposing capitalism’s collusion with racism, sexism, and heteronormativity. However, I prioritise uniting new and old social movements to prioritise anti-capitalist struggle. Multi-class formations often serve petit-bourgeois interests and fail to challenge capital’s rule effectively. The situation in Eastern Europe and Latin America illustrates capitalism’s resilience. The transition to capitalism in these regions has led to increased poverty and social divisions, resembling peripheral capitalist countries. The ruling class’s contempt for marginalised groups perpetuates oppression and threatens genuine participatory democracy.

Despite these challenges, I hold onto hope for emancipation. We must reject both facile optimism and despair, focusing instead on the struggle for freedom. As critical educators have pointed out, neoliberalisation of schooling has had a profound impact on how the process of education has been restructured and is centred on technocratic instrumentalisation with an overweening emphasis on accountancy, standardisation, measurement, and surveillance. Critical education plays a crucial role in this struggle, empowering teachers and students to fight for working-class power.

The debate about civil society’s role in forging counter-hegemony is complex. While some see civil society as a site for democratisation, I view it as an arm of the state where ruling class ideology is reinforced. Revolutionary socialists seek alliances between old and new movements but prioritise working-class struggle against capital. Gramsci’s ideas resonate with me, particularly his emphasis on proletarian hegemony and the pedagogical dimensions of the revolutionary party. Education plays a crucial role in embodying socialist ideals and mobilising collective action for emancipation from capital. This vision inspires my work and guides my life. Whether the far right will take time out to consider the analysis of capitalism undertaken by the left is debatable. Their ideologues are getting too much attention for them to risk investing in an analysis that might threaten their fan base.

Richard D. Wolff is someone whom I admire for his knowledge of and commitment to socialism. His grasp of socialism is extensive and profound. Below are some of the key concepts stressed by Wolff. He maintains that socialism has expanded globally over the past two centuries, each nation adapting it to its unique historical context. At the same time, socialism everywhere is influenced by a shared global history, a diverse tradition, and various interpretations of this critical response to capitalism. Understanding socialism is crucial, according to Wolff, because it has profoundly shaped our past and continues to shape our future. It represents a vast repository of ideas, experiences, and experiments aimed at improving upon capitalism.

In his recent book, Understanding Socialism (2019), he delves into the fundamental theories and practices of socialism, examining its triumphs, challenges, and shortcomings. The goal is to pave the way for a new socialism grounded in workplace democracy. Here are ten key insights from his book:

  1. Socialism is a quest for a better alternative to capitalism. It arises from the recognition among workers that their hardships stem not just from individual employers but from the capitalist system itself. Socialists seek to transcend this system, envisioning a society where workers collectively control their destinies.
  2. Socialism is not a monolithic ideology. It has been interpreted and practised in diverse ways around the world, reflecting varying historical, cultural, and political contexts. From state ownership to democratic cooperatives, socialists have explored a range of solutions to the injustices of capitalism.
  3. The Soviet Union and China achieved state capitalism, not socialism. Despite claims to the contrary, these regimes retained fundamental features of capitalism, such as an employer-employee relationship and hierarchical workplaces.
  4. The US, Soviet Union, and China share more similarities than differences. All three exhibited forms of state capitalism, challenging simplistic Cold War narratives of a struggle between capitalism and socialism.
  5. American socialists played a crucial role in shaping progressive policies like the New Deal. FDR’s radical reforms were driven in part by pressure from socialist, communist, and labour movements, highlighting the influence of socialism on American politics.
  6. The post-WWII era saw a concerted effort to purge socialism and communism from public discourse. McCarthyism and anti-communist hysteria suppressed leftist movements worldwide, reinforcing capitalist hegemony.
  7. Socialism spread globally as a response to capitalist colonialism and imperialism. Colonised peoples saw socialism as a means of resisting exploitation and forging alliances with workers in colonising nations.
  8. Fascism emerged as a capitalist response to socialism. While it retained capitalist economic structures, fascism relied on state intervention to preserve the status quo and suppress socialist movements.
  9. Socialism has evolved over time, adapting to changing political and economic conditions. Contemporary socialism emphasises economic democracy and worker cooperatives as alternatives to both state-owned enterprises and unfettered capitalism.
  10. Worker cooperatives are central to the future of socialism. By democratising the workplace, they offer a concrete vision of economic justice and serve as a foundation for a more equitable society.

In sum, notes Wolff, socialism is a dynamic and multifaceted ideology that continues to evolve in response to the challenges of capitalism. By understanding its history and principles, we can better navigate the complexities of our political and economic landscape. As noted by the prominent Marxist Ernst Bloch, we all experience the present, but not everyone occupies the same present. The MAGA crowd occupies a very different present than you or I. Thus, it’s crucial to highlight that, as repugnant and reactionary as the MAGA movement may be, it does possess utopian elements that are worth striving for. The challenge for socialists is to create a viable socialist alternative to capitalism, which ideologues can see as meritorious. Peter Hudis describes the immense challenge ahead for the left:

I say a viable conception because the Achilles of anti-capitalist movements and theoreticians, from orthodox Marxists to anarchists and from the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School to left-wing liberals, is the assumption that capitalism centres on anarchic exchange relations while ‘socialism’ is defined by organised exchange and planned production. What this overlooks, but which the failed state-capitalist regimes that called themselves ‘Communist’ in Russia, Mao’s China and Castro’s Cuba make all too evident, is that capitalism is completely compatible with ‘organised’ exchange relations. As Raya Dunayevskaya wrote back in 1950, the important ‘opposition is not between ‘anarchy’ and ‘plan,’ but between the plan of the capitalist, which is always despotic in form, and the plan of freely associated labour, which is always cooperative.’

What has held back the effort to forge a sustained and successful opposition to capitalism is the narrow conception of a new society upheld by many of its opponents. Instead of theorising how to abolish capital through a new kind of labour and human relations that dispenses with value production, far too many have advocated one or another form of controlling or taming capital. The problem with this approach, however, is that by its very nature, capital cannot be controlled, even by the most enlightened intellectual elite. Once capital emerges as the predominant form of social mediation, it takes on a life of its own and shapes the behaviour of social agents according to its will – regardless of any efforts to control it. On these grounds, in Capital, Marx referred to capital as the subject of modern society.

By no means should we assume that the failure to theorise an alternative to capitalist value production characterises only elitists and authoritarians. A lot more than good intention is needed to theorise an alternative to capital!

Well said, Professor Hudis.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2024). Romancing the Apocalypse: Christopher Rufo’s Self-Righteous Crusade to Destroy America. PESA Agora.

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.