The Big Picture: Far Right Mobilization in 2017

Memorial for Heather Heyer in downtown Charlottesville. Photo: Courtesy of Bob Mical via Flickr.

In the United States, 2017 was a banner year for fascist and related far right activism. There were arguably the highest levels of public demonstrations by the Right since the last wave of Klan and neonazi activity in the 1980s and ‘90s. A main driver was the Alt Right, a new, digitally focused approach to White nationalism that has caught the cultural zeitgeist. It acted in tandem with the Alt Lite, an offshoot movement that shares enthusiasm for Trump, xenophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Leftism, Far Right conspiracy theories, and “fake news,” but stops short of open White nationalism and allows people of color, Jews, and gay men to participate.

The past year has also been marked by clashes with left-wing protestors, who have been broadly labeled “antifa” (short for antifascist). Although antifa have been around as long as fascism has, and broad popular resistance surged in response to Trump’s election, the name has come to be used by the press and others to cover anyone who attends protests against the Far Right.

The Far Right events of 2017—starting with pro-Trump and “Free Speech” rallies in January, and then morphing into support for Confederate memorials, as well as Islamophobic  and “Anti-Marxist” rallies—are notable. Especially during the period between March and June, the Alt Right and other open White Nationalists, Alt Light activists, Patriot movement paramilitaries, and Trumpist Republicans worked together on the streets in numerous cities. The most infamous incident occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, when, after the “Unite the Right” rally was cancelled, a fascist rammed his car into an antiracist march, killing one person and injuring at least nineteen others.

In tandem with right-wing action taken in the streets, the Alt Lite has been able to directly influence mainstream conservatives. Two of Trump’s appointees, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, had ties to White nationalists and fascists (although both lost their positions soon after Charlottesville) and Alt Lite media representatives received White House press passes.

It was also a year where the political impact of digital platforms has come into clear prominence, including memes, discussion boards like 4chan, and Trump’s apparent favorite, Twitter. The landscape of our society has changed so much that a pizza company took to Twitter to distance themselves from neonazis who have embraced it. Additionally, a video game where players shoot Nazis—which just a few years ago would have been considered meaningless entertainment based on a banal theme—is now both a subject of controversy and taken seriously as a work of political commentary.

Even with so much of the political action occurring online, college campuses became main physical sites of conflict, with White nationalist flyering campaigns and a focus by various Far Right figures to get speaking engagements, which were invariably met by raucous protests.

Analyzing the Far Right mobilization that occurred in 2017 can inform social justice movement strategy as we enter year two of the Trump administration. In presenting this long list of events on the timeline below, there is unavoidably a strong subjective choice as to what has been included. History will no doubt be written differently: important things will be forgotten, while others—currently overlooked—will be added. But I do feel confident that this is a fair enough representation of how 2017 appeared at the time to those of us who were paying close attention as the U.S. fascist movement bobbed and weaved.

January

  • 3rd: Director John Carpenter denounces antisemitic interpretations of his cult movie They Live, saying it “is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world, which is slander and a lie.”
  • 10th: Dylann Roof is sentenced to death for murdering nine Black bible study participants at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. Roof had hoped to incite a race war with his actions.
  • 13th: Alt Right figure Mike Enoch, who runs the internet platform The Right Stuff, is doxxed. It is revealed that his real name is Mike Peinovich, he works in tech, lives on Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side, and is married to a Jewish woman.
  • 16th:
    • Alt Right leader Richard Spencer launches his new website AltRight.com.
    • In response to a pressure campaign against Richard Spencer’s headquarters in Whitefish, Montana, Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer called for an armed march against the town’s Jewish residents on this date. He had proclaimed, “We will be busing in skinheads from the Bay Area.” Before the march, Anglin said he would postpone it, but about 50 antifascists assemble in town just in case.
  • 19th: The Alt Lite DeploraBall” is held in Washington, DC on the eve of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. Organized by Jeff Giesea and Mike Cernovich, attendees include Jack Posobiec, Gavin McInnes, and Milwaukee sheriff David Clarke. Alt Right figure “Baked Alaska” (Anthime Gionet) and Richard Spencer are uninvited for their political views. Scuffles break out with counter-protestors outside the event.
  • 20th:
    • A large “black bloc” with hundreds of participants careens through the city during the protests against Trump’s inauguration. Eventually 230 members are kettled and arrested, including journalists and street medics; in an unprecedented event, all are charged with felonies and face the possibility of 70­–80 year sentences. Members of the Oath Keepers leadership are present and witness some of the events of the day, although they do not become involved. Separately, Richard Spencer is giving a recorded interview when a masked man punches him in the face. This becomes a viral internet video, which initiates a public discussion of if it is okay to “punch a Nazi.”
    • Protests break out at the University of Washington in Seattle against a Milo Yiannopoulos talk. Joshua Dukes is shot as he tries to deescalate a fight. Elizabeth and Marc Hokoana are arrested and accused of having come to the protest in order to provoke a conflict.
  • 21st: Worldwide Women’s March protests.
  • 26th: Actor Shia LaBeouf is arrested for scuffling with a neonazi at the He Will Not Divide Us installation at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York. This video live stream (that was supposed to run 24-hours a day) soon becomes overrun by various Alt Right activists, including many White nationalists, who use it to spread propaganda. LaBeouf is forced to move the installation multiple times.
  • 27th: Trump fails to mention Jews in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.
  • 28th: Starting with New York City’s JFK, airports become the site of protests against Trump’s “Muslim ban,” which prevented people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the US—even if they had valid visas and were temporarily out of the country. Over the week, thousands of people join in as the airport protests spread around the country
  • 29th:
    • Six worshippers are killed and 19 others wounded in a mass shooting at mosque in Quebec City, Canada. Alexandre Bissonnette is arrested. The victims are Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Boubaker Thabti.
    • A hundred people protest at the new headquarters of Richard Spencer’s think tank  National Policy Institute (NPI) in Alexandria, Virginia.

February

  • 1st: A Milo Yiannopoulos talk at Berkeley is cancelled due to safety concerns after a militant protest. It had been rumored he was going to name undocumented students at the school.  This initiates a long discussion in the mainstream media about antifa and Free Speech that continues all year, and marks the beginning of many conflicts on campuses.
  • 2nd: Clashes in New York City between Proud Boys and protesters at a Gavin McInnes talk at NYU. McInnes is reportedly hit with pepper-spray earlier that evening then has his talk is cut short after he calls the dean a “beta male cuck.
  • 9th:
    • Frank Ancona, the Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights, is killed; his body is later found on the bank of a river near Belgrade, Missouri. His wife and stepson are charged in his death.
    • Augusta University president released a statement decrying the appearance of Identity Evropa flyers on campus. This fascist Alt Right group fliers campuses across the nation as part of “Project Siege.” Many White nationalist groups and projects focus on flyering colleges as well, including Vanguard America, Atomwaffen Division, The Right Stuff, Daily Stormer, and AltRight.com. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has tracked over 329 flyering incidents since March 2016, with a spike in February 2017.
  • 10th: Michael Strickland, who antagonized a Black Lives Matter rally in July 2016 in Portland, Oregon before pulling a gun on the crowd, is convicted of menacing and disorderly conduct. He is later sentenced to 40 days in jail, to be served on weekends.
  • 18th: Richard Spencer is thrown out of International Students for Liberty Conference, a libertarian gathering in Washington, DC.
  • 20th: Employees at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri arrive to find over 100 headstones vandalized. On February 25, a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery is similarly vandalized.
  • 21st: Milo Yiannopoulos resigns from Breitbart after his statements seeming to support sex between adult men and young teenage boys are publicized. He is dis-invited from Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and his book deal with Simon & Schuster is cancelled.
  • 22nd: Adam Purinton shouts “Get out of my country!” before shooting three men at a bar in Olathe, Kansas. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian immigrant, is killed.
  • 23rd: Steve Bannon speaks at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Richard Spencer is kicked out. Milo Yiannopoulos had been scheduled to speak, but was uninvited beforehand.

March

  • 2nd: Charles Murray is prevented from speaking at Middlebury College in Vermont by students. Murray is the co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which was widely denounced as a racist text which sought to justify racial differences in intelligence.
  • 3rd: Deep Rai, a Sikh and U.S. citizen who was born in India, is shot in his driveway in suburban Seattle. His White assailant yelled, “Go back to your own country.” Sikh men are frequent targets of hate crimes because of the distinctive clothing they wear.
  • 4th: The March 4 Trump is the first of several nationwide Far Right rallies which occur through June 10. They draw a new coalition of Trumpist Republicans, Alt Lite and Alt Right activists, Patriot movement paramilitaries, and fascists. Notable March 4 Trump events include Lake Oswego, Oregon (a suburb of Portland), where Three Percenters joined by a well-known Klan member. In Denver, neo-Nazis joined Three Percenters and Islamophobic groups. A second clash in Berkeley occurs, which is memorable for Kyle Chapman coming dressed in body armor and photographed wielding a stick, which turned into the meme “Based Stickman.” This inspired an Alt Right uniform, and more militant rightist action.
  • 8th: The California Highway Patrol (CHP) releases a 2,000 page report on the June 2016 clash at the California State Capitol in Sacramento which pit hundreds of antifascists against a much smaller number of Nazi skinheads who attempted to hold a demonstration under the name of the Traditionalist Worker Party. Fourteen people were wounded, including seven stabbing victims. The CHP recommends that 106 people be charged with 68 felonies and 514 misdemeanors. Eventually four arrest warrants are issued: three for antifascists and one for a fascist.
  • 13th: NPI is stripped of its tax exempt status as a non-profit for failing to file proper paperwork.
  • 17th: Mother Jones reveals that Richard Spencer gets money from multiple family-owned cotton farms.
  • 20th: Timothy Caughman is killed by James Jackson in New York City. Jackson, who is White, allegedly told police that he came to the city to kill as many Black men as he could find. He told a newspaper that he read the Daily Stormer; he also subscribed to YouTube video channels for Richard Spencer’s NPI and Radix.
  • 22nd: A former church owned by Craig Cobb is burned down in Nome, North Dakota. Cobb had repeatedly bought property in small Midwestern towns to attempt to establish a White enclave, most famously in Leith, North Dakota.
  • 23rd: A wave of more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and schools, which started in January, end with the arrest of a teenage hacker in Israel. Previously, a disgraced journalist, Juan Thompson, was arrested for making at least a dozen of the threats in an attempt to frame his ex-girlfriend.
  • 24th: Alex Jones apologizes to the owner of Comet Ping Pong in Washington, DC for promoting the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The conspiracy held that children were part of a sex trafficking ring that involved the restaurant and a number of Democratic Party members.
  • 25th: The MAGA (“Make American Great Again”) march is the second nationwide pro-Trump event this month. Two thousand attend a Huntington Beach, California march. There, the DIY Division (later renamed the Rise Above Movement), a fascist group that includes members of the Hammerskins, attacks a much smaller group of antifa and press. An antiracist counter-protest in Phoenix draws 40 armed participants. A Philadelphia march, which includes many White nationalists, is overwhelmed by antifascists.

April

  • 8th: Richard Spencer leads a demonstration in Washington, DC opposing Trump’s missile strike the day before against an airbase controlled by the Syrian regime.
  • 15th: A “Patriots Day Free Speech Rally” in Berkeley draws 500 participants after a national right-wing campaign to mobilize supporters. It includes seig-heiling fascists who appear alongside Patriot movement activists, such as Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who is a speaker. About an equal number of counterprotestors fail to stop the rally from marching into downtown Berkeley. Identity Evropa leader Nathan Domigo is filmed punching a woman, which becomes a right-wing internet hit. The day is considered a great victory for the right and marks a turning of the tables against antifa for the moment.
  • 18th:
    • Richard Spencer speaks at Auburn University in Alabama. Matthew Heimbach and other members of the Traditionalist Worker Party attend, marking the end of a riff between the two. The rally ends with some of the fascists being chased away by the crowd.
    • An SPLC-led lawsuit is initiated against Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin for harassing a Jewish family in Whitefish, Montana. By June, Anglin had raised $150,000 for his defense.
  • 21st: Kyle Chapman “Based Stickman” announces the formation of the FOAK (Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights), a street-fighting group affiliated with the Proud Boys.
  • 26th: Allen Scarsella is sentenced to 15 years for shooting five at Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis in 2015. Scarsella was active on 4chan and sympathized with the Three Percenters.
  • 27th: Six members of Aryan Strikeforce are indicted on weapons charges.
  • 29th:
    • An annual parade in Portland, Oregon’s Montavilla neighborhood had been cancelled because of an anonymous threat. In its place Patriot Prayer held a Free Speech rally, which was attended by White nationalists such as Identity Evropa, and briefly by Mayor Ted Wheeler. Jeremy Christian attends and taunts the counter-protest by yelling “ni**er” and sieg heiling them. Organizers ask him to leave, but he is photographed shaking hands with participants.
    • The first major fascist-led rally of the year is held in Pikeville, Kentucky by the Nationalist Front. Participating groups include the Traditionalist Worker Party, Vanguard America, the National Socialist Movement, and the League of the South, as well as Alt Right figure Mike Enoch. About 150 people attend, and there is an equal sized counter-protest.
    • Controversy erupts after a photo, taken in March, is made public of Alt Lite media figures Cassandra Fairbanks and Mike Cernovich in White House briefing room making the “OK” hand gesture. This has been adopted by both the Alt Lite and Alt Right.

May

  • 1st:
    • Far Right groups harass May Day demonstrations across the country. In New York City Alt Lite activists set off flares and attempt to disrupt speakers in Union Square.  In Austin, Patriot movement activists and others are armed and prevent a left-wing march. In Nashville, May Day organizers report multiple death threats, and they are outnumbered five-to-one at their rally.
    • Start of pro-Confederate memorial rallies. In New Orleans, supporters carry weapons to their May 1 event.
  • 5th: Emails from French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron are leaked to 4chan in an attempt to throw the election to the Far Right party Front National. Alt Lite figure Jack Posobiec helps popularize the leak.
  • 6th:
    • Matt Furie, creator of Pepe the Frog, releases a one-page cartoon strip depicting Pepe’s funeral in an attempt to combat his usurpation by the Alt Right. Furie later retains a law firm which writes cease and desist letters, issues digital copyright takedown notices, and initiates lawsuits to enforce his intellectual property claims.
    • Alt Right members who attempt to attend a Trumpist rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul are turned away by both rally organizers and anti-fascists.
  • 7th:
    • Marine LePen of the Far Right party Front National is defeated two-to-one in the French presidential election by neoliberal Emmanuel Macron.
    • A second demonstration in New Orleans, Louisiana in support of keeping Confederate memorials draws a range of right-wing actors from Oath Keepers to neonazis. A protest for their removal draws 700.
  • 9th: Alt Lite figure Jack Posobiec attends a daily White House press briefing on a temporary pass.
  • 12th: Canadian Alt Right figure Lauren Southern is detained in Italy for participating in an attempt to block a Doctors Without Borders ship which was searching for refugees who ran into trouble while crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.
  • 13th:
    • The first of three unpermitted torch lit rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia is held by Richard Spencer.
    • The first “Free Speech” rally in Boston, Massachusetts is held by Alt Lite and Patriot movement activists.
  • 19th: Devon Arthurs, a former member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division who converted to Islam, is arrested for killing two of his roommates, Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Oneschuk, who were said to be members. A fourth man, Florida National Guard Private Brandon Russell, is arrested for possessing bomb-making materials; he pleads guilty in September.
  • 25th: A demonstration in New York City against Muslim feminist Linda Sarsour giving the commencement at the CUNY School of Public Health draws a variety of actors. They include Milo Yiannopoulos, Islamophobe Pamela Geller, right-wing Zionist Dov Hikind, Gavin McInnes, and members of Patriot Prayer.
  • 26th: In Portland, Oregon, Jeremy Christian kills two men, Ricky Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, by slashing their necks; a third man is also slashed, but survives. The three had intervened against Christian to stop his racist and Islamophobic tirade directed at two young Black women on a light rail.

June

  • 3rd: White nationalist writer Bob Whitaker dies. His most famous work is the “Mantra,” which is the source of the racist slogan “anti-racist is code word for anti-white.”
  • 4th: In the aftermath of the the two murders on May 26, Patriot Prayer refuses to cancel a “Trump Free Speech Rally” in Portland, Oregon. It is attended by hundreds, including Patriot movement groups such as the Oath Keepers and American Freedom Keepers (AFK), as well as Alt Lite activists and Identity Evropa and Traditionalist Worker Party. A much larger group of counter-demonstrators surround the rally on all sides. An AFK member attracts media attention when he is photographed helping law enforcement arrest a counter-protester.
  • 10th:
    • Islamophobic group Act for America holds a nationwide March Against Sharia, with events in over twenty cities. This is the height of the street coalition of various Far Right forces, with Alt Right and Alt Lite activists, Trumpist Republicans, and Patriot movement groups working side-by-side. In many cities they are met by large counter-protests, which start to turn the tables again against Far Right street mobilizations.
    • In Houston, a march is called against a hoax antifa rally to remove a statue of Texas founder Sam Houston. However, hundreds attend the Far Right rally. There, a Patriot movement activist chokes a White nationalist from behind during an argument. This sets off an online flame war between the Alt Right and the Oath Keepers, helping to break up the uneasy de facto alliance between the two parties.
  • 14th:
    • Robert Doggart is sentenced to almost 20 years in prison for threatening to attack Islamberg, a Muslim community in upstate New York.
    • The Southern Baptist Convention condemns Alt-Right and White supremacy.
  • 16th: The play “Julius Caesar” at Shakespeare in the Park in New York City is disrupted by Alt Lite figures Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer. (Conservative media had alleged the play was a call for the assassination of Trump.) Loomer raises over $13,000 for her legal defense for charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. Local Alt Lite activists repeat the stunt on the play’s closing night two days later.
  • 18th: Alex Jones appears on Megyn Kelly’s NBC show.
  • 20th: European Identitarians announce they have chartered a ship, which they name the C-Star, to intercept refuges in the Mediterranean and return them to Africa in order to prevent them from reaching Europe, as well as to block ships returning to Europe which have picked up refugees. The project, called “Defend Europe,” raises $178,000 with support from U.S. White nationalists. However, the voyage runs into numerous difficulties, and ends without picking anyone up or disrupting any rescue ships.
  • 22nd: Edgar Maddison Welch is sentenced to four years for shooting an assault rifle inside of Comet Ping Pong, the Washington, DC restaurant which is where the Pizzagate conspiracy theory is set.
  • 23rd: A Department of Homeland Security program, Countering Violent Extremism, makes public that it has revoked an almost $400,000 grant to Life After Hate—the only group on its initial grant list which was dedicated to reducing Far Right activism. The remaining grants all focus on Muslims. This is widely seen as a move by the Trump administration to turn a blind eye to the White supremacist movement, despite its ongoing legacy of violence and murder.
  • 25th:
    • In the wake of the June 14 shooting of four people at a Congressional baseball game, dueling rallies are held in Washington, DC. The Alt Lite “Rally Against Political Violence” is organized by Jack Posobiec and attended by Mike Cernovich, Laura Loomer, Cassandra Fairbanks, Lucian Wintrich, followers of Lyndon LaRouche and members of the skinhead gang 211 Bootboys. The larger, openly White nationalist “Freedom of Speech Rally” includes the Traditionalist Worker Party, Identity Evropa, and Richard Spencer.
    • Identity Evropa activists disrupt an anti-racist seminar in Wilton Manors, Florida. Far Right activists also disrupt two anti-racist trainings in Santa Monica, California in July and early August. In the fall, Berkeley’s Revolution Books, a Maoist bookstore, becomes the target of at least six protests and disruptions in the fall.
  • 26th: Republican Party of Multnomah County, Oregon (which includes Portland) passes a resolution to utilize Patriot movement paramilitary groups the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters for security.

July

  • 1st:
    • A Far Right rally is held at the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. It is supposed to be a counter-protest to what is actually a hoax: an antifa group was allegedly going to desecrate Confederate graves. One participant, Benjamin Hornberger, accidentally shoots himself in the leg during the event.
    • Proud Boys who are members of the Canadian military are investigated after they disrupt an First Nations ceremony on Canada Day.
  • 2nd: Trump tweets a video of himself as a wrestler beating up a man with a CNN logo on his face. It is revealed the video was created by a man known for racist and antisemitic commentary.
  • 7th:
    • Fred Perry CEO John Flynn denounces the use of his company’s yellow and black polo shirts as a uniform by the Proud Boys.
    • Dane Powell is the first person sentenced for the J20 demonstration; he receives four months.
  • 7–8th: The G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany is met by a massive counter-protest. A group of right-wing journalists are attacked after one, Alt Right figure Lauren Southern, attends while wearing a White Nationalist t-shirt.
  • 8th: A small KKK rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is met by a counter-protest of 1,000. Twenty-three are arrested.
  • 13th: Augustus Invictus announces he is leaving the Libertarian Party for the GOP.
  • 14th: Former Milo Yiannopoulos intern Lane Davis allegedly kills his father Charles Davis during a political argument.
  • 15th: A second Islamophobic “Ride for Homeland Security” vehicular demonstration is held outside the Muslim community of Islamberg in upstate New York. Proud Boys, Bikers for Trump, and Patriot movement activists attend. Islamberg is the focus of conspiracy theories which claim it is a jihadist training camp.
  • 21st:
    • National Security Council staffer Rich Higgins is let go after his a memo he authored, which reflect Far Right conspiracy theories, becomes public. It identifies Trump’s enemies as Islamists, globalists, bankers, and the “deep state.”
    • A Mother Jones article reveals that wealthy conservative William H. Regnery II is a funder of Richard Spencer.
  • 26th: Trump uses Twitter to announce his intention to bar transgender troops.
  • 27th: Evan McLaren becomes the new Executive Director of NPI.
  • 28–30: The American Renaissance (AmRen) conference attracts 300 at Montgomery Bell State Park, outside of Dickson, Tennessee. AmRen is the most academic conference for the Alt Right.

August

  • 5th: Ernst Zundel dies in Germany. He had helped popularize Holocaust Denial in Canada before being deported to Germany, where he served prison time.
  • 6th: Police allow open fighting between antifa and Patriot Prayer in Portland, Oregon.
  • 11th: On the eve of the “Unite the Right” rally, hundreds attend an unpermitted torch lit rally, led by Richard Spencer, on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville. Authorities do not try to stop the march. A small group of counter-protestors are attacked.
  • 12th:
    • The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is a turning point for the Alt Right. Organized by Jason Kessler, this rally is supposed to be the coming out party for the White Nationalist wing of the Alt Right. Many prominent movement figures are scheduled to speak, including Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimbach, Mike Enoch, Augustus Invictus, Baked Alaska, and Christopher Cantwell, as well as neoconfederate Michael Hill. Up to 1,000 people attempt to attend. However, police make no attempt to separate the rally participants and counter-protestors, and clashes break out which involve sticks, mace, and rocks as attendees try to enter the park where it is to be held. The chaos is added to by dozens of heavily armed and unformed militia members who claim they are there as a neutral party. Shortly before the rally is set to begin at noon, police declare an unlawful assembly and disperse both sides. As they leave, a White rally participant (Richard Preston) pulls a gun out and shoots at the feet of a Black counter-protestor (Corey Long) who had turned a can of spray paint into a makeshift flamethrower. A splinter march of Far Right activists goes into the town, and is recorded beating a Black man (Deandre Harris) in a parking garage. After 1:30PM, two seperate anti-racist marches run into each other, and as they turn up a narrow street, a car crashes into the crowd at high-speed. Heather Heyer is killed and at least 19 others are injured. The car backs up and drives off, but is stopped and the driver, James Fields, Jr., who had marched with the Alt Right fascist group Vanguard America, is arrested. Only four people are arrested that day. Afterward a small number of arrests are slowly made, including planned rally speaker Christopher Cantwell; Preston; those who beat Harris (Jacob Scott Goodwin, Daniel Borden, and Alex Michael Ramos)—as well as Long and Harris.
    • Trump makes the first of several statements on Charlottesville, saying “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides—on many sides.” He does not condemn Far Right groups as such.
    • Starting on the eve of August 12 and continuing through the week, hundreds of rallies in the United States, as well as around the world, are held in solidarity with antifascists and antiracists at Charlottesville.
  • 13th:
    • Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is chased from his press conference by an angry crowd.
    • A Patriot Prayer rally in Seattle, Washington is met by a thousand counter-protestors.
  • 14th:
    • Backtracking on his earlier statement, Trump says, “Racism is evil—and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
    • A Confederate memorial is toppled by protestors in Durham, North Carolina.
  • 15th:
    • Trump continues to change his statements about Charlottesville. He points his finger at the “Alt Left”—a non-existent group—for violence at Charlottesville. Trump says there were “fine people on both sides” but there is “blame on both sides.”
    • One of the editors of AltRight.com, Jason Jorjani, leaves the website.
  • 16th:
    • Heather Heyer’s memorial in Charlottesville, Virginia is broadcast live. Her mother, Susan Bro, asks for people to make her “death count.”
    • Cloudflare, a service which protects websites from denial of service attacks, terminates the Daily Stormer’s account after CEO Matthew Prince “woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet.” This was just one of many online services which terminated services to White nationalists. Some platforms had taken steps to curtail White nationalist content even before Charlottesville. These included Twitter, Paypal, GoFundMe, Patreon, Soundcloud, Namecheap, and Google Ads. In the run up to Unite the Right, AirBnB cancelled reservations and Facebook took the event page down. Platforms that took action after Charlottesville include Squarespace, GoDaddy, Reddit, Spotify, Discord, SendGrid, Google, and others. Daily Stormer has ended up bouncing around the internet, looking for a URL. It has been hosted by—and removed from—businesses in Albania, Russia, Austria, Iceland, and Hong Kong. It is currently accessible on the dark web via a Tor browser.
    • Kyle Chapman is charged with felony possession of a weapon, which is his third felony charge in a Three Strikes state. In December he is arrested again while in possession of a potentially lethal weapon, in violation of his bail, which is then increased from $135,000 to $400,000.
    • Alt Lite figure Jack Posobiec cancels his nationwide “March on Google,” scheduled for August 19, which was to protest Google for firing James Damore. He was let go after circulating a misogynistic, anti-diversity internal memo.
    • ACLU of California breaks ranks with the national organization over its handling of the Charlottesville.
    • The anti-immigrant, White nationalist VDARE conference scheduled for April 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colorado is cancelled.
  • 17th: Noam Chomsky says antifa is a “major gift to the right.”
  • 18th:
    • Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House is announced.
    • Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler tweets that “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist. Communists have killed 94 million. Looks like it was payback.” Kessler later claimed he was under the influence of Ambien, Xanax, and alcohol when he wrote the tweet. Richard Spencer says he will not work with Kessler after this.
  • 19th: A Boston Free Speech rally, organized by the Alt Lite, goes ahead despite criticism. It initially featured Augustus Invictus, who had been scheduled to speak at Charlottesville, although he is removed from the speaking list beforehand. Other speakers such as Gavin McInnes cancel. The rally is met by 40,000 counter-protestors.
  • 20th:  An America First! rally in Laguna Beach, California is met by 2,500 counter-protestors.
  • 22nd:
    • Trump’s appearance in Phoenix is met by a demonstration of thousands, which police use tear gas to break up. Trump denounces antifa in his speech, saying “You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks, and they’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything—Antifa!”
    • ACT for America cancels a second round of nationwide Islamophobic rallies which were scheduled for September 9.
  • 25th:
    • Sebastian Gorka leaves the White House.
    • Trump pardons xenophobic former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio.
    • On the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination, members of the New Order hold a public memorial for George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, outside of the shopping center in Arlington, Virginia, where he was killed.
    • Gavin McInnes formally announces he is leaving Canadian Alt Lite website The Rebel. Co-founder Brian Lilley had left on August 14 after reporter Faith Goldy had sympathetically covered the Charlottesville demonstration and appeared on a podcast affiliated with the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer. Goldy is fired on August 18.
  • 26th:
    • A large counter-protest in Knoxville, Tennessee comes out against a pro-Confederate memorial rally.
    • Benjamin Davis, leader of the racist prison gang 211 Crew, is found dead in his prison cell. He was suspected of being involved with the 2013 murder of Tom Clements, who was head of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
    • The contentious Patriot Prayer “Freedom Rally San Francisco” is cancelled by organizer Joey Gibson the day before. Mayor Ed Lee, as well as Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had denounced it, and the ILWU held a port shutdown in protest.
  • 27th:
    • A number of Far Right activists attend the “March Against Marxism” in Berkeley, organized by Amber Cummings, despite the fact that she cancelled it and called on followers not to come. A large antiracist demonstration is there, including a black bloc. Far Right activists are chased away and scuffles break out; one man is beaten on film, although not seriously injured. Despite the minor nature of the conflict, many mainstream press outlets seize on this as an opportunity to denounce antifa, ending a short honeymoon period after Charlottesville.
    • Armed Patriot movement paramilitaries come to intimidate an anti-racist protest in Kansas City, Missouri for the third time.
    • Nathan Damigo leaves as head of Identity Evropa and is replaced by Eli Mosley. By December, Mosely is out and he is replaced by Patrick Casey.
  • 30:
    • Colbert, Oklahoma police chief Bart Alsbrook is revealed to be a longtime member of the Nazi skinhead group Blood and Honour, and has two neo-Nazi websites registered in his name: ISD Records and NS88 Videos. Alsbrook claims he is the victim of identity theft, but resigns as sheriff.
    • Thomas Rousseau splits from Vanguard America and forms the Patriot Front.
  • 31: Proud Boys hold an armed patrol in Texas after major flooding.

September

  • 1st: Politico breaks the story that FBI is investigating antifa as “domestic terrorists.” FBI director Christopher Wray confirms this at a November 30 Congressional hearing.
  • 5th: Trump calls for the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
  • 10th: Patriot Prayer holds a demonstration in Vancouver, Washington; about one hundred attend, and are met by 300 counter-protestors. A car tries to run counter-protestors over; the driver is arrested but later released without charges.
  • 12th:
    • Kenneth Gleason, who is White, is arrested for the random murders of two Black men, Bruce Cofield and Donald Smart, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A Hitler speech is found in Gleason’s residence.
    • Congress passes a joint resolution urging Trump to “speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy.” Trump signs it two days later.
  • 13th: FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) releases an analysis of op-eds from six major newspapers after Charlottesville. It says, “Between August 12 and September 12, these papers ran 28 op-eds or editorials condemning the anti-fascist movement known as antifa, or calling on politicians to do so, and 27 condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists, or calling on politicians—namely Donald Trump—to do so.”
  • 15th: Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro’s speech at Berkeley is met with counter-protests.
  • 16th: The Mother of All Rallies (MOAR) in Washington, DC is attended by militia and Alt Lite members and attracts up to 1,000 people—far less than the one million which organizers claimed would attend. A demonstration held nearby and at the same time by the Juggalos, protesting their designation as a “hybrid gang” by the FBI, draws many more participants.
  • 19th: Hope Not Hate, a UK group that monitors the Far Right and recently established a US branch, releases report The International Alternative Right, based on Patrik Hermansson’s year-long undercover work, which includes damning video recordings.
  • 20th: Augustus Invictus, who was slated to speak at the Charlottesville rally, is expelled from the American Guard. The group was formed by activists involved in Vinlanders, a Nazi skinhead gang, but tries to distance themselves from neo-Nazism.
  • 23rd: Milo Yiannopoulos’s much-hyped Berkeley “Free Speech Week” is cancelled.
  • 24th:
    • Alternative for Germany (AfD), a xenophobic Far Right party, takes 13 percent in the German elections.
    • Two dozen neo-Nazis, led by the Patriot Front, attempt to storm the Houston Anarchist Book Fair, but are prevented from entering.
  • 25th: After undercover video is released of him praising Adolf Hitler, Jason Jorjani is suspended from teaching at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey.
  • 30th: The annual Stormfront gathering in Crossville, Tennessee fails to attract a large audience.

October

  • 5th: Buzzfeed reveals that Breitbart staff had been in direct contact with White Nationalists, who helped edit Milo Yiannopoulos’s article on the Alt Right—one of the movement’s breakthrough events.
  • 7th: Richard Spencer leads an unannounced, third torch lit rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
  • 11th:
    • A speech at Columbia University in New York City by British Islamophobe Tommy Robinson, delivered over Skype since he cannot get a visa to enter the United States, ends early after protestors disrupt it.
    • A lawsuit is filed on behalf of several counter-protestors at Charlottesville, including several who were injured, for conspiracy to violate their civil rights. White nationalist groups who attended the Charlottesville demonstration are named.
  • 12th: A lawsuit to prohibit paramilitary activities in Virginia is filed on behalf of the Charlottesville’s city government, plus some neighborhood associations and businesses. White nationalists who attended the rally, militia groups who pretended to be neutral peacekeepers, and armed left-wing groups who were present are all named.
  • 20th: Richard Spencer gives a speech at the University of Florida in Gainesville; he is heckled inside while a large demonstration takes place outside. Three of White nationalist attendees—Tyler Tenbrink, Will Fears, and Colton Fears—are arrested for their involvement in a shooting that occurs after the event.
  • 23rd: Military Times releases poll which finds that 25 percent of U.S. troops “have seen examples of white nationalism among their fellow service members.”
  • 27th:
    • Three members of the racist Aryan Brotherhood gang are sentenced for killing another member in 2011.
    • The video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is released; in it, players shoot Nazis in an alternate reality where they won WW2. Alt Right commentators had objected to it, and the game becomes the center of media attention as a work of political commentary.
  • 28th: A hundred people attend a “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee held by the Nationalist Front; member groups the Traditionalist Worker Party, the League of the South, and the National Socialist Movement attend. They are opposed by 200 hundred counter-protesters. A rally in Murfreesboro later that same day is cancelled, but an interracial couple is assaulted afterward in Brentwood by rally participants.
  • 30th: Mike Cernovich speaks at Columbia University in New York City and is met by a large protest. Cernovich’s supporters plant a fake pro-NAMBLA banner in the crowd.

November

  • 1st: Carlos Moreno, Victor Vasquez, and Pamela Marques, who are all Latino, are shot and killed in a Walmart in Thornton, Colorado. The next day Scott Ostrem, who is White, is arrested. His neighbors said he was “very racist towards Hispanics.”
  • 2nd: Robert Mercer announces he will resign as co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which has $45 billion in assets. This came after it was revealed that Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos, who he was funding, were in direct contact with White nationalists.
  • 3rd: FOX News’ Tucker Carlson discusses the slogan “It’s Okay to be White,” which was created and popularized by White nationalists on 4chan. In December he retweeted a story from Red Ice, one of the main Alt Right media platforms. This is one of several instances in 2017 when Alt Right slogans and stories have made it directly into mainstream conservative media.
  • 4th: The day of the supposed “Antifa Civil War,” when it was alleged that antifascists were “planning to kill every single Trump voter, Conservative and gun owner.” However, no such event was ever scheduled. The November 4 rumor was the most popular of numerous hoaxes, fake news items, and fake social media accounts that Alt Right and other Far Right activists perpetrated all year.
    These included calls for two fake demonstrations (in Houston, Texas and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) which produced real right-wing “counter” demonstrations; numerous fake social media accounts pretending, with varying degrees of seriousness, to be real antifa accounts; fake flyers, one of which called for the murder of white children; a popular doctored photo supposedly of an antifa activist attacking a police officer; and Alex Jones’s claim that the sniper who killed 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas on October 1 had “antifa crap everywhere” in his hotel room. Some of the hoaxes were able to make their way into mainstream conservative news. For example, in July FOX host Jesse Watters interviewed a member of “Boston Antifa”—who was actually an Alt Right activist. In November FOX News reported on the civil war hoax as if it was a real story.
  • 10th: Jack Posobiec doxxes Leigh Corfman and encouraged his followers to harass her at work. Corfman has accused Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore of trying to have sex with her when she was 14.
  • 11th: Independence Day march in Warsaw, Poland, which had become a Far Right event inclusive of fascist groups, draws 60,000. Banners include “Europe will be white” and “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust.” A counter-protest draws 5,000.
  • 12th: Steve Bannon addresses a ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) gathering in New York City. In the audience are Sebastian Gorka and Alt Lite figures Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer.
  • 13th: FBI releases hate crimes statistics for 2016. They show a 4 percent increase generally, and a 19 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes specifically, from the year before. The report is widely criticized for undercounting the number of incidents.
  • 14th: Papa John’s Pizza denounces neo-Nazis in a tweet. The company had been declared the “official pizza of the alt-right” by the Daily Stormer after its CEO criticized protests by NFL players against racism.
  • 15th: Twitter bans Alt Right figure Baked Alaska, and removes verifications from Richard Spencer, Laura Loomer, Tommy Robinson, and Jason Kessler.
  • 17th: Neo-Nazi Brent Luyster is convicted of a triple murder in Washington state.
  • 18th: The Rally for the Republic, hosted by Resist Marxism, is held on the Boston Commons. It is attended by Alt Lite and Patriot movement activists and features Kyle Chapman. A thousand counter-protestors show up.
  • 19th: NPI’s conference is held at a wedding barn under false pretenses, after being cancelled by the Press Club in Washington, DC. The hosts force NPI attendees to leave halfway through when they find out its real purpose.
  • 20th: Buzzfeed reports on allegations of sexual assault against John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), a liberal congressional representative. The information had been fed to them by Mike Cernovich.
  • 22nd: It is announced that Richard Spencer is banned from Europe’s twenty-six country Schengen Area.
  • 25th: New York Times article “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” profiling a Traditionalist Worker Party member, is widely criticized for being overly sympathetic to fascists and normalizing their politics.
  • 27th: Jason Kessler files for a permit to hold a second rally in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2018. On December 11 the city denies it, along with a number of other permit applications.
  • 28th:
    • Alt Lite figure Lucian Wintrich speaks at University of Connecticut under the White supremacist slogan, “It’s OK to be White.” He is arrested for assault for an incident during the event but his charges are later dropped.
    • Federal prosecutors in the trial of activists arrested at the Inauguration Day Black Bloc on January 20 (J20) introduce video from Project Veritas as evidence. Videos originating with Far Right paramilitaries the Oath Keepers had also been introduced. The trials, which are being conducted in small groups, started on November 15 and will run through 2018.
  • 29th: Trump retweets videos from the deputy leader of Britain First, a British Islamophobic party. UK Prime Minister Theresa May issues a condemnation.

December

  • 1st: An independent review of the handling of the Charlottesville demonstration is released, finding that the police actions were both inadequate and produced “disastrous results.” On December 18, Charlottesville police chief Alfred Thomas resigns.
  • 2nd: Richard Spencer’s new group, Operation Homeland, which includes former Identity Evropa leader Eli Mosley, hold a Washington, DC demonstration. They are joined by Matthew Heimbach and members of his group. They call for “Kate’s Wall” in the wake of the acquittal of a Mexican citizen for the murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco.
  • 4th: The Supreme Court approves Trump’s revised “Muslim ban,” targeting travel to the United States from six Muslim-majority countries.
  • 5th: MSNBC fires contributor Sam Seder after Mike Cernovich popularized a satirical tweet Seder made in 2009 about Roman Polanski. MSNBC rehires Seder shortly thereafter.
  • 6th: Michael Wolfe receives a 15 year sentence for vandalizing and leaving bacon inside of a Titusville, Florida mosque.
  • 7th: William Edward Atchison kills two students, Francisco I. Fernandez and Casey J. Marquez, inside of a high school in Aztec New Mexico, before killing himself. He had been a poster on 4chan and Daily Stormer discussion boards.
  • 9th: A Patriot Prayer anti-immigrant rally in Portland, Oregon draws both Alt Lite and Alt Right activists. It is one of the last cities where this coalition of White nationalists and more moderate Trumpists are still taking the streets together.
  • 18th: After a public campaign by users to “Ban the Nazis,” Twitter starts a purge of accounts primarily  related to White nationalists, saying users “may not affiliate with organizations that—whether by their own statements or activity both on and off the platform—use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes.” Some accounts are suspended immediately, while others happen in the following week. They include the American Nazi Party, American Renaissance and Jared Taylor, the League of the South and Michael Hill, Occidental Dissent, Jeff Schoep of the National Socialist Movement, Vanguard American and affiliated accounts, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Generation Identity accounts, Keystone United, Proud Boys Magazine, Eli Mosley, Nordic Frontier, and Wife With a Purpose. Also suspended are Britain First and two leading members, Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding; Trump had retweeted videos from them, meaning these were now unviewable from his Twitter feed. Many prominent white nationalists, such as Richard Spencer and Jason Kessler, remain unaffected. Non-White nationalist suspensions include those associated with the Jewish Defense League and the New Black Panther Party.
  • 21st: First group of J20 defendants are acquitted of all charges stemming from protests during the Trump inauguration.
  • 23rd: Buckley and Scott Kuhn-Fricker are murdered in their Reston, Virginia home; Nicholas Giampa, 17, is arrested. He had been dating the Kuhn-Frickers’ daughter until they pushed her to break up with him after they found out Giampa was a neo-Nazi. On Twitterhe interacted with Alt Right fascist groups like Atomwaffen Division, Traditionalist Worker Party, and Vanguard America.
  • 31st: Michael Riehl was killed after a shootout with police in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, near Denver. One officer, Zach Parrish, was also killed, and six people were wounded. Rihel’s Facebook page includes a number of Pepe the Frog images and attacks on diversity.

When Silence Equals Death

On Friday, December 15, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has prohibited the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from using the terms “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald rebutted the claim in a Facebook post on Sunday, saying, “I want to assure you that CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution. As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work.”

Fitzgerald neglected to address the other five words included on the originally reported list, which was disclosed to the Post by an anonymous CDC analyst, and confirmed by other CDC officials.

When CDC was founded in 1946 (then called the Communicable Disease Center), its primary objective was fighting and preventing the spread of malaria. Today, CDC is the nation’s top public health agency, and is looked to as a global leader in the prevention and control of “infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities, and environmental health threats.”

In her Facebook post, Fitzgerald went on to assert that “CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people — and we will continue to do so.”

It’s true that CDC has historically served as a reliable source of science- and evidence-based research, and has played a critical role in protecting and promoting public health. As a federal agency, however, it is susceptible to the priorities and politics of the White House. The history of the AIDS epidemic is a tragic example of what can happen when those in power insert their oppressive ideologies and agendas into institutions that are otherwise intended to keep us safe.

The first reported AIDS cases emerged in 1981, and it quickly became evident that a national health crisis was developing. On April 23, 1984, CDC announced 4,177 reported cases in the United States, and 1,807 deaths. But as more and more people succumbed to AIDS, the White House remained silent, refusing to address what was at the time dismissed and derided as “the gay disease.”

AIDS research was chronically underfunded throughout the early years of the epidemic. When doctors at the CDC and the National Institute of Health requested more funding for their work on AIDS, they were routinely denied it. Historian and journalist Michael Bronski highlights a striking contrast in priorities: “Between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaires Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaires Disease.”

By the time President Reagan finally began addressing the issue of AIDS in earnest, it was 1987. Over 36,000 Americans had been diagnosed and nearly 60 percent of them had died. Reagan declared that AIDS was ”public health enemy No. 1,” but insisted that the crisis was as much a moral issue as it was a medical one, recommending that abstinence was the best form of prevention.

His commentary reflects the influence of the newly established Moral Majority, which was founded and lead by right-wing evangelical Jerry Falwell, who once declared, “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” Whether or not Reagan agreed with Falwell that AIDS was some sort of God-ordained punishment for LGBTQ people, his silence made him complicit in the deadly politicization of homophobia.

Despite significant advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, the world is still without a cure, and the disease continues to have devastating consequences. According to the World Health Organization, “Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV.” It’s estimated that 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2016.

Luiz Loures, deputy director of UNAIDS, notes, “AIDS spreads most quickly wherever people are being discriminated against.” Though the medical community has thoroughly debunked the notion of HIV/AIDS being a “gay disease,” the association — and its attached negative stigma — remains high.

In Russia, the spread of HIV is currently being described as “catastrophic.” According to the United Nations’ UNAIDS program, in 2015 Russia had the third-highest number of new HIV infections globally. In December 2016, the Russian Federal AIDS Center reported that there were more than 1.1 million diagnosed cases of HIV in Russia.

Speaking about the situation in Russia, Sylvia Urban of the umbrella group German AIDS Service Organization observes that issues of sexuality in general and homosexuality, in particular, are taboo. Anti-LGBTQ oppression and violence in the country have been on the rise in recent years, further emboldened by the passage of Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law in 2013, which banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

In an eerie echoing of Reagan’s 1987 comments, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a trusted advisor to President Putin, has called for “moral education” in response to the country’s AIDS crisis, stressing that the “establishment of family values, ideals of chastity and marital fidelity” should be at the forefront of curbing the virus. Vadim Pokrovskiy, head of the Russian Federal AIDS Center, blames this Kremlin-approved “conservative approach” for the fact that the number of HIV-infected Russians has more than doubled in the last decade.

I’ve previously described Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law as a slow death sentence for the way it effectively isolates LGBTQ people from one another, restricting access to any evidence that they are not alone. The law, along with the culture of stigma-fueled silence that it reinforces, is also a death sentence for the way that it fails to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Government-sanctioned silence, whether it be in the form of neglectful indifference or outright censorship has serious, and sometimes deadly consequences, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

The Russian Orthodox Church was a key player in the passage of the Anti-Propaganda Law, and here in the U.S., the Christian Right’s fingerprints are all over the CDC’s censorship. The banned vocabulary list is part of a thinly veiled effort to advance a familiar agenda — one that aims to erase transgender people out of existence, eliminate abortion access, and maintain the status quo (i.e. White supremacy, Christian hegemony, and 1% economics).

Government-sanctioned silence, whether it be in the form of neglectful indifference or outright censorship has serious, and sometimes deadly consequences, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

In the Court of the Centrist King: Emmanuel Macron and Authoritarian Liberalism

President Donald J. Trump visits President Emmanuel Macron in France, July 13, 2017 (Photo: The White House / Shealah Craighead)

“New Labour.” – Margaret Thatcher, when asked about her life’s greatest achievements.

“America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version.” – Jean Baudrillard, America (1986)

On July 3, 2017, France experienced an unusual spectacle. With all the regal pomp that the French state and the Palace of Versailles can accord, newly elected President Emmanuel Macron addressed both houses of parliament, only the fourth such address since 1873.

Macron used his speech to lay out a program of severe transformations to the French state and society: breaking labor and enacting economic “reforms”; decreasing the number of parliamentarians; minimizing legislation and legislative oversight; and making permanent aspects of the constitutional “state of emergency” France has been under since the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. In other words, far from the image of a liberal democratic savior painted by the Anglo-American press, Macron outlined a program to maintain and consolidate minority-government rule. In terms that hovered between self-parody and pure mysticism, Macron called this an “efficient,” new “contractual republic.” From the dais of the Sun King, Macron proclaimed—several decades after the fact—that we are all human capital now.

Macron’s program is anti-democratic in everything from its rejection of civil rights and equal protection to perfected neoliberal economic “reforms.”1 It even takes aim at the democratic institutions of the state itself. In structure and even aesthetic,Macronism” presents a postmodern pastiche of hyper-modern technocracy and ancien regime all at once. Understanding why this program is so attractive to the political center, and to liberals more broadly, is vital in order to understand the volatile political climate on both sides of the Atlantic. As with the supposedly “boring” political situation in Germany, where the neo-fascist Alternative fur Deutschland party will now be the first Far Right party to enter its parliament since the end of WWII, Macron also represents a rightward trend: a brand of authoritarian liberalism that emboldens the Right, facilitating its political maneuvering, and allowing even small radical right-wing movements outsized influence over national policy.

And yet, Macron’s election was met with near universal acclaim among nominally left-of-center politicians and media commentators across Europe and North America. “About as exciting and theatrical as electoral politics gets,” exclaimed The New York Times.2 Macron’s movement was held up as an exciting prospect, a new “revolution” from the center, a response to “Trumpism” the world over and in the United States in particular. This despite the fact that, just as in the Netherlands and Austria, the French Far Right, while not winning the election, still received higher support in the national contest than ever before.

Political scientists Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa have recently argued, citing public opinion polling data, that there are decreasing levels of support for liberal institutions and liberal democracy itself.3 Such commentators do focus on the existential threat the Far Right poses. But the implications of their arguments go further: if push comes to shove, better the “traditional” Right than the emergent Left. Mounk and likeminded thinkers imply that there is little difference between, say, enthusiastic English Labour Party supporters chanting for Jeremy Corbyn and torchlight parades in Charlottesville.4 They see the failure to uphold the “vital center” as the disease and men like Emmanuel Macron are the cure.

If Macron is the bulwark against a looming authoritarian nightmare, why does his program look like an assault on the fundamental foundations of democracy in France?

But if Macron is the bulwark against a looming authoritarian nightmare, why does his program look like an assault on the fundamental foundations of democracy in France? If Macron is the defender of a broadly liberal dream, why do his policies look less like support for a multicultural, egalitarian liberal republic and instead, as Nancy MacLean recently wrote of midcentury American libertarians, more like “protecting capitalism from democracy”?5

A “New” Kind of Politician

Wipe away the veneer of the Macron’s École Nationale d’Administration education and superstar status (outside of France) and one is left with a curious picture of the man himself. Macron cuts a strange figure on the French stage, but perhaps one more familiar to an American audience. A banker by trade, he uses his finance background as a stark contrast to the “inefficient” and hopelessly “weak” state. He embodies the increasing cross-spectrum enthusiasm in France for militarism, both in policy and aesthetic. In a weird echo of George W. Bush arriving in a fighter jet to his famously ill-conceived “Mission Accomplished” press conference, mere weeks into his presidency, Macron turned an ordinary naval inspection into a bizarre photo-op. In specially tailored, Macron-branded pseudo-military gear, he rappelled onto a nuclear submarine from a helicopter then had himself photographed in a commanding officer’s pose on the vessel’s bridge.6

This brand of machismo also extends to Macron’s personal behavior: in another strange episode, he engaged in a “handshake-battle” with President Donald Trump in May 2017. “My handshake with him was not innocent, not the alpha and the omega of a policy, but a moment of truth,” he’d later explain. “We must show that we will not make small concessions, even symbolic ones.”7 Macron caused another scene a couple months later at the G20 summit where, either because he relishes his rising star as the purported anti-Trump or was dissatisfied with his slightly background position at a photo-op, he awkwardly hugged, kissed, and elbowed his way to the front, right next to Trump.8 There are dozens of critiques of Trump’s hyper-masculine behaviors during the 2016 presidential election, and rightly so. Yet Macron’s similar behavior makes hardly a blip and when it does, is often noted approvingly by center-left commentators.9

In addition to mirroring Trump’s performance art version of politics, Macron also rivals his U.S. counterpart in sheer narcissism and “will to power,” comparing his rule to that of Jupiter, King of the Gods; openly regretting the fall of France’s monarchy in the French Revolution and, sounding quite a bit more like the conservative Edmund Burke or reactionary Joseph de Maistre than liberal John Rawls, openly lamenting democracy’s inability “to fill this void.”10

An apples-to-apples comparison of France and the U.S. is difficult. Even if Macron’s wish list for curtailing French labor laws and welfare provisions comes to pass, what remained would still be enviable compared to the U.S. This is not an appeal to any kind of Euro-philia. There are areas in these sectors—affirmative action, anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws and regulations—where the American position, however flawed, is salutary in comparison with France. But in basic social provisions—from welfare to healthcare, public housing to paid leave—the United States lacks anything more than the most rudimentary forms of these vital and basic universal social guarantees. But the importance of understanding Macron lies in the appeal of his political tendency—what Macron represents to so many delighted commentators—and the political formation he is trying to create: an anti-democratic, “authoritarian liberalism” as a possible future for “liberalism” itself.

President Donald J. Trump visits President Emmanuel Macron in France, July 13, 2017 (Photo: The White House / Shealah Craighead)

Something Different?

France’s election did do something extraordinary: as the French versions of Republicans and Democrats both imploded, a “new,” “neither Right nor Left” center-of-the-center candidate, Macron, rode middling support and the public loathing of Marine Le Pen’s Front National into a situation of extraordinary power.11 In addition to his sweeping powers as president, Macron’s new La République en Marche! party—an amalgamation of the Right, the neoliberal wing of the disintegrating Socialist Party, and center-right politicians—effectively commands single party rule in the French parliament. Despite overwhelming voter disaffection (voter abstention was nearly 52 percent in the first round of the parliamentary elections and close to an astonishing 65 percent in the second, the highest in modern French history), Macron has taken support from a mere 11 percent of the French electorate and transformed it into complete political domination.12

Macron has taken support from a mere 11 percent of the French electorate and transformed it into complete political domination.

The Republique en Marche! program was hilariously opaque during the elections—draping itself with cant and Camus, technocratic derision and Deleuze.13 Since then, though, it has become crystal clear.14 Macron will proceed—with the incredible speed afforded by the French constitution, which grants the president unusually strong powers—toward a radical transformation of the French state and society. This is most apparent in three key areas: first, destroying French labor and instituting related economic “reforms”; second, making the current constitutional “state of emergency” de facto permanent; and third, enacting anti-democratic political reform.

French cultural issues and even its increasingly bellicose foreign policy seem secondary to the goal of outright consolidation of political power around Macron’s weak, unpopular government, of maintaining minoritarian rule, and expanding state power of the police, intelligence, and military. This political consolidation is the means to enacting a series of “free” market reforms—a kind of massive neoliberal catch-up plan. And if it sounds familiar to American readers, it should. In a Venn diagram of the Republican Party and Trump’s political objectives, Macron represents the vast area of agreement.

State of Emergency

France had been in a technical “state of emergency” since the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The emergency suspended constitutional protections for citizens and residents and granted sweeping powers to executive bodies, from the president to the police. Then-President Hollande’s declaration was the first of its kind in seven decades, since the presidency was granted new powers during France’s colonial war against Algerian independence in 1955.15 Despite an election framed explicitly around the threat of fascism, it remains remarkably underreported that for two years France has already technically been in a period of constitutional abeyance: one of the textbook warning signs for more legal understandings of fascism and authoritarianism.

Under the state of emergency, thousands of warrantless raids have been conducted and hundreds of people placed under house arrest—overwhelmingly French citizens and residents of Muslim background and racial minorities. Police were given nearly limitless power of surveillance, search, and seizure. After these searches, only 20 actual charges were ever filed. And although people remain under house arrest to this day, no emergency house arrest has led to any charges. Human rights NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have warned that these developments indicate that the rule of law in France is deteriorating. The emergency measures have been used not only for racial profiling but also to combat political dissent, such as at the COP21 treaty negotiations, in which protests were banned and 24 ecological activists preventatively detained to ensure the smooth negotiation of the market-friendly climate change treaty. One need not imagine how these powers could be used to suppress French unrest over changing labor laws or other political and economic reforms; since 2015, emergency powers have been explicitly invoked 155 times to prevent public demonstrations. Beyond the Muslim dragnet, 639 known political activists have been individually barred from public participation in assemblies and 574 of those cases targeted labor activists.16

In early July 2017, the state of emergency was extended until November and on October 3, the first institutionalization measures were passed. Although Macron campaigned on lifting the state of emergency, it is clear he is doing so in name only. His proposals—which have already sailed through the French senate—codify the power of the executive to ban public gatherings, close places of worship, search individuals, and confine people to house arrest, all without judicial oversight. A speedy judicial procedure—akin to the American FISA court—allows police to additionally raid any space but the executive has full and absolute control over all information the court sees.17 A new national counter-terrorism agency has been promised, intelligence gathering powers enhanced, and a 10,000-officer expansion of police forces proposed.18 This legalization—and in some cases intensification—of emergency rule provides a classic case of nearly every political philosophy argument against the very idea of states of emergency.19 But while Donald Trump has been stymied in fulfilling many of his promises to suspend or abridge U.S. civil liberties, Macron, the supposed avatar of ideological opposition to Trumpism, is pulling it off with speed and efficiency in France.

While Donald Trump has been stymied in fulfilling many of his promises to suspend or abridge U.S. civil liberties, Macron, the supposed avatar of ideological opposition to Trumpism, is pulling it off with speed and efficiency in France.

Crushing Labor

The French Center-Left and Right have long dreamed of breaking the near legendary power of French labor unions. France has followed the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Coordination (OECD) trend in decreased participation in organized labor—moving from a mid-1970s high of around 30 percent of the workforce to a current level of approximately 11 percent, heavily dominated by public sector unions. This is almost a mirror of labor union participation in the United States (while as of 2014, the Scandinavian countries have above or even well above 50 percent, the UK about 25 percent, and the OECD average nearly 17 percent).20 However, what has distinguished French labor even amid this relatively low level of union participation is its militancy. Although the French propensity to strike may be the butt of many jokes, its vital labor protections and admirable working conditions (not to mention its standard 35-hour workweek) were largely secured and maintained through fierce union struggle.

France’s economic situation today is dire. Unemployment has held steadily at around 10 percent for many years. One in four French youth are unemployed, with a similar level of unemployment found among immigrants. Nearly half of all unemployed citizens are long-term unemployed.21 Because of its extensive social welfare system, France has not yet faced the extraordinary decline in quality-of-life indicators that are seen in the U.S.22 But the overall structure of the European Union will likely soon make many of these social provisions increasingly difficult to maintain. For example, France has been in violation of European GDP-to-debt ratio rules since 2009. While France’s political and economic position as the key “second” power in Europe (after Germany) has given it considerable room to maneuver, recent EU and European Community (EC, formally European Economic Community) reactions—particularly to the Greek debt crisis and Brexit—have demonstrated the EU’s ongoing commitment to a strictly neoliberal austerity regime. It’s difficult to foresee a future in which French social provisions are not sharply curtailed without a revolutionary transformation of the EU and EC.

Macron’s initial round of labor laws, put into swift effect by presidential decree in September, weaken national collective bargaining, end sector-wide union representation, allow for swift and easy firing of employees, particularly employees at smaller French firms (over 50 percent of the workforce), and broadly circumvent unions and encourage “modern,” “flexible” employment.23

Macron’s labor and economic reforms will have the twin effect of bringing France closer to overall EU compliance and, to some extent, alleviating aspects of its dire economic portrait. Liberalizing the job market should bring unemployment down, but almost certainly through an explosion of American-style precarious employment for not only youth and the long-term unemployed reentering the workforce, but also for a significant portion of the currently stable labor sector as well. Macron is aware of this, acknowledging in 2014 that his proposed labor reforms mean, “young people will experience ten to twenty changes in their careers, they will work longer, their wages will not increase, not all the time.”24 Already, the initial reforms Macron helped pass under the government of former president François Hollande have produced a pattern where 86.4 percent of new hiring is for temporary employment.25 This increase in precarious employment—and in social precarity overall—is not simply an economic hardship for French workers. It has an additional, fundamental political impact: a more precarious society quite literally has less time and fewer resources for democratic participation.

A more precarious society quite literally has less time and fewer resources for democratic participation.

Macron seems likely to secure his policy victories with the same sorts of measures that have been used in the U.S.—those pioneered by American Republicans and emulated by the DLC-style Democrats of the 1990s and their contemporary successors. His tax and welfare reduction policies—couched in retro-chic Reaganite language, fretting about “the weakest” becoming “wards of the state”—are another near pitch-perfect imitation of Republican policies, promising to starve the state into “proper” form.26 If successful, a more precarious society is precisely what he will get.

Ending Checks and Balances

Perhaps the most audacious of Macron’s plans is his proposal to overhaul the French parliament altogether, decreasing its number of deputies, oversight, and even the amount of legislation it should consider. Although the French parliament has already granted him executive authority beyond his constitutional powers to pass his labor reform laws via executive “ordinances,” Macron remains committed to further reducing the legislature’s power. This parliamentary reform remains the vaguest part of Macron’s program, but he has promised to reduce the size of both houses by a third, to introduce measures to speed legislation more quickly through, and even to move some powers either to the executive or to subcommittees which could bypass parliament altogether. In an echo of U.S. Republicans’ demands to “deregulate,” he used his simulacrum State of the Union address to call on France to “try to put an end to the proliferation of legislation.”

Macron’s popularity—ginned up as the foil to Marine Le Pen—is already plummeting. He knows very well that his party is new and untried and that, as many neoliberals before him have noted,27 his program will never find broad support beyond the technocratic and professional elite. While he has not quite reached Trumpian levels of popular disdain, Macron’s support stands at the lowest all-time for a new French president: 42 percent as of late October 2017. And so it seems he sees labor repression, emergency powers made permanent, and a “kinder, gentler” semi-authoritarian state as the key legs of Macronism into the future.

The Democratic Void

The Austrian economist and key neoliberal theorist Friedrich Hayek was ever fearful of the encroachment of democratic majorities on “individual liberty”—a concept he carefully distinguished from “political liberty” (which he defined as “the participation of men in the choice of their government, in the process of legislation, and in the control of administration”28). What Hayek and modern-day neoliberals value above political liberty is a vision of human beings as completely free within the market and further, since the 1970s, as themselves “human capital”: existing as objects for “investment” to generate profit and not the full, rights-bearing citizens envisioned by classical liberalism.29 The threat that democracy poses for private property is one of the key foundations of neoliberalism.

Democracy, for Hayek et al., is not about majority rule, self-governance, and certainly not achieving egalitarian outcomes (or even the classically liberal position of equal opportunity). Democracy in this sense is purely functional. It allows for a smooth transition of power and provides the necessary checks on majoritarian power and other citizens for the flourishing of property, as cultivated by entrepreneurs. As Hayek once said in an interview:

Democracy has a task which I call “hygienic,” for it assures that political processes are conducted in a sanitary fashion. It is not an end in itself. It is a rule of procedure whose aim is to promote freedom. But in no way can it be seen as the same rank as freedom. Freedom requires democracy, but I would prefer temporarily to sacrifice, I repeat temporarily, democracy, before having to do without freedom, even if temporarily.30

One must keep in mind that “freedom” for Hayek and for his later followers means market freedom above all.

While the history of liberal thought includes many cautions about simple majoritarian rule—sometimes warranted, as for the recognition and protection of minority racial, religious, sexual, and ethnic groups from potential bigotry—Hayek’s chief concern is with preventing any rule of the majority to fundamentally demand a change in the overarching social contract. In this conception, humans are bound forever to the only true vision of freedom—market freedom—and the state’s role is in enforcing that “freedom.” As with small government arguments—from Hayek to “state’s rights”—the rhetoric is deceptive. The state, under his vision, won’t necessarily shrink. It may, in a technical sense, become not clearly sovereign, but its coercive apparati—through policing, surveillance, and programs to promote business—may, in fact, expand.

Macronism seeks to fill what he calls the “emotional abyss” of democracy, dug apparently by the French Revolution, with a neofeudal monarchial spirit of the “free market.” Instead of liberté, egalité, fraternité, Macron seeks to instill a business-friendly alternative: the “efficiency, representativity and responsibility” of his “contractual republic,” all under his careful, well-educated, “Jupiterian” gaze.31 In the heart of technocracy, one finds a postmodern ancien regime.

What Macron cannot change is the fundamental nature of the neoliberal project. Capitalism bought itself an extended lifespan with deregulated finance, the return of boom and bust cycles, and the squeezing of any remaining value out of a nearly fully commodified society—but even at that it can no longer artificially prop up growth rates nor solve the long-term productivity crisis in the economy (nor, many ecologically minded political economists would add, should we necessarily be wedded to any program requiring that). Having once extended and intensified the life of post-war capitalism past the crises of the 1970s, neoliberalism has become increasingly tenuous since its heyday in the 1990s, when there truly “was no alternative” between the feel-good brands of Blair and Clinton or the more hardnosed, “law and order” varieties of Major and Bush. Since the 2008 financial crisis—in which the state was forced to reveal its vast role in both maintaining the economic status quo and explicitly failing to intervene for the vast majority of individuals and communities—the neoliberal political project has held together largely through continued market and political consolidation, and subsequently, greater direct coercion and repression.

What lies at the center of Macronism is the lesson the U.S. Right learned nearly 50 years ago and that Hayek and his followers have always known: this political program, fully exposed, could never gain popular support. In the U.S., Republicans have responded to this reality by working, since the 1960s, to decrease the size of the electorate, disenfranchise racial minorities, and make voting as difficult (and pointless) as possible for poor and working-class Americans.32 Democrats eyeing Macron as a model for sustained commitment to the neoliberal program must know full well that they would be embracing the longstanding Republican outlook on democratic participation and rights.

For weary spectators across the Atlantic, Macron looks like a welcome relief from rising right-wing monsters and sheer gross incompetence. He also is—rightly—a welcome relief from the idea of Marine Le Pen at the helm of the second most powerful nation in Europe. But while liberal commentators like Mounk see Macron as shoring up support for liberal democracy,33 they fail to understand that Macronism cedes the entire “democracy” side of the equation—sometimes even the very idea of popular government—to the Far Right. Simultaneously, the Left is denigrated as expressing populist anti-liberal attitudes that might undermine the one right—property—that is the raison d’être for the regime. For Mounk, for example, popular European Left parties like Spain’s Podemos or Greece’s SYRIZA offer “simplistic” solutions and “inflammatory rhetoric.”34 They have the dangerous temerity to question the realities of “meritocracy.” They seek to “overthrow” the system unlike, well, Emmanuel Macron, who is fighting for a dehumanized “liberal democracy” as outlined here.

Macron demonstrates what it will take for the “center to hold”: nothing short of one-party, technocratic “liberal” authoritarianism, of the kind many OECD countries have been sliding towards for 40 years.35 But as a political program to extend capitalism through crisis conditions, sluggish growth and growing instability, such a project must become increasingly coercive, short-lived, or both. It would seem that the only opposition it can tolerate—in a version of Hayek’s ersatz democracy—is that of the Far Right. But if the neoliberal center can offer up only ever closer approximations to the more unadulterated right-wing project, there are few other possibilities it can pursue (and ever decreasing political prospects). As the great political economist and socialist organizer Rosa Luxemburg proposed in the 20th Century, the choice was simple—socialism or barbarism. This, the 21st Century center tells us, is oversimplified. There is also the choice of extended misery.

The Corbyn-Macron Paradox

During the ecstatic trans-Atlantic jubilation for Macron there was another election right around the corner. Following the Brexit referendum, UK Prime Minister Theresa May called early elections to solidify the position of her new, hard-right nationalist Tory formation. May, who has become one of Trump’s leading international supporters, had married David Cameron’s austerity program with the nativist elements from Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party. That orientation made it strange that many liberal commentators who’d welcomed Macron as an antidote to the Far Right were either silent about the contest between May’s Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s newly recommitted left-wing Labour Party or were openly contemptuous of Corbyn.

The liberal response to Corbyn is all the stranger given that he and similar political figures of the reinvigorated Left are more consonant with liberal tradition writ large than their faux-liberal counterparts of the increasingly authoritarian center. Corbyn’s 2017 Labour Manifesto was the most full-throated major party platform to call unequivocally for both economic democracy and full liberal rights of the individual; for investment in universal public goods and identity-focused programs that specifically addressed the unique social repression faced by women, racial, and religious minorities, LGBTQ people, and the disabled. And within a coherent political framework as well: the flourishing of individuals through the flourishing of society, understanding the interconnection of formal liberal equality claims and demands for recognition, and the social equity and democratization necessary for their realization.36 Corbyn was not attacking basic liberal rights or the democratic process; Theresa May was. And yet the self-appointed defenders of “liberal democracy,” who had championed Macron and his authoritarian liberalism, were silent.

The irony of the Corbyn-Macron paradox, for those in the business of carving out a future for liberal democracies, is that only with policies like Corbyn’s can those phantasmagorically ascribed to Macron possibly come to fruition.

Late to the Future

“America is the original version of modernity. We are the dubbed or subtitled version,” the French postmodernist Jean Baudrillard wrote in his 1986 travelogue America. “We are condemned to the imaginary and to nostalgia for the future,” he continued. “What we see here [in the U.S.] are merely the inescapable results of an orgy of power, and an irreversible concentration of the world that has followed upon its extension.”37

Although Baudrillard’s arguments are slippery, he stumbled onto a truth, almost like a funhouse mirror anticipation of Francis Fukuyama’s post-Cold War declaration that here, in Reaganite and Thatcherite “liberal democracy,” was the “end of history.” Baudrillard proposes instead that America is always already the future. It is where the “idea” of history, where Geist, already landed. And—in good postmodern fashion—Macron proves him both right and wrong. Macron is the overdubbed Ronald Reagan, several decades late and better educated. He’s the subtitled Bill Clinton, without the popular appeal or charm. But for once the French—perhaps because, as the work of Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez reminds us, vestigial feudalism has finally caught up with the times—are indeed ahead. Macron is the centrist vision for a baroque future better suited to the Palace of Versailles than the gleaming skyscrapers of New York. The greatest irony of all: for all this consolidation of power, for all the pomp and delusions of grandeur, Macron is auditioning himself, and France, for, at best, a number two role, to be forever in hock to Germany through the current mechanisms of the EU. Macron will truly be a king without a crown.

Macron’s appeal to political actors and thinkers is that he is the distilled essence of this spirit; he represents a future, hollowed-out liberalism relieved of all but the most cosmetic vestiges of democracy.

Without substantive advances for actual democracy, liberal rights lose even their formal meaning. They become charity bestowed by benevolent autocrats, by Jupiterian kings of the center, parceled out or withheld on whim. There is a dialectic of technocracy and its fruition is a new feudalism. Hiding within every good technocrat is a feudal lord who catches the scent, in Baudrillard’s phrase, of the “primitive future”—of a new-old barbarism just on the horizon. Macron’s appeal to political actors and thinkers is that he is the distilled essence of this spirit; he represents a future, hollowed-out liberalism relieved of all but the most cosmetic vestiges of democracy.

When Margaret Thatcher was asked about her greatest achievement, she replied: “New Labour.”38 In that she was both witty and incisive. It was only with the capitulation of the Center-Left that neoliberalism truly became entrenched as the only alternative to the Right. While Macron reshapes France into the perfect European vassal state and centrists around the world applaud, I can imagine the Iron Lady laughing as she wonders just how much more the Front National wins the next time around.

Endnotes

1 Neoliberalism, broadly construed, is a form of capitalist politics and governance which intensifies market relations in all aspects of society. Sometimes confused with a purely libertarian “market fundamentalism” (which it rhetorically often adheres to) or simply “more capitalism” (which is true but incomplete), neoliberalism extends the life of capitalism past endemic and external crises. So while there is language of the “shrinking” of the state, in fact state power is increased in its coercive functions while it is simultaneously decreased in its definitional sovereignty. One can think of this as a fundamental restructuring of the state in favor of unmitigated capital interests. For a more precise and thorough definition please see Philip Mirowski, Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, (New York: Verso, 2014), chapter 2. On neoliberalism as a fundamentally right-wing reaction to the failures of the center-left please see, Adam Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), chapter 6. For a more purely economic analysis of neoliberalism please see David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); and finally for understanding neoliberalism as a way of thinking, please see Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015). Przeworski’s succinct statement, in the early 1980s, that this is a new Right wing “to free accumulation from all the fetters imposed on it by democracy,” is extremely helpful in understanding that the neoliberal project is principally anti-democratic, not anti-state, even as it undermines, in many cases and areas, state sovereignty particularly where non-market actors might exert limiting powers over market actors.

2 The Editorial Board, “Mr. Macron Starts Making Waves,” The New York Times, July 21, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/21/opinion/emmanuel-macron-campaign-promise-budget.html.

3 Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, “The Danger of Deconsolidation: The Democratic Disconnect,” The Journal of Democracy 27, no. 3 (July 2016), https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/danger-deconsolidation-democratic-disconnect. There is something of a tautological argument across Mounk’s work. Support for liberal democracy is waning, the argument goes. And, while sociological specters like xenophobia, racism, class status, and economic well-being hover off-screen, haunting us with hopes of a causal mechanism, the primary motion is ascribed to the expressions of support or criticism for the status quo. Thus, support for liberal democracy is falling because people are failing to support liberal democracy.

4 See for examples of similar equivalencies: Yascha Mounk, “European Disunion,” New Republic, July 19, 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/143604/european-disunion-rise-populist-movements-means-democracy.

5 Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, (New York: Viking, 2017), 81.

6 “French President Emmanuel Macron Dangles From Helicopter Over Sub,” NBC News (web), July 5, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/french-president-emmanuel-macron-dangles-helicopter-over-sub-n779721.

7 “French President Emmanuel Macron says Trump handshake was ‘not innocent’,” USA Today, May 29, 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/05/29/french-president-emmanuel-macron-says-trump-handshake-not-innocent/352967001/.

8 “Emmanuel Macron jostles his way to the front of G20 photo to stand by Donald Trump,” The Telegraph, July 7, 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/07/emmanuel-macron-jostles-way-front-g20-photo-stand-donald-trump/.

9 Sylvie Kauffmann, “When Trump Meets Jupiter in Paris,” The New York Times, July 12, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/12/opinion/emmanuel-macron-donald-trump-paris.html. While I have argued elsewhere that the “politics of personality” are a poor substitute for ideology, what is interesting in Macron’s case is not the man himself but rather the reactions to him, particularly among media and political actors outside France.

10 Eleanor Halls, “Emmanuel Macron says France needs a King,” GQ UK, May 9, 2017, http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/emmanuel-macron-policies-beliefs-philosophy. Macron’s words.

11 One should recall that various formulations of “neither right nor left”—while more recently popular with centrists—was a frequent self-description of 1920s and ‘30s fascists.

12 Will Worley, “French election turnout worst in modern history as Emmanuel Macron heads for landslide victory in parliament,” The Independent, June 12, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/french-election-turnout-emmanuel-macron-parliament-france-victory-fn-marine-le-pen-national-front-a7785366.html.

13 Gilles Deleuze, influential French poststructuralist philosopher.

14 For an examination of the election as well as some of its social underpinnings please see Perry Anderson’s excellent recent piece for the New Left Review 105 (May-June 2017), “The Centre Can Hold.”

15 “France: Abuses Under State of Emergency,” Human Rights Watch, February 3, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/03/france-abuses-under-state-emergency.

16 “France: Unchecked clampdown on protests under guise of fighting terrorism,” Amnesty International, May 31, 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/press-releases/2017/05/france-unchecked-clampdown-on-protests-under-guise-of-fighting-terrorism/.

17 Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, “France: the Permanent State of Emergency,” Financial Times, October 2, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/f5309ff8-a521-11e7-9e4f-7f5e6a7c98a2.

18 Yasmeen Serhan, “Will France’s State of Emergency Become Permanent?,” The Atlantic, July 11, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/07/will-frances-state-of-emergency-become-permanent/532848/.

19 This series of developments would seem to confirm the classic Schmittian thesis about executive decision and emergency/exception being the true constitution of sovereign power. However, here it is interesting to note that Macron is not fully sovereign in a Schmittian, Hobbesian, or any traditional definition of the word. In the realm of the economy he is only able to “reform” as pre-determined by the EU and, even there, where sovereignty lies is not entirely clear. This sets up a series of questions about the nature of states and sovereignty in the globalized era that goes far beyond the scope of this paper. Carl Schmitt was a noted jurist and legal philosopher in the Weimar and Nazi eras in Germany. Although a far-right thinker—and an enthusiastic Nazi—his views are extremely influential on a wide spectrum of political thought to this day.

20 Trade Union Density (by country), OECD.Stat, https://stats.oecd.org/.

21 Hannah Murphy and Valentina Romei, “The economy that France’s next president will inherit,” The Financial Times, March 9, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/c33bafde-fe68-11e6-8d8e-a5e3738f9ae4.

22 “By almost any measure, life for the vast majority of Americans has gotten worse over the last 40 years or so. Poverty, women’s health, median per capita wealth, income inequality, incarceration rates, and so on have all grown worse. The United States is one of the few countries on Earth where the maternal death rate is increasing. We have a growing life-expectancy gap.” Ajay Singh Chaudhary, “What a proper response to Trump’s fascism demands: a true ideological left,” Quartz, November 17, 2016, https://qz.com/838537/what-a-proper-response-to-trumps-fascism-demands-a-true-ideological-left/.

23 Caroline Mortimer, “Emmanuel Macron signs sweeping new labour law reforms amid union outcry,” The Independent, September 22, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/macron-labour-laws-reforms-new-france-union-protests-a7962141.html.

24 Branko Marcetic, “Emmanuel Macron is Not Your Friend,” Jacobin, July 26, 2017, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/07/emmanuel-macron-france-unions-workers-economics-le-pen. It is worth noting that Macron here is referring to earlier less drastic reforms.

25 Hannah Murphy and Valentina Romei, “The economy that France’s next president will inherit.”

26 Adam Nossiter, “In Lofty Versailles Speech, Macron Tells the French to Prepare for Change,” The New York Times, July 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/world/europe/macron-france-parliament-speech.html.

27 See arguments about difficulties of advancing a neoliberal program with electoral popularity in Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (2014) and Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains (2017).

28 Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 13.

29 The Chicago School economist Gary Becker popularized the concept of “human capital” in the 1960s. Since then the concept has become prevalent in policy discussions and popular discourse. It is part of a two-fold transformation of the subject as found in classical liberal political philosophy. On the one hand, human beings are “human capital,” like fixed capital—say, machines or buildings. You can invest in them for greater return on investment; they are changeable, malleable, and above all to be understood in their capacity to generate profit. On the other hand, human beings are consumers and all meaningful choices can and should be expressed through the market or market-like mechanisms. This is a far cry from the robust, rights-bearing citizen one finds in the pages of classical liberal political philosophy.

30 Friedrich A. Hayek, as quoted in Philip Mirowski, “Postface: Defining Neoliberalism.” in Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2009),446.

31 Eleanor Halls, “Emmanuel Macron says France needs a King.”

32 Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains, 87. As argued by Mariya Strauss (“‘Faith-Washing’ Right-Wing Economics: How the Right is Marketing Medicare’s Demise,” The Public Eye, Fall 2015), Republicans have also been enormously successful at mobilizing, within this diminished electorate, popular ideas via Christian moralism and theology of profit as a sign of grace, work as a moral imperative, and capitalism itself as in some ways divinely ordained. As Kathi Weeks and others have noted—drawing on the seminal work of Max Weber—this “Protestant ethic” can serve a profound role in justifying and reproducing capitalism while creating crushing commitments to work for work’s sake. Democrats and many who would consider themselves on the Far Left also often demonstrate a manic commitment to “Protestant ethic” values.

33 Yascha Mounk, “The Real Lessons of the French Election,” Slate, April 24, 2017, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_good_fight/2017/04/how_emmanuel_macron_can_save_france_from_the_populists.html.

34 Yascha Mounk, “European Disunion.” “Simplistic” is a farcical description of either Podemos or SYRIZA, regardless of one’s place on the political spectrum.

35 Raphaële Chappe and Ajay Singh Chaudhary, “The Supermanagerial Reich,” Los Angeles Review of Books, Nov. 7, 2016, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-supermanagerial-reich/.

36 “Where We Stand: Our Manifesto,” UK Labour Party,  https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/.

37 Jean Baudrillard, America, (New York: Verso, 2010), 76, 95.

38 Thomas Jones, “Blair’s Thatcher, Thatcher’s Blair,” London Review of Books, April 8, 2013, https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/04/08/thomas-jones/blairs-thatcher-thatchers-blair/.

The Christian Right’s Growing Allegiance to Trump

Donald Trump speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

As Donald Trump exited the stage after addressing the 2016 Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, DC a year ago, the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blasted from the speakers. The audience gathered together for the Family Research Council’s annual conference offered both Trump and then-Governor Mike Pence standing ovations, even though Senator Ted Cruz had won the traditional VVS presidential straw poll each of the previous three years, with Ben Carson consistently coming in second. The thousands cheering in the hotel ballroom were early evidence that evangelicals (who make up the country’s biggest and most powerful religious voting bloc) were gradually coalescing behind Trump. Indeed, come Election Day they turned out in force: exit polls from the 2016 presidential election revealed that the Trump/Pence ticket managed to win over 81 percent of White, self-described evangelicals.

On Friday, the crowd will likely offer an even more enthusiastic reception to now-President Trump. Announcing the president’s confirmed attendance, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins said, “Values voters have waited eight years for a leader who puts America’s mission first and respects the values that made America into a great nation. … Since the early days of the campaign, President Trump allied himself with values voters, promising to put an end to the 8 years of relentless assault on the First Amendment.”

Perkins emphasized some of the actions taken by the Trump administration that are perceived as major victories for the Christian Right, including Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, which LGBTQ advocates described as a “license to discriminate,” and last week’s directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that further codified the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom. For LGBTQ people, these actions effectively legalize discrimination, and further embolden the violence and persecution that has been on the rise ever since Trump’s election.

Perkins also praised the Trump administration’s attack on reproductive freedom last week. The new mandate from the Health & Human Services Department significantly increases the range of employers and insurers that can invoke “religious beliefs and moral convictions” to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered at no cost to patients. According to the Obama Administration, which instituted this coverage, more than 55 million women relied on the provision.

Values Voter Summit is Family Research Council’s annual conference.

CNN has described the Values Voter Summit (VVS) “one of the conservative movement’s marquee annual events,” and Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity called it “the premier conservative event now in the country.” This year’s gathering will feature notable right wing celebrities such as Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, Michele Bachmann, and Everett Piper, and breakout sessions range in topic from “Radical Islamic Supremacy” to “Transgender Ideology.”

Trump’s return to the stage indicates the strength of the Christian Right’s allegiance to a man who stands in stark contrast to what most might assume “values voters” hold as fundamental characteristics of a “model Christian” — Trump is twice divorced, rarely attends church, and has bragged about sexually assaulting women. But his ascension and continued popularity within Christian Right circles reveals the true underpinnings of their agenda: misogyny and White supremacy.

As researcher and sociologist Alex DiBranco explained in the Winter 2017 edition of The Public Eye, “Abortion, contraception, and sexuality education all threaten the enforcement of traditional gender roles,” therefore threatening the dominance of White, male power and control. To appeal to a broader base, however, the Christian Right has adopted the framework of “protecting women” (the same language used to promote discriminatory anti-trans legislation.

Trump’s unfamiliarity with the Christian Right and its evolving tactics is especially evident in his clumsy navigation of abortion rights — one of the Christian Right’s traditional bread-and-butter issues. DiBranco writes,

Set on proving that his “pro-choice” days were behind him, during the 2016 campaign Trump denounced Planned Parenthood as an “abortion factory” and selected hardline reproductive and LGBTQ rights opponent Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate. In his eagerness, Trump unknowingly violated the Christian Right’s strategic deployment of a “kinder, gentler” image when he announced that women who obtained an illegal abortion should face “punishment.” Although Trump backpedaled to mollify anti-abortion groups that claim to protect women, his original statement was characteristic of the anti-woman vitriol of his campaign.”

Though VVS attendees may try to distance themselves from that sort of vitriol, and may even denounce groups that are more blatant in their racist and sexist values such as those aligned with the Alt Right, they have always had more in common with people like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos than they’d care to admit.

The Christian Right has aligned themselves with Trump not because he shares in their commitment to restricting the rights of women and LGBTQ people; the Christian Right has pledged allegiance to Trump because they value the preservation of White, male, nativist dominance.

 

 

RELEASE: From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

Contact: Greeley O’Connor, g.oconnor@politicalresearch.org, 617.666.5300

From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

(BOSTON) The U.S. Far Right has killed nearly 450 people since 1990. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, Virginia is the latest casualty of White nationalism. We can honor the sacrifice of the dead and wounded by matching their courage in standing down similar rallies planned for the weeks ahead. Equally important, we can defend members of our communities who are under attack. People of good conscience, regardless of party affiliation, faith tradition, or identity should look upon Charlottesville as a call to moral action in defense of humanity and rejection of White supremacy.

Saturday’s Unite the Right rally was designed, over months, to be the largest gathering of its kind in at least a decade, and was successful in bringing together disparate elements of the Far Right. We should reflect on the deep connection between antisemitism and White supremacy and understand why women, people of color, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are often targeted first. This is bigger than Charlottesville. White nationalism should not be excused as an expression of “hate” or “ignorance;” it is a strategically coordinated movement with a political agenda.

Not all White nationalists dress up in costume and give Nazi salutes. Whether they are chanting “Jews will not replace us” at a torch lit rally or proposing regressive legislation on voting rights, the right to assembly, or other keystones of a liberal democracy, we must stop their momentum. When our President condemns neonazis only reluctantly and temporarily, it’s not courageous; it is too little too late, and only serves to further embolden the Right.  It is an open secret that the violent White nationalists on the streets of Charlottesville (and many other cities) were emboldened by candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, which gave voice to many of their own dangerous views. Their support is not only for Trump’s platitudes but also for the president’s policies. So while we welcome the denunciation of White supremacy from various corners of Congress, we require more from our elected officials. We call on them to uphold our common humanity as they consider policy changes to immigration, health care, education, and the equitable distribution of taxes needed to fund vital public services. We need to remain on alert for “law and order” rhetoric used to justify police and state aggression. We have no intention of stopping bigotry on the streets only to suffer its continued codification in the laws of our land.

The ostensibly “extremist” ideas given expression in Charlottesville must not be allowed to make racist federal policy initiatives appear moderate by comparison. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty presciently stated in a 2005 essay “Wrong About the Right”:

The right has not been afraid to propose extreme positions, knowing they will be pushed back to more moderate ones still well to the right of the status quo. We’ve seen this in almost every policy fight since 1980. By boldly taking stands that are far outside the mainstream, the right has managed to pull the mainstream to the right, which is why it is now perceived as speaking for the majority.

The activists, faith leaders, and everyday people who stood up to armed and violent White nationalists in Charlottesville are the heroes of this still-unfolding story. Their courage stands in stark contrast to the cowardice on display in Washington, D.C. Theirs is the moral conscience of a people that refuses to be divided. Who we can be together will determine whether the U.S. protects and advances the principles of democracy, justice, and pluralism or succumbs to the forces that threaten to unmake them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 will be a National Day of Action Against White Supremacy. PRA will be here, as it has for more than three decades, monitoring threats and revealing what each of us can do to advance justice and democracy in these turbulent times.

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Battle without Bullets: The Christian Right and Fourth Generation Warfare

This article appears in the Summer 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

On October 13, 2016, just three weeks from the election, then-candidate Donald Trump deflected sexual assault allegations in a speech at West Palm Beach. He railed against his opponent and a corrupt political establishment:

The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself…. It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities…. The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure. We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.1

Trump used similar language in a two-minute “closing argument” video released on November 4, in which he emphasized that “The political establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.”2

In the video Trump also warned of a “global power structure,” flashing photographs of prominent Jews, including international financier and liberal philanthropist George Soros, Chair of the Federal Reserve System Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. This immediately provoked charges that Trump was employing antisemitic tropes that could have been taken from Protocols of the Elders of Zion.3

But aside from resorting to one of the oldest and vilest of populist appeals, Trump was doing something else. He was telling prospective voters—most of whom had likely never heard of Protocols—that the ruling political establishment was “failed” and “corrupt,” and that it had “robbed our working class” and “stripped our country of its wealth.” He had launched a direct and devastating assault on the legitimacy of the country’s government and political, economic, and media elites, which he suggested was comprised of predators who posed an existential threat to voters’ towns, companies, jobs, and families; it had, he suggested, no moral right to govern.

Art: Ashley Lukashevsky

What might have seemed to most to be normal, if unusually acrimonious, political aggression was in fact a classic example of a right-wing strategy developed in the late 1980s: Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). Trump’s rhetoric and policies rightly identify him as a “right-wing populist bully,” in the words of former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet, who notes that right-wing populism includes nativism and authoritarianism, as well as “fears of traitorous, subversive conspiracies.”4 What distinguishes harsh populist rhetoric from a 4GW attack, however, is going beyond the charge that one’s individual opponent is wrong or misguided, to claim that the system is illegitimate and one’s opponents have no right to power or even to exist.

Fourth Generation Warfare is a term of art for the latest evolution of types of warfare. Essentially, the three prior “generations” were massed manpower, massed firepower, and non-linear maneuver. Think roughly of the changing approaches of the American Revolutionary War to World War I to World War II. William S. Lind, who originated the term “Fourth Generation Warfare” in 1989, noted that elements from earlier generations of warfare, like “collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him,” would carry over into 4GW but with a greater emphasis and employing new tactics. 4GW expands warfare beyond the physical level to include the mental and moral dimensions. At the highest level of combat—moral conflict—the central objective is to undermine the legitimacy of one’s opponent and induce a population to transfer their loyalty from their government to the insurgent.

Fourth Generation Warfare resonated with military strategists and scholars, especially after 9/11, because it examined the emergence of a new type of warfare between a non-state insurgent and a central government in which ideas are key weapons.5 Part of 4GW is “epistemological warfare”—that is, “warfare” that adapts and incorporates concepts from post-modernism, structuration theory, deconstructionism, and chaos theory. In very simple terms, this type of warfare aims to “Disrupt the moral, physical and/or informational vertical and horizontal relations (i.e. cohesion) among subsystems.”6 This serves as propaganda intended to foster uncertainty, mistrust, and a sense of menace, all aimed at breaking down the bonds of social trust.7

But the doctrine of 4GW has not been limited to use in foreign wars. It has also been used at home: as a psy-ops campaign perpetrated by domestic actors against domestic political and religious adversaries.

The insurgent force, in this case, is the Christian Right, led by its key strategists: the late Paul Weyrich who would transform electoral competition into all-out political warfare against the political system itself, and William S. Lind, the original thinker who postulated the emergence of Fourth Generation Warfare and who served as Weyrich’s right-hand man.

Paul Weyrich, an architect of the Christian Right8 and founder of the Free Congress Foundation, one of the movement’s strategic think tanks, saw 1980s-era America in terms of an epochal struggle between two camps over “our way of life.” He told the Christian Right’s founding direct mail fundraiser Richard Viguerie, “‘It may not be with bullets… and it may not be with rockets and missiles, but it is a war nevertheless. It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.’”9

“It may not be with bullets…but it is a war nevertheless. It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, it’s a war about our way of life.”

Weyrich and Lind commissioned and published a strategic document in 2001 that epitomized their thinking and evolution away from the indirect influence of the Christian Reconstructionists who were more focused on theology. Written by their Free Congress Foundation colleague Eric Heubeck, it was titled “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program For The New Traditionalist Movement.” The objectives and tactics of the movement were the delegitimization and destruction of the Left, meaning the destruction through unrelenting propaganda barrages of the liberal-secular federal government and associated political culture and Constitution that protects individual rights.

“Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry,” the document declares. “We will pick off the most intelligent and creative individuals in our society, the individuals who help give credibility to the current regime.” A little later, Heubeck writes, “Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them…. We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left…. We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime” (emphasis added).10

Weyrich saw the Christian Right’s vision of traditional values as the legitimate and moral side. The other side, cast as the camp of secular liberalism, he saw as immoral and illegitimate. While Weyrich saw these opponents as in rough alignment with the two main political parties, his aim was never merely about electing Republicans. He was about forging a revolutionary Christian nationalist movement to undermine the legitimacy of what he saw as a liberal, secular democratic order.

The Christian Reconstructionists

The starting point for understanding epistemological warfare and 4GW called for by Weyrich and Lind and executed by the Christian Right is to begin with the Christian Reconstructionists—the low profile strategic thinkers who have influenced American politics since the 1960s.

Founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionist movement, through its voluminous writings, persuaded several hundred influential conservative clergy and theologians that American society had to be reconstructed11—not reformed—on a new basis of knowledge or epistemology in order to build God’s kingdom on earth from the rubble of failed civilization. One way Christian Reconstructionist strategists influenced the trajectory of the Christian Right was participating alongside the John Birch Society in the formation and early running of the secretive Council for National Policy, a highly opaque organization that brought together Christian Right leaders, funding sources, and well-to-do activists.12

The Reconstructionists argued that Christians should make a fundamental choice—obey God’s law or obey secular law. In his 1997 book, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, PRA Senior Fellow Frederick Clarkson noted that Rushdoony had essentially unilaterally declared that America was in a state of long term, civil war. Clarkson noted that according to Rushdoony, “‘every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion’” and that “‘all law is a form of warfare.’” The source for all law, institutions, norms, values, and ways of knowing must be their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible.13

This worldview and its variants meant that all law, science, philosophy, and morals that did not conform to their interpretation of the Bible was illegitimate—or, in their words, anti-Christian and anti-God. Christian Reconstructionism had provided Weyrich and the Christian Right a theological justification for their all-out political war. Rushdoony himself was an acknowledged leader and thinker whose views were sought by the founding fathers of the contemporary Christian Right, including Weyrich.14

While the ideological role of Rushdoony and his fellow Christian Reconstructionists may not always be obvious, it’s not hard to detect when considering foundational thought regarding Christian nationalism;15 the grading on religious grounds of candidates for public office at all levels;16 the transformation of the constitutional principle of religious liberty into a demand for Christian Right primacy, the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and accusations that Christians are being persecuted;17 the propagandistic assault on evolution and demand that the creationist controversy be taught in public schools;18 and the unrelenting rejection of climate change science and belief that such evidence is fraudulent.19

The common denominator in all of these Christian Right assertions, demands, and propaganda efforts is not that their opponents are wrong on the facts, but that their opponents are an affront to God and that their way of knowing is illegitimate. This is the essence and objective of a Fourth Generation Warfare attack.

Photo: k8 via Flickr.

Colonel Boyd and Epistemological Warfare

The late Colonel John Boyd’s influence on William S. Lind, the former director of cultural conservatism at Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, may be one of the most underappreciated stories of the development of the Christian Right and its ever-evolving political strategy. It’s not like Lind was hiding it. He was the co-author of at least three books on political strategy for the Christian Right: Cultural Conservatism—Towards a New National Agenda, Cultural Conservatism—Theory and Practice, and The Next Conservatism.20

Col. Boyd was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War who dedicated the latter part of his career to reformulating U.S. strategic thinking. Boyd never wrote a book on strategy, but instead spread his thinking throughout the Pentagon via constantly evolving marathon briefings, each of which could last between 14 and 18 hours. In 1959, while an Air Force captain, Boyd wrote “Aerial Attack Study,” which would become official Air Force doctrine on air combat.21 He went on to help develop the F-15, F-16, and F-18 fighter jets in the 1960s and ‘70s. His contribution to the development of the U.S. Army’s AirLand Battle concept for defending NATO in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the incorporation of his ideas into the Marines’ doctrinal warfighting manuals and the Department of Defense’s joint doctrinal documents, as well as his influence on the United Kingdom’s and other European military doctrines all marked him as a uniquely influential military thinker. As an associate of Dick Cheney, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Boyd also heavily influenced the design of the 1991 Gulf War’s ground campaign.22

Boyd’s 1997 obituary in The New York Times noted that he is regarded as having helped “revolutionize American military strategy.” The highly decorated Colonel David Hackworth believed Boyd to be “America’s greatest military thinker.” Likewise, Major Jeffrey L. Cowan concluded his Marine Corps master’s thesis on Boyd’s conceptualization of warfare with the observation that Boyd “should be considered one of the most important military theorists of the United States.”23

What made Boyd’s work such an historic advance in the philosophy of military strategy was that he added the physical, mental, and moral dimensions to the traditional tactical, operational and strategic levels of military combat. For example, Joint Publication 3.0 on Joint Operations—which provides Pentagon doctrine to all U.S. military forces—defines the strategic level of warfare as the setting of national objectives and allocation of national resources to achieve those objectives. This translates national strategy into operational campaigns within a theater (e.g. Europe, Middle East), which then links to its use by military forces.24

Boyd posited that the highest level of warfare was moral, followed by mental, and physical. For example, a victory at the physical level of combat could, in reality, be a defeat at the moral level. Thus a government massacre of villagers could tactically mean that the government could claim a territorial victory, but it could delegitimize the government in the eyes of its citizens or international allies.

At that moral level of conflict, Boyd believed in exploiting three psychological conditions—menace, uncertainty, and mistrust—in order to create an existential and epistemological threat to an army or a society. Maj. Cowan, in his thesis, quoted Boyd’s explanation of these terms: “‘menace, which are the impressions of danger to one’s well being and survival; uncertainty or the impressions, or atmosphere generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, and chaotic; and, mistrust as an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human bonds among members of an organic whole.’”25

Frans P.B. Osinga, a Dutch Air Force Lt. Colonel with a PhD who wrote a comprehensive analysis of Boyd’s briefings, noted that the aim of moral conflict, according to Boyd, is to “‘Destroy moral bonds that permit an organic whole to exist.’” Osinga quoted Boyd’s analysis of the “strategic aim” of moral conflict: to “‘Penetrate [his] moral-mental-physical being to dissolve his moral fiber, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert, shatter, seize or otherwise subdue those moral-mental-physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, in order to destroy internal harmony, produce paralysis, and collapse adversary’s will to resist.’”26

What has so far gone largely unnoticed is that the Christian Right has applied this type of warfare against the federal government, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and its religious institutional rivals among mainline Protestant churches.

The Christian Right has applied this type of warfare against the federal government, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and its religious institutional rivals among mainline Protestant churches.

Adapting Warfare for the Right

Weyrich’s view that the Christian Right had to wage an all-out propaganda war against secular liberalism and the Democratic Party (and the GOP) with the “same intensity” as a “shooting war” would come to early fruition with Newt Gingrich, whom Weyrich personally recruited in the 1980s and trained to use inflammatory rhetoric around cultural wedge issues.27 Eventually, Gingrich ascended to be Speaker of the House of Representatives by exploiting scandals he choreographed against the Democratic and Republican House leadership.

John Dean, President Nixon’s former White House counsel (whose Senate testimony laid the foundation for the article of impeachment for obstruction of justice), described Gingrich’s pre-Speaker tactics as “portraying Republicans as godly and Democrats as anti-religious liberals.” Gingrich’s rhetorical tactics according to Dean, “were developed through consultations with communications experts, and soon became standard operating procedure for Republicans.”28 Gingrich would be instrumental in dismantling the committee structure of the House of Representatives, undermining democratic norms of comity, polarizing the House into warring political tribes, and, weakening the scientific basis of public policy.29

Lind was very familiar with Boyd and his work. Prior to joining Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation, Lind worked for Senator Gary Hart on military reform issues, including as part of a small group working to reform U.S. defense strategy in Europe, which included Boyd. He also collaborated with Colonel Boyd on introducing maneuver warfare to the U.S. Marine Corps. Lind considered Boyd “America’s greatest military theorist.”30 He once wrote that he had “worked with Boyd for about 15 years.”31

Lind acknowledged that Boyd’s theories had shaped his own views on moral conflict, writing that 4GW’s “goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him” derived from “Boyd’s OODA (observation- orientation- decision- action) theory.”32 Lind further argued, in ways consistent with Boyd’s thinking, that “psychological operations,” “manipulating the media,” and television news would become “more powerful” weapons in altering perceptions and public support for a government’s policies than actual military combat.33

Uncoincidentally, Weyrich launched National Empowerment Television (NET) during 1992-93 to attempt to manipulate news directed at conservative and Christian audiences.34 Although Weyrich’s first challenge to the media establishment came in 1973 with the Joseph Coors-funded Television News, Inc. (TVN), part of its significance is that it brought Weyrich and Roger Ailes into a direct working relationship and laid the groundwork for the emergence of Fox News some 20 years later.35

Television News brought Weyrich and Roger Ailes into a direct working relationship, laying the groundwork for the emergence of Fox News some twenty years later.

Since then, not only has the growth of the Christian Right and various sub-movements benefitted from Fox News misinforming its viewers36 but the Religious and Political Right depends upon dubious documentaries as a form of psychological operations to inform and expand its base of conservative and evangelical supporters, as well as undermine progressive organizations.37 Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s senior strategist, is responsible for eight documentaries alone, including In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, Generation Zero and Fire from the Heartland (about the Tea Party movement), District of Corruption, and, Occupy Unmasked. The group Citizens United also released Rediscovering God in America and Rediscovering God in America II, produced by Candace and Newt Gingrich; Hype: The Obama Effect; Blocking the Path of 9/11; Hillary: The Movie; We Have the Power: Making America Energy Independent; ACLU: At War with America; Border Wars: The Battle over Illegal Immigration; and, Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60.

Under the strategic guidance of Weyrich and Lind, the Christian Right launched multiple propaganda campaigns since the 1980s38 to induce, through stages, a crisis of confidence and legitimacy39 completely independent of which political party controls the presidency and Congress, which philosophy holds sway in federal courts, or prevailing economic conditions. The delivery mode of this unrelenting barrage of criticism—designed to provoke a Boydian sense of disorientation, disruption, overload, menace, uncertainty, and mistrust among the general public—is propaganda disseminated through television,40 radio, movies, and documentary film,41 all mediums that appeal to emotions rather than logic.

The Payoff

Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein respectively reported in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, that the “Republican Party has become the insurgent outlier in American politics…The contemporary GOP…has veered toward tolerance of extreme ideological beliefs and policies…and rejection of the legitimacy of its partisan opposition.”42 Four years later, the scholars argued that both the Republican Party and the dysfunctional government had gotten worse. In their view, the “radicalization of the Republican Party” included “an utter rejection of the norms and civic culture underlying our constitutional system.”43

This conflict of legitimacy predates Trump’s candidacy. In addition to Republicans’ efforts to delegitimize President Obama, they were undermining the very basis of a secular, constitutional order and were using fear and propaganda to do so. But Trump also built upon these efforts and included his own violations of democratic norms.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump used racially charged accusations against Hillary Clinton, such as the insinuation that she would use African American voters to rig the election through voter fraud. These claims originated years before within the Republican Party.44 Not only is the claim of massive voter fraud without a factual foundation, it has long been a right-wing propaganda tool.45

Trump also declared throughout the campaign that he intended to jail Clinton for treason and prosecute her and her lawyers, calling her “crooked Hillary.” The Republican convention descended into a cesspool of prospective authoritarianism with calls to “lock her up” led by prominent Trump campaign officials and surrogates, including the future White House National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn. The effort appeared to be intended to delegitimize Clinton and her administration if she had won the election.46

In addition to delegitimizing candidate Clinton, Democratic voters, and the prospective election results, Trump amped-up long-standing right-wing attacks on the existence and functioning of a free, independent press.47 In fact, Trump escalated and expanded his attacks into full-blown epistemological warfare.48 But as historian and journalist Neal Gabler argued, Trump’s triumph and the ongoing epistemological war it wrought was made possible by the very same mainstream media that failed to adequately report on Republican and Christian Right destabilization of democracy.49

The theological-political war first unleashed by the Christian Reconstructionists, followed by decades of Fourth Generation Warfare propaganda barrages perpetrated by the Christian Right and the wider conservative movement, ultimately resulted in something most political observers thought impossible: the election of Donald Trump as president. This is both a result and a cause of American society probably being more divided—by race, class, gender, and political ideology—than at any time since before the Civil War. The bonds of societal trust are disintegrating. Constitutional norms of governance are being undermined. Institutions meant to hold the executive branch in check are under assault from within and without. None of this was accidental. But if we are to hold onto any semblance of democratic society, knowledge of how Fourth Generation Warfare works, and that a religious and political insurrection is well advanced in the United States, is essential to formulation of appropriate strategies going forward.

The strategic intent of a 4GW attack, as Boyd explained, is “to dissolve [an enemy’s] moral fiber, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert, shatter, seize or otherwise subdue those moral-mental-physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, in order to destroy internal harmony, produce paralysis, and collapse adversary’s will to resist.”50

Any effective counter-strategy to efforts of the Trump administration and its Christian Right supporters must begin by understanding that when they attack, their objective is to undermine opponents’ legitimacy, since under 4GW, legitimacy is the coin of the realm. But fact-checking and debunking conspiracism is only a partial solution. It must be accompanied by defending the legitimacy of institutions, democratic norms, legal procedures, and social groups singled out for attack.

In a 4GW scenario, the better narrative wins. Thus, any counter-strategy must include a robust narrative of what is being defended and why.

In a 4GW scenario, the better narrative wins.51 Thus, any counter-strategy must include a robust narrative of what is being defended and why, as well as the tools to counteract the menace, uncertainty, and mistrust engendered by 4GW attacks. These tools—a corresponding set to those in Boyd’s plan of epistemological warfare—provide individuals and groups with moral strength. Or in Boyd’s words, a “triumph of courage, confidence, and esprit (de corps) over [the] fear, anxiety, and alienation” of our modern, domestic, psychological war.

Endnotes

1 Katie Reilly, “Read Donald Trump’s Speech Addressing Sexual Assault Accusations,” Time, October 13, 2016, http://time.com/4530515/donald-trump-sexual-assault-accusations-transcript/.

2 Donald J. Trump, “New Television Ad: Donald Trump’s Argument for America,” November 4, 2016, https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/new-television-ad-donald-trumps-argument-for-america.

3 Dana Milbank, “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody,” Washington Post, November 7, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anti-semitism-is-no-longer-an-undertone-of-trumps-campaign-its-the-melody/2016/11/07/b1ad6e22-a50a-11e6-8042-f4d111c862d1_story.html.

Steve Benen, “Trump’s closing argument faces allegation of anti-Semitism,” MSNBC, November 7, 2016, http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/trumps-closing-argument-faces-allegations-anti-semitism.

4 Chip Berlet, “‘Trumping’ Democracy: Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action,” Political Research Associates, December 12, 2015, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/12/trumping-democracy-right-wing-populism-fascism-and-the-case-for-action/.

5 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007). 255.

Martin van Creveld, A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind, (Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2015), 121-2.

6 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007) 126. See Osinga’s chapter 4, pages 86-127, on how John Boyd was influenced by various scientific revolutions occurring in the 1970s and 1980s and adapted them into his reformulation of military strategy.

7 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/lind/the-changing-face-of-war-into-the-fourth-generation.html.

William S. Lind, Major John F. Schmitt, and Colonel Gary I. Wilson, “Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994, http://www.dnipogo.org/fcs/4GW_another_look.htm.

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000, http://www.dnipogo.org/fcs/boyd_thesis.htm. See his Chapter 4.

8 Joan Bokaer, “Paul Weyrich: The Man Who Framed the Republican Party,” Talk to Action, August 9, 2006, http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/8/9/55443/17515.

Jean V. Hardisty, “The Resurgent Right: Why Now?,” The Public Eye, Fall/Winter 1995, http://www.jeanhardisty.com/writing/articles-chapters-and-reports/the-resurgent-right-why-now/

David Grann, “Robespierre of the Right,” The New Republic, October 27, 1997, http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/robespierre-the-right.

Political Research Associates, “Paul Weyrich,” January 12, 2009, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/weyrich_paul/.

 

9 Richard Viguerie, The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead, (Falls Church, VA: The Viguerie Company, 1981), 55.

10 Eric Heubeck, ‟The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement,” [Free Congress Foundation, 2001], no date, at https://web.archive.org/web/20010713152425/http:/www.freecongress.org/centers/conservatism/traditionalist.htm.

11 Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 8-9.

James C. Sanford, Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right’s Vision for America, (Providence, RI: Metacomet Books, 2014) 3-4.

  1. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology, Blessing or Curse?: An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism, (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988) 352-361.

Rachel Tabachnick, “The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism (Updated),” Talk to Action, August 15, 2011, http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/8/15/9328/35473/.

12 Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, (Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates, 1988,1991) 36-46.

Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997) 80-1.

David D. Kirkpatrick, “Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy,” New York Times, August 28, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/28/us/2004-campaign-conservatives-club-most-powerful-gathers-strictest-privacy.html.

Jeremy Leaming and Rob Boston, “Behind Closed Doors,” Americans United, October 2004, https://www.au.org/church-state/october-2004-church-state/featured/behind-closed-doors.

13 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997) 78-9.

14 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstructionism: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015) 144-147.

15 Frederick Clarkson, “Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,” The Public Eye Volume 22 Number 2, Spring 2007, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2007/03/05/history-is-powerfulwhy-the-christian-right-distorts-history-and-why-it-matters/.

Steven K. Green, “God is not on our side: The religious right’s big lie about the founding of America,” Salon, June 28, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/06/28/god_is_not_on_our_side_the_religious_rights_big_lie_about_the_founding_of_america/.

16 Sarah Posner, “Manhattan Declaration Is The New Old Culture War,” Religion Dispatches, November 23, 2009, http://www.religiondispatches.org/blog/2058/manhattan_declaration_is_the_new_old_culture_war.

Frederick Clarkson, “When Politics Means the End of the World (as we know it),” Talk to Action, August 27, 2010, http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/8/27/204514/016.

17 Frederick Clarkson, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” Political Research Associates, January 12, 2016, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/12/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right/.

Frederick Clarkson, “Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight,” The Public Eye,August 18, 2016, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/08/18/dominionism-rising-a-theocratic-movement-hiding-in-plain-sight/.

People for the American Way, “The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry,” June 13, 2014, http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/persecution-complex-religious-right-s-deceptive-rallying-cry.

18 District Judge John E. Jones III, “Memorandum Opinion,” “Tammy KITZMILLER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants,” December 20, 2005,  https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16465861447416053365&q=Kitzmiller+v.+Dover+Area+School+District&hl=en&as_sdt=40006&as_vis=1.

Reid Wilson, “New wave of anti-evolution bills hit states,” The Hill, January 27, 2017,  http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/316487-new-wave-of-anti-evolution-bills-hit-states.

19 Right Wing Watch Staff, “The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers: How the Religious Right and the Corporate Right are Joining Forces to Fight Environmental Protection,” April 2011, at http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the-green-dragon-slayers-how-the-religious-right-and-the-corporate-right-are-joining-fo.

Lauri Lebo, “Creationism and Global Warming Denial: Anti-Science’s Kissing Cousins?,” Religion Dispatches, March 17, 2010, http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/scienceenvironment/2374/_creationism_and_global_warming_denial:_anti-science’s_kissing_cousins.

Jack Jenkins, “Evangelicals laud Trump’s climate denier EPA pick,” Think Progress, December 19, 2016,   https://www.google.com/url?q=https://thinkprogress.org/group-of-evangelicals-praises-climate-denier-epa-pick-because-the-science-isnt-settled-it-is-9354e8ec4b5c&sa=D&ust=1499363815250000&usg=AFQjCNGGyroaRM9LAIe-wfNE2E9umWJ9Cg

20 William S. Lind and William H. Marshner, Cultural Conservatism—Towards a New National Agenda, (Lanham, MD: UPA Inc., 1987).

William S. Lind and William H. Marshner, editors, Cultural Conservatism—Theory and Practice, (Washington, D.C.: Free Congress Foundation, 1991).

Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, The Next Conservatism, (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009).

21 Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2002), 5.

22 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 3-4.

 

23 Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Col. John Boyd Is Dead at 70; Advanced Air Combat Tactics,” New York Times, March 13, 1997,  http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/13/us/col-john-boyd-is-dead-at-70-advanced-air-combat-tactics.html.

David Hackworth, “A Great Airman’s Final Flight,” Hackworth.com, March 18, 1997,  http://www.hackworth.com/18mar97.html.

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000, http://www.dnipogo.org/fcs/boyd_thesis.htm. There is nothing simple about Boyd’s briefings. Frans P.B.. Osinga, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Netherlands Air Force with a PhD, noted that one of Boyd’s biographers, Robert Coram, believed “his briefings are virtually impenetrable without explanation.”

Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 7.

24 U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Operations, Joint Publication 3.0, Joint Staff Director for Joint Force Development, January 2017: 40-1.

 

25 Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000, http://www.dnipogo.org/fcs/boyd_thesis.htm.

26 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 171, 176.

 

27 The Leadership Institute, “A Tribute to Paul Weyrich,” no date, accessed June 12, 2013,  http://www.leadershipinstitute.org/writings/?ID=1.

28 John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 122.

29 John Dean, Broken Government, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 31-4.

Thomas Frank, The Wrecking Crew. How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation, (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008-9), 195-6.

Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, revised and updated, (New York: Basic Books, 2005) 49-64.

30 William S. Lind, “John’s Boyd’s Book,” “On War #235,” Defense and the National Interest (maintained by the Project on Government Oversight), October 2, 2007,  http://www.dnipogo.org/lind/lind_10_02_07.htm.

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “Warfighting Brought to You by…,” no date,  http://www.dnipogo.org/fcs/cowan_proceedings.htm.

 

31 William S. Lind, “John’s Boyd’s Book,” “On War #235,” Defense and the National Interest (maintained by the Project on Government Oversight), October 2, 2007,  http://www.dnipogo.org/lind/lind_10_02_07.htm.

32 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas,  http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/lind/the-changing-face-of-war-into-the-fourth-generation.html.

33 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas,  http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/lind/the-changing-face-of-war-into-the-fourth-generation.html.

 

34 Dan Morain, “2 Wealthy Conservatives Use Think Tanks to Push Goals,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1996, at http://articles.latimes.com/1996-07-08/news/mn-22223_1_conservative-foundations.

Media Transparency, “Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, Inc.,” no date, accessed May 13, 2009,  http://web.archive.org/web/20120103030158/http://old.mediatransparency.org/recipientprofile.php?recipientID=126.

People for the American Way, “Buying a Movement: Right-Wing Foundations and American Politics,” no date, accessed June 3, 2013,  http://www.pfaw.org/sites/default/files/buyingamovement.pdf.

Source Watch, “National Empowerment Television,” no date, accessed June 4, 2013,  http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=National_Empowerment_Television.

35 Kerwin Swint, Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Legendary Political Operative and Fox News Founder Roger Ailes, (New York: Union Square Press, 2008), 60-1, 67, and 219.

David Brock, Ari Rabin-Havt, and Media Matters, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine, (New York: Anchor Books, 2012) 31.

Stanhope Gould, “Coors Brews the News,” Columbia Journalism Review, pp. 17-29, March/April 1975.

Tim Dickinson, “How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory,” Rolling Stone, May 25, 2011, a http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-roger-ailes-built-the-fox-news-fear-factory-20110525.

36 Heather Hogan, “This Is How Fox News Brainwashes Its Viewers: Our In-Depth Investigation of the Propaganda Cycle,” Autostraddle, September 2, 2015,  http://www.autostraddle.com/this-is-how-fox-news-brainwashes-its-viewers-our-in-depth-investigation-of-the-propaganda-cycle-297107/.

Bruce Bartlett, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” Social Science Research Network, June 3, 2015,  https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2604679.

Chris Mooney, “Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It (and to Vindicate Jon Stewart!),” DeSmog Blog, November 21, 2011,  http://www.desmogblog.com/fox-news-viewers-are-most-misinformed-seventh-study-arrives-prove-it-and-vindicate-jon-stewart.

Gordon Gauchat, “Study: Conservatives’ Trust in Science Has Fallen Dramatically Since Mid-1970s,” American Sociological Association, March 29, 2012,  http://www.asanet.org/press/conservatives_trust_has_fallen.cfm.

37 Andy Ostroy, “The ACORN Vote: House Democrats Just Stuck a Knife in Their President and Party,” The Huffington Post, November18, 2009,  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andy-ostroy/the-acorn-vote-house-demo_b_291537.html.

David Rosen, “The Tea Party Propaganda Factory You Probably Don’t Know About,” AlterNet, April 19, 2011, at http://www.alternet.org/story/150672/the_tea_party_propaganda_factory_you_probably_don%27t_know_about.

People for the American Way, “The Activists And Ideology Behind The Latest Attacks On Planned Parenthood,” August 3, 2015, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/report/the-activists-and-ideology-behind-the-latest-attacks-on-planned-parenthood/.

Asawin Suebsaeng, “I Watched All of Steve Bannon’s Bad Movies,” The Daily Beast, August 19, 2016,  http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/19/i-watched-all-of-steve-bannon-s-bad-movies.html.

Alex Kotch, “Trump Campaign Leaders Made Movies Comparable to Nazi Propaganda,” AlterNet, October 6, 2016,  http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-campaign-honchos-bannon-and-bossie-produce-propaganda.

Matthew Phelan, “Building the House of Breitbart,” Jacobin Magazine, November 5, 2016,  https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/breitbart-news-drudge-alt-right-koch-trump/.

38 Jean Hardisty, “Constructing Homophobia: Colorado’s Right-Wing Attack on Homosexuals,” Political Research Associates, March 1993,  http://www.jeanhardisty.com/writing/articles-chapters-and-reports/constructing-homophobia-colorados-right-wing-attack-on-homosexuals/.

Surina Khan, ‟Calculated Compassion,” Public Eye Magazine, October 1998, at https://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/calculated-compassion-how-the-ex-gay-movement-serves-the-rights-attack-on-democracy/.

Tarso Luis Ramos and Pam Chamberlain, “Nativist Bedfellows:The Christian Right Embraces Anti-Immigrant Movement,” The Public Eye, July 31, 2008, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2008/06/06/nativist-bedfellows-the-christian-right-embraces-anti-immigrant-politics/.

Pam Chamberlain, “It’s Their Party: How The Tea Party Sustains The Anti-LGBT Right,” Political Research Associates, April 1, 2012,  https://www.politicalresearch.org/2012/04/01/its-their-party-how-the-tea-party-sustains-the-anti-lgbt-right/.

Jean Hardisty, “Thoughts From PRA’s Founder,” Political Research Associates, December 21, 2012,  https://www.politicalresearch.org/thoughts-from-pras-founder/.

39 Ehud Sprinzak, “The psychological formation of extreme left terrorism in a democracy: The case of the Weathermen,” pp. 65-85 in Walter Reich, editor, Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990: 77-82. According to Sprinzak, the process of delegitimation moves through three stages: a crisis of confidence, a conflict of legitimacy, and a crisis of legitimacy. The crisis of confidence “implies a conflict with specific rulers or policies.” The conflict of legitimacy “implies the emergence of an alternative ideological and cultural system, one that delegitimates the prevailing regime and its code of social norms in the name of a better one.” A crisis of legitimacy entails the dehumanization of all individuals associated with the prevailing regime. “It bifurcates the world into the sons of light and the sons of darkness, and makes the ‘fantasy war’ of the former versus the latter fully legitimate.”

 

40 Eric Hananoki, “Fox’s news programs echo its ‘opinion’ shows: Smears, doctored videos, GOP talking points,” Media Matters, October 13, 2009,  http://mediamatters.org/research/200910130047.

Chris Mooney, “The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming,” The Huffington Post, March 26, 2012,  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/the-science-of-truthiness_b_1379472.html.

Bruce Bartlett, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” Social Science Research Network, June 3, 2015, at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2604679.

Heather Hogan, “This Is How Fox News Brainwashes Its Viewers: Our In-Depth Investigation of the Propaganda Cycle,” Auto Straddle, September 2, 2015, a http://www.autostraddle.com/this-is-how-fox-news-brainwashes-its-viewers-our-in-depth-investigation-of-the-propaganda-cycle-297107/.

41Public Eye Magazine, “Citizens United—Floyd G. Brown,” no date, accessed May 29, 2013, at http://www.publiceye.org/conspire/clinton/Clintonculwar8-12.html#P233_65420.

David Rosen, “The Tea Party Propaganda Factory You Probably Don’t Know About,” AlterNet, April 19, 2011,  http://www.alternet.org/story/150672/the_tea_party_propaganda_factory_you_probably_don%27t_know_about.

Alex Kotch, “Trump Campaign Leaders Made Movies Comparable to Nazi Propaganda,” AlterNet, October 6, 2016,  http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-campaign-honchos-bannon-and-bossie-produce-propaganda.

42 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 185.

 

43 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “Republicans created dysfunction. Now they’re paying for it,” Washington Post, March 8, 2016, a https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2016/03/08/republicans-created-dysfunction-now-theyre-paying-for-it/.

44 Maggie Haberman and Matt Flegenheimer, “Donald Trump, a ‘Rigged’ Election and the Politics of Race,” New York Times, August 21, 2016,  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/22/us/politics/donald-trump-a-rigged-election-and-the-politics-of-race.html.

The Editorial Board, “Donald Trump Cues Up Another Conspiracy,” New York Times, August 22, 2016,  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/23/opinion/donald-trump-cues-up-another-conspiracy.html.

Sherrilyn Ifill, “The GOP’s Disgusting New Southern Strategy: Take the Vote Away from Blacks, Roll Back the Civil Rights Movement,” AlterNet, September 4, 2012, a http://www.alternet.org/gops-disgusting-new-southern-strategy-take-vote-away-blacks-roll-back-civil-rights-movement.

Elizabeth Warren, “Trump didn’t invent the ‘rigged election’ myth. Republicans did,” Washington Post, October 18, 2016,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/elizabeth-warren-trump-didnt-invent-the-rigged-election-myth-republicans-did/2016/10/18/921ac368-953b-11e6-9b7c-57290af48a49_story.html.

 

45 Michael Wines, “All This Talk of Voter Fraud? Across U.S., Officials Found Next to None,” New York Times, December 18, 2016,  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/18/us/voter-fraud.html.

Jon Greenberg, “Fact-checking the integrity of the vote in 2016,” Politico PolitiFact, December 17, 2016,  http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/dec/17/fact-checking-claims-voter-fraud-2016/.

Nick Fernandez and Cat Duffy, “Voter Fraud Myths Pushed By Trump Have Long Been Propagated By Right-Wing Media,” Media Matters, January 25, 2017, at https://mediamatters.org/research/2017/01/25/voting-fraud-myths-pushed-trump-have-long-been-propagated-right-wing-media/215127.

 

46 Dylan Matthews, “The Republican National Convention and the criminalization of politics,” Vox, July 19, 2016, at http://www.vox.com/2016/7/19/12233458/republican-convention-chris-christie-hillary-clinton-trial.

David Corn, “Why This GOP Convention Is the Most Dangerous One Ever,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016,  http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/07/trump-gop-convention-most-dangerous-ever.

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “The Republican ‘lock her up’ chants were disturbing. They were also inevitable,” Washington Post, July 22, 2016, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/22/the-republican-lock-her-up-chants-were-disturbing-they-were-also-inevitable/.

47 Oliver Darcy, “Donald Trump broke the conservative media,” Business Insider, August 26, 2016,  http://www.businessinsider.com/conservative-media-trump-drudge-coulter-2016-8.

Charlie Sykes, “On Where the Right Went Wrong,” New York Times, December 15, 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/opinion/sunday/charlie-sykes-on-where-the-right-went-wrong.html.

Charles J. Sykes, “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying,” New York Times, February 4, 2017, at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/04/opinion/sunday/why-nobody-cares-the-president-is-lying.html.

Jennifer Rubin, “Questions Fox and the right need to answer,” Washington Post, May 24, 2017,  https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/05/24/questions-fox-and-the-right-need-to-answer/.

David A. Bell, “Fake News Is Not the Real Media Threat We’re Facing,” The Nation, December 22, 2016,  https://www.thenation.com/article/fake-news-is-not-the-real-media-threat-were-facing/.

48 Editorial Board, “Trump is rigging the election: No matter who wins, America loses,” Washington Post, October 18, 2016, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-rigging-the-election-no-matter-who-wins-america-loses/2016/10/18/76f61984-9572-11e6-9b7c-57290af48a49_story.html.

Paul Waldman, “Donald Trump’s Epistemological Netherworld,” The American Prospect, December 12, 2016,  http://prospect.org/article/donald-trumps-epistemological-netherworld.

Media Matters Staff, “Carl Bernstein: For Trump And His Administration, ‘The Opposition Is Not The Media; The Opposition Is Becoming The Truth,’” Media Matters, January 27, 2017,  http://mediamatters.org/video/2017/01/27/carl-bernstein-trump-and-his-administration-opposition-not-media-opposition-becoming-truth/215152.

Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” February 10, 2017, at http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/02/andrew-sullivan-the-madness-of-king-donald.html.

Henry A. Giroux, “Rethinking Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World in Trump’s America,” TruthDig, February 13, 2017, at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/rethinking_orwells_1984_and_huxleys_brave_new_20170213/.

49 Neal Gabler, “How the Media Enabled Donald Trump by Destroying Politics First,” BillMoyers, March 4, 2016,  http://billmoyers.com/story/how-the-media-enabled-donald-trump-by-destroying-politics-first/.

Neal Gabler, “Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last 50 Years,” BillMoyers, March 11, 2016,  http://billmoyers.com/story/blowing-the-biggest-political-story-of-the-last-fifty-years/.

Neal Gabler, “After Playing a Central Role in the Trump Catastrophe, Will the Mainstream Media Learn Its Lesson?,” AlterNet, November 8, 2016, http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/political-coverage-polling.

50 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007) 177.

51 David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, “What Next for Networks and Netwars?,” pp. 311-361 in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, editors, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001: 328-333.

 

An Alt Right Update

These notes are based on a talk I gave in Seattle on July 22, 2017 and the discussions that followed. Thanks to the organizers of that event, my fellow presenters, and everyone who attended. Special thanks also to the members of Q-Patrol who provided security.

My January report, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete,” was published at the beginning of Donald Trump’s administration. It dealt with the Alt Right’s ideological roots, major players, multiple internal currents, and complex relationships with both conservatives and the Trump campaign.

A lot has happened since then. The terrain on which the Alt Right operates, and the character of the movement itself, have shifted in some important and disturbing ways. The situation is very much in flux, but the half-year mark seems like a good moment for a snapshot of where things stand today. The notes that follow are my attempt to give a brief overview of five major changes related to the Alt Right that have taken place in that time.

Photo: Mark Dixon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

1. Trump’s election has encouraged supremacist violence by vigilantes and local police.

In the days and weeks immediately after the November elections, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a sharp increase in “bias-related harassment and intimidation” across the country—threats and attacks against immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, trans people, and other oppressed groups.1 “Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults,” the SPLC noted, and many of those targeted said the incidents were like nothing they had experienced before.2 A logical, horrifying intensification of these attacks took place in May, when a White nationalist in Portland, Oregon, screamed racist and anti-Muslim abuse at two women on a light rail train, then stabbed three passengers who intervened, killing two of them.3

Meanwhile, the first two months of 2017 each saw police officers kill more people than any month in 2016, according to the website KilledByPolice.net.4 While there isn’t yet a breakdown of those specific numbers, among young men overall, Blacks are more than three times more likely than Whites to be killed by cops, according to Washington Post statistics.5

Whether it’s carried out by cops, right-wing activists, or unaffiliated individuals, supremacist violence didn’t start with Trump. It’s been going on for a long time, and it’s deeply rooted in the structure of U.S. society. But the climate has changed. Where President Obama defended Black Lives Matter and sang “Amazing Grace” at a memorial to victims of the Charleston, North Carolina, racist mass shooting,6 we now have a president who calls police “the thin blue line between civilization and chaos,” claims they are subjected to “unfair defamation and vilification,” and urges them to handle suspects more brutally. He’s also a president who, before taking office, encouraged his followers to assault political opponents, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and bragged about sexually assaulting women.7 In Jeff Sessions we now have an attorney general who, reversing previous policy, dismisses the idea that police brutality could be systemic and says that it’s bad for “morale” for his department to investigate abuse by local police departments.8 The same day that he appointed Sessions, Trump signed three executive orders intended to give police more authority.9

The Alt Right has contributed to this change in political climate through its supremacist propaganda and its role in helping Trump get elected. (For a full discussion of this, see “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”) It also benefits from these changes, which serve as a public validation of its message; help grow its pool of potential recruits; and sharpen the atmosphere of tension, fear, and crisis that helps Far Right politics thrive.

2. Despite Trump’s volatility, in policy terms his administration has largely been coopted by conventional conservatism.

As a candidate, Donald Trump didn’t just run against the Republican establishment, but ridiculed and vilified it, in ways that helped endear him to most Alt Rightists. He touted a populist nationalism that defied conservative orthodoxy on multiple fronts, rejecting free trade and repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, while pledging to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and rebuild infrastructure on a large scale. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals went much further than most conservative politicians were willing to go.10

But because he lacked an organizational base of his own, Trump was immediately forced to bring other constituencies into his administration. He appointed some nationalists, such as Attorney General Sessions, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, but he also put together a patchwork of establishment politicians, social conservatives, and people recruited from big business or the military. So, from the beginning, Trump’s presidency has rested on an unstable coalition of “America First” nationalists and people more or less aligned with conventional conservatism.11

Initially, the nationalists seemed to be on top, seeing their agenda supported or enacted in Trump’s inaugural speech, the Muslim ban that brought protesters to the airports in January, the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and moves to expand the roundup of undocumented immigrants. But over time the balance shifted largely away from them. Flynn was forced out of his role; Sessions recused himself on the Russia investigation; former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn gained ground on economic policy; and Bannon was kicked off the National Security Council.12

The nationalist faction is still there and still making itself felt, but it’s far from leading a full-scale charge. As president, Trump has abandoned many of the populist-nationalist positions he took as a candidate, such as declaring NATO to be obsolete, advocating an alliance with Russia, denouncing NAFTA and the Export-Import Bank, and his call to make health care accessible to all. Even his policy on undocumented immigrants, writes columnist Doyle McManus, isn’t much harsher than the plan Mitt Romney proposed four years earlier.13 On the other hand, the recent White House-announced proposal to cut legal immigration in half indicates that the America Firsters have gained some ground again.14 This struggle is likely to continue.

Donald Trump is just as belligerent, impulsive, and self-aggrandizing as ever, which tends to put him at odds with conventional politics but also makes it more difficult for him to effect substantive, lasting change. In policy terms, what we’re left with so far is a harsher, more repressive, more chaotic version of neoliberalism with some America First elements. The Trump administration is dismantling environmental regulations and other kinds of business regulation, and (together with Congress) may eventually succeed in repealing Obamacare and cutting business taxes. All of this will further enrich the wealthy at the expense of our wallets, our future, and, in some cases, our lives. The administration will tinker with trade deals, deport Latin Americans and Haitians more indiscriminately than Obama, and make life harder for Middle Easterners and LGBTQ people—particularly trans people. It will probably do its best to speed up the growth of the national security state (which has been expanded by all recent presidents, Republican and Democratic alike). But barring some unforeseen crisis that could shift the balance again, the Trump administration is not going to withdraw from NAFTA, is not going to abandon NATO and align with Russia, and is not going to close the borders. The administration’s proposal to cut legal immigration will shift the terms of debate but is unlikely to pass since most Republican leaders, and probably most capitalists, oppose it. The neoliberal consensus is starting to break down, and will face more challenges in the coming years, but populist right-wing nationalism doesn’t seem strong enough or developed enough to supplant it yet.

3. The Alt Right has largely abandoned its support for Trump.

After the election, Alt Rightists saw themselves as the vanguard of the Trump coalition—the ones who would stake out forward positions and then pull other people along with them part of the way. They were excited about Trump appointing Bannon, Sessions, Flynn, and some others they saw as allies.15

But as the political balance inside the administration shifted, Alt Rightists got frustrated. The key turning point came in early April, when Trump launched a missile strike against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. Most Alt Rightists saw this as a shocking capitulation to the neocons and the foreign policy establishment.16 The fact that many conventional politicians and mainstream media organs praised the missile strike underscored Alt Rightists’ sense of betrayal.17 Many in the movement portrayed Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and other Jews in the administration as evil wire-pullers who had manipulated or blackmailed Trump into changing course.18

Since then, some Alt Rightists have argued their movement should “remain demanding but supportive” of Trump,19 but generally they have become cool or even hostile to the administration in a way that’s markedly different from six months ago. The Alt Right blog Occidental Dissent, which has been particularly outspoken in repudiating Trump, re-emphasized the movement’s revolutionary condemnation of the U.S. political order: “No elected official can salvage this nation. There is no reforming the system—it is beyond repair. We can only rebuild from the ashes.”20 Very recently, some Alt Rightist praised Trump’s moves to reduce legal immigration and attack affirmative action, but Richard Spencer warned that the immigration plan would bring in too many highly skilled non-Europeans and be “devastating” for White middle-class professionals.21

4. Alt Rightists have taken to the streets alongside other right-wing forces.

Even as it’s become alienated from the Trump administration, the Alt Right has been working to strengthen its influence in other ways, and strengthen its grassroots ties with organized Trump supporters. Even six months ago, the Alt Right still existed mostly online, excepting a few small conferences. Since then, some Alt Right groups, such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party, have focused more on building actual organizations and holding public rallies. Many of these rallies have been joint events with other rightists, including Alt Lite groups (who identify with Alt Right ideology to an extent but don’t call for abandoning the U.S. political system) and even Patriot movement groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.22 That’s a big change, because before this spring the Alt Right and Patriot groups didn’t have much visible contact with each other. Now they’re showing up at the same rallies—such as at Berkeley in April or Pikeville, Kentucky, that same month.23 There have been tensions and even some physical altercations between the two camps, because Patriot groups, like Alt Lite activists, generally disavow White nationalism, but the convergence of rightist forces in the streets is definitely an ominous development.24

Some of these joint events have been held under the banner of “free speech,” protecting political space against Antifa activists (militant anti-fascists), who are portrayed as “the real fascists.” Islamophobia has been another major point of unity, as in last month’s national “March Against Sharia,” which brought together Alt Rightists, racist skinhead groups, Patriot groups, right-wing Zionists, and even some LGBTQ activists. As PRA research fellow Spencer Sunshine argues, Islamophobia “is more socially acceptable than anti-Semitism while still demonizing a minority group. Plus, its ostensible emphasis on religion is a way to avoid specifically naming race.”25

5. Alt Rightists and their allies have been turning toward physical violence and creating a street-fighting presence

As part of their new focus on public demonstrations over the past several months, both Alt Right groups such as Nathan Damigo’s Identity Evropa as well as Alt Lite formations including Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys and Kyle Chapman’s Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights have been organizing and training for combat and taking their skills to the streets. This has developed largely in the context of confrontations with Antifa activists, as in Berkeley, but has much bigger implications in terms of the Right’s ability to target oppressed communities and shape political space.26

To make the situation even more disturbing, neonazi skinheads from groups such as Hammerskin Nation have, at least in California, also been involved in these street clashes. As Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA) reports, the southern California-based DIY Division, also known as the Rise Above Movement, is a violent neonazi group that brings together Alt Right and Alt Lite activists along with Hammerskin members. “DIY Division as a political collective is working hard to bridge the gap between the more internet-based Alt-Right brand of white nationalism which is targeted to appeal to younger, generally more educated and upper-class white men and the more traditional boots on the ground and street violence which has characterized neo-Nazi skinhead politics.” NoCARA also highlights “the close relationships that exist between McInnes’s Proud Boys and…DIY Division…. The Proud Boys need the numbers and the muscle of the neo-Nazis, while the neo-Nazis need the cover of pro-Trump groups.”27

*                      *                      *

These developments are extremely serious. Despite its disenchantment with the Trump administration, the Alt Right appears to be simultaneously building a real capacity for organized physical violence and strengthening its grassroots connections with other rightist currents, including Trump supporters. Their focus on a shared enemy, whether Muslims or the black bloc, is helping to draw different rightist forces closer, and shared street fighting is deepening those ties. This type of activism is a direct physical threat to both oppressed communities and the Left, and can fuel authoritarian and supremacist tendencies within the state at all levels. To assume that breaking with Trump will leave the Alt Right weakened and marginalized would be a dangerous mistake.

At the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate either the unity or the competence of this new wave of militant right-wing forces. Rightists are just as vulnerable as leftists to infighting, personality conflicts, and sectarian ideological squabbles. As journalist Shane Burley points out, Alt Rightists “are not politically savvy organizers; they are angry white men taking their rage out on everyone they think eroded their meager privilege.”28 So far, thankfully, their movement has failed to produce a skilled, charismatic leader who can unify them and provide strategic direction. (Richard Spencer may look dapper and sound polished in interviews, but he has never inspired devotion from the Alt Right as a movement.) And even a strong leader wouldn’t necessarily overcome the basic political differences separating Alt Rightists from their conservative fellow travelers. In the long run, if the Alt Right wants to coalesce with system-loyal rightists, it either has to win more people to its dream of right-wing revolution, or abandon it.

End notes

1 “Update: 1,094 Bias-Related Incidents in the Month Following the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 16 December 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/12/16/update-1094-bias-related-incidents-month-following-election

2 “Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 29 November 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/20161129/ten-days-after-harassment-and-intimidation-aftermath-election

3 Jason Wilson, “Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online,” Guardian, 28 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/27/portland-double-murder-white-supremacist-muslim-hate-speech

4 Angela Helm, “More Americans Killed by Police in 2017, but Trump Dominates Headlines,” The Root, 4 March 2017, http://www.theroot.com/more-americans-killed-by-police-in-2017-but-trump-domi-1792969338

5 Will Greenberg, “Here’s How Badly Police Violence Has Divided America,” Mother Jones, 19 March 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/media/2017/03/police-shootings-black-lives-matter-history-timeline/

6 Dave Boyer, “Obama defends Black Lives Matter protests at police memorial in Dallas,” Washington Times, 12 July 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/12/obama-defends-black-lives-matter-protests-police-m/; “Obama Delivers Eulogy in Charleston” (video), New York Times, 27 June 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000003767801/obama-delivers-eulogy-in-charleston.html?mcubz=2

7 Celia Caracal, “America Is Suffering from a Plague of Deadly, Unaccountable and Racist Police Violence,” AlternNet, 5 July 2017, http://www.alternet.org/human-rights/look-police-violence-one-year-after-philando-castile-and-alton-sterling-were-killed; Mark Chicano, “Donald Trump’s speech was made more disturbing as Suffolk County cops cheered the idea of police brutality,” Newsday, 28 July 2017, http://www.newsday.com/opinion/columnists/mark-chiusano/donald-trump-s-speech-was-made-more-disturbing-as-suffolk-county-cops-cheered-the-idea-of-police-brutality-1.13864824; Michael Finnegan and Noah Bierman, “Trump’s endorsement of violence reaches new level: He may pay legal fees for assault suspect,” Los Angeles Times, 13 March 2016, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-trump-campaign-protests-20160313-story.html; Tal Kopan, “What Donald Trump has said about Mexico and vice versa,” CNN, 31 August 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/31/politics/donald-trump-mexico-statements/index.html; Ben Jacobs, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Scott Bixby, “‘You can do anything’: Trump brags on tape about using fame to get women,” Guardian, 8 October 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/07/donald-trump-leaked-recording-women

8 Adam Serwer, “Jeff Sessions’s Blind Eye,” The Atlantic, 5 April 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/jeff-sessions-blind-eye/521946/

9 Rachael Revesz, “Donald Trump signs executive order giving police more powers,” Independent, 9 February 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-sign-executive-order-police-more-authority-murder-shooting-us-president-jeff-sessions-a7572001.html

10 Benjamin Studebaker, “Why Bernie Sanders is More Electable Than People Think,” Huffington Post, 12 February 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-studebaker/why-bernie-sanders-is-more-electable_b_9219882.html; “Morbid Symptoms: The Downward Spiral,” Unity and Struggle, 19 December 2016, http://unityandstruggle.org/2016/12/19/morbid-symptoms-the-downward-spiral/

11 Robert Cavooris, “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Trump and the Revolutionary Scenario,” Viewpoint Magazine, 21 February 2017, https://www.viewpointmag.com/2017/02/21/one-step-back-two-steps-forward-trump-and-the-revolutionary-scenario/

12 Donald J. Trump, “Transcript of President Trump’s inauguration speech,” USA Today, 20 January 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/01/20/his-own-words-president-trumps-inaugural-address/96836330/; Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions,” Washington Post, 30 January 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-hard-line-actions-have-an-intellectual-godfather-jeff-sessions/2017/01/30/ac393f66-e4d4-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html?utm_term=.25b61b5ac6ed; “Wall Street banker Cohn moving Trump toward moderate policies,” Reuters, 17 April 2017, http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/17/wall-street-banker-cohn-moving-trump-toward-moderate-policies.html; Steve Holland and John Walcott, “Trump drops Steve Bannon from National Security Council,” Reuters, 5 April 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-security-idUSKBN17724S

13 Doyle McManus, “Trump’s populist revolution is already over—for now,” Los Angeles Times, 16 April 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-mcmanus-trump-flip-flops-20170416-story.html

14 Peter Baker, “Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half,” New York Times, 2 August 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/us/politics/trump-immigration.html

15 Richard B. Spencer, “We the Vanguard Now,” Radix Journal, 9 November 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20170105065744/http://www.radixjournal.com/blog/2016/11/9/we-the-vanguard-now

16 Shane Burley, “As the ‘alt-right’ breaks from Trump, so goes its moment in the sun,” Waging Nonviolence, 17 April 2017, https://wagingnonviolence.org/2017/04/alt-right-trump-break/; Vegas Tenold, “The Alt-Right and Donald Trump Get a Divorce,” New Republic, 26 April 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/142276/alt-right-donald-trump-get-divorce

17 Hunter Wallace [Brad Griffin], “Donald Trump is Now ‘The Leader of the Free World,’” Occidental Dissent, 8 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170622213726/http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/04/08/donald-trump-is-now-the-leader-of-the-free-world/

18 Andrew Anglin, “An Extremely Unfortunate Turn of Events,” Daily Stormer, 7 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170619172920/http://www.dailystormer.com/an-extremely-unfortunate-turn-of-events/

19 Pseudo-Laurentius, “Deploying Tactical Blackpills: The Alt Right Versus Trump,” The Right Stuff, 14 April 2017, https://blog.therightstuff.biz/2017/04/14/deploying-tactical-blackpills-the-alt-right-versus-trump/.

20 Meinrad Gaertner, “A Reflection and Foreshadowing,” Occidental Dissent, 17 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170428104016/http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/04/17/a-reflection-and-foreshadowing/

21 Marcus Cicero, “MAGA: Trump Proposes Bill Vastly Cutting Legal Immigration, Imposition Of YUGE Hurdles For New Arrivals,” Occidental Dissent, 2 August 2017, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wvakoofdlr4J:www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/08/02/maga-trump-proposes-bill-vastly-cutting-legal-immigration-imposition-of-yuge-hurdles-for-new-arrivals/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us; Colin Liddell, “Trump Fires First Salvo Against Anti-White ‘Affirmative Action’ Policy,” AltRight.com, 2 August 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170802132555/https://altright.com/2017/08/02/trump-fires-first-salvo-against-anti-white-affirmative-action-policy/; Richard Spencer, “Why I Oppose the RAISE Act,” AltRight.com, 3 August 2017, https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:58G1fdYUSFYJ:https://altright.com/2017/08/03/why-i-oppose-the-raise-act/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

22 “Based Reserve Army: How the Right is Changing Its Strategy,” It’s Going Down, 25 April 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/based-reserve-army-how-the-right-changing-strategy/; Spencer Sunshine, “The Growing Alliance Between Neo-Nazis, Right Wing Paramilitaries and Trumpist Republicans,” ColorLines, 9 June 2017, https://www.colorlines.com/articles/growing-alliance-between-neo-nazis-right-wing-paramilitaries-and-trumpist-republicans

23 “Oath Keepers Call to Action: Stand and Defend Free Speech at Berkeley Patriots Rally, April 15, 2017,” Oath Keepers, 1 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170402184553/https://www.oathkeepers.org/oath-keepers-call-action-stand-defend-free-speech-berkeley-patriots-rally-april-15-2017/; Eminence Grise, “Reflections on the Revolution in Berkeley,” The Right Stuff, 16 April 2017, https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:sNKoo5E9CgIJ:https://blog.therightstuff.biz/2017/04/16/reflections-on-the-revolution-in-berkeley/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari; Lois Beckett, “Armed neo-Nazis prepare for potential clash in small Kentucky town,” Guardian, 29 April 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/29/neo-nazi-rally-pikeville-kentucky-anti-fascist

24 “‘Alt-Right’ declares flame war on Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 15 June 2017. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/06/15/alt-right-declares-flame-war-oath-keepers; Taly Krupkin, “The Jewish Provocateur Caught in the Turf War as the ‘Alt-right’ Battles the ‘Alt-light,’” Ha’aretz, 22 June 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.797372

25 Spencer Sunshine, “Islamophobia is the Glue that Unites Diverse Factions of the Far Right,” Truthout, 14 July 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/41265-islamophobia-is-the-glue-that-unites-diverse-factions-of-the-far-right

26 Antifascist Front, “The Alt Right Has Taken the Public Step Towards Violence,” Anti-Fascist News, 28 April 2017, https://antifascistnews.net/2017/04/28/the-alt-right-has-taken-the-public-step-towards-violence/; David Neiwert, “Far Right Descends on Berkeley for ‘Free Speech’ and Planned Violence,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 17 April 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/04/17/far-right-descends-berkeley-free-speech-and-planned-violence; Emma Grey Ellis, “Don’t Look Now, But Extremists’ Meme Armies are Turning Into Militias,” Wired, 20 April 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/04/meme-army-now-militia/; “Gavin McInnes’ ‘Alt-Right’ Fan Club Drifts Toward Neo-Nazi Violence,” IdaVox, 18 May 2017, http://idavox.com/index.php/2017/05/18/gavin-mcinnes-alt-right-fan-club-drifts-towards-neo-nazi-violence/

27 Northern California Anti-Racist Action, “How ‘Based Stickman’ & Proud Boys are Working with Neo-Nazis in So-Cal,” It’s Going Down, 8 July 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/based-stickman-proud-boys-working-neo-nazis-cal/

28 Shane Burley, “Alt-Right 2.0,” Salvage, 6 July 2017. http://salvage.zone/online-exclusive/alt-right-2-0/

Attacking Trans People in Defense of “Austerity”

Family Research Council sent a strong anti-trans message via Twitter on July 20th, ahead of Trump’s tweet on Wednesday announcing a ban on trans service members.

On July 24, 2017, the Family Research Council (FRC), a right-wing political advocacy group based in Washington, DC, issued an Action Alert to its members, enlisting their support in denying healthcare to military personnel who are transgender. FRC argued that providing medically necessary treatment to trans people is “a distraction from the military’s purpose and undermines readiness, recruitment, and retention.” The appeal went on to suggest that trans-affirming care would be a waste of taxpayer money — money that could be better put to use purchasing more fighter jets and missiles.

Two days later, President Trump announced via Twitter that he was reversing a policy that’s been under review since June 2016 which would have allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Trump argued that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Though it’s entirely unclear how Trump’s new decree will be put into effect (a point highlighted by Republican Senator John McCain), according to his tweets, trans people will not be allowed to serve “in any capacity.”

Despite McCain’s observation that “major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” Trump’s preferred mode of communication has once again stolen headlines, distracting attention away from the Christian Right engineers of the surge in anti-trans attacks.

In June 2015, FRC laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement,” which specifically argues against allowing trans people the right to serve in the military, in addition to withholding gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, and protection from discrimination.This position paper was co-authored by Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida, and Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC who has advocated for so-called “reparative therapy” and argues that transgender people suffer from “delusions.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, O’Leary and Sprigg dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people, and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. As longtime transgender rights activist Brynn Tannehill explains, it’s a plan “to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition [from one gender to another].”

In their 2015 “Washington Watch” newsletter, FRC had used a different strategy in voicing opposition to trans service members by stating trans people are “confused” about biology and not fit to serve due to “mental illness.”

Working in conjunction with Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and other leading Christian Right organizations, FRC advances its anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda through reports such as the one authored by O’Leary and Sprigg, as well as lobbying efforts, media work, and high-profile conferences, namely the annual Values Voter Summit. The 2016 Values Voter Summit featured appearances by both Trump and then-Governor Pence. It was the first time a Republican presidential ticket has ever spoken at the summit, and a foreshadowing of the degree of influence FRC would come to command under the new administration.

From the start of this administration, FRC has played a key role in shaping the new political landscape; Trump’s transition team included FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell as domestic policy chair, and Kay Cole James, a former FRC vice president, was a co-lead on management and budget affairs for the transition team. The organization is now using its close proximity to the president and vice president to further advance its anti-trans agenda.

In a press release following Trump’s Twitter announcement, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins (who blames the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ people on the confusion caused when individuals who “recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal” are offered contradictory messages of affirmation from pro-LGBTQ advocates) applauded the president “for keeping his promise to return to military priorities – and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military.”

Perkins went on to say, “The last thing we should be doing is diverting billions of dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery. … As our nation faces serious national security threats, our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender ‘sensitivity’ classes and politically-correct distractions like this one.”

Both Perkins’ and Trump’s language harkens back to one of the oldest tricks in the Right Wing’s playbook: Set up a dichotomy between the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” and drive a wedge between them. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty explained in her 2015 essay, “My On-Again, Off-Again Romance with Liberalism,” the Right has a proven formula for undercutting efforts toward equity: “seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The ‘welfare queen,’ the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire — all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.”

The Right’s new portrait of liberalism run amok is the “delusional” trans person, whose only real delusion is that employees deserve non-discrimination protections and healthcare coverage from their employer. Trump’s description of trans people as being a “burden,” and FRC’s suggestion that trans inclusion is a “distraction” is simply the newest chapter in the Right’s fear-inducing mythology of parasitic, undeserving “takers” in American society. This inhumane framing serves as justification for gatekeeping economic opportunities and civil rights for marginalized people and conceals how destructive so-called austerity can be.

Click here to learn more about the Christian Right’s agenda against transgender people.

The Triumph of the Lie: How Honesty and Morality Died in Right-Wing Politics

This article is an online feature of the Summer 2017 issue of The Public Eye. Subscribe today!

This is how lies move to normalization: A small “white lie” is put forward, just to clarify a point. A larger lie follows, but it’s still only a detail in a larger argument. The whopper, down the line, performs another function: drawing attention from even more pernicious deceit. The earlier lies, accepted with a shrug, had set the stage for acceptance. Lying has become a strategy.

In February, President Donald Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway talked, in all seriousness, about a “Bowling Green massacre”1 that never occurred. That fabrication became the scandal du jour, rather than Trump’s outrageous immigration order that Conway was defending. Just weeks later, Trump himself illustrated the whole process by speaking of a terrorist attack in Sweden that didn’t exist.2 These lies became the issue, overriding any serious debate about terrorism, its causes and the best responses. If intentional, the strategy had succeeded.

Photo of Joe McCarthy from the Library of Congress taken on December 31st, 1953. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The bafflement caused by this strategy, of lying to distract, dates back at least to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s 1950 claim that he had a list of communists in the State Department. Waving a paper at a West Virginia audience, he said there were several hundred of them, a charge he never substantiated. We don’t know what was on that piece of paper, but it was certainly no roster of communists. Yet Democrats who opposed McCarthy played into his hands by responding to the lie while his real agenda—establishing his own power—continued unobstructed for four more years. Tellingly, McCarthy’s chief counsel at the end of those years, Roy Cohn, would become Donald Trump’s mentor.3

Political lies can be well intended, with supposedly noble ends justifying unseemly means. As great art uses fictitious details to illuminate greater truths, the lies of wartime—ruse de guerre—can bring about victory, as in “Operation Mincemeat,” when fake letters on a corpse washed ashore in Spain fooled the Germans out of reinforcing Sicily during World War II. In other instances, however, the upshot becomes less noble: Conway and Trump ratcheting up fear so that less attention will be paid to real problems facing the United States.

Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief aide, Roy Cohn, later became a mentor to Donald Trump.

Perhaps the most durable political lie of the past generation is the “Laffer Curve,” the idea that lowering taxes can actually raise government income by fostering economic growth. Although there is no evidence it has ever worked—when Reagan tried it, the budget deficit exploded and the state of Kansas has now backtracked from its own experiment with it 4—this lie has been used to excuse reduction of taxes for the rich and, ultimately, government services for everyone else for more than 30 years. No one in government believes that, though it is again being trotted forward to justify Trump’s proposed tax cuts.

While the Laffer Curve lie obfuscates, the intent of most political lies is to sow confusion, as McCarthy used deflection for political gain. Today, as psychoanalyst Joel Whitebook writes, “By continually contradicting himself and not seeming to care, Trump generates confusion in the members of the media and political opposition that has often rendered them ineffectual.”5 This cannot be done without an opposition that supposes at least a half-hearted commitment to truth. Today, liberals and members of the news media are often confused by the lack of respect they get for upholding the virtue of truth, and still want to believe that there are real positions being explicitly stated by the other side, and not just lies that make debate impossible.

The Rationale Behind the Lie

Political lies can also be used to build skepticism toward those who are its targets, as I have previously written in these pages.6 Today, Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies and a major backer of the Heritage Foundation (as well as of Trump), along with his daughter Rebekah (who heads the Mercer Family Foundation) and current chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, have put the lie to good use in this regard. As Matea Gold of The Washington Post writes, they have “quietly built a power base aimed at sowing distrust of big government and eroding the dominance of the major news media”7 through, among other projects, Breitbart News. Today, trust in news media is at an all-time low, primarily because of lies used against them.

The triumph of the lie today isn’t to Trump’s credit alone, though he lies with frequency; it belongs to a broad right-wing trend toward winning at any cost, toward lowering the importance of ethics and moral values, and toward reducing the importance of idealistic political philosophy itself to the point of meaninglessness. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the former Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, spent several years creating an aura of dishonesty around Hillary Clinton through fruitless “investigations” of her actions in relation to the Benghazi killings of American diplomats in Libya in September 2012.8 But he seemed to abandon his supposed concern for truth and openness once Trump became president. After it became apparent that former national security advisor Michael Flynn had lied about meeting with the Russian ambassador—lies compounded by later revelations that Flynn had neglected to indicate on an application for security clearance that he had accepted money from Russia and Turkey, something no retired general is legally able to do without permission—Chaffetz declared, “I think that situation has taken care of itself.”9 Chaffetz subsequently announced his decision to resign from Congress at the end of June 2017. Could it be because he became uncomfortable in his new role as a check on Trump? Likewise, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggested there was no point in pursuing falsehoods or fraud when the perpetrators are Republicans, saying, “we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”10

Political expediency controls conservative concern for truth today, just as in McCarthy’s time: only the lies of the opposition (real and imaginary) are worth pursuing.

One of the checks on political lies should be one’s own allies, especially those presumably committed to the ideals of a movement, whether conservative or liberal. On the Right, conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr., claimed that mantle for half a century. Yet he and conservative activist L. Brent Bozell, Jr. (whose son, the right-wing publisher L. Brent Bozell III, is a major Trump supporter), penned a 1954 defense of McCarthy which, in the words of reviewer and historian William S. White, suggested that mistakes “are not tolerable when made by non-McCarthyites. When made by McCarthyites, however, and especially by Mr. McCarthy himself, they call only for a gentle chiding .”11 Though McCarthy was only a senator, that sounds much like many contemporary conservatives’ attitudes toward Trump’s “mistakes” and lies. Indeed, the afterword of the Buckley/Bozell book can chill a reader today: “Current reports indicate that American intellectuals travelling abroad divide their time, more or less equally, between sight-seeing and apologizing for McCarthy. For Europeans, it seems, have lost faith in America, where McCarthyism is rife.”12 McCarthy was only a Senator; his spiritual successor, Trump, is president.

American intellectuals traveling in Europe found themselves apologizing for McCarthy, who was only a Senator.

The tendency to forgive one’s friends while condemning one’s enemies has a long political history but it has grown, today, to unprecedented proportions. For that reason alone, Trump is able to lie with impunity, assured that his political allies, even the most reluctant ones, will not call him out even though, just last year, they shouted “Lock Her Up!” in response to allegations that Hillary Clinton had lied.

Over his first 100 days, The Washington Post found, he made “469 false or misleading claims.”13 Falsehood has become such second nature to Trump that, as David Remnick reports in The New Yorker, he once told an architect to add size and stories when talking to the press about a building they wanted to erect. “Trump has never gone out of his way to conceal the essence of his relationship to the truth and how he chooses to navigate the world,” Remnick writes.14 Yet Trump’s putatively conservative, morality-based supporters show no concern, let alone outrage, about these lies—whether because, as some argue, right-wing belief is inherently authoritarian, making followers willing to accept whatever the leader says, or because Republican politicians don’t actually care about Trump as long as he provides them cover to push through their agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.

Just last year, they shouted “Lock Her Up!” in response to allegations that Hillary Clinton had lied.

Whatever the case may be, the general acceptance of the President’s lies by his supporters illustrates the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the Right, and the culmination of a process of casting aside belief for expediency that began with McCarthy. Perhaps the best example of the depths into which he has cast them came during a broadcast part of a cabinet meeting on June 12, 2017, when the Vice President and other members of the cabinet in turn extolled the wonders of Trump.15 Demagoguery and hyperbole have become standard fare.

The Legacy of the American Lie

Right-wing strategist David Horowitz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Meshae Studios via Flickr.

Right-wing strategist David Horowitz justifies political lies in his 2010 book, The Art of Political War for Tea Parties,16 as necessary parts of both “art” and “war,” wherein there are no constraints in either creative expression or fighting for dominance. That is, Horowitz argues for an extreme politics—politics as a type of war, where the art of waging it successfully justifies anything. Horowitz didn’t invent this. The political notion of “honest graft,” for example, goes back much further than the Tammany politician George Plunkitt, who coined this phrase to excuse dishonesty “in the public interest.” Trump bothers with no such sophistry. He wants to believe he had a smashing victory at the polls; therefore, he’s not really lying when he says he won with legitimate voters. He appears able to simultaneously lie and still believe his own “alternative facts” (to use another phrase of Conway’s17)—quite a feat of sophistry.

Clouding the issue, members of the news media often don’t always clearly separate fact from opinion. Speaking on January 25, 2017 on the National Public Radio program Morning Edition, senior NPR Vice President of News Michael Oreskes, after agreeing with one of his reporters that defining a “lie” is simply a matter of establishing intent (often an impossibility), said, “Our job as journalists is to report—to find facts, establish their authenticity and share them with everybody. And I think when you use words like lie it gets in the way of that.”18 But these “facts” Oreskes wants reporters to find aren’t always facts; they are often simply utterances by newsmakers. By not calling untruthful statements lies, the media can end up abetting the Right’s strategic use of lies.

From World War II until the election of Ronald Reagan, the mainstream news media tried to establish an ethos of fact-based reporting, but that was never completely successful and it failed when media owners discovered that news could be a profit center. (Even NPR, a nonprofit, pays close attention to numbers and income.) Today, journalists who cover politics often find themselves trapped—between opinion and fact, between Horowitz’s vision of art and war—and they don’t know how to get out. This results from their “ingrained habit,” as political scientist Norm Ornstein describes it, of “the reflexive ‘we report both sides of every story,’ even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality.”19 The Right has become adept at taking advantage of this.

A currently influential right-wing activist and writer, Horowitz actually started as a leftist. But when he saw which way the wind was blowing in the 1970s, he trimmed his sails and headed far to the Right. Like Trump, who has also shifted political allegiance, Horowitz’s compass always seemed to point more towards particular goals with a personal as well as political element. For both, the lie has no moral aspect, but is simply a tool.

Ramparts magazine, where Horowitz worked from 1968 into the 1970s, was an outlier even among leftist publications in the 1960s. Founded in the early 1960s with a Catholic focus, the magazine later “added generous doses of sex and humor, adopted a cutting-edge design, forged links to the Black Panther Party, exposed illegal CIA activities in America and Vietnam, published the diaries of Che Guevara and staff writer Eldridge Cleaver, and boosted its monthly circulation to almost 250,000,” as one history of the publication put it.20 Horowitz’s experience there, starting shortly after the magazine published William Turner’s shaky article on New Orleans’ District Attorney Jim Garrison’s equally shaky investigation into the Kennedy assassination 21—a theory that blamed the CIA—showed Horowitz the power of manipulating the truth. TIME magazine described Ramparts as “slick enough to lure the unwary and bedazzled reader into accepting flimflam as fact.”22 Embracing the lie as a tool allowed people like Horowitz to flourish and eventually, through the likes of Fox News, and right-wing provocateurs Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe III, to take over the U.S. conservative movement. They, and not more traditional conservatives like George Will and David Brooks, are now the plow that cleared the way for Trump.

Horowitz argues in his 2010 edition of The Art of Political War that “politics isn’t just about reality.

Horowitz argued, in a 2010  edition of The Art of Political War for Tea Parties, that “politics isn’t just about reality. If it were, good principles and good policies would win every time. It’s about images and symbols, and the emotions they evoke. This is the battle that conservatives generally lose.”23 Though Horowitz’s argument is strained—the Right, in fact, has become particularly adept at winning on emotional appeals and not so often on sound, proven policy—one implication is clear: the old rules don’t apply. In right-wing politics today, one can lie without concern for the truth behind such things as “images and symbols.” The constant repetition of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya left many Americans with the impression that he was at least a Muslim, if not a Kenyan. The power of the accusation lay not in its veracity—it had none—but rather in its symbolic ability to create the impression of Obama as “un-American.”

Horowitz continues to trot out staples of right-wing argument that he certainly knows are untrue, like “Everything that is wrong with the inner cities of America that policy can affect Democrats and progressives are responsible for.”24 Further justifying his lies of this sort, Horowitz presents what he calls “the principles of political war.” Namely:

  1. Politics is war conducted by other means
  2. Politics is a war of position
  3. In political wars the aggressor usually prevails
  4. Position is defined by fear and hope
  5. The weapons of politics are symbols evoking fear and hope
  6. Victory lies on the side of the people.25

By accepting these principles, Horowitz validates the use of political lies. But by equating politics with war he also approves of leaving morality and honesty aside in pursuit of winning—a dangerous proposition, as we are now seeing in the age of Trump.

New Journalism and the Rise of Its Evil Twin

As Ramparts was reaching its heights in the 1960s, the phenomenon of New Journalism was also taking hold in U.S. magazines. It played with the truth in another way, as its most famous practitioner, Tom Wolfe, recalls in describing his first encounter with it:

My instinctive, defensive reaction was that the man had piped it, as the saying went . . . winged it, made up the dialogue . . . Christ, maybe he made up whole scenes, the unscrupulous geek . . . The funny thing was, that was precisely the reaction that countless journalists and literary intellectuals would have over the next nine years as the New Journalism picked up momentum. The bastards are making it up!.26

Some of them were making it up. Or embellishing. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is no paragon of factuality.27 Hunter Thompson’s nascent “gonzo journalism” in Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga didn’t let truth get in the way of a good story.28 However, much of their work could be justified on the same grounds one uses for fiction: small inaccuracies served a greater point. In right-wing politics, however, this strategy has been twisted into an excuse for saying anything and never having to apologize for being wrong.

In the 1970s, the philosopher Sissela Bok made the obvious connection between lies, politics and journalism, outlining the practical genesis of the lie in each field:

the cub reporter who will lose his job if he is not aggressive in getting stories, or the young politician whose career depends on winning an election, may in principle be more sorely tempted to bend the truth than those whose work is secure; but this difference may be more than outweighed by the increased callousness of the latter to what they have come to regard as routine deception. 29

U.S. culture worships success. Winning means everything; the path there, very little. And some moral constraints on that objective have loosened over the years or have even been modified to allow for deception. Together, they have moved American culture to the cynicism of Pontius Pilate, who (according to John 18:38) asked Jesus “What is truth?” just before allowing him to be crucified.

Pilate’s question, today, has renewed importance, as even the president struggles with the concepts of “real” and “fake” news. In May 2017, Trump was shown two doctored TIME magazine covers about climate change that quickly got him “lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy”30 (unsurprising, given the fake cover of TIME hanging in some of his golf courses31). And his administration has tried to find ways to justify his lies (something he personally never would have bothered with before being elected). From St. Augustine on, “truth” has been central to understanding relationships between individuals, and has colored perceptions of the lie and the liar. This may have changed for today’s political activists on the Right, but the president is finding himself in an awkward position where Pilate’s question can no longer be ignored. Today, for Trump, it has aspects of life and death that he’s never faced before. His lies, no longer meaningless, move through the entire world.

Prime Movers of the Lie in Politics Today

Though Trump may be the most prominent liar in contemporary politics, he’s far from alone. I’ve already mentioned two of his most effective contemporaries: James O’Keefe of Project Veritas and the late Andrew Breitbart, whose website, under the subsequent leadership of Steve Bannon, has become a major right-wing (and Alt Right) source of fake news.32 The two men have spawned an entire industry, one whose most famous recent success is the Planned Parenthood “sting” videos of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, edited in such a way as to make it seem as though Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

Belying its name, Project Veritas has little to do with truth of any sort. It is a project of political “warfare” in the tradition Horowitz has established. Its website claims as its mission to “Investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”33 O’Keefe’s method of operation involves two types of lies: first sandbagging opponents by disguising himself and his associates in such a way that those they interview let down their guard, and then creatively editing their responses—often captured on hidden cameras—to make the points he wishes about the organizations he’s attacking. His greatest success was the destruction of the community activist group ACORN through dishonest presentation of interviews with ACORN workers, a formula also used by Daleiden and Merritt.

Both O’Keefe and Breitbart have tried to justify themselves by claiming continuity with the muckraker tradition within journalism. “Discovery,” however, is not part of their lexicon; rather self-justification and winning are. Today, O’Keefe keeps to his playbook, though he has been exposed as a fraud many times, and Breitbart acolyte Steve Bannon has propelled Breitbart.com into a premier political website that has now gone global and himself into a position as one of the president’s most important advisors.

Defeating Lies

Unknown protester holds sign at the Anti-Trump protest in New York City at Tompkins Square Park in January of 2017. Photo: Meshae Studios via Flickr.

Responsibility for the triumph of the lie in American public discourse rests not with any one group of people or movement, though the Political Right benefits from it most.

If the current defeat of truth is to be reversed and the lie once again relegated to a position of approbation, the old tactic of simply exposing lies must be abandoned. It took years for this to work in McCarthy’s time and will likely take even longer now, perhaps too long. Though exposing lies is necessary, we have to develop a different strategy if we are to bring back any pride in truth. We have to reinvent moral and ethical standards, apply them to our own lives, and insist that we never reward liars, no matter how much we like them or agree with the positions they adopt.

The response to Trump’s flagrant use of the lie in firing FBI director James Comey in May—claiming he was responding to the bungled investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails34—may be a start toward a national realignment in favor of the truth. The real reason for the firing was obvious—the investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign had to be stopped—and the public rejected the cover story with a level of outrage missing throughout the many lies of the primaries and 2016 election. The White House, used to its lies working in its favor, was taken aback.

We have to reinvent moral and ethical standards, apply them to our own lives, and insist that we never reward liars.

For years, politics in the U.S. has been devolving toward the logic of professional wrestling, where truth is irrelevant and the fan favorite is the champion. Politicians have played agreed-upon roles, while the people have cheered for victors it already knew would win—or, in Trump’s case, would provide the best show. The public response to the Comey firing—an angry and full-throated denunciation of political lies, which eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel to continue the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia—was the first hopeful sign in a long time: that the lie hasn’t yet triumphed completely, that democracy isn’t yet dead.

Endnotes

1 Samantha Schmidt and Lindsey Bever, “Kellyanne Conway cites ‘Bowling Green massacre’ that never happened to defend travel ban,” The Washington Post, February 3, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/03/kellyanne-conway-cites-bowling-green-massacre-that-never-happened-to-defend-travel-ban/?utm_term=.d74f3bd7397e.

2 Eric Bradner, “Trump’s Sweden comment raises questions, CNN Politics, February 20, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/19/politics/trump-rally-sweden/.

3 Marcus Baram, “Eavesdropping on Roy Cohn and Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, April 14, 2017. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/eavesdropping-on-roy-cohn-and-donald-trump.

4 Max Ehrenfreund, “Kansas Republicans raise taxes, ending their GOP governor’s ‘real live experiment’ in conservative policy,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/06/07/kansas-republicans-raise-taxes-rebuking-their-gop-governors-real-live-experiment-in-conservative-policy/?utm_term=.42cd3a6bc3ea.

5 Joel Whitebook, “Trump’s Method, Our Madness,” The New York Times, March 20, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/opinion/trumps-method-our-madness.html?ref=opinion.

6 Aaron Barlow, “The Art of the Slur: From Joe McCarthy to David Horowitz, The Public Eye Magazine, Fall 2006. http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v20n3/barlow_slurs.html.

7 Matea Gold, “The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built,” The Washington Post, March 17, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/classic-apps/how-the-mercer-familys-partnership-with-stephen-bannon-shaped-the-populist-climate/2017/03/17/91b9adf6-fe01-11e6-8ebe-6e0dbe4f2bca_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_mercerbannon-935am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.09826b8f8b0c.

8 Amy Davidson, “The Politics of the Benghazi Report,” The New Yorker, June 29, 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson/the-politics-of-the-benghazi-report.

9 Cristina Marcos, “GOP chairman: Oversight won’t investigate Flynn,” The Hill, February 14, 2017, http://thehill.com/homenews/house/319410-gop-chairman-oversight-wont-investigate-flynn.

10 Andrew Kaczynski, “Rand Paul on Flynn: ‘Makes no sense’ to investigate fellow Republicans,” CNN.com, February 14, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/14/politics/kfile-rand-paul-republican-investigations/index.html.

11 William S. White, “What the McCarthy Method Seeks to Establish,” The New York Times, April 4, 1954, http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/07/16/specials/buckley-enemies.html.

12 William F. Buckley Jr. and L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and its Meaning (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954), 336.

13 “Fact Checker,” “100 Days of Trump Claims,” The Washington Post, April 29, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/trump-claims/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.067e173db9e3.

14 David Remnick, “A Hundred Days of Trump, The New Yorker, May 1, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/01/a-hundred-days-of-trump.

15US News Today, “FULL President Trump Cabinet Meeting 6/12/2017- President Trump Holds First Full Cabinet Meeting, Youtube Video, June 12, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffl0ddK1oV8.

16 For more on this see my article “The Art of the Slur: From Joe McCarthy to David Horowitz,” The Public Eye, Volume 20, Number 3, Fall, 2006, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2006/10/01/the-art-of-the-slur-from-joe-mccarthy-to-david-horowitz/.

17 Emma Stefansky, “Kellyanne Conway Introduces Concept of “Alternative Facts” to Account for Sean Spicer’s Lies,” Vanity Fair, January 22, 2017, http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/kellyanne-conway-alternative-facts.

18 Michael Oreskes, in “NPR and the Word ‘Liar’: Intent Is Key,” Morning Edition, January 25, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/25/511503605/npr-and-the-l-word-intent-is-key.

19 Norm Ornstein, “Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetic—and Conservatives Are Worse”,The Atlantic, June 19, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/06/yes-polarization-is-asymmetric-and-conservatives-are-worse/373044/.

20 Peter Richardson, A Bomb In Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America (New York: The New Press, 2009), i.

21 William W. Turner, “The Garrison Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy” (Ramparts, January 1968), 43.

22 “A Bomb in Every Issue” (Time, January 6, 1967, Vol. 89, Issue 1, 41).

23 David Horowitz, The Art of Political War for Tea Parties (Sherman Oaks, CA: David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2010), 7.

24 Horowitz, 9.

25 Horowitz, 10.

26 Tom Wolfe, “The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’; Eyewitness Report,” New York (February 14, 1972, Volume V, Number 1), http://nymag.com/news/media/47353/.

27 “Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ Accuracy under Scrutiny,” CBS This Morning, December 5, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/capote-in-cold-blood-accuracy-questioned-following-re-discovered-police-files/.

28 James McClure, “Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Hell’s Angels’ Turns 50 This Year,” Civilized, June 23, 2016, https://www.civilized.life/articles/hunter-thompson-hells-angels/.

29 Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Pantheon, 1978).244.

30 Shane Goldmacher, “How Trump gets his fake news,” Politico, May 15, 2017, http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/15/donald-trump-fake-news-238379.

31 Francisco Alvarado and David A. Fahrenthold, “At one Trump golf resort, fake Time magazine covers are taken off the wall,” The Washington Post, June 29, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/at-one-trump-golf-resort-fake-time-magazine-covers-are-taken-off-the-wall/2017/06/29/d54f2654-5d0b-11e7-9fc6-c7ef4bc58d13_story.html?utm_term=.437d5f6db93b.

32 For more information about the activities of O’Keefe and Breitbart, see my chapter “The Pride and Reward of Falsification” in News with a View: Essays on the Eclipse of Objectivity in Modern Journalism edited by Burton St. John and Kirsten Johnson (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), 26-41.

33 “About,” Project Veritas website, http://projectveritas.com/about/.

34 Noah Bierman and David Lauter, “Trump fires FBI chief, citing handling of Clinton email investigation,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/politics/washington/la-na-essential-washington-updates-trump-fires-fbi-director-comey-1494366975-htmlstory.html.

 

Profile on the Right: Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller speaking at an event in Phoenix, Arizona, June 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old senior policy advisor to Trump, spent seven years as a communications and speech writing advisor to U.S. Attorney General and former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and worked with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). A graduate of Duke University with no discernible policy experience, Miller is also the speechwriter responsible for Trump’s divisive speech at the Republican National Convention.1 The speech was widely noted for its harsh tone—one of “law and order” and “making America safe again,” even as the country experiences historic lows in violent crime. The speech was called “deeply disturbing,” “angry and harsh,” and “deeply resentful” by veteran political adviser David Gergen; peppered with ideology that “not many [conservatives] are willing to support,” according to conservative commentator Tara Setmayer; and “hateful” by commentator Raul Reyes.2

Miller is a staunch conservative who rallied on behalf of White nationalist Peter Brimelow in 2007. Brimelow, founder of the Center for American Unity, has promoted the work of men like Samuel T. Francis, the late editor of Citizens Informer, published by a White supremacist organization that has described Black people as “a retrograde species”—and White supremacist Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, a former magazine and current blog that specializes in eugenics and “race betterment” through selective breeding.3

A native of Santa Monica, Miller developed his right-wing ideology early, after reading Guns, Crime and Freedom by NRA President Wayne LaPierre.4 He has long been associated with anti-immigration, anti-globalist, nationalist, and xenophobic views, which fall neatly in line with those espoused by Sessions, Trump, and other key influencers in the administration. He is ardently outspoken against feminism, has questioned the validity of unequal pay for women, and has said, “there is a place for gender roles. … I can’t stomach the idea of, say, having a wife who worked as a prison guard … Feminists would say this outlook makes me a chauvinist. But they’d be wrong. It’s not chauvinism. It’s chivalry.”5

More recently, Miller has also been associated with influential Alt Right leader Richard Spencer, who made national headlines when he closed a speech in celebration of Trump’s presidential victory with “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory,” and was met with Nazi salutes from audience members.6 Although Miller denies any relationship between them, Spencer claims that he “knew [Miller] very well” when they were both students at Duke and that they raised money together as part of an initiative to bring Brimelow to campus.7

Although Miller appeared mostly at rallies and behind the scenes during Trump’s campaign, he was brought into the limelight in February after spokesperson Kellyanne Conway made repeated blunders on national television.8 Miller soon gained notoriety for being combative, making false statements, and using phrases that sounded alarmingly authoritarian as he made his rounds on major news circuits. Miller’s dialogue in these interviews reiterated ideologies he promoted during the campaign. In June 2016, Miller assured campaign rally-goers that a Trump administration would “build a wall high [and] tall … and we’re going to build it out of love … for every family who wants to raise their kids in safety and peace.”9

The implication that a wall provides “safety and peace” plays to the administration’s fear mongering by reinforcing a baseless belief in immigrant criminality. The Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of liberal propaganda, published commentary in July 2015 dispelling the “mythical connection between immigrants and crime.”10 According to the Immigration Policy Center, immigrants are less likely than non-immigrants to commit violent crimes; this is true no matter their nationality or country of origin. Illegal immigration to the U.S. more than tripled from 1990 to 2013. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent and property crime rates fell 41 percent.11

While Miller stoked the flames of xenophobia in campaigning for Trump, in his senior administrative position he is now poised to directly influence policy in dangerous, regressive, and disturbing ways. In a February 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Miller defended Trump’s controversial travel ban and said the nation would be better off financially by helping Syrian refugees settle in their own country12—where more than 460 civilians have been killed in less than three months, and 400,000 people have been killed overall since 2011.13 Miller says refugees cost the United States more money than they’re worth—another unsupported claim. On the contrary, repeated studies have shown that refugees typically have either a positive or neutral effect on a host community’s economy and wages.14

One of Miller’s most disturbing comments came in a February exchange with John Dickerson on “Face the Nation,” in response to a question regarding the Supreme Court overturning Trump’s travel ban: “The whole world will soon see … that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”15

Miller’s alarming comments didn’t stop there. He appeared on ABC’s “The Week,” where he repeated blatant mistruths regarding voter fraud. Miller used an oft-cited research study led by Jesse Richman of Old Dominion University to argue that “14 percent of noncitizens, according to academic research, at a minimum, are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.” This has been repeatedly debunked.16 The Trump camp has so often used this study in their oratory that the researcher himself made a statement: “On the right there has been a tendency to misread our results as proof of massive voter fraud, which we don’t think there are.”17

Endnotes

[1] Gautam Hathi and Rachel Chason, “Stephen Miller: The Duke grad behind Donald Trump,” The Chronicle, July 31 2016, http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2016/07/stephen-miller-the-voice-behind-donald-trump.

[2] “Trump: A Speech Like No Other?” CNN, July 22, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/22/opinions/republican-convention-roundup/.

[3] “Extremist File: Peter Brimelow,” Southern Poverty Law Center

[4] Rosie Gray, “How Stephen Miller’s Rise Explains the Trump White House,” The Atlantic, February 4, 2017,  https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/02/how-stephen-millers-rise-explains-the-trump-white-house

[5] Stephen Miller, “Sorry Feminists,” The Chronicle, November 22, 2005, http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2005/11/sorry-feminists.

[6] Paul Murphy, “White Nationalist Richard Spencer Punched During Interview,” CNN, January 21, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/white-nationalist-richard-spencer-punched/.

[7] Josh Harkinson, “Meet the White Nationalist Trying to Ride the Trump Train to Lasting Power,” Mother Jones, October 27, 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/richard-spencer-trump-alt-right-white-nationalist.

[8] Chris Riotta, “Advisor Gains Power After Kellyanne Conway’s Embarrassing Blunders,” International Business Times, February 13, 2017, http://www.ibtimes.com/who-stephen-miller-donald-trumps-advisor-gains-power-after-kellyanne-conways-2491002.

[9] Julia Ioffe, “The Believer,” Politico, June 27, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/stephen-miller-donald-trump-2016-policy-adviser-jeff-sessions-213992

[11] Jason Riley, “The Mythical Connection between Immigrants and Crime,” Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2015.

[11] Walter Ewing, Ph.D., Daniel Martinez, Ph.D., and Ruben Rumbaut, Ph.D., “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, American Immigration Council, July 13, 2015, https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/criminalization-immigration-united-states.

[12] Tessa Stewart, “Trump Advisor Stephen Miller Defends Travel Ban,” Rolling Stone, February 10, 2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/trump-advisor-stephen-miller-defends-travel-ban

[13] Janice Williams, “Aleppo Death Toll: How Many People Have Been Killed in Russian-Syrian War?” International Business Times, December 14, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.com/aleppo-death-toll-how-many-people-have-been-killed-russian-syrian-war-2460548

[14] Ana Swanson, “The Big Myth About Refugees,” The Washington Post, September 10, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/09/10/the-big-myth-about-refugees/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.a563058f6e29

[15] Aaron Blake, “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned,’” The Washington Post, February 13, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/13/stephen-millers-audacious-controversial-declaration-trumps-national-security-actions-will-not-be-questioned.

[16] Glenn Kessler, “Stephen Miller’s Bushels of Pinocchios for False Voter-Fraud Claims,” Washington Post, February 12, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/02/12/stephen-millers-bushels-of-pinocchios-for-false-voter-fraud-claims/?utm_term=.be47ca6c9f72.

[17] Jesse Richman, “Some Thoughts on Non-Citizen Voting,” Old Dominion University, https://fs.wp.odu.edu/jrichman/2016/10/19/some-thoughts-on-non-citizen-voting/.