Pride is the Devil: Anti-Gay Terror in 2022

It is hardly a scandal to assert that the LGBTQ+ community and the Christian community have a strained relationship. I write this as a member of the former, not of the latter, and as a researcher covering developments in right-wing extremism in the United States – inclusive of “Christian nationalism,” or the ideology that seeks to mold public policy, particularly social policy, in light of conservative Christian political theology. My intent is not to dispute Biblical teachings on human sexuality; see above. Instead, I hope to shine a light on a upon a developing safety concern for gay people in this nation. I also hope to expose the connections between “nonviolent” Christian discourse around sexuality and actually-existing political violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people in the United States.

On Saturday, June 11th, Northern Idaho police in tandem with the FBI arrested thirty-one members of the neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front, packed like sardines into a U-Haul bound for the Couer d’Alene Pride event. The arrestees, all white men between the ages of 20-40, were charged with conspiracy to riot and received a negligible $300 bond. Inside the truck, authorities found riot shields, shin guards, and a smoke bomb. Their leader had created an operation plan complete with pseudo-militaristic discipline. All but two had traveled from out of state. Patriot Front sank thousands of dollars and hours into planning this flash demonstration, all for the sake of imparting terror. Their presence was a message, heard loud and clear by queer people: Our existence in public is a matter of contention, and there exists a profound strain of right-wing extremism that desires our elimination.

Over the past few days, press has called a rightful degree of public attention toward the potential catastrophes that could have ensued had the thirty-one balaclava-wearing members of Patriot Front managed to descend upon the Pride event. History is rich with examples of the bloodshed that ensues when fanatics roleplaying as a paramilitary get to enact their violent fantasies upon innocent people. Lest we forget Charlottesville in 2017, the site of the fatal “Unite the Right” riot, an optical disaster for the far-right that led to the formation of Patriot Front in the first place.

However, as we lament the ongoing acts of violence perpetuated against gay and trans people in this country, we must not allow the flash-demo spectacle of Patriot Front to represent the only – or even the primary – threat against queer life and livelihood in this nation. In fact, a whole network of far-right provocateurs and Christian extremists collaborated to demonize the Pride celebrants of Northern Idaho in preparation for the event.

At the same time and in the same city as the arrest of Patriot Front, a group of Christian Nationalists associated with a handful of youth Catholic and Evangelical militant networks, prayed the rosary to express their dissention toward the very idea of gay people in public. At least three brought AR-15s, and a few dressed in military camouflage. Some of the attendees boast high-profile connections to large churches and to state lawmakers. Like the Patriot Front caravan, Christian Nationalists, including Telegram-famous extremist Vincent James, came from out-of-state to join each other at this specific Pride event. They prayed that God would rain on the parade, they feared the Satanic influence that they associated with gay people existing in public, and they peddled the same “defense of children” rhetoric that mobilized the QAnon conspiracy, the January 6th coup attempt, and most other right-wing extremist ventures in this nation.

Image: Vincent James, an extremist content creator, advertises the Couer d’Alene Rosary Walk on Telegram. This message was shared with hundreds of thousands of Telegram users, accusing the Pride Parade of allegiance to the Satanic Temple.
Image: Christian Nationalists get on their knees for Daddy in the Couer d’Alene park in protest of Gay Pride. Curious!

At first glance, this seems like nothing out of the ordinary. After all, one would be hard pressed to find any Pride event in the country that is not attended in some force by Christian extremists, angry at our very presence in public. One need not seek out the Westboro Baptist Church to find a cavalcade of poster-wielding, megaphone-screeching Christians on the corner of your local Pride. In a typical year, these protestors would scream into the void, receive a few flipped-birds from Pride attendees, and be on their way. But this year, the rhetorical situation is far more acute.

It is important to understand the purpose that these protests serve before we attempt to understand their more extreme variations. Obviously, Christian pickets have never served as a genuine attempt to establish dialogue of any type – let alone an attempt at conversion or “coming to Jesus” – between Christians and the LGBTQ+ community. One does not accept the invitation to anything, let alone a religion, when it is presented in the language of derision, anger, and cruelty toward an oppressed minority. Any Christian paying heed to John, or to the basics of rhetoric, would understand that. This is a common sense position, so much so that I cannot help but think that these protestors are fully aware that their presence at Pride parades are doing nothing more than further distancing gay and trans people from the Christian community, the national community, and even their local communities.

These are not missionaries. These are crusaders.

And in 2022, the crusaders have an unprecedented sense of direction. As reported by Southern Poverty Law Center journalist Michael Edison Hayden, myriad high-profile right-wing content creators, including the multi-million follower account Libs of TikTok, encouraged Christian nationalists to descend upon Couer d’Alene amidst an accusation that the Satanic Temple attended their Pride parade. The Satanic tip came from the Idaho Tribune, a right-wing Idahoan news outlet which hyped up their story in the language of “kids at drag brunches,” a refrain that has received national attention throughout Pride Month. In other words, Christian nationalists deliberately chose to descend upon the Northern Idaho Pride, consciously creating a situation that invited the descent of neo-Nazis upon innocent people.

In case you are unfamiliar with how parades work, gays do not hold monthly meetings to decide who gets to come to Pride and who doesn’t. It is very well possible that Satanists attended Pride. The problem of journalistic integrity here is the accusation, stated implicitly in the Tribune and explicitly by Libs of TikTok and the Christian protestors, that gay people collaborated to push Satanism to children through their presence at Pride.

All of this is occurring as 2022 is set to break records as the year in which the most anti-gay and anti-transgender bills have been introduced into state legislatures. Over two-hundred individual bills, thirty-one in the state of Tennessee alone: prohibiting transgender people from public places, criminalizing doctors who support the transition of trans kids (and trans adults!), stripping gay marriage benefits, criminalizing drag brunch, and exorcising any intelligent discussion of gender from public schools, among myriad other nonsensical and authoritarian measures. By the way, the overwhelming majority of the American public – two-thirds of them according to recent polls – oppose these bills.

What does this long chain of social media correspondence, journalistic malfeasance, and political reaction suggest? Put simply: Patriot Front is not alone in their desire to violently eliminate the LGBTQ+ community from public space. A long chain of propaganda sets the stage for their existence: comparing gays to Satanists, analogizing our presence in public with pedophilic grooming, and hyping the impotent threat of conscious sex education in schools, all with little evidence outside of lazy talking-point repetition, domino effect fallacies, and prudishness intense enough to make a Puritan cover their ankles in shame. In short, Patriot Front is a product of something far more dire: a rhetorical process, ongoing for decades, through which queer people’s very existence becomes framed as a domestic threat worthy of governmental regulation and elimination. One need not load into a truck with thirty of their Nazi friends to participate in creating the environment that facilitates the existence, growth, radicalization, and mobilization of violent anti-gay extremism in the United States.

It may be tempting to accuse me of overdramatization. How many people could really be thinking about going outside to kill gay people? It is not like Christian homophobia is a phenomenon new to 2022. While that may be true, the unfortunate reality is that we are currently living through an acute period of anti-gay reaction mixed with a swell in recruitment within Christian nationalist movements, particularly those which target young white men. Sound familiar?

Image: A top Facebook comment asserts that the Idaho police should arrest gay people for being outside rather than Nazis for plotting to riot.

For gay people, the effects are palpable. Christian nationalist beliefs run rampant among the far-right end of the Republican Party, featuring endorsements from politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene, organizations like the Oathkeepers, and youth-targeted content creators on social media platforms. Even the all-American hatred of Nazis cannot prevent many from openly expressing their preference for the elimination of gay people over the elimination of fascism. A casual scroll through the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page after the arrest of Patriot Front reveals the profundity of “patriotic” homophobia and transphobia. Top comments lament the arrest of the truckload of terrorists, urging police to turn their batons toward the Pride celebrants for an eclectic and unwarranted array of reasons. This is not a casual difference of opinion, nor is it a healthy disagreement in a democratic society. This is the result of a decades-long campaign of gay hatred spewed by politicians, press, and within the pulpit.

And its effects will be deadly. Yesterday, antifascists in Washington state revealed that a man has expressed plans on his social media accounts to bring rifles to a local Pride event on June 18th. As is the case whenever political violence reaches mainstream audiences, sympathizers will be emboldened to take matters into their own hands, especially in right-wing strongholds like Idaho. In the wake of a spike in violence represented by shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, none of us can afford to take this as anything less than a trend toward the elimination of queer life.

Yet, as we take these threats of violence seriously, we cannot allow ourselves to be disarmed by fear. In conclusion, I’d like to offer some recommendations for active steps to confront anti-gay rhetoric and to preserve the beauty of public queer joy:

To members of the LGBTQ+ community: Keep going to Pride. Bring your friends. Go to brunch, and tip your local queens. Be as elated, loud, scandalous, hot, and homosexual as you want to be in public. Follow your local antifascists. If you don’t have any, become your local antifascists. Read the news, and if you have the mental fortitude for the job, keep tabs on your local extremists. Be prepared in case of an emergency, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest.

To heterosexual Christians: Recognize that you under no obligation to understand queerness. Lord knows that many of us do not understand you. As I’m sure you will agree, absence of knowledge is not knowledge of absence. But you do have a robust, Scriptural obligation to defend the weak against oppression. Find it in yourself to identify with those whom you do not quite understand as a means to defend against an evil that you do: that of authoritarianism, an evil that promises a Kingdom of God while delivering anything but. When you hear your brothers and sisters spreading anti-gay hogwash, intervene. You need not defend (or believe) that Scripture supports gay marriage to confront the fallacious arguments of Christian nationalism. “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

Cover image courtesy of NPR

Follow antifascist journalists to hear it first, particularly David Neiwert.

Once Again for Brandon!

an ironic rhetorical primer

“Let’s go Brandon” is the worst political slogan of the twenty-first century.

No, not because of its rancid content. Biden is not worthy of our defense, but even in our terminal presidential cynicism, we must distinguish relationships of strategy. The reactionary goons who parrot this slogan are no comrades of ours, and we stand to gain nothing but confusion if we muddy the coalitional waters. Nevertheless, it is not the time to celebrate nor condemn antagonism against Uncle Joe.

Instead, it’s time to condemn redundancy. “Let’s go Brandon” is a bad slogan because it is empty palaver.

To catch up the uninitiated: “Let’s go Brandon” took off when a NASCAR reporter misunderstood a much more pointed jeer echoing throughout the Talladega Superspeedway. Pumping their fists and clapping their hands, the bay of white guys chanted, “Fuck Joe Biden!”

Once it was co-signed by Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, Republican lawmakers, and the actual Brandon who competed in the race, the slogan skyrocketed within right-wing media. Just yesterday, while busing through Shaler Township, I saw two “Let’s Go Brandons” plastered on two business reader-boards. A quintessential minced oath, the slogan allows professionals, politicians, and public figures the freedom to say what they really think without attracting the ire of an F-bomb. Keep in mind, as right-wingers, these individuals typically assume that their speech is scrutinized by a liberal-biased media whipping their “Woke mob” minions into a cancellation frenzy. When assuming the worldview of the perpetual victim, a euphemistic slogan provides much-desired rhetorical comfort. Honestly, in all the senses that its comeuppance suggests – humble origins, wide appeal, and circumlocution – “Let’s Go Brandon” is an incredibly-effective slogan, at least for now.

Hell, it even made it onto gift wrapping paper. The War on Christmas is coming from inside the house.

Distributed by ““.

Only time will tell if “Let’s Go Brandon” becomes a permanent specter haunting the Biden Administration. However, at this moment, we can locate the slogan within a legacy of right-wing retreats to the terrain of plausible deniability. From the cartoonishly-devious face of Pepe the Frog to the discrete wink of an OK sign, the right speaks to itself and to the world using a set of not-so-secret encoded signs. These signals gesture toward a shared political identity: in opposition to a political figure, in allegiance with a social formation, or in alignment with an ideological worldview. In doing so, the sloganeer fosters solidarity among their comrades in reaction.

These appeals also produce a series of equal and opposite reactions. After a Southwest Airlines pilot spoke the infamous phrase on a flight boarded by Joe Biden, the company condemned the speech act and placed him under investigation. Peloton rushed to block “Let’s Go Brandon” from appearing in hashtags. A Twitter search of Congressman Bill Posey, the Republican representative whose speech contained the slogan, reveals a deluge of liberal commentators flaming Posey and even more conservatives celebrating his tongue-and-cheek candor. While, of course, the same cannot be said of every non-conservative who encounters this slogan, these examples illustrate a rhetorical phenomenon that we need to start taking seriously if we want to understand how and why reactionaries maintain a consistent, if not expanding, base of appeal: the retreat to rhetorical sanitation.

Political correctness, cancel culture, sensitivity training, and the Woke Mob – reactionaries have called rhetorical sanitation by many names, and each of these phrases gesture toward the phenomenon and others in different contexts. Each of these bogeymen gesture toward the well-documented right-wing fantasy of persecution. Slogans like “Let’s Go Brandon” do not just offer a relatively-safe means to express their political identity. They also represent and reinforce the desire for that sense of safety, and, by extension, their self-image as targeted outsiders who have to resort to euphemism to express themselves. Because they cannot freely use a political slogan encouraging ire toward the President on a commercial airline with him on board that they are piloting, they are victims of a conspiratorial silencing of the conservative “movement.”

There is a lot of irony to unpack here. First and foremost, conservatives who dislike Joe Biden are obviously neither victims nor outsiders. Conservatism has and does hold power in this nation, reactions of a few corporate Human Resources departments notwithstanding. When cranks like Ben Shapiro raise the alarm-bells about the embattlement of their First Amendment Rights, they overtly repeat this cycle of victimhood, outrage, and victimhood. Likewise, when they uphold “Let’s Go Brandon,” they signal to each other that their movement has need for slogans that offer plausible deniability. In so doing, they imply the same position of victimhood.

Naturally, this implication becomes more explicit when liberal actors – politicians, companies, and social media users alike – actually condemn the euphemistic slogan, either through speech or administrative action. When Peloton signals its disapproval of the slogan, reactionaries earn the opportunity to come to its defense and, yet again, resupply their sense of collective precarity with the infinite font of attention:

“Let’s Go Brandon” is so good because any response to it is a trap that strengthens its raison d’être. Yet, ignoring it does little to quell its circulation. It is for this reason that it is the worst slogan of the twenty-first century: It is yet another bait-and-switch gambit by which which droves of uninitiated, uncaring, and uninvolved liberal responders have been hooked. It is another entry into the mountain of evidence that too many of us who at least nominally, if not functionally, oppose reactionary politics have not learned some fundamental lessons of persuasion in a public scene saturated by ironic discourse. In the shadow of so many slogans before it and undoubtedly many to come, it is a sign that too many are either unwilling or incapable of adjusting their response strategies to avoid fanning the same flames that they attempt to quell. If this is how the American “left” insists on presenting itself in the shadow of the upcoming Midterm elections, as rhetorical janitors attempting to take a Swiffer to a memetic biohazard, then it will only have itself to blame for a Red Tsunami.

The weakness of this slogan, and so many others like it, is its redundancy. In light of this, effective rhetorical countermeasures must capitalize on this redundancy and expose it as a point of persuasive and ideological inefficacy. For example, I offer a suggested retort to the slogan: “Fuck Joe Biden.”

In other words, reiterating to the interlocutor exactly what they mean. This retort accomplishes a number of objectives that, per my account, represent a far better tactic against ironic reaction than the ethos of rhetorical sanitation:

  1. It shatters the fantasy of plausible deniability. You force the sloganeer to either agree or disagree with the sentiment of antagonism toward Joe Biden without metonymic mystification. In doing so, you ruin the joke. You immediately assert that you are not a rhetorical dupe off of whom conservatives can earn a quick laugh. Additionally, you force the sloganeer to immediately account for their precise sense of hatred for the President or to retreat from the conversation all-together, suffering a rhetorical loss and abandoning their endorsement of the slogan in that specific encounter.
  2. It throws a wrench in the reactionary us/them dichotomy through which they retain coherent political identification. You need not agree with the sentiment of “Fuck Joe Biden” to agree that it is immediately useful to confuse the reactionary by your utterance of that phrase. Are you a fellow Brandon whose expressed ire comes from the right, patriotic font of energy? Are you an antifa hooligan who also antagonizes Biden but for diametrically-opposed reasons? Are you just trolling? If you manage to hold a dialectic with the sloganeer for any length of time, you can clarify such matters if you feel so inclined. As I said, this is not a time to celebrate or condemn antagonism. In any case, by failing to identify yourself as a liberal detractor by way of sanitized reaction, you immediately prevent the interlocutor from articulating their relational political identity in that moment to confirm their persecutory paranoia.
  3. You say what they were afraid to say. Through a trans-historical tonic of male fragility and white victimhood, reactionaries despise political cowardice. After all, the courage to “tell it like it is” energizes much of their impassioned appeals to free speech. Ironically, “Let’s Go Brandon” is a cowardly slogan in this right. In its implication of political embattlement, it must also imply that the speaker is scared to say “Fuck Joe Biden.” By reiterating the real meaning of the slogan, you force the speaker to encounter their failure to live up to the idealized subject of free speech to which they desperately aspire. Unlike the Übermensch of their dreams, they capitulated to the Woke Mob and sanitized their own speech.

Reactionaries build much of their political aspirations off of a desire for return: to better times, when America was Great Again, when there were jobs held by natural-born white Christian citizens, and when their speech could not be picked apart by liberal elites and relegated to the exceptional zone of cancelation. It then stands to reason that their main fonts of rhetorical power are just as redundant as their ideas. To give them a bit more credit, they have been running the same bit for years now because, unfortunately, the bit still works, entrapping institutional and individual interlocutors alike into playing a role in perpetuating their sense of victimhood.

As the right spins out more slogans as the times provide them, we must go on the rhetorical offensive, choosing our responses carefully to target the fantastical structure that makes this ironic appeal persuasive and community-building. Once we find the offensive, we need to stay there, pulling the rug out from underneath any further attempts to cower behind minced oaths. Let us get a few rhetorical steps ahead and stay there, and let them reveal themselves for exactly who they are!

Cover image courtesy of Getty; The Atlantic.

Pittsburgh Always Anti-Fascist

support the troops

For those of you who follow my work through this blog, I thought it right to introduce you to the project I’ve been working on this summer: Pittsburgh Always Anti-Fascist.

It is a StoryMap exhibit of Pittsburgh’s anti-fascist history from the turn of the century (Yes, the institutions that resist fascism pre-date fascism itself!) to the present day. Featuring a bunch of different maps, publicly-accessible artifacts, and a lot of other multi-media features, it seeks to demonstrate the diversity of ideas and tactics within Pittsburgh’s anti-fascist movement and to refute the all-too-common notion that anti-fascists are “outside agitators”.

The project is divided up into three eras: the World War Era spanning the turn of the century through 1945, the Greater Civil Rights Era spanning 1946 through 1975, and the Postmodern Era spanning 1976 through the present day. In each era, you can read about how historical events facilitate the movement’s evolution, how its rhetoric changes over time, and changing notions of who the fascists are anyway.

Additionally, if you are so inclined to contribute to the project, you can do so via this HistoryPin board. Anybody can Pin anything to the board – I decided to keep my moderator privileges relatively thin so that the history can reflect more perspectives than simply my own. Also, since the constraints of my internship only allowed me to utilize one curatorial source (shout out to Pitt Archives & Special Collections), I’d love to see a greater diversity of sources. The StoryMap may be static, but the history isn’t!

In the future, I will update this blog with more reflections on the project. But for now, I do hope that you enjoy it and learn a lot about this city’s fascinating, unflinching, and radical opposition to fascism.

Against Left Unity

the praxis of settling for less

In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.

Mao Zedong, “On Practice”

The Mao quote above is often referenced within Marxist circles to remind us that our class position – whether (lumpen-)proletariat, (petit-)bourgeois, or otherwise – fundamentally affects the way that we think about the world, whether we act on our ideas at all, and how we act should we do so. For example, a member of the bourgeoisie is less likely to grasp and act upon the stuff of revolution than a member of the working class, provided both have access the tools they need to get organized, because the latter has a material incentive to change the world that exploits them while the former has a material incentive to maintain the world of exploitation from which they directly or indirectly benefit.

This lesson is important, but it does not help us think on the level of the collective. After all, revolutionary ideas do not just spring out of the heads of lofty individuals – they are cultivated through collective practice.

Instead, to consider the problems of “Left Unity”, I would like to highlight a complementary interpretation: Not only are our ideas as individuals mediated by class positions, but our collective ability to think cannot stray too far away from the terms of engagement set forth by class society, and in our conditions, specifically capitalism and imperialism. After all, the overwhelming majority of us are educated in institutions created by the bourgeoisie to reproduce their ideas. We cannot find entertainment unencumbered by the messages of bourgeois media, let alone news that allows us to make sense of our conditions. Even the languages that we speak echo the alienating effects of class society.

Given the ubiquity of capitalist hegemonic influence, it stands to reason that the ideas, tactics, and strategies that we employ as activists are subject to the same imprinting of class as all other ideas germinated within class societies. Our professed fidelity to the cause of liberation does not shield us from the corrupting forces of capitalist ideology – if it did, we would have made a million revolutions by now. While its pacifying effects devastate movements if left unchecked, we can resist capitalist ideas by sharpening our theoretical and practical tools through ruthless criticism: laying out our ideas in plain terms, separating the good elements of each idea from the bad, and developing stronger ideas to test in practice.

It is from this standpoint that I present my case against the notion of Left Unity that has so long festered among socialists, communists, anarchists, and progressives. By “Left Unity,” I refer to the doctrine stating that communists, socialists, social-democrats, progressives, anarchists, and anybody else whose politics could land them within the purview of the “Left” should temporarily suspend our ideological differences in order to work toward commonly-shared objectives. Proponents of Left Unity often apply this logic in areas where the interests of all aforementioned ideological groups supposedly overlap: charity work, harm reduction, anti-fascist work, and the like. Sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, anyone with a Twitter account can tell you that far too many whose ideas about the world land them into the fold of the Left waste their time prattling over spectacular non-issues. Why can’t we all just get along, especially when we could be using the time spent infighting to serve the people?

The crux of my criticism is simple: “The Left” needs to have more good arguments and fewer bad arguments, but the primary purpose of Left Unity is rarely to quell bad arguments but rather to stifle good ones. Left Unity tells us to put away our theoretical differences, no matter how significant, and to resolve our contradictions by committing to an objective that can only be as well-defined as our differences allow. Like so many activist ideas before it and undoubtedly like many after, Left Unity is stamped with an impulse of class-collaboration that has long served as, from the Marxist perspective, the single most effective ideological force of counter-insurgency. It is a wolf in red clothing.

Before I continue, I must acknowledge that I am far from the first to criticize the program of Left Unity, but the overwhelming majority of critiques have been produced by anarchist thinkers and activists. These works are of varying quality; some are petulant rants against “red fash” while others present strong arguments rooted in vast knowledge that I have come to expect from good anarchist theory. I intend to offer a Marxist perspective on the issue, so my areas of focus and theoretical application will differ from these existing critiques.

Who is the Left Anyway?

Who belongs within the fold of Left Unity, and who does not? This is the most obvious problem with Left Unity because the doctrine is, by design, incapable of answering this question. The point of Left Unity is to offer a radically-inclusive political identity in order to stave off argument. However, in stipulating that the unity must be among the Left and thus exclusive of those who fall outside the Left, it faces a contradiction. Naturally, individuals who grapple with Left Unity will all try to resolve this contradiction, but the way that they do so depends on – you guessed it! – their political beliefs. For instance, libertarian-socialist content creator Vaush, once an outspoken proponent of Left Unity, recently flipped his position due to his opposition to the notion of uniting with Marxist-Leninists. His disdain toward Internet tankies outweighed his desire for unity, and so he opted to introduce exclusion and shatter his fantasy of a radically-inclusive Left.

From my perspective, the most sophisticated attempt to reconcile this contradiction from the sympathetic perspective comes from Marius Ostrowski, author of Left Unity: Manifesto for a Progressive Alliance. He directs the titular call of his book toward

anyone who subscribes to two fundamental views: (1) That the world is characterised by binaries, or spectrums, of advantage/disadvantage, or privilege/underprivilege; (2) That the most logical, or useful, or necessary, or desirable course of action is to fight for ‘those without’ such advantage/privilege and fight against ‘those with’ it who use it to harm ‘those without’.

Fay Niker, “Left Unity: An Interview with Marius Ostrowski

The problem with this definition of Left, however, is that it collapses the primary point of tension between the myriad political ideologies trapped within the spider-web of Left Unity: We cannot seem to agree on what it means to fight. When it comes down to the dirty details of resource allocation, establishment of political objectives, building power, and defending what we’ve won, the lofty call to those who believe it’s good to abstractly “fight” crumbles. For the “Left” to get a social democrat elected to Congress, for example, costs an unparalleled amount of time, energy, and money. Those of us who do not believe this to be an effective way to fight are not keen to waste so many resources and will undoubtedly reintroduce the contradiction. Clearly, establishing belonging within the Left based on one’s theoretical opposition toward oppression will lead to unity in name, not in practice.

In addition, most Marxists would take issue with the notion that we should fight solely against “‘those with’ [privilege] who use it to harm ‘those without’.” We do not exclusively fight against people who choose to use the privilege that class society affords them; we fight to end exploitation, and indeed class society entirely. This is why we are not entertained by reforms to the system that punish bad, exploitative bosses while letting the “good” bosses off the hook. We understand the whole system of production to be the culprit, not those who take the most advantage of their power to exploit. As Ostrowski puts it, the program of Left Unity sounds more like a call to unite under a more socially-conscious version of capitalism.

It is no coincidence that the siren call of Leftism so easily capitulates to reformism. The political identity of the Left is rooted in the inception of modern bourgeois ideology: the French Revolution. In 1789, the National Assembly of the Third Estate, a revolutionary governing body composed primarily of the embryonic French bourgeoisie, divided itself into supporters of the King and supporters of the Revolution. The former sat on the right side of the chamber while the latter sat on the left.1 The spatial distinction stuck: By the establishment of the Legislative Assembly in 1791, the Girondins sat on the right, radical Jacobins on the left, and moderates in the middle – and this metaphor continued in France and eventually spilled into the rest of the Western world. In other words, the very basis of the Left-Right spectrum upon which proponents of Left Unity base the coherence of their idea is an artifact of bourgeois revolutionary unity against monarchism. This unity, shall we be reminded, eventually capitulated to the Thermidorian Reaction that resulted in the eventual re-establishment of the monarchy and the expulsion of the Left from the legislature. When given an inch, reaction always takes a mile.

While Left belonging may have offered a new, radical way of thinking about political identity for the French bourgeoisie, it is obsolete in our conditions because the primary cause for concern is not whether we should fight (or the first point of Ostrowski’s call) but how we should fight (the question begged by the second point). Leftism measures one’s progressive opposition to the political center, but it nullifies the political importance of disagreements regarding how one should enact that opposition. To call oneself a leftist is to brand one’s ideology as a reaction to the centrality of capitalism, not as a meaningful political project in and of itself. From this vantage point, it is clear to see why the ideological category of “Left” has had such a resounding ability to nullify the meaningful differences between the various political imaginations that it captures within its purview.

Revisionism In/action

We have already explored how the theory of Left Unity facilitates reformism, but this section will offer a more pragmatic glimpse into the mechanism through which Left Unity facilitates co-option: class-collaboration. By class-collaboration, I mean the call to work in unison with one’s class enemies in order to achieve an immediate objective. While it may sound harsh to refer to some among the “Left” as class enemies, it is a Marxist fact: Given that every idea is stamped by class and that the call for Left Unity inevitably includes uniting with those who peddle bourgeois ideas, to reconcile our ideas with those is a function of collaboration both figuratively, as we attempt to reconcile bourgeois ways of thinking with revolutionary ones, and literally, as we are often asked to do so in the name of making organizing spaces more hospitable to primarily bourgeois and petit-bourgeois tendencies. While we should be agitating against these bad ideas and hoping to win their peddlers over to a better political line, the call for Left Unity opportunistically silences these debates in favor of a strategy of “strength in numbers,” thus paving the way for the re-establishment of capitalist hegemonic influence within activist organizations.

Who is most likely to seize this opportunity? As anarchist critiques of Left Unity are quick to point out, the call to unify is often sounded by well-funded Party formations that consider themselves to be the vanguards of socialist construction. Whether coming from the aptly-named Vanguard newspaper of the CPGB in the 60’s, Corbynites beckoning the wayward British Left back to the fold of the Labour Party, or the DSA’s “Left Unity” caucus touting its electoral victories, Left Unity has come to mean “unity… by joining us!” Or, more precisely, unity by subordinating your ideological goals to ours. They may offer lip service to “diversity of tactics” or “ideological pluralism,” but these calls cannot stray too far from the goal of unifying under a banner of power hoisted by the very organization calling for unity in the first place.

False vanguards thrive on this form of unity because, if it actually succeeds in persuading other organizers to put aside their differences and work under their leadership, it serves to confirm their sense of false vanguardism. On the other hand, if it does not succeed because the recipients of the call refuse, the faux-vanguardists can easily dismiss other activists as childish ultras and claim the moral high ground. Never are the masses, those to whom a revolutionary vanguard is actually responsible, consulted.

What’s so bad about unifying under the biggest Left organization in one’s country, and what does collaboration have to do with it? There is no clearer example for this dynamic than America’s own “Communist” Party USA. During his tenure as General Secretary of the Party in the 1930’s, Earl Browder introduced a number of ideological and political shifts that veered toward class-collaboration, all in the name of unity against the rising threat of fascism. He proclaimed that “Communism is 20th Century Americanism,” alienating the Black and Indigenous comrades whose blood was spilled in the name of establishing America in favor of inviting the white labor aristocracy into the fold of Communism. To establish a Popular Anti-Fascist Front, Browder sought to bring in all manner of bourgeois elements from the reactionary trade unions that rejected the Party’s revolutionary tactics of the 1920’s in favor of chasing narrow, economistic gains.

This mindset festered within the Party for decades; for instance, in the 1970’s the Party proposed a “left center coalition” with right-wing trade unionists, comprising anybody who wanted to “bring about basic reform.” Again no word on how this reform is to be brought about! The language of coalition-building continues in their 21st-century iterations in the name of “defeating the ultra-right”, including via endorsing parasitic, racist politicians like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden as bona-fide anti-fascist candidates.2

For CPUSA, Left Unity has contributed to the watering-down of their nominally “Marxist-Leninist” line; now the Party is nothing more than a cadre of Democrats who like the color red. By choosing peaceful coexistence with bourgeois ideas and organizations, the Party lost its militant edge and, for its century of existence, has little to show except for some well-designed propaganda. This is the danger of class-collaboration, the essence of revisionism. As V.I. Lenin reminds us,

The experience of alliances, agreements and blocs with the social-reform liberals in the West and with the liberal reformists (Cadets) in the Russian revolution, has convincingly shown that these agreements only blunt the consciousness of the masses, that they do not enhance but weaken the actual significance of their struggle, by linking fighters with elements who are least capable of fighting and most vacillating and treacherous.

Lenin, “Marxism and Revisionism” (emphasis mine)

Lenin expresses concern that strategic unity with revisionists, even when such unity is actually called for by the conditions that revolutionaries face (as it temporarily was in Russia), always has the side-effect of dulling the sharpness of the Marxist political line. To ascribe to Left Unity as an unflinching basis of our organizing is to entirely submit to this blunting. Regardless of the anti-capitalist intentions that the social-democrats who call for unity project, the historical reality is that unity is a form of ideological capture.

With a better understanding of the real risks associated with proclaiming unity, let’s sketch out what it would mean to develop a principled understanding of unity among anti-capitalists.

Respectfully, We Are Not the Same

As I alluded to in the introductory remarks to this essay, the reason why Left Unity has been such a long-lasting, persuasive doctrine is that it seems to respond to a real problem that socialists, anarchists, progressives and the like face: We argue with each other a lot, and the infighting, splitting, and scandal that such arguments tend to produce end up deeply affecting our ability to do the work. The solution to this problem, however, is not to put aside our differences and unite for the sake of unity. Principled criticism and self-criticism are critical for improving the methods of work that we employ, understanding and adapting to changing conditions, and developing and refining our theory – regardless of one’s preferred theoretical paradigm. To silence that process in favor of chasing after some political objective in unison is tantamount to admitting defeat.

For example, one area where Left Unity is frequently invoked is in the area of “Mutual Aid,” service provisions, and charity work. “How could heartless, out-of-touch, armchair leftists possibly make a political argument out of the act of providing services to the people?” goes the narrative, usually spun by some big-wig in the DSA hoping to pass out Winter clothing and emblazoned pamphlets to the people. Especially at the height of the pandemic, contribution to various Mutual Aid programs was often painted as a responsibility for the Left. To some extent, this is true; those of us with something to give to the people should absolutely be held to the reasonable expectation of providing service. However, this moralistic unity belies a cacophony of contradiction that lingers underneath the distro table.

By painting Mutual Aid out to be a sacrosanct ritual immune to critique, we have done a great disservice to the people and to ourselves. Mutual Aid is bound up in a great deal of political questions that might be understood as a microcosm representing broader line struggles occurring between tendencies. For instance, as Gus Breslauer points out, Mutual Aid work invites very little risk to its activists and offers very little political power gained as a result, making it an ideal form of work for petit-bourgeois leftists who don’t want to get their hands too dirty. The way that most left organizations in the United States conduct Mutual Aid today promotes distance from the masses as the organizers can just set up their table, distribute food, and leave without interfacing with the masses and learning about the economic roots of their problems. This method of work falls in line with those whose objective is to reform the system because it maintains the “have-have not” boundary between the organization and the masses.

This method of work is anathema to Marxism. When I think of revolutionary forms of Mutual Aid, I think of the programs facilitated by the Black Panthers that taught the masses how to fight for themselves, not Zine Distros in the park or geriatric Trotskyites passing out food with their newspapers. Unfortunately, by relegating Mutual Aid to the adamantine realm of Left Unity where those of us without our hands on the reigns of organizational power are expected to show up, shut up, and distribute food, we end up with stale distros that promote a professional-managerial work ethic within our organizing. “Solidarity not Charity” loses all sense of solidarity when we are only permitted to understand Mutual Aid through the ethos of a Church soup kitchen.

This liberal trend is not exclusive to Mutual Aid work; I have observed similar patterns of thought and action within anti-fascist work, abolitionist work, and myriad other areas where Leftists are said to have so much “common ground” that we may as well unify. To further encumber this essay with more examples would be irresponsible – both of these named areas deserve articles on their own, and I hope to supply them in due time.

The point is this: By shutting down intra- and inter-ideological argument, Left Unity traps its adherents into old methods of work that, without the weapon of criticism, lapse into easy habits that reinforce capitalist ideology. Because every idea bears the mark of the class society into which it is beget, activists must be vigilant critics of our strategies and tactics, even (and especially!) if that means rocking the most powerful organizational boat in the scene.

Does this mean that activists of different tendencies can never find tactical or strategic unity? Of course not. Provided democratic discussion and debate has flourished between them, it is becoming easier than ever before to find points of unity as the contradictions inherent within capitalism intensify. In fact, nearly every recent Communist formation, in and out of the United States, has flourished in part due to finding unity through United Front organizations that tend to have lower ideological barriers of entry than Party organs. But Marxists should not prioritize the maintenance of eclectic unity over developing and following the correct political line. True unity does not fall out of the sky when activists settle for ineffective, hodge-podge tactics. Unity must be struggled for and won, not summoned from on high.

1 – Norberto Bobbio, Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction

2 – For more on why this line is defeatist nonsense, feel free to check out my thoughts on the subject.

The Neo-McCarthyism of Donald Trump

“You are the people who built this nation. You’re not the people who tore down our nation.”

As a crowd of shrieking voices yelled, “We can’t hear you!”, the President did not seem to realize that his microphone was turned off. Trump addressed a bewildered crowd from behind an oddly-colored screen with seemingly no regard for the fact that his audience could not hear him. He knows well enough that the content of his public address is subsidiary to the performance when it comes to reaching the immediate objective on January 6th.

However, if we want to understand what Trump is doing in these performances, we have to understand that content and performance cannot be so easily separated. Trump’s affectations, cadence, and comically-large tie could not be copied and pasted onto any given politician with success. His brand of nationalism is the binding agent that makes all of it work well enough to inspire a riot in the Capitol building.

In light of the sheer significance of this event, I want to think a bit more deeply about this speech and its obvious impact from the perspective of someone who studies the rhetoric of the far-right. Trump’s address to his rally before the Capitol on January 6th was chock full of dog-whistles, or coded language that signals toward an unspoken audience, toward the militant far-right. Just like how he told the infamous Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Trump overtly and covertly infused this speech with messages toward his most violent supporters in order to incite them toward rebellion in his name. Hopefully, this article will help the reader understand what these dog-whistles sound like, why they work, and how to spot them in the future, whether they’re being spoken by Presidents or by some chud at the bar.

I say “the future” because, even though Donald Trump has at least formally conceded the election (although “Stop the Steal” will remain a slogan for years to come), I strongly believe that the ideas that mobilize “Trumpism” are far from defeated in the United States. The people who stormed the Capitol did not pop out of thin air in the mid-2010s nor are they some freakish symptom of the pandemic; their ideas have fomented in American politics since the inception of the United States. The anti-black, settler-colonial ideas that Trump capitalizes upon are not symptoms of a particularly-unstable moment in American democracy but constitutive of it, as I argue in a previous post on this blog. Put simply, Trump is a product of our time, not a maker of it. As the conditions in the United States develop into more complicated and unstable contradictions, I am certain that more figureheads will come to take up the mantle of Trumpism to carry his far-right, populist appeal into our future.

In light of this, I am deeply critical of the idea that the storming of the Capitol on January 6th does not represent “who we are” as Americans. Whether it’s being spoken by a Republican in hopes of recuperating the image of their party or by a Democrat attempting to remind their constituents of the bright four years to come, this message is deeply troubling as it attempts to distance Trumpism from the hundreds of years of history that precede him and created such a broad base of support for his ideas. Trump’s claim, that his supporters are “the people who built this nation” belies one of America’s most prevalent founding myths, that the infrastructure of the United States was constructed by hard-working Christian colonists on empty ground rather than by African slaves and other undercompensated laborers on stolen Indigenous land. So long as this myth persists to legitimize American sovereignty, there will always be militants ready to defend this virtuous image of themselves against any and all whose very presence threatens it.

And what myth is complete without an antagonist to smite? Trump’s insinuation that his supporters are distinct from those “who tore down our nation” conjures an ideal justification for insurrection by placing the antagonist at the very seat of government and within cultural and informational apparatuses: Big Tech, fake news, The Swamp, et cetera. It’s fitting! There’s nothing more American than a coup d’état, as evidenced by our nation’s extensive history of backing right-wing coups across the globe in order to protect the interests of the ruling class. During the Cold War years of 1945-1991, not a single year passed in which the United States, either through covert action or overt military intervention, did not involve itself in a regime change effort, usually against elected socialists, revolutionary communists, or anti-colonial nationalists. From the CIA-backed assassination of Chilean social democrat Salvador Allende to “Operation Brother Sam” that ended in a military-backed coup of Brazil’s left-sympathetic vice president, and from the funding of UNITA in Angola in a bid to maintain colonial relations to no fewer than 14 years of regime changes in Laos, the events of January 6th, 2021 might better be understood as the United States coming to taste its own medicine.

In what follows, I identify and trace one of the many ideological motifs that permeate Trump’s speech and signal toward a far-right audience, which I will provisionally term “Neo-McCarthyism”. I am not the first person to take up this term, as it has been used in the past by Cato Institute hacks to defend President Trump and his supporters against the Muller investigation, an editorial on The Nation to rationalize Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, and by a handful of Nazis railing against their censorship on social media. Put simply, there seems to be very little work by the Left in tracing McCarthyism to its contemporary continuance, as if it were only a relic of the Cold War without any semblance of historical continuity. The legacy of McCarthyism has been reduced to yet another poker chip in the game of accusing the other side of repressing free speech, stripped of its specific purpose in maintaining the dictatorship of the white bourgeoisie.

In hopes of contradicting the delusion that Trump’s and his supporters’ ideas and beliefs run contrary to “who we are” as Americans, I will offer a brief glimpse into the historical development Neo-McCarthyism, where it comes from, its deep connection to the myth of American foundation, and why it makes such a compelling rhetorical wink toward the far-right. Keep in mind that this motif does not make a complete analysis of this speech or of Trump’s appeal writ-large. More work remains to be done to delve more deeply into Trump’s rhetorical tactics, both the unique ones and the not-so-unique ones.

Hating commies is as American as apple pie. It is so American that, from 1938 to 1975, a House committee formed in order to investigate allegations of communist sympathies among citizens. Called the “House Committee on Un-American Activities” and often shortened as HUAC, the committee was responsible for the “Hollywood Blacklist” that delivered punishment based on frivolous claims of communist propaganda within film, preventing many directors, actors, and screenwriters from finding work. The flames of this hysteria were fanned by Senator Joseph McCarthy who alleged, again with little to no evidence, that most American legal and cultural institutions had been infiltrated by communists. This brazen disregard for the First Amendment of the Constitution has largely been remembered as a shameful moment in American history.

Despite our collective decision to dismiss McCarthyism as one of our many Cold War-era moral errors, the reality is that the ideas underpinning McCarthyism have gone nowhere. While the Soviet Union no longer exists to serve as America’s most compromising foreign adversary, the claims that spurred on McCarthyites have found new life. From the “Cultural Marxism” thesis, a far-right conspiracy theory that argues that Jewish philosophers associated with the Frankfurt school created an ideological paradigm for the destruction of Western moral values through cultural institutions, to the DHS issue banning alleged members of communist parties from pursuing American citizenship that would effectively serve as a 21st-Century Chinese Exclusion Act, the specter of communism still haunts American political life, with or without the communists themselves.

In our times, the specter has found a number of new bogeymen to animate. This is at least partially due to the lack of meaningful left-wing infrastructure in the United States. In the absence of militant Communist Parties that stand to meaningfully threaten the ruling class, domestically or abroad, the threat to capitalism that they once represented must find purchase in new forms. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the increasing paranoia surrounding Antifa, the “radical Left” is often semantically analogized to socialism or communism but substantively takes on myriad political forms, from House Democrats to insurrectionary anarchism.

Thus, the main purpose of Trump’s Neo-McCarthyism is to designate who represents American values (his supporters) and who is trying to destroy them, and thus, who must be destroyed in order to preserve America:

All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.

Donald J. Trump, Capitol Speech

That “our” election victory is compromised by “radical left Democrats” in conjunction with the complicit media apparatus smacks of the same logic as the thesis of Cultural Marxism in two ways: Firstly, and most obviously, it relies upon an unsubstantiated claim that mainstream media is in cahoots with the Democratic Party and complicit Republicans to overthrow Trump. While it is undeniable that there exists a liberal-bias among many cable news programs, this reality does not rise to the occasion of proving collusion. And while we know that news media organizations are certainly not innocent of favoring certain politicians over others, there is no evidence that they are involved in a steal because a steal did not take place – but, given that you’re reading my blog, I’m sure you already knew that.

Secondly, and much more interestingly, are the connections Trump is trying to form when he utters the phrase “radical left Democrats.” Anyone with a cursory familiarity with political theory could tell you that the Democratic Party is far from the “radical left,” and in fact, the Democratic establishment has consistently attempted to prevent progressives from rising up the ranks in their Party, let alone actual radicals. Can this be chalked up to a simple hyperbole in the hopes of riling the fears of the politically-ignorant? This may be one of its side-effects, but I don’t think that what Trump is doing here can be described so simply. What this phrase more fundamentally does is it applies the Cultural Marxism thesis to the American contemporary conditions. In the absence of Bolshevism, the “radical left” manifests as riots in Portland, Kenosha, Minneapolis, et al., Antifa hooligans coming to ransack a cul-de-sac near you. They are supported, so goes the myth, through a cultural conglomerate of complicit media apparatuses, secretly-socialist billionaires, and, of course, plenty of George Soros checks made out to professional protestors. But, of course, Antifa does not hold seats in Congress nor any federal power that Trump wants to ensure for himself, so he places the heart of this hydra within the Democratic Party that holds sway over the certification of the election results (and even some “weak” and “pathetic” Republicans who must also be in the apparently-bottomless anti-fascist pocketbook).

What does this have to do with the far-right, and why does it work? Each of the steps down this spiral of nonsense have direct ties to the far-right intelligentsia. To prevent their platforms from reaching unnecessary audiences, I won’t be directing you to any online links to substantiate these claims, so I will ask my reader to take my word for it. (Alternatively, if you are looking for a very accessible read on the topic, I highly recommend Talia Lavin’s Culture Warlords.)

The idea that the radical left has infiltrated mainstream politics through big money is a popular trope in antisemitic conspiracy meant to connect the tropes of the Jewish banker and Jewish media-mogul to the dissolution of Western values. There’s a reason why the checks are always from George Soros and not Warren Buffet! Someone must always exist to pull the strings on the “puppets,” as Trump calls his own Supreme Court nominees in the speech, and antisemitism ensures that many assume the shadowy socialist cabal to be propelled by Jewish racial interest.

Likewise, that aforementioned radical left hijacks Black Lives Matter protests as their gateway to rioting conjures the far-right idea that conniving Jews mobilize the destruction of Western values by tricking Black people to doing their political dirty work. Put simply, this myth works because it gives the white audience the idea that their political agency, rightfully earned by building this nation, has been stolen from underneath their nose by a cabal of homegrown racialized Others who have taken the gift of the American Dream and twisted it for their nefarious, white-genocidal purposes. Trump appeals to the destruction of Western values with broad, politically-correct strokes, claiming, “We want to go back, and we want to get this right because we’re going to have somebody in there that should not be in there and our country will be destroyed, and we’re not going to stand for that.” While this sentence may come off as meaningless hand-waving, the far-right knows how to read between the lines. They understand destruction of “our country” and the values upon which it was built as coterminous with the destruction of the white race. To the clued-in audience member, the leap is not a difficult one to make.

The links between antisemitism, antiblackness, and anti-communism are vast and deep, especially in the United States as, at the height of the First Red Scare, the Communist Party of the United States of America was building momentum by organizing Black sharecroppers toward revolution in a period where public proclamations of racial prejudice were socially-accepted.1 The idea that communism is a Jewish plot meant to mobilize Black people against the white race was explicitly endorsed by pre-World War II anti-communists until antisemitism too became analogous to anti-Americanism.2 However, the ideological implications were not banished, but merely turned to subscript by some of the more mainstream anti-communists, while the far-right continued mobilizing and organizing around the fear of a racialized, socialist cabal, which they do to this day.

BEWARE! Communist Jews could trick your daughter into ...
Image caption: A propaganda flier depicting an interracial kiss between a Black man and a white woman overlaid with a Star of David and crowned by a Hammer and Sickle, entitled “THIS COULD BE YOUR DAUGHTER”. Circa-1960’s, United States.

Trump also appeals to the longevity of this theory, once again connecting to Cultural Marxism by ensuring his audience that this infiltration has been going on for far too long: “Our country has been under siege for a long time, far longer than this four-year period.” This poses a very clear connection to the rhetoric of McCarthyism which managed to assert itself, even in the face of Americans’ supposed fidelity to free speech absolutism, by claiming that communist infiltration in the United States had been occurring at multiple levels for an infinite period of time. Trump’s remix not only gestures toward “Barack Hussein Obama,” whose full name has long been uttered, as Trump does in this speech, in order to feed the fear of Islamic takeover by a Black “socialist” (all non-Trumpists are socialists) but it also suggests that the work of undermining Western values has trickled into federal politics from a shadowy, unknown, and unnamed source. Naturally, this gives the far-righters plenty of room to insert their own theories, attributing this decline to any number of bogeymen against whom Trump courageously stands.

Now, why should non-communists give a damn about Neo-McCarthyism? In the words of Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the Communists…” Just like its original instantiation, wherein hundreds of Hollywood personalities lost their jobs due to HUAC finding frivolous connections between them and alleged communists, neo-McCarthyism does not stop at the communists. To justify both its own paranoias and the American myth that it energizes, it must find a socialist enemy to turn the mob toward, whether that enemy is a bona-fide communist or a “weak Republican.” In the logic of Neo-McCarthyism, if you allow communism to rise under your nose, you are a communist yourself. Absent an actual communist institution upon whom to lay culpability, quite literally anyone can become a communist, regardless of their actual political affiliation. This happens in far-right circles all the time; accusations of communist sympathy, which is to say racial treachery, have quite literally torn organizations apart. (Let them fight!)

Neo-McCarthyism aids and abets fascist politics by fanning the flames of white paranoia against a racial threat, justifying extreme measures in order to contain its dastardly spread. Just like how the American military expanded across the globe to contain communism, the American policing apparatus will attempt to permeate all facets of life on their crusade against communism as they did against the Black Panthers, against Hollywood actors, and continue to do against protestors against police brutality. Trump’s populist appeal is inseparable from his authoritarian politics. If that sounds contradictory, you’re right, and that’s exactly why it works. The populus to whom he pledges his fidelity defines itself through its vulnerability in the face of this anti-white plot. While I’m not one to celebrate American elections as the paragons of democracy that they claim to be, Trump’s caricature of the election process is a crucial moment in this speech to construct this victimhood and to secure his supporters’ trust in his absolute authority. Just a few seconds before he urges his followers to march on the Capitol, he promises,

I think one of our great achievements will be election security because nobody, until I came along, had any idea how corrupt our elections were. And again, most people would stand there at 9:00 in the evening and say, ‘I want to thank you very much,’ and they go off to some other life, but I said, ‘Something’s wrong here. Something’s really wrong. Can’t have happened.’ And we fight. We fight like Hell and if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country any more.

Donald J. Trump, Capitol Speech

Given that Trump’s goal was clearly to secure his absolute power despite clearly losing the election, his bid for “election security” should sound not dissimilar to Hitler’s promises when he took up emergency powers and dissolved the Weimar Republic. Trump wanted to have oversight over the election process to secure a line of Trumpist succession; he basically admitted it himself:

Donald Trump twitter: President tweets terrifying video ...
Image caption: A screenshot from a Trump tweet-video wherein he promised to be President “4EVA”. Courtesy of

To the Neo-McCarthyite, the death of the liberal-democratic farce is a small price to pay to ensure the continuity of Western capitalism over all of its threats, foreign and domestic. To abstract this claim a bit further, right-populism (And maybe all types of populism! I’m honestly unsure as of now.) requires authoritarianism in order to protect, maintain, and expand the population endowed with political preference over those populations who, by virtue of their exclusion, constitute the populus itself. Neo-McCarthyism, and anti-communism more broadly, has never been simply about banishing communism but about destroying every institution, every idea, and every body whose presence could signal a threat to the white body politic, a body that would not maintain itself if it weren’t threatened. This discourse is a downward spiral of contradiction that doesn’t end until we’ve all hit rock bottom.

1 – Hammer and Hoe by Robin Kelley

2 – “Foreword: McCarthyism, the Internment and the Contradictions of
Power” by Mari J. Matsuda

“Battle for the Soul of the Nation”

america will never be great

This essay contains references to anti-black violence, eugenics, rape, and fascism.

If you were asked whether “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” was a propaganda campaign from Nazi Germany or a Biden 2020 slogan, I wouldn’t blame you for answering incorrectly. This hyper-patriotic catchphrase captures the same sentiment that spurred Joe Biden’s primary victory over some of his relatively-progressive challengers: Donald Trump represents a corruption of the soul of the United States, and only tried-and-true Democratic leadership, rather than a “riskier” candidate like Sanders, can return us to the “correct” path. As this narrative states, Trump is such an exceptional threat that “the Left” would be irresponsible to stake the election on an experimental nominee.

The anxiety-ridden plea proved effective, spurring Biden forward to easily win the nomination. In fact, the campaign strategy has proven almost too effective: According to Newsweek, 56% of Biden voters are casting their ballots not based off of any policy position but simply because Biden is not Donald Trump. That Biden’s “lesser of two evils” message is resonating across such a broad spectrum of Americans demonstrates the extent to which the Democratic Party – and, as I argue, liberal democracy as an ideology – debases itself to begging for a “return to normalcy” when crises of its own making overwhelm its recuperative institutions.

What sort of dangers does Trump uniquely foster among American political discourse? The very first words of Biden’s campaign announcement video should give us some idea: “Charlottesville, Virginia,” the home of an apparent contradiction between the political legacy of rapist-slaveowner Thomas Jefferson and the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, a far-right protest against the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of an anti-fascist counter-protester and the continued increase in mainstream attention to fascist ideas. At the time, Unite the Right was meant to be the optical crown jewel of the “Alt-Right,” a loose network of white nationalists, neo-Confederates, libertarians, and self-identified fascists that emerged in the 2010s amidst a growing far-right online community.

For Biden, the events at Charlottesville proved that the Trump administration has emboldened all sorts of reactionary ideas that run counter to the essence of American identity. In the words of his campaign ad, “America is an idea, an idea that’s stronger than any army and bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on Earth. It guarantees everyone is treated with dignity and gives hate no safe harbor…. That’s what’s at stake in this election.” Biden goes on to critique Trump’s reaction to the rally, in which he declared there to be “good people on both sides.” In response to this, most Democrats, including Biden, defended the anti-fascists and accosted the far-right protesters. In retrospect, this push is contrary to Biden’s current spirit as evidenced by his call to prosecute anti-fascist protesters in the wake of Black Lives Matter rallies.

Biden may be a decaying windbag, but his campaign advisors are not morons. He qualifies his chicanery by preempting the progressive critique: “We haven’t always lived up to these ideals, Jefferson himself didn’t. But we have never before walked away from them.” This claim may silence the social-democratic critique that calls for a “political revolution,” or the re-invigoration of the current liberal-democratic system through election-driven, Scandinavian-style welfare capitalism. But to a thorough Marxist critique, this soft padding only reveals the extent to which our political ideals are mutually-exclusive. He’s right that we have never abandoned the essence of America, but we should.

I do not refute that Trump’s presidency has given fascists ideological cover, but I strongly disagree that their ideas represent anything but the most lucid expression of the “soul of the nation” of our times. There will be no return to normalcy because Trump is normal, and the ideas and ideologues his campaign platforms are nothing new to the Nation. Neither Trump’s nationalism nor Biden’s anti-anti-fascist flip-flopping run counter to the ideological essence of America. Instead, they are immaculate portrayals of the two parties’ different expressions of the same rotten core: racial capitalism. By tracing how liberalism both requires and bolsters fidelity to anti-black capitalism at the core of American identity, I hope to demonstrate how Biden’s surface-level anti-fascist rhetoric not only mystifies the quotidian character of anti-black violence but also strengthens the political purchase of far-right ideas.

The Soul of the Nation

What is the soul of the nation, anyway? Is it the words on the parchment of the Constitution or the feeling of togetherness that the Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to conjure? To speak of the soul of America is to assume that there is something transcendental that stabilizes America as America, irrespective of historical contingency. What sort of ideas, identities, and practices has the collective body known as “America” never walked away from, regardless of the particular political situation that certain Americans have faced?

To answer this question, let’s return to Biden’s juxtaposition of the legacy of the Founding Fathers and the eruption of the far-right. If “America is an Idea,” as the campaign ad’s title claims, then Biden is implicitly suggesting that we find the metaphysical core of the nation within its most basic political document: the Constitution. Thus, the American idea is liberal democracy, the conception that “all men are created equal,” and the aspiration toward a society in which all humans are afforded the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which is to say, property.

It is hardly a hot take to claim that the United States has never achieved that goal; Biden basically admits that. But where Biden and many of the liberal-left “anti-fascists” get it wrong is in their assumption that the anti-black violence emblematic of both Unite the Right and the Trump administration is external, rather than intrinsic, to capitalism and liberal democracy. At the time of the Constitution’s writing, the United States was a slave society built upon a genocide of Indigenous people. If the continued murder of Black people by the police and ongoing occupation of Indigenous land is any indication, the soul of America is still indebted to that material history, to say the least. To say the most, America is still a slave society and that genocide is ongoing.

To think about liberal democracy as an ideal in and of itself as Biden does, rather than grounding analysis in the material consequences of the ideal, is to present a backward conclusion. For the same reason that a food critic would never judge the quality of her dinner based on the recipe alone, it is disingenuous to only analyze liberalism in a vacuum of its own egalitarian promises, separated from the actual world that liberalism helped to construct. The Soul of the Nation didn’t start being the Soul of the Nation when America entered its bygone “post-racial” era; it must be held accountable to its entire legacy.

And when it comes to the aiding and abetting of far-right violence, American liberal democracy is far from innocent. From the century-and-a-half long history of the Ku Klux Klan to the well-documented role American eugenics laws played in inspiring Hitler’s racial policies, Americans have long courted racialist political lines to explicitly demarcate the implicit idea of white sovereignty that rests at the core of the nation. Following the twentieth-century British theoretician R. Palme Dutt, this should not come as a surprise: When even the white constituency realizes that liberal democracy is incapable of fulfilling its promises of prosperity to those it enfranchises, it maintains its own legitimacy by dulling class-antagonism with class-collaboration and by reinforcing the racist subjective parameters that inspire faith in liberalism to begin with.1 It is no wonder that Lenin’s proclamation that “Imperialism is capitalism in decay” is so often misquoted as “Fascism is capitalism in decay.” He may as well have said the latter, too.

Without looking to the class structure that liberal democracy enshrines, it is difficult to emerge with a clear idea of who falls in the purview of “all men.” For this, let’s look to a time in which America’s economic and racial structures both began to shift. During the nineteenth century amidst industrialization, white people, especially white laborers, defined themselves as white in contradistinction to Black people in order to give purchase to their political, economic, and social demands. It was on this basis that the “white worker,” the everyman to whom Trump addresses his populist message, was spawned. To be a worker, after all, requires such a paltry degree of “freedom” that could only be defined in a negative relationship to the total captivity of Black slaves. David Roediger, following DuBois, explains, “…by considering a range of comparisons with Blacks in weighing his status as a white worker, the white laboring man could articulate a self-image that, depending on his wont, emphasized either his pride in independence or his fears of growing dependency.2 The duality of pride and fear, patriotism and anxiety, continue to animate the excesses of far-right violence. These feelings add color to the infamous Unite the Right slogan: “You will not replace us!” When placed in this context, it is obvious to whom the signifiers “you” and “us” refer.

As outlined in the Three-Fifths Compromise as well as the lived reality of slavery and its so-called “abolition,” liberal democracy and racial capitalism operate(d) hand-in-hand to position Black people as the non-subjects against whom white people maintain coherence as workers, as citizens, and as Americans. But this phenomenon is not limited to America; the legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade lives on in the basic structure of the commercial capitalist system in every place where its tendrils have extended.3 It may be useful, then, to dismiss with the idea that there is something exceptionally dangerous about the soul of America in favor of understanding this violence as constitutive of something much greater – following Frank Wilderson, the soul of “The World” that was built in the image of the same anti-blackness constitutive of “America.” In any case, as Biden’s raving demonstrates, there’s something seductive about the call to identify with America that makes it worthy of its own analysis, at least on a provisional basis.

Unite the Right was a spectacular performance of the seductive power of the soul of America. It was an outpouring of white racial anxiety, hoping to defend the decrepit monuments of a “dead” slave society. The subject to whom “live, liberty, and property” was promised at the expense of those excluded in the Constitution is the same subject expressed in the “Us” of “You will not replace us!”: the White man aspiring toward the bourgeois class and the nuclear family.

It is no wonder that, contra Biden, far-right movements and ideas gain rhetorical purchase by marketing themselves as defenders of the Constitution, not its detractors. From QAnon to your local III% militia to the Ku Klux Klan, the broadest bases of far-right activity calcify around the call to defend the Constitution against immigrants, insurgents, and racialized bodies, all marionettes held by the strings of the “globalist elites.” Fascists want to defend America from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and within the imagination conjured by America’s racial anxiety, those enemies are all who fall outside of the purview of liberal democratic citizenship. This has always been the case, as Georgi Dimitrov observed the same phenomenon in 1938: “In contradistinction to German fascism, which acts under anti-constitutional slogans, American fascism tries to portray itself as the custodian of the Constitution and ‘American democracy.‘”4 The Founding Fathers wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The Battle

In the immediate aftermath of Unite the Right, liberals and (white, revisionist) socialists alike were scandalized. “How could this happen in America?” sounded the siren call of white liberals who apparently forgot that racism exists, yet again. This is to say, Biden is not alone in his attribution of the violence to Trump. There’s a reason why this campaign ad was so successful: It compounded upon anxieties that extend far beyond the 2020 Presidential Election.

For example, then-Charlottesville mayor Michael Singer recently commented that he was dumbfounded by the President’s comments during the aftermath of Unite the Right. However, since then, he has been enlightened, learning that “Trumpism” requires the mobilization of a racist base through populist rhetoric. He claims,

Despite losing the popular vote by 3 million, Trump stoked white-nationalist grievances among enough voters susceptible to those appeals in battleground states. Every time he did something that seemed an unthinkable gaffe against ideals of inclusion, it was a feature, not a bug, of his politics. On a platform built on resentment of “others,” he won the Electoral College and the presidency.

When Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign with the word “Charlottesville” and said he’d decided to run for President because the “Unite the Right” rally showed how the “soul of the nation” is at stake in the Trump era, I applauded, writing a Washington Post op-ed celebrating Biden’s recognition that Trump’s politicization of extremism was making the country at once less safe and less democratic.

Michael Singer, “I Was Charlottesville’s Mayor During the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally. Trump’s Callous Response to a Grieving Nation Is No Surprise”

And while Biden is the man of the hour, his “left-wing” counterpart, Bernie Sanders, had nothing novel to say about the situation. He took to Twitter to critique Trump:

As if racism is an embarrassment to America rather than a feature emulated by its most patriotic supporters. Palme Dutt reminds us that social democracy, the ideology that Sanders and his revisionist supporters conceal under the radical veneer of “democratic socialism,” is no enemy to fascism. In reality, social democrats have historically paved the way for fascist power-grabs in Germany, Austria, and Italy by siphoning the impetus toward class struggle at the core of socialist ideology into class-collaborationist, electoral shams. For example, the social-democratic utopia of Sweden also hosts some of Europe’s most militant neo-Nazis. Thus, we should not be surprised that Sanders, as a ruling-class politician, is drawing from the same rhetorical scraps as Biden.

Whether it’s coming from milquetoast liberals or en-vogue liberals, the exceptionalization of Trump is one of the most commonplace and dangerous misconceptions about the recent “rise” in far-right ideology and activism in the United States. The word “rise” is somewhat inaccurate here because, as our previous analysis has shown, the far-right never went anywhere as a feature of America. However, it is true that fascists have found ways to more effectively circulate their message to their “base,” which is to say, to those that liberal democracy recognizes as its own.

Without a doubt, the figure of Trump was certainly helpful for far-right activists in their facilitation of this ongoing rhetorical shift. He is, unlike most Presidents in recent history, undeniably forthright about his subversion of liberal-democratic administrative norms in favor of emulating his self-fashioned populist image. However, accepting the rhetorical role Trump played in the circulation of far-right ideas must not degenerate into scapegoating Trump at the expense of structural analysis, as it so often does. Public intellectual Henry Giroux offers a refreshingly-nuanced picture, situating the electoral conditions that gave rise to Trump within the neoliberalization of the Democratic Party, the rise to power of finance capital, and the conservative swing in the 1980’s. He, too, notices the hypocrisy at root in the Democratic Party’s self-portrayal as a bastion against fascism:

In the face of Trump’s unapologetic authoritarianism, Democratic Party members and the liberal elite are trying to place themselves in the forefront of organized resistance to such dark times. It is difficult not to see such moral outrage and resistance as hypocritical in light of the role they have played in the last 40 years of subverting democracy and throwing minorities of class and color under the bus.

Henry Giroux, “White nationalism, armed culture, and state violence in the age of Donald Trump”

While I am critical of Giroux’s presumption that any form of liberal democracy prior to the 1980s provided meaningful political avenues for anti-racist or anti-capitalist work, he offers a thorough glimpse at the past forty years that ought disprove the absurd notion that Trump was the beginning, or will be the end, of the far-right in the United States. By extension, the Democrats are no anti-fascist vanguard but rather a cowardly scheme of collaborationists.

Moreover, the real danger of exceptionalizing Trump comes less from its reliance on a whitened vision of American history than its implications for anti-fascist tactics and strategy. If we accept the premise that the rise of Trump has uniquely legitimized the far-right, then the floodgates open for myriad band-aid solutions that reinforce racial capitalism’s stranglehold on political possibility. As Biden’s campaign ad elucidates, this brand of anti-fascism will start and end at the ballot box. Like the “anti-fascism” of the German Social Democrats, this anti-fascism renounces the need for struggle against fascism at its political and libidinal roots in favor of betting upon the presumptive stability of liberal institutions. This is a dead-end for anti-fascism; if Hitler’s seizure of power and Trump’s authoritarianism both prove anything, it is that fascist demagogues do not care about the constraints of liberal democracy. In any case, they can still rely upon the white-anxiety vote to secure their power. Therefore, these “solutions” serve as a gilding of gold over the rotting, capitalist core of the Democratic Party and of liberal democracy itself, further strengthening their power as a force of counter-insurgency.

Time and time again, anti-fascist activists have proven that on-the-ground, direct confrontation remains the most effective short-term tactic for mitigating the circulation of far-right ideas. Returning to Unite the Right, not only did anti-fascists prevent a complete takeover of Charlottesville in 2017, but their tactics subverted the planned 2018 “Unite the Right 2” rally. In Washington, D.C., twenty to thirty far-right attendees were hopelessly outnumbered by thousands of counter-protesters, even though the fascists received a sizeable police escort.

While the Left is desperately in need of an anti-fascist strategy of scope and scale, it is evident that the Democrats can offer only lip service to those of us fighting for our lives and the lives of our comrades. However, it would be far too easy if the Democrats were only “unhelpful” – let’s move to analyze how Biden’s anti-fascist rhetoric actually strengthens and precipitates the continued prominence of the far-right in American politics.

The “Resistance”

Even though direct confrontation has proven effective, Biden’s plead for a twenty-first century return to normalcy criminalizes anti-fascist activism in favor of appealing to anti-black law enforcement. It shouldn’t shock anyone that Biden committed the same rhetorical slip as Trump when confronted about Black Lives Matter protests, particularly about the uprisings in Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle, which had turned particularly violent. In the midst of the righteous rebellions, Biden quickly defended ruling class interests by ensuring that he will prosecute “arsonists and anarchists.” He warrants his proclamation by claiming that the looters, rioters, and “fuck-the-police”ers were detracting from the real message – as if Biden had either the knowledge or the right to determine what the message of any protest ought be. Trump said that there were good people on both sides while Biden ups the ante; there are bad people on both sides!

However, neither Biden nor his centrist fanboys recognize the hypocrisy of this statement because they do not understand the Black Lives Matter rebellions to be anti-fascist fronts of struggle. They do not look at a police officer and see a force of right-wing terror, even when the police protect fascist protesters against the vengeance of a scorned community as they did during Unite the Right 2. This betrays a whitened, bourgeois outlook that sees the police as a natural and inevitable force for keeping the order of liberal democracy and racial capitalism. Biden can only understand the “real message” of Black Lives Matter as Black people begging for their lives rather than a revolutionary rupture from the basic violence at the core of policing. To do otherwise would be to betray the Soul of the Nation!

In reality, from their slave-patrol inception to their contemporary function as the footsoldiers of the prison-industrial complex, the police are not just natural allies of fascism but its everyday enforcers.5 Cops and Klan don’t just go hand-in-hand, they are often the exact same people. Their fundamental purpose is the protection of property, and in so doing, they also protect the racialized social relations that property engenders, or in other words, they defend and maintain a racist class society. Just like how white nationalists convened upon Charlottesville to protect their honored Confederate memory against insurgent forces, the police are summoned to defend the status quo from those brave enough to revolt against it, most of whom make up the same racialized populations against whom the subject of fascism defines itself.

The revolutionary newspaper Tribune of the People puts it well:

“’I think we do need to hold those who violate the law accountable,’ Biden said. ‘We should never let what’s done in a march for equal rights overcome what the reason for the march is. And that’s what these folks are doing. And they should be arrested — found, arrested and tried.

Any person participating in the current movement for Black lives should flat out condemn this statement. This is only the liberal version of Trump’s ‘antifa’ boogeyman, an obvious ‘law and order’ strategy to signal to his fellow imperialists he’s still their guy, and hold on to the most right-wing Democrats and independents while drawing in the conservatives who can’t bring themselves fully on board with Trump’s more open appeals to fascism. They prefer the Democrats’ more politely crafted denunciations of rebellion.”

David Martinez, “Opinion: Biden’s Own Version of ‘Law and Order’ to Compete with Trump’s”

As I have alluded before, Biden is far from alone in his defense of “law and order.” When this rhetoric seeps into politics, it has disastrous consequences for actual anti-racist, anti-fascist, and revolutionary organizing. For instance, on August 15th, a Pittsburgh protester was swept off the streets by plainclothes officers driving a white van. To many activists on the ground, the scene was reminiscent of the mass disappearances of activists by unmarked Federal officers in Portland. The next day, Democratic mayor Bill Peduto took to Twitter (at 11:41 PM) to defend the Fujimori-style affair:

The situation played out much like any given Trump scandal: Something absolutely horrific happens under his watch, public outcry ensues, and he takes to Twitter off business hours to make a spectacular, irrelevant excuse. Obviously, the ACLU immediately distanced itself from Peduto and from Pittsburgh Public Safety. Even Peduto himself reneged, the next day voicing “serious concerns” about the police action after a press conference wherein police officers ranted about how the protester, by serving as a marshal, was a threat to public safety. Here, the rhetoric of safety functions exactly the same as the more brazen rhetoric of “law and order”: to dismiss criticism of the police, and, more fundamentally, to reinforce the idea that the world must have police and that all who dare proclaim otherwise fundamentally threaten the world that racial capitalism built. To these milquetoast liberals, the idea of an America without the friendly neighborhood boys in blue is unthinkable. They are correct, of course: America would not exist without its friendly neighborhood fascists. Someone needs to keep the lid on the pot.

Biden (and Sanders, and Peduto, and every other Democratic politician) may offer convincing lip-service, defining themselves in contradistinction to Trump in hopes of winning the votes of Americans opposed to fascism. Unfortunately, however, they cannot betray the soul of America that gives their ruling-class positions political, social, and economic purchase. When the shit hits the fan, as it will perpetually do until we build a world uninhibited by racial capitalism, the Democrats will always defend the white bourgeoisie that lines their pockets.

Toward an Anti-Fascism that Actually Opposes Fascism

In How the World Swung to the Right, François Cusset makes the erudite observation that, since the upswing of right-wing ideology in the 1980’s, the rhetoric and tactics of the Left have taken on a conservative angle. The aspirational ideas that characterized twentieth-century socialist, communist, anti-racist, and progressive movements have been replaced with a drive to salvage what’s left of a system under attack. This reactionary rhetoric clearly characterizes Biden’s anti-fascist appeal, a defense of America that both sounds and operates just like the right-wing chauvinism it purports to oppose.

For “anti-fascism” to mean anything at all, it must oppose all agents and institutions that, by virtue of their existence, foment white nationalism. By providing a cover for police terror through his liberalized “law and order” rhetoric, Biden demonstrates that his drive to preserve America’s racist ideological core far exceeds his promised interest in opposing fascism. In fact, liberal democracy is not just ill-equipped to offer an anti-fascist strategy; it requires white supremacy to set the grounds for who can express political agency under a system of racial capitalism. Thus, the proponents of liberal democracy can only provide cover for the incubation of fascist ideas and tactics.

In light of this, the only anti-fascist strategies are those that denounce liberal democracy and the bourgeois class whose vampirism animates the Soul of the Nation with the blood of the dispossessed. Anything less only offers a radical veneer to a decrepit political system. Toward this, those of us invested in the eradication of fascism must reject any positions that dismiss the ongoing prevalence of the far-right as anything but a quotidian symptom of racial capitalism. No President can sign freedom into law; only the people can liberate themselves.

1 – R. Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution

2 – David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class

3 – Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition

4 – Georgi Dimitrov, The United Front: The Struggle against Fascism and War

5 – Jackie Wang, Carceral Capitalism

Against Social Media Cynicism

advance; don’t retreat!

One of my socially-distanced self-improvement projects has been to streamline my social media use: deleting old accounts, streamlining “professional” content into “professional” accounts, finally updating my Facebook, and the like. While combing through archives of old content, I read through hundred-comment arguments on Leftbook in which I participated, cringed at some of the stupid ideas that I once held sacrosanct, and reflected on my continued development as a student of Marxism. Those arguments – as insular and masturbatory as they certainly seem – continue to be important to my learning process. It is moments like these where I am reminded that all things have both positive and negative aspects. It is a shame that Leftbook is often relegated only to its negative ones.

Briefly, Leftbook refers to a decentralized network of Facebook pages, groups, and profiles that target a progressive, socialist, communist, and/or anarchist audience. It is far from the first or only of its kind across social media platforms. Similar classifications attempt to encapsulate “leftist” (whatever that means) users of Youtube, Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit, among others. Due to the rapid-fire rate of communication, those who frequent these networks can sometimes grow notorious, accumulate rudimentary levels of social capital, and can even hold name-recognition in the real-life world of leftist activism.

The type of content circulated within and among these networks is heavily mediated by platform. This has drawn users to build creative, multi-media adaptions to the restrictions and opportunities of platforms, from video-essays on “Breadtube” to the tongue-and-cheek memes on Reddit. However, it also highlights the importance of adapting the form of one’s message. For instance, “Left Twitter” has earned an especially odious reputation for vacuity of discussion, due in part to the character limit on Tweets that make long-form discussion difficult.

Regardless, one thing that all these platforms have in common – some more infamously than others – is their instant presentation of endless, personalized content to the user. Through content curation algorithms, these platforms deliver more of what the user already likes, creating a feedback loop that reinforces one’s presently-held political beliefs. The result? According to liberal pundits, a threat to Western democracy so great that it has been the subject of multiple Congressional hearings, innumerable thinkpieces, and one of Bezos’s sickest burns yet: social media as “a nuance destruction machine.”

To spare you ten hours of decrepit parasites asking Mark Zuckerberg how ad revenue works, here’s a brief list of talking-points that usually characterize liberal thought regarding the relationship between social media and bourgeois democracy:

  • Social media contributes to political polarization by feeding users only the content that they are expected to enjoy rather than the content that may challenge their existing worldview. Thus, misinformed conservatives never learn the enlightened liberal perspective.
  • Due to its lack of intrinsic fact-checking and its reliance on rapid circulation of content, social media serves as a breeding ground for disinformation campaigns, “clickbait” alarmism, and, well, nuance destruction.
  • Social media platforms are hard-wired to discourage long-form critique, and long-form critique is the only way to foster productive political dialogue. Otherwise, meaningful critique is replaced with “cancel culture.”

When combined with the typical appeal to “human nature,” these arguments paint a harrowing picture of social media as a gladitorial arena where “might makes right.” In Steven Pinker-esque fashion, liberal democracy has all the virtue but none of the rhetorical appeal, so it gets crushed under the iron boots of the Alt-Right, the Russian Hackers, the Bernie Bros, and whoever else threatens the assumed perpetuity of the End of History.

The basic through-line that cuts across and troubles each of these arguments is this: the assumption that social media presents a new threat to political discourse that capitalism, with its privatization of the political, has not always relied upon. The implosion of deliberative dialogue, the spectacularization of information, and political polarization are at the bedrock of liberal “democracy” – a point I won’t belabor too much here. However, by assuming that these conditions are illiberal, liberals make the errant assumption that only the far-right can take advantage of social media to forward their agenda.

Unfortunately, this liberal argument has also infected some left-wing criticism of social media. While left-wing cynics tend to agree that the conditions fostered by social media are hardly new phenomena, they posture similarly when confronted with strategies to address them: Our ideology is at risk of being “tainted” by Leftbook charlatans and Twitter egos, so it cannot possibly be communicated effectively under such reactionary circumstances. In so doing, these critics undersell both the resilience of Marxism and the necessity for a revolutionary media strategy in favor of just “logging off.”

I am always disappointed when I see communists, socialists, and the like uncritically adopting liberal talking-points when attempting to fathom our world. Just because liberals don’t know how to handle their datafied self being thrown back at them doesn’t mean that Marxists should capitulate as well. It is undeniable that social media presents a unique social, political, and rhetorical challenge. However, as Khawer Khan reminds us in his critique of Marxist media analysis,

“As dialectical materialists, we must look at the internal contradictions in any phenomena. Nothing is static and unchanging, and internal contradictions themselves are the motor force for change and development. Small quantitative changes accumulate over time and lead to qualitative leaps, changing the entire character of the system.”

Khawer Khan, “Marxism and the Media — Part one”

Social media is here to stay in the cultural climate of capitalism; it is only a question of how we treat it as a front of struggle. Shall we abandon one of the most ubiquitous sites of political identity formation in our times in favor of maintaining so-called “rational” so-called “discourse?” Or shall we experiment with new styles of communication to adapt to our objective and subjective conditions, using whatever tools we have to build a new world?

Social media cynicism is practically quotidian in many organizing circles and across tendencies. To properly represent the ideological breadth of this error, I will pull from three articles representing three different tendencies: “Interrogating Social Media” on the “principally Maoist” blog Struggle Sessions, “Log Off” by DSA Steering Committee member Benjamin Fong, and, most recently, “Social media spectacle: work and leisure” over on the anarcho-communist

I’ll sketch out my critique by tracing concessions to liberalism throughout these articles, explaining how they impact our politics, and providing brief comments toward a revolutionary social-media strategy. Before I do so, a disclaimer: By defending social media as a front of struggle, I do not mean to contend that it is the only, or even the primary, area where political work should take place. We need not understand social media as a palliative if we are to understand it as a potentially useful tool. Cultural fronts are necessary to unite the people behind the political project of communism. Twentieth-century communists weaponized the artists, the authors, and the newspapers. For our time, we need to both build upon what we have and to fashion different tools for liberation that are best suited to speaking to our audience, which is to say, the oppressed masses.

Social(ist) Alienation

The first theme to address can be best summarized as a question of uniqueness: Are the problems with left-leaning social media spaces unique to those spaces or endemic to political discourse under liberalism in general? Fong addresses the question directly:

The question here is whether the negative effects of platform capitalism on our lives are specific to capitalism … To answer this question, let’s start with a shocking fact: bad behavior happens on the internet. It occurs in real life, too, of course. But there is a special quality to the depravity exhibited on social media that is particular to that domain.

Benjamin Fong, “Log Off”

Fong argues that social media contributes to a societal reduction in empathy, confirmed by myriad studies, due to the disconnection between interactions on social media platforms and interactions in real life. Social media uniquely contributes to this trend due to the features of the medium: the “obsession with self-perception,” the negative feedback loop between social media use and real-life human interaction, et cetera.

Here, Fong begs the question. It is undeniably true that social media fosters an alienated form of communication, perhaps even adding a few more layers of abstraction between the speaking subject(s), the object(s) of conversation, and the medium/a. This has been proven. But to what extent does this communicative style represent a significant change from pre-digitized (political) communication under capitalism which has always been characterized by the both social and economic alienation? In what mythical pre-Twitter era have our communicative practices of self-representation not been riddled with the drive to brand ourselves and to accumulate social capital at the expense of others?

To concretize this argument, take the typical liberal hysteria surrounding algorithmic polarization that we’ve already briefly explored above. The effects of social media polarization are hardly different from the effect that suburbanization plays on the development of white, bourgeois subjecthood and the political ideas that are engendered by virtue of maintaining that position within racial capitalism. I dare say that social media has not, in fact, made a forty-something white corporate lawyer from some suburb in the Midwest more racist than they already were. Perhaps it has given them a few more talking-points to circulate, but it has not contributed to a paradigmatic shift because no paradigmatic shift has taken place. The feedback taken up by social media platforms does not fall from the sky. It is the data that we have already input: our class, our race, our pre-existing beliefs, et cetera. Racial capitalism is just doing its work in double-time.

Indeed, racial capitalism has always been adaptable, but it has never been one for self-invention. Its innovations have been more like accelerations of the previous form, while the essence – private ownership of the means of production – remains relatively stable. In social media, we see alienation reach its new zenith, only to be outdone by the next: The entanglement of user-as-producer, user-as-consumer, and novel forms of exchange value make the dividing line between social and economic alienation appear much foggier.1 As Marxists, we should think of this not as a sign to retreat but as a sign to prod even deeper to expose these contradictions and craft revolutionary tools out of what we find within.

However, by viewing the conditions of social media as separate from the conditions of capitalism, we risk dulling these contradictions by reinforcing the myth of consumer sovereignty. The media cynic’s solution to the crisis of social media, simply logging off, is oddly reminiscent of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No!” The notion that the average person can and should rationally choose what items to purchase or what services to solicit is one of the subjective bases through which the “bootstraps” narrative is perfected and real critique is dulled. It is on-the-nose, but elucidating, that Fong employs an addiction metaphor to make his points. The myth of consumer sovereignty assumes that the individual can make good choices for themself despite the coordinates of their society, not to mention that it completely erases the stratified options presented to various individuals based on class, race, gender, and myriad other spectra of difference.

In his defense, Fong admits that his view “must, however, be complemented from the social perspective” to ward off the assumption that the ill-effects of social media (which he, obviously, sees as both overwhelming and unresolvable) can be challenged on an individual basis. However, he offers little in the ways of collective solutions, other than a vague promise at the end: “The sooner we realize this about social media, the sooner we can get to the work of dismantling it.” The lack of detailed investigation as to how social media can be dismantled is telling: Under capitalism, there will be no such thing. The question is only whether to use social media or abandon it.

At least Fong pre-empts the critique of consumer sovereignty: Struggle Sessions leans all the way into its subjectivist errors. While they spare us an extended addiction metaphor (though they do make the eyebrow-raising comparison of “oppression Olympics” to drug addiction), they contend that the style of criticism endemic to social media inculcates an aggressive consumption pattern. Struggle Sessions:

“This psychology [of Leftbook] fits well with the average consciousness of consumers in an imperialist country with higher than average living standards, they are taught after all and from an early age that if they want cookies for dinner anyone who tells them ‘no’ is being repressive. An aggressive consumer is the ideal type of consumer in an imperialist center. This serves beautifully in the division of the masses into individual consumption units away from their unified class interests and is one of the best counter-revolutionary measures the ruling-class has at play at any given time.”

Struggle Sessions, “Interrogating Social Media”

This argument is self-defeating: If it is true that the inhabitants of imperialist nations are taught to stratify ourselves due our living standards, then abstaining from social media use will hardly do anything to change that, even at an individual level. The problem (the subjective terrain of capitalist-imperialism) is too large for the paltry solution (deleting your Twitter account) to address. We will still be fed the cultural scripts of capitalism from every other media outlet that we are taught to consume. The end-game of this argument can only pan out in two ways: on the individual level, the enforcement of the myth of consumer sovereignty that mystifies the nature of social media, and on the strategic level, the complete abdication of a potentially-effective propaganda tool.

As I’m sure the Maoist author would agree, only revolutionary struggle can truly change subjective outlook. However, scapegoating social media does little to prepare us for such struggle. To recognize the lack of uniqueness within leftist critiques of social media is not just to play a game of chicken-and-egg; it has real ramifications for how we engage in struggle, online and offline. Neither Fong nor Struggle Sessions seriously question whether social media can actually be dismantled on a collective basis under capitalism because they take social media to be fundamentally distinct from any other ruling-class media. As such, their suggestion to the reader is mere abandonment of social media, the liquidation of a potential front of struggle, and the adoption of a cynical attitude toward media work in an age where “media work” implies, to a large extent, engagement with social media.

The liquidation of social media goes part and parcel with a self-defeating nihilism as demonstrated in the piece, “Social media spectacle: work and leisure.” In it, Liverpool-based anarchist blogger argues that social media is saturated not just by the basic economic essence of capitalism but then “illusion of engagement and involvement where there is none.” The assertion that there is neither engagement nor involvement on social media because it is, indeed, owned by capitalists for the purpose of profit is nonsense: There is nothing in a capitalist society that is not tainted by capitalism. By this logic, organization is impossible, stymied by the facetious drive for purity. We mustn’t step foot in the universities, in the town halls, in the cafes, for there be capitalists!

In any case, engagement and involvement is possible through a strategic use of social media. Activists are already proving this by using social media to fund-raise, coordinate logistics for actions, share information, propagandize, criticize and self-criticize, among others. For example, in the Public Seminar essay “In Praise of Clicktivism,” Adam Tomasi highlights how NoDAPL supporters “checked in” at Standing Rock on Facebook to disrupt police surveillance. These tactics are effective enough on this quotidian, ephemeral basis, but the possibilities only expand when Marxists begin to understand social media as an avenue for serious political work, not a self-indulgent cesspool. Capitalism will always try to adapt and overcome through its schemes of surveillance and incorporation, but that does not mean we should surrender the front of social media on sole account that it has been “commodified.” Instead, it means that we should learn what makes the algorithm tick, exploit what ground we can find, and build up a strong security culture to keep ourselves safe.

The arguments presented in this section primarily sought to indict social media by virtue of its association with capitalism, a fact of capitalist society that cannot simply be logged off. In so doing, these arguments reinforce a cynical conception of social media by emphasizing its worst inevitable effects and erasing its best ones. In the next section, I will trace how these cynics assume that the spectacular(ized) nature of social media content production is always detrimental to the cause of liberation, rather than a potential rhetorical tool in the arsenal of revolutionaries.

Shock and Aww…

In their various condemnations of social media as a political technology, liberals like to argue that social media uniquely serves to spread misinformation. They have a point here: It’s true that the far-right has effectively utilized a strategy of “memetic warfare” to drum up support by encouraging their base to be more aboveboard about the reactionary views they already had.2 Standard-issue liberals have not learned to do the same. Bernie-esque social democrats have done slightly better with the online presence of the DSA, Jacobin, among others.3 Marxists can and should take up more work on this front.

Some lefty detractors of social media take this fact as a reason to reject the strategic use of social media all-together, claiming, essentially, that if reactionaries can use social media to make reactionary ideas popular, then social media must be reactionary in essence. However, this argument is not very popular because it is an obvious association fallacy. The more common version of this argument attributes something reactionary to the essence of political communication on social media, not the platforms themselves. These critics try to find something that ticks for the right, but not for the left, in the way we talk to each other on social media. This dynamic plays out in all pieces, but most spectacularly (and absurdly) in the Struggle Sessions text.

In Ben Shapiro fashion, the Struggle Sessions text presents us with a lamentation of the emotionally-charged nature of political discussion on social media, arguing that pathetic appeals come second-nature to fascists, but not to communists, because fascist propaganda “builds on a basal resentment no matter how deep down it resides.” First and foremost, emotional appeals are not only for fascists. It been proven more times than I can hope to hyperlink (but here’s one for good measure) that we make political decisions primarily through emotional appeal and that feeling does not subordinate but rather accompanies rationality. This is exactly why the cultural front is so important for Mao Zedong: He knew that the people of China would not accept new ideas just because the flag of Communism flew over the land, so he invested in art, literature, and propaganda that stirred the emotions.4

The people are not an empty, unfeeling vessel in which you throw in the correct political line and a Communist comes out. People take persuasion, and persuasion using only the logical faculties, as if they are separate from any other form of knowledge production, is like running into battle with the newest rifle and no pants on. We need more propaganda, not less, and a propaganda strategy is only effective to a broad audience when it takes up every persuasive avenue at its disposal. We must not discount resentment, for instance, as a persuasive tool: Make videos, write essays, and spread memes that encourage people to resent their class enemies, as they should.

Without persuasive strategies that utilize ethos (character-based appeal) and pathos (emotion-based appeal), communists are bound to get lost in the weeds of discourse, as the article goes on to prove. The absolute foolishness of the Struggle Sessions argument is revealed when they attempt to compare Leftbook and the Far-Right. Apparently, someone on Facebook claimed that the American Red Guard formations are predominantly white, and the author compared this to fascist argumentation because it was a lie that talked about whiteness as a mythical construct – somehow. The author writes about this most-horrendous scandal:

“What is insinuated is far more devious, charges of ‘all white’ implicitly claim that these organizations either bar people who are not white from joining (making them white supremacist organizations) or that they just consciously refuse struggle alongside the most oppressed sections of the masses, and focus exclusively on white struggles (again white supremacy)—in both cases this translates to arguing that an anti-fascist movement is the real fascist movement. The so-called internet left has come around again to agree with the internet right.”

Struggle Sessions

There’s a lot going on here. To start, I doubt you can find anyone who both knows who the Red Guards are and assumes that they only let in white people. Even then, someone who thinks that the Red Guards are mostly white is not likely to make the logical leap toward viewing the organization as white supremacist – for the same reason that people do not think of the DSA, by in large, as a white supremacist organization on account of its majority-white base. I do not presume to know whether the claim made on Facebook is true, but it is clear that the Horseshoe Theory extrapolation does not indict social media but their own comprehension of what was likely a worthy political critique. Not to mention that the author takes the words of a handful of commentators to be representative of “the Internet left,” which is constituted by innumerable users at various levels of engagement, the vast majority of whom probably don’t even know who the Red Guards are.

I haven’t even touched the surface of what could be said here, from the author’s strange fixation on a dragged-up picture of Mao to their disdain toward “tankie hoes.” Needless to say, this “facts over feelings” critique relies on far more feelings than facts, and in doing so, it attempts to negate the powerful role that emotionality can and should play in the struggle for hearts and minds. In order to harness this rhetorical avenue, we need to toughen up – not taking online comments as representative of anything more than infinitesimally small parts of the broader whole of online public discourse. We must seize all persuasive tools available to us, regardless of whether they fit into a long-form WordPress essay, and we need to use all media at our disposal to advance the cause of socialism. We need to use every facet of communication to our advantage, from the lauded socialist newspapers to the experimental formats. And, most importantly, we need to have faith that our ideas are strong enough to survive the test of fire that is public opinion.

Optimism, Not Cynicism!

Social media is hardly a newfangled contraption anymore, yet it still attracts a strong share of old men yelling at clouds, refusing to divide one into two in favor of their comfortable pessimism. Like the Luddites before them and like every other vulgar-materialist after, these critics obfuscate the progressive qualities of social media by completely subordinating analysis of subjective reality to objective reality. It is for-profit, it is illogical, it is spectacular; thus, Marxists cannot bother themselves with it. Ironically, they take up the same cynicism of which they accuse the interlocutors of Leftbook!

By framing their critiques as rejections, the articles I’ve mentioned here all feed into pessimism – they refuse to apply dialectical materialism to find the positive aspects of social media, instead treating the negatives as totalizing. This is a subjectivist, liberal logic that makes the liquidation of struggle inevitable.

In so doing, the cynics outright ignore every positive aspect of social media: Social media is a ubiquitous technology where, with the right tricks of the trade, our messages could reach people we never thought possible before. The masses are online, because they want to be and, in many cases, because they must be. It is only a question of if, when, and how we reach them.

This is, of course, not to say that no critique of leftist social media is valuable. The Struggle Sessions piece is absolutely correct, for instance, that Leftbook-types should criticize and dismantle their online cliquishness and engage in real outreach and educational work. I find Kyri Lorenz’s “Leftbook, we need to talk” instructive as the author invites the Online Left to self-criticize and correct for the tendencies of social media discourse that Fong, libcom, and Struggle Sessions all name. The difference? Lorenz offers a precise critique and a precise solution: a critique of dogpiling, not a rejection of social media all-together.

Abandon media cynicism and instead foster an organized Marxist media strategy! Bring line struggle to the Facebook comments and Marxist memes to the TikTok zoomers. Partisan discipline, not totalizing rejection, can help us fashion revolutionary rhetorical tools within and against these platforms. In our times of acute, rebellious energy, to leave any option by the wayside is to abandon a potential weapon that can help us deliver a blow to Empire.

1 – James Reveley, “Understanding Social Media Use as Alienation: a review and critique”

2 – Dan Prisk, “The Hyperreality of the Alt Right”

3 – Meagan Day, “Unfortunately, We Can’t Log Off”

4 – Mao Zedong, “Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art”

Surviving Whiteness: Fantasy, Faggotry, and the Androphile Politics of Jack Donovan

caught lacking

Paper presented at the National Communication Association 105th annual convention, “Communication for Survival,” in Baltimore, Maryland, where it was recognized as the Top Student Paper in the GLBTQ Communication Studies division, on November 16th, 2019.

A version of this paper was also recognized as the Best Honors Thesis in Communication at Wake Forest University in April 2019.

This essay contains references to ideologies of genocidal intent.

“The Gay Agenda:” a specter of flamboyant faggots, duplicitous drag queens, and gender outlaws coming to a white Christian cul-de-sac near you. This vision has haunted the American right since well before its religious shift in the late twentieth century, from the “lavender scare” of the ‘50s to the institutionalization of homosexuals under the umbrella of paraphilia. However, as the Overton Window continues to shift, conservatism has found new poster children within a batch of young, affluent, white millennials championing white nationalism, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, and myriad other far-right beliefs. Many corners of this “new” right have renounced many of their previous devotions in favor of intensifying their investments in white supremacy and misogyny: one of which being homophobia. To be clear, most of the far-right still believe that homosexuals are degenerates who deserve to die in the racial holy war. However, one need not look further than fallen star of the right Milo Yiannopoulos, the infamous writer and spokesman of The Dangerous Faggot fame, to show how much impact the embrace of gay men by the far-right can have: By highlighting his own homosexuality, Yiannopoulos gave the right a chip in the assumed game of neoliberal identity politics championed by their mainstream center-left opposition.

This phenomenon has grown to the extent that many white, cisgender gay men have negotiated the contours of a homosexual male identification outside of the LGBT context and the liberal-left connotations presumed by the acronym. This process of re-identification mandates a stark separation between the right-wing and mainstream homosexual subjects. As such, the threat of the gay agenda continues to loom, albeit translated for a very different context than its late-twentieth century conception. The queer subjects who find themselves accepted into the hallowed halls of white supremacy mobilize the same framework of the gay agenda to mark the differences between properly-redpilled queers and their liberal cuck counterparts. This process reeks of the same homophobia as that which was mobilized by the evangelical right against homosexuals in the past. Thus, I ask this central question: How do white gay men on the far-right negotiate their queerness in service of white supremacy?

In this paper, I examine the writings of Jack Donovan, one of the headlining personalities of the Wolves of Vinland, a network of Volkisch homosexual men in Virginia. However, his audience expands beyond the Wolves’ Lynchburg base camp; with several published books under his belt (including The Way of Men, a book that gets circulated particularly heavily among white nationalists, men’s rights activists, et cetera), countless well-circulated articles on far-right blogs, and an Instagram following of about 26,000, his politics of new homosexual masculinity reach a broad audience. He offers homosexual men a solution to cleanse them of the impurities of liberal LGBT culture, freeing them from the “sissified” gay agenda. He and his followers are “androphiles,” a replacement at all levels for “gay,” described in a titular manifesto. According to Donovan, androphilia is a positive identification with men who choose kinship with men; sexual attraction toward men is only a byproduct of the androphile’s devotion to men, masculinity, and manhood.[1] Donovan argues that the mainstream gay movement has become too imbricated in the LGBT coalition.[2] Instead, gay men should cultivate their natural alliance with other men instead of with lesbians and transgender people, with whom he sees hardly anything to be had in common.[3] The androphile identity is grounded in Donovan’s assertion of masculine purity and supremacy over the feminine, positing the ideal man to be a “barbarian” who defends his society from two gendered threats. He warns that men must defeat potential invaders invaders, who embody inferior masculinity because of their inability to successfully best the masculine subject. However, his primary fixation is upon controlling and containing a society’s feminine interior, lest it denigrate the masculine subject – the fate of gay men under liberalism.[4]

Contrary to many of his peers, Donovan ostensibly claims that androphiles should take an ambivalent approach to the racial politics of the far-right.[5] Unlike Milo, who does not bother to veil his bias against black people, immigrants, Muslims, and numerous other racialized populations, Donovan suggests that the androphile’s politics are race-neutral. Unfortunately, scholars of the far right have taken Donovan’s racial politics at face-value. In an anthology of the alt-right, Matthew Lyons writes, “…in contrast to most Alt Righists, race is not Donovan’s main focus or concern.[6] I fear Lyons has taken Donovan’s words at face-value. While he concedes that Donovan’s ideology shares much in common with the explicit white supremacy of related fascist movements, he does not flesh out the connection between androphilia and its natural allies: the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, the alt-right, and MRA’s who cite his books. In order to enrich the study of how homosexuality is negotiated as an identity within and as an antagonism against the far-right, I argue that, as a proposed replacement of the gay identity, androphilia is seductive because it binds together the Symbolic contradiction, yet Imaginary cohesion, of white supremacy and queer kinship. First, I’ll briefly discuss the theoretical scope of this paper before charting how androphilia tacitly reveals that its own project of reframing masculinity only reveals the constitutive Lack within white masculinity that Donovan recuperates using assumptions of white supremacy.

I use a close rhetorical analysis of Donovan’s writing in conversation with psychoanalytic queer theory. In particular, Lee Edelman isolated the sinthome, a bind through which subjects codify their identity within the relationships of the different registers.[7] I contrast androphilia as a sinthome to Lee Edelman’s sinthomosexual, which he describes as “…fantasy turned inside out, the seams of its costume exposing reality’s seamlessness as mere seeming, the fraying knots that hold each sequin in place now usurping that place.[8] Edelman’s sinthomosexual negates the presupposed coherence of gender at every juncture. As such, the original conception flies in the face of the androphile, a champion of naturalized masculine virility. However, the sinthomosexual and the androphile both begin with an escape from a presumed-natural function of the male body: reproduction. On the one hand, Edelman’s sinthomosexual embraces a loss in gendered meaning, theorized as part of a decline in symbolic efficiency inherent within homosexuality, as that which binds the tripartite orders into a radically-negative identity that cannot (re)produce the Symbols of heterosexuality.[9] On the other hand, the androphile re-introduces fantastical meaning into gender by refusing the inscription of femininity onto homosexuality.[10] Through this process, the androphile attempts to swim against the current of the decline in symbolic efficiency, fabulating gendered meaning when homophobia no longer grants masculinity its coherence.

One of the ways in which androphilia conceals its weddedness to white supremacy is through Donovan’s depoliticization of desire. Androphilia: A Manifesto begins by firmly rejecting the notion that homosexual men should form their politics from the standpoint of their sexual orientation, a clear point of contention between both the liberal LGBT community and Edelman’s radical paradigm. As Donovan writes, “The manifesto… is a rejection of the idea that the experience of homosexual desire should determine a man’s taste, his behavior, his friends or his politics. It’s a rejection of the idea that sexuality creates a complete identity or defines a man.[11] This opens up room for the androphile to begin from his natural manhood rather than his attraction to the manhood of another man. However, this exchange does not succeed in alienating desire from identity formation, as Donovan claims. Rather, it replaces one form of desire for another: desire for inclusion, the cornerstone of the homonormative subject.

I won’t go too far into how homonormativity functions here, but I will outline how the study of far-right homosexual men forces us to reconsider the homonormative subject in this new political sphere, where Lisa Duggan’s “third way” has dropped any pretense of race-neutrality. In 2002, when a religious, conservative power base still held the reins on the expansion of liberal gay rights in the United States, a core tenant of homonormativity was the rejection of conservative moral purity politics, an outright dismissal of the “gay agenda” as a form of fear-mongering.[12] On the other hand, nowadays, many core elements of the far right have thrown themselves behind homosexual spokesmen, and numerous far-right movements have foregone Christian fundamentalism (or, at the very least, those parts of Christian fundamentalism that prevented homonormative inclusion into right-wing movements). As such, the homonormative subject no longer adheres to a third way politic that Duggan initially described, one that takes the social liberalism of the American left along more traditionally-conservative economic, political, and racial politics. Now, a homonormative subject may throw themselves fully in the lot with the new right, as their inclusion is not only permitted, but encouraged, by some circles – as long as they’re a white man.

Now, if androphilic desire is allegedly depoliticized, Donovan’s identity still needs something upon which to attach, a grammar that renders androphilia legible. Try as it might, the androphile does not divorce his nascent political identity from his desire for intimacy with men, or rather, manhood. The subject to which the androphiles strive is a hyper-masculine homosexual whose relationship to his manhood keeps its foot in the door of whiteness. For example, in the face of the feminization of homosexual men, Donovan alludes to masculinity as “universally understood,” suggesting that anyone, no matter their social, cultural, or political positioning, can “differentiate between men who are masculine and those who are less so.[13] He explicitly chooses not to pin down the precise differences between masculine and feminine men, arguing that language is insufficient to truly describe the rush of testosterone that delineates “natural” man’s business from femininity.[14] The slippage in Donovan’s masculine ideal is a demonstration of the fantastic nature of masculinity as an identification and gender as a language. The androphile’s masculinity cannot be pinned down because the traits associated with masculinity – Euro-centric standards of male physicality, courage defined by an us-versus-them dichotomy, et cetera – are only masculine insofar as they are defined by what they are not: feminine, blackened, and Other. As such, Donovan’s masculine subject is not inherently masculine outside of its Lack of femininity, which is always relegated to a non-white body.

Donovan’s only attempt to produce a culturally-comparative analysis of masculinity, his only attempt to signify the masculine outside of a negative dialectic with femininity, only further demonstrates how white supremacy is woven into the sinthome of androphilia, giving its excessive desire something to which it can endlessly strive. He suggests that one thing that men have in common is, paradoxically, that they cherish being a man, and would “rather be dead than physically emasculated.”[15] He continues:

In particularly macho cultures from ancient Rome to the modern Middle East, men would often prefer death even to psychological emasculation – as evidenced by Muslim outrage over the sexual humiliations perpetrated on men in Abu Ghraib. Being a man and being thought of as a man by one’s male peers is deeply important to the vast majority of men; it is absolutely fundamental to their identities.[16]

In this passage, he demonstrates the racialized and imperial impact of this practice of gender: To be thought of as a man in a race-neutral (and therefore white, Christian, and Western) context is to validate the sexualized torture of Others under the pretense of emasculating them, an act of bodily and gendered, imperial warfare. The war crimes at Abu Ghraib were part and parcel of a united America utilizing its apparent sexual freedom to terrorize and feminize those who had supposedly terrorized and feminized America on 9/11. Recall that the tortures at Abu Ghraib were not authorized through some rationale of political calculus. Instead, the logic by which the American military and Donovan both justify the torture is reproduced through individuated desire for masculinity at the expense of others.[17] For Donovan, there is no man without conquest in an effort to fill masculinity’s Lack, and the androphile’s conquest occurs along the lines of American imperialism abroad and anti-blackness and settler colonialism at home.

Additionally, this negative definition of masculinity demonstrates the nature of his masculinity as an empty appeal to a Symbolic law of gender. In the above passage, he takes pride in the fact that the only thing that men have in common is that they are not women. This formation mirrors a psychoanalytic theory of masculine identification. The assumption that a man “has” the phallus, or that he has supposedly mastered their conception of (gendered) identity, forces the terror of loss onto men.[18] When men perceive that they are sufficiently masculine, they obsess to maintain that against all potential threats.[19] This leaves the androphile to endlessly grasp for a sense of identity through his fruitlessly attempts to avoid the feminine, to protect against blackness, both as attempts to “keep” what he never had in the first place: a stable identity.

This aspirational masculinity attempts to conceal its negative identity by associating itself with empty signifiers of possession – “being manly,” rather than “not being womanly.” This is exemplified in Donovan’s polemic against gay marriage in the epilogue of the manifesto. For Donovan, marriage is meant to exist between a man and a woman for the purpose of reproduction. Thus, homosexual men should instead celebrate their relationship through a fraternal union, symbolized through Neo-Pagan “coming of age” rituals, like sharing blood.[20] This suggestion demonstrates, quite literally, how masculinity reduces itself to symbolic acts to prove itself to be whole.  Because the androphile has failed on two accounts – first, to fulfill his racial-reproductive duties with a woman, and second, more fundamentally, to constitute his identity as a whole-something in its own right – he resorts to an anxious performance of hyper-masculine kinship at the expense of all feminized and blackened communities.

With the androphile’s identity found Lacking, how does Donovan’s theorization of androphilia fit into the grand scope of the new right? Donovan elucidates a masculine-supremacist interpretation of the Donald Trump presidency in “No One Will Ever Make America Great Again,” written a decade after the Manifesto. He argues that Trump cannot fulfill his motto’s promise because the days in which America were great, named by Donovan as the post-War era, was so great because “The American people were far less diverse in racial background and religious belief. The sexes were still largely segregated, and sex roles were clearly defined.[21] Despite his virulent anti-immigrant stances, Donovan argues that Trump cannot stem the tide of immigration and hyper-femininity that will make non-Hispanic whites “the minority” and properly-masculine men awash in philosophical and social heterogeneity.[22] Even the politics of mass deportation, expansion of carceralism in black communities, and the fierce rolling-back of rights for women and transgender people cannot stop the gay agenda. This begs the question: To what extent would Donovan see exercised in order to contain the feminine interior and defeat the failed invaders? How far beyond Trump is far enough? Clearly, the measures needed to produce Donovan’s preferred homogenous America cut into fascism that mirrors the demands of contemporary neo-Nazi movements. To “make America white again,” as Donovan describes and hopes, non-whites would have to be humiliated, deported, and exterminated en masse, and the forms of sociality afforded to the population could only be in the service of striving toward the unfillable Lack of masculinity.[23]

When brought to its completion, the true androphile pits himself into a conflict for the survival of America as a pure, white society against the encroachment of racialized men who embody failed masculinity. This conflict functions to defend and produce their own masculinity while simultaneously constructing non-white immigrants, Black people, and indigenous people as feminized, failed gender deviants to be corralled and exterminated. In their actions outside of the texts, Donovan and the androphiles mimic pastoral whiteness that mirrors the ongoing process of survival and settlement, as demonstrated by his extended tribal metaphor in The Way of Men. Through Donovan’s work, the androphiles find their best example of male kinship in action through the Wolves of Vinland, a neo-pagan “tribe” located outside of Lynchburg, Virginia. Holding rituals involving spreading blood and mud on the muscular, tattooed bodies of their Norse neo-pagan tribesmen, the Wolves demonstrated a return to the purity of nature, the purity of European spirituality, and as such, the purity of white male kinship. It should be no surprise that the Wolves of Vinland have accepted donations from alt-right publishing giant Counter Currents Publishing, and they have confirmed favor toward a deluge of white nationalist endorsements.[24]

The Wolves’ – and, by extension, the androphiles’ – tribalism provides another avenue through which they attempt to utilize investments in white supremacy in order to satisfy their drive toward masculinity. Because hegemonic Western manhood lacks formalized initiation rituals of manhood that were prevalent in the Norse pre-Christian cultures that the they desperately mimic, Donovan’s androphiles had to invent their own initiations, drawing upon their spiritual memory of heathenism. The tribesmen of the Wolves of Vinland emphasize their wilderness retreats and bloody rituals as rites of passage into their aesthetic movement. This harkening toward the natural, forested settings, untouched by corrupt, feminized modernity, eerily mirrors the mid-twentieth century rites of initiation utilized by male-centered, anti-woman collectives in the wake of the mainstreaming of women’s liberation. As Nicolas Fields accounts, “…the allure of a true and legitimate gender identity was hard to deny for a large group of men who were left with more questions than answers in the wake of feminism’s second wave.[25] The truth and legitimacy of this identity, questioned not on its own accord but in response to the demands of feminism, belies the fantastical nature of the male identity that androphilia upholds. With every mock Norse ritual performed in the Virginian woods and each double-tap gifted to one of Donovan’s Instagram posts, a knot is tied between homosexuality and whiteness in a futile attempt to achieve the perfect fantasy of masculinity, and another androphile is born.

In closing, the work of tracing the birth of the androphilic identity at the psychic level reveals that scholars following the rise of the new right must take a closer look at the diverse identities and political traditions of its members, especially as transgender, gender non-conforming, and similar-gender attracted people find themselves selectively incorporated into its ranks.[26] After all, the Wolves of Vinland would likely frown on the flamboyance of Milo Yiannopoulos due to his flamboyant performativity, a symptom of his feminization. As such, it is evident that there is no singular rubric for how and why the right seeks out these homonormative subjects, and vice versa. What attracts some men to androphilia is different than what draws others to neoreaction, neo-Nazism, the alt-right, et cetera. Critically examining the factors that attract homosexual men to the new right, and the new right to homosexual men, arms scholars with new tools to counteract those psychosocial factors. With this research, queer and trans communities might better recognize the dangers of this new, homonormative fascism, opening the door for new modes of resistance against the siren song of fantastic masculinity.

[1] Jack Malebranche, Androphilia, A Manifesto: Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity (Baltimore, MD: Scapegoat Publishing, 2006), 113.

[2] In this essay, the term “men” refers to cisgender men, as Donovan’s ideology does not support the existence of transgender men in the first place. To demarcate “cisgender” versus “transgender” in Donovan’s description of male brotherhood would be to give him far too much credit in his ability to articulate gender difference.

[3] Malebranche, Androphilia, 18.

[4] Jack Donovan, The Way of Men (Milwaukie, OR: Dissonant Hum, 2012), chap. The Perimeter.

[5] Jack Donovan, “No One Will Ever Make America Great Again,” Jack Donovan (blog), July 8, 2016,

[6] Lyons, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”

[7] Osserman, “Is the Phallus Uncut?,” 505.

[8] Edelman, No Future, 35.

[9] Edelman, 149.

[10] Malebranche, Androphilia, 112.

[11] Ibid., ix.

[12] Duggan, “The New Homonormativity,” 176.

[13] Malebranche, Androphilia, 65.

[14] Ibid., 66.

[15] Malebranche, Androphilia, 45.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Agathangelou, Bassichis, and Spira, “Intimate Investments,” 124.

[18] It is important to remember that, in Lacanian terms, the phallus does not refer to the sexual organ itself, but rather to the phallus as representation of Lack and sexual difference.

[19] Stephen Frosh, Sexual Difference: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1994), 77.

[20] Malebranche, Androphilia, 65.

[21] Donovan, “No One Will Ever Make America Great Again.”

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Betsy Woodruff, “Inside Virginia’s Creepy White-Power Wolf Cult,” The Daily Beast, November 12, 2015, sec. us-news,

[25] Nicolas Field, “Farewell Manly Strength: Masculinity and the Politics of Emotion” (University of Toronto, 2017), 35.

[26] I choose not to describe the potential non-cisgender, non-heterosexual members of the new right as “LGBT.” While some might choose to use those labels, some, like the androphiles, begin by rejecting the acronym and even the identity of “gay” due to its feminization, liberalization, or association with racial minorities. Scholars of men who have sex with men, especially those who identify as heterosexual, demonstrates that to identify within the LGBT community is a political choice. More comparative research might elucidate why some in the new right, like Blaire White, do not shirk from these mainstream phrases, while others write multiple manifestos on why they do.