Post-Internet Far Right
by 12 Rules for WHAT
Dog Section Press, 2021
Review by George F
Now, my neighbour isn’t a fascist … but … she can’t understand why the women in scarves are afraid of her dogs when she’s at the market. For her, fascism is Hitler, swastikas, fat hooligans sieg heiling on the terraces, Indiana Jones villains, The Great Escape. She thinks that Tommy Robinson is a hero for going after them ‘paki paedo grooming gangs’. The internet, for her, brought home shopping and memes of dogs talking in weird high-pitched voices. There are too many adverts on social media but she can just tune them out, she says. She blames her son’s inability to get a job on immigration. She proudly informs us that she voted Brexit because there were too many people ‘coming over here’ to live off of benefits.
She’s not racist … but. She doesn’t judge. She treats everyone the same … The background noise of nationalism, of white supremacy, of fascism has bled into her, drip-by-drip. She buys the Daily Mail, not to read, but for the television guide, and it sits like a loaded gun on the coffee table. The same newspaper that Katie Hopkins compared migrants to cockroaches in. The same newspaper that called members of the judiciary enemies of the state. The same newspaper that was a fascist supporter during the second world war.
Her son stays in his room a lot, she says, doing his computing studies. He doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s blonde-haired and blue-eyed, acne-ridden, pale. He used to wear a T-shirt with Pepe the Frog on it, and when I asked him about it he smirked and said it was just a joke. He started dressing sharp, and acting cool. I think he’s working out. He used to talk to me more, saying how much he enjoyed Joe Rogan talking about MMA. He laughingly refers to how Ben Shapiro destroys something called ‘libcucks’ on his show. He wouldn’t explain what that word meant. He stopped abruptly when I told him I supported unions, and thought Margaret Thatcher was a cunt. I’m sure he muttered the words ‘cultural marxist’ under his breath when he passed me on the road. All he does now is flash me the ‘ok’ symbol, which makes me question what he really means by it.
“The more lackadaisical the young man (and it is mostly, although not entirely, young men) becomes, the more he fails by social standards, the more he hunts for the singular pursuit, a singular strategy that will make him vital and whole. The route out of this failure finds its form also in the quotidian. Fascist narratives of overcoming are not so different from self-help literature, except they also accommodate the urge to kill and to die. They fixate on the ‘non-productive’ parts – the weightlifting, the personal grooming – and leave out the ‘productive’ parts like studying to get a better job. More importantly still, they tie the young man into a mythic community, and tell him that he is failing because of some other thing elsewhere, something to fixate on and hate. And to take his place in the mythic community, they tell him, he must be prepared to fight.“
Cast your mind back to six or seven years ago, back beyond the pandemic, beyond the storming of the Capitol building as human/Q-tip hybrid Joe Biden was getting his victory confirmed, back beyond the cataclysmic wildfires destroying the Amazon and the Outback, back beyond Theresa May robodancing into the Tory conference and before Brexit Means Brexit, and MAGA, back to say, summer 2015.
Imagine yourself there now, and that you could go back and warn yourself, warn everyone, of what was to come. Imagine, you could warn everyone that Donald Trump would become president. That Boris Johnson would become prime minister. That Brexit would happen. That Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins, and 5,000 members of Britain First would join the Conservative Party. That self-professed ‘liberal’ and former Fear Factor host Joe Rogan would become the world’s most popular podcaster, platforming right-wing pundits like conspiracy theory and fake news broadcaster Alex Jones, eugenics propagandist and “scientific racist” Stefan Molyneux, or greasy prefect of radical conservatism Ben Shapiro, with all the journalistic integrity of a lobotomized lapdog. Go back and warn yourself how devastatingly normal these views have become.
Admit it – you would have laughed. Don’t deny it. It all seemed ludicrous. But then, with an icy shiver, you might have paused to imagine this dark future, and pondered to ask “how is it possible?”
“When something fails reliably, we can say it has a ‘failure mode.’ Fascism might be seen as a failure mode of capitalism. It is one of the many ways in which the underlying capitalist impulse to reproduce the conditions of accumulation might mutate and survive under crisis conditions. Similarly, we can think of a fascist as a particular failure mode of capitalist people-production. But because the capitalism of the 21st century is not like that of the 1930s, so the fascism of the 21st century will not be the same. And, likewise, the production of fascists – those who desire and build fascism – has also changed.“
That was how complacent many of us had become whilst the far right was gaining ground and subtly, cunningly, dangerously transforming in new and devious ways, seizing the capabilities of the internet, of forums, of memes, of societal alienation, and combining them with street-level tactics, polished media presentation and insidious infiltration into the mainstream, outflanking and outmanoeuvring the left. Somehow, ideas and opinions that 7 years ago would have seemed preposterous have become the new normal.
The creators of the essential antifascist podcast 12 Rules For What? have published the first of two books analyzing current tropes of the right-wing political movement and how it has evolved as both a digital and IRL entity. It’s a sharp, shrewd and up-to-the-minute antifa digest that guides the reader down the rabbit-hole of fash ideology and how it has evolved and organised into it’s current form. In a world gone mad, this book provides a much needed opportunity to comprehend how the far-right has become what it is today.
I confess – this book terrified me. I have been procrastinating over this review for months, numbed into inaction by the clinical, ruthless and rigorous dissection of the creeping and sinister evolution of the far-right as it successfully incorporated the internet into its arsenal. Yet, the clarity and precision with which the authors summarise the spectrum of far-right groupings, their tactics and strategies, in a post-internet age is invaluable knowledge to enlighten prior and next generations of antifascists and leftists.
“One common meme depicts a ‘before-and-after’ to this transition. Before: an overweight fedora-wearing man with Richard Dawkins and Sargon of Akkad posters and a KEK flag on the wall, living in a city in a filthy room. After: a clean-cut man seated at a desk with fields visible through the window, an AR-15 assault rifle, an Algiz rune flag on the wall and a Generation Identity sticker on their computer monitor. The transition here is not from normie to hero: it is from alt-right internet-debater to heavily-armed rural ecofascist.“
Organisations such as Generation Identity (a pan-European group with local chapters across continental Europe) and the American Identity Movement are the most prominent examples of internet-savvy fash that have bloomed and then thankfully subsided – at least from public view – over the last decade. Other notable examples include the UK’s Patriotic Alternative, Belgium’s Schild & Vrienden, and Italy’s CasaPound, from whom GI borrowed the idea of a network of physical spaces. The book drops progressively deeper into the nightmare rabbit-hole, from the fash-lite macho misogyny of hooligan squad the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, who I once witnessed charge a peaceful counter-demo to chants of ‘Tommy Tommy Robinson!”, through the almost-but-not-really-laughable online cultures of 4chan and its meme-warfare, swarm culture, to the chilling eventualities of the ‘black-pillers’: ultraright neo-Nazis of the Atomwaffen and National Action, who venerate mass murderer Anders Breivik and engage in accelarationist warfare on democracy to bring about its collapse. It is a slide into a culture with a death-wish fuelled by veneration of militarism, masculinity and mythical concepts of race and identity that, thankfully, occasionally implodes under the weight of its own nihilism.
Know your enemy, know yourself, they say. Fascism feeds on crises. People like to know someone knows what the fuck is going on:
“At their limits, totalising institutions supply their members with three basic things: total explanation (everything that happens is explicable through the group); total identity (the group clarifies who you are, and membership is the central marker of that identity); and total activity (you have always a clear sense of what to do).”
The authors are astute and highly literate, and deal with the subject matter in an academic and objective manner that allows us to understand and to learn along with them. Yet I found it touched the deep emotional core that horrifies those who would think about it: that fascists, racists, right-wingers, conservatives are not born, but products of their environment. That they are flesh and blood humans, with hopes and fears and dreams. By whatever route, they hope for a better world, they hope to Make America Great Again, to Take Back Control, to not wear a mask in the midst of a global pandemic. Some fear sincerely that ‘they’ are under threat of genocide, that ‘antifa’ are a terrorist organisation out to get them and their families, that migrants are flooding their country and taking their jobs. They dream of future that haunts my nightmares with visions of concentration camps, armbands designating your social crime, the words of the old poem, ‘first they came for the communists’…
And the thing about that poem is it epitomises the sneaky, creeping, slimy nature of the far-right, like a sieg heiling mudskipper dragging its gasping, mutating extremism on to the shore.
“Although atomised, the fascist subject has its crowd – or its pack, its swarm – often organised (at least rhetorically) around militaristic values. It is fealty to this community that comes to define fascists’ lives. Radicalisation into the group is a process of immense emotional depth, and, for many, escaping from the far right is complicated most of all by having to give up these emotional attachments. Joining such a group requires other ties (to friends, family, and colleagues) to be broken down.”
The far-right is evolving, and we must keep up with it. Our ignorance and naivete could properly fuck us over as we proceed into an increasingly apocalyptic future, making this volume a concise and compelling read designed to prepare us for whatever forms it takes next.
The far-right continues to surge and falter in new productive and adaptive forms like an ideological coronavirus. This book is a cultural vaccination. It is essential that we know and understand the risks and potential of the far-right’s organisations both on and offline. It is chilling that groups such as Atomwaffen were formed in 2015, designated a terrorist organisation in 2020, forcing them underground both digitally and IRL. This does not mean they have ceased to exist. Examining what has taken place in the last 7 years, how previously ludicrous the changes have been, we must do everything we can to prepare for the next 7, especially as environmental catastrophe looms, and with it the spectre of eco-fascism, the subject of the second book from the same authors.
“These groups are not all alike: the smaller the group and the clearer its structure, the more it opposes itself to society. Whereas marchers on a DFLA demonstration can imagine themselves as the voice of a substantial demographic, now lost, or submerged by political correctness, the medium-sized groups such as Generation Identity imagine themselves to be restoring a kind of naturalised masculine subjectivity that has been eroded by the left – they organise for the return of the potent man. Further to the right, among the blackpilled neo-Nazis, these groups are almost entirely defined against the norms of society and undergo quasi-rituals to enforce this separation. From the declarative anti-semitism of National Action to the intragroup murders of Atomwaffen, the principle of these acts is ‘we are absolutely different; we can never go back.'”
Many people will not read this book, but the more who do, the more hopeful our collective future will be.