Dec 21, 2011

Stand up Against Racism and Transphobia!

From the First of May Anarchist Alliance:

Defend CeCe McDonald!
Self-Defense is Not a Crime!
Stand up Against Racism and Transphobia!

An important case demands our support. Crishaun “CeCe” McDonald, a young Black transgender woman faces two counts of second degree murder for defending her friends and herself from physical attacks by a group shouting ugly racist and homophobic insults.

Please contact the Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman and demand he drop the charges against CeCe:

612-348-5540 fax * 612-348-2042 *

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Dec 6, 2011

Occupy movement: Anti-capitalism versus populism

Occupy Wall Street is one of the most exciting political developments in years, but like any social movement it has its contradictions. As I noted briefly at the end of my previous post, the Occupy movement is vulnerable to right-wing overtures to the extent that many progressive-minded activists lack clear anti-capitalist and anti-fascist politics. While some Occupiers have put forward a radical class analysis, others have voiced a sort of liberal populism, which identifies the problem as specific institutions, policies, or subjective behaviors rather than the capitalist system. Several leftists on other websites have addressed this political limitation and its unfortunate resonances with right-wing ideology. Here I want to summarize some of their main points, then offer an important counter-example of Occupy movement anti-capitalism – the plan by West coast Occupy movements to blockade ports on December 12th.

Against "corporate greed"
Bill Weinberg has urged Occupiers to take a clear stand against capitalism, rejecting the defensive slogan, "We aren't against capitalism, we're against corporate greed." Weinberg counters: "The assumption behind this response is that with enough public oversight or (in the more reactionary versions) if Wall Street brokers acted with greater patriotism, capitalism could 'work.'" Failing to target capitalism as a system, he argues, offers more room to "gold-standard crankery, Federal Reserve fetishism and other right-wing, pro-capitalist responses to the crisis" – including antisemitism.

Ross Wolfe similarly criticizes the tendency by many protesters to blame greed for the inequities of capitalism, arguing that this "mistakes an epiphenomenal characteristic of capitalism for something more fundamental" and "ignores the way that the capitalists themselves are implicated by the intrinsic logic of capital." Even the capitalist who enjoys the benefits of great wealth "is constantly compelled to reinvest his capital back into production in order to stay afloat." Thus "capitalism is not a moral but rather a structural problem." Wolfe further argues that blaming capitalist inequities on rich people's moral failings "ultimately amounts to what might be called the 'diabolical' view of society – the idea that all of society's ills can be traced back to some scheming cabal of businessmen conspiring over how to best fuck over the general public. (The 'diabolical' view of society is not all that far removed from conspiracy theories about the 'New World Order, the Illuminati, or 'International Jewry.'…)"

Glorifying the "real" economy
The Occupy movement's focus on banks presents a related pitfall, depending on whether banks are targeted as a major component of the capitalist system or as a parasitic growth on it. As BobFromBrockley points out in a wide-ranging discussion of Occupy, "the valorization of the good, honest, organic 'real economy' against the predatory tentacular finance capital is not just a feature of the Zeitgeist movement and antisemitic cranks," but has also been taken up, for example, by liberal Christians. Bob continues:

"The idea that capitalism would be fine if we removed all that smoke and mirrors finance stuff and got back to the 'real' production of stuff is both deeply reactionary (based on nostalgia for something that never existed, and with a close kinship to the 'socialism of fools' that thinks the problem is Jew-financiers) but also empirically nonsense. Sweatshops where adults and children labour for long hours in appalling conditions to make clothes and electronic components are part of 'the real economy'. As are the biofuel plantations that are eating up the rainforests that produce the air we breathe. As are the oil wells and oil pipes that poison our river deltas; the manufacture of weapons of torture and warfare; the coltan mines that central African child soldiers kill and are killed for; the soybean and rapeseed monocultures that we rely on for our daily meals, the beds we sleep on wrought from rainforest lumber; and so on. All wage labour involves exploitation, whatever part of the capitalist economy you’re in. The 'real economy' may be realer, but it is ultimately no better."

West coast port shutdown and class politics
In contrast with liberal populism, the plan by West coast Occupations to shut down West coast ports on December 12th defines the movement as confronting structural, class inequality. The action is specifically planned in solidarity with labor battles by port workers in Longview (Washington) and Los Angeles, but more broadly to "economically disrupt 'wall street on the waterfront.'" The website for the action declares, "U.S. ports have…become economic engines for the elite; the 1% these trade hubs serve are free to rip the shirts off the backs of the 99% who turn their profits." Occupy Seattle's port shutdown statement declares further that "the Occupy movement is part of the workers' movement," whether its members are union members or non-members, unemployed, students, or homeless. The Seattle statement also draws connections between corporate union-busting, government budget cuts that target working people, and police violence and harassment of Occupy activists worldwide. (Occupy Seattle organizers have issued an emergency fundraising request to help charter buses for the port shutdown. Donations can be made at

Anti-capitalism versus liberal populism is only one dimension of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This issue doesn't capture the movement's dynamism or fluidity: the way it has opened up important new space for people to tell their stories and debate what is happening in the economy and society, and the way people's politics can shift and change – sometimes very quickly – when participating in mass activism or facing police repression. Critiquing capitalism as a system isn't a full recipe for radical change, but it is a necessary ingredient.

Nov 8, 2011

Rightists woo the Occupy Wall Street movement

by Matthew N. Lyons

Most right-wing responses to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement have ranged from patronizing to hostile. Rightists have variously criticized the Occupy forces for--supposedly--copying the Tea Party; failing to target big government; being dirty, lazy lawbreakers; being orchestrated by pro-Obama union bosses and community organizers; having ties with radical Islamists; fomenting antisemitism; or failing to address Jewish dominance of Wall Street. (On the Jewish Question, the John Birch Society wants to have it both ways--arguing that antisemitic attacks are integral to the Occupy movement's leftist ideology, but also that the movement is bankrolled by Jewish financier George Soros, who is backed by "the unimaginably vast Rothschild banking empire.")

At the same time, some right-wingers have joined or endorsed Occupy events, causing some leftists and liberals to raise warning flags. Neonazis have shown up at Occupy Phoenix and been kicked out of Occupy Seattle, where leftists formed an antifascist working group to keep them out. The Liberty Lamp, an anti-racist website, has identified a number of right-wing groups that have sought to "capitalize on the success" of OWS, including several neonazi organizations, Oath Keepers (a Patriot movement group for police and military personnel), libertarian supporters of Texas congressmember Ron Paul, and even the neoconservative American Spectator magazine. Leonard Zeskind's Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has warned against Tea Party supporters "who want to be friends with the Occupiers," including FedUpUSA, Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, and conspiracist talk show host Alex Jones. The International Socialist Organization has focused on Ron Paul libertarians as a particular threat to the Occupy movement. In a related vein, the socialist journal Links reposted a detailed expose of Zeitgeist (aka the Venus Project), a conspiracist cult that has been involved in Occupy movement events, many of whose ideas are rooted in antisemitism or other right-wing ideology.

There is always a danger that some rightists will come to Occupy movement events to harass or attack leftists, or act as spies or provocateurs. More commonly, rightists see the movement as an opportunity to gain credibility, win new recruits, or build coalitions with leftists. When pitching to left-leaning activists, these right-wingers emphasize their opposition to the U.S. economic and political establishment--but downplay their own oppressive politics. In place of systemic critiques of power, rightists promote distorted forms of anti-elitism, such as conspiracy theories or the belief that government is the root of economic tyranny. We've seen this "Right Woos Left" dynamic over and over, for example in the anti-war, environmental, and anti-globalization movements.

Neo-fascists against financial elites

Rightists who support the Occupy movement aim to redefine and redirect Occupiers' discontent. Hoosier Nation (Indiana chapter of American Third Position) pledged to join Occupy Indianapolis as a "popular uprising against the financial elites" but criticized the rally organizers' call for human unity as "muddled thinking": "Not to quibble, but our races, religions, and identities do matter. Our identities aren't the problem, they're the solution.... The notion that we don't exist as families and nations but rather as autonomous individuals is a fiction perpetuated by our financial elites to topple the barriers standing in the way of exploiting us."

A cruder style of rhetoric comes from Rocky Suhayda's American Nazi Party, which champions the "White working class" against "this evil corrupt, decadent JUDEO-CAPITALIST SYSTEM." The ANP praised the Occupy movement as "a breath of cleansing air" and urged its supporters to get involved. "Produce some flyers EXPLAINING the 'JEW BANKER' influence--DON'T wear anything marking you as an 'evil racist'--and GET OUT THERE and SPREAD the WORD!" (Another fascist grouplet, the National Socialist American Labor Party, immediately repudiated the ANP's stance and denounced Occupy Wall Street as a Jewish Communist movement.)

The Lyndon LaRouche network, which offers a more esoteric version of fascist politics, has a long history of attaching itself to popular movements--as well as violence, spying, and dirty tricks against political opponents. LaRouchites have always denounced finance capital as one of the world's main evils, so it is no surprise that they have joined Occupy events in several cities. True to their current attempt to package themselves as Franklin Roosevelt liberals, the LaRouchites are pushing for reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act's wall between investment banking and commercial banking, which was repealed in 1999. The LaRouchites take credit for supposedly making Glass-Steagall reinstatement "a leading demand" of the Occupy movement.

Attack the System's "Message to Occupy Wall Street"

A more sophisticated rightist overture to the Occupy movement comes from Keith Preston's Attack the System (ATS) network. Two ATS associate editors, RJ Jacob and Miles Joyner, have produced a YouTube video titled "Message to Occupy Wall Street: Power to the Neighborhoods." The 13-minute video is explicitly "tailored to the mainstream left" and contains many elements designed to appeal to leftists. Jacob and Joyner call for OWS to develop into a revolutionary insurgency against the American Empire and highlight their opposition to U.S. military aggression, state repression, global capitalist institutions, corporate welfare, gentrification, and other standard leftist targets. They also advocate a strategy of "pan-secessionism" to help bring about "a system of decentralized cities, towns and neighborhoods where all colors, genders, and political groups can achieve self-determination."

What Jacob and Joyner's video doesn't tell us is that their organization's vision of revolution would not dismantle oppression but simply decentralize it. ATS founder and leader Keith Preston believes that most people are herd-like "sheep" who will inevitably be dominated by a few power hungry "wolves." Although Preston calls himself an anarchist, he has no problem with authoritarianism on a small scale and has made it a priority to "collaborate with racialists and theocrats" against the left. White nationalists and Christian rightists are major players in the pan-secessionist movement that ATS and the Jacob/Joyner video promote. (For details on Preston and ATS, see my article "Rising Above the Herd.")

ATS elitism is reflected in "Message to Occupy Wall Street." In explaining what's needed to move toward revolution, the video puts a big emphasis on the development of "an intellectual and philosophical counter-elite." It is this counter-elite that develops revolutionary ideas, which then "trickle down into the ranks of the masses." No hint that "the masses" might develop a few ideas of their own.

"Message" also calls for a revolutionary movement that transcends left/right divisions. This is a standard theme for ATS (and many other far rightists), but the approach to it here is different from what I have seen in Preston's work. Jacob and Joyner argue that "counter-elites" on both the left and the right have contributed to developing a revolutionary movement--but in very different ways. The leftist counter-elites "have served as leaders of systems disruption, networked resistance, informational warfare, communications, and public intelligence." Meanwhile, "it is the counter-elites of the right who are developing an entirely new political paradigm in opposition to the state ideologies of the system." In other words, leftists are good at developing the technologies of revolution, but rightists are the ones with the actual vision for society.

Jacob and Joyner's list of important rightist counter-elites includes anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, paleoconservative Paul Gottfried, European New Rightist Alain de Benoist, and the ever-popular Ron Paul, among others. Their list of "leftists" who have influenced the Occupy movement is heavily weighted toward the technology/info-guerrilla side, with figures such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, digital currency developer Satoshi Nakamoto, the Chaos Computer Club, and the hacker network Anonymous. The list also includes Ralph Nader and Kirkpatrick Sale, who among liberals have been two of the leading practitioners of left-right collaboration--Sale through the pan-secessionist movement, and Nader through the anti-globalization movement.

John Robb, open-source technocrat

The counter-elite figure who gets the most coverage in "Message" is John Robb, who runs the Global Guerrillas website, and he deserves attention here because of his murky politics and his interest in OWS. Robb is a former U.S. counter-terrorism mission commander turned independent military theorist and technology analyst. He has written about the rise of "open-source warfare"--characterized by decentralized networks of terrorists, criminals, and other non-state actors acting with a high degree of innovation and flexibility--and the hollowing out of traditional nation-states. In response to these and other trends--including economic and environmental crises--Robb promotes the development of "resilient communities," which are autonomous and largely self-sufficient in terms of energy, food, security, and other basic needs. Robb has praised the Occupy Wall Street movement as a pioneering example of "open-source protest" that is "constructing the outlines of resilient communities in the heart of many of our most dense urban areas."

Jacob and Joyner's video characterizes Robb as a leftist, and indeed many of his ideas, such as his belief that both capitalism and the nation state are breaking down and his emphasis on decentralized solutions, sound radical. But while I don't claim to fully understand where Robb is coming from, I am deeply wary. Robb himself avoids political labels, and Thomas Barnett has characterized him as "a serious technocrat who distrusts politics." According to his online bio, Robb has consulted extensively for government agencies such as the CIA, NSA, and Defense Department. And his anti-establishment friends seem to be found mainly on the right. For example, he has archived the former blog of fellow military theorist William Lind and features it prominently on the Global Guerrillas home page. Lind, whose theory of "fourth generation war" has a lot in common with Robb's ideas, is a hardline traditionalist conservative who spent many years at Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation.

Robb's writings are often reposted on right-wing websites such as, The Occidental Quarterly, Occidental Dissent, and Attack the System. As far as I know, he has never tried to dissociate himself from these organs. Intentionally or unintentionally, his own work often resonates with rightist themes without invoking them directly, as when he writes about "the decline of the West" (echoing Oswald Spengler) or the virtues of building a "tribe" (echoing national-anarchists, among others). John Robb's relationship with the right merits more in-depth study, but he is no leftist.

So far, the effect of right-wing groups on the Occupy Wall Street movement has been limited. Yet the lack of clear anti-capitalist and anti-fascist analysis in much of the movement opens the door for rightists to spread radical-sounding propaganda rooted in oppressive politics. It is important for us to understand and expose this danger, in the Occupy movement and others that may follow.

Oct 16, 2011

State repression from Bush to Obama

Only a few years ago, many people looked at the Bush administration's authoritarian policies (mass round-ups, endorsing torture and assassination, shredding due process, etc.) as a major reason for supporting the Democrats. But in a recent LA Times editorial, George Washington U. law professor Jonathan Turley argues that "President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them" -- while almost completely neutralizing civil libertarians as an independent pressure group. Turley writes:

"Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses….

"As Obama and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. have admitted, waterboarding is clearly torture and has been long defined as such by both international and U.S. courts. It is not only a crime but a war crime. By blocking the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for torture, Obama violated international law and reinforced other countries in refusing investigation of their own alleged war crimes. The administration magnified the damage by blocking efforts of other countries like Spain from investigating our alleged war crimes."

See also Turley's recent NPR interview, in which he rebuts some of the common rationalizations for Obama's policies (such as: he's privy to information we don't have, or the Republicans would be worse).

Paralleling Turley's argument, Obama has dramatically accelerated deportations of undocumented immigrants over and beyond President Bush's record.

I don't think the point of all this is that Obama is "worse" than Bush, or even that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats on civil liberties. Rather, the two major parties have slightly different roles to play in the same oppressive system. Often (but not always!) Republicans are more aggressive than Democrats in expanding state repression. But just as often Democrats are the collaborators and consolidators -- and the ones who coopt and defuse most opposition from the left. The growth of state repression in the U.S. is a structural change that goes beyond party politics, and won't be solved by voting this or that official out of office.

Oct 10, 2011

ALEC: Tool of business interests, but which business interests?

by Matthew N. Lyons

If you follow leftish exposés of money and politics, there's a good chance you've heard of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is the powerful right-wing group that brings together capitalists, foundations, and state legislators to rewrite laws at the state level. ALEC wrote Arizona's anti-immigrant SB 1070 and strongly influenced the recent Wisconsin budget plan that gutted collective bargaining rights for public employees. Founded in 1973, ALEC has gotten increasing attention thanks to a series of investigative efforts by the National Resources Defense Council, the Progressive States Network, People for the American Way, and others. The Center for Media Democracy's SourceWatch and ALEC Exposed projects probably offer the most extensive information about the group's membership, organizational structure, goals, and activities. (Other useful discussions of ALEC have appeared in AlterNet, The Nation, and the Orlando Weekly.)

To some extent, ALEC operates as a massive pay-to-play scheme. For a generous fee, capitalists can sit with lawmakers in private and draft "model legislation" that benefits them directly: the Corrections Corporation of America gets prison privatization bills, Connections Academy (which runs a network of private and charter schools) gets school voucher schemes, tobacco companies get "tort reform" (which would limit class-action lawsuits), energy and chemical companies get plans for industry to regulate its own pollution, and so on. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Beyond these specific measures, ALEC pursues a broader, coordinated agenda to dismantle all vestiges of the welfare state -- reduce and delegitimize government regulation of business, privatize public services, cut taxes on corporations and the rich, and bust unions. This is anti-New Deal economic conservatism with a vengeance.

At first glance, ALEC seems to bolster the common-sense liberal assumption that corporate money always flows to the right. For one thing, ALEC's private enterprise board includes executives from some of United States' largest and most powerful companies -- firms such as Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, Altria (formerly Phillip Morris), AT&T, Pfizer, Coca-Cola, and State Farm Insurance. Couple that with the fact that ALEC's biggest backers include Charles and David Koch, the free-market ideologues who have been high-profile funders of the Tea Party and many other rightist initiatives. Other ALEC-affiliated firms with a history of right-wing activism include Coors Brewing, Amway, and duPont.

But it would be misleading to say that this picture represents something inherent in capitalists' political nature. We live in a period when the business community is weighted heavily to the right, but this has not always been true and won't always be true in the future. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society -- to name two of the U.S. government's most important liberal initiatives -- wouldn't have gotten very far without support from the most powerful factions of the ruling class. Even today, let's remember that Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign raised $745 million compared with John McCain's $368 million. You don't raise that kind of money just from small contributions and labor union PACs.

Capitalists support political initiatives that serve their interests -- Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal, authoritarian and pluralistic, depending on the historical situation and the specific interests involved. To focus only on capitalists' rightist connections lets Democrats off the hook and masks the many ways that liberalism serves and protects an exploitative, unjust economic system.

Contrary to what liberal common sense might dictate, many of the corporations involved in ALEC are not committed to right-wing politics, but spread their political support opportunistically. And while ALEC's base in the business community is wide, it's not all encompassing. Looking at which sections of the business community tend to support ALEC and which don't may tell us something useful about U.S. capitalists' relationship with right-wing politics at this historical moment.

Using the information on, we can analyze ALEC's business support by industry. Among ALEC's business members, the industries most strongly represented are, in order, (1) energy (oil & gas, electrical utilities, coal), (2) pharmaceuticals, and (3) food/beverage, transportation, insurance, and communications/electronics in an approximate four-way tie. Other industries with lighter representation include non-food agribusiness (notably timber), retail, financial services (such as credit card companies), manufacturing, and commercial banking (mostly smaller firms).

Where do these industries fall on the political spectrum? One measure is provided by the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets website. The CRP rates each industry on a partisan political scale ranging from "strongly Republican" to "strongly Democratic," based on a compilation of political contributions over $200. Among the top six industries represented in ALEC we see the following:
  • energy -- strongly Republican
  • food/beverage -- leans Republican
  • transportation -- leans Republican
  • pharmaceutical -- on the fence
  • insurance -- on the fence
  • communications/electronics -- leans Democratic
This suggests that while ALEC-affiliated capitalists lean conservative on average, many of them are not ideologically committed rightists. The CRP data that is available for individual ALEC member firms is consistent with this picture -- in other words, ALEC doesn't just draw the most rightist firms within moderate-to-liberal industries. For example, most of the individual ALEC members on the CRP chart for pharmaceuticals -- Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eli Lilly -- are themselves "on the fence" between Republicans and Democrats. Among ALEC-affiliated communications/electronics firms, AT&T leans Republican, but Microsoft is on the fence, Comcast leans Democratic, and Time Warner is strongly Democratic. So some of the companies that have signed onto ALEC's right-wing anti-"big government" crusade are the same ones funding Democratic candidates for congressmember, senator, and president.

Further confounding common stereotypes about right-wing capitalists, two industries that are conspicuously under-represented among ALEC members are aerospace/military and securities/investment firms. While I'm sure there are other factors, this might have something to do with the fact that both industries depend so heavily on government money -- aerospace companies for military contracts, and brokers/investment bankers for federal bailouts to deal with periodic financial crises (as in 2008, but not only then).

These comments about the American Legislative Exchange Council aren't intended as any sort of definitive statement about business and right-wing politics. ALEC is only one organization, and the tools I've offered here for understanding it are fairly crude. There is a whole body of literature that analyzes capitalists' involvement in politics, relating political clashes between business factions to objective factors such as industry, region, markets, type of company, and so on. Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers's Right Turn and Ferguson's Golden Rule and apply this approach to U.S. electoral politics. Others authors who have written in the same vein include Mike Davis (Prisoners of the American Dream), David Gibbs (The Political Economy of Third World Intervention) and Ronald Cox (Power and Profits: U.S. Policy in Central America). A comparable study of ALEC and related business forces today hasn't been written yet. But if it's done well, it will almost certainly challenge standard liberal assumptions.

Sep 7, 2011

Anti-Racist Action Conference Coming to Chicago

From South Side Chicago Anti-Racist Action:

Chicago is hosting the 17th annual Anti-Racist Action Network conference on September 17, 2011. This event is open to the public and includes workshops, caucuses and discussions. Come meet other activists and organizations involved in community struggles against racist terror and other forms of oppression.

Featured speakers:
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Sep 2, 2011

Jon Gaynor's "The New Integralist Conservatism" – A good discussion of counter-jihadism and fascism

As a follow-up to my previous post about Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, I want to discuss a particularly good essay about the counter-jihadist movement in which Breivik's politics are rooted. "The New Integralist Conservatism: a briefing" appeared on shortly after the July 22 massacre in Norway. Its author, Jon Gaynor, is a member of the Anarchist Federation in Britain. Gaynor argues that counter-jihadism is "expanding by filling an ideological gap on the far-right, which has been left open by an outmoded and unpalatable fascism reliant on biological racism and anti-semitism." Gaynor usefully outlines what the new movement and classical fascism have in common, as well as what sets them apart.

"Counter-jihadism" is a common label for the international Islamophobic network that includes the English Defence League (EDL), Geert Wilders's Party of Freedom, and authors such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Bat Ye'or (Gisele Littman). But instead of this label, Gaynor offers his own: integralist conservatism. The movement is conservative because "it has its origins in the fringes of the mainstream right, rather than fascist circles" and promotes themes that are common in the mainstream media and political discourse. It is integralist "not in the sense of fascist economic integralism, but rather the viewpoint which sees an essential, unitary nation corrupted by external conspiracy." This is helpful shorthand, although imposing a name on the movement from the outside seems at cross purposes with Gaynor's assertion that "this new right should be defined on its own terms."

Like fascism, in Gaynor's view, the integralist conservative movement (1) mythologizes the nation as a fundamental community that is under attack, and (2) "blurs together Marxism, a sinister ethnic-religious 'enemy' and, sometimes, finance capital" as conspiratorial partners in this "existential threat to the nation." Stated another way, both integralist conservatism and fascism promote "paranoid themes of national decline as a result of cosmopolitan decadence and mass immigration." Here Gaynor echoes Roger Griffin's argument that fascist politics centers on a myth of national "palingenesis," or rebirth out of a period of near-fatal decline or decadence.

Gaynor argues that integralist conservatism differs from fascism in rejecting biological (as opposed to cultural) racism and antisemitism, strongly supporting Israeli foreign policy, and advocating laissez-faire neoliberalism rather than monopolistic corporatism. Integralist conservatives rarely try to build centralized political parties in the classical fascist mold. Also, for integralist conservatives "the idealized, essential 'nation' being defended from the Muslim-Marxist threat is not the romantic, pre-industrial racist fantasy of neo-Nazis, but liberal democracy before the advent of mass immigration in the late 1950s."

Gaynor's approach is much more thoughtful and informative than most discussions of counter-jihadists' relationship to fascism. But I'd like to offer a couple of caveats. First, not everybody attracted to counter-jihadism disavows biological racism consistently – witness Breivik's manifesto or, apparently, some of the EDL splinter groups that Gaynor himself discusses. Second, fascist ideology is considerably more varied than Gaynor's essay implies. Italian Fascism, for example, was not particularly antisemitic (before 1938), enjoyed cordial relations with right-wing Zionists, and was much more overtly "modernist" in outlook than German Nazism. Among today's neofascists, some currents such as the LaRouchites and the Nouvelle Droite (European New Right) have rejected biological racism as thoroughly as any integralist conservative. Most counter-jihadists' emphasis on shaping discourse rather than building parties also closely parallels the Nouvelle Droite's "metapolitical" strategy.

But if fascist movements don't necessarily fit the standard profile (which is based primarily on German Nazism), that doesn't mean we should count integralist conservatism as one of them. Yes, the two have important points in common, as Gaynor argues, but there is still a line to be drawn. In my view, fascism is a right-wing revolutionary force that seeks to overthrow the established political order and impose its own ideological vision on everyone else, including the ruling class. It rejects pluralism and aims to subordinate all spheres of society to one doctrine, whether racial supremacism, cultural nationalism, or religious orthodoxy. As far as I can tell, Islamophic integralist conservatism simply doesn't go that far. It pushes the boundaries of established politics but, as Gaynor notes, it is still rooted in and very much interconnected with the mainstream. Maybe the Norwegian massacre will push part of the movement in a more revolutionary direction, or maybe it will have the opposite effect.

Aug 26, 2011

Noel Ignatiev on the fall of Gaddafi: "Their Disorder is Our Hope"

In a recent blog post at PM Press, Noel Ignatiev has some good comments on the collapse of Gaddafi's government in Libya. Ignatiev criticizes those leftists who supported the NATO-backed rebels, and also those who, "in their zeal to oppose the NATO intervention, spread tales of the 'accomplishments' of the Gaddafi regime…"

Some more quotes:

"Why should the ordinary people of Libya lay down their lives in defense of an oppressive regime that never saw them as anything but pawns in its effort to cut a favorable deal with global capital?"


"Today all the forces preparing to fatten themselves on the flesh of the Libyan people, including the NATO powers, Russia and China, are stressing the importance of the orderly restoration of the authority of the new regime.

"Let us hope that they do not find it so easy."

Aug 19, 2011

Kathryn Joyce: A Feminist Who Reports on the Christian Right

If you want to understand the U.S. Christian right's gender politics, Kathryn Joyce's writings are an excellent place to start. Joyce exposes the patriarchal, misogynistic nature of Christian right principles and practices, but she also writes with empathy about Christian right women and the choices they make under radically constrained circumstances. In addition, Joyce isn't afraid to go after liberal feminist icons like Hillary Clinton, whose Christian right connections run much deeper than most people realize.

Kathryn Joyce is a freelance journalist based in New York City, whose articles about the Christian right have appeared in Ms., The Nation, Newsweek, Religion Dispatches, Slate, and several other publications. (Newsweek has also published several fiction reviews by Joyce.) Many of Joyce's articles are available through her website at Joyce's interest in religious-based politics goes back at least to her days as a grad student at NYU's school of journalism in the early 2000s. During that time, she and her friend and colleague Jeff Sharlet helped to found, a project of NYU's Center for Religion and Media that calls itself "a daily review of religion in the news and the news about religion," and Joyce served as the online journal's first managing editor, from 2003 to 2006. Today Joyce is best known for her 2009 book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Beacon Press).

Women's oppression is a central concern in Joyce's articles about the Christian right, but it's by no means the only one. In "Christian Soldiers" she argues that Christian rightists' growing influence in the U.S. military has included denouncing Islam, harassing Jews, promoting conspiracy theories about Satanic forces within the U.S. government, even demonizing mainstream Protestants. (Joyce reports that evangelical and Pentecostal clergy have flooded into the armed forces since the 1970s and 1980s and now number about two-thirds of all military chaplains.) In "Can Mormon Glenn Beck Unite the Christian Right?" Joyce discusses international alliance-building between conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and even a few Muslim fundamentalists, for example through the World Congress of Families. In "The Anti-Gay Highway" she notes the efforts by U.S. Christian rightists such as Rick Warren and Scott Lively to promote aggressively homophobic policies in Africa--as well as the growing influence of conservative African evangelical leaders on church politics within the United States.

Unlike many critics of the Christian right, Joyce targets Democratic Party leaders as well as Republicans. "Hillary's Prayer" (co-authored by Joyce and Sharlet) highlights Hillary Clinton's longstanding involvement in the secretive Christian right network known variously as the Family or the Fellowship, whose mission centers on recruiting members of the global ruling class. (Sharlet's books The Family and C Street discusses this network in detail. See my review of The Family.) In "The Abandoned Orphanage," Joyce and Sharlet recount how Family leader Doug Coe brokered a "peace" between Clinton and Mother Teresa over abortion, in which "Hillary's support for abortion as a fundamental right [gave] way to an acceptance of it as a 'tragedy'--one that should be made as 'rare' as possible." As a token of their "common ground," Clinton also helped the arch-conservative nun set up an orphanage in Washington, DC. ("The Abandoned Orphanage" also notes that Mother Teresa's order has been accused of refusing to provide adequate medical treatment to its patients, while redirecting charitable donations away from their intended purposes into evangelism and lavish headquarters.)

To Joyce, the whole notion of common ground between defenders and opponents of abortion rights is a "mythical land." Efforts by Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton or President Barack Obama to find such compromise amount to "appeasement" of the Christian right's sweeping attack on women's rights and have "shifted the frame of the debate" rightward. For example, when Obama called in 2009 for compromise in the abortion debate, the Family Research Council responded that if the president were sincere, he would support anti-abortion initiatives such as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which in Joyce's words "are characterized by deceptive and coercive antiabortion counseling meaures." In fact, the Obama administration does fund CPCs through its "National Fatherhood Initiative," as Sarah Posner points out in a more recent article. Joyce's "The Anti-Abortion Clinic Across the Street" details CPCs' unethical practices and close ties with both sidewalk "counseling" (harassment) of abortion recipients and physical violence against abortion providers.

The Quiverfull movement, topic of Joyce's book and many of her articles, offers a useful window into the Christian right as a whole. The term Quiverfull comes from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them." Quiverfull supporters are Christian rightists who reject not only abortion but any form of birth control (even the rhythm method) as contrary to God's authority, and promote a strictly patriarchal family model in which wives submit to their husbands. The image of children as arrows in a quiver embodies the movement's belief that raising a big, male-run family is an act of spiritual warfare, a counterattack against feminism and related evils. Joyce estimates that the Quiverfull movement numbers in the tens of thousands, yet the beliefs it lives by resonate much farther. In a March 2009 interview with Religion Dispatches, Joyce argues that Quiverfull "positions are becoming more mainstream, particularly through the growth of complementarianism or 'biblical manhood and womanhood' teachings in mainstream evangelical churches."

Quiverfull doctrine tells women that the desire to control their own bodies is selfish, sinful, and a revolt against God's will. Submit to God--and to men--and they will be cared for. Joyce documents the costs to women this bargain imposes, in loss of autonomy, unfulfilling relationships, financial hardship, loneliness, and psychological or physical abuse. In "Arrows for the War," for example, she writes, "An anonymous mother had written in to the Quiverfull Digest full of despair, saying she felt she was 'going to die." Her husband was older and unhelpful around the house, and she feared he would die and leave her to raise their six children alone and destitute. She wanted someone on the forum to give her a reason--besides the Bible--why one should be Quiverfull. The answers were quick and pointed. Apart from Scripture, there's no reason why one should be Quiverfull."

At the same time, Joyce seeks to understand why some women choose Quiverfull. Again in "Arrows for the War," she points, in particular, to the gap between the larger society's pretensions of gender equality and the limited options available to many women:

"For many Quiverfull mothers, [the financial struggle to care for a large family] is still preferable to the alternatives they see society offering working-class women--alternatives they see as the fruit of secular feminism. For poor women, the feminist fight for job equality won them no career path but rather the right to pink-collar labor, as a housekeeper, a waitress, a clerk. The sexual revolution did not bring them self-exploration and fulfillment but rather loosened the social restraints that bound men to the household as husbands and fathers. Even for women who stayed in the home, the incidence of women in the workplace led employers to stop offering a 'family wage' that could sustain both parents and children."

One of the reasons I think Quiverfull is important is that it combines two distinct forms of right-wing gender politics: on the one hand, the demand that women should submit to men within the family as daughters, wives, and mothers; on the other, the claim (sometimes called "natalism") that women have a responsibility to have babies not just for their husbands, but for something bigger: the community, the nation, or, in this case, God. These two doctrines don't always pull in the same direction. The Nazis, for example, sometimes encouraged unmarried German girls and women to get pregnant if it meant producing more Aryan babies for the fatherland. Less blatantly, claims that motherhood is a duty to the nation tend to centralize male power through the state or the church, which weakens the direct patriarchal authority of husbands and fathers. (What if he doesn't want to have kids?)

Joyce follows Quiverfull's natalist implications into the work of social scientists such as Allan Carlson and Phillip Longman, who argue for big families in secular policy terms, such as propping up the Social Security system. Carlson is a rightist and Longman a centrist at the New America Institute, but both say that patriarchal families a la the Quiverfull movement are vital to a healthy society. Carlson and Longman also join with Christian natalists at the World Congress of Families and the Population Research Institute in urging Europeans to embrace a Quiverfull-type family model. This campaign, Joyce writes, capitalizes on racist fears that Europe faces a "demographic winter" due to low birthrates (coupled with an influx of Muslim and non-White immigrants) as a way to spread the U.S. Christian right's influence abroad. Several commentators, such as Posner, have noted the connection between demographic winter fearmongering and the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian Islamophobe who took responsibility for the July 22, 2011 mass killings.

Kathryn Joyce's writings are rich in details about specific campaigns, conflicts, organizations, and people. She has not (so far) devoted the same attention to analyzing the Christian right as a movement in broader terms, or explored Christian patriarchy's relationship with broader social dynamics. Yet her work embodies a larger commitment to feminist principles--opposing women's subordination and documenting the complex realities of women's lives--that is pivotal to such analysis.

Jul 31, 2011

Anders Breivik, Mainstream Islamophobia, and the Far Right

By Matthew N. Lyons

Anders Behring Breivik has been called a neonazi and a Christian fundamentalist. Both of these labels are misleading, although both contain elements of truth. Breivik is an Islamophobe and a right-wing conspiracy monger, but he does not promote Nazi-style Jew-hatred or call for imposing Biblical doctrines on society. His strongest political influences appear to be pro-Zionist, largely secular "counter-jihadists" who disavow traditional racism and maintain significant ties with political elites.

Understanding Breivik's politics not only helps us understand the July 22 massacre in Norway for which he has accepted responsibility, but also highlights important trends and interconnections in right-wing politics in Europe, the U.S., and beyond. This is a difficult task given the size and complexity of Breivik's 1,500-page manifesto/compilation 2083 - A European Declaration of Independence, not to mention his other writings. His work draws on many different political sources, which do not always agree with each other. For these reasons, any summation of Breivik's politics at this point needs to be tentative. So far I have only read bits and pieces of Breivik's writings and am relying here primarily on others' excerpts and interpretations. I hope that my efforts to pull the pieces together are useful.

The forces from which Breivik primarily draws inspiration include Geert Wilders's Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the English Defence League (EDL), and the Gates of Vienna blog; in the United States they also include neoconservative-oriented Islamophobes such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, co-founders of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). These and similar groups form a loosely affiliated "counter-jihad" movement. They are deeply hostile to Islam, Muslim immigration, multiculturalism, Marxism, and feminism, but they also endorse Israel, disavow traditional far right biological racism, and to varying degrees distance themselves from more anti-establishment (and often explicitly antisemitic) white nationalists, paleoconservatives, and neonazis.

Broadly speaking, these forces promote a harsher version of mainstream conservatism's Islamophobia and nativism, although their relationships with established elites vary significantly. Spencer and Geller, for example, have close ties with David Horowitz, who is a longtime fixture in the elite-sponsored network of neocon think tanks and publications. In contrast, the EDL is much more rooted in a "football hooligan" subculture of right-wing street violence. The EDL is a split-off from the fascist British National Party (BNP) but has defined itself as anti-racist and anti-Nazi, supports Zionism, and recruits Jews and people of color.

A counter-jihadist political orientation is evident in the compendium of Breivik's online comments about Islam and multiculturalism that was posted the day after the massacres. These are Google translations of Breivik's original comments in Norwegian. His references to the "Vienna School of Thought" apparently refer to the Gates of Vienna blog and to the defeat of Turkish (i.e., Muslim) forces in the 1683 Battle of Vienna:

"Ethnocentric movements that BNP [British National Party], National Front [in France] is not successful and will never be able to get over 10% support... One can not fight racism (multikulti) with racism. Ethnocentrism is therefore the complete opposite of what we want to achieve.

"We have selected the Vienna School of Thought as the ideological basis. This implies opposition to multiculturalism and Islamization (on cultural grounds). All ideological arguments based on anti-racism."

"To sums up the Vienna school of thought:
-Cultural Conservatism (anti-multiculturalism)
-Against Islamization
-Anti-authoritarian (resistance to all authoritarian ideologies of hate)
-Pro-Israel/forsvarer of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries
-Defender of the cultural aspects of Christianity
-To reveal the Eurabia project and the Frankfurt School (ny-marxisme/kulturmarxisme/multikulturalisme)
-Is not an economic policy and can collect everything from socialists to capitalists"

"Many kulturmarxister look at Israel as a 'racist' state. Cultural conservatives disagree when they believe the conflict is based on Islamic imperialism, that Islam is a political ideology and not a race. Cultural conservatives believe Israel has a right to protect themselves against the Jihad."

Breivik's profession of "anti-racism" is consistent with other counter-jihadists' efforts to distance themselves from the traditional far right. Despite this strategic orientation that defines the clash with Islam in cultural and political terms, Breivik also promotes more traditional racist ideology. As Sara Posner notes, he devotes several pages of his manifesto (pp. 1151-65 – all page references are to the pdf version of 2083 cited above) to denouncing "race-mixing" and discussing how to "prevent the extinction of the Nordic tribes" – passages that make him sound like a true white nationalist. Helen Highwater points out that (on p. 847) he also praises the Swedish Nazi singer Saga, who he claims (falsely) has moved away from Nazism. On the other hand, Breivik's manifesto repeatedly draws parallels between Nazism and Islam.

In the same section where he discusses race-mixing, Breivik denounces Hitler as "a traitor to the Nordic-Germanic tribes":

"Thanks to his insane campaign and the subsequent genocide of the 6 million Jews, multiculturalism, the anti-European hate ideology was created. Multiculturalism would never have been implemented in Europe if it hadn't been for the NSDAP's [Nazi Party's] reckless and unforgivable actions."

Apparently forgetting that Palestine was then under British control, Breivik continues, "Hitler had the military capabilities necessary to liberate Jerusalem and the nearby provinces from Islamic occupation. He could have easily worked out an agreement with the UK and France to liberate the ancient Jewish Christian lands with the purpose of giving the Jews back their ancestral lands…. The deportation of the Jews from Germany wouldn't be popular but eventually, the Jewish people would regard Hitler as a hero because he returned the Holy land to them (p. 1163)."

Unlike the Nazis (or neonazis today), Breivik supports Zionism (in hard-line form including the expulsion of all Muslim Palestinians from Israel) and does not demonize all Jews as a group:

"Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists. Conservative Jews were loyal to Europe and should have been rewarded. Instead, [Hitler] just targeted them all… So, are the current Jews in Europe and US disloyal? The multiculturalist (nation-wrecking) Jews ARE while the conservative Jews ARE NOT. Aprox. 75% of European/US Jews support multiculturalism while aprox. 50% of Israeli Jews does the same. This shows very clearly that we must embrace the remaining loyal Jews as brothers rather than repeating the mistake of the NSDAP. Whenever I discuss the Middle East issue with a national socialist he presents the anti-Israeli and pro-Palestine argument. He always seem unaware of the fact that his propaganda is hurting Israeli nationalists (who want to deport the Muslims from Israel) and that he is in fact helping the Israeli cultural Marxists/multiculturalists with his argumentation (p. 1163)."

What about the description of Breivik as a Christian fundamentalist? Apparently this originated partly with comments by the Norwegian police shortly after the killings, and was picked up by many commentators. Breivik's writings include many references to defending Christianity as part of his cultural conservative program, and some of his ideas are certainly shared by Christian rightists, such as fears of a "demographic winter" among European Christians. Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates (with whom I co-wrote the book Right-Wing Populism in America) argues that Breivik's core conspiracy theory (that cultural Marxists have promoted multiculturalism in order to undermine western Civilization) is largely derived from Christian right sources – specifically the work of Paul Weyrich and William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich was a prime strategist of the U.S. "New Right" and Christian right in the 1970s and 1980s.

But it is misleading to say that Breivik is himself a Christian rightist or fundamentalist. Unlike Christian rightists, he places little priority on banning abortion or homosexuality, and he does not support any form of dominion theology, the belief that Christian men are called by God to take control of society. Posner quotes Breivik's manifesto: It is "essential to understand the difference between a 'Christian fundamentalist theocracy' (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want)" (p. 1361). This statement closely matches historian Nikki Keddie's distinction between "religious fundamentalism" and "religious nationalism." Religious fundamentalism, as a political movement, is about doctrinal purity and imposing a specific set of religious practices on society. Religious nationalism places little or no emphasis on doctrinal purity, but rather uses religious identity as a marker to exclude and vilify non-members. In these terms, the U.S. Christian right is a religious fundamentalist movement, but Breivik is a Christian nationalist -- not a fundamentalist.

Michael Altman also points out that Breivik's political vision is not exclusively Christian in focus. His manifesto describes "a utopia where the right wings of the world's religions defend one another against Islam and Marxism." In Breivik's vision for a new Europe, for example, a "Multi-Cultural Force Medal" would be awarded "for military cooperation with nationalist Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and/or atheist forces (non-European) on Hindu, Buddhist or Jewish territory. These efforts must be directed against Jihadi or cultural Marxist forces, personnel or interests" (p. 1086). Breivik pays particular attention to India, including in 2083 an essay by Hindu nationalist Shrinandan Vyas about Muslim "genocides" against Hindus. "It is essential," Breivik writes, "that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical" (p. 1475). This sentiment resonates with Hindu nationalists' efforts in recent years to build alliances with western Islamophobes, especially right-wing Zionists.

Efforts by left-leaning commentators to report on Breivik's politics have been mixed. The online magazine Religion Dispatches has done a particularly good job of presenting a rounded, complex picture of Breivik's writings. The pieces by Sarah Posner and Michael Altman cited above appeared on Religion Dispatches.

Many commentators on the right have responded to Breivik with defensiveness and denial. This has been particularly true among neocon counter-jihadists such as Geller and Spencer. More substantive analysis comes from a few rightist critics of neoconservatism and Zionism, such as Justin Raimondo. Editor of, Raimondo is a paleocon-leaning libertarian who supported Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns. Raimondo notes Breivik's debt to Weyrich but emphasizes his ties with the pro-Zionist Islamophobes of SIOA, David Horowitz's, and the EDL. Breivik's video account of the Islamic threat, Raimondo writes, "is neoconservatism, of the old cold war variety, with the only difference being that International Islam has taken the place of International Communism as our unsleeping foe." Raimondo's criticism of Islamophobia is to be applauded, but unfortunately he doesn't mention that paleocons such as his old friend Pat Buchanan have been just as complicit as neocons in promoting Islamophobia. (Indeed, Buchanan's own commentary on the Norwegian massacre denounces Breivik as "evil" but maintains that "a burgeoning Muslim presence" is still the greater threat facing Europe.)

Kevin MacDonald, editor of the white nationalist and antisemitic Occidental Observer, also pinpoints Breivik's main orientation: "a Geert Wilders-type of cultural conservative, very opposed to ethnocentrism as a strategy, very positive about the Vienna School, pro-Israel, and also very hostile toward Muslims." As Leah Nelson writes on the Southern Poverty Law Center's blog, MacDonald applauds many elements of Breivik's analysis yet "is obviously perplexed by Breivik's professed support for Israel" and by his general failure to target Jewish elites. MacDonald speculates that this may be a tactical maneuver by Breivik.

Anders Behring Breivik doesn't fit the standard expectations for a right-wing terrorist. He is not a Timothy McVeigh or a Paul Hill – not a neonazi or a hardline Christian rightist. Although strongly influenced by white nationalism and Christian rightist conspiracy theories, his primary orientation is to a political network that is closer to mainstream conservatism and, at least in the United States, closer to established political elites. This doesn't mean that the line has disappeared between mainstream right and far right, but the interplay between them has become even uglier and more violent than before.

Jul 6, 2011

“We are not interested in a polemic,” -- but we got one anyway.

TurningThe Tide has published a response to a previous article, Off the Nazis!...but how? We had previously linked to it and post this response here to continue the discussion.

A response to Bring the Ruckus

by Jerry Bellow

I read with interest the recent article from Bring the Ruckus (or The Brigade, presumably some subset of BTR, which is itself a multi-tendency organization) concerning the recent Anti-Fascist events in and around Trenton NJ. It is clear that the author(s) or their informants were intimately in the actual actions, as I was.

They seek to bring a critical perspective to what happened that weekend, and in some cases they are mostly dead on. With other conclusions, I feel as though they head in a direction that is dangerous to both the aboveground and underground portions of the movement.

BTR points out serious flaws in ARA’s organizing leading up the public mobilization in Trenton. I agree that much more time and energy should have been spent out in the community, meeting people, explaining who we are, what we do, why we are there, and why it would be fun to join in.

In the organizing for ARA I have done in the past in the Midwest (mostly Ohio), a lot of time was spent on this sort of activity, both in big cities and in very small towns. The small towns were harder to do this in, because you are organizing among poor rural white folks, and there was always that fear that someone you met might be the enemy or one of their sympathizers. But, We Go Where They Go even if it’s a space and place where their comfort level is much greater than our own.

Hub City ARA, which is the ARA Network chapter local to Trenton, didn’t do enough of this base-building type work in a place where one could be 100% certain that the fascists had no sympathizers one might encounter unknowingly by chance.

But each ARA chapter is autonomous, each has to organize permanently in its own community, and each has to deal with the political repercussions of its actions in the long term. How Hub City chose to turn a Neo-Nazi mobilization to its own local advantage is Hub City’s choice, not the choice of the network as a whole.

To Hub City’s credit, their local organizing leading up to the event centered on exposing the locations and (sex) crimes of local NSM members. Despite the overall lack of base building, the NSM now has zero chance of gaining a foothold or building a base in Trenton. We Go Where They Go, and Hub City ARA rooted them out and exposed them.

The other point BTR raises in their article, and the one I find problematic is this one:

“Doing the aboveground organizing in the same space and time as the underground organizing is strategically paralyzing and decreases the effectiveness of both the more and the less militant elements from pursuing their separate goals.”

The conceptualization therein is a straw man. “More Militant” and “Less Militant” elements within ARA and within the anti-fascist movement do not have separate goals.

They have one goal and that is to defeat and dismantle fascist organizations. “Elements” (or that is to say, people) are not more or less militant, tactics are more or less militant.

People, as individuals, have more or less military capability.

The formulation that BTR suggests we use essentially places the more militarily capable people within the organization in a separate political and organizing space from the more aboveground and “less militant” (although it takes a lot of work to carry out militant action in broad daylight downtown) people. This is an error.

The clandestine operation, the sudden strike by night, the essentially more illegal actions with high potential for physical violence (which is what I think BTR means by “more militant”) are tactics.

These tactics must be employed from time to time, and the capability to employ these tactics must be built, honed and maintained for the sake of both effectiveness and credibility. Clandestine activity however, is still only a tactical adjunct to the core work of Anti-fascism, which is mass organizing.

Separating these elements leads to disaster in the long term. Time and again, revolutionary organizations have separated their clandestine elements from their mass elements, or failed to build mass elements at all. This leads to a focus and fetishizing of clandestine activity at the expense mass organizing and mass militancy.

As the clandestine political operator slides further down this road she or he becomes more and more separated from the masses, from dialogue with mass political organizing, with the realities of day to day life. When the Red Army Faction disbanded itself in 1998, one of the key self-criticisms they cited was a failure to engage in any above-ground work. They wrote:

“It Was A Strategic Mistake Not To Build Up A Political-Social Organization Alongside The Illegal, Armed Organization

“...In no phase of our [RAF’s] history was an outreaching, political organization realized in addition to the political-military struggle. The concept of the RAF knew only the armed struggle, with a focus on the political-military attack.”

In light of this, and the experiences of many clandestine underground organizations, the fault of ARA in Trenton was not the failure to separate the clandestine from public, but the failure to better coordinate the two. ARA and other antifa failed to communicate WHY we chose the tactic of wearing black, WHAT the relationship of this or that corporate institution is to fascism or WHY some of us chose to target them along with the open nazis. We failed to communicate why the population of Trenton should support us, why they should join us in these actions.

Separation would not have helped with that. Searching for new methods of communication, integration and inclusion are the way forward.

Jun 18, 2011

Right-Wing Movements 101

by Matthew N. Lyons

Presentation at a political study retreat in Monroe, New York, on 5 June 2011.

I'm going to try to give you an overview of right-wing movements in the U.S. and how they've developed over the past several decades. This is not going to be comprehensive. Instead, I'll focus on a few examples of specific movements and some of the kinds of issues and dynamics that I think are important for an overall understanding of the right. But before that, let me make a few general points about the right and how I approach it.

Rightward shift since the 1970s

The United States has seen a major upsurge of right-wing movements more or less continuously since the late 1970s -- from the so-called New Right and the Reagan Revolution of thirty years ago to the Tea Party and the anti-immigrant movement of today. Part of the impact of this upsurge is that it's helped to bring about a whole rightward shift in what people consider mainstream political discourse.
To help put this in perspective, here's a little exercise: Imagine a president who expands affirmative action, actively promotes school desegregation, enacts important new laws in social welfare, environmental protection, occupational health and safety, and consumer protection, supports comprehensive health insurance and a system of guaranteed income for all citizens, and whose Justice Department opposes the RICO Act on the grounds that it gives the government powers that are much too broad and sweeping for prosecuting criminals. In 2011, such a president would be considered far to left of Barack Obama and far to the left of almost everyone in Congress. Forty years ago, such a president was called Richard Nixon. That's the shift I'm talking about.

read more

Jun 11, 2011

Signalfire post: "Homeland Security Department curtails home-grown terror analysis"

The leftist blog Signalfire has an interesting post about the federal government's monitoring of domestic right-wing forces.

From the article:

"The Department of Homeland Security has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.

"The department has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups, the officials and others said.

"The decision to reduce the department’s role was provoked by conservative criticism of an intelligence report on “Rightwing Extremism” issued four months into the Obama administration, the officials said. The report warned that the poor economy and Obama’s election could stir “violent radicalization,” but it was pilloried as an attack on conservative ideologies, including opponents of abortion and immigration."

May 30, 2011

Liberalism’s Limits: A review of Burghart and Zeskind’s Tea Party Nationalism

by Matthew N. Lyons

The Tea Party movement erupted largely as a backlash against Barack Obama’s election as president. Starting in February 2009, a series of local and then national protests invoked the anti-tax Boston Tea Party that foreshadowed the American Revolution. They denounced Obama and other Democratic leaders for promoting irresponsible government spending, high taxes, and government intrusion into people’s lives. A loose-knit network of Tea Party organizations quickly came together, oriented toward the right wing of the Republican Party. The new movement was fueled by anger at big government but also, as many liberals and leftists pointed out, anger at the election of the first black president of the United States, who was vilified on some Tea Party signs as an African witch doctor, a Muslim foreigner, or a monkey. Despite Tea Partiers’ denials, their movement was very much about race.

The October 2010 exposé Tea Party Nationalism represents both the strengths and the weaknesses of liberal anti-racism. The report offers valuable information about widespread racist tendencies within the Tea Party and how these tendencies relate to the movement’s origins, structure, and factional differences. But in focusing on Tea Partiers’ ties with white nationalist and Patriot/militia politics, the report presents racism as an ideology associated mainly with the political fringe – not as a core structural feature of U.S. society.

Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions was written by Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind of the Kansas City-based Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR). Both Burghart and Zeskind have been studying and writing about white nationalism and related right-wing movements for many years. Zeskind, a 1998 MacArthur fellow, is also the author of the 2009 book Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream.

The report Tea Party Nationalism was published by the NAACP, which three months earlier had publicly called on Tea Party leaders to repudiate racist elements within their movement’s ranks. In a Democracy Now! interview about the report, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous claimed that Tea Party groups had responded to NAACP pressure by throwing out one racist and one anti-gay bigot. “And we’re saying, ‘Good. Those are good first steps. Keep on going. You’ve got to clean house. If you do so, you won’t just make this country better, you’ll make your own Tea Party better."

“A bright white line of racism”
While I doubt that Burghart and Zeskind intend their report to help “make the Tea Party better,” they do focus on one area of Tea Party politics rather than offer a general critique. Debunking claims that Tea Party groups concentrate only on fiscal issues or big government, Tea Party Nationalism argues that “a bright white line of racism” runs through the movement’s political ideology (p. 11). For example, the “abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate [among many Tea Partiers] is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American’” (p. 7). Many Tea Party groups have rallied behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law or have argued that children of undocumented immigrants who are born in the United States (so-called “anchor babies”) should not be entitled to birthright citizenship, as stated in the U.S. Constitution. Islamophobia and antisemitism have also shown up repeatedly in the movement, as in calls to “take a stand against all Muslims” (p. 70) or claims that America is a Christian nation.

Burghart and Zeskind trace racist tendencies in the TP movement in several ways, from polling data to statements by TP leaders; from slogans on protest signs to organizational ties with white nationalist and Patriot/militia groups. They argue that while Tea Party groups number a few people of color among their members and spokespeople, and have sometimes repudiated specific racist statements by TP leaders, they have often responded to charges of racism with defensiveness and denial and have made no consistent efforts to address the problem.

Here are some of the examples of Tea Party racism that are cited in the report: The notorious March 2010 incident in which Tea Party protesters spat on and shouted racist and homophobic epithets at several congressmembers as they walked by on their way to the Capitol. “Vicious rants and explicit racism” by Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams, who “has referred to President Obama as a Nazi, a half-white racist, a half-black racist and an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare fraud” (p. 51) and who dubbed Islam “a dangerous and savage culture” (p. 56). (Williams resigned abruptly at TP Express chairman in June 2010.) A former Ku Klux Klan “official supporter” who leads the Wood County Tea Party in Texas (p. 45). Another Tea Party Patriots local chapter, Help Save Maryland, that was formed in 2005 as an anti-immigrant group and continues to protest regularly outside an immigrant rights group headquarters (p. 46).

Burghart and Zeskind also list many examples of Tea Partiers endorsing or giving air time to racists from outside their ranks. 1776 Tea Party chairman Dale Robertson has promoted longtime antisemite Martin “Red” Beckman and Pastor John Weaver, a neo-Confederate who has spoken at Christian Identity gatherings (pp. 57-58). Several Tea Party events have given a platform to Richard Mack, a Patriot/militia movement activist who has declared, “The Reverend Jesse Jackson types and the NAACP have done more to enslave Afro-Americans than all the southern plantation owners put together” (p. 63). Tea Party Express lists as an official partner the group Free Republic, whose website has posted racist comments about Michelle Obama and her daughters (p. 53).

Mapping the movement
Alongside its treatment of racial politics, Tea Party Nationalism offers one of the most detailed portraits available of the movement’s organizational structure. Although the authors present this as central to their study, it has received much less media attention than the report’s discussion of racism. The first chapter traces the immediate factors, major players, and events that gave rise to the Tea Party in 2009. The following six chapters focus on each of the national Tea Party factions in turn, discussing each group’s membership, corporate structure, leadership, finances, political positions, and relationships with other groups.

These are the six national Tea Party factions (with approximate membership as of August 2010 given in parentheses):

As Burghart and Zeskind note, membership is only one measure of a faction’s influence. For example, although FreedomWorks has one of the smallest memberships among the six factions, it has the largest budget and paid staff.

In the course of laying out this organizational portrait, Tea Party Nationalism shows us that the Tea Party is a genuine mass movement based among regular people, in which both elite and grassroots interests play important roles. Thus the report implicitly debunks two common liberal myths about the Tea Party: that it is either a lunatic fringe phenomenon or simply an “astroturf” (fake grassroots) creation of wealthy Republicans. The report says that the Tea Party exists at three levels: (a) an inner core of 250,000 members, (b) “a couple of million” activists who go to meetings and protests and buy the literature, and (c) about 16-18 percent of the adult population that identifies as sympathizers in national polls (p. 8).

Burghart and Zeskind also clarify some of the salient differences between the TP factions and how they relate to broader rightist currents. This is a major strength of their report. Based on the information the authors provide (plus a quick look at the major Tea Party websites), we can begin to map the Tea Party in relation to the following specific branches of the U.S. right:

  • GOP/corporate establishment. FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express have the closest establishment ties among national TP factions. FreedomWorks is headed by corporate lobbyist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and publisher/politician Steve Forbes also sits on their board. Tea Party Express was founded by the California-based Our Country Deserves Better PAC, whose chair (Howard Kaloogian) is a former Republican leader in the California Assembly, and whose chief strategist (Sal Russo) is a former Reagan aide who has served as a political consultant to conservative forces in Nicaragua, Ukraine, and elsewhere. (A third establishment group with close ties to the Tea Party movement is the Koch brothersAmericans for Prosperity, which as an “ancillary” organization receives only passing mention in Burghart and Zeskind’s report.)
  • Anti-immigrant movement. The 1776 Tea Party ( has the strongest anti-immigrant ties, being largely run by two leaders of the vigilante Minuteman Project, Stephen Eichler and Tim Bueler.’s list of “non-negotiable core beliefs” begins with “Illegal Aliens Are Here Illegally – before anything about big government or taxes. Significant anti-immigrant sentiment is also spread across several other Tea Party organizations, especially Tea Party Nation and a number of local affiliates of both ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots.
  • Christian right. Tea Party Nation appears to be particularly close to the Christian right, as indicated by the tenor of events it has sponsored, especially a major February 2010 conference in Nashville. ResistNet’s new incarnation, the Patriot Action Network, also shows a pronounced Christian right orientation.
  • Patriot/militia movement. Several Tea Party Patriots local chapters either call themselves militia groups or are closely aligned with Patriot/militia ideology.
  • Libertarianism. Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty “has played a noteworthy role in the growth of the Tea Party movement, even if few CFL members have enrolled in any of the national Tea Party groups” (p. 15). The Libertarian Party of Illinois also helped to formulate the idea of the Tea Party in the winter of 2008-2009.

Internal tensions
These political subdivisions are somewhat fluid, as all of the Tea Party factions are influenced by more than one rightist current. (The two largest factions, ResistNet/PAN and Tea Party Patriots, are also the most decentralized, forming diverse ideological patchworks of local chapters.) But even an approximate political map can help us to understand some of the tensions that have developed within the Tea Party movement, which may eventually harden into clear strategic conflicts. For example, while FreedomWorks has provided pivotal training and technical support to most of the other national TP groups, it has also clashed with other factions over its establishment ties and relatively moderate position on immigration issues. FreedomWorks has also criticized Tea Party Nation, among others, for focusing too much on cultural issues associated with the Christian right (such as attacking homosexuality) -- a criticism that has been denounced by Christian rightists such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Burghart and Zeskind’s report does not address – but provides useful context for understanding – TP movement differences over U.S. foreign policy. As Medea Benjamin has noted, Tea Partiers are divided between an interventionist majority and an anti-interventionist minority, although so far this has not erupted into significant public conflict. Here the fault lines run differently than they do on cultural/religious issues. Groups influenced by major Christian right organizations are likely to share an interventionist (and pro-Zionist) orientation with the more secular FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express. By contrast, TP groups that identify with Ron Paul-type libertarianism or Patriot movement hostility to “globalist elites” will tend toward anti-interventionism.

Limitations of the report’s approach
While Tea Party Nationalism provides valuable information about racist tendencies in the Tea Party movement, the report’s approach to this issue has some serious limitations. For one thing, using racial politics as the main yardstick for comparing different TP factions could lead some readers to conclude that FreedomWorks is “less bad” than other factions, because it has focused more consistently on fiscal issues and big government and has taken a relatively moderate position on immigration. This leaves out other parts of the picture. The report doesn’t mention, for example, that FreedomWorks’ Dick Armey goes much farther than the majority of Tea Partiers in attacking Social Security and Medicare. (More on this below.)

Aside from the Freedomworks example, Burghart and Zeskind also say little or nothing about how other right-wing ideologies may work at cross purposes to white nationalism within the Tea Party movement. As an example, while many Tea Partiers have supported Arizona’s SB 1070, supporters of libertarian Ron Paul leafleted against the law at a recent Tea Party Patriots conference in Phoenix, on the grounds that the law would impose regulatory burdens and lead to Department of Homeland Security intrusion into people’s lives. Similarly, as Sara Diamond noted a few years before the Tea Party movement arose, many leading Christian right groups have been reluctant to support anti-immigrant measures, because they see Latino immigrants as a major pool of potential support.

A bigger problem is that Tea Party Nationalism presents racism mainly as a problem of harmful attitudes and ideas, which are latent in the white population but are being fomented by extremist political organizations. There is no discussion of racial oppression as a core structural feature of U.S. society, including liberal political institutions and the Democratic Party. We should remember, for example, that while right-wing coded racism had vilified “welfare queens” for decades, it was Bill Clinton -- not any Republican president -- who abolished Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a cornerstone of the New Deal safety net. Similarly, while Barack Obama has opposed Arizona’s SB 1070, he has also increased deportations of undocumented immigrants to record levels -- beyond the worst of the George W. Bush years.

How does this relate to the Tea Party? Political scientist Lisa Disch argues that some liberals use the charge of racism to obscure the fact that they and the Tea Partiers share a stake in a limited welfare-state system based on white privilege. Disch cites polls showing that while nearly all Tea Partiers advocate small government, large majorities of them consider Social Security and Medicare to be “worth the expense” to taxpayers. This reflects the fact that these programs have been “framed as a just return for work and investment, characteristics that are stereotypically attached to white racial identity, and juxtaposed against social ‘welfare,’ which is characterized by qualities of dependency, wastefulness, and laziness that are attributed to the black poor.” (These qualities are also attributed to undocumented immigrants, we could add.) As Disch notes, Social Security rules initially made farm workers and domestic workers ineligible, effectively excluding most blacks from the program.

Disch agrees with Burghart and Zeskind that racial politics are central to the Tea Party agenda, but while they identify this agenda with “inchoate” white nationalism (p. 11), she highlights its underlying ties with mainstream institutions and the legacy of liberal reform. “At the core of [Tea Partiers’] belief system is not free-market capitalism but, rather, a sense that hard-working whites ought not to be made to finance rescue programs for underachieving blacks.” This outlook is reflected in Tea Party signs, such as “You are not entitled to what I have earned,” and “Redistribute my work ethic.” “It is not that Tea Party supporters are being seduced into embracing a social agenda that works against their economic interests,” Disch argues. “They are mobilizing to defend economic interests that liberal public policy in the US has fused with whiteness.”

None of this negates the useful information Burghart and Zeskind have compiled about racist tendencies in the Tea Party movement. But there is nothing in their report that challenges liberal assumptions about what racism is or where it comes from. By contrast, Disch’s approach pushes the discussion toward a more radical analysis.

Toward a broader analysis
While race politics is an essential part of the Tea Party movement, it’s not the whole story. The best general analysis of the Tea Party I have seen so far comes from the League for the Revolutionary Party, a Third Camp Trotskyist group. Without endorsing the LRP’s overall political line, I think they are on target with the following points:

  • The Tea Party is a mass movement of middle- and working-class whites whose political anger has been fueled not only by the erosion of traditional white privileges and social power, but also by long-term economic decline and capitalist attacks against all subordinate groups.
  • Although the Tea Party is decentralized and ideologically diverse, representatives of capital helped to create the movement and form the strongest power center within it. Neither independent citizens nor far right groups hold major countervailing influence. Largely for these reasons, the movement furthers the agendas of right-wing capitalists who want to intensify attacks on the working class and oppressed groups.
  • While racist attitudes pervade the Tea Party and are one of its driving forces, many movement leaders and members have worked to exclude blatant expressions of racism to avoid scaring away potential supporters (and Republican voters).
  • The failure of organized labor and other progressive forces to energetically protest the federal bailout of the financial industry in 2008-9 helped right-wing leaders to channel anti-elite resentment against Obama and the Democrats, and thus fueled the Tea Party upsurge. Many liberals’ contempt for Tea Partiers as uneducated “rednecks” does the same.
  • The Tea Party has some features of fascism (for example, scapegoating oppressed groups while also promoting a vague anti-elitism) but also differs from it in critical ways. (In my view a key difference is one that the LRP doesn’t mention: Fascist movements advocate a radical break with the established political order; the Tea Party, despite its insurgent veneer, does not.)

These points from the LRP, like Lisa Disch’s essay discussed above, offer the kind of framework that’s vital for understanding the Tea Party – and for building a radical alternative that combats the Tea Party’s ugly politics yet speaks to its followers’ legitimate grievances. I encourage people to read Burghart and Zeskind’s Tea Party Nationalism for valuable details about the movement’s racial politics and organizational structure, but don’t be satisfied with their analysis.

[Note: All page numbers given in this review are from Burghart and Zeskind, Tea Party Nationalism.]