How dangerous is the alt-right?

A pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939

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A left-wing writer who calls himself Jay Firestone wrote an interesting article and gave an interesting interview about his three months’ experience hanging out with the “alt-right” in New York City.

My three takeaways are (1) yes, these guys really are Nazis, even though they don’t say so in public; (2) they have been effectively marginalized for the time being; but (3) they could become a major political force if things go on as they are.

The alt-right … … is a response to decades of decline in standards of living for working people, amid the proliferation of unemployment and meaningless, dead-end jobs.  Moreover, no coherent leftist movement exists through which everyday people can make sense of this world and collaborate across lines of race and gender to build a better one.  As a result, many of those who reject the status quo blame their problems on immigrants, feminism, trans rights, and other bogeymen, rather than the capitalist social relations from which the problems facing working people inevitably proceed.

The real threat today is not that small pockets of white-supremacist ideologues exist.  It’s that their vision of society might become the only one that makes sense to ordinary white people, for whom reality increasingly seems like a battle between racially-defined interest groups for slivers from a shrinking pie.  

From the article in Commune

It’s fashionable to say that the alt-right, and the more mainstream Trump movement, is rooted in white working-class resentment of black and immigrant advancement. This idea gets us absolutely nowhere.  It’s based on the economic fallacy that all the jobs and assets lost by white people in the last four decades have gone to black people and immigrants. That’s totally wrong.  Things are getting worse for just about everyone.  … …

Now you have austerity dressed up in this business-friendly liberalism; you literally have downwardly mobile white people being scolded, being told, “You’re only resentful because black people have a seat at the table,” or “You should be ashamed of yourself, check your privilege.”  

I mean, if your options are very narrow, you are one health emergency away from destitution, and these self-righteous liberals are saying you need to feel bad for how great you have it, you need to give up a little to atone for the sins of the past, the natural response is “fuck that.”  Only very comfortable people would embrace a politics based on giving up what you have so that individual people can succeed in your place.  And I can’t think of an easier politics to organize against.

Thus the big threat that the alt-right poses is the way they can tell white people, especially downwardly mobile white people: You don’t have to feel bad; you don’t have to apologize to anybody. You can actually feel good about yourself, about being white, and turn your back on humanity. 

From the interview in Jewish Currents

Overt racist ideology is taboo in the USA, and overt anti-Semitism even more so.  But this wasn’t always true.

Recall that the German-American Bund was a major presence in New York City in the late 1930s.  Recall also that anti-Semitic populists such as Gerald L.K. Smith and Father Charles Coughlin had big national followings in the 1930s.

Going back further, the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was not only anti-black, but anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant.  It dominated the politics of many American states, not only in the South but the Midwest.

Nowadays this history is largely forgotten.  That doesn’t mean that, under the right conditions, it can’t recur.

LINKS

Three Months Inside Alt-Right New York by Jay Firestone for Commune.

Undercover with New York Nazis, an interview of Jay Firestone for Jewish Currents.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

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2 Responses to “How dangerous is the alt-right?”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    The KKK was big here in WNY in the 1920’s. My grandmother was a schoolteacher in Williamsville & Depew, NY & as a young Catholic woman, she was harassed by some of her bolder students & their parents who were either members of the KKK or influenced by their rhetoric. The school was also vandalized. My father told me that all that activity ended when the Buffalo Evening News published the names of all the members of the local KKK … there were some very prominent names included there.

    But no, this is not talked about anymore nor is it taught in the schools. If this had not happened to my own grandmother, I doubt I would have known about the KKK in WNY.

    There’s lots of Nazis in WNY & I used to know them. I partied with them. Many of them bikers, but also cops, businessmen, farmers. The Niagara Hotel in Lockport used to be a meeting place for them. I do not know if this is still true, but 10 years ago, there was a Nazi flag hanging over the bar & their back room was a veritable Nazi shrine, complete with pictures of Hitler & Goebbles. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Never have I subscribed to that ideology but I knew better than to argue with those kind of people. I walked away & never went back. But I never forgot what I saw & that it existed. Here. In New York.

    I am not so sure that overt racism is taboo. At one time, I would have agreed with you. But not anymore.

    Like

  2. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    An important topic. And also fascinating from a historical perspective. I’ve written about this a number of times. It’s important context to keep in mind. The past is never entirely in the past.

    Like

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