Fascism Today (an excerpt)

The following is excerpted from Shane Burley’s new book: Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End It, published by AK Press. A review by Christopher Scott Thompson will appear 15 December here at Gods&Radicals.

The fascist project has always tried to root itself in a transcendent, spiritual impulse. Much of the racism that permeates the fascist right is rooted in theories that utilize spiritual explanations for racial differences, rather than the falsified “data” of “racial science.” The earliest construct for contemporary racism comes out of two key tracts from sixteenth century Spain and Portugal. The first, and dominant one, was that non-white people were “pre-Adamic,” meaning they were humanoid mammals that arrived before proper people did. To square things with the Bible they placed these “creatures” as animals created before the true “Adamic” race. The second tract says that they are a degenerate people, and their failure to reach true “Aryanness” comes from their failing moral lineage. Both pieces were foundational in the creation of racial science, but both are mythic in their explanation and are maintained in many racialized interpretations of Christianity, Hinduism, and Neo-paganism.

The early periods of Bavarian romanticism saw something essential about identity that went beyond the physical form; it was as true in spirit as it was in blood. As fascism advanced as a political response to the economic crisis after World War I, it did so out of the growing desire to find a strict identity founded in esoteric teaching, occult mysteries, and initiatory paths. While the NSDAP and Hitler moved in the direction of vulgar racial science, a feature of the Alt Right today, they had a parallel spiritual track that has had enduring influence. Identitarianism, various Third Position ideologies, and the various incarnations that we see popping up have deep roots in certain types of esotericism, which has provided special tools for fascism to build on and given it a unique appeal for people in transition, crisis, or on a quest for answers to life’s big questions.

As was true of many eras of fascist ideological development, from the mystical anti-rationality of the Germanic volkish movements to the European New Right, Christianity is often seen as responsible for the disastrous effects of “modernity.” As social ecologist Janet Biehl points out, Christianity seeks an end to alienation and toward a pure “essence,” which is mirrored in identitarianism, Traditionalism, and Third Positionism:

In the view of the “New” Right today, the destruction of the environment and the repression of nationalities have a common root in “Semitic” monotheism and universalism. In its later form, Christianity, and in its subsequent secularized forms, liberalism and Marxism, this dualistic, homogenizing universalism is alleged to have brought on both the ecological crisis and the suppression of national identity. Just as Judeo-Christian universalism was destructive of authentic cultures when Christian missionaries went out into the world, so too is modernity eliminating ethnic and national cultures. Moreover, through the unbridled technology to which it gave rise, this modern universalism is said to have -perpetrated not only the destruction of nature but an annihilation of the spirit; the destruction of nature, it is said, is life-threatening in the spiritual sense as well as the physical, since when people deny pristine nature, their access to their “authentic” self is blocked.Part of this opposition is then a result of the “anti–Americanism” that runs through much fascist thought, in that they oppose the globalized systems of capitalism, “McCulture,” and universalized spiritual identities. This is a reminder of the contradictions so present in the radical right milieu: that one sector can brand themselves -patriots, à la the KKK of the 1920s, while another trend, such as National Revolution, can label themselves traitors to Western capitalism and imperialism.

God of Thunder, God of War

For those encountering neo-fascism today, the most common form of esotericism is neo-paganism. Mystics rediscovered the pre–Christian European religions during the early periods of capitalism, industrialism, and mass cultural orientation as a way for Europeans to find an identity for themselves that was rooted in their own uniqueness. This was a way to separate themselves from the “universalism” of Christian salvation, as well as its Jewish nature. Since the seventeenth century paganism, first with neo-Druidic study and then various other traditions, has been a testament to the romanticism that developed out of early industrialization and urbanization, which took its toll on agrarian life and unsettled deeply rooted communities. While these more traditional folkways should not be seen through rose-colored glasses, they still had a connection with neighbors and the commitment to a “life of the soul” that many pined for. This, paired with nationalism in many cases, inspired much of the aesthetic and religious basis that we saw in fascist movements in the twentieth century.

Heathenry, the Germanic-Nordic pagan religion, is the most common type of neo-paganism to be found in an explicitly racialized form. Odinism, as it has often been called, was developed by Else Christensen in the first half of the twentieth century as an explicitly racial religion, one that was equal parts anti-capitalism and tribalism. Christensen’s background was rooted in anarcho-syndicalism, which she attempted to synthesize with the racial ideas that were coming out of Germany. She imagined tribal non-state communities founded on indigenous religions, which were racially exclusive and built on traditional craftsmanship and ecological sustainability. Odinism has gone on to be known as an explicitly racialized religion and sees Odin as the figurehead of the spiritual pantheon that is unique to those of Northern European people.

What drives much of this movement is the early work of Carl Jung, who, at one point, saw the development of psychological archetypes as racial. In his influential essay “Wotan,” Jung outlines the idea that Hitler and the Third Reich were the unrestrained spirit of Wotan (Odin) resurrected in the Germanic soul. In this perspective, the gods and goddesses of indigenous religions are unique to those with that ancestry. In the Jungian concept, the archetypes of the warrior, the pursuer of knowledge, and the conqueror are manifested in Odin, and other ethnicities and cultures have archetypes in their gods that are unique to their biological and spiritual character. This is the foundational idea that has driven much of the racialized heathenry, and it is what fuels European New Right scholars like de Benoist, who wrote in his seminal book On Being a Pagan that Europeans should identify with their pagan archetypes.

For many, the archetypes are not good enough, and they see them both as metaphors and, literally, as gods and goddesses, different spirits and impulses that are made religious and knowable through the images of gods and the stories of the lore. Heathenry is singled out because much of the theological work was done by and for this racialist purpose, as a way of providing a counter-cultural identity to whites. Building on the image of the Vikings, it countered modern narratives and argued that the true nature of Northern Europeans was that of a tribal warrior who prioritizes his “in-group” over his “out-group.”

In the U.S., a slightly less racialized version of heathenry named Asatru became dominant. It was more focused on magic and the unique interpretation of Icelandic lore. While Asatru did not champion the open Nazism of many Odinist groups, it maintained a “folkish” distinction in many kindreds, and asserted itself as the religion of the Northern European peoples through genetic priv-ilege. The Asatru Folk Assembly and its founder, Stephen McNallen, maintain this idea, and the principles of Asatru are centered on its European identity and “answering a call” that comes deep from their ancestors. A focus on “reconstruction” and historical accuracy has reigned, and they attempt to bring Germanics back to the most “untainted” version of their tribal religion. Anti-racist heathens, who are the vast majority, share much of the archetypal vision and view on tradition and customs but the folkish community has been increasingly vocal.

Jack Donovan’s Wolves of Vinland, a closed heathen group known for mixing tribal spirituality and the structure of a biker gang into a type of National Anarchism, and their recruitment tool, Operation Werewolf, is one of these, attempting to redefine the boundaries of heathenry by focusing on the violence and male virility of a tribally defined spirituality. Operation Werewolf reflects Wolves of Vinland founder Paul Waggener, who mixes his own brand of nihilist philosophy, exercise regimens, and black metal aesthetics. While the Wolves are a close-knit group that is hard to join, Operation Werewolf has worked as a tent that former skinheads, bikers, MMA fighters, powerlifters, and others moving to the fringes can unite under. Its decentralization and focus on what we could call “lifestyle fascism” presents a concerted -meta-political threat as it is creating a close-knit subculture of rightist men who were unable to find shelter in insurrectionary organizations on the wane.

Paganism is dominant among non-Christian white nationalists and has a deep influence on even secular nationalist philosophy, arts, and aesthetics. Fascist neofolk music is centered in a similar romanticism of Europe’s past, and everyone from NPI to the Daily Stormer venerate the Nordic gods of Odin, Thor, and Freyja despite not believing in them in a literal sense. The most violent interpretation, known as Wotanism, was developed by The Order terrorist, and former Aryan Nations member, David Lane and still proliferates among skinheads and white supremacist prison gangs. Other than just seeing racialism as a component of their spirituality, Wotanism sees racial identity and warfare as the driving focus of it and uses apocalyptic warrior language to justify mass violence in the name of racial preservation and expansion.

Though not nearly as prevalent, there have been racialized interpretations of Celtic and Welsh paganism, traditions more closely associated with leftist interpretations and Wicca. Reconstructionism itself has come under fire as a concept as it is so closely allied with nationalists looking for identity. Rodnovery’s connection to Russian nationalism, Hellenism with Greek nationalism, orthodox Shinto reconstructionism in Japan, and Hindu nationalism all draw connections between the “native faith” and the national identity, which centers ethnic identity in sectarian conflict. The spiritual foundation here is not found in a particular tradition’s lore and customs but in the uniquely modern idea that spirituality is particular to the metaphysical psychology of a particular ethnic group. This has increasingly driven political movements in many countries, where a strong meta-politic has to be developed in order for the citizenry to accept nationalism.

Book of Shadows

Outside of heathenry and ethnic paganism, Left Hand Path (LHP) traditions differ in their rejection of conventional morality. Posing in opposition to the “universal morality” and the redemption offered by what they call Right Hand Path religions, LHP traditions make up various different strands of thought including Satanism, Thelema, the Temple of Set, and various Middle Eastern and Hindu sects. While the term “Left Hand Path” is not a great dividing line for actually studying religion, those who use it often make up different esoteric paths that venerate the self. Though the vast majority of contemporary LHP people denounce racism, there are groups that have notoriously mixed the religion and racism.

The Order of Nine Angels advocated a type of “Satanic Nazism” that proposed eugenics in the form of human sacrifice. The Joy of Satan, similarly, shared members with known Nazi groups and advocated a Gnostic reading of Biblical scripture that reframed Yahweh as the evil “Jewish” God that people had to overcome to discover their true destiny.

The National Socialist Liberation Front (NSLF), originally founded by hippie-dropout-turned-fascist revolutionary Joseph Charles Tomassi in 1974, was modeled on Yockey’s own European Liberation Front as a “propaganda of the deed” project. It was taken up by the occult-minded James Mason, who used Satanism and an obsession with Charles Manson to advocate for a new type of terror war against the globalizing commercial influences of the “Zionist Occupation Governments” in NSLF’s newsletter Siege.

Thelema, the esoteric religion developed by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley in the early twentieth century, focuses heavily on the discovery of “True Will” in participants and the use of formal ritual magic and the worship of archetypal gods, often of Mesopotamian and Egyptian origin. A marginal attorney and Libertarian Party of Florida Senate candidate made waves in 2015 as his mix of Thelema and nationalism brought the support of skinhead groups like the American Front. Augustus Sol Invictus, the name given to him in a religious ceremony, had many high-profile incidents that drew media attention, like going on a desert spirit quest and sacrificing a goat on camera. Invictus’s own politic is one that aligns with many LHP adherents, which is a “Will to Power” desire for themselves. Invictus believes that human sacrifice to the gods unites a nation, and he worships “pan-European” gods, believing that all European gods were just different names for the same transcendent forces. Invictus became active in supporting various fascist organizations, including speaking at the National Socialist Movement conference and the reformation event for the American Front, whom he also defended in court against terrorism charges.

While Hinduism is not an essential part of the American fascist movement, the white savior of Nazi Vedas remains important for the meta-political underpinnings. Savitri Devi was a French-born Greek who turned to the Hindu myths in a search for a more authentic and non-Semitic spirituality. Following the Indo-Aryan mythology about the Caucasian origin of the Vedas, Devi believed Hinduism was an ancient Aryan religion, even if contemporary Indians had been ruined through race mixing. Following the Vedic cycle of ages and search for avatars, Devi saw Hitler as the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who many in Hindu nationalism venerated and saw as a model for how to treat the Muslim population in India. Both during and after the war, Devi became a focal point for international fascist projects, living the life of a nationalist aesthetic committed fervently to her own brand of heretical mystic Hinduism.

While race is only one component of these religions, their beliefs are centered on human inequality and the necessity of domination. If you strip fascism of its racial components, which some ideological currents do, the belief in the cruelty of formalized hierarchy and violence is still implicit. If these occultist paths reject equality and a basic respect for universal human dignity, which is part and parcel for the rejection of historic “religious” morality inside of the LHP movement, then it intersects so clearly with fascism that it is difficult to come to its defense even though it denies bigotry.

Spiritual Warfare

Fascism is not the logical conclusion of any spiritual path, no matter how historically reactionary or steeped in the institutional oppression of marginalized people. Instead, the open nature of most spiritual paths and its flirtation with spaces of power allow it to channel ideas that people intend to inlay with significance. The same Catholic Church fueled the social climate that built interwar fascism as well as Liberation Theology and the Catholic Workers Movement. What religion provides is a unique identity, tactical set, and meta-politics that can be useful for inspiring followers to go much further than would be coaxed by materialist political gains, and that can shift both right and left.

Religious groups have traditionally been one of the most central antifascist projects, both because churches are center to people’s social lives as well as their starting point for engaging with social issues. Those inside of spiritual paths are a massive constituency who can meaningfully confront fascism on their own terms and where it affects them personally.

One of the most prescient of these intercommunity confrontations is inside of paganism, with heathenry becoming well known as a battleground between the folkish and antiracist camps. Because racists have done so much of the theological work, it requires rethinking the foundations from a non-ethnic viewpoint. Over the past several years, heathenry has begun to see a reckoning take place with antiracist heathens taking a stand.

The group Circle Ansuz made a huge impact on this discourse in its short life by presenting an anarchist-specific interpretation of Germanic heathenry. They created a synthesis they called Heathen anarchism—a choice to see the faith in its historical reality as both inspired and flawed:

There are two main pillars that serve as the foundations of Heathen anarchism. The first is the justification based on historical data, the social practices of the ancient Germanics, and modern archeology. The second justification is rooted in the most commonly accepted creation epic, the Voluspol, and in the spiritual truths inherent in cyclical cosmology.They saw the egalitarian practices in the Viking spiritual culture as inspirational but incomplete, and they rejected a romantic rewriting of history. Instead, the cyclical nature of the spirituality, the individualism and anti-hierarchical relationship to the gods, and the anti-imperial traditions of heathenry against the expansive colonization of European Christianity provide inspiration. They took the “warrior spirituality” implicit in some of heathenry as inspiration in a battle against fascism and made confrontation with fascist influences in countercultural spaces a key component of their platform. Before going dormant, they had “kindreds” (religious formations) in San Francisco and Portland and also allowed for general “at large” membership, in an effort to mimic the structure of general heathen organizations, providing a real alternative for religious heathens who wanted the spiritual community.

Over the past several years, heathen organizations around the country have begun to go from passive acceptance to explicit rejection of folkish heathenry. When McNallen passed on the leadership role of the Asatru Folk Assembly to a new generation, they began taking to social media proclaiming their allegiance to traditional gender roles and “white men and women.” McNallen himself has become an increasingly controversial figure, seeing blowback for his relationship with the Alt Right and anti-immigrant stances. In response to the Asatru Folk Assembly’s behavior, heathen organizations around the country have issued statements denouncing the folkish interpretations, drawing a line in the sand. The Troth, the largest heathen organization in the U.S., has always had a “universalist” stance on inclusions but in 2016 finally issued a statement unequivocally saying that heathenry was not an ethnic religion and was instead open to all believers.

Many joined together for the Declaration 127 campaign, which cited the 127th declaration in the Havamal, a book of Viking quotes used as a holy book in many heathen kindreds. The declaration reads, “When you see misdeeds, speak out against them, and give enemies no fri.” Blogs and organizations around the U.S. signed on, saying that it was a heathen imperative to speak out against racists in their religion. They have committed to not work with organizations that have discriminatory policies, like the Asatru Folk Assembly, especially since many of the racialist heathen organizations sell many of the religious items and books that pagans use in spiritual communion.Organizations like Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) have been taking this work a step further, organizing publicly against racialist paganism as heathens. In an attempt to unite -antiracist heathens, they are further marginalizing the folkish voices that have dominated public perception of the faith. On May Day 2016, Beltane on the Germanic pagan calendar, they held the Light the Beacons event, a chance for antiracist heathens to light fires, including candles and bonfires, and to share it publicly as an act of antiracist defiance. This was inspired by the bonfires held in Germany on May 8, 2015, celebrating the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Nazism. HUAR relies heavily on a social media convergence to create a strong anti-racist heathen counter narrative. Their “Stephen McNallen Doesn’t Speak for Me” campaign had heathens from around the world posting photos of themselves holding handmade signs, explaining their background and why McNallen and his folkish clique do not share their heathen voice.

Beyond just attacking this tendency internal to heathens, the relationship that many pagans have had to this racialist sector has created a culture of resistance inside many pagan communities as well. The website Gods & Radicals has asserted an anti-capitalist understanding of paganism, attempting to connect those walking a spiritual path to a uniquely Marxist and anarchist perspective. This has meant taking explicit stances against fascism, which feeds on paganism due to their shared devotion to gods. After one of the editors, Rhyd Wildermuth, published a short profile on the New Right and the figures that often use paganism as a spiritual justification for fascist politics, he was accused by large swathes of the folkish community of a villainous “witch hunt.” This reflected his experience as an organizer of the Many Gods West polytheist conference in Olympia, Washington, where panels on fascism in paganism were denounced as divisive.

***

The far-right requires some type of spirituality because it needs to define itself as being “beyond politics.” Even if this is just taken metaphorically, it has always helped fascist ideologies define themselves, which puts religious people in both a troubling and advantageous position. The ability to confront this violence from inside a spiritual community provides leverage and could reach across religious and racial divides to develop the type of community that creates a barrier to reactionary movements.


You can order Shane Burley’s book, “Fascism Today: What It Is And How To End it” at this link.


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


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Asatru’s Racist Missionary: Stephen McNallen, Defend Europe, and the Weaponization of Folkish Heathery

 

“…while the Alt Right is the U.S. and Europe were singing the identitarian’s praises, a celebrity in the U.S. pagan community was capitalizing on this to renew his call for racial tribalism.”

From Ryan Smith & Shane Burley

As they headed out into the Mediterranean, Defend Europe had the plan of interfering with humanitarian NGOs attempting to provide medical aid to refugees crossing the seas after years of war-torn violence.

After raising $200,000 through crowdfunding websites like WeSearchr, Defend Europe chartered a 422-ton ship, determined that they would block refugee boats, putting families at fatal risk so that they could prevent the “Islamization of Europe” they believed to be taking place. Heading into the Libyan “search-and-rescue” zone on August 4-5, this meant intending to block Doctors Without Borders as they desperately tried to save the lives of children floating.

Defend Europe is an extension of the “identitarian” movement in Europe, made up of controversial nationalist groups like Generation Identity that the Alt Right in the U.S. have been desperate to imitate. Defend Europe’s direct-interventionist approach is hoping, desperately, to find that there is some evidence of these NGOs practicing “human trafficking,” bringing in refugees for “forced” resettlement.

Throughout the formation of the organization and its project on the high seas, North American Alt Right figures have been active in their support. People like Lauren Southern, formerly of the caustic Rebel Media, had her Patreon suspended from her stated support.

But while the Alt Right is the U.S. and Europe were singing the identitarian’s praises, a celebrity in the U.S. pagan community was capitalizing on this to renew his call for racial tribalism.

Viking Revival

For people in the pagan community, McNallen’s name is well-known, a collage of veneration and horror. The heathen revival, particularly Asatru in the United States, comes from McNallen’s construct starting in the 1960s, bridging over a friendlier version of the racialist Odinism found across Europe. After being drawn by the stories of heroism found in the Eddas and Sagas, McNallen formed the Viking Brotherhood in 1969 with the Viking Manifesto, an ode to a young-male obsession with the warrior cult media interpretation of Norse Vikings.

Taking on a more serious tone, and adopting the magical flavor from Iceland, he created the Asatru Free Assembly in 1976, using the same meta-genetic tone of Else Christiansen’s earlier Odinic Rite, yet eschewing the harder edged racialism. For McNallen, this was to be a religion of the Northern European people, their true spiritual practice, and he could use the language of post-colonialism to argue that it was their right–just as it was that of the Tibetans to be freed from the hands of the Chinese Communist Party or for the Navajo Nation to be allowed to have ethnically-exclusive Pow Wows. This was not a new argumentation for the right; European New Right academics had been taking this turn for a few years, arguing that the wave of national liberation movements was in line with their own battle for an “authentic” European Ethno-state.

McNallen

McNallen can be best understood through his actions and ideology. The core of McNallen’s Folkish ideology is the belief in a concept known as metagenetics. Metagenetics claims culture is passed on genetically within specific groups of people. Such genetic connections to culture also determine what deities one can connect to. McNallen’s ideology also shows strong influence from Carl Jung’s Essay on Wotan written in 1936. In this essay Jung argues, based on his theory on archetypes, certain Gods are carried in the lineage of different cultures and certain people can invoke these Gods into their community. In the essay Jung claims Adolf Hitler is such an individual, asserting Hitler archetypally embodied the God Wotan.

His Asatru Folk Assembly further codifies these beliefs in the AFA’s Declaration of Principles. In it they claim only “the Peoples of the North” should practice any form of Germanic Paganism. This is further justified by claims of. Those who do not have the right ancestry are told to “drink from their own well” and leave. Folkish Asatru holds no consistent standards for what is the right or sufficient amount of ancestry to practice. In theory access to the Norse Gods, according to this form of practice, is dictated by blood heritage so anyone of the right descent should have access including a lot of non-white people. In practice the most consistent standard for determining the appropriate background is the paint swatch test.

Tribe and Tradition

McNallen has a long history with the far right. It is unclear exactly when he got involved in extreme right politics though there is little question his flirtation is decades old. The first bit of evidence is when he started his first Asatru organization, the Viking Brotherhood, in 1973 which he advertised in the pages of Soldier of Fortune magazine. The Asatru Free Assembly, his next major project, was started shortly after and lasted around a decade before imploding over the issue of overt white nationalism in the organization. In 1985, just before the old AFA disbanded, McNallen first published Metagenetics.

Between publishing Metagenetics and founding the Asatru Folk Assembly in 1994 McNallen worked as a freelance journalist publishing articles in magazines like Soldier of Fortune. One such example is a piece published in the fall 1994 issue claiming the end of apartheid meant South Africa would soon be consumed by race war where all whites would perish. His dressing up of these concerns in the cloth of anticommunism is a perfect example of his messaging strategies ever since.

McNallen, until his recent removal as head of the AFA, would utilize such methods very consistently. He dresses up his philosophy under the banner of diversity, claims he is focused on protecting the unique heritage of all groups, invokes Judaism, Shinto and Native Americans as justification and brandishes his support, on purely ethnocentric terms, of the Karin and Tibetan separatist movements. All of this is meant to distract from the basic white nationalist foundation of the organization.

McNallen’s ideas were rooted in tribalism, that allegiance to one’s people was bound by blood, and that brotherhood was defined racially, even if he utterly rejected the vulgarities of the neo-Nazi movement. It is this clash in concept that largely destroyed the original AFA, but it only took a couple of decades for the white nationalist movement to evolve into using the same language as McNallen.

As the Alt Right developed, McNallen was right with them with his newest formation, the Asatru Folk Assembly, where he had firmed up his own arguments about the meta-genetic Jungian roots of Asatru in the psyche of the spiritually distinct Nordics. He contributed early on for AlternativeRight.com, joining Richard Spencer on episodes of Vanguard Radio to discuss the first Thor film and the heroism of the Icelandic explorers, coding the language he used well enough to avoid finger pointing from the right and the left. The AFA helped to popularize the “folkish” interpretation of heathenry, that it was an ethnically exclusive religion, and McNallen traveled the world talking to de-colonization movements attempting to woo them into common cause. As many heathens can attest, McNallen helped to set the tone for what heathenry was, especially in the U.S., as he helped to flesh out rituals and theology, adding much of the aesthetics and depth needed to create a multifaceted tradition.

Wotan Network

McNallen currently holds a purely ceremonial office. Day to day affairs is handled by a new triumvirate of individuals who, by some accounts, are far less subtle in their politics. There are rumors his retirement was not voluntary and he was forced out due to a shift in the AFA’s internal politics. Regardless as this was occurring and in the immediate aftermath the AFA’s increasingly open support for white nationalism inspired a backlash in the Heathen community.

In January of 2016 McNallen publicly posted his desire for the Freikorps, the infamous far right paramilitaries who formed the backbone of the Brownshirts and the SS, to come back to Germany and deal with Muslim immigration. These comments inspired immediate backlash against McNallen and his defenders.

After McNallen’s exit, AFA social media posted that the AFA was for “white men and women,” not for transgender people, and even found allies in movements like Deep Green Resistance. Their open racialism came in concert with a new commitment from heathen organizations to stand against the folkish tendency, and the Declaration 127 campaign was born, drawing from the 127th verse of the Havamal that cites the courage to stand up for what is right.

Major organizations, like the Troth, finally cut all ties, and the AFA was relegated to the only crowd left: white nationalist. This made sense since members were attending the National Policy Institute conference, hosting neo-fascist bands at Stella Natura, and helping to build much of the meta-political culture of the burgeoning Alt Right.

Part of McNallen’s separation from the AFA was his renewed commitment to white nationalist politics, doing videos for Red Ice Creations and starting the Wotan Network.

“It’s no secret that it’s my life purpose to awaken European peoples from their sleep,” says McNallen in his announcement video for the network. “This is why my heart beats, this is why I breathe.”

“Agile, hostile, and mobile” is how the decentralized network he is creating, named after Wotan who he believes distinctly motivates the white race. McNallen, though a hard polytheist, wants whites to think of Wotan as a Jungian archetype, a racially distinct machination in the minds of Norther European stock, a mode that they can tap into so as to become a warrior in defense of their racially-exclusive tribe. McNallen has made it clear that the Wotan Network was not an issue of promoting his religion, but instead about the “existence and the destiny of our people.”

In reality this means a culture war headed by racially-motivated memedom, except using the language of terror cells to play into the eschatological machinations of the Alt Right. While he expressly says it won’t be a religious project, he is calling white followers together for a sacred Blot, this one a statement of racial awakening rather than a mythic spiritual call.

The most obvious of the projects from the Wotan Network is Operation Erwache, intended to support those in Europe who are fighting the resettlement of refugees, which they believe is the “Islamization of the West” and redefine the genetic make-up of the continent.

Defend Europe and Operation Erwache

The Wotan Network’s involvement in Defend Europe is as a supporting role. Stephen McNallen posted a call to action shortly after the Wotan Network’s Facebook group was created called “AN EXERCISE IN APPLIED MEMETICS”. He put out a call for members of the Wotan Network to create memes, advertisements and propaganda material to promote Defend Europe.

The support is not surprising given McNallen and the AFA’s explicitly anti-migrant stances. This is the logical conclusion of decades of advocating racial holy war, dehumanizing migrants and leading a white nationalist organization shares parallels with broader trends in society. Trump’s election has emboldened white nationalists and the far right like nothing else, as shown by the surge in hate crimes since November 8, 2016. The surge in far right activity parallels McNallen’s removal from office at the AFA, his own increasingly militant public statements and similar surges in Alt Right activity.

Operation Erwache is a plan to seed the Internet with Wotan Network propaganda, target specific populations who McNallen feels can be won over and build their credibility with the Alt Right. Based on McNallen’s history and pattern of behavior, there is every indication that this goes beyond simple support for his ideological fellow-travelers. By spreading his influence in the he would gain greater support, publicity and visibility in the movement and society and would flood the Heathen community with activists. In one stroke, if all goes according to plan, he would secure both of his bases of support.

In many ways Defend Europe is an outgrowth of low-level neo-Nazi violence, assaults on immigrant communities and other related activities. It also fits with the existing pattern of fascist openly filching tactics, imagery and trappings from the Left with Defend Europe showing strong similarities to the activities of Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Defend Europe, in spite of all the money and publicity it received, has devolved into a total farce. Beginning with being stopped in the Suez Canal for lacking proper documentation and members of the crew detained in Turkish Cyprus for human trafficking Defend Europe’s entire operation has veered from one spectacular screw-up to the next. Their troubles only continued when Tunisian fishermen successfully organized Tunisian ports to deny use of their harbors for refueling, repair and resupply. The whole tragicomic affair climaxed with the vessel adrift at sea due to a critical mechanical failure and the freezing of funding by Patreon, leaving them at the mercy of the very aid ships they sought to impede. One has to wonder if the entire thought process behind hiring the C-Star in the first place was hanging a right at the waterfront, approaching the eye-patched bartender of the first seedy dive they found and inquiring loudly with their new friend if said disreputable fellow could help them contract a trustworthy ship for engaging in piracy, kidnapping, general mayhem, murder and assorted crimes against humanity.

The credibility and money poured into the operation strongly suggests that, for now, there won’t be any similar attempts in the immediate future. Over $100,000 was sunk into this maritime comedy of errors which succeeded in setting itself adrift at sea, humiliated and in legal jeopardy. If the intent was to mobilize public support, build positive publicity and create a brand of direct action similar to Greenpeace’s famous fleet then Defend Europe was a total disaster. Yet this clear defeat should not make those engaging in antifascist work complacent or assume the Identitarian Movement and their Alt-Right allies are beaten. If anything the history of neo-fascism has shown those people are as determined as a bloated tick.

McNallen, to his benefit, does not appear to have been a central figure in organizing Defend Europe. He has also shown a consistent ability to deflect such charges and prevent them from sticking to him. After all this is the man who continued to lead the Asatru Folk Assembly for well over a decade after the Kennewick Man debacle, an episode that would’ve destroyed a less capable demagogue. Ideological setbacks are not going to be enough to upend the Wotan Network or McNallen’s goal of installing himself as Pope of the Alt Right with Folkish Heathenry as the official dogma of the movement.

A Post-Charlottesville World

In the U.S., the Unite the Right rally on August 12th defined the conversation on the far-right for weeks as the Alt Right planned to “defend” the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. As speakers like Richard Spencer, Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, Christopher Cantwell, and Augustus Sol Invictus lined up; it began to define itself by its unwillingness to “punch right” and to include everyone from Identity Europa to the National Socialist Movement and KKK organizations. This was a solid break with the more moderate Alt Light and Patriot sphere that has been surrounding the, severing where the fissure was created during the “free speech” rallies.

McNallen jumped on board with his support for Unite the Right, promising to join the crowd in Charlottesville to stand up for “white identity.” After the image of the torchlight march from August 11th came forth, where white nationalist protesters chanted “Jews will not replace us” while surrounding a church and finally attacking protesters, McNallen put up an image of the protest with the line “where there is light, there is hope” emblazoned atop it. This was signed off on with the hashtag “#wotannetwork,” owing to his penchant for branding. The next day, one woman died and nineteen were injured as a Vanguard America associate plowed his Dodge Challenger into counter-protesters before hitting the gas in reverse and running the scene. It was both one of the largest white nationalist gatherings in twenty years, and one of the most catastrophic.

In the weeks that followed these declarations, Huginn’s Heathen Hof, a well-known Heathen blog, put out a call for a joint declaration denouncing the Asatru Folk Assembly, its doctrines and its leadership as a racist organization. Since then over a hundred Heathen organizations from all over the world have signed the statement. This has isolated the AFA from many of their former allies, lost members and pushed them into a more openly white nationalist direction. Their increasingly overt white nationalism also parallels with the broader surge in far right activity across the globe. As further splits occur after the Alt Right’s violence in Charlottesville, McNallen and the AFA’s choice to continue supporting the white nationalist contingent should further be a marker to disassociate them from the heathen community they desperately want to define.

What will do the job is quarantining his followers, support network and those advancing his ideology under other names. Declaration 127 is a powerful example of how collective action can contain such groups and lay the foundation for effective confrontation of their politics, ideology and works. Even with this potent precedent more needs to be done. The Asatru Folk Assembly is, sadly, not the lone example of Folkish Heathenry or fascist ideology active in Paganism.

Anti-Fascist Pagans are uniquely positioned to counter ideologues like Stephen McNallen, Augustus Sol Invictus and any others who spring up in the coming days. We live in times that are a greenhouse for fascism yet they are not the only ones who benefit. The scales have fallen from the eyes of many as the greed, exploitation and disregard for human life at the root of Neo-Liberal Capitalism is made plain for all to see. Just as these conditions have given rise to fascism they are also providing potent fuel for a Left that has been deprived of oxygen and space for far too long. In society and spirituality an understanding of ethics, practice and values centered on human needs over human greed has become more possible than it ever has at any point since 1917.

Even with the opportunity at hand victory is not assured. Organizing, mass education, and mutual aid projects plants the seeds of the new society, providing a vision that can really unseat fascist resurgence. The danger of fascist groups, ideologies and organizations, cannot be underestimated either. At one time this movement was used as a dagger to plunge into the heart of the left and humane alternatives to the status quo. Its steel was wielded to keep the people in line during the Cold War. Now, facing either exploitation or barbarity, there is an opportunity to change the dynamic. In and out of our spiritual communities we can transform how people view human relations, society and community. That can only happen through confronting fascism’s threat, and a movement that goes beyond its insurrection and heads to the roots of the system that birthed it.


Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a Heathen devoted to Odin living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the co-founder of Heathens United Against Racism, a founding member of Golden Gate Kindred, is active in the environmental justice and anti-police brutality movements, and recently completed his Masters in modern Middle East History and economics.

Shane Burley

Shane 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

Editorial: The Witch Hunt That Wasn’t

Five months ago, we published a piece called, “Confronting the New Right,” an information page designed to supplement an essay about a Fascist candidate for elected office in Florida, Augustus Sol Invictus.

It caused a bit of controversy.

Though the article about Invictus was viewed only about 1000 times, the information page eclipsed that article by a factor of ten. “Confronting The New Right” was viewed 10,000 times, becoming the third most accessed essay on Gods&Radicals (behind Sean Donahue’s excellent essay, “The Neurobiology of Re/enchantment” and my review of Alex Mar’s book, Witches of America.)

Neither its extreme popularity or the controversy surrounding “Confronting the New Right” surprised me. What did take me aback, however, was the reaction some ‘leaders’ had to the piece, some of whom I’d worked closely with as the co-founder and co-organiser of the first Many Gods West.  Pagan and Polytheist figures who’d otherwise presented themselves as bulwarks against racism and fascist entryism became very quick to denounce Gods&Radicals and the page about the New Right. Some even joined in on personal attacks and physical threats against myself and other Gods&Radicals writers

While a few of these figures do hold racist, nationalist, or fascist views, none openly disagreed with the general thrust of my argument. Only a few suggested that the New Right shouldn’t be worried about, or that fascism was a non-existent threat. Rather, their primary arguments were on the matter of authority.

Respect Your Elders….

I provided four suggestions for those concerned with the New Right. The two involving spiritual leaders attracted the most rancor:

  • Demand clear stances from leaders: If a leader of any Pagan tradition seems to equivocate on questions of race, identity, or politics, or if they seem to have odd associations with New Right figures, ask them to clarify their stance, especially if they are ‘your’ leader.  Just because they are older or more experienced doesn’t mean they are beyond question; in fact, claiming ‘authority’ as an ‘elder’ or ‘priest’ leads to all manner of abuses, including spiritual abuse.
  • Challenge divine proclamations: While it’s certainly possible that a god may have told someone to do something awful, that’s hardly an excuse to do something awful.  The sacred has long been used by violent people to justify violence, by hateful people to justify hatred, and by authoritarian people to justify authoritarianism.  Just because someone is a ‘professional’ priest or diviner or witch doesn’t mean that their statements about the gods are true. Especially question commands that might grant the giver of the message power over you, or lead you to see a group of people as ‘an enemy.’

I presented both of these suggestions to help address a problem I’d noted in many Pagan-related groups. Many leaders seemed to equivocate on matters related to inclusion of minorities, or declined to criticize other groups who held racist, trans-exclusionist, or homophobic views. Asking leaders for clear stances seemed a common-sense approach to this problem–after all, if they’re ‘our’ leaders, they should be clear.

A common complaint to this suggestion was that I was attempting to ‘politicize’ Pagan groups. In such a view, though, being inclusive is political, while excluding people is not. Many of those who held such a view fell back upon their own perceived roles as priests to the gods, founders of traditions, or bearers of special knowledge. Suggesting that readers use their own discernment on such matters, rather than default to divine proclamations, challenged this strategy.

One essay by a Pagan leader became typical of the panic these two suggestions caused.  In his essay, A Wind That Tastes of Ashes, John Michael Greer accused me of demogoguery, warning:

…he urges them to challenge the traditional roles of Pagan elders and leaders, and to break down boundaries between different traditions. If you’re a demagogue out to bully and bluster your way to unearned power, the respect others give to community leaders and elders is a major obstacle. The tendency of different groups within the community to look to their leaders and elders, rather than to you, is another. Breaking down these particular obstacles is also, by the way, standard Marxist strategy, which suggests where Wildermuth may have gotten his grasp of the demagogue’s trade.

I am, of course, a Marxist. And an Anarchist, a Feminist, a Pagan, and a Polytheist. And I did indeed suggest we challenge the traditional roles of Pagan elders and leaders. But why, precisely? Because I was seeking unearned power? Or as he and others suggested elsewhere, I am a Marxist entryist looking to sabotage already-existing groups rather than build my own?

No.  Rather, it was because of stuff like the Asatru Folk Assembly’s announcement on the 21st of August:

AFA

The Asatru Folk Assembly, founded by Stephen McNallen and supported heavily by many people within the New (and old) Right, is not the only Pagan-aligned group to hold such views. But what I have long found worrisome is that such groups have rarely been so clear about their positions, nor are they often challenged by others.

For instance, Steve Abell, the former steersman of the Troth (the largest Heathen organisation in the world), refused to take strong stances against AFA’s rhetoric. Abell once even wrote an essay lauding Stephen McNallen’s civility while suggesting that a staunch anti-racist, Ryan Smith, was attempting to revive the “Inquisition” by confronting AFA’s racism.

Steve Abell was hardly the only leader to have painted the sort of white nationalist rhetoric that AFA uses as civil while insisting those who confront it are initiating “witchhunts.” More interesting, though, several AFA members led the charge against Gods&Radicals on this very point (many of the comments in Greer’s essay  and several blog posts shared by other critics are from one such member), framing the controversy around Confronting the New Right not as one of racism versus inclusion but rather innocent victims defending themselves from angry radicals.

Such a switch starts to sound like obfuscation, an attempt to silence critics who challenge the power of white (often male) leaders and elders who have long either ignored the political implications of their views, or actively attempted to hide them (as AFA often did).

But We’re Not Political…

Religious claims have political implications, especially those arguing for exclusion or strict hierarchy. Consider AFA’s claim that gender is ‘a gift from the holy powers and our ancestors,’ rather than a social construct. Something coming from ‘the holy powers’ (gods) is no different from claiming it to be ‘divinely ordained,’ just as some polytheists claim authority and hierarchy to be.

If the gods declared it, then any person faithful to the gods must accept this, lest they go against their will.

In such a view, the divine order (gender and sexual orientation, in the case of the AFA, or authority and hierarchy, in the case of some polytheists) is apolitical; any attempt to alter it is a politicization of something that should instead be sacred. Thus, on one hand there is the will of the gods, and against it stands radicals, ‘cultural marxists,’ or demagogues.

But who declares what is sacred? Who tells us what the will of the gods is?

Why, of course, the priests. The elders. The leaders. People who have a vested interest in hierarchy and a respect for authority, because they are at the top of it.

We are told merely to trust that devoted priests of the gods, founders or leaders of spiritual traditions, and elders who have accumulated years of influence have a better grasp of what the gods want than we do. Their experience, their ‘professional’ roles, their expertise should unquestioningly give more weight to their words than those of others, especially when the question arises as to what the gods will for humans.

There are some leaders I trust, some elders whose words I heed much sooner than others, some priests whose insights into the divine has proven repeatedly to be sound. But the trust I grant them comes not from their position as leader, or elder, or priest, but from my own experience with them.

Also, they each have something in common: they never pull rank.  Rather than relying upon a divine order of hierarchy or a sense of innate authority, they speak as fellow humans, themselves sharply aware of the possibility they might be wrong.

None demand I listen to them. None suggest they possess special powers or specific expertise that others cannot possess. None demand I follow them, nor are they surrounded by people who believe them to be any different from themselves.

Whether those who would claim the ability to speak on behalf of the gods (yet rely upon claims of divinely-ordained hierarchies and authority) are just deluded or seeking more power is impossible to know. Does the current AFA Alsherjargothi, Matt Flavel, really have the ability to know what the ‘holy powers’ have ordained regarding gender and sex?

We can’t answer this, and it’s maybe not even the right question.  Instead, we should be asking why anyone would accept such a claim, and why other Pagans and Polytheists–themselves leaders–insist that questioning authority and hierarchy is equivalent to a witch hunt.

The Witch Hunt That Wasn’t

Witches, of course, were not people in power. They were not leaders, large land holders or rich aristocrats. They were not bishops and priests, leaders of churches or even their community.

Instead, they were women, often those who did not conform to ‘divinely ordained’ standards of gender expression and sexual activity. The charges against them included dressing like men, having sex with other women and with the devil. They were often accused of undermining the authority of rulers, going against the strictures God ordained and priests declared. They refused the authority of man in favor of their own wills and desires.

They were disobedient, unruly and unruled. Just as the heretics the Catholic Church hunted claimed their own ability to hear God was equal to that of the priests, witches refused to settle for the divine order dictated to them.

Witch pullIt is not–and never has been–the leaderless, the self-ruled, and the self-possessed who hunted down innocents because they disagreed with their opinions. There is a reason history is not full of stories of racists or white nationalists finding burning crosses in their yards or being lynched. Likewise,  we do not hear of homophobes dragged behind trucks for miles, or burned alive, or slaughtered en-masse at a night club.

There has been no great ‘witch-hunt’ against fascist and authoritarian Polytheists by leftist neopagans. No leaders were strung up by the readers of Gods&Radicals, violently purged and shoved into ghettos or camps.

But some leaders have been challenged, and that’s what they fear most.

Those who claim that I or any other critic of authoritarian or New Right Paganism are attempting to initiate a witch-hunt know full well they have no such thing to fear. What they do have to lose, though, is their influence and power.

If I suggest you might be able to speak to the gods yourself, or if I and others (as in the recent My Polytheism series) assert you might be able to craft your own relationship with the divine rather than relying on self-proclaimed priests, then self-appointed leaders will have to find other ways of gaining our respect.

If people start questioning artificial ideas of hierarchy or divinely-ordained authority, leaders will have to earn our respect the way the rest of us do, step down from their pedestals and thrones and learn alongside us. They’ll have to find their own power and their own place within our varied traditions, and do the real work of building community, rather than authoritarian structures based on hierarchy.

In such a Paganism, statements about ‘the holy powers’ ordaining gender and sexuality will be seen as what they are–political opinions of racist, sexist, and anti-gay leaders who have too long hidden their ideas behind authority and the gods, expecting the faithful to fall in line.

I’m proud to help build such a Paganism.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd manyis the co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals.

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.