With Enemies at the Gate

A Discussion Between Alexander Reid Ross and Shane Burley on Paganism and the Resistance to Fascism


SB: For people that are uninitiated, what role has paganism played in what we call the “broad fascist movement?”  What importance has it had?

ARR: Historically, I think it has had quite an impact. You don’t look at Mussolini’s attitudes, his speeches in the in the late 1910s and early 1920s and see paganism. You just don’t. You see even some atheism, and a wholesale rejection of the church’s power. And, in a way, a sort of sacralized politics that is there to replace the power of the church and the state as we know it and transform it into a total entity.

It isn’t until Hitler’s party rises out of the great depression that paganism starts to influence the fascist movement, because Hitler’s background is in Guido von Liste and people who were recreating that kind of ethnic pagan narrative in the volkish movement and out of the ultra-nationalist tendencies in Germany at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  So it’s not intrinsic to fascism, but it did have a huge impact and it changed the game.

So today we find ourselves in the midst of all of these spiritual takes on fascism, and one of the strongest of them is paganism.  More specifically Asatru or Odinism.

My question to you would then be, we talk a lot about Asatru and Odinism and we get to the exclusionary differentialism of it, but Else Christensen who created this new weird faith, racialist paganism, came out of the anarcho-syndicalist movement. She tried to sort of racialize anarcho-syndicalism with paganism, what is your take on that?  Its so different today with ecology and paganism being the things we identify the most, but what about workerism and paganism?

SB: Well I think the first thing is it confronts the notion that fascism is synonymous with authoritarianism or with specific political choices.   That is a narrative that was obscured by the Cold War and by free market “libertarianism” in general, which wants to position itself both as anti-Left and as anti-fascist.

What it also shows is that the center of those politics has always been race, and it’s always been a sense that if you stripped away social forms you would come to an innate inequality.  That there’s something really baked into people, not just on a biological level, but in this case a spiritual level as well.

So with Elsie Christiansen, she held onto some anarcho-syndicalist ideas, but they were superficial in comparison to her underlying beliefs.  She wanted ethnocentric tribal communities, ones that came out of a mythological version of the past.  Maybe to recreate a Viking past that she believed to be true, which isn’t necessarily historically true.

It also speaks to the fact that anarcho-syndicalism was popular inside of revolutionary movements that were undefined.  So anarcho-syndicalism itself is defined as anti-fascist, I don’t think that’s debatable, but that doesn’t mean that the people who came in constellation with it were universally anti-fascist.  And today we see the same thing happening with National Anarchism because its synonymous with what Elsie Christiansen was talking about.  It’s almost identical.  But what happens is that people develop that idea after coming in contact with post-left anarchism, coming in contact with social anarchism, and coming in contact with social movements through things like Occupy, and then bringing in a right-wing populism or a right-wing understanding of the natural world.  So it’s the same interaction [between left-wing surface politics and right-wing ideas] that we have today.  Elsie Christiansen’s just happened to be uniquely focused on Odinism.

It also needs to be said that she was not a uniquely spiritual person.  She didn’t necessarily see Odinism in the way that people see Christianity traditionally.  She saw it specifically as an archetypal force to “save the white race.”  And she thought that it was going to be an injection of a “warrior spirit,” and in that way it was useful more than it was true, in the metaphysical sense, though I don’t doubt that she grew to believe that it was metaphysically true, at least in the Jungian sense.

This is also true of Odinism broadly, maybe less true of people who use the term Asatru.  For those that use the term Odinism or Wotanism it has always been much more about the effect a religion like that has rather than the actual spirituality itself.

AAR: Like the Church of the Creator.

SB: The Church of the Creator is a good example because not only does it not have a spiritual foundation, it doesn’t have a philosophical foundation either.  It has no ideas.  Its ideas are that white people are superior and must reign over others.  Creativity is just a name that’s given to a very primitive white supremacist concept.

In the modern context, and when you start seeing these strange different strands of fascist politics like the New Right in Europe and the Alt Right in the U.S., what role does paganism continue to play in the extreme right?

AAR:  For a while National Anarchism looked like something that was going to be a significant entryist trend.  It sort of fizzled out a little bit.  It was shut down.  People like Spencer Sunshine and New York City Antifa did a really good job of putting the kibosh on their attempts, at least in New York, and publicizing why that was urgent.  But you still have similar groups, like Jack Donovan’s group the Wolves of Vinland and the anti-Muslim Soldier of Odin, a sort of biker gang operation, and this group in Ukraine, the Misanthropic Division.  These sort of formations springing up, sort of like biker gangs, pretty violent seeming, in a lot of ways “anti-civ” leaning.  Drawing on a lot of those National Anarchist ideas.

Pan-secessionism is another great example.  There is also the Asatru Folk Assembly, which seems to be holding numbers, though they may have been falling off since the recent controversy.

I don’t see it as leading, though.  I don’t see Odinism or paganism as coming out in front of the new fascist movement.  Part of that is the robust resistance within pagan groups to the steps that the AFA, especially, has taken in recent months, if not years, to clarify their stance on immigration and gender.  That is sort of what it takes, recognizing where and how fascist tendencies within each of these milieu’s creeps up.  Whether it’s Odinism or whether it is the ecology movement or whether it is the workers movement.  It means identifying it and confronting it, using the internal truth of those milieus to isolate and push out the fascists so they can’t organize in them.

Can you talk a little bit about what the Left Hand Path is, what has been going on regarding Augustus Sol Invictus, and what your opinions on that are?

SB: So the Left Hand Path traditionally meant not being tied to conventional morality, and in that way it meant a sort of  “selfishness” or “self-worship.”  In a lot of ways it was associated with right-wing politics that were not necessarily racialized, but they were hierarchical and sometimes libertarian.  So you see figures, a lot of which are kind of cartoonish like Anton Salvador LaVey, who writes these silly books that plagiarize other books like Might is Right.  Its all about a will to power, its about gaining power.

With occult stuff it sometimes means gaining power through black magic, and not judging your spiritual morality on allegiance to a God since you, yourself, can be that God, in a lot of ways.  And that’s not, I don’t think, dominant in occult or pagan circles.  Traditionally, it seems like you come across a lot of people who have a strict Karmic set of ethics when it comes to those sort of things.  This idea that we should put out what we want to get in, and the Left Hand Path is often really against that.

It needs to be said really clearly that 90% of Left Hand Path people would have nothing to do with those fascist politics.  It’s very sexually libertine, so homophobic and transphobic politics have usually been out.  As have Traditionalist gender roles, those are often gone.

But I think, someone like Augustus Sol Invictus is the logical ideological conclusion of these things.  It makes perfect sense.  His entire notion has been about regaining a sort of warrior power, one that takes power over others.  Augustus Invictus’ actually spirituality is pan-European.  What he believes is that different European pantheons of Gods are different names for the same Gods, but culturally interpreted.  So he would like to return to something closer to pagan Rome.  Which is something that people like Richard Spencer (Alt Right leader) probably have a fondness for too.  Though I don’t think that they believe in literal pagan Gods in the way that August Invictus does.

So I think that those circles have that element, and after all his negative publicity he has been pretty much expelled from pagan circles.  But there is also a reckoning inside of paganism, broadly.  Its not just Heathenry or Left Hand Path.

Obviously, inside of Heathenry it’s happening.  The Asatru Folk Assembly finally drew a line in the sand by saying that they were for “white children,” that they stand for traditional gender roles, and also showing support for the Soldiers of Odin.  Asatru Alliance and the Odinic Rite, which is one of the largest Odinist specific groups, are all of the “folkish” camp, but every other Heathen group has admonished them, saying that Heathenry is for everybody.   That’s happening inside Left Hand Path circles too.  They’re having a reckoning.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t personally find parts of Left Hand Path stuff problematic.  I always have.  I think that there is a problematic element anytime your sense of ethnics is based on a “might is right” concept.  I think that has what you see on a macro-modern scale in fascist movements.

It means that for those in pagan circles you have to look at the core ideas of why you are there, which is incredibly challenging.  For Heathenry specifically, the entire theology, the philosophy that has been constructed to give it depth, has been done by racists.  That work has been done, historically, was done by nationalists.  It’s not true of Celtic paganism, Wicca, and a lot of other traditions.  But for Reconstructionist Germanic paganism, the reason it was reconstructed was to embolden a national identity.  It was reconstructed out of a romantic nationalism.  That was its entire function for being, so it’s harder to decouple that, but absolutely not impossible.

There is a lot of other, even Traditionalist reasons, to join Heathenry that is not necessarily of that racist tradition.  For example, start by looking at the use of archetypal Gods and decouple that from the older racial doctrines.  What underlies this fascist interpretation of Heathenry was that archetypes were racial.  So that Odin, and Thor, and Freyja were the racial ideas of the collective unconscious of Aryan people.  But if you take away that notion and say no, the Gods themselves are archetypal spiritual concepts, but they aren’t unique to racial groups, and say instead they are unique to personalities, you have a concept that underlies a lot of Universalist Heathenry.  That on its own is a real challenge to the folkish ideas that run underneath many of those more problem groups.

AAR: You could argue that in books like Man and His Symbols that Jung actually goes in that Universalist direction rather than in a racial one.

SB:  Modern Jungianism is much more indebted to things like feminist Goddess worship.  Its walked away from those racial ideas, because the racial science that inspired them has been completely discredited.  And so has most of these racist spiritual ideas, they have not proven justifiable.

Even for anti-racist pagans, one of the things that drive it is a quest for pre-modern folkways.  For a lot of people the idea of centering on a tradition that you have a history with because you have a history with it has some problematic associations.   Eclectic paganism that takes pieces from non-white cultures is also often identified as problematic for its cultural appropriation.  What answers do you have for people who are on this search and both believe that these spiritualties are not rooted in their genetics and hold critiques of cultural appropriation?

AAR: That’s a good question.  It goes back to me personally, and I’ve always hung out with people that are very spiritual, and I’ve always been close to people with these ideas, but I’ve always been agnostic.  An agnostic leaning atheist, or an atheist leaning agnostic.  So, it’s difficult for me to provide advice to other people about it since I have such a different association with spirituality.

I do think that in my experience, the people I have been able to have affinity with, have been people who have generally opened up their identity and beliefs to all different kinds of people.

On the cultural appropriations side of things, the most important thing is to have a lot of respect for other cultures’ autonomy and sovereignty.  In the 19th Century, the “spiritual awakening,” a lot of that happened because of colonialism.  They were bringing in new spiritual ideas from areas that had been colonized.  So there was an influx of Native shamanic ideas imported from America or Brazil.  These Hindi ideas from India and the subcontinent, which was an English colony at the time.  The fascination with African masks, and other spiritual pieces that were seen as mystical oddities.  So this sort of eclectic fascination was, in a way, a result of the parasitic spirit of colonial Europe in the late 19th century.

People like Renee Guenon, the far-right Traditionalist thinker, tried to say, “No, what we’re saying is ‘modernism’ isn’t that cool and we think Sufism is really interesting.  And Islam is really interesting.”  Back then it was much more open than it is today, for a variety of reasons.

Of course, their assessments of these things were very partial, very Orientalist.  They were trying to make an effort to open up the modern sensibilities of Europe to other ideas that could, in some ways, be more creative.  Or an “exit strategy” to the factory system or scientific thinking that was, at the time, very racist.  And remains, in many ways, innately white supremacist.

So its possible to have this sort of open minded respect for other spiritualties, and how, in some ways, when you read about them they are sort of integrated into your life.  That is what happens when you read a book.  That is what happens when you learn about different traditions.  It’s easy to go way too far and to all of a sudden think that you’re some kind of Druidic or Dervish wonder.  And a lot of that is just based on racist interpretations of people one never encounters.  So I think the advice I would have would be to keep an open mind in regard to other spiritual practices, without taking things too far and adopting these practices as if they were one’s own, when in fact the relationship is just not there.  And all the baggage of white supremacy and privilege weighs down the interpretation.

A lot of that goes back to the big palingenisis word, which I think you were sort of breaking the issue down to.  This desire to go back to a pre or post-modern period, a return to something that happened before and could re-manifest as a renaissance or a reawakening for all people.  I wonder, to what extent, you see paganism in things like the bioregionalist movement or in various Traditionalist sects.

My question is to what extent does paganism play a role in the modern fascist movement?  How are those two things the same, and how are they different?

SB: On the one hand, it’s artificial because Traditionalism, in the Evolian sense, rejected neo-paganism.  It rejected it completely because it lacked the chain of initiation and thought that traditions could only be “true” if they could be traced back.  So the only major modern pagan traditions that they thought were valid were Hinduism and Shinto, and various constellations and other smaller religions.  Shinto itself had a uniquely Japanese context, but they thought Hinduism descended from an ancient, Indo-Aryan white tribe.  So they thought that Hinduism was a white, ethnic religion.

Traditionally, while Evola might have venerated European paganism, he thought it was useless nature worship.

AAR:  Right. Anarchic, in fact.

SB:  So its not Traditionalist in any way.  There’s an irony about this when you look at some of these journals that either claim Heathenry or claim Traditionalism.  TYR is a good example.  Michael Moynihan edits it, and it describes itself as a “journal of radical Traditionalism.”  Colin Cleary, who wrote The Gods Who Summon and What is a Rune?, published by the white nationalist publishing house Counter-Currents, also edits it.  Those two books are very complicated studies of heathenry on the one hand, and really complicated looks at people like Heidegger on the other.  It gives the sense of depth when it comes to these traditions, relaying the idea that Heathenry is not just symbolism but instead has a deep underlying philosophy.

But what you see in places like Tyr are discussions about Evola, and specifically republishing of Evola, and then, in the very next article, discussions on what it means to be an Odinist.  These two ideas are in very clear contradiction with each other, since Evola’s Traditionalism excluded heathenry.  What is not in contradiction, however, is the racism implicit in both ideas.  So that is where they are able to find a common idea, it is not in the Heathenry or in the Traditionalism.  That’s the defining quality of journals like Tyr; it’s the reactionary politics and social views.  This is true of the spirituality of the whole New Right, or Alt Right as it were today in America.

So Traditionalism is a great sounding label they use, and they can point to really big and complicated books that cite it as a key influence, but many of the people using the term are not Traditionalists in any way that you would normally understand it (Not that there is anything to be proud of there anyway.).

So, the people who run the Traditionalist Workers Party are both Orthodox Christians as well as Presbyterians.  These have been the most public religious affiliations mentioned, though there may be others.  They have also had some involvement by National Anarchist, which is part of their conscious recruitment of skinheads, many of which are identifying as Odinists or with Asatru.  Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party and the Traditionalist Youth Network, had a lot of respect for those beliefs (even though he is an Orthodox Christian) because he sees them as folkish religions.  He disagrees, he thinks that Christ is for everyone, but he understands and respects the attempt of moving towards a pre-modern folkway.  What he likes to say is that “modernity ruins everything,” and will ruin your paganism too.

So, one thing that you said is that Odinism is not going to be out front of the Alt Right or new fascist movement, but I think that it will be behind it.  I no longer think that there is going to be a dominant faction of religious pagans, but I think it will always be the clothing that they choose to wear.  It’s what they want to bring into their holiday celebrations.  It’s in the music they prefer, genres like neofolk.  There are even neofolk bands playing at the National Policy Institute conference the last couple of years.  What they talk about a lot if that they want to reclaim those traditions even if they don’t believe in it religiously.  They think that it represents an authentic, European theological and philosophical rebirth.

So in that way they are traditional pagans, because a large part of the modern pagan movement has used paganism as a tool to reclaim things that are “para-spiritual.”  That may be true of any religion, a lot of people return to traditional Christianity because they want a certain type of family or memory about their past.  A lot of people turn to paganism because of the desire for connection, maybe with nature and history.  So its not disingenuous in any way, but what many of the nationalists are now starting to say that they are not really religious pagans but paganism is how I think of myself in an identitarian way.

That’s true of the European New Right as well.  What Alain de Benoist was arguing in On Being a Pagan was not arguing that we should literally believe in them, but that they were archetypes for European people.  Someone like Stephen McNallen, on the other hand, would agree with his analysis of where these Gods come from, but also believes that they are literally true.

AAR: But they are sort of a metaphor.  A sort of story that we tell ourselves.

SB: And that is a sort of Evolian concept as well, the beliefs that myths were true only in a sense.  That’s why in his anti-Semitism he knew that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a fabrication, but he said it didn’t matter because it was a myth that proved itself true.

AAR: And that is perhaps why people like Moynihan, or Troy Southgate, can claim Evola and paganism.  While the Traditionalism and the paganism are incommensurate, in some ways paganism becomes one of those mytho-poetic things that can reinforce Traditionalism even though they are at odds.

SB:  It is kind of like the left-right synthesis, because they are at odds, but they are both “anti-imperial” or have other types of surface level agreement.  They are both, theoretically, “against the modern world.”

Satanism is a great example too.  What does Satanism, in any way, have in common with Asatru? Or have in common with Rene Guenon’s understanding of Sufism?  Absolutely nothing.  There is no correlation, whatsoever, other than maybe a valoration of strength.

AAR: And people like Anton LaVey saying that Odinism was a Satanic idea.

SB: It’s more of a cultural force to say, “we reject your world.”  It’s more of a cross-religious alliance, really.  And then when those spiritual ideas mingle enough they end up having ideological crossover, because they develop theory together.  Whenever people take spiritual ideas like this seriously, it develops a body of philosophy that pairs with it and progresses on and further develops.  No matter what the intentions are, when these different spiritual paths mingle enough they begin to meld together, in some ways.

AAR:  Isn’t there an idea that Satanism itself is a sort of paganism?  That Satan himself was ushered into the Christian religion later on through the church, not so much through the scriptures, as this Pan God.  This Demi God.  Cloven hooves, horns, the “God of fun.”

SB:  It goes back to this anti-Semitic caricature that has come back into resurgence.  It is sort of a Gnostic idea that Yahweh, the Jewish God, was a sort of demon.  That is where the Alt Right joke of the Jewish “Volcano God” comes from.  It’s close to the ideas of Esoteric Hitlerism and Miguel Serrano that the Jewish God is a demiurgic demon that has taken over the Earth.  It was the Jewish ethnic God who has taken over, and dethroned, all other Gods, so whites must reclaim their ethnic Gods to fight their demonic, lesser God.  Though a few probably believe that narrative literally true, it is often believed on the radical right as metaphorically true.   And a lot of the Alt Right seems to believe that metaphorically, that the Jewish religion is evil and their religious values have basically colonized the rest of the world and made whites work against their interests, which were conscious when they were manifested in their Nordic ethnic Gods.  This drives from really deep Nazi anti-Semitism that says that the power for Jews to destroy Western man comes deep in their race and religion.

AAR:  Sure, it was even Jared Taylor who went on one of those podcasts to say that he thought there was a case to be made that the Jew had a plan to take down Western Civilization, and that it should be looked into and taken seriously.

SB: Because Christianity has waned on the far right, there is this idea that Christianity is a Jewish disease has permeated their ranks.  The alternative to that would then be a white ethnic religion.  In that sensibility, the image of Lucifer as a “God insulted” or a deity that has been lied about by Judeo-Christianity is a Gnostic idea because it is reinterpreting the scriptures to mean its opposite.  There is theistic Satanist groups that do believe that, like The Order of Nine Angels and the Joy of Satan, which believe something similar.  It also has an underlying idea that Jewish religion made universal through Christianity tells people to behave altruistically or with forgiveness when instead we should be exerting force to destroy our enemies to create a white empire.  That is one of the key aspects of Satanic fascism, which is about rejecting Jewish ideas of compassion and reclaiming a warrior spirit.

AAR:  How should pagans interact with this tacit theme of “the Judeo-Christian menace,” rationalism, legalism, etc?  These different sorts of catchwords ascribed to Judeo-Christian ideas, as if there is a pure lineage of oppression from Christianity that has to be overcome.  How can pagans interact with some of the anti-Semitic themes that are often in this discourse of rejecting Christianity’s modern influence?

SB: I think if paganism is a sort of “protest vote” for you, then it might be important to look at what the protest vote is against.  There are these workshops that I have seen going around with names like “Decolonizing Whiteness,” which are problematic in some ways, but also come from a real place of Christianity’s colonial history in Europe as well as the rest of the world.  Take Mjonir, the Thor’s hammer pendant, which became really cemented in heathen culture after Christianity was cemented in the Nordic world, barring Christians from trading with heathens.  It was then that Mjornir was used by Vikings to show allegiance to the Old Gods rather than this new imperial religion.  There’s an impulse now to maintain that narrative, a resistance to Christianity’s colonizing effect.

What often happens, however, is that some people will use that idea as a tool to say “We are victims imperialist colonialism too, just like people of color.”  And that is a factually untrue idea.  It doesn’t’ mean that there wasn’t an imperialist history of Christianity in Europe, but it does not have a comparable history and ongoing legacy that white colonialism has in the global South.

What paganism can act as, for some, is a form of spirituality that is just untainted.  A lot of people discuss the switching to Yule celebrations instead of Christmas because when they were growing up Christmas was a time when you went to a scary church with violent rhetoric with abusive family members.  That was a very unhappy holiday.  But we still want a Winter holiday, and since paganism is such a reconstructed religion, it is often people reconstructing something for themselves that is unique to their needs and condition that may be without some of the baggage of their earlier experiences of religion.  Also having something that feels old can be important and therapeutic.

So having a clear idea of what you are doing and why can help to avoid that problematic dimension.  If the problem with Christianity is that it is Judaic in origin, or that it is universalist or destructive to nations, then it is a problem no matter what religion it is tied to.  That is true of Atheism as well (New Atheism especially).  What drives a lot of those far right critiques of Christianity is that the religion is problematic because of its own internal logic, a criticism that I think is patently untrue.

Also, whether or not the value systems implicit in a person’s paganism are shared with the more questionable avenues is worth exploring.  Sometimes I will walk into a pagan or New Age shop, and you will see some Asatru items, and a lot of Wiccan stuff, and various Welsh, Celtic, and other items.  And then all of a sudden you will see a Baphomet, or stuff for the Temple of Set.  The ideological, philosophical, and spiritual core of those religions could not be more different.  It would be like having statues to Satan inside of a Christian bookshop because Christians believe in Satan.  We shouldn’t revel in those contradictions anymore, we should be spiritually consistent.  We reject “Might is Right” logic seen in a lot of left-hand path religions.  If you have a warrior dimension in your pagan spirituality and that means that it is a ferocious spirit against the challenges of life, then great.  But that is worlds away from a warrior spirit whose manifestation is domination over others, yet both spiritual philosophies are often represented inside of pagan spaces since they have similar iconography and myths.  I think drawing those lines and saying “we believe this, but we do not believe that” is the kind of consistency that really blocks out problematic elements.

AAR:  Yeah, for example, indigenous warrior societies in North America who are resisting oil pipelines.  They are going up against police in very serious ways, though blockades, and other actions.  It can be associated with a kind of warrior identity, but it is not an authoritarian and hierarchical warrior character that takes their power on top of the peasantry. Instead with fascist warrior spiritual image, the kind that Evola invoked regularly, it is about fighting to enforce a caste structure of the wolves over the sheep.

It was very baked into the Years of Lead in the 1970s, where Evolian terrorists were going around bombing civilian sites, infrastructure and what not, in order to act out this kind of fantasy of the warrior spirit.  What would later become known as the “political soldier.”  And it is really in that realm that Roberto Fiore from Terza Posizione went up to England to escape charges for bombing the Bologne train station, which was the worst act of terrorism during the Years of Lead.  I think they killed over 80 people.  In England he was sheltered by Michael Walter of the National Front, with Patrick Harrington and Nick Griffin (former leader of the British National Party) they formed the Political Soldier faction of the National Front.  This later became known as the Official National Front, a sort of splinter group.  They were the ones who were recruiting the skinheads.

Through that time period, the mid to late 1980s, Blood and Honor came about, the racist skinhead movement was shipped from England to German and France and the United States.  That’s why even white nationalist skinheads have these weird crossover spiritualties between Odinism, Creativity, and hard line Christianity.  The warrior culture was for them a tool to reclaim their belief that they were the authority in an oppressive social structure.

SB:  What this conversation brings me back to the Wolves of Vinland.  They have gotten a lot of attention in pagan circles because they have an evolving tradition; they define their own specific spirituality.  A lot of Heathens get criticizes for their reconstructionist use of ancient rituals, which some critics like to call “reenactments.”  The Wolves of Vinland instead try to do their own thing, like the funeral to Baldur they hold every year where they ritualistically set a wooden boat on fire.  It is a unique tradition, they develop the rituals themselves, and they have their own evolving esoteric understanding of what they call “tribal spirituality.”  They often discuss it as an effort to embody the “Germanic hero aesthetic.”  They use the Gods in a way that secularly would be a sort of inspiration, but in a spiritual sense it would be a type of “becoming.”  Through the rituals and folkways they hope to internalize the spirit of Odin, which is the name for this kind of Germanic spirit based on the acquisition of knowledge and the discovery of power.

I think that that idea, when decoupled from its obviously problematic aspects, is actually one that is very striking and attractive in pagan circles.  On the one hand, it is a very well thought out form of mysticism, and it provides a very fresh reading of the lore.  So when we talk about the warrior culture, embodying the spirits of those Gods and stories does not have to be done in this oppressive way and can instead be spun into a positive, and maybe even revolutionary, context.

You see in paths like the Reclaiming Tradition, the effort to take stories about care and community, especially between women, the inspiration that you live out in your own life.  In a way its unquestionably true since it is putting a name, in this case Gods or spirits, on a quality that is very much alive in people’s communities.  It gives people an image to meditate on, to decide they want to bring it into their own life.  In that way it can be incredibly empowering, it can be the opposite of the way the far right attempts to co-opt those myths.

You see that with Circle Ansuz, the anarchist Heathen collective that was very big on taking the Viking warrior culture and using it to fight for a just community.  It was a war against reactionary forces, a war against inequality and fascism.  That kind of “warlike feature” was not baked in implicit violence and oppression, and instead seems like the concept of “spiritual warfare,” the war we have in our lives to become the better version of ourselves.

That’s not unique to paganism either; you see it in a lot of left-wing Christianities. There, the concept of salvation is really critical to overcoming oppression, on the one hand, but also overcoming yourself, and finding the best way to live your life.

AAR:  “I have come not to bring you peace, but a sword.” It has been interpreted various ways, of course, but there’s an obvious sort of militant aspect to that sort of evangelism.

I think the one person that we have really sort of passed over in this discussion is Alexandr Dugin.  Talk about your spiritual warfare!  Dugin, like no one else, has been on top of these themes.  War, sacrifice, violence.  Also couched in the language of National Conservatism, which is a trend I have seen increase in recent years. Especially with people like Gianfranco Fini the Italian post-fascist. Dugin is sort of post-fascist with his own idea of the “Fourth Position.” This idea that you have had democracy, communism, and fascism, they have all gone by the wayside, and we are all scrambling to piece together this Phoenix rising from the ashes that will truly embody the human spirit.  They are trying to dance around the fact that it is just repackaged fascism.

Dugin’s big concept is geopolitics, and he has a similar sort of openness to intersecting occult far-right ideas, kind of like people such as Michael Moynihan. Where he takes what he needs to get his own idea of power and tradition.

SB:  I see Alexandr Dugin as the new Rasputin. Sort of the empire’s mystic.

As has been reported, Dugin has switched his focus from Evolian Traditionalism to Chaos Magick.  On its simplest level, Chaos Magick often takes on the power of specific thinking.  If we create our own reality, then maybe we can give ourselves spiritual placebos directly into our own subconscious.  You do sigil work, maybe that sigil will go deep into your subconscious and become manifest.  Perhaps you do a hyper sigil, maybe a piece of fiction that you want your life to become and you put your energy into it.  Some of it is undeniably true; if you envision your goals then you are more likely to manifest it.  Then there is the harder edge version that sees it more magically, and it is that harder edge that Dugin seems to be invested in.  And some of that banks up on the “Might is Right” occult perspective.

The dividing line I have often heard from occultists is if you believe there is no moral consequence for your magical behavior.  Most people do, for example, the Wiccan Rede of “Do what thou whilt, but harm none.”  Instead, in Thelema’s Book of the Law, written by Aliester Crowley, it just says “Do what thou whilt.”  That is a massive philosophical distinction.  The Left Hand Path religions would call the Right Hand Path ones beholden to false morality, we do not believe in those responsibilities because we don’t believe in your false Gods.  That would seem to be the angle that Dugin is taking, seeing that he simply wants to claim power.  A Will to Power.  He is invested then in whatever tradition he believes will give him power over others.

In some ways, it shows that this Will to Power may be a key part of the Left Hand Path tradition broadly, and it outlines why it bothers me when people focus only on  Invictus’ racism.  Augustus Invictus is a racist by anyone’s standards. But is he completely invested in this racialist understanding of the world? Probably not.  But that is not the only thing that is important.  The racism is the low hanging fruit.  We can almost always agree that racism is atrocious and needs to be confronted, both interpersonally and systemically.  What we cannot seem to agree on is the myriad of other aspects of their politics that are problematic. Their views on gender. Their view of bodies, how they want to wipe out fat and differently abled bodies. Invictus hits this hierarchical and unequal view of the world in a whole host of ways, with race only being a small part of his overall worldview.

This makes it an intersectional fascism. It is about finding all the ways you can have an oppressed identity and then creating a reactionary opposition to progress on the lines of that identity. If it is gender, it is the Men’s Rights movement. If its bodies, it is about valorizing a specific body ideal.  With someone like Dugin, it is about maintaining oppression and hierarchies wherever they arise.  At least he is more honest about it: he wants to build those hierarchies under himself.  He wants to be at the center of this, it is not a universalist politic.  Invictus is honest about this in some ways as well in that he admits that his vision of an oppressive warrior empire is something that would benefit himself, not necessary most people in the world.  He thinks he would do pretty well in that type of world.  So I think that Dugin represents a strange philosophical current that is all about Will to Power, and ties in those other reactionary ideas about maintaining inequality and hierarchy.

The racism is obvious, but if you focus on more than just the racism you start to see that there is a whole complex ideological undercurrent that, even if they tone down the racism, is still frightening.  It also shows that fascists expand beyond just the racism.  Their ideology is larger and more pervasive than many have considered because the logic of it has been baked into different counter-cultural circles that no one has analyzed and identified.  If your spiritual idea is to institute a Will to Power dominance over others, if you believe human beings are not all equal, and you believe that hierarchy is a natural structure, then you are holding a fascist politic no matter how you color it.

What do you think a way for pagans to really confront these issues would be?

AAR:  You have to go where you’re most powerful.  I’ve talked to some people from Anti-Racist Action, and they would confront Nazis on the street and say, “You have to get out of here.”  But there would be five of them, and one Nazi.  They would carry a point, not just one Baldie going up against five white power skinheads.  That’s suicide.  Similarly, you don’t want to be the one person jumping into a hall full of Nazis.  You have to get people together, and you have to do that where your interests already lie and where you power is.

So it is important for pagans to turn around and have a real reckoning about who is in this movement, why they are here, and what to do about it.  Getting events shut down when people like Augustus Sol Invictus are speaking at them, especially when venues are not responding to community concerns.  It is not going to work every single time, but there is an opportunity there to build a community against this trend, and that is really important.

Marginalizing and isolating the Asatru Folk Assembly, and groups like it, is an important thing.  This can play out in a number of ways.  People could show up to AFA gatherings and try and disrupt them.  Earth First!, the radical environmental movement, had a real right-wing pitch to it I the early 1980s.  This got turned around in the late 1980s for a number of reasons, one of which was that some anarchists from Olympia calling themselves Alien Nation went down to an Earth First! meeting and started blaring rap music and confronting and getting in arguments with people.  Edward Abbey came up to antagonize them, calling them “sissies” and stuff like that.  They just argued with him until he was blue in the face and finally left defeated.  Later that night there was a “Buckaroo Squad” that went through the camp, cracking bullwhips and yelling homophobic slurs, and trying to intimidate people.  That behavior really exposed them, it made them look terrible.  There was an article published in the Earth First! Journal, and elsewhere, talking about what happened and exposing the right-wing kernel.  It created a huge rift in the movement itself.  Soon after that Edward Abbye died, Dave Foreman went to jail, and there was an opening that allowed IWW member Judi Bari to become one of the most important leaders of the movement.  This was a 180-degree turn around from the politics that came before.

So these anarchists who agreed with ecological politics but didn’t like the right wing actually influenced the course of the movement.  That can still happen in Asatru as well; these kinds of disruptions are valuable as long as you are staying safe.  The main point is that it does need to be confronted in the pagan movement itself.  The wrong thing to do is the over-the-top, optimistic revolutionary program that often seems so appealing for those on the fringe.  “We just need to put aside our differences and realize that we don’t like ‘liberal multiculturalism’ or ‘Judeo-Christian ethics,’ and that is what we need to smash first, and then have the reckoning after we accomplish that.’  It is that kind of logic that allowed fascism to begin in the first place.

This was the type of arguments that people like Georges Sorel and Charles Maurras used to say, that ‘some are from the left, some are from the right, and we can mince words about these differences after the revolution.  Then we can differentiate ourselves territorially.  But for the time being we need to overthrow liberal democracy, which we all hate.’  That is the synthesis of fascism.  It is left and right meeting together to attack liberal democracy.

The left needs to recognize the right as an equal or greater threat.

SB:  It is also the right taking over the left.  Using left wing tools and structures to express right wing values.

AAR:  A lot of those values that we think of as essentially left are not.  Our assertions that the left wing is about working class struggle aren’t necessarily completely accurate.  I think Donald Trump is a great example of how right-wing struggle can also be about identifying as working class.  There’s obviously a racialized difference between left and right there, but sometimes it is harder to see.  That is the murky area of authoritarianism and elitism and other interpersonal dynamics that the left needs to focus on.  Because, similar to Christianity and Judaism and paganism, Marxism and anarchism and green politics, can all contain authoritarian personalities that can take over and take pretty strong groups in radically bad directions, which have significant crossover with fascists.  If not becoming outright fascist themselves.

Last, but not least, there’s question as to a fascist group or a fascist movement.  Even if something like the Workers World Party is clearly identifying itself as a left-wing party, when they are attending a conference that is put on by fascists and organizations like the League of the South, whether or not they identify with the left is irrelevant.  The real question is if they are willing to take part in a fascist movement.  The real question is which side are they on.

So for pagans it’s important to associate with the politics of the left, which I see as generally a belief in equality that traverses class, race, sex, and gender.  And it is important to subvert authoritarianism even when (or especially when) it’s for the sake of equality.

SB: One thing I might add, one of the strongest things inside of paganism or just in general is to have a serious and developing understanding of racism.  One of the key things that will undermine fascist entryism is the ability to counter their narratives, to undermine their arguments.  And you do this by having a strong anti-racist perspective even independent of fascist threats.  It is also good to develop that politic through discussion and forgiveness of errors, because that way you can develop a really keen sense of the problems.  Right now, with the way that fascists have forced entry into pagan spaces, it would be almost impossible for a pagan who has been involved in this community for 20 years to have never have had an association with someone who turned out to be pretty problematic.  Or to not have ever come across these ideas.  So it is going to be an ongoing process of hashing out what a strong anti-racist politic looks like in this context.

Also having consistency, which is something we lack in both politics and spirituality, is important.  To analyze the positions we have taken, to understand why we have made certain choices, to challenge ourselves, and to have a clear understanding of where our beliefs and actions come from.  When we talk about the left-right crossover that fascism relies on, often times the left takes on problematic ideas from the far right without even realizing it, and does it uncritically.

We see this even in anti-racist circles; they can take on the behavior of ethnic nationalism.  Some of the ways that we talk about issues like cultural appropriation; we do not see the long-term ideological assumptions this can maintain.  It is good to present the question of whether the choices we are making are in line with a well thought out anti-racist belief structure, rather than one that essentializes race, creates strong divides between ethnic groups, and is antithetical to a multicultural society.

I think that is something that is tough, and is instead an ongoing process.  It is continuing to develop, and we do not have every answer.  Right now we have anti-racist ideas emerging, and we are trying things out and making mistake.  If you have a real investment in these issues it means being willing to make those mistakes.

AAR:  Yeah, I think the left has shot itself I the foot somewhat with spirituality.  There is a real pugnacious tendency to write it off entirely, and that alienates a lot of people who have beliefs or are soul-searching or going through different stages in their lives or are committed to a spiritual movement.  They end up seeing the left as almost an enemy, because who is really representing the left?  Is it Maoists?  Is it Marxist-Leninists?  Or is it even hostile materialist anarchists?  Because there is a lot of hostility in leftists against questions of faith.

In a way you can see it transplanted onto left wing politics, as left wing politics become sacralized.  It becomes about sacrifice.  It becomes about “good faith vs. bad faith?”  It becomes about determinant course of the universe that you have “tapped into” and “understand completely,” with a problematic sense of certainty about all political or social issues.  So it is easy for the left to become a religion, and dogmatic, while writing off less dogmatic, and often more interesting, spiritual tendencies.  I think that is a real dilemma.

So I think that there is an opportunity for pagans to carve out niches in the left against these other attitudes that can be driven by right wing impulses.  And I do that it is important, at the end of the day, to activate that universality that would enable alliances on the left, in terms of equality as it really happens and not just an abstract notion.  That means that, for me, the more differentialist ideas, according to race or place of birth, distill an “essential” pattern, and a traditional and exclusionary field of identity that is a problem.  Those “essentialist identity” ideas have pretty negative implications in the long term.  I don’t deny that unique cultures exist in different places.  And I also don’t deny that they share a lot in common when they are held up against one another.  I just don’t think that this synchronism of “they’re all the same” work, and I also don’t think that they are all so radically different that cross-participation is intrinsically colonial.  I think there has to be an opening for exchange on an equal and just level.  Which is why I think that the white supremacist application of cultural appropriation arguments, which you see in things like the AFA and with Stephen McNallen, is clearly in line with fascism.


Shane Burley

Shane Burley is a writer, filmmaker, and organizer based in Portland, Oregon. His work as appeared in places such as In These Times, Truth-Out, Labor Notes, Waging Nonviolence, CounterPunch, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He contributed a chapter on housing justice movements to the recent AK Press release The End of the World As We Know It?, and has work in upcoming volumes on social movements. His most recent documentary Expect Resistance chronicles the intersection of the housing justice and Occupy Wallstreet movement. His work can be found at ShaneBurley.net, or reach him on Twitter at @shane_burley1.

Alexander Reid Ross

Alexander Reid Ross is a contributing moderator of the Earth First! Newswire. He is the editor of Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab and a contributor to Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency. His new book, Against the Fascist Creep, was released by AK Press earlier this year.


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Staring Down the Precipice: An Interview with Richard Oxman

By William Hawes

Richard Oxman is an educator living in Santa Cruz County, California. After talking both on the phone and by email with him the past few months, he has already become a dear friend to me. As someone interested in revolutionary politics, peace, and in providing a livable world for our children, I grew more and more interested as he began to share his plan for social change in his home state, which he calls Transforming our State of California (TOSCA). The following are excerpts from our ongoing (never-ending!) conversations.

William Hawes: Hey Richard, can you start by telling us a little bit about your past in academia and activism, what you are up to now, etc.?

Richard Oxman: First of all, I’d like everyone to know that I’m dedicating my part in this exchange to Arundhati Roy, who — I know — loved Howard Zinn and his work. In the name of possibly getting the word to her that I want to delineate the nuts and bolts of the “proposal for action” which I’m about to reference, a new paradigm for moving ahead in solidarity which Howard approved of; her “involvement” could create a watershed in history. If nothing else, hearing about the proposed “game plan” would, I’m sure, gladden her heart (and the hearts of many others we both respect).

I’ve been a professor and worldwide educator on all levels for half a century. I’ve taught Dramatic Art, Speech Arts, Comparative Literature, English as a Second Language, all sorts of subjects under the auspices of English departments, Cinema History, U.S. History, Creative Writing, Poetry, and Journalism at many different institutions, including Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey, Long Island University, Seton Hall University, New York Institute of Technology, St. Giles College, and Bronx Community College. In addition, I’ve volunteered the last nineteen years as a tutor and mentor for youngsters in middle schools and high schools all along the demographic spectrum. Here and abroad.

Working in communities of so-called “people of color” has been a special focus of mine, ever since I became an activist at the age of seven in 1949. Following WWI pilot Eugene Bullard almost getting beaten to death a few feet in front of me by a racist, “patriotic” crowd at the Peekskill Riots got me started. It was at a Paul Robeson concert where Pete Seeger was also on the bill, and where his children were almost killed too. So-called “law enforcement” enabled the horror to occur, and — in fact — I saw members of the local police and state police actually enthusiastically participate in the abominations taking place. That experience embedded itself in my blood and bones, and I buried it for decades, not talking about it even with people who I was most close to. That said, it’s always been a current running underneath all I’ve done.

I can’t go through my entire “career” as a proactive concerned citizen, but I should underscore something truly significant about the activist realm today, something I’ve experienced over the last dozen years or so. That is, that the most well-meaning, highly educated and deeply experienced souls have given up on the so-called Big Picture. Just about everyone is resigned to not being able to do anything on the macroscopic plane in meaningful solidarity. Look at how few writers on our alternative media outlets even give their contact information out… to get a taste of what I’m talking about here. They write their piece, they have their piece posted… and, the value of their work notwithstanding, they return to their treadmills. The same is true for the many who meet occasionally to march in circles with placards in Washington, D.C., the minions who mix it up now and then with obsolete forms of protest which come and go with no sense of hope regarding the Big Picture. No authentic interaction about their personal sense of impotency. Or, from another angle, no sense of the feebleness of the form of protest they’ve embraced.

There’s a lot of fighting the good fight going on, of course, but it’s taking place in tiny little corners, with no one and no organization effectively addressing what Derrick Jensen called the “source of the bleeding” not too long ago. He offered up that image in a Counterpunch article “Confronting Industrialism”, which had medical professionals rushing a stabbed patient into an operating room on a gurney, while the guy who stabbed the patient ran alongside the wheeled stretcher continuing to stab his victim. His point was that no one was really dealing with that source of the bleeding, the so-called madman. Which, in the final analysis, is us, and our lifestyle.

WH: Our political and civic climate here in the US seems to be disintegrating in front of our eyes. How has our social landscape become so fractured over the past 50-plus years? Also, can you explain why today’s activists, social justice groups, and protest movements are not getting through to those in power?

RO: Permit me to work backwards in responding. With regard to “not getting through to those in power,” one must acknowledge — as a very first tiny baby step in the name of participating in meaningful activism — that career politicians (by definition, too self-serving for the Collective Good) are never going to do what “protest movements” are — on bent knee, essentially — asking them to do. They are no longer built of the stuff that’s required to do the right thing. That doesn’t mean that activists shouldn’t ask. But the begging must be supplemented. Everyone is familiar, I believe, with Frederick Douglass’ mantra about power never conceding anything without a demand being made. Well, yes, demands and requests should be made. The “kicker”, though, is that these days that cannot be our primary or exclusive means for bringing about change, the radical institutional changes which are now necessary. In short, we must secure reins of vital decision-making capacity vis-a-vis our collective crises. People with heart, head and soul in a healthy place must be in the driver’s seat. Power knows “the truth”… and, though there’s value in repeating it for them, that must — now — not be one’s only contribution. Speaking truth to power is no more effective in terms of the Big Picture than having one’s head bashed in at the barricades, or participating in a candlelight vigil.

I was at Riverside Church in 1967 when Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. He called for a “radical restructuring of society” at that juncture, a year to the day before they killed him for crying out against what he called the three evils of poverty, racism and militarization, the latter being the main reason that they got rid of him. Well, it’s half a century later, and — on virtually all scores — things have gotten infinitely worse. The two students who stood by me at Riverside, poor kids from the South Bronx who I had gotten off the streets and got into Bronx Community College and Long Island University dropped out of school shortly after the speech for economic reasons, and were both killed in Southeast Asia in 1970. That dynamic, youngsters joining the military and parents giving their offspring over to our war abominations, not only continues fifty years down the road, it has increased immeasurably. Anything written by David Swanson, by the way, you can count on being spot on on this score.

And so… why are we still looking to the career politicians and compassionate corporate heads (that pull the power strings and scams) to be open to our getting through to them? Prestigious UCSC is in my backyard in Santa Cruz County, California, and I can tell you definitively that they and their counterparts nationwide — having been taken over by corporations — have a helluva lot to do with our continuing to compound such ignorance with ignorance. Henry Giroux is worthwhile on this count.

Cabrillo College is very close to where I presently live. If you go onto campus there you’ll find a bust near the Quad of MLK. The caption under his head says something about him being a fighter for civil rights, but says nothing about his stance against our military abominations or their relationship to poverty and racism. Well, our “social landscape” — to a great extent — has been shaped by our institutions of so-called higher education, and when our mainstream media outlets confirm all the misconceptions that are taught in those hallowed halls… well, our political and civic disintegration could be said to be, in part, a function of such dynamics. I mean, is there anyone out there who doesn’t get that corporations are calling the shots with our mainstream media outlets?

In middle schools and high schools — public ones and the charter variety — all still think that a student reading daily, say, The New York Times represents quite an advance. Well, it’s great to encourage reading, but there’s no critical thinking going on among the educators who are compounding ignorance with ignorance among their students by shilling for such tripe. What one gets from the Washington Post and its first cousins with the way such publications are handled does more damage than good. Way more.  And, please, I’m not foul-mouthing a particular publication here. Rather, I’m saying that ALL our common sources of news — the ones most prized in Santa Cruz High School and Stanford University (and their East Coast and Midwest counterparts) are contributing to what you’re calling our fracturing.

WH: Let’s talk about your proposal for your home state, which you call Transforming our State of California (TOSCA). How would it work?

RO:  First of all I want to underscore that — by design — whatever I spell out here in public is not the whole kit and caboodle. One of the huge problems these days in the activist realm is that groups which have something they’re keen on immediately pick up megaphones and make use of social media to tell the powers that be exactly what they intend to do (in full)… and where and when. The “element of surprise” is dispensed with completely with 98% of our activism. Aside from that, though, another reason for intentionally holding back on select nuts and bolts is that providing a telegraphic sound bite inevitably makes red flags spring up for everyone. This or that mentioned on the fly — condensed — begs for in-depth Q&A. And that’s what I’m seeking in agreeing to do this interview.

In short, however, I want to help ordinary citizens (not people interested in a career in politics) secure significant reins of vital decision-making power in California (or any state or country). ASAP. In  the so-called Golden State that means, securing the Sacred Seat of Sacramento, the gubernatorial office. I want the person who is elected to campaign — essentially — on a zero budget. And I want that person — at the very beginning of her/his political campaign — to make it clear to the voting public that — if elected — he/she will serve on an equal basis with eleven other “ordinary” citizens. Meaning, the governor would have one vote out of twelve as the gubernatorial coalition made decisions respecting our collective crises. And all interaction related to our collective crises, among members of the gubernatorial coalition, and between them and lobbyists et alia, would be totally TRANSPARENT. In addition, I want to have the gubernatorial coalition (with top alternative/advocacy journalists) provide “the news” for the Golden State (and beyond) — early on, via their own media outlet — with the idea, in part, of replacing our mainstream media outlets for the general public. This latter point is crucially important for the governor to be able to walk concerned citizens through the necessary direct action steps required to bring about personal transformations and the radical restructuring of society… which petitions to the powers that be will never achieve, as things stand. Please note that I’m not talking about an executive leader with a cabinet at work. I’m talking about what people no longer believe in: Something new under the Sun. I ride on Rocinante all day long.

WH: In the past few weeks we’ve witnessed absolute horrors, from Baghdad, to Orlando, Istanbul, Dallas, and now, Baton Rouge. Also, police killings and brutality against minorities is continuing unabated. How can we fight the terror and counter-terror of the corporate state, which is turning the world into a killing field? And how can a movement like TOSCA lead us to the Promised Land?

RO: It’s necessary to deal — first — with the apathy, cynicism, resignation, ignorance, complicity, bad habits and the inclination to (increasingly) live atomized lives. Among both the general public, and within the ranks of proactive concerned citizens (with their high tech gadgets in hand) To do that, it will be necessary to provide unprecedented inspiration with a singular stirring up of the creative juices of one and all. And that can’t be done with a book or posting or through any presentation taking place on the lecture circuit.

There needs to be an undermining of the myth that money is necessary to secure influential power, so that people can embrace the notion that they can pull off the miracles now necessary without the fruits of Moloch. Without money. Miracles don’t require money, they demand something else. And so… by achieving the miracle I’m proposing vis-a-vis the Sacred Seat of Sacramento without money (HOW having to be another discussion at another time in confidence), the gubernatorial coalition (represented by the governor who has heart, head and soul in an authentically healthy place) can inspire common folks, help them to rise above the psychological and spiritual hole they’ve dug for themselves. Such a sweet soul could help one and all to self-educate and walk them through the steps necessary to “influence” the gangster politicians to pass the appropriate legislation down the line… by encouraging unprecedented direct action. Nothing now will be accomplished which is worth the heartbeats without blending unique direct action with the electoral effort I’m advocating… in a way that the world has not witnessed to date. And this, again, is part of the reason why I’m not delineating all the nooks and crannies of TOSCA here. By the way, TOSCA is just a working title of sorts. I’ve been tweaking it with lots of grassroots input over the last decade plus, and — not too long ago — some local Hip Hop activists recommended that I use 12 Citizens instead. I know that that resonates with you, Will, and it’s fine and dandy with me; the number twelve has all sorts of wonderful references.

The members of the gubernatorial coalition could literally get on their knees and beg out loud in public for forgiveness for what they’ve been complicit in, what we’ve all contributed to. Which is something Hollande should be doing at this very moment with the victims in France, and, arguably, more importantly, with a message to the victims of France these days. The TOSCA/12 Citizens governor could make it very, very clear on her or his own media outlet that such apologies are absolutely necessary for starters. That owning the past that one is complicit in — something career politicians can never do — is essential to taking Step Number Two, which has to do with stopping the killing, as per the pleas of the late Daniel Berrigan. Which translates in my Golden State into the gubernatorial coalition making sure that animal torture on UC campuses is terminated. That the University of California’s relationship to Lawrence Livermore Labs is seriously undermined. That, perhaps, the BDS Movement be given a shot of adrenaline. And on that latter note, why do students continue to beg the Head of the Regents to do the right thing when they could be the Head of the UC Regents? The Regents appoint the President of UC, you know.

I should insert here that I’m citing UC-related matters because the governor of the state — as Head of the Regents of the UC system — can unilaterally and virtually overnight transform life throughout California. Athough he/she has to vote along with other members of the Regents by law, in terms of de facto influence as Head of the Regents, the Governor could actually create a watershed in history on UC’s 26 campuses. I could give you a list of what could be done unilaterally (and post haste) if you want (which would include being able to serve the homeless in historic fashion), but perhaps I should underscore instead what could be done in an off-of-the-campus context. I’ll give one monumentally important example. The Guv can — without as much as even having a conversation with the gangster legislators who are only into self-serving action — pardon thousands of the incarcerated. Virtually overnight. Using any one of a number of approaches to pull that off without a hitch. And in doing so he/she would be reinvigorating the lives of the presently incarcerated souls, and — simultaneously — doing so for their loved ones while inspiring the members of all their communities throughout the state to embrace a Don Quixote attitude about what is possible. Getting everyone onto Rocinante.

The Executive of the State of California could — for the first time in history — call a shovel a shovel. It’s particularly important to do so when that shovel is being used to bury one with. And that would mean being very clear about how rotten U.S. politics and culture is at its very core. The terror sponsored and inspired by the corporate state can only be countered by radically restructuring society as per the pleas of MLK. And that really means revolution. The business of taking over the Sacred Seat of Sacramento to do so is motivated by my desire to have that “revolution” be as nonviolent as possible. The leader of California would have a shot — having secured the gubernatorial office on a zero budget — of grabbing and maintaining public attention long enough to help citizens to self-educate about what role their personal transformations must play in bringing about institutional changes. Would have enough unprecedented respect from the public to get people to (maybe) really get down with, and (maybe) get rid of the bad habits they’ve personally embraced. The ones that prop up the status quo. Runaway consumerism and waste cannot be dealt with without someone pushing the envelope on that score. To say nothing about… much more.

All of the inevitable questions which arise from my saying what I’ve just said beg to be addressed leisurely, not on the run. The red flags and points which people will tend to be dismissive with out of hand must be talked about in great depth, and that’s absolutely essential. None of this can be accepted or rejected wisely or legitimately unless a discussion of what’s here gets into gear leisurely. And everyone’s on the run these days with the fighting the good fight that they’re doing in tiny, tight little corners… having given up on politics, or embracing the electoral arena in obsolete fashion. California’s going to have to be led to do something that’s tantamount to secession of a sort. For no one’s dealing with what I call our frayed cables.

Imagine our getting on to an elevator. I usually use a metaphoric eleveator to make my point, but to save time I’ll invoke a literal elevator here. We get on and we notice that someone’s on their knees in the corner on our left. And they’re wearing a t-shirt which reads Do Not Disturb. They’re feverishly fighting the good fight with their back to us, circulating a petition, calling their elected rep, maybe preparing to get arrested in some nonviolent confrontation with the police. Engaged in some obsolete form of protest which begs for a supplement.  We look to our right and we see a counterpart of that person on the left. Also on their knees with their back to us, wearing the same t-shirt. I turn to you and whisper something. I whisper because soon in this country it’ll be illegal to say what I’m going to say, and do what I’m going to do. I quietly say, “Look up.” And I point to a hole in the ceiling of the elevator. Through the ceiling you can see the cables, and — clearly — they’re frayed. Well, I can tell you definitively — and I have the documentation at home to back this next statement up — that no one in the country — no individual, no organization — is presently up on that ceiling effectively engaged in repairing those cables. No one is addressing that Big Picture. The “documentation” I speak of comes from my having interacted with well over 15,000 concerned citizens during the last dozen years nationwide. And I don’t believe anyone else in the country has come across what I’ve learned about how citizens are thinking and/or working on those cables. Regardless, I’d like the chance to share what’s been so instructive for me. See, what I’m trying to do — bottom line — is to get a handful of proactive citizens to come to the center of the elevator so that we can climb on one another’s shoulders to simply have a chance at dealing with those frayed cables. I haven’t been approaching people as if I have THE answer. Rather, I’ve been all about merely wanting us to have a shot at repairing the cables before it’s too late. And the first step in doing so has to be an acknowledgement about the fact that no one’s up there. There’s no need for everyone to take time out from their tiny little corners. Just a select few who can do it; some people are locked into very necessary work in those corners. I’m already actually on a few shoulders (of people from my past, like Lorraine Hansberry, Jimmy Baldwin, Iris Chang, Adrienne Rich and Howard Zinn) already, and it wouldn’t take many more to make it possible for someone to get up there.

WH: Can you comment more on most of today’s activists, who can be categorized as “reformers” and “progressives”? Most of whom quite simply want to advance social well-being, but do not see the connection to the industrial-corporate state, which must be dismantled for revolutionary change to occur. Which is to say, even if you get that $15 an hour wage, or end homelessness, or kick Halliburton out of one country, those actions will not cut it in today’s interconnected world. You speak wisely about the need to stop working in tiny corners, while no one is seeing the Big Picture. The train has no conductor, and our civilization is headed for a precipice. Can you expand on that?

RO: See, the challenge is this. Someone can lead by having the public change from one brand of toothpaste to another, but what’s needed is tantamount to getting folks to stop brushing their teeth. No one’s slated to do something that’s not in vogue, as things stand.

To bounce off of a chess analogy, the task is not to replace a white rook with a red one, or to substitute a black bishop with a — forgive the pun! — a green piece. Our collective challenge would be to upend the uneven, toxic game board on which we’re being played (on which we’ve been splayed forever), and to do so legally and nonviolently. The pieces, then, would be picked up — ideally — by “ordinary” folks, and placed back onto a brand new board as they see fit. That’s what’s called revolution. Radical change.

It seems the height of insanity for, say, a local organic farmer being content with being exclusively engaged in carving out inroads to grow healthy produce, distribute food nearby regularly, offer some products gratis and/or fighting for proper organic standards with legislators (and helping the public to self-educate about their diets). To not be engaged whatsoever in proactively/directly dealing also with matters like nuclear waste storage, nuclear weapons proliferation, incompetency with regard to nuclear-related control, and the increase in money spent for nuclear reactors, or the ongoing operation of dated nuclear facilities. Any citizen who’s not involved to some degree with addressing such matters — and there are many such matters to deal with, of course — is either not being clear-headed about what’s happening, or having no clarity on what’s headed our way. Kind of like my lovely first born who’s living in New York near Indian Point.

Or — perhaps — not having compassion for the future of children and all of Mother Earth’s lovely creatures. That organic farmer I invoked is not just subject to the horrors being perpetrated by neighbors embracing Monsanto’s products. He/she is also an increasingly likely victim of nuclear holocaust courtesy of NATO. Tiny little corners won’t cut it anymore. Feeling personally good about oneself, and fighting the good fight as per one’s personal passions is no longer enough. The Great American Mantra of Do Your Own Thing has absolutely infected the entire realm of activism. Joseph Campbell would turn over in his grave, I believe, if he knew how his Follow Your Passion had played out down the line.

One wouldn’t want to support someone in WWII Germany who was, say, fighting for having a moratorium on the use of gas chambers for gypsies in 1943 exclusively. Or which was only focused on giving a year’s reprieve to the jews or homosexuals. And yet in Santa Barbara there are lots of well-meaning, highly educated and deeply experienced concerned citizens spending their activist heartbeats on the agenda of the A Year Without War. It’s a well-meaning organization, just like the organic farmer is likely a sweet, hard-working soul. But none of that expenditure of time and energy is enough now. Anyone who doesn’t see the need for new collective action on the macroscopic plane vis-a-vis the potential of pandemics, nuclear dynamics, climate change and medical access/cost/quality — to name only four of four hundred crises plus — simply isn’t paying attention. The only problem with saving the world is expecting someone else to do it. Well, right now no one’s doing it. And a fresh paradigm for doing so is being begged for.

WH: You often bring up Derrick Jensen with me, an amazing author and ecological thinker. As he and others have pointed out, the domination of man over man is intimately connected with the idea of man’s superiority over nature. For an egalitarian culture to flourish, respect for the non-human world must increase immensely and unconditionally. Can you address the suffering, the loss, the sense of grief many of us bury and repress, that comes with the environmental and social devastation our culture produces? How can we stop, as you say, “compounding ignorance with ignorance”?

RO: Derrick Jensen’s new book (The Myth of Human Supremacy) should be read, by the way. All of what he puts on the table for our kind consideration should, whether or not we agree with every nut and bolt he uses to put together his passionate pleas in his many articles, books and speeches. And I say the same respecting Noam Chomsky. His new Who Rules the World? provides enough for anyone to get busy with moving in solidarity along effective lines. In addressing environmental issues in that work, he underscores that the only folks who are really getting down with what must be done to deal with the powers that be and the horrid momentum they’ve created by having citizens embrace abominable habits and maintaining exclusive control on decision-making are indigenous people.

Once one tunes into exactly what indigenous folks are doing these days to fight, say, extraction of fossil fuels, it’s clear that Noam is tactfully touching upon the need for revolution. Indigenous people, typically, are infinitely more in touch with Mother Nature than the vast majority of U.S. citizens. The reasons for that are multiple, and we need not beat that horse to death right now, I think. Rather, our focus should be on the fact that each of us must start on a very personal note here. How can we do this? How can we do that in solidarity? How about starting with the injunction of Rilke’s (from “Archaic Torso of Apollo”) which goes, “You must change your life.”

A non-politician governor could help citizens immeasurably respecting that monumental challenge potentially. The right person pushing the individual and collective envelope would give people a chance at least of being motivated to go out of their firmly ensconced personal comfort zones… which no politician ever gets into. And — at the same time — send positive ripples nationwide and worldwide concerning exactly what’s needed to blend with Mother Nature and to not go over the precipice. It’s not even being talked about presently in any way that is slated to translate into action. People say, Be the Change You Want. And they say this and that.  But they’re missing the Big Picture of what’s happening and not happening with the frayed cables. There’s talk talk, not walk talk, for the most part. And the walking the walk that is taking place is moving at the pace of an arthritic snail with no real sense of deadlines and/or with no potential for delivering the knockout we need. We have to floor the powers that be. We are in a toxic ring with them, and they won’t let us out. The fight as it’s being waged must end. But most of our activist pugilists have given up on securing a new venue.

WH: Why is TOSCA better poised to make an impact at the state level, than say, a new iteration of the Occupy movement, or a grand coalition of Independents, Socialists, Black Lives Matter, Greens, Libertarians, etc.?

RO: First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that no “new iteration” of Occupy is gathering steam; any form of the Occupy movement — in terms of what’s needed in the Big Picture — is presently marginalized, not moving toward securing the kind of decision-making power on any level that is slated to make a big enough difference soon enough. And there is absolutely no acknowledgement of the “deadlines” I’ve been referring to among any of the groups you’ve cited. Lots of talk is going on, but — at best — the whole kit and caboodle is involved with the application of necessary tourniquets. Much of the work that many individuals within those organizations are doing is praiseworthy and essential in this or that tiny corner. But all the folks you’ve cited are permanently marginalized respecting their being able to secure significant reins of decision-making power.

Let’s take any third party. None of them tell their members that even if their candidate for a major office (like a governor’s office in a given state) were to legitimately win sufficient votes to take office, the powers that be would undermine the victory so that that person (if they were radical along the lines I’m saying is necessary, intending to radically restructure society) would never take office. They have a Plan A, which is focused on securing a sufficient number of votes, but they don’t have the necessary Plan B in gear. Meaning, they don’t really see that the powers that be would either assassinate their candidate, or make sure that electoral fraud kicked in. They’re kind of like the non-profits that are spotlighted in Cowspiracy (fighting climate change). Those organizations — the top ten which are addressing Climate Change are intentionally not mentioning (animal-related) methane matters as a major factor in their battle. Over 50% of the problem. Why? Because they do not want to jeopardize fund raising by raising attention to the need for people to personally transform. Easier to rally folks for contributions if one is not asking them to change their diets. Calling a shovel a shovel in the electoral arena and the realm of activism may lose you members, numbers, money, but that envelope has to be pushed (along with the one that asks for financial support).

TOSCA is all about trying to secure significant reins of power on the gubernatorial level on a zero budget, so finances are not a concern whatsoever. And it has a Plan B to supplement its Plan A. Its approach is not — as is the case with the others — to secure numbers, members by bonding on a superficial/passing basis, as the vast majority of Bernie supporters did recently. As Jill Stein’s followers are doing, their wonderful intentions notwithstanding. As all participants in traditional third parties do as a rule. The “bonding” is not ever very deep, and so any movement in solidarity that’s generated comes and goes. I’m not saying that lovely seeds aren’t planted, but I am saying that what they’re planting — these groups you’ve cited — is not slated to bloom in time. Again, I’m talking about collective deadlines, which the groups you’ve cited are not acknowledging in meaningful action whatsoever. Greens will be quick to say that they are meaningfully engaged in doing something. But not a single Green nationwide has been willing to discuss that with me one-on-one without watching the clock. That dynamic — which is not just limited to the Greens — enables them to hold onto their delusion. And I invite any reps from any of the groups you’ve cited, Will, to engage with me on the score I’m spotlighting leisurely. To test the waters. To allow themselves to be truly challenged. I’m not talking about debate. I’m talking about getting down to relaxed/detailed interaction which does not include anyone judging the exchange.

The TOSCA approach is all about bonding — first — one on one. And instead of using social media to quickly secure great numbers of like-minded souls, it embraces the notion that the only way to proceed initially (in spite of the fact that we do have serious deadlines looming) is to urge someone who you bond with (over what needs to be done) to go to their loved ones, people who trust them… with the prayer that additional bonding will take place. Neither flyers nor appearances with appeals on shows, nor use of films or social networking are important means for getting the ball rolling. None of what’s usually relied upon. Mitch Hedbert, the late great comedian, once told me, “When people come up to me with a flyer, it’s like they’re saying, ‘Hey, you throw this away for me!'” That’s got it’s counterpart within the realm of social media.

The apathy, resignation, cynicism, ignorance, complicity and atomized living cited earlier all preclude any “grand coalition” from coming together at present. Look at the depth of the ignorance for a moment of the Sanders campaign. Again, I’m not saying that valuable seeds weren’t planted. I’m saying that everyone should take a good hard look at how many heartbeats were spent on the four-year extravaganza which regularly distracts citizens from doing something together that must be done. The word “revolution” was bandied about cavalierly for the entire campaign, but no one still seems to get the fact that the federal level is lost to us. The offices and the agencies, everything at this juncture related to it is not worth devoting so many heartbeats to. The activist realm cannot afford to have so much time and energy focused on any presidential race. Vote, as you please, but get down (with the vast majority of your heartbeats) with others who are truly involved in bringing about a radical change.

TOSCA asks citizens to use their imaginations respecting what kind of impact securing a gubernatorial office on a zero budget would actually have. I’m riding on Rocinante with that one, I know. But what’s the alternative? To shoot for what people refer to as realistic? In every quarter — including the engaged realms of people you cited — concerned citizens are embracing dated approaches. We need to transform our “state” as we engage in citizen action in solidarity. Meaning, both our psychological and spiritual states must be dealt with as we address the political state. In California, the acronym TOSCA could translate as Transforming Our State of California. Or, from another perspective, Taking Over Our State of California. To secede from the so-called Union. Not to “take over” a public place as per activism that’s in vogue. Take over The Commons permanently. The groups you cited all believe that it’s still possible to be part of the U.S. and be morally and spiritually okay. It is not. We are embedded in something which is rotten to the core. And the celebrities in all quarters who serve as models for our youth are whores. I’m rhyming here to drive home the note that we have to call a shovel a shovel on many levels. Which we are not doing, except with marginalized activist talk talk in tiny corners. It amounts to mental masturbation in groups.

WH: What a novel idea, using our imaginations! It’s all we have, after all! Here’s the thing. Political imagination, converted into action, seems to require a collective scene of artists, workers, and intellectuals, who are informed about history, radical theory, charity for the poor, and world solidarity. This is missing in the frontier, barbaric ethos of US political thought. In Germany Bassam Tibi uses the term “Leitkultur”, which can translate into “leading culture”, or “core culture”. This entails a high European sociological worldview, with respect to human rights, democracy, secularism, universal values, etc. In France, to cite one example, it was the political imagination of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and later the Situationists who opened the world up to new possibilities of social organization. Is it realistic that a movement like what you propose can take hold here in the US, with such flimsy cultural roots?

RO: Yes, even though the culture and the politics here are abominable, imaginations can be stirred up, tapped into. Your wondering how that might be possible, I believe, has to do with being on automatic about numbers. Everyone jumps (prematurely) to a concern about securing the participation of a critical mass when they discuss making a difference in either the electoral arena or the realm of direct action. That’s a huge, common death knell of a mistake. A mental deal breaker, if you will. Meaning, again, the way to proceed has to be one-on-one initially. Contrast that contact with how activists go about stirring up movement in solidarity right now. Let’s get a crowd together that feels abused and scream bootless cries! [Only, exclusively.]

Use your imagination respecting viable options for embracing the more intimate approach. Yes, all is not lost. But how one secures the intimate interaction is daunting; it will require knocking on doors incessantly; standing outside with infinite patience. Meaning, what a given activist will have to go through to come across a single soul who’s open to such exploration will demand many heartbeats. The hopeful note to hang on to, I believe, is that once a core group comes together miracles can be performed. Think of what a handful of women accomplished on that hot summer day in 19th-century upstate New York. With numbers and delusions of all kinds aligned against them.

Regarding imagination, when I ask people to imagine what the impact would be of securing a gubernatorial office on a zero budget, they go blank on me, as a rule. Or they take what I’m throwing out as a red flag, and they prematurely dismiss TOSCA/12 Citizens out of hand. They can’t handle, it seems, being asked to imagine how things could be different with such a new ingredient injected into the activist mix. And tackling that challenge is the kind of thing activists have to get down with, the reality presented by each and every concerned citizen they encounter. Working with that… paying close attention — like a curious child (without answers) — to what emerges from the intimacy. Not being concerned, at first, with numbers. Not embracing cookie cutter ways of proceeding. Preparing for the next meeting in a hurry, harried with flyers in hand.

The documentary Inshallah, Kashmir has a shot of a broken down schoolhouse which has a beautiful set of words scrawled on its crumbling outside walls: Children are God’s way of telling us He hasn’t given up on us. Something like that. That’s what we have to lock into as we engage with one another now, next. The child in one another who has — embedded in his soul — the new paradigm which begs to be implemented. THE answer. I conclude by quoting from E.E. Cummings’ “Children guessed, but only a few, and down they forgot as up they grew.” Something like that. Something far from what adults are practicing. Something that might look lyrical to the likes of little ones. Standing at the opposite end of the spectrum from the end-of-the-world thinking and actions of prosaic adults.

WH: How can interested souls reading this learn more about TOSCA, take action, and get involved?

RO: They can write to aptosnews@gmail.com. And I do hope that someone does. And soon. For we are documenting, debating, demonstrating, diverting and delaying ourselves to death in lieu of doing something new in solidarity that stands to make a big enough difference in time, as one of my home schooled youngsters  has said. I almost didn’t agree to do this interview because of that dynamic, but I’m glad I took advantage of this opportunity. Those who are sensitive to our being the United States of Abominations understand that they are surrounded by bullies in the playground. Bullies, partially blind people and — for the most part — folks fussing about themselves in the mirrors they hold (most dear to their hearts). This interview should be taken as an invitation to rendezvous to create the watershed in history which will enable us to have fun in the playground once again.

William Hawes

is a writer specializing in politics and the environment. You can find his e-book of collected essays here. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, and Dissident Voice. You can email him at wilhawes@gmail.com