Antifa 2023

As 2023 begins I am heading on the second leg of my booktour, and wanted to detour this newsletter a second to promote some of these events and share a recent interview that Zach Blue, who is the publisher's editor at AK Press who I have worked with on all three of my books, did the other day. I appreciate the future facing direction of his questions, he has always reminded me that unless we can situate this conversation both in the present and the future, it is all a uselessly academic meditation on the past.

Come out to one of these dates, there are some great in person ones with some amazing contributors to the book, as well as two digital ones in February. One will be hosted by Books and Books in Miami, but will be online, and the second is part of the New Jewish Scholarship series at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education.

No Pasaran Tour Dates:

1/22 – The Word is Change Books – Brooklyn (featuring Daryle Lamont Jenkins and Maia Ramnath) 7:00pm

1/25 –  Making Worlds Books – Philadelphia (featuring Kim Kelly, Geo Maher, and Daryle Lamont Jenkins) 7:00pm

1/26 – Red Emmas – Baltimore (featuring C.B. Daring and Daryle Lamont Jenkins) 7:00pm

2/8 – Jewish Antifascism (Digitally), hosted by the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, 12:00pm

2/15 – Books and Books (Digitally, featuring Margaret Killjoy and Benjamin S. Case) 7:00pm EST

2/26 – Spokane Library (featuring Joan Braune and Shon Meckfessel) 2pm PST

In your 2017 book Fascism Today you said, “The center of antifascism has always been resilient communities, those that are resistant to fascist incursion because of the strength of multiculturalism and their sturdy social networks.” Can you give us a few recent examples of resilient communities whose experiences provide hope and guidance for our present moment?

Yes, I think that the mass wave of mutual aid groups that very quickly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and other nearby crises, like the forest fires in places like Oregon and Northern California, show a real change in how people are thinking about problems. There is a consensus that the state is not naturally the place you would turn to survive these emergencies, and with such glaring failures, like the inability or unwillingness to have a massive federal response to COVID, people simply started building autonomous networks of resilience. This is a mass adoption of the thinking and methodology that many marginalized communities have used for decades, in some cases centuries, for what the Black Panther’s called “survival pending revolution.” These histories are perhaps the most vital to look to, such as how people received abortion care when it was labeled illegal, or how trans communities supported each other to get access to gender affirming care, or how communities defended themselves from white supremacists when the state both would not stop, and, in some cases, participated in the violence. Resilient communities are those that create safety and support structures that are not simply dependent on these larger systems of power, and that state failure is expanding and people are responding in kind.

The real story of the new century is these counter-networks, how communities increase resiliency outside the auspices of the state. History has shown that achieving some kind of wide-scale social democracy profound enough to solve these issues is unlikely, but more importantly, we have the ability to meet people’s needs right now and, in doing so, we create the kernels of a new revolutionary social arrangement.

Fascists in 2022 made a lot of headlines, from Patriot Front’s flash marches to Ye’s antisemitism and embrace of Hitlerism. How much do you think the movement gains traction from these viral blips versus the widespread condemnation we see in the culture?

I think they have the ability to gain a lot of ground, primarily when they operate outside of what people understand as fascism. We are seeing a few major shifts. On the one hand, the alt-right may have been destroyed and Trump may be out of office, but we are seeing a mass adoption of many of their ideas across the GOP: the National Conservatives, the MAGA movement conspiracy theorists, the massive upsurge in Christian nationalism. Because so many of these movements have institutional ties, it becomes hard for many to view them as fascist because for so long white nationalism was understood as a primarily outsider, insurgent movement. This is what has insulated people like Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist who was a part of the alt-right and who ducks that allegation by pointing to the elected leaders and media commentators who happily collaborate with him, such as Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. At the same time, GOP figures like Steve King and Michelle Malkin are speaking at open white nationalist conferences, such as American Renaissance. So they are gaining ground by housing their movements inside of establishment communities.

The other problem is the syncretic nature of fascist movements, who often hold such profound internal contradictions that people find it hard to locate exactly what is happening politically. Ye’s behavior is a good example: a Black musician collaborating with a white nationalist and a conspiracy theorist to preach antisemitism. This feels incoherent and it is, but this is how fascist movements largely work, they bring together people of disparate identities and goals and even inculcate people who would be harmed by the political ideas they are espousing. This has only become more fractured and less ideologically constructed as the alt-right, which was a relatively complete white nationalist ideology, declines and there are few ideological thought leaders to maintain a straight forward trajectory. This will make it harder for people to really confront racist ideas since they are coming from what people read as unlikely sources.

As conservatives have normalized hate, conspiracy theories, and acceptance of political violence we see both their typical authoritarianism as well as rhetoric and action that can be labeled fascist. How do you suggest people parse out, discuss, and oppose contemporary conservatism when the overlap between business-as-usual and fascism seems to be increasing?

Yeah, this gets to what we were discussing earlier. Right now the GOP is in a battle for its future, with a segment of the party seeing how Trumpism can create unstable markets and potentially loses elections (as was seen very clearly in the midterms) and those who are unwilling to cut their MAGA ties, are declaring the election stolen, who believe COVID is largely an opportunistic hoax, whose founding ideologies are conspiracy theories, and who are moving even further to the right of where Trump was at. Figures like Wendy Rogers, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, J.D. Vance, candidates like Blake Masters, pundits like Tucker Carlson, state leaders across the country, and others, are dipping into the waters of a kind of “soft fascism” of vitriolic nationalism (though with an attempt at cosmopolitan branding), conspiracy theories (usually of the coded antisemitic variety), extreme anti-immigrant, queerphobic, and apocalyptic rhetoric. The move to demonize trans healthcare and LGBT existence is currently the sharp edge of this, but I think we can also expect a kind of ecofascist prioritization of closing the border as the climate crisis deepens and compels migration northward from the Global South.

As scholars like John S. Huntington have argued, there has always been a far-right ideological core to conservatism as a political movement, and the radicals and the more moderates still share some base ideological assumptions. As academics like George Hawley have tracked, the previous Buckleyite coalition of hawkish foreign policy, free market absolutism, and Christian-centric social conservatism has started to break down, and what we have ended up with is a choice between racist populism on the one hand, or pro-business obsessions on the other. The difference is in how certain they are that identity should determine a person’s slot in the social hierarchies, but don’t assume that makes any standard Republicans any less likely to push you off the cliff. They will just say it’s for economic rather than racial reasons.

One of the defining features of fascism is a belief in inequality. It animates its misogyny, racial and ethnic hatred, and breeds a cult of hierarchy and domination. Various “left” and radical traditions that claim to embrace equality retain subtle and not so subtle residues of inequality that impede solidarity. Who are your favorite thinkers that make the case for equality and equity as a countervail to inequality?

As Hawley also says, the left includes any movement that puts equality as its “highest value,” meaning that political and social decisions should be measured in their ability to promote equality. Surely other factors are involved,  such as their ability to push scientific progress or, particularly with anarchists, to see freedom as an equally important point, but the leftist radical tradition is foundationally about the idea that we should actually live out the stated goals of liberal democracy.

The critique then from Proudhon and Marx all the way up to Occupy Wall Street is that society has failed, for structural reasons, to live up to the promise of equality that is central to the claims of the Enlightenment project, and therefore we need a cataclysmic change in our society to achieve this. The implications of this are clear in terms of economics, but we can also go at this inequality around gender, as radical feminists have, sexual orientation and gender presentation, as the revolutionary LGBT movement does, on race, as Critical Race Theory and antiracist activists have, and looking at radical, meaning foundational, ways to change society to promote equality on those metrics. It should go without saying, then, that to realize actual equality here or elsewhere we need an international revolutionary movement to change the very precepts of our society, such as those that underskirt capitalism, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and the state. Those systems are cultivated, systematized coercion meant to favor a ruling class and to keep the rest of us slotted in a hierarchy that does not ultimately serve us.

In a certain sense, the fascists get our society right. They know that we are not living in an age of equality, and they look at a society that presents itself as equalitarian and then says “it must be that not all humans are equal, after all.” So their revolutionary project (and it is fundamentally revolutionary) is to remake society to enforce that inequality along certain ideological lines, usually (but not always) focused on race. They don’t just want to move backwards, they want to intentionally codify inequality in a way that lacks the current anarchic quality of the market, which they believe promotes identity-blindness and allows some undeserving people too much control in society. The fascist approach is to pick up on the privilege of some members of the working class, such as white working men, and suggest that their problems are the result not of the rampant structural inequality imposed by an economic system that preferences the rich, but by the advances made by the left to realize equality. This is a powerful argument because people are desperate to alleviate this feeling of perpetual despair, and since the fascists can play on deeply lain biogtries that are learned through our societal training, they can take the impulse these members of the community are having to confront their own dispossession and transmuting it onto a racist, patriarchal narrative of domination.

The only thing that can make us more free is a revolutionary movement of the entire working class, and the only way to achieve that is to intentionally go after identity-based oppressions that necessarily break the solidarity necessary to build that movement. If white workers continue to choose white privilege over shared struggle with non-white people in similar situations, then we will never have the capacity to topple the system entirely. This is true of all the other forms of marginalization and dispossession that are not purely enacted economically, and they are the most effective ways of tricking workers to believe that their enemies are each other rather than those holding the purse strings. It has to be an absolute priority to confront white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, antisemitism and other forms of oppression in all instances because those very things, even when you are not the immediate receiver of the violence they cause, will harm your ability to become free. More than this, we need to bear witness to the incredible violence and suffering marginalized people are facing as this type of oppression only accelerates as economic and ecological crises transform the U.S.

¡No Pasarán! published by the Institute for Anarchist Studies and AK Press

Antifascists have used the “we go where they go” approach to stopping fascist public activity. It’s been effective in times of increased, acute fascist activity. What do you hope to see committed antifascists do in less, for lack of a better term, acute times?

There are two answers to this question, and I think it’s best to separate them from each other as much as possible.

First is continuing the antifascist work in the same way that they do, more or less, during those acute moments. This means keeping the organization functioning, doing housekeeping work, recruiting members, creating literature, all the things that are not time dependent but need to be done to maintain a functioning organization. Joint learning is also an important point of that, and political education, since this is complicated stuff, there is a lot you must know to be able to decode far-right ideas, and because antifascists offer a counter-strategy to fighting the far-right from what is generally offered by NGOs, politicians, and law enforcement. The point here is that organized antifascism needs long-term care to maintain the ability to respond effectively at all, particularly in being able to support, guide, and participate in mass mobilization moments, like those we saw in 2020, on short notice. Likewise, there are always going to be far-right groups (until we unseat the systems that create them), so there is always going to be work to do.

The second thing, and I do think this is different, is to work on the issues that create the far-right in the first place. If fascism is a response to the feelings of alienation that come from receiving inequality, such as having a precarious home life or a bad job, then working on those issues will disrupt the petri dish that grows the disease. What I think is most effective here is mutual aid organizing because this is an attempt to directly answer the issues that white nationalist and far-right groups often suggest they can fill. For example, in rural areas that do not have ambulance service, good social services, high speed internet, or other important supports, militia groups often offer those things, and thereby they become welcomed parts of the community and then supplant their narratives for where this crisis is coming from. Antifascists who are not just doing the focused and specific work of countering the far-right directly can work to build mutual aid networks, labor unions, tenant unions, and other groups that take on those foundational issues, showing people that solidarity is stronger than privilege and that fascists actually disrupt our ability to improve our situation.

That is the work that, frankly, the majority of us can, and should, be in, and then we can pivot our daily work at the behest of the antifascist organizations when they need a large mass of people and periphery to act in support. For example, if a far-right rally is planned and an antifascist group plans to disrupt it, they will need twenty times the number of members they have to show up to be able to use numbers to disrupt the event. This means that non-members are an essential part of the strategy of tight, membership-driven antifascist groups, so people need to be prepared to bridge those coalitions and support antifascist groups at peak moments, while going after some foundational, bread-and-butter issues when we are not in peak moments.

We also know that antifascists are often attacked by white nationalists or face state repression, and need long-term support from the community, such as jail support or financial support. So people need to build those systems so that they are not scrambling through an acute crisis.

In No Pasarán, a member of Corvallis Antifa says “Many [antifascist groups] are forsaking mass mobilization and building holistic networks of community defense in favor of small-scale militant actions. Our enemies are coalescing and creating broad coalitions. We need to do the same with groups from across the left.” Do you agree about the need for mass mobilization and broad coalitions at this time?

Absolutely, I can’t say this enough. As a contributor to this book, David Renton, told me in a recent interview, there are reasons why a mass approach might not be used. For example, if you have a tiny National Socialist Movement meeting happening, maybe you don’t need a thousand people to push them out of the space. Maybe a small cadre of trained, educated, and committed people can handle disrupting the event until they leave. This is actually the approach advocated by some antifascists I’ve interviewed, who see some problems with having to rely on a mass approach each time. That is particularly true when some of the targets of antifascists are ostensibly on the left, such as antisemitic conspiracy theorists in anti-war movements, and so it can be a challenge to immediately build the consensus in the organized left to do something about it. Sometimes the antifascists have to take an unpopular position. It’s an interesting and useful debate, and we should listen to people more experienced than ourselves.

I generally think that mass approaches are best for a number of reasons. First, they are tactically effective, when we look at the inability of the alt-right to grow, and subsequently their implosion, it was because a density of protesters disallowed their access to space. They couldn’t hold their events, they couldn’t recruit, their members were doxxed and made unstable, which sent the message to less committed followers that it was not worth it, and everywhere they went they were hassled. You need a density of people to accomplish that.

Secondly, it is safer, more secure, and more inclusive, including allowing a space for those who favor strategic non-violence. When you have a large mass of people, activists are less likely to be successfully attacked and injured by the far-right, and the tactic itself is about denial of physical space and less about physical confrontation. Likewise, a large mass of people gives you different experiences, personalities, and tactics, meaning you can try so many more ideas that people have acquired from other social movements. How do labor strikes help? How does antifascist concerts and art events build power? There are a lot of options when you have a larger mass of people.

It also supports the building of larger alliances, coalitions, and the left itself, forcing organizers to talk to people about the issues and help move them along a political journey. When it is just done by a small, committed band of activists, then you do not get the opportunity to move the public along on these issues, which is a part of both inoculating them against fascist influence and to create a larger base for all social movements. We need our community, and a mass approach forces us to work with the communities we have.

Again, the counter argument to that is that what’s important in a given situation is shutting down the far-right before they metastasize and hurt people, not building the left necessarily. That is true, in acute situations, and outside of acute situations it’s good to build up those community bonds because, back into later acute situations, that community could be poised and ready to be involved in a mass strategy.

It’s also important to note that fascism requires a mass response because it is now a mass threat. We are not talking about isolated neo-Nazis groups, we are talking about white nationalism influencing mass electoral and street level politics, up to and including our last President. The scale of the problem is simply not something small groups can deal with, we have to build as big as possible. And I think we do that by having coalitions who, while working on multiple issues, have the ability to stay connected, learn what kind of solidarity they can offer to each other, and be prepared to act when called on.

Who is the most under-appreciated antifascist thinker right now that you’d like to see people engage with more?

I think Daryle Lamont Jenkins has been an incredible voice and I think deserves more of a platform, period. I think everyone featured in No Pasaran, such as Emily Gorcenski, Margaret Killjoy, Tal Lavin, Ryan Smith, Kim Kelly, so many others, have all taken different approaches to antifascism that, in their own ways, deviate from the caricature so many people have of what that word means, and because of that are all underappreciated thinkers in their own right. People considering how to take on subcultures, how to take on rural areas, how to fight within religious communities, we need to listen to them because they have authentically different experiences that hold unparalleled value.

One of the biggest problems in literature on antifascism is that it preferences white regions of the world, and largely white organizations. There is a reason for this: many of these antifascist groups took on this fight from a model of white accountability and had more access to and less vulnerability in white spaces, so there was an intentional tactical sensibility to it. But it also limits our understanding of antifascism to a white, subcultural framework. So we need to talk more about, in particular, Black antifascism (which both Mike Bento and Jeanelle Hope do in No Pasaran), with folks such as Robert F. Williams, Charles E. Cobb Jr, Robin D.G. Kelley (who graciously wrote a blurb for this book), Angela Davis and many others, who discuss Black self-defense against the Klan and other white supremacist groups. The same is true for newer organizers like Yellow Peril Tactical, organizing Asian Americans for self-defense. We have a huge gap in approaching antifascism from an international context, and we only scrape the surface in this book with essays by folks like Maia Ramnath and Mirna Wabi-Sabi. Fascist movements exist beyond the U.S. and Europe, so we want to hear more theorizing about places like South Asia, Iran, Syria, West Africa, Japan, and other places, and so I think some of the antifascist voices in those regions can be found amongst those people who are already discussing the political issues there.

I think people like Alex Di Braco, Alexandra Minna Stern, Joan Braune (also in No Pasaran), and others are bringing a clear eye at misogyny in the far-right and antifascist responses, and I think we are seeing a growing constellation of people who want to broaden how we build antifascism into a global movement. I also think going backwards more to some radical theory can be helpful, particularly in the realm of Critical Theory, with folks like Moishe Postone, Sina Arnold, Eva-Maria Ziege and Werner Bonefield helping to explain antisemitism in particular, but also the larger dynamic that births fascist movements. On the academic fascism studies side, I have found a lot of value in Roger Griffin, Janet Biehl, George E. Moose, Zeev Sternhell, Graham Macklin, Nigel Copsey (who blurbed this book), and many, many others. I think Tal Lavin has been a special influence on my work (who also wrote the Foreword), as well as Zoé Samudzi, J. Sakai and. Foundational writers on the far-right like Chip Berlet, Leonard Zeskind, and Elinor Langer are a major inspiration for how to tell these stories.  Angela Saini, George Hawley, Linda Gordon, Camilla Schofield, Seyward Darby, Vegas Tenold,

Tell us about your new book with Ben Lorber and what readers can expect.

My colleague and friend Ben Lorber (a researcher at Political Research Associates) have been working on a book on antisemitism for the past three years, to be published by Melville House Books. After extensive research and interviews, we are writing about how to approach antisemitism from an intersectional, antiracist, and social justice framework, avoiding the conservative traps set by establishment Jewish organizations and “Countering Violent Extremism” groups, and bringing it right back to the movement space. We have conducted over a 150 interviews with people like Shaul Magid, Eric Ward, Magda Teter, Ben Case (also in No Pasaran), Ari Brostoff, and people from organizations like Bend the Arc, IfNotNow, Jews Against White Nationalism, Rebellious Anarchist Young Jews (RAYJ), Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and many others in an attempt to build an entirely new framework for understanding, and ultimately fighting, antisemitism. We see it as a form of structural oppression that demands solidarity as the answer for our safety.

Any predictions for their side in 2023? For ours?

This is a tough year to predict, particularly given that the election is next year. I think we will continue to see a lot of institution building on their side. People like Richard Spencer have been relegated back to the fringes, but he is building a new platform (on Substack, no less), as are a lot of the staple white nationalist publications and media projects like Counter-Currents. This includes the people from the Daily Shoah leading the National Justice Party, one of the few newer white nationalist projects that has some legs. The groyper movement and the American First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) will continue to have a lot of relevance, particularly as leader Nick Fuentes builds celebrity connections with Ye, Alex Jones, and, I suppose, Trump himself. He is the biggest remaining popular remnant of the alt-right and he has found a really solid niche that will allow him to continue building despite saying things that would have gotten him canceled from the Conservative Movement a decade ago.

While the alt-right had preferenced a kind of counter-cultural, artsy and online brand (at least early on), what’s en vogue right now is aggressive white Christian nationalism. I would say that Americanism is now back in full force and the open white nationalists are finding their energy by using a combination of MAGA language, antisemitic conspiracies that have now spread across the GOP, and Christinaity since it gives them an angle to attack queer people. I think Critical Race Theory, Drag Queen Story Hour, and trans healthcare clinics are the new “Confederate Monuments,” meaning this is where the far-right will mobilize around in an effort to pull from the slightly more moderate right that has been lured into their dog-whistle issues. I think queer spaces, particularly for trans healthcare, are the most vulnerable at the moment and there needs to be conversations about what is necessary to keep them safe (the same is true about abortion clinics, though drag shows and public LGBTQ events seem to be momentarily the focus). This has been aided by people like Chaya Raichak, Libs of Tik Tok, who is normalizing the worst homophobia we’ve seen in decades and using the disconnect with reality that conspiracism has wrought to do so.

She also represents another frightening trend: far-right Jews using antisemitism. Libs of Tik Tok mobilizes thinly veiled antisemitic conspiracy theories as a weapon against queer people, despite Raichik being an Orthodox Jew herself. There is a problem of the far-right, including white nationalist, politics in Orthodox circles, and this has included mirroring the slide into antisemitic conspiracy theories that, since they are coded, are claimed to be antisemitism-free.

You are also seeing extensive cross-racial organizing along two lines. One, antisemitism is bridging white nationalists with non-white folks who are attuned to white nationalist conspiracy theories (such as Ye), and, second, it is Jewish far-right activists collaborating with non-Jewish far-right activists in an effort to defend their whiteness or the Palestinian Occupation. As suggested earlier when discussing my book, any Jewish participation in the far-right ultimately makes Jews less safe. There is also a turn to hyperbolize “Black antisemitism” as some kind of trenchant threat, which it is not, and we need to resist efforts to use antisemitism accusations to attack communities of color.

There are a lot of conversations about tactics in antifascist circles, and I think that will continue as these internal debates are necessary for healthy movement development. More people are putting effort into mutual aid and alternative networks of care, and I think that will only continue as state services are received, healthcare becomes more inaccessible, and wealth inequality increases. The labor movement is exploding, as is tenant organizing, and we need to make these centerpieces of any coalition meant to make a better world.