The media loves a good scandal. Hell, we do too.
Over the months, as the Donald Trump campaign has shifted from bumbling loudspeaker-style racist quips to copy-and-paste fascist political programs, the media response has moved from mockery, to horror, and, finally, to click-bait. Trump’s campaign has rode this wave, which was a “shock/response” model, and the left-leaning media outlets that use a social media business model have been central to its ability to spread through the culture. The “outrage machine” has been very real in that, from identifying a room full of Jewish Republicans as “deal makers” to banning and registering Muslims, his politics have only made their way up the ladder of offense and guttural bigotry. The echo chamber, which has led his message and created the offense-racket that has made him popular with reactionary sectors of middle America, has been driven by this, and it has given his voice the kind of reach that he simply couldn’t have achieved with his own appearances and the standard political news machine.
Trump himself has created an entire media model of exploiting the disbelief in leftist coverage, but he has also been the gate-keeper to mainstreaming an entire narrative that has been developed over the last five years in the annals of web forums and news sites. The Alternative Right, Neoreaction, Dark Enlightenment, and all the other variants of internet-focused and pseudo-academic neo-fascism has been developing a new language for speaking and “critiquing” society that breaks from the two sided coin of neo-Nazis and the Klan. Now they return to race and IQ talking points, critiques of contemporary democracy, attacks on the idea of equality, rejection of modernity, and a range of other simple ideas repackaged in the aesthetics of Continental Philosophy. Backed by the ideas of European New Right intellectuals, much of this resurrects previously fringe ideologues like Julius Evola or the Conservative Revolution, looking to build a strictly hierarchical society and the idea of ethnically defined societies. This is not the posturing that Donald Trump has gained his popularity on, but it is much of the long-term vision that his seemingly casual comments have as their end game. Just as there are “dog whistle” words that use economic rhetoric to signal racial tensions, neo-fascist supporters hope that his reactionary remarks are a “dog whistle” to an open fascist political program.
What the “Donald Trump phenomenon” has done, even more than just Trump himself, is to open the door to the voices of this reactionary movement in that they have a direct lineage between the two. Buzzfeed began publicizing the use of “alt right” as a hashtag on Twitter, which has been used for years up to this point, giving extended interviews to people like Richard Spencer, RamZPaul, and Jared Taylor. Rosie Gray, the Buzzfeed reporter who did the article on white nationalism and the Trump campaign, got pulled into an even more difficult situation when RamZPaul gave one condition to doing the interview: that he could film and broadcast it. What resulted is another one of Paul’s well-known videos, this time where he talks to an understandably timid Gray over an iPhone speaker. While Paul’s rhetoric in the video is confusing and rambling, it still gave him the perfect opportunity to actually draw some of the Buzzfeed crowd to an unedited piece of his own racial nationalist script.
Richard Spencer got extended time in Vice’s recent “We Asked a White Supremacist What He Thinks About Donald Trump,” which followed a similarly vapid premise as their “We Asked a Fascism Expert About Trump.” Here, again, Spencer’s ideas were given an open platform, not because he is an expert on the Trump campaign, but simply because his politics have now become a relevant part of the discourse. Spencer was additionally interviewed in the New York Times for an article that placed him alongside David Duke and Stormfront founder Don Black, which angered him enough to do a response on the Radix Journal website going through the references to him point by point and discussing how he was misrepresented. This shows a particular character of these internet-focused racialists, who exist in word vomit where they constantly have to ramble at length and can never give up the last word.
These articles are small snippets of dozens of articles in recent months that have shown that white nationalists from David Duke to the Traditionalist Youth Network’s Matthew Heimbach. When interviewed, all parties are allowed a platform to explain very clearly their key points, why we should support trump, and what kind of vision they hold.
The problematic nature of this coverage often comes directly from its intention to reveal something very real about the Trump phenomenon and its growing far-right affiliations. What these articles are intending to show is that Trump is, first, associated with these types of characters and, by association, tarnish his name. But this does not end up being a straight line since, as much of the neo-fascist rebranding has done purposefully, the alt right bloggers are often prepared to muddy the discussion so as to avoid conventional critiques of white supremacist politics. Reports in places like Gawker and Alternet are then not prepared to counter them, instead simply offering them an open platform that they could never have dreamed of on their own sites. The intended effect, for these people to hang themselves on their own words, is often ineffective.
The issue that liberal anti-racist activists often clash with radical anti-fascists over is free speech. The liberal notion of free speech is to defend even the most vile and erroneous forms, which, in essence, the protections are there for. Antifa organizers then have to propose a counter view, which is not to actually argue for state intervention to criminalize certain forms of speech, but instead to mobilize direct action to stop it cold. The distinction here is based around the use of the state and whether or not empowering its infrastructure will have a long-term positive effect. When the organs of political power shift they could very easily use the same rhetoric and repression used in hate speech laws against us on the radical left, and it is also less than appropriate to further empower a state that is designed to maintain capital and ruling class interests. The “no platform” concept in Antifa organizing is to show the community’s resistance to all the methods by which fascist organizing attempts to gain a foothold. The direct result of every racialist project is violence, inequality, and authoritarianism, either politically or socially, and therefore stopping it at the root is critical. People are free to have any ideas they want, but we are also free to mobilize to stop violence and oppression from becoming an unstoppable wave in our community.
It is difficult, then, to figure out exactly what “no platform” will always mean. An example of this difficulty is with someone like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor. Taylor has made a name for himself arguing points on the fringes of acceptable discourse, such as concepts like racial difference in IQ, racial disparity in crime, and the “inherent” problems and conflicts in multicultural diversity. Taylor then uses any oppottunity, whether it is being brought by controversial student groups to campuses or going on liberal talk shows that use him as an oddity, to pitch his well choreographed lines. His discourse is not meant to outline a clear point, it is to inspire doubt in the listeners. People are generally not up on all the ways that race and IQ correlations have been disproven, or the very well documented explanations for racial disparity in the judicial system. Taylor then uses this as a break through opportunity to then shift a small segment of the viewers into their whole world of “research,” explanations, and narratives.
This presents a conflict, which is often seen in how people respond to him. One could be to simply ignore his work, refuse to debate or comment on it lest actually give it more exposure. This has been successfully done in many Holocaust Denial situations, which is the pattern offered up by people like Deborah Lipstadt and in her book, Denying the Holocaust. This is often the best course of action, but what if the ideas are already starting to spread because an effective counter to them has not been made? This is often while people like Michael Shermer from Skeptic Magazine debated Mark Weber from the Holocaust denying Institute for Historical Review, or when anti-racist author Tim Wise has debated Jared Taylor on several instances. The concept here is that the ideas actually are beginning to grow as the only available narrative is the one provided by the fascist right, and it is important to expose and disprove them.
The answer is actually situational, but if a “debate” or disproval of sorts is going to be in effect, the people have to be prepared to do it. It is not that Jared Taylor is an expert on the sociology of race or intelligence and genetics, in fact he consistently embarrasses himself anytime he moves beyond platitudes to try and actually discuss these topics, but he is completely prepared to debate in sound bites. This is really the entire front edge of the racialist movement, especially in the U.S., which means that those who are attempting to engage them as a means of attack have to be prepared to effectively counter their stylized argumentation. Instead, Buzzfeed and related outlets, who clearly believe that exposure will generally lead to enlightened society expelling the Nazis, have not done due diligence and instead are providing them a platform completely open and uncontested.
The second real purpose, at least from an activist standpoint, would be to educate people about these movements and ideas so as to effectively understand and resist them. This, again, has been a problem for reasons that parallel our own, yet miss the mark. The conversations with Richard Spencer in the New York Times, Vice, Buzzfeed, and CBS are especially telling examples of this. He was allowed to put out points of propaganda, very attractive soundbites that are how he thinks people should first engage with his ideas. They did not, however, actually deconstruct those ideas, provide much history, correctly correlate them to their more obvious neo-Nazi counterparts, and discuss what the real threat of them are. This comes, partially, because they do not care what the details are because he is a racist and that is good enough. On a certain level, we certainly agree. Fascists of all stripes think that their specific narratives and sub-ideologies are incredibly important and unique. In reality, to us and for our purposes, they are all really just branches of fascism, an ideology of nationalism, inequality, and anti-democracy. The problem is, however, that we still have to understand them to effectively counter organize, and even to just have a better understanding of philosophy and politics. In this way, we are provided with literally nothing by these articles, which instead provide a platform for fascist organizers while providing us no useful information and engaging in no concrete refutation.
Publicity of any sort can be useful to a fascist fringe, yet it can be on us to continue to create a strong counter narrative. In a certain sense, Donald Trump has actually done this by boiling down the “alt right’s” pseudo-academic drivel to offensive racial sound bites. Creating a strong counter-narrative is the real work that people on the radical left can do in this regard as the mainstream media can and will do what it knows and not what is best suited to anti-racist struggle. This means confronting claims directly, continuing to be open about about the how and why of revolutionary projects, and shutting down public organizing and presence of the radical right in every available opportunity.
Trump and the Alt Right echo chamber provides us with a couple of opportunities, the primary one being the ability to counter organize and openly refute the outright lies. If we cannot expect conventional media outlets to do this effectively, the torch is passed to us, though this can be done without providing any additional power to the voice of the racists. The greatest weapon against their reactionary ideas of race and social divisions is to actually uproot white supremacy in our communities, and this is a project that goes far beyond the fascist framing. As we grow anti-racist struggle, their voices will become angrier, yet we will continue to set the narrative agenda. When Donald Trump makes claims about undocumented peoples, it provides an opportunity to undermine that false narrative and to organize a movement to stand with immigrant rights no matter who the opposition is.
When thinking further about “no platform,” the most important lesson to take into media and propaganda is to not let the racialist fringe set the conversation. Anti-fascists around the world are growing alongside the opposition, and we can together make confronting racial oppression a priority and not just a response to the reactionaries. Avoid sharing their lines, do not link to their blogs, block their Tweets, and generally make unavailable their rantings, while also confronting any of the lies and memes that they are successfully getting into the general culture. It is by walking this line that we are able to undercut the only power they have while eliminating any crossover points they have.
The media is going to continue to use white nationalists as an oddity, but if we know how to approach these daily case studies we can use it to continue to silence and step over their violent impulses.