Fascism in the USA: An Interview with Shane Burley
Shane Burley discusses how fascism is growing in the U.S., how it forms and operates, and what the real threat is.
Braden Riley | Social Movement Studies | Interview | January 18th, 2018
The following is an interview with Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It (AK Press) , regarding the modern fascist movement in the United States.
Braden Riley: Alt Right outlets like AltRight.com, the National Policy Institute, American Renaissance, and others have been putting out a lot of statements about their plans for 2018. What are their plans for 2018, and how successful do you think they are going to be?
Shane Burley: This is really hard to say because their success and failures are less because of their choices and more because of the social tides. They got a massive boost in 2015, a score that many attributed to Trump, yet came before Trump’s real entry into the cultural landscape. Their biggest boost came actually by their own work and tapped into the same mood that Trump tapped into as well. That victory was the hashtag #Cuckservative, which ended up trending on Twitter and brought the popular white nationalist podcast The Daily Shoah onto the public stage. The were calling out beltway conservatives who worked against their own racial “interests” on immigration issues. This became popular long before the term Alt Right did, and that only became a trending hashtag after Cuckserative and other Alt Right memes had set the stage for it. The term Alt Right was actually a throwback, major Alt Right figures like Richard Spencer had actually traded it in for Identitarian, a word used by cultural fascist movements in Europe like the Nordic Resistance movement. He thought that the Alt Right phase of their development was over by this point, but a circle developing online, and without the direct control of Spencer, began using it again to describe their views.
All this is to say that there was a cultural force happening that was not completely in their control, but they certainly influenced discourse and rode the nativist insurgency into the public spotlight. 2015 and 2016 were huge for them. They were able to ally with the “Alt Light,” the slightly more moderate nativist Civic Nationalists like Breitbart and Rebel Media, allowing a more mainstream channel to popularize their message without committing fully to their open fascism. They were able to get multiple more memes into the culture, gain huge media attention for their major figures, and kept their ideas relevant to the larger conservative culture with the Trumpian populist movement.
2017, on the other hand, got away from them. At this point they wanted to move into the world of IRL (In Real Life) activism and politics. Their movement, unlike most of the radical left, was not built on struggle and organizing, but instead on message boards, conferences, and streaming media. They had not had the impetus to put their politics into action, but as their organizations coalesced, groups like Identity Europa began to step out into the political scene. Alt Right organizations like the Tradtionalist Workers Party had been doing this for a few years, but they were more than just Alt Right, they also pulled from the more conventional militia, neo-Nazi, and KKK groups , all of which had a history of “activism.” The Alt Right , the new Middle Class and pseudo-intellectual white nationalist branding, did not have that history, so it was trying to build it. Unfortunately for them, they began doing it very poorly since they did not have a good concept of movement building.
At the same time, enough antifascist momentum had built up that they were seeing massive opposition anywhere they appeared. This had grown throughout 2015 and 2016, and was being effectively organized in those years, but the less political general public had caught on heavily by 2017 with Trump’s victory, the Women’s March, and the Alt Right violence starting in 2016 . So any appearance is a major battle in urban centers, with the Alt Right effectively becoming persona non grata for every previous ally.
Charlottesville on August 12th of 2017 was the most apparent of these, and they lost every final bit of crossover appeal they had. Their Alt Light allies have all but completely abandoned them, and their public appearances are flashpoints for antifascist confederations to descend. The organizations that have formed in response are numerous, growing, and their nationwide networks have swelled. Antifascism is at a scale that we have no precedent for in recent U.S. memory.
Within that frame, they have seen their publishing platforms eradicated. Social media, web hosting, podcast hosting, and just about every other outreach tool has been pulled from them. They had grown thought their access to easy hosting and social media, but now almost every Alt Right institutions has been pulled from their online and financial infastructures. Their tools have been deleted, their venues pulled, and their public turned hostile. It isn’t looking good.
What they are planning to do also has not been clear. Richard Spencer has been pushing for massive fundraising, something made even more difficult as platforms like Patreon and PayPal pull away from them. Bitcoin has still be useful for them, but as it enters the unstable Wall Street market it is better as a high cost investment than a crypto-currency. The Right Stuff and AltRight.com are hoping that they will be able to pull in enough income through pay-walls to keep a few figures on a living wage, but this is unlikely and it is simply shrinking their reach. Spencer will keep pushing his way onto public universities , but, honestly, this is creating more enemies for him on campus than friends. Organizations like Identity Europa are in turmoil as their leadership resigns, and the Traditionalist Workers Party seems more likely to try and appeal to neo-Nazis than to recruit from normal folks.
There is also a great bit of dissention in the ranks. There are disagreements of which way to go. Richard Spencer was a leader in building what he referred to as “meta-politics”: a cultural movement that came before politics. Building off of the “Gramcscians of the Right” philosophy of fascist academics in the European New Right , he wanted to build an Identitarian culture that changed conscousness in the hope that it would alter practical politics down the line. In doing so, he tried to resurrect fascist ideas by giving them an academic and artistic veneer, something he did for years at AlternativeRight.com and theRadix Journal. But with his new friends and the publication AltRight.com, he has turned his sights towards vulgar white supremacy, snarky Internet jargon, and publicity stunts. White nationalist venues like Counter-Currents and Arktos Media have maintained their focus on meta-politics, and decry Spencer for his buffoonish behavior. There are also splits on what to do with queer members, how central the “ Jewish Question “ is to racial issues, and whether or not they should support Trump.
All of this is to say that their ship has a hole in it, but that only means that there are opportunities for antifascists. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a prediction of their failure because even their own incompetence could be overcome by reactionary movements inside the white working class. This is why organizing, in the long-term sense, is key at all stages, especially when moments of decline in fascist fronts provide windows of opportunity.
BR: We have seen dissension in the ranks from women that were a part of the Alt Right movement now feeling denigrated by their fellow nationalists. Do you think that they will eventually split from the larger movement, or reject this entirely? What is the role for women, or femme people, in the Alt Right?
SB: This is complicated, and it has changed dramatically over time. In the earlier days of the Alt Right, there seemed to be a larger opening to female contributors, though it was never a very large contingent. The Alt Right is defined by its inequality and essentialism, so women who were willing to offer a perspective that essentialized femininity to their “femaleness” were generally welcomed. In the earlier days of AlternativeRight.com there were some women contributing, and in the first print edition of the Radix Journal they even had a women of color contribute a chapter.
This definitely changed as we entered the Second Wave Alt Right, which was defined more by the subcultural trolling behavior on message boards and social media. The ideas never really changed, but the attitude and behavior did. Women were always ascribed a traditionalist role, but as we headed into 2015 they were seen increasingly as suspect. Again, this suspicion about women was always an integral part of the Alt Right. People like male tribalist Jack Donovan wrote about deeply felt mysogeny, his mysogeny, towards women. It wasn’t until the Manosphere and Gamergate scenes merged, to a degree, with the open fascists in the Alt Right that the virulent anger towards women took center stage.
Now we are seeing the Alt Right essentially openly declare that women need to take a back-seat in the movement , a concept that stems from their belief that only men have the mental and spiritual capacity to lead revolutions. They have, for years, argued that women have lower IQs than men, citing the same pseudoscience that they use to denegrate people of African descent and to single out Jews. They go further and, in trying to ascribe personality types to broad groups of people, say that women lack the “faustian spirit” necessary for revolutions. They believe that women cannot be leaders in the movement because they are bio-spiritually unable, it must necessarily be run by men.
This perspective was even reflected by some women in the movement. Wife With a Purpose, for example, was a white nationalist pagan-turned-Mormon known for her videos, blogs, and Twitter feed. She would often say that her primary role was having babies, but still created a community around herself. Lana Lokeff, the co-host of Red Ice Media and the owner of the conspiracy-laden clothing company Lana’s Lamas, also towed this line, while expecting that the Alt Right would respect her in a leadership role. As Alt Right 2.0 continues forward, and the mysogeny becomes more and more pronounced, they continue to be sidelined. As the #MeToo campaign came forward many leaders in the Alt Right, especially Richard Spencer, have turned on their female counterparts even more. This has created an unviable situation between them, and Alt Light figures like Lauren Southern are standing up against their inter-group treatment. This will likely not lead to internal reforms, their mysogeny is foundational and runs deep into their ideology. They believe that femininity is implicitly liberal and in the preservation of the status quo, and therefore they cannot be trusted unless they put extreme limits on female sexuality and self-expression. They believe that women lack key aspects of morality and critical thinking, basically ascribing them whatever negative qualities they can identify at any point and time with silly psuedo-science. The Alt Right’s line is then to re-establish orthodox patriarchy rather than the vulgar woman hatred of the Manosphere, that way they can create systematic controls on women. Quite literally putting them in their place.
Their reaction to women in their movement and women across the board is with anger, and the Alt-Right Politics Podcast at AltRight.com even named women, broadly, as one of the “turncoats of the year.” They seem to be doubling down on this hatred of women, and we can expect them to further marginalize themselves as they cut down their ability to create alliances.
Their treatment of trans people goes a step even further where they refuse to even accept their existence as legitimate. They repeatedly try to make the claim that trans people are the invention of a modern society in decadence, that it is the material excesses of the contemporary world that “invents” them. This actually draws on very traditional transphobia, where special hate is given to men that they feel gave up their “maleness” by becoming gender non-conforming.
BR: With that in mind, you also had a mistake in the book you wanted to mention.
SB: Yes. I have made a big error of my own, and it is one that I want to openly take responsibility for. At two points in the book I use the phrase “transgendered people” rather than the correct “transgender people.” The first phrasing turns transgender into a verb, this is an incorrect way to phrase this and is both antiquated and offensive. It is my responsibility to ensure that I am not erasing trans experiences when discussing these issues, and I should have checked the work to make sure that the phrasing was correct and did not perpetuate harmful language. The instances will be corrected in the next printing of the book.
BR: We have seen the first year of the Trump’s presidency pass and it has largely been a set of blunders. While he seems to have trouble getting legislation passed, he is still towing the line on racial issues. How will the Alt Right relate to him in 2018 and forward?
SB: They will be relating to him one day at a time. There were many instances in 2017 where they declared complete abandonment of Trump and where they were having deep disagreements. Trump’s bombing campaign in Syria was a key moment in this, and they especially have an affinity for Bashar Al-Assad and reject “compassionate conversative” interventionist foreign policy. Trump’s antagonism with Kim Jong-Un was another one of these, and people like the Traditionalist Worker’s Party’s Matthew Heimbach find this especially offensive since he maintains that North Korea is a national socialist state . More recently, they had a huge problem with Trump’s tacit support of the protest movements in Iran, and they instead want to see a “hands off” approach that does not try to port Western liberalism to foreign countries.
There is also a certain amount of ambivalence about what Trump has spent a great deal of time on. The tax bill, which is a massive transfer of wealth from working people to the rich, did not make many of them happy, especially the more down-the-line Third Positionists who dislike empowerment of banks. The focus on healthcare also felt like a distraction to most of them, and people like Richard Spencer really would prefer a completely socialized “post-office style” healthcare system.
At the same time, Trump’s ongoing racial antagonisms do make them happy. This travel ban is a watered-down version of what they want, and the increased deportations, the attack on DACA, and the continued promise to “build the wall” keeps them tied. They, of course, loved his “shithole” comment. The most important of these moves by Trump in 2017 was likely his comments in support of Charlottesville white nationalist protesters, saying there were “good people on both sides.” This was a subtle statement of support, and when mixed with the rest of his comments creates a cultural sphere of normalization for white supremacy.
All that being said, Trump is bizarrely incompetent and will likely not leave a good stain on the country in the name of right populism. It is difficult for many of them to maintain a purist support for Trump as he continues on and rejects his previous promise to “drain the swamp.” His idiocy will spell his downfall, and the Alt Right will instead want to regain their key revolutionary aims. This will likely come from modeling themselves on European groups like France’s Generation Identity rather than party politics like the British National Party or Front National , so they may simply de-emphasize Trump rather than reject him fully. At the same time, they are continuing to focus on analyzing and re-analyzing politics, so their singular focus could come at their own downfall.
BR: It seems like we are dealing with a situation that is entirely new in some ways, and entirely familiar in others. As Trump heads into his second year in office, what should organizers keep in mind when confronting this insurgent white supremacist movement?
SB: One of the first things is to see a distinction between Trump and white nationalists, that is one that is often difficult given the open white supremacy Trump displays. Trump has been a massive boon to white nationalists, more than they ever could have dreamed, but he is not the same as them. He has different motivations, different practical politics, and his allegiances and strategies are just going to be fundamentally different than what we find in the Alt Right. The far-right has used Trump as a way into the culture since Trump changed the conversation and pushed the overton window on race, but he is little more than a tool for them to accomplish things. So resistance to the Trump agenda and organized antifascism confronting these movements on the streets are not always one in the same.
That being said, both fields of struggle need to be considered. The consequences of Trump’s agenda need to be confronted on their own terms. Increased deportations, persecution of immigrants, attacks on trans people in government venues, targeting of women’s healthcare, dismantling of labor unions, and foreign policy blunders. The landscape is also different as we saw with the Draconian charges against J20 protesters for things as mild as broken windows and hurt feelings. These charges are not just happening in a single instance in the boundaries of Washington D.C., but have been seen across the country as cities prepare for four years of massive protests and confrontations between the left and the far-right. Out in Portland, there was massive criminal overcharging, where kids ended up with felonies and prison time for little more than some broken glass. This can have a chilling effect on mass movements, but it also means that there is a material crackdown happening on the left. This is the standard set by Jeff Sessions and judicial appointments, and that can really destroy movements at a base level. This needs to be considered when doing mass organizing.
The realities of the far-right needs to also be seen through sober eyes. Certain Alt Right groups are rising, some are waning, and some are irrelevant. For a long time the Alt Right was seen as a sort of fascism-lite rather than what it is, a fully formed fascist movement. Like all far-right actors, they foster a culture of violence. This is leading to organized violence against the left, but also to more seemingly random acts of “lonewolf” violence like street attacks and spontaneous murders. There is no reason to believe that is on the decline, and so community preparedness, close organization, and self-defense are all important.
It is also critical to avoid simply abandoning the struggles that were taking place before we entered this nationalist revival. We are still teetering on the edge of disaster with climate change, massive wealth inequality is destroying the lives of working people, and housing is become scarcer and scarcer for those of limited means. All of this intersects, all components of a hierarchical society that peaks in moments of crisis. So the same tools we use to fight back the Alt Right can be used to re-establish a strong community that is able to reframe our tactical position, to strengthen workplace, housing, and environmental organizing. So doing antifascist and anti-oppression work should not be seen as a side-note, but as part of a larger matrix of struggle.
Shane Burley is an author and filmmaker based in the Pacific Northwest. He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It (AK Press) His work has appeared at Alternet, Jacobin, Al Jazeera, Raw Story, In These Times, Waging Nonviolence, Salvage Quarterly, ThinkProgress, Upping the Anti, Gods & Radicals, and Make/Shift, among others. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net or on Twitter @Shane_Burley1
Originally published at www.hamptoninstitution.org on January 18th, 2018.