Neither Broken Nor Crushed

The “mask of the warrior” I wrote about in Strong Toward the Powerful is no longer hypothetical. All over the United States, people determined to resist the Trump regime and its fascist allies are masking up and taking to the streets.

The black mask of antifascism scares some people, but that doesn’t make it wrong. When you’re faced with a threat as serious as this one, there is no ethical option except to fight back. “Fighting” can mean many different things, and in any conflict throughout history most participants are not in frontline roles. This struggle needs everyone, not only those who are prepared to personally put a mask on and punch a Nazi leader in the face.

There are some highly effective and disruptive nonviolent tactics available for those who are simply unwilling to throw a punch no matter what. The heroic water protectors at Standing Rock have repeatedly put their own bodies on the line without harming their opponents. However, there is also a type of “pacifism” that is far less admirable, because it mostly consists of lecturing other protesters about nonviolence while refusing to take any risks or carry out any effective action at all.

In its most extreme form, pure pacifism is a false value system, a self-serving attempt to maintain one’s own moral purity even if it means allowing torture, murder and every other atrocity to go unchallenged. It is also extremely rare, because hardly anyone who claims to be a pacifist is truly a pacifist. Most of the liberals who condemn anti-fascist and Black Bloc activity and claim to support only non-violent methods are simply being hypocrites.

If you have supported any military intervention anywhere for any reason, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. (Not even if the president who sent the troops into battle was a Democrat!) Bombs, missiles and bullets do the same thing to human bodies no matter who pulls the trigger, pushes the button or gives the order.

If there are any circumstances under which you would call the police, you cannot call yourself a pacifist. The police carry batons, stun guns, pepper spray and firearms and they will use any or all of those on anyone who resists them. When you make the decision to call the police on a person, you are using violence or the threat of violence to achieve your objectives in the situation — even if those objectives are perfectly noble. Violence does not magically become less violent when you contract it out.

When people condemn “violent protests” but support the police and the military, they are not taking a pacifist position at all but an authoritarian one. Right now, as you read this, there are Antifa volunteers fighting with the YPG against Daesh in Syria. The YPG has American support, so they are widely seen as heroes of the “War on Terror.” When Antifa shuts down a Nazi rally here in the United States, our enemies on the Right denounce us as terrorists and some liberals go along with them. Antifa fights against fascists all over the world, the only difference between one situation and the other is that they have our government’s blessing in one case and not in the other. That is not a coherent moral stance. Simply put, the people complaining about Antifa have bought into the State’s claim to hold a monopoly on the use of violence. That’s all the State really is, after all — an armed organization that has successfully claimed a monopoly on violence within a certain territory.

The State has a vested interest in obscuring this fact, so it defines “terrorism” not as an attempt to terrorize but as any political violence carried out without government permission. When Al Qaeda blows up a wedding party with a suicide bomb, it’s committing terrorism. When the CIA does the exact same thing with a drone strike, it’s fighting terrorism.

Not surprisingly, anarchists do not consider this distinction to be legitimate. If violence is always unjustifiable it remains unjustifiable when committed by the agents of the State. If violence is sometimes necessary, it remains so regardless of whether the fighters are wearing the right uniform or not.

If pacifism is often an incoherent and hypocritical position, what about its opposite? Some people romanticize armed struggle without asking themselves how well it really works in practice or under what specific circumstances it would be justifiable or necessary. Anyone who has studied the history of armed struggle knows that it rarely achieves the intended results. Just because a tactic is more destructive does not mean it is more effective. It would be far better to never get involved in radical politics at all than to simply ruin lives and destroy things while leaving society as unjust and oppressive as you found it. My personal opinion is that people should only take up arms when they have no other choice. How do you know when you have no other choice? I can’t answer that riddle for anyone; it depends entirely on your real circumstances. Study the history of armed uprisings and you will not find yourself eager to try it if you don’t have to.

Among the anarchist philosophers, Godwin rejected revolutionary violence because coercion of any kind was against the principles he stood for. Bakunin embraced it, because he thought the oppressive power of the State could be broken only through a cataclysm. I don’t exactly take either position. When it comes to anarchism, I am content to spread my ideas by writing and talking about them, like Godwin. When it comes to resisting tyranny and fascism, I believe in fighting back. However, I don’t think that “fighting back” means nihilistic destruction. There’s a scene in the Tain where the hills and plains of Ulster literally turn gray from all the pulverized brains. I think we can all agree that this is not the outcome we’re going for! It’s not as simple as saying that you are either for violence or against it. When it comes to punching Nazis, I am for. When it comes to coating the landscape with random brains, I am definitely against.

Some fanatics on the Right — including Steve Bannon — have been fantasizing for years about an apocalyptic civil war to cleanse the nation of people like you and me. No individual person can have much effect on whether a civil war happens or not, but the fact that it’s even being talked about should terrify you. You could make a case that we should be getting ready for a worst-case scenario, but anyone who would try to make it happen is not your friend.

If you agree with my analysis, neither pure pacifism nor its opposite are justifiable positions. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with a nuanced position, in which we acknowledge that conflict is a reality while also respecting the sanctity of life.

That’s not an easy answer, because it doesn’t present a clear and unambiguous script for every situation. It leaves the moral complexity of conflict in place and forces you to make decisions contextually, based on what’s really happening in that moment. It requires you to do everything in your power to minimize harm—sometimes by not fighting, sometimes by fighting, and sometimes by choosing one tactic instead of another in the middle of a fight.

As it says in The Instructions of King Cormac:

If you are too hard, you will be broken
If you are too feeble, you will be crushed.

The bombers and bank robbers of the ‘70s were broken; Occupy was crushed. If we don’t want to be broken or crushed, we need to embrace the ambiguity of the situation and wage our struggle in a way that is neither too hard nor too feeble.


Christopher Scott Thompson

cst-authorChristopher Scott Thompson became a pagan at age 12, inspired by books of mythology and the experience of homesteading in rural Maine. A devotee of the Celtic goddesses Brighid and Macha, Thompson has been active in the pagan and polytheist communities as an author, activist and founding member of Clann Bhride (The Children of Brighid). Thompson was active in Occupy Minnesota and is currently a member of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist organization. He is also the founder of the Cateran Society, an organization that studies the historical martial art of the Highland broadsword.


Christopher Scott Thompson is the author of Pagan Anarchism, available from Gods&Radicals.

A photo of Whitefish in Montana

The Alt Right’s War on Whitefish, and the Growth of an Opposition

The heart of Montana’s Flathead Valley has always been a cash-flushed vacation destination for those hitting the nearby mountains, perusing well-oiled ski resorts and the kitschy shops that live off of its financial success. Whitefish, a town with a population scarcely above 5,000, is one of the most traveled towns along the valley, with restaurants and antique shops littering its tourism district. It is along these streets that a procession of neo-Nazis promise to march against “Jewish power,” flooding in from out of state, automatic weapons in tow.

Andrew Anglin, the host of the neo-Nazi and Alt Right blog the Daily Stormer, has called for an armed march on Whitefish. The Daily Stormer mixes traditional genocidal Nazi ideas of racial superiority and anti-Semitism with the digital tirades so typical of the new Alt Right. In the world of contemporary white nationalism, the traditional “Stormfront” crowd of skinheads, Klansman, and other insurrectionary racialists has found their access to the more hip Alt Right through Anglin’s site.

Anglin had promised to ship in neo-Nazi skinheads from the San Francisco area, including a supposed Hamas member and vigilantes from the Soldiers of Odin, to descend on the town on January 16th, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Anglin renamed it James Earl Ray Day after the man who assassinated King on his trip to visit striking sanitation workers. While Anglin came on strong with a promise of terrorism, it was exactly his exaggeration and the Alt Right’s pattern of creating smoke without fire that created the kernel of their failure. In a world where white nationalism has become commonplace, anti-fascism has grown by mammoth proportions. Anglin’s threat was a catalyzing event that allowed anti-fascist organizations, both community-based and more militant, to take the next step towards a united community that forced Anglin to finally concede defeat.

The Alt Right Mythology

While Alt Right people associated with the Daily Stormer and the surrounding constellations of podcasts, blogs, and busy Twitter accounts have always presented themselves as a movement that is new and intellectual rather than violent, this is a façade that has been cultivated to insulate them from the long history of opposition their movement has faced. While the branding, strategy, and talking points are new, this is traditional white nationalism repackaged for the smartphone generation.  Almost every single prominent Alt Right organization, from the National Policy Institute to American Renaissance, can trace its roots back to earlier white nationalist projects that have had long histories of terrorism. American Renaissance, which built its reputation by arguing people of color have lower IQs and are more aggressive than whites, has hosted guests like former KKK leaders Don Black and David Duke, various Holocaust Deniers, and Aryan Nations members. At the National Policy Institute conference you will see former neo-Nazi skinheads, which is not so surprising after the recent video of stiffed-arm Seig Heils to round out their 2016 conference.burley

Andrew Anglin lies on the edges of this pack of open fascists, often trying to take their snarky memes and racialist talking points, and use them to bring along traditional neo-Nazism. While the Alt Right has relegated itself to podcasts and online word diarrhea, neo-Nazis have had a long tradition of stepping out into the streets in an effort to strike terror into their neighbors. What Anglin hoped to do was to return the Alt Right to its long tradition of American white nationalist organizing: the main street march. The Alt Right, with a more educated demeanor and dreams of Washington power never wanted to resort to the embarrassing role-playing so characteristic of the “revolutionary” white nationalist groups often from the rural South.

White, Montana

Anglin’s call was neither new nor arbitrary, but came at the end of years of escalation that began when Richard Spencer, the Director of the National Policy Institute and founder of the term Alternative Right, moved to Whitefish. When Whitefish became his parent’s vacation home away from their busy lives in Dallas, Spencer moved there with his new Georgian-Russian wife Nina Kouprianova. He centered the NPI there, listing his mother’s property as their headquarters, and hoped to live a quiet life there half the year working on the various racialist book, podcasts, and websites he produces.

Starting in 2014, the relationship he had with Whitefish began to crumble, first during a fated ride on a chairlift at the posh Whitefish Mountain ski resort. Seated by chance next to neoconservative GOP strategist and lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, Spencer berated him for his foreign policy blunders. Spencer comes from an Old Right sensibility about foreign policy matters, one centered on an isolationist “America First” agenda. The confrontation quickly erupted into a controversy as Scheunemann spoke to the press about why a well-paid ski resort in Montana was allowing Spencer membership.

Spencer then headed to Hungary to hold a conference on white nationalism and “pan-European solidarity.” The conference was modeled after his NPI conferences, hosting an international audience and featuring speakers like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor, Croatian New Rightist Tomislav Sunic, and Eurasianist nationalist mystic Alexandr Dugin. The Hungarian nationalist political party Jobbik eventually pulled out and Viktor Orban himself, under pressure from the socialist party, condemned the conference and declared Spencer persona non grata. Despite the advice of his fellow Alt Right consortium, Spencer continued his plans to host the conference and took a series of flights and train rides into Budapest to avoid arrest. Despite his Bond-like attempts at stealth, the Hungarian authorities descended on his pre-conference dinner and arrested Spencer, deporting him back to the U.S., banning him from entering the European Union.

burleyWhen he returned his infamy had only grown and Whitefish had had enough. A local group named Love Lives Here had formed in 2009 in response to the showing of a Nazi film in the area, and they became an affiliate of the larger Montana Human Rights Network who had been known for countering the growth of the militia movement. A campaign was started to pass an “anti-hate” ordinance through the Whitefish city council to prevent Spencer from holding NPI events in the town. Spencer became irate, declaring that the town was trying to “make Richard Spencer illegal.” Spencer was even refused service at a local coffee shop as he waited for his drink with his then pregnant wife, and other business owners asked that he not return. City Councillor Frank Sweeney had contacted the Southern Poverty Law Center to solicit advice for how to build this ordinance at the time, noting that Spencer was creating his racialist media from their town. They ended up passing a more tepid “commitment to diversity,” one that Spencer tried to “troll” by publicly “endorsing” the call for inclusivity.

This back and forth allowed both sides to claim victory, but as they continued on, Spencer’s appeal was to a constituency of loud racists whom he had little evidence would support him in material ways. At the same time, this catalyst allowed for the Montana Human Rights Network to continue to organize in its highlighted relevancy, with a white nationalist neighbor showing exactly what was at stake.

The Year of the Alt Right?

Since 2014, Spencer’s profile has moved from Whitefish embarrassment to the national stage as scarcely a day goes by without an emerging story or profile on the most famous white nationalist in the country. 2016 became the “coming out party” for the Alt Right, taking their radical traditionalism into mainstream media discourse. During the post-election NPI conference, cameras from The Atlantic caught conference attendees using Roman Salutes as Spencer yelled “Hail Trump! Hail Our People! Hail Victory!”

While Richard was riding a wave of attention, his parents Sherry and Dr. William Spencer continued their investment in Whitefish. Sherry owned a rental property at 22 Lupfer Avenue along Whitefish’s historic commercial district. A local activist named Tanya Gersh began raising the profile of Sherry’s property ownership in town; specifically that Spencer had been using much of it as a base for his operations. While the Spencers had made it their second home, the slow burn of the Alt Right and its growing opposition finally made the relationship between the Spencers and the town crumble. According to the Virginia state corporation commission, Sherry’s multi-million dollar Whitefish home is still listed as the headquarters for NPI. Sherry began to get pressure to sell the commercial building, a prospect she considered; yet after Gersh offered to list the property herself, Sherry became incensed and published a Medium.com post about it claiming Gersh was “extorting” her.

“Whatever you think about my son’s ideas — they are, after all, ideas — in what moral universe is it right for the “sins” of the son to be visited upon the mother?” said Sherry.

That is hard for many to believe given Sherry’s own right-wing connections to fringe political candidates and her close relationship to her radicalized son. Her Facebook even included photos of her and her husband attending the H.L. Menken Club conference, a white nationalist gathering that was a precursor to the NPI conference. Shortly thereafter, Richard began publishing videos and blog posts attacking Gersh and Love Lives Here, calling them a “local hate group.”

Troll Army

It was about this point that the Internet exploded, and Anglin jumped into the lead. He began organizing a doxxing campaign of Whitefish residents, posting pictures of Jewish neighbors with golden stars emblazoned atop and the word “Jude” inscribed. Several images were stacked in front of the Burkenwald concentration camp, where so many Jews were piled into mass graves after gassings. Calls, emails, death threats, Yelp reviews, and a stream of harassment fell on Whitefish, creating a culture of frozen fear. Special derision was given to Gersh, who had to go into hiding and had her 12-year-old child targeted.

burleyWhat set off Anglin was not only that the Spencers were facing push back, but that anyone of Jewish descent could be involved. The essentialist nature of race is central to white nationalism, but also that there is a key actor in the international opera of racial conflict. This comes down to the “Jewish Question,” the belief that Jews are a tribal group who use a superior “verbal IQ” and ethnocentrism to destroy nations. Anglin hopes to reframe the issue as one of “powerful Jews” attacking plucky Alt Right heroes, and that he needs to re-live Kristallnacht, the night with the German SA burned and looted Jewish businesses. While some of those they harassed were in fact Jewish, most were not, but none of that mattered since they labeled the behavior as Jewish, as they do with anything associated with left-wing politics, feminism, or cosmopolitanism. Many on the left have argued, erroneously, that anti-Semitism is on the wane, but the Alt Right has worked hard to make the reality of anti-Jewish hatred explicit, and Anglin’s effort further politicized those he targeted.

Love Lives Here continued organizing in the Flathead Valley, first creating a “menorah card” giveaway so that residents could put the image of the menorah in their windows during Hanukah. This act of solidarity would send a message of the shared experience of this harassment, because, in this case, Anglin and his army have labeled them all as Jewish. On January 7th, Love Lives Here organized a massive diversity rally with speakers and music, including letters of support from around the country. All of this was meant to soft-peddle the opposition by creating a show of community support, and it has helped the Whitefish community to become unified in opposition to the Alt Right. While Anglin wanted to build divisions in the community, the strategy has been to simply forge bonds and to strengthen the wall against these ideas. Anglin took the bigotry from something ephemeral to a tangible threat, and now there was an imperative to come together.

Anglin’s next move was to call for an armed march in Whitefish to threaten the Jewish residents and assert power. While Anglin has posted a filled-out permit for the march, it was actually only partially completed; revealing his bluff. Love Lives Here refused to engage directly with the neo-Nazis, so other groups stepped in to build on the united community base and to develop a counter-demonstration that can block Anglin. Montana Antifa began a public call for the demonstration, along with fundraising to meet the logistics, and the radical labor union the Industrial Workers of the World and its General Defense Committee also organized a large contingent, just as they have against white nationalist projects in places like the Twin Cities. Montana Antifa asked supporters to contact the hospitality base of the Flathead Valley to warn them about Nazis trying to rent accommodations. At the same time, Columbus Anti-Racist Action in Columbus, Ohio staged a protest action along with Showing Up for Racial Justice against Greg Anglin, Andrew’s father who has been accused of supporting his neo-Nazi son. All of this happened with the kind of support that they never would have received only months before, but as Anglin overstated his own ability to create a gun-toting parade, he provided the agitation that created a broad support for Antifa.

The threat presented by much of the Alt Right, Anglin includes, is one that hovers between real and fake, but has consequences for the sense of security that many that many built on the absence of open extremism. While the Alt Right was often reported as “diet fascism,” they were instead the real deal, except this time using “dank memes” instead of swastika banners. For Anglin’s war on Whitefish, he showed the Alt Right’s hand, which was to threaten people into inaction. This time, Whitefish chose something else.

burleyWhile the Alt Right claimed 2016 was their year, it was also the year of opposition. Anti-fascist groups have grown exponentially, and the result of the Whitefish harassment campaign was a unified state and the acceptance of radical anti-fascist organizations willing to defend against a racist contingent at all costs. While the Alt Right has been unable to move rhetoric into boots on the ground, the anti-fascist left has, and Anglin’s bluff could be the deathblow to a white nationalist movement fumbling its growing pains.
When the day actually arrived, the only people to show up were the dozens of anti-fascist supporters brought by Antifa organizations, the IWW, the Queer Insurrection Unit, the Alliance for Intersectional Power, and the surrounding community of Whitefish. Patrols were conducted on the surrounding streets to see if there was a contingent of nationalists who promised to arrive anyway, yet none came. Anglin pulled back entirely when he saw his few supporters would be dwarfed by a community united.

A State Unified in Resistance

Anglin’s “day of action” reversed the power by revealing that one side was ready for a fight. The region created a series of responses to the threat of an organized racist attack, from the civic alliance of Love Lives Here to the direct opposition of the IWW GDC. The two organizations together presented a spectrum of possibilities, from the strengthening of community to the direct opposition on the street corner. It is likely this final step, that antifascists were committing to “no platform” principles, is what forced the neo-Nazis to cancel their busses. This anti-fascist project was stronger by the end of the day than they were before anyone they heard of the Daily Stormer, and that anti-fascist opposition does not suddenly disappear after the Alt Right retreats. While there may have been tactical disagreements between some organizations, a few of which did not want to publicly antagonize the Nazi contingent, in the end they came together in a complex web of support, with the militant anti-fascist organizations building on the foundation laid by the Montana Human Rights Network.

The adaptation the community made to the racist threat presents lessons for the ongoing confrontation with the white nationalism. The base building had been done not for months, but years, and the slow process helped to further radicalize a town that could barely pass an anti-hate resolution a couple of years before. Likewise, with two different approaches to the issue, with the softer community organizing from Love Lives Here on the one side and the direct confrontation presented by Antifa on the other, can have a synthesis. Without the long-term community engagement presented by the Montana Human Rights Network, there wouldn’t be a broadly unified community to resist the invasion, and without organizations willing to confront the protest directly, it could have still taken place.

The Montana Human Rights Network has been clear that they have received more hate threats and incidents since the election of Donald Trump than they had in years. But with this kind of behavior becoming commonplace, they have now created a model for how to unify a community and create an organized anti-fascist response that engages more and more residents, many of whom have no background in organizing.

What happens in Whitefish may provide a model for other small towns around the country. While Anglin has shown that the trolls can try to use traditional racist and anti-Semitic narratives to attack residents without a political backing, this climate of fear has also driven those same residents to action and to form a strong sense of community. As is happening around the country, the election of Donald Trump and rise of hate crimes has inspired new organizations to form and older ones to grow. In Whitefish, this has awakened the community and the entire state is becoming a veritable “no go” zone for the Alt Right that will have ramifications for Patriot and white nationalist groups across the state. As Anglin tries to scramble up his supporters, the anti-fascist opposition has become a wave that will make any further attempts at racialist organization fail before it begins.


Shane Burley

12375190_1270053539678590_6582607531732468985_oShane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon.  He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How We Stop It (Forthcoming 2017, AK Press). His work has been featured in places like In These Times, ThinkProgress, Roar Magazine, Labor Notes, Make/Shift, Upping the Ante, and Waging Nonviolence. He can be found at ShaneBurley.net, and on Twitter @Shane_Burley1


Our publications can be found here.

Shapeshifters: The Paganism of Identity and the Danger of Fascist Infiltration

 

1- Tha mi ‘nam Geangach

“Their primary focus is to now enter social movements, community spaces, spiritual communities, and the like, and influence them in a certain direction, usually towards the “preservation of the European traditions and people.”

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

The folk-song collector Alan Lomax once described the Gaelic song tradition of the Hebrides as “the flower of Western Europe,” and I for one agree with him. I love Gaelic songs so much I’ve taught myself how to sing several of them – including a few about old pagan heroes like Fraoch and Caoilte. I sing them to my kids as lullabies. I taught myself how to speak Gaelic to a beginner-intermediate level. I even wrote some bad poetry in the language. I worship Gaelic deities such as Brighid and Macha, and I practice a martial art involving a Gaelic weapon (the Highland broadsword).

Still, I never call myself a Gael nor do I consider myself a Gael. I love and appreciate Gaelic culture, but it’s not my identity. I was born and raised in New England, surrounded by English-speakers. My mother’s ancestors were Karelian Finns, my father’s a mix including Scots, Irish, German and even Transylvanian. I once answered the question “what is your ethnic identity” on a Gaelic learner’s survey with the phrase “Tha mi ‘nam Geangach!” (I am a Yankee!)

Few issues are as emotionally important to me as the survival of the Gaelic language and culture, which have been under threat for centuries. So why am I uncomfortable with forms of polytheism based on ethnic identity – even when that identity is described as Gaelic?

2- “What’s broken can always be fixed. What’s fixed will always be broken.”

“Fascism, as a radical current, critiques the current social order for various reasons, often times taking to task the same things that revolutionaries do on the left. Boredom. Environmental destruction. Alienation. Poor living standards. All of these things are presented often times within the fascist program of critique, but it does so with a fundamentally different set of values.”

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

In modern capitalist society, alienation and disenchantment are the normal state of being. People feel cut off from each other, cut off from their own selves, soul-less.

It’s only natural that some people would seek to recover what they feel they have lost, creating or recreating an identity from the broken pieces they’ve been given. That’s how it was for me. When I was a kid, my parents told me that my distant Thompson ancestors had come from Scotland, and for some reason that gave me a sense of who I was and led to my lifelong interest in Scottish history and culture.

That doesn’t make me Scottish, though. I’m still a Geangach. If I was to think of myself as being Scottish, I’d have to disregard and erase not only all my other ancestors, but my actual life experience as a New Englander. I can’t just pick one element of who I am and blow it up into a new identity. Not even if it was a much larger part of my actual background – I don’t think of myself as a Finn either, although my mother’s first language was Finnish.

I worship Gaelic deities because I love and honor those deities and Celtic mythology in general. I don’t worship them because they’re “the gods of my ancestors,” even though a few of my ancestors probably did worship them in the distant past.

Some religions are firmly based in a specific ethnic identity, but those ethnic identities are unbroken and continuous. If I had been born in the Hebrides, I might think of my worship of Brighid as being part of my ancestral heritage. Here in Maine, the context for my religion is totally different. Any attempt to base my worship of Gaelic deities in some notion of Gaelic identity would feel like an artificial construct to me.

So, I sometimes describe myself as a Gaelic Polytheist or a Celtic Polytheist because the deities I worship are Gaelic and Celtic and because I pray to them in the Gaelic language. But when I interact with other Gaelic Polytheists, I soon find that many of them mean something very different by the phrase. Many of them refer to the Gaelic gods as being the gods of “our people,” by which they specifically mean people of Gaelic descent. Not people in the Gaelic communities of Ireland or Scotland, but people in the United States and elsewhere with Gaelic ancestors – even if they haven’t spoken any Gaelic in many generations. They’re talking about “Gaelic blood” – and that makes me squirm.

3- “Serpents and sons of blood…”

(H)ierarchy, authority, tradition, and strength over the weak are the values, and the political apparatus that is chosen is just the method…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

Maybe it’s because I have no more than a drop or two of “Gaelic blood” myself – except that languages don’t have “blood.” A recent DNA study on the MacNeills of Barra concluded that the clan was almost entirely of Scandinavian descent, yet the MacNeills were unquestionably a Gaelic-speaking Highland clan. Any claim of “Gaelic identity” based on genealogy alone is questionable at best, because Gaelic identity is not racial and cannot be reduced to DNA. Donald Trump’s mother was born on Stornoway in the Outher Hebrides, yet Trump shows not the barest hint of a traditional Gaelic worldview or mentality.

Gaelic Polytheists don’t seem to be like this. Every Gaelic Polytheist group I’ve come across seems to be aware in one way or another of traditional Gaelic values, and interested in reviving or renewing them. Yet I’m still uncomfortable.

The strong emphasis on ethnic identity bothers me, as does the strong emphasis on tribalism as the ideal form of social organization. The meticulous Gaelic-ness of a modern polytheist organization, based self-consciously on Iron Age social structures – none of this bears much resemblance to Gaelic culture as it currently exists. If we’re not just reviving the worship of ancient deities but the entire structure of ancient Gaelic society, that can only be because we believe that society to have been a superior way of life for us to emulate. Why exactly should we make that assumption?

Like many other Brigidine devotees, I tend to interpret St. Brigid of Kildare as having a strong connection to the pre-Christian goddess. I can’t prove the connection and you don’t have to agree with me, but Brigid’s comments about the social order of her own era still seem highly relevant to me. According to the Vita Prima or “First Life” of St. Brigid, the saint once said:

“the sons of kings are serpents and sons of blood and sons of death…”

People who admire Iron Age Irish society uncritically won’t be thrilled with this description, but is it not an accurate description of the sons of power and privilege in any era?

Leaving aside the fact that “sons of death” is probably a reference to berserker-like pagan warbands, this is still a striking condemnation of the injustice and inequality St. Brigid saw and fought in her own society.

She was, after all, born a slave in that society.

That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to admire about ancient pagan Ireland – personally I admire many things about ancient Ireland. However, I do think we should be cautious about taking it as a model. We should be cautious about taking any form of past society as a model, not because the past was worse than our own time but because we need to think carefully about what kind of society we want to replace capitalism with.

If we approach this project with sloppy thinking, we leave ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by the most cowardly and intellectually dishonest people in the pagan community.

I’m talking about fascists.

4- Fith-Fath Fascism

The reality is that the obvious images of traditional war fascism are so repugnant to everyone in modern society that people who share those ideas are never going to cloak themselves in them if they want any chance of success…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

I don’t believe in progress. I don’t believe societies move from a “tribal” model to some more “progressive” model in any linear way. I don’t believe in regress either, so I don’t think of tribal society as some lost golden age we have to fight to recover.

Rather, I think societies develop based on specific and localized circumstances. People always have problems to solve, and societies develop in different directions to address the specific problems they face. Some of those solutions are ad hoc and some are well thought-out. Some are optimal and some are very much less than optimal. Some are cynical maneuvers to benefit a few.

When I question the concept of tribalism in pagan religion or leftist politics, I’m not criticizing tribal societies. I’m not even dismissing the possibility that our religion and our politics could give birth to healthy, happy and flourishing neopagan tribes. These things could happen, and I have friends and family who describe themselves as tribalists. Some of them are also influential and very knowledgeable Gaelic Polytheists, and some are committed anti-racists.

Still, in the big picture of history, tribal forms of organization are neither better nor worse than other forms of organization. They just are what they are.

However, they do offer one thing that a lot of us crave, and that’s a strong sense of connection and identity. This is exactly what many of us are looking for, and this where our vulnerability to fascist infiltration creeps in.

When Gaelic warriors would raid into enemy territory, they would sometimes use a magic spell called a fith-fath to ensure that anyone who spotted them would mistake them for deer or other animals. Like shapeshifting infiltrators from an enemy tribe, fascists and white supremacists cloak themselves in whichever shape will best disguise them, always hoping not to be noticed so they can introduce their toxic ideas.

We would all reject someone talking openly about totalitarian rule and white supremacy, but when those same values are cloaked in words like “European heritage,” “tribal identity” and “warrior values” we may not see them for what they really are.

People who have been fooled so completely will sometimes go to absurd lengths to argue that they have not actually been hoodwinked – as in the recent controversy about Stephen McNallen, head of the Asatru Folk Assembly. McNallen called for the revival of the Freikorps, a proto-Nazi vigilante militia, to “protect” white Europeans from Muslim refugees. Yet he continues to claim he isn’t a white supremacist, and some people in the heathen community seem to want to believe him. Why would anyone accept such a ridiculous claim? This is the nature of shapeshifting, the nature of glamour. Until we are willing to see the truth and say the truth, the spell keeps working.

5- “Weak toward the feeble, strong toward the powerful”

At their core is a disbelief in the capability of all people to rule, the inequality and stratification amongst people, the essential nature of value in biology, and the need to lead through violence, heroism, and strength…

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

Some people in the Gaelic Polytheist community seem to have a serious misconception about the role of strength – one that doesn’t align with traditional Gaelic values, but does align with fascist values.

“Our ancestors valued strength above all else.”

“Considering that strength was so important to our warrior ancestors…”

“Our ancestors venerated strength…”

And, sadly:

“How do I deal with negative feelings, when I know that our Celtic ancestors valued strength and despised weakness?”

These are paraphrases of comments I’ve seen in the community. Let’s compare them to some actual quotes from Gaelic wisdom-literature, which is generally presented as being spoken by kings or warrior heroes:

Be more apt to give than to deny, and follow after gentleness. (Maxims of the Fianna)

I was weak toward the feeble, I was strong toward the powerful. (Cormac MacArt)

Do not deride the aged when you have youth.
Do not deride the poor when you have wealth.
Do not deride the lame when you are swift.
Do not deride the blind though you have sight.
Do not deride the ill when you have strength.
Do not deride the dull when you are clever.
Do not deride the foolish though you are with wisdom. (Cormac MacArt)

These are brief quotes without full context, but as you can see they do not glorify strength for its own sake and they specifically forbid the warrior from despising weakness. The ideal presented in these texts is to be strong when strength is appropriate and gentle when gentleness is appropriate. It’s an ethic of balance, not of domineering aggression.

So where are Gaelic Polytheists getting the idea that “our ancestors” valued strength above all else? How could this misconception have crept into the community, among people who have read a lot of old Gaelic lore and should know better than to fall for it?

I would suggest that this is no accident, and that the presence of this idea in the community indicates that fascist values are creeping in without being recognized. That doesn’t mean the people repeating the idea are fascists- only that they’ve been fooled by the fascists.

Remember, modern fascists are cowards and liars, and most of them will never admit to being what they really are. They will always pretend to be something else, cloaking the same old ideas in new rhetoric and new symbols. Tribalism is sometimes used as one of those symbols, but that’s only fitting – considering that the whole concept was invented by colonialist anthropologists in the 19th century.

6- What Comes After

Fascism promises to restore the true order, the heroic history that never was. Fascism outlines a mythology about a particular grouping by suggesting that in the past it was racially homogenous, filled with heroes, perfectly run, and where by people are spiritually fulfilled.

(From A Movement of Long Knives)

The whole notion of pagan tribalism (and anarcho-tribalism, for that matter) depends on the concept of “tribe.” Yet the validity of this concept is far from established, and the word is now rejected by many anthropologists.

According to the Encylopedia Brittanica:

Tribe, in anthropology, a notional form of human social organization based on a set of smaller groups (known as bands), having temporary or permanent political integration, and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, and ideology… The term originated in ancient Rome, where the word tribus denoted a division within the state. It later came into use as a way to describe the cultures encountered through European exploration. By the mid-19th century, many anthropologists and other scholars were using the term, as well as band, chiefdom, and state, to denote particular stages in unilineal cultural evolution. Although unilineal cultural evolution is no longer a credible theory, these terms continue to be used as a sort of technical shorthand in college courses, documentaries, and popular reference works.

Actual “tribes” are highly diverse in terms of social and political organization. Some are hereditary monarchies, some have ruling councils, some use a feudal structure, some are almost totally decentralized. So there isn’t really any clear definition of the word “tribe,” except that it refers to a stage in a completely fictional model of social evolution designed to justify imperialism. One aspect of “tribe” in the anthropological sense is homogeneity of ancestry, language, culture and ideology – so if we describe ourselves as neo-tribalists, we’re implying that we want a similar homogeneity.

After capitalism destroys itself, it is certainly possible that people will form new “tribal” societies in order to survive. If we think carefully about what we want to do ahead of time, we may choose to do something completely different – like the Kurds of Syria. After the central government withdrew from their area, they chose not to base their new society on Kurdish ethnic identity even though they could easily have done so. Instead they set out to create a radically egalitarian, multi-ethnic society.

As capitalism continues its forced march toward self-destruction, one of the most useful things we can do is to think about how we would make use of the precious opportunity a similar power vacuum would give us. The fascists are doing exactly that, and we know very well what their world would look like. For those of us who embrace pagan tribalism or anarcho-tribalism, the challenge is to enact whatever we value in the concept of “tribe” without being infiltrated and corrupted by fascist values.

That isn’t our only option, though. Instead of trying to form pagan tribes, we can take our pagan values and make them part of a truly free, truly equal new form of social order. The Kurds of Rojava were up to the challenge. Are we?


 

Christopher Scott Thompson

Christopher Scott Thompson is a writer, historical fencing instructor and founding member of Clann Bhride, the Children of Brighid. He was active with Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy St. Paul. His political writing can be found at https://alienationorsolidarity.wordpress.com/.

His poem, “Mysterium Tremendum,” is featured in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.