Category Archives: Interview

Colonialism, Green Resistance, and Fighting Eco-Fascism: An Interview With Eco-Anarchist Kevin Tucker

In an effort to start to broaden the voices of antifascists, we are doing interview across the radical spectrum to open up space to expanding what we understand as resistance. Kevin Tucker is a “Primal Anarchist” who takes inspiration from hunter-gatherer societies and looks to take on many of the inequities inherent in settler colonialism and industrial capitalism.

His new book is called The Cull of Personality: Ayahuasca, Colonialism, and the Death of a Healer, where he unpacks the extractive history of “Ayahuasca Inc.” that many in the liberal-left are selling as a solution to our mass alienation and trauma. As a vocal antifascist, Tucker has a unique perspective in the fight against fascism, both in its relationship to Western colonialism and to the trends of eco-fascism that permeate.

We talk about both of these with him, where he dives deep into his research into how these forms of intersecting oppression manifest.

Why did you choose to focus on Ayahuasca for your last book?

Really the story felt like it presented itself in a lot of ways. 

The Cull of Personality centers on the killing of the Shipibo-Conibo plant healer, Olivia Arévalo, in April 2018 by a Canadian man, Sebastian Woodroffe. Woodroffe was just one of many thousands of people out there riding the wave of thinking that ayahuasca—a hallucinogenic brew made from a vine and additional plants—was going to transform mental health approaches for the West. Essentially this kind of superfood fad approach to thinking that there was going to be some kind of consumption-based answer to the existential crisis that modernity has created. 

The reality of it is that ayahuasca becomes exalted, but entirely out of context—the same way that colonizers have always approached extractable “resources” along the colonial frontier. Regardless of the meaning and spin that gets put on ayahuasca, it becomes another globalized commodity. To paraphrase the historian Daniel Immerwahr, the history of colonialism is really this search for obscure forest products. 

Here, you have the history of ayahuasca falling in the traces of empire between guano, yerbamate, shrunken heads, rubber, and oil. I had already been working on different projects that drew out those links, but then when I heard about the killing of Arévalo, I anticipated it to be the story of colonialism and cultural appropriation. The more I dug into it; the more it became this far more intertwined narrative that gave a more insidious picture about how colonialism functions and continues to perpetuate itself. 

Ayahuasca, in other words, became more of a character in this larger story, but the deeper it goes, the more entrenched the realities and nuances of civilization become apparent. What does it mean to have regions where the goal was more based in extraction over settlements? What impact does that have upon Indigenous societies? How far do the ripples of contact spread and why? 

The defenders of ayahuasca—and any similar plant-based medicinal or hallucinogen—will start at the end: we are here to uphold and validate Indigenous knowledge. As though eco-tourism will save the soul of the colonizer and their progeny. That allows us to create this kind of a savior complex whereby we are here to save and salvage a “dying culture” or some threatened cultural memory and preserve it, which innately disempowers the peoples who lived within it. 

In the case of eco-tourism, that’s even truer. 

It’s white washing colonialism and putting this smiling face on this industry where there are hundreds to thousands of these predatory retreat centers and a genuine industry built around this plant and a faux-imagining of an Indigenous society—one that is exclusionary and often dancing upon graves not yet filled. 

So the story is really about colonialism and civilization, ayahuasca became the primary character. It’s important to draw it out, because we forgive the good intentions of someone like Woodroffe since we don’t want to see what they really say about us. And what they say about the way we interact with the world and its consequences. We can draw clearer lines around a brutal colonizer like Francisco Pizarro, but Woodroffe remains less clear. 

The truth is that both of them, like all of us, share in the same legacy.

 

How does the West’s appropriation of Ayahuasca exist in the history of colonialism?

This is a trickier question; the long answer is the book. The quicker answer is that the problem here is two-fold: cultural appropriation and also the creation of cultural memory. To understand one, we have to understand the other. 

So let’s start at the end: cultural appropriation. 

In this case, ayahuasca has taken on this mystical element due to pro-psychedelic counter-cultural writers creating this mythic past for a substance they encountered. Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs wrote The Yage Letters, which is based around ayahuasca. More recent books like The Cosmic Serpent carry on the work of people like Terence McKenna, who wrote The Food of the Gods

What happened is that drop out culture was searching all across the world for some kind of legitimacy. Often they found it in these hyper-idealized and reductionist views of Indigenous societies, which they boiled down to a single substance or a single ritual. 

That’s reductionist because we’re talking about enmeshed cultures—ones that are typically divided up by anthropologists and administrators or missionaries. That’s really this process of extrapolating our own divisions and crises upon societies that we, as a civilization, encounter. The world for most societies just isn’t capable of being divided into neat categories and broken apart. 

So along come the back-to-the-land hippies and psychedelic drop outs, mixed with really uncritical pop anthropology and pharmacology, and then all of the sudden they think that they are upholding cultures by trying to cram the entirety of who they are and what they feel into a single plant or ritual or item, something of that nature. 

Clearly, that isn’t an accurate reflection of anything other than a commodified culture trying to distill a rooted one.

At best, it’s paternalistic: we’re here to validate and save a piece of your culture from us, by turning it into something we find value in. Often something that is here to save us from ourselves. It’s a pit of irony that is just literally disgusting. 

The colonial reality of this process is that we don’t have to encounter or realize the harsh realities behind any degree of cultural memory or tradition of the cultures that colonizers encounter. We’re talking about militaries and missionaries here who have directly targeted, killed, tortured, and dismembered any agent of spiritual practice within Indigenous societies. 

Missionaries and administers have always been after ethnocide—the destruction of culture—when the practices of genocide don’t yield a complete reduction of a people to unmarked graves. Any spiritual or religious practice becomes a target, first and foremost, alongside the act of removing the ability for autonomy and subsistence for a people. 

That is something that we have done and that we continue to do. Every single thing about cultural traditions and memories amongst Indigenous societies is here because they fought for it, not because some Westerner discovered it like an arcane treasure hidden in early explorer accounts. Indigenous societies struggle to maintain their cultures, often that might mean hiding or even lying to outsiders about practices that we are going to leech in any predatory manner.

In every single one of these cases, it has been the avenues and positions of cultural memory that have been under direct attack by colonizers in all forms. Be it the execution of healers, shamans, two spirits, elders, and medicine people within these societies, or the targeting of cultural vestiges from language to ritual to practices. Indigenous societies have and continue to struggle against this, so when a Westerner comes along and acts like they’ve resurrected a giant that no one in this culture had prior knowledge of or had supposedly forgotten, it’s hard not to see the colonial legacies on full display. 

It’s a hubristic refusal to acknowledge the realities of privilege we have when facing Indigenous societies from the perspective of the Westerner and to believe we have discovered something. These societies know what they have and it exists in a context. When you go to an ayahuasca retreat or buy white sage at the grocery store, you are encountering an object with a massive lineage and not having to confront that or see what it entailed to get that item to you. 

So the first and easiest path to cross here is that ayahuasca is nothing new in terms of cultural appropriation. McKenna’s wife had given talks about being spoken to by ayahuasca and talked about “liberating” it from the forest. That’s a pretty awful position to put yourself in, but there you have it. It’s just another iteration of this white savior complex, but imposed upon plants over people. That leads to this divorce between realities where we can just find ourselves as casual observers of a flattened world without context. 

So that leads to the other part of the equation: cultural memory. 

Cultural memory, especially for oral cultures, is constantly shifting and evolving. When the hype around ayahuasca spread, it came from people who already believed psychedelics helped make us human and they could easily presume that any psychoactive plant in use currently had always been in use. The same set of books mentioned above had peddled this false notion that ayahuasca use is thousands of years old—also that it would have played into notions about psychoactive substances helping form our humanness. 

Ayahuasca here is particularly relevant because it becomes a part of the cultural memory for a lot of societies in the Amazon, though tellingly absent from others. It doesn’t make it less of an issue surrounding cultural appropriation to point out that the use and spread of ayahuasca came largely as a result of civilization, not that it is a vestige of life beyond it. 

This was kind of shocking to me in researching the book. There are a number of psychoactive plants being employed in the Amazon prior to Western contact. Ayahuasca does end up showing up on the landscape here, but not until much later. 

The earliest accounts of anything similar arise in encomiendas—plantations for enslaved natives in the colonial era. Here, natives from all kinds of societies were captured and thrown in with each other by missionaries, military, and administrators. So you had this mix of cultures—peoples who don’t share languages or customs—that might have resulted in the creation, use and spread of this particular brew. However, there’s no evidence to really support that strongly. Ayahuasca, typically tied with Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, really only seemed to come into the fold more recently. 

Nearly all of the ayahuasca ritual that we are going to hear about comes from Mestizo religious views and all in the wake of the rubber boom. You see it more in the rubber bubble cities like Iquitos, but then the mystique of Indigenous origins really nailed the tourists. It became more “exotic” and more attention was put on it as a forest-based product and ritual in and of itself.

So the ayahuasca rituals and ideas that most tourists and enthusiasts come in with is one that has less to do with long standing cultural traditions and more to do with the way that cultural memories must incorporate and adapt to modernized society. That doesn’t make it less of a part of the culture, but shows how those memories evolve in light of colonialism. 

And in this case, that’s where all of this ties back together: ayahuasca arrives on the scene, in part, to help heal the traumas of colonialism and extraction. It is a cultural response and evolving cultural memory. But the problem is that when it becomes exalted as this separate sacred ritual, it’s easy for Westerners to think that ayahuasca carries some kind of innate truth, one that can exist outside of any cultural context and history. 

We then do what we’ve always done: we destroy the forests to try and create some kind of center or retreat for it. We try to embody an imposed sense of oneness and act like these cultures have answers to questions we just haven’t accessed yet. As though each society has access to some innate truth and that this or that plant must be the entryway into that exaltation. 

There is that paternalism again. We act like these societies have it all figured out, so we can just borrow their more recently arisen support structure and own that too. You have to be so far removed from even the concept of history to think the world is really this simple or that you can make changes without accommodating for transitions. 

It just shows how aloof we are to what colonialism looks like on the ground: a cultural embraces a coping mechanism and then we look at them like they can and should personally save us with this forest magic. It’s ridiculous. But worse than that, it’s just as extractionist as any other resource torn from the Amazon.

 

Why is it so critical to focus on the history of settler colonialism when discussing the rise of the far-right?

The entirety of the far-right is built upon the Manifest Destiny that drove settler colonialism in the first place. 

We can’t act like this is something new or we risk misunderstanding it entirely. That’s the problem with history and it’s something that the revisionists that run rampant in the right particularly love: focus on the warfare aspects and battlefront nostalgia and you can pretend like there was a fair and just war at the heart of colonialism. 

Obviously, that isn’t the case. The presentation of history and embodiment of it within statues and museums permits this cognitive dissonance between present and past, events and trajectories. It isolates the world into moments, which ensures that we don’t see the larger and overarching patterns. That’s why it’s so important to keep looking back further to understand civilization at large and even the processes of domestication. If we aren’t looking to fundamentally understand where power originates, then it ensures we only treat a wound instead of deal with a particular pathology. 

The core of far-right narratives, especially with the alt-right, has reignited the Manifest Destiny subtext of narratives of conquest. The Proud Boys call themselves “Western chauvinists” unflinchingly. They get this far because tilting those narratives really never took much work. The point of the narratives was always to hide the empire of America into the story of nation building. The ends justify the means, which also serves to erase the persistence of colonizer-settler systems and practices. 

When you look at the expansion of empires and civilizations, you see these patterns repeat constantly. It’s only increasingly crucial to dig deeper into history of the Americas in particular. 

The principles of freedom, that sacred core of individualism, that underlie the American identity in general, but far-right ideologies in particular, are a historical creation. One made possible by the confluences of technology and expansionism. In a very real sense, technology made it possible for might to equal right. 

So you see the history of European expansionism really flourishing in the isolation of Americanism. The “right to” became weaponized on the frontier, all concepts of freedom included the right to enslave and eradicate and dispossess entire populations. This was new land, clear for the taking and granted for conquest by divine right. There are all these layers to it, but they build on each other. 

There are some great books coming out on the subject these days, Greg Grandin’s End of the Myth and Daniel Immerwahr’s How to Hide an Empire are two very recent ones. But the relationship between colonialism and imperialism with technology and the organization of state power is absolutely crucial. The basis of settler-colonialism is entitlement. Grandin, in particular, really draws out how that entitlement was used to embolden people who were effectively cannon fodder. To take this degree of dispossession that they had and infuse it into the settler mindset: if you win here, you will earn your freedom in land. 

Really that’s the core of the far-right narratives: frontier ideology imposed on an expanding world. The alt-right takes it a step further, amplifying the nativist drum pounding online—a world where boundaries and borders are virtually meaningless. It’s a way of staking an identity in an era of flux. That, to me, is an important thing to realize, but if you don’t see the lineage there, then you can act like this is a new problem instead of what it really is: a modernized variant of an old and fatal one. 

 

What role do anarchists have in fighting fascism?

We ought to have a massive role in fighting fascism in general, but the problem is that the far-right has also latched onto the term anarchism too. Libertarians have drifted into this very individualistic undercurrent of anarchist theory and so you’re seeing this validation and expansion of once extremely fringe beliefs, things like anarcho-capitalism and national anarchism. 

So I think the anarchist milieu ought to have a bit of a reckoning with itself, sort out some of these hyper-individualistic and egoist perspectives to see how they could lead towards fascistic ideologies themselves under the same banner. 

But that also emphasizes that these fascistic ideas are freakishly easy to slide into. We’ve seen that fascist creep in far more places than I’d like to admit and it’s both frightening and pathetic that this can be true. 

That said, you would think that anarchists should be at the forefront of fighting fascism. If you see that the unifying bond between fascists is, as you’ve said, fundamentally in the idea of upholding inequality as a driving force, then egalitarianism is clearly its opposite. If you uphold anarchism as a principle of egalitarianism rather than just the absence of a governing body, then clearly fascists need attacked. 

I would hope that is a universal amongst anarchists, but it unquestionably is not the case. 

At the end of the day, they are preaching inequality as a virtue and embodying that frontier ideology. Those are things that anarchists ought to be opposed to, but particular anyone who is against civilization ought to be thoroughly aware of. And I think with the long-overdue prevalence that Indigenous struggles are starting to finally see, the link between the realities of colonialism, extraction, and civilization are only becoming more apparent. 

It should be a given that anarchists, particularly anti-civ anarchists, are anti-fascist and it has pained me to see this isn’t case. It needs to be said, it needs to be solid, re-affirmed grounding. 

It also cannot end there. You have said that “fascism is the unanswered question of late capitalism” or something to that degree, and I think that’s absolutely true. So the problem is that all of these fascist narratives exist in this vacuum of ungrounded theory and knee jerk reactionism to our crumbling day-to-day reality. This is why I think it’s so vital to be asking bigger questions about where power originates from and understanding how it morphs. These things didn’t start with capitalism and certainly they didn’t start with Trump. Those are all just propellants on a dumpster fire. If we want to really root out fascism, which we need to be definitively doing, then we need to keep out of this shallow cesspool where fascist narratives can so easily take root and keep drawing out the questions of origins and seeing these larger patterns of power and domination. 

The denigration of anarchism relies on leaning into the individualistic spirit of the colonizer. We need to understand that. This is where the fascist creep comes in: isolationism. In both time and space. If we limit our world so narrowly, then everything is an assault or, more importantly, perceived as an assault. 

 

What is eco-fascism and what is its significance today?

Eco-fascism is the epitome of half-truths and short sightedness. Sadly, it’s also not far from the surface in a lot of shallow ecological critique.

It boils down to the principle that unsustainable populations and habits threaten the Earth, so the way to reduce or remove that threat is totalitarian states. It should sound a bit off-putting because it really is. The problem that I’ve seen is that a lot of environmental and ecological critique or ethos do really emphasize the catastrophic realities of life within civilization, but they are just looking at what is and not how it got here. 

I came to my own perspectives on ecology by way of deep ecology, which is also the foundation for groups like Earth First! The entire spectrum of deep ecology’s adherents runs the gamut within EF! You have these older redneck patriarchs and then younger rowdy anarchists with a big focus on politics and identity. 

Deep ecology is just another form of a biocentric—or Earth-focused—perspective, that can mean a lot of things. For those founding redneck types, that lent itself towards bioregionalism, which could easily backslide into eco-nationalism. All this nonsense about strict borders and a border wall? Ed Abbey and Dave Foreman blazed the trail on a lot of that from a supposed ecological perspective. Not that they were effective, but their views were foreboding. 

The reality of the situation is that a response to fascism everywhere requires deeper questions. From a deep ecology perspective, you can easily get sucked down this rabbit hole of thinking that problems of our world come down on the reducible problem of human population. 

In some ways, the question is kind of a chicken and egg thing for deep ecology and primal anarchy or anarcho-primitivism, but it’s a really significant one. Clearly human populations shot up with agriculture and have continued to grow exponentially. Are the problems that civilizations have created because of humans or because of systems? A primal anarchist or anarcho-primitivist critique lands squarely on systems, eco-fascism lurks in a shallower reply and saying that population itself is the issue. If you think that’s all it is, then reducing or controlling the population is a freakishly clear answer. But that’s such a shallow mess. There’s literally no way to control populations en masse without fascistic practice. 

This is becoming an issue because there is genuine ecological crisis unfolding in the world and at alarming rates. So long as there is this insane back-and-forth about whether it is happening or not, and who is ultimately responsible, then the door is open for this kind of reaction. There have been people who have used the rise and persistence of eco-fascism as a reason to deny ecological perspectives or critiques, but that’s also just feeding into the frenzied world that we currently face: one that seems to easily slide into fascistic thoughts and normalize them. 

The reality of fighting fascism, on all fronts and in all forms, is don’t give a platform to these lunatics. Don’t let them control debate or discussion about any of this, because they’re simply trying to take a shallow reactionary realization and unfold it into nativist drum pounding rituals where the state or ethnostate is the answer. It’s a grotesque form of tribalism, but if you let them initiate the discussion, then they’ve already set the table. 

The significance of eco-fascism, then, is just that literally anything right now seems like a potential entry point for these really grotesque forms. If you keep everything surface level, then there’s that opening. So my response to all of it is to go deeper, but also don’t let fascists and fascist sympathizers control the discussion.

 

Check out more from Kevin Tucker on Patreon

Follow Kevin Tucker on Twitter

Advertisements

Militancy in the Workplace: Interview With IWW Organizer Doug Geisler Pt. 2

Why is the labor movement such a central vehicle for revolutionary social change?  Why are they growing today?  Why did they go into decline?

We continue our interview with revolutionary union organizer Doug Geisler about how to build a revolutionary labor movement, and about his roleplaying game Beat the Boss, which teaches players how to organize their workplace.

What is a labor union? What really defines it?

A union is a group of workers that have the same employer that comes together to change what they hate and keep what they love at work.  A union is defined by the relationship between workers and bosses. It seems simplistic but history and law have laid so many complications on this relationship that people on the outside can be confused or afraid of the unknown. That complication is probably by design.

Why was there such a decline in labor unions in the U.S.?

To me, there are two reasons for the decline:

1) Labor was full of itself and turned inward. It ignored trends in business that eroded the edges of their domain. It ceased taking audacious steps to organize new industries in new ways.

2) A close coalition of business and social actors assessed, in the mid-60’s, that a vast pool of comfortable labor (high buying power baby boomers) and a growing labor pool of people of color would begin questioning the foundation of capital (and capital’s ties to American christianity) and took every opportunity to demolish a thinking, allied working class’s attempts to gain freedom.

Why do you think Millenials are turning back to organized labor?

My generation grew up on the very tail end, the bottom of the barrel of the class victories that the previous generation won and cemented in the Post-war detente. Millenials have found that the barrel is empty. The new paradigm for capital (gig work, monetizing fun, etc.) has stripped away all patriotic dressing from the debate. The cold war is over and communism is no longer grounds to invalidate someone’s argument.

What is Beat the Boss intending to accomplish?

Roleplaying games, especially thanks to talented improv-ers and the world’s most popular RPG, have become more accepted. Gaming offers the opportunity to experience new points of view. That builds empathy. I’m getting the game out there to encourage people to become comfortable with union organizing. After nearly 20 years of organizing there are patterns to this interaction. Pattern and experience builds comfort. There are best practices and lessons directly related to (and learned from) the field that are reinforced by the rules of the game. After creating a campaign or running one that the community produces players should see opportunities in their own work lives.    

Additionally, when more creative people put their minds to the problems of workers new, innovative ideas will come to light. The fight for justice can end up stodgy.
Do you think gaming can be a center of reigniting workplace organizing?

Gaming and workplace organizing have key elements in common: a core group of people come together to collaboratively solve problems; both talk out resolution; and it’s difficult to find time to schedule a meeting.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/346468029/beat-the-boss/widget/video.html

How We Can Organize and Beat Back Our Boss: An Interview With Union Militant Doug Geisler

 

The struggle in our workplaces is some of the most direct organizing that working class people can do, creating power directly at the point of economic production.  Unions, the collective strength of workers, have the ability to grind the economy to a halt and completely re-establish how power and resources are distributed.  For decades the labor movement has been under attack, but a new generation of union radicals are coming forward with a revolutionary vision for how we can take back our power in our everyday lives.

Doug Geisler has been an IWW member and union organizer for twenty years, and how now created a roleplaying game to teach people exactly how they can organize their workplace.  We talked with him about where the labor movement is at, how Millenials can push it further, and what his game Beat the Boss is going to accomplish.

For people who did not grow up in a union family, or do not have a foundation in organizing in their workplace, what is a union?

A union is a group of workers that have the same employer that comes together to change what they hate and keep what they love at work.   A union is defined by the relationship between workers and bosses. It seems simplistic but history and law have laid so many complications on this relationship that people on the outside can be confused or afraid of the unknown. That complication is probably by design.

Why was there such a decline in labor unions in the U.S. over the past forty years?

To me, there are two reasons for the decline: 1) labor was full of itself and turned inward. It ignored trends in business that eroded the edges of their domain. It ceased taking audacious steps to organize new industries in new ways. 2) a close coalition of business and social actors assessed, in the mid-60’s, that a vast pool of comfortable labor (high buying power baby boomers) and a growing labor pool of people of color would begin questioning the foundation of capital (and capital’s ties to American christianity) and took every opportunity to demolish a thinking, allied working class’s attempts to gain freedom.

Why do you think Millenials are turning back to organized labor?

My generation grew up on the very tail end, the bottom of the barrel of the class victories that the previous generation won and cemented in the Post-war detente. Millenials have found that the barrel is empty. The new paradigm for capital (gig work, monetizing fun, etc.) has stripped away all patriotic dressing from the debate. The cold war is over and communism is no longer grounds to invalidate someone’s argument.

What is Beat the Boss intending to accomplish?

Roleplaying games, especially thanks to talented improv-ers and the world’s most popular RPG, have become more accepted. Gaming offers the opportunity to experience new points of view. That builds empathy. I’m getting the game out there to encourage people to become comfortable with union organizing. After nearly 20 years of organizing there are patterns to this interaction. Pattern and experience builds comfort. There are best practices and lessons directly related to (and learned from) the field that are reinforced by the rules of the game. After creating a campaign or running one that the community produces players should see opportunities in their own work lives.    

Additionally, when more creative people put their minds to the problems of workers new, innovative ideas will come to light. The fight for justice can end up stodgy.

Do you think gaming can be a center of reigniting workplace organizing?

Gaming and workplace organizing have key elements in common: a core group of people come together to collaboratively solve problems; both talk out resolution; and it’s difficult to find time to schedule a meeting.

Refusing the Fascist Future: An Interview With Shane Burley

Below is an interview with Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It author Shane Burley discussing the Alt Right, anti-fascism, and what a mass movement looks like.

So where did the Alt Right come from?

The Alt Right really comes from a few converging political movements, both inside and outside the U.S.  The real beginnings of this goes back to France in the 1960s when a number of far-right intellectuals laid the groundwork to “rebrand” fascist ideas using the language of the left.  The European New Right, led by figures like Alain de Benoist and Guillume Faye, used the language of the New Left, appropriated the arguments of post-colonialist and national liberation movements, and attempted to engage in a type of “cultural struggle” as proposed by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.  Their ideas really were to pick up where the German Conservative Revolutionary movement and Radical Traditionalist thinkers like Julius Evola left off and argue for a going after the culture with nationalist values.  If they change the way that Europeans think about the world, and think about themselves, maybe this can allow a radical shift in politics down the line.

They argued that they were “anti-colonialist” and that white European nations had been “colonized” by forced of “globalist” capitalism and modernity.  Their argument was then for “Ethnopluralism,” a sort of “nationalism for all peoples,” that could then fight the destructive elements of modern multiculturalism, internationalism, and capitalism.  This approach avoided racial slurs, violent white nationalist politics, and the baggage of fascist political parties, and really laid a heavy intellectual groundwork for a new generation of fascists who wanted to appear as academics rather than Klansman.

The next is really paleoconservatism, a sort of far-right American conservatism that defined itself in opposition to the hawkish foreign policy of the neoconservatives that were coming into power inside the GOP in the 1980s.  They saw themselves as a part of the “Old Right,” which was likely a fantasy rather than a reality, which was isolationist, traditional, and America First.  The paleocons were aggressively conservative on social issues, especially in reaction to queer rights and the AIDs crisis of the 1980s, and were reactionary on racial issues.  Pat Buchanan was the best known of these figures, though he was moderate by their standards.

The third real key element to the Alt Right is old fashioned white nationalism.  The white supremacist movement in the U.S., rebranded in the 1990s as white nationalism, has a train going back to the early part of the century as it had to define its ideas as the rest of the world was leaving vulgar racialism behind.  Many of the major Alt Right institutions, such as American Renaissance, VDare, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, trace back to years of white nationalism past.  The difference with the Alt Right was really one of tone and class rather than ideas.  There has always been a suit and tie contingent inside American white nationalism, but the Alt Right wanted to scrape the top of that intellectual layer off and crystalize it.  The ideas were not much different, but they wanted to make sure that it would mimic radical movements on the left that have huge depth inside the academy.

The Alt Right, really then the Alternative Right, was a concept created by Richard Spencer with a web zine of the same name in 2010.  He wanted to capture an energy he found while working at the paleoconservative magazine Taki’s Mag that was coalescing around different schools of thought.  The European New Right had largely not had major texts translated into English, but they were starting to make their way over, and that was a huge foundational set of ideas for the Alt Right.  Against modern conservatism, capitalism, Judeo-Christianity, and Americanism, it instead wanted an elitist, traditionalist, and aristocratic right.  It broke with American conservatism, which was still founded in enlightenment values, and was open that it believed race was real, identity was fixed, and human beings were not equal.  Paleoconservatism had been considered the edge of mainstream conservatism for years, so that is where a large amount of the its founding energy came from.  It was white nationalism of America that ended up giving it its focus on race and its aggressive tone, which then allowed it to merge with the troll culture found on places like 4Chan and the Men’s Rights Movement.

From that cauldron it created its own synthesis, a more academic foundation for its racism, an aggressive revolutionary aspect from white nationalism, and the communities and connections from paleoconservatism.

What is the ‘Alt Light’ then?

The Alt Light is the sphere of slightly more moderate right-wing people that surround the Alt Right, giving them cover and helping to mainstream their ideas.

Fascism has always required a bridge to the mainstream.  Even inside the GOP, open white nationalism is not going to bring a ton of converts on its own, it needs to have a stop over point if their ideas will have currency with the beltway.  Political movements have done this in years past, whether it was the Goldwater campaign, pro-Segregationists in the 1960s, or paleoconservatism in the 1980s-90s.

Today, the battle is more cultural than traditionally political, just as the European New Right had always wanted.  The ideas and community were also forged online, so it would make sense if it was online cultural figures ranting on social media rather than fringe politicians.

The most obvious of the Alt Light was Breitbart and, now, Rebel Media.  Milo Yiannoupoulos was the first to really champion the Alt Right’s ideas without committing to open white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-egalitarianism.  Later it would be Gavin Mcinnis and his Proud Boys, Lauren Southern, Alex Jones and the conspiracy and patriot crowd, or anti-immigrant nutjobs like Anne Coulter.  The “free speech” rallies have been this in the physical world, as have many patriot militia types.

The main point is that they are often “civic nationalists” rather than racial ones: they are simply more inclusive in their authoritarian nationalism.  This means, though, that the Alt Right and the Alt Light won’t agree on some of the really big questions like race and eugenics.  In that way, the Alt Light, like any of these more moderate crossover movements, are built to betray their more radical counter-parts.  In the end, Milo refused to really endorse the Alt Right’s racialism, the same with figures like Laura Loomer, and, therefore, they were unable to continue the relationship.  This is a very traditional process as well.  The more moderate folks who were helping to mainstream the white nationalists eventually betray them and leave them behind.  And the alienation that those nationalists feel during this process is often what leads to desperate acts of violence.

Is it this process of marginalization that is leading to acts of Alt Right violence?  Is this violence going to increase?

It is hard to say definitively that the violence of the Alt Right is going to escalate, but the pattern is pretty well established.  Right now it appears as if acts of organized violence from Alt Right and white supremacist groups is increasing, especially in the wake of the “free speech” confrontations with antifascist groups and with the debacle at Charlottesville, and that violence is turning bloody.  At the same time, acts of “seemingly random violence” are increasing, with the murder of Heather Heyer just being a recent example.

This process of white supremacist terrorism, which often plays out as “seemingly random violence,” is often less random than it appears.  In the 1980s, after decades of failure to meettheir objectives, many insurrectionary white supremacists took to the strategies of “lone wolf” terrorism and “leaderless resistance.”  These eschewed more formal revolutionary organizations for random acts of violence that were intended to have a “propaganda of the deed” effect on the white working class.  They believed that these acts would spark “racial consciousness” in white people and create a race war.  In periods when more conventional organizing, both community organizing and political organizing, fail to show white nationalists any results, these attacks increase exponentially.  These are also mixed with the increase of violent street formations, which in years past included KKK and skinhead projects and today look more like the Proud Boys and Vanguard America.

With the massive platform denial that the Alt Right has faced since Charlottesville and the growth of a mass antifascist movement, this is largely where the Alt Right is at.  Desperation, failure, and the inability to meaningfully organize leads to increased acts of violence.  While the Alt Right has been hit very hard in the last few months, it isn’t gone, and its acolytes will likely turn towards violence before they simply disappear.

Antifascist organizing has seen a massive explosion with a whole number of organizations and types of projects out there.  What kind of work should someone do who is just now wanting to get involved?

This really depends on who they are, where they are, and what they want to do.  The honest truth is that we always want novelty in times of crisis, and there is certainly some room for that, but this is also a good opportunity to re-establish and re-enforce the organizations that have been doing this work for years.  Many organizations go back more than a decade and have a great handle on antifascist praxis, from how to handle neo-Nazis taking space to doxxing and reporting detailed information to even drawing together mass coalitions.  The first real step would be to look at those organizations that have a track record in doing the work and see if that is something you can connect with.  This is doubly important given the very real material threat that white nationalists offer to people’s safety.   Not only are they targeting marginalized communities, but they are going after those that dare to stand up to their growth, and they often target individuals and make examples of them.  This means that  it is important to not behave recklessly or go off half cocked, and instead work with organizers who are experienced, know how to do the work, and give it the care and respect it deserves.

The other thing would be to look at what skills and resources you bring to organizing work, and what type of organizing and projects you can fit into your life.  I don’t offer this line as a way of providing an “out” to the actual organizing work, it requires organized coordination in formalized groups that are going to do the not-always-fun organizing work, but it is important to make sure that you are able to continue contributing over time.  It is not uncommon to find activist projects that explode with excitement only to peter out months down the line when those doing much of the work find that it is unsustainable in the way planned.  Instead, find a pace and commitment you can sustain over time because continued involved over longer periods is always going to be most effective.

I would also caution against putting too much faith in large electoral or reformist movements, they often fail to deliver the kind of movement building or direct action necessary for antifascist work.  Instead, it may be good to look at organizations that have a deeper foundation in their analysis, that look at the ways that capitalism and white supremacy feed and necessitate insurrectionary fascist movements.  We are not going to Democrat our way out of the rise of populism and white nationalism, and instead we are going to need to have much deeper solutions.  This will also require looking towards community defense as the Alt Right and neo-Nazis pose a threat of violence.  Plainly put, they are out there murdering people, and if we do not organize to stop them then this will only increase.

When did white nationalism first come on your radar?  This isn’t exactly a new thing.

No, it’s not, it really has been one of the most consistent features of the white supremacist institutions of the U.S.  It is really one of the ways that the system of racial injustice gets its sharp teeth.  In the segregation-era South, it was insurrectionary groups like the Ku Klux Klan that helped reinforce the system through the extralegal violence of lynchings.  Technically not state sanctioned, but encouraged and socially condoned anyway.  White nationalism has also always existed as the sort of violent reclamation of privilege.  In times of crisis, rather than choosing to target the white supremacy that enforces worker subjugation, they scramble after lost privilege and attack people of color.  This violence is a consistent feature of the way white supremacy works in late capitalism, reinforcing itself repeatedly.

I began looking at what was then called the AlternativeRight.com in 2011 when famous Holocaust Denier David Irving was touring through upstate New York, where I was living at the time.  When doing research I ran across a podcast that was covering different far-right figures, and the interviewer had a certain way of speaking that seemed as though it could catch on at some point.  That was Richard Spencer, then editing his webzine AlternativeRight.com and hosting a podcast called Vanguard Radio.  From there he sort of lingered in the background through 2014, seeing increased opposition internationally and even in his then home of Whitefish, Montana.  It wasn’t really until 2015, though, that the huge Internet cadre going under #AltRight came forward, and his movement got energy beyond their quiet conferences and academically-toned articles.

How have antifacists been approaching the rise of the Alt Right?  What has been different or successful in the last couple of years?

Honestly, they have been getting shut down everywhere.

The Alt Right, for years, focused on an academic demeanor.  Their move towards what they call “IRL [In Real Life] activism” is pretty recent.  So one of the main sites of struggle was things like their public conferences, especially from the National Policy Institute and American Renaissance.  Organizations like the One People’s Project has made it a focus to confront those conferences for years before the term Alt Right was commonly known, they even got the American Renaissance conference shut down in 2010 and 2011.  The National Policy Institute conference has also been a site of growing protests, with attendants photographed and doxxed regularly.  This has created such an issue that Richard Spencer, who runs NPI, was unable to even get the same public venue this year as he had for the past several.  Instead they had to cram into an unheated barn whose owners booted them when they realized who they were.

One place that has become an increasing location of conflict is on college campuses.  Groups like Identity Europa have honed on college recruitment, and “crossover” groups, who we often call Alt Light, like Turning Point or many Trumpist College Republican groups, have acted as a trojan horse for Alt Right ideas and members.  So antifascist campus groups have grown heavily, and flashpoints like the appearance of Milo or “free speech” rallies have seen huge battles.  Richard spencer wants to focus on public universities since they are more indebted to support his “free speech,” which means they will use hundreds of thousands of dollars of public subsidies and student tuition funds to pay for security if he appears.  The Alt Right is also about “cultural struggle,” the Gramscian battle to change the culture to make it more palatable for their influence.  All of this means that the college campus if very important and a main focus for them.

This has inspired a massive growth in college campus centered groups that are challenging them.  The Southern Poverty Law Center, known for its lawsuits that have crippled white supremacist organizations and for its detailed reporting on hate groups, has moved in the direction of campus organizing.  Their Columbia University chapter has taken on speeches by Mike Cernovich and the founder of the European Defense League, along with the Liberation Collective.  

The Campus Antifascist Network is another huge example, growing really quickly since its announced formation only in August.  They have been taking on huge challenges, defending professors threatened by fascists, confronting events by Milo and other speakers, basically responding to Alt Right organizing on campus.  

The success of different projects has really been from the willingness to do the hard organizing work, to commit to high quality research and journalism work, and to build connections with a real world presence.  The organizations that are successful are not just avoiding interacting with fascists, they are getting into the middle of things.  Here in Portland, groups like Rose City Antifa, the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, the Unite Against Hate coalition, the Rural Organizing Project, among others, really have come together to challenge the space occupied by far-right outfits like Patriot Prayer, who have basically protected explicit white nationalist groups.  They challenge them directly, often with thousands of people in tow.  

The increase of the far-right’s “free speech” rallies, which were happening in notably liberal cities simply to get a reaction, saw an increase in this battle over space.  In Boston, directly after Charlottesville, a similar event sponsored by Proud Boys brought out 40,000 people in response.  This did not just go to another area of the city, but came directly to the space that the fascists hoped to hold.  The Alt Right’s event was effectively canceled by this, and then they continued the march, growing the community presence, reaching out to affected communities and people interested in organizing, and creating a strong and vibrant set of alliances.  

Groups like the IWW’s General Defense Committee have used this mass movement antifascist approach, working in plain sight and building a mass movement with the community while refusing to allow white nationalists to have space.  Redneck Revolt has done similar work in more rural areas, trying to connect with the people that would be the recruiting base for “Patriot” militias.  Groups across the gamut, from non-profits like the SPLC, the Rural Organizing Project, and the Montana Human Rights Network, to militant antifascist groups, have all stepped up a presence to create long-term organizing solutions that don’t see each incident as a one-off affair.

It is hard to overstate just how bad the Alt Right is at actual organizing work, they birthed their ideas out of chatter not action, but without an organized opposition they will find a way.

The Sound of Resistance: Antifascist Interviews and Podcasts [AUDIO]

 

Now that words like Antifa are well known, a lot of media attention has been placed on anti-fascist organizers and writers.  In an attempt to capture some of this material, we have created a large list of podcasts that cover antifascist issues, both in the form of reports, interviews, discussions, and talks.  This is not a fixed list, we will be building on it and adding to it as we go on.  Please comment with your favorite podcast, or email us some that should be added!

Interviews

Shane Burley (Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It)

Mark Bray (Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook)

Alexander Reid Ross (Against the Fascist Creep)

 

Daryle Lamont Jenkins

 

Spencer Sunshine

 

Matthew Lyons

It’s Going Down (IDG Cast)

 

Friendly Anarchism

Antifascist Paganism

 

Crimethinc

 

Final Straw

 

Regular Journalism Coverage

Responding to the Fascist Creep: An Interview With Alexander Reid Ross

Below is an interview conducted with anti-fascist author and organizer Alexander Reid Ross addressing many of the themes raised in his upcoming book, Against the Fascist Creep.  We discuss what the idea of “creeping fascism” is, where it has become prevalent, and what organizations have begun to confront it.

 

Anti-Fascist News: Could you explain a little bit about this concept of “creeping fascism” that you built the book on?

 

Alexander Reid Ross: So the idea of creeping fascism is the emergence of fascism on the global stage through its tacit and often concealed acceptance either organizationally or in theory. So, for example, when leftwing movements in, say, 2009-2010 started trading in a very conservative language of ethnic nationalism and separatism, you know, like “white people deserve their own place because people of color are naturally inclined towards one another,” that was a sign that there some kind of influence and networking that was going on, and, again, if not organizationally, then in the ideological terrain. And I’m not saying that all left wing organizations were doing that, but I did notice a marked pattern in some of them. There was a sense in some sectors, even when Occupy came around, that we had to defeat the liberals in power even if that means letting the fascists in through the back door. I think that’s been proven false, and we need to learn from those mistakes through material analysis.

 

AFN: What kind of movements was that showing up in?

 

ARR: I think I saw it emerging in the anarchist movement and, to an extent, in some of the left wing issue based movements where Marxists were more prevalent, whether anti-imperialist or anti-war or whatever. Then there are the non-left or post-left radical groups that are just as vulnerable, if not more so. I found out, for example, that the national anarchists had been trying to affect an influence, like in Earth First! even, in the northeast, which came as kind of a surprise to me. It did sort of open my eyes to the fact that because as an editor of the Earth First! Journal during that period, I had been sort of unwittingly implicated in this process.

I think there was also a point after 2008 and the market crash that radical movements experienced an influx of people and didn’t have a filtering process that was equipped to handle the parsing through of different ideas that exist in the radical milieu, and that’s really where it takes place. Fascism emerges from the radical milieu as a combination of right and left wing ideas. If you just want to say, “I’m neither left nor right but I’m radical,” then there’s going to be a lot of territory that is contested, and that is very vulnerable to a sort of fascistic proclamations and ideological positions.

 

AFN: How do you respond to that then or how should left wing movements respond to that creeping influence? What are effective strategies I guess?

 

ARR: I think first and foremost is education. That was one thing that I started to do for myself after the news about Earth First! came out. The fact was that this one national anarchist had helped to schedule a fundraiser for Earth First!, and then they used that to speak very loudly to a European national anarchist audience about connections between Earth First! and national anarchism.

Any single move like that can be blown up into direct coordination, which is terrible, but you can always immediately quash that openly. What’s more difficult is that you have to be careful about the world of ideas in order to recognize how left wing intentions and ideas can be twisted by racists or sexists, and how that is connected to organizational affinities. So it’s equally important to recognize both the intellectual history of fascism and the trajectory of different fascist organizations. Both have fostered new movements and ideological currents that have also segued into the left wing.

The organizational factor is particularly important when talking about national anarchism because a lot of people see broader radical subcultures or milieus as more safe or secure from fascism than the left. For example, people embrace queer culture as distinct from the left, denying that fascism can have queer folks, suggesting that if there are queer people in a particular group or movement it can’t be fascist. Of course some of the most important fascists have been queer, from Rohm to Kuhnen, Nicky Crane, and Douglas P to David McCalden and perhaps Roy Cohn. The same thing goes for environmentalism, vegetarianism, avant-garde music and cultural scenes, punk, and other subcultural milieus.

Without any kind of introspection, the left or subcultures can safely say that Fascism is ultranationalist and administrative, so you would never have a fascist talking about breaking down nation-states and building up anti-hierarchical communities or, rather, communities who function through “organic hierarchy.” But, in fact, if you look at fascist organizations in the past, that is precisely what’s made them more radical than their conservative antagonists—that they have attacked nationalism in a bureaucratic or technocratic form, saying that what’s necessarily in politics is a nationalism of energy and vigor rather than a nationalism of intellectuals and functionaries, and what’s necessary isn’t a nation-state at all but a “spiritual empire” with a grand patriarch at the helm who makes the law through decision.

Without understanding the way that those ambiguous ideas are applied in different milieus, like with national anarchism and autonomous nationalism and those sorts of things, radicals can fall for easy platitudes. Pan-secessionism is another great example. When radicals start talking about the need for separatism without a clear, cosmopolitan follow-up strategy, they leave ourselves wide open to their influence and the insinuation of fascism and the ability for fascist ideas and movements to gain ground in the radical milieu and also in the broader subcultures and in mainstream cultures. When they start talking about ethnic separatism—particularly white separatism, whether de jure or de facto—they’ve basically given up the field.

I think that people in the radical milieu are very disconnected from the impact and effect that they have and their ideas actually have on the mainstream. People often look to radicals to get a sense of direction, particularly vis-a-vis subcultures, so if fascists are given a pass to influence subcultures then the mainstream is far more likely to accept them piecemeal on the basis of accepted ideas and attitudes which are very deleterious. For example, you’ve probably heard of people who you might have thought of as a left wing or a radical saying things like “I don’t believe in equality” or “equality is nonsense” or “I don’t believe in freedom,” or that kind of thing. These kinds of statements seem geared to impress people or shock them or both, but does all that really work for us?

 

AFN: As there has been a rise of white nationalism, what movements or organizations do you think have really effectively started to counter organize that?

 

ARR: It is great to see all of the Antifa groups springing up, the first of which I think was Rose City Antifa, but New York City Antifa and a bunch of others are equally important. When it works, it’s one of the best models for channeling the popular reflexes and spontaneous movements towards confronting fascism in organized and focused ways. I think networking these horizontal groups will provide important support bases for people down the road.

In the long run I also think that groups Public Research Associates and Searchlight have done great watchdogging, and more recently the One Peoples Project has been excellent at pinpointing National Policy Institute and American Renaissance. The alt-right. They were really the first group to identify these sort of “mom’s basement trolls” as wielding a significant power in todays Internet 2.0 or in todays intellectual circuit, academia even. And they’ve done a really good job at confronting it as well, not just through massive protests but through pressure campaigns; calling, getting their events shut down.

Other media outlets are key. Anti-Fascist News has done an awesome job of disseminating key information about these groups and this movement before anybody else and that’s one of the reasons people say mainstream society is influenced by the radical movements. Part of the reason is because radical movements can see changes when they are happening in mainstream society so that distance where its difficult to measure the impact, and the effect is also part of the virtue because it means that there’s a critical analysis that’s taking place. That’s why I think that, for example, Anti-Fascist News has been able to do such a great job of identifying these momentum-building movements and also chokepoints of getting them shut down.

So I do think that there is always going to be a place for militant anti-fascism, but a huge part of that is just researching, understanding a cost-benefit analysis strategy, and rather mainstream stuff like getting events shut down. So those are some of the biggest things, I think—like the increase of organized Antifas, people willing to show up in the streets and willing to protest and fight fascists, and the middle ground mainstream groups, of which I think One People’s Project has been the most forward thinking and I think also media like Anti-Fascist News and It’s Going Down, for example, have really picked up a lot of slack in terms of analyzing Trump, analyzing the alt-right, and actually using intelligence to shut them down.

 

Articles by Alexander Reid Ross

 

Order Against the Fascist Creep at AK Press