Anti-fascism in the United States has two deep problems, neither of which can easily be unraveled. The first problem, which is the foundation of the second, is that it cannot accurately identify precisely who or what a fascist actually is.
This first problem can best be shown from a rather amusing conversation I recently encountered regarding myself and Gods&Radicals Press (where I am the managing editor). It turns out, according to some deeply wise Twitter commentators, that I’m a fascist, or possibly a proto-fascist, or an anarcho-nationalist with white-nationalist leanings.
Their evidence? A recent essay regarding the commons, an essay critiquing racial and gender essentialism, and an anti-imperialist essay.
While it’s tempting to dismiss such a conversation and laugh about the general absurdity of American social media “call outs,” their error points to something much more endemic than mere ignorance or poor reading skills. The essays selectively cited do indeed contain some ideas that could be mistaken as fascist, but not because the ideas themselves are fascist. For instance: the essay on reclaiming the commons from an anti-colonial perspective mentions the word “land” a lot. Some fascists also wish to reclaim land. Likewise, the essay against imperialism shares with some fascist tendencies a disgust for the occupation of peoples by the military. And my critique of social justice essentialism criticizes non-Marxist “feminist” reduction of men to their bodies and genitals.
That is, what the commentators were looking for were signs of fascist ideology, ticking off boxes on a checklist of fascist traits. But unfortunately, opposition to fascism is not as easy as completing a Buzzfeed quiz or reading an Everyday Feminism listicle.
In this error they are hardly alone. American antifascist organizing has faced a much larger difficulty identifying precisely who’s a fascist, or even whether any particular idea is indicative of fascist ideology. This problem leads to all sorts of practical problems, particularly when it comes to organizing against groups and theorists on the far-right who don’t fit into traditional stereotypes of fascism.
Two examples should suffice to show the problem here. First of all, Jack Donovan and the group to which he belongs, The Wolves of Vinland, cannot easily be classified as fascist according to popularly-accepted metrics. Donovan is specifically anti-imperialist, criticizes capitalism and anti-globalisation, rejects racism, and is homosexual. In addition, The Wolves of Vinland might be better described as a Pagan body-cult than a “Fascist counter-cultural tribe” , particularly because they not only do they not participate in demonstrations and have rejected alliances with alt-right groups, but have absolutely no interest in seizing political power or taking control of the state. So any litmus strip we might apply to either Donovan or the Wolves of Vinland in order to determine whether they are fascist will come back completely clean.
Likewise, fascists are at least according to popular understanding supposed to be anti-Black, anti-gay, and most definitely anti-Semitic. So that makes encountering the occasionally violent ideas of Milo Yiannopolous quite difficult: he is homosexual, has a Black man as a lover, and also happens to be Jewish. That is, he isn’t anti-Black, nor anti-gay, nor precisely anti-semitic, yet we still generally see his ideas as fascist.
This nebulous nature of Fascism also means that many leftists find themselves considered fascist because of their adherence to ideas which appear (at least at first glance) to be of fascist provenance. For instance, the anarchist publisher Little Black Cart and its publications have been repeatedly identified as fascist by other anarchists because of their anti-civilizationist and eco-extremist tendencies, both of which appear (under a glance no more attentive than what is needed for a Teen Vogue article) to be identical to some white-nationalist positions.
Similarly, those who use the works of clearly leftist philosophers such as Max Stirner or even Slavoj Zizek are often painted with a fascist brush because of the similarities between both philosophers’ rejection of Liberal Democratic capitalism and the European Nouvelle Droit’s rejections of the same regime.
This inability to distinguish between right-wing (and fascist) critiques of Liberal Democracy leads to the second and more intractable problem within American Anti-fascism. That problem? By mis-identifying Marxist and other far-left opposition to Liberal Democracy as fascist, antifascists end up siding with Capitalist interests and becoming defenders of Liberal Democracy. That is, in an attempt to fight off white supremacists and other far right challenges to the state, antifascists can enable the state to continue its oppression against the very people antifascists claim to defend.
The Revolutionary Right
Thus Matthew N Lyons’ forthcoming book, Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, is a deeply needed work.
In the title itself, Lyons begins to unravel inherited, popular misconceptions about the entire political constellation in which we (often clumsily) attempt to locate fascism. Generally (at least within liberal and “progressive” anti-fascist currents), the far right is not considered a threat to Empire, but to be the political foundation of Empire itself. But while to speak of an anti-imperialist far-right seems oxymoronic, Lyons provides an almost overwhelming onslaught of detail as to how much of the Far Right is predicated on a critique of and opposition to liberal democratic imperialism.
Opposition to global capitalism and the international governance organizations which protect it, fierce criticism (sometimes backed by weapons) of oppressive policing and surveillance apparatuses, and moral reprehension at imperialist US foreign policy in the Middle East have all been parts of many movements within the Far Right in the United States. For instance, consider the following words:
When a U.S. plane or cruise missile is used to bring destruction to a foreign people, this nation rewards the bombers with applause and praise. What a convenient way to absolve these killers of any responsibility for the destruction they leave in their wake.
Unfortunately, the morality of killing is not so superficial. The truth is, the use of a truck, a plane or a missile for the delivery of a weapon of mass destruction does not alter the nature of the act itself.
These are weapons of mass destruction — and the method of delivery matters little to those on the receiving end of such weapons.
Whether you wish to admit it or not, when you approve, morally, of the bombing of foreign targets by the U.S. military, you are approving of acts morally equivalent to the bombing in Oklahoma City …
These words by Timothy McVeigh (the far-right bomber of a federal building In Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, many of them children) might just as easily have been written by indigenous resistance leaders, the Black Panthers, or other leftist revolutionary groups in the United States. Or as I note in an essay about him, many of Jack Donovan’s critiques of the police state and of liberal democracy could just as easily have been written by those same groups.
Unlike those leftist revolutionary groups and also unlike Jack Donovan, Timothy McVeigh was a white nationalist, expressing fondness for the white supremacist book The Turner Diaries, as well as selling copies of it at gun shows. And so there is where someone like McVeigh fits into our preconceived notions of what makes a fascist…except as Lyons points out in his book, white supremacist ideas are not a clear indicator of fascism, either.
That difficulty of pinning down precisely what makes someone on the far right a fascist might otherwise plague such a book as his, but Lyons wisely dispenses with the question altogether until the very end (a previously-published essay included as appendix). Rather than attempt to build a catalogue of fascist ideologies and movements in the United States, he instead details all the Far Right movements which intersect with this slippery category.
The first part of Insurgent Supremacists provide a detailed sketch of five ideological movements (Neo-Nazis, Christian Dominionists/Theocrats, The Alt-Right, the Patriot movements, and the LaRouche Network), and at least for the first four groups, readers with only a surface understanding of Right-wing ideology may find themselves surprised to learn how thoroughly different each ideology is from the others. While crossovers absolutely exist, many of the adherents of each group would be just as likely to vehemently oppose the other groups as to claim them as fellow travelers.
In the second section, Lyons then looks at each group again through the lens of their views on gender & sexuality, decentralization, and anti-imperialism, and here again the average anti-fascist may find their original analysis uncomfortably complicated by what Lyons details. Particularly of interest are the problems of anti-imperialism and decentralization (anti-federalist– or in some cases even anti-government–positions ), both of which are critiques autonomous Marxists and anarchists share with many on the far right (albeit for different reasons).
The third section, however, is the most useful and unfortunately the most short. In it, Lyons discusses the complicated relationship that police and the FBI have had with far right groups, as well as the influence the Liberal political structures (especially the Democratic Party) has had on creating the conditions for the rise of these groups as well as increasing police oppression of society at large in the name of fighting them. Returning to McVeigh’s bombing, Lyons points out:
The Clinton administration also used the Oklahoma City bombing to help win passage of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which loosened restrictions on the wiretapping and other surveillance of alleged “terrorists,” expanded the use of secret evidence to deport non- citizens (which means that the defendants have no opportunity to see the evidence being used against them), and, in the words of legal journalist Lincoln Caplan, “gutted the federal writ of habeas corpus, which a federal court can use to order the release of someone wrongly imprisoned.” The law made the death penalty more “effective” by making it much more difficult for death row inmates to appeal their sentences, even though a notoriously high proportion of death sentences have been shown to have serious flaws.” (174)
Antifascist Alliances with the Capitalist State
In fact, it’s Lyons’ consistent (but understated) criticism of liberal politics throughout his discussion of the Far Right that makes Insurgent Supremacists most useful. Lyons runs directly counter to most popular antifascist thought by insisting that the Far Right is not made up of idiots without political sensibilities or actual grievances. People like McVeigh were absolutely right to be incensed about the government’s slaughter of innocents in Waco or at Ruby Ridge, just as many of those who supported Trump in the recent election had absolutely legitimate grievances against the Democratic Party’s destructive hyper-capitalist economic policies and imperialist expansionary foreign policy positions.
Of course, such a position runs counter not only to the received wisdom of many antifascists, but stands directly in opposition to Liberal dismissals of the Right as merely ignorant or hateful. Accepting this Liberal position is how antifascists have gotten to the place they’re in now, finding themselves continuously pulled toward the Democratic Party’s “centrist” positions and thus unable to distinguish a leftist from a fascist.
This is not merely an unfortunate problem of mis-identification, however. As in the case of McVeigh, Lyons points out that antifascism and opposition to far right ideologies have historically sometimes served to increase State violence and power.
Many people think of growing state repression as a trend toward fascism. But these events of the 1930s and ’40s highlight the fact that antifascism can itself serve as a rationale for increasing repression, as Don Hamerquist has pointed out: “when did this country outlaw strikes, ban seditious organizing and speech, intern substantial populations in concentration camps, and develop a totalitarian mobilization of economic, social, and cultural resources for military goals? Obviously it was during WWII, the period of the official capitalist mobilization against fascism, barbarism and for ‘civilization.’” (166)
The particular difficulty here, which Lyons touches on occasionally, is that the political interests of Capital are able to manipulate opposition to far right ideologies, particularly through the Democratic Party. And here many looking for easier answers will likely either dismiss or take offense at his discussion about whether or not Trump (or the US government in general) is fascist or in “process” of becoming fascist.
Each of these claims that the U.S. government or public officials are driving us toward fascism represents a misuse of the term, one that blurs the line between fascism and the more repressive, racist, and militaristic sides of the United States’ liberal- pluralist political system (181)
Radical journalist Alexander Reid Ross argued that we should look at fascism “as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘outcome’,” and that “Trumpism” was “part of a process of ‘fascist creep,’ meaning a radicalization of conservative ideology that increasingly includes fascist membership while deploying fascist ideology, strategy, and tactics.” This approach rightly emphasized that many political initiatives occupy a gray area between fascist and conservative politics and that the political character of such initiatives can change over time. But Ross simply assumed that Trump’s campaign—unlike previous right- wing populist candidates such as George Wallace and Pat Buchanan—had an inherent tendency to move toward fascism and would not be co- opted by the established political system. (197)
But then, if Trump isn’t fascist and if many of the implementations of oppressive (and often explicitly racist) policies and powers of the United States isn’t fascist either, than what exactly is fascism? In an appendix of the book, Lyons discusses the difficulty of defining fascism and looks at others’ attempts to do so before coming up with a definition that will satisfy very few:
Fascism is a revolutionary form of right- wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.
This definition will be unsatisfactory to most because of what it doesn’t explicitly include (white supremacy, misogyny) as well as what it does include (a challenge to capitalist political and cultural power). With such a definition we are forced to question almost everything we think we know about fascism’s traits, and find none of our checklists or listicles make sense anymore.
That’s a good thing, but with a caveat. Because the culture of constant reaction within America, especially via the reductionist forms of internet “discourse,” makes it very likely that capitalists and the government which serves their interest will continue to summon antifascists to their defense. While the challenge fascism presents to capitalist power is not our challenge, we must avoid making façile concessions to the Liberal Democratic state out of fear that the fascists might win. As Lyons points out in the case of the House UnAmerican Activities Committe during the middle of the last century (which was originally set up to prosecute fascists!), supporting (or even celebrating) government repression of the far right always empowers the state to then turn its weapons on the left.
Antifascists can and must oppose both the capitalist liberal democratic state as well as fascists, and must do so always at the same time. To make alliances with the state against the Far Right which threatens it will also lead the left to abandon their own challenge to the state, cutting off our nose to spite the face.
Rhyd Wildermuth is a co-founder of Gods&Radicals and one of its co-editors. He is currently teaching a course on Marxism, and currently lives in Bretagne. Follow his dispatches from other shores here.
This is the second part of Wolves In the Interregnum, a series on Jack Donovan, Paul Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland.
Author’s note:In my previous essay, I focused extensively on the aesthetic on Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland, while heavily critiquing the moralistic reactions against that aesthetic. For some, this may no doubt seem unfair, if not outright antagonistic to the very tendencies which attempt to resist fascist movements. Why criticize American social justice and bourgeois/liberal feminism in an essay about a rising fascist threat?
The reason for such an apparent inversion will be made quite clear as we look at how the Wolves and others have rather brilliantly occupied the anti-modern and anti-globalisation politics abandoned by ‘The Left.’
Another World Was Possible…
In the last part of the 1990’s and the first few years of the 21st century, massive manifestations filled the streets of major cities of the world. These protests were part of what was called the anti-globalisation or alter-mondialiste movement, and had the astounding ability to unite people across wide spectrums of political orientation into a common struggle. Environmentalists, immigrants, labor unions, indigenous-rights groups, and even many people traditionally seen as right-wing arrived in major cities throughout the world to fight against governments, multi-national corporations, and global finance organisations.
While it is impossible to distill the myriad of political goals of the protesters, we can more easily summarize the changes in international governance, political distribution, and the regulations of global capital against which they protested.
Brokered by nations and corporate leaders, international trade agreements such as NAFTA and the GATT reduced the power of local governments, communities, and unions over the economic, environmental, and cultural activities of the people which composed or were supported by them. Meanwhile, large international monetary orgaisations like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank used economic crises to force austerity and privatization policies upon nations in the global south, effectively nullifying the popular will of the people through the use of weaponized debt.
All of this was happening at once, all over the world, and the consequences have been myriad. Environmental degradation in South America and Africa, mass suicides of farmers in India, famines, explosive immigration from poorer countries to richer ones, collapses of entire nations, the reduction of diversity in agriculture and the extinction of species, the weakening of trade and labor unions throughout the world, and the destruction of countless communities as local industries were destroyed and factories shut down….all of this is just a part of what the anti-globalisation movement fought against.
Partially due to the all-too conveniently-timed ‘war on terror’ and systematic counter-revolutionary actions, the mass mobilizations of the anti-globalisation movement are long-gone, and few of the critiques remain in the political platforms of any leftist or liberal movement in the United States or the United Kingdom.
However, the damage done did not simply disappear when there was no movement to fight it, and much of the current political turmoil in which we find ourselves now is a consequence both of globalisation and the left’s abandonment of that fight. The rise of fascist, Islamist and nationalist movements, acceleration of climate change, increasing poverty, mass displacement, and countless other crises can be linked to the spread of global capital. The closure of factories, the shift of investment from manufacturing to finance and internet technology, and the obliteration of local economies happened just as the protesters feared, but as with much else, rage against this destruction resurfaced as part of the platform of the fascist right, as well as featuring heavily in the political campaign of Donald Trump and the exit of the UK from the European Union (Brexit).
Just as with other elements of leftist abandonment, the political platforms of the anti-globalisation movement didn’t go away: they are now being wielded towards new goals by fascist, nationalist, and authoritarian movements against which antifascists now find themselves in a losing battle.
One of those groups? The Wolves of Vinland.
As with their aesthetic, The Wolves present an anti-modern ideology, one that rejects Empire (or in Donovan’s words, “The Empire of Nothing”) in favor of societies formed around tribal affinities and self-selection. Crucial to such a transition is the rejection of the hegemonic rule of Liberal Democracy not just over individual and group actions, but also over self-perception and our own modes of thought. As the manifesto of Operation Werewolf puts it:
“It is not a political statement, but a bloody fist shaken in the face of all institutions of control- a furious bite to the hands that seek to leash or enslave. It is not right or left, but free of these shackles of modern dualistic thinking- it operates under the assumption that the Kings of this world have become so through the forked tongue of finance and fear, and it rejects their offerings. The warriors who make up Operation Werewolf know that the true heroes are those who are self made, physically and mentally strong, free thinkers and free doers who are both untamed and unrepentant.”
While Waggener gives very little time to political analysis, Jack Donovan does much more (it was he, after all, who was invited to a European New Right think tank). Operation Werewolf functions primarily as the self-improvement wing of The Wolves, while Donovan’s writing focuses much more on political theory. Consider Donovan’s response during a Reddit ‘ask me anything’ to a question regarding why tribalism has “a bad rap”:
“The anti-tribalist/anti-racist hysteria promoted by the progressive media is too convenient for wealthy elites. They are, for the most part, protected from the negative consequences of the “melting pot.” The wealthy can afford security, and they can afford to live wherever they like, and they can afford to send their children to whatever schools they prefer. The representatives from other groups that they and their families interact with most are often going to be very well socialized or very successful. It’s the lower and lower middle class proles who are forced, whether they like it or not, to interact with groups of people who have radically different values or cultures.
Tribalism is inconvenient for wealthy globalists. To begin with, it creates instability that can threaten their investments. They can also make more money when they are free to outsource labor, move a factory, or import goods made in places with a lower standard of living.
If people are convinced that they are “world citizens” and shouldn’t expect any kind of local or national loyalty, globalist elites won’t have to be confronted with any sort of crisis of conscience when they sell out their neighbors and countrymen.”
Any reader who was politically-active during the WTO protests or any of the other manifestations comprising the anti-globalisation movement will recognize much of this rhetoric. For The Wolves, Empire is almost identical to what (anarchists) Hardt and Negri outlined in their books, as well as what most autonomous Marxists, post-colonialists, many Green Anarchists, and anti-civ theorists criticize: Liberal (Capitalist) Democratic hegemony. But also, something is obviously off, racialized, about their rhetoric.
Immigrants As Victims, Immigrants As Weapons
First, let us acknowledge the core problem which Donovan cites in his response: the mobility of global capitalism has made it impossible for local politicians and small communities to fight capitalist policies. No matter how strong the local resistance to the closing of a factory in the rust belt of the United States is, as long as the owner of that factory can re-invest their capital in another market, local protest—even violent protest–is useless. As long as cheaper labor can be found elsewhere, and provided no punitive tariffs on re-imporation are levied by governments, it will always be a good business decision for a corporation to move its production to a cheaper labor market. Because of the success of capitalist globalisation, no local political movement can effectively exert control over global capital.
Simultaneously, so-called ‘Free Trade’ agreements destroy the local economies outside the United States even more than within. The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed into law in 1994, ravaged the economy of Mexico, leading to massive spikes in immigration (‘legal’ and otherwise) to the United States. For instance, in 1990, the amount of Mexican nationals living in the United states was 4.3 million; in 2000 on account of Liberal capitalist policies, that number more than doubled to 9.17 million.
It is impossible to understate the effect that adding so many more workers into the United States had both on wages and on unions, as well as the ‘cultural’ disruption 5 million more people (in a country of 280 million) would represent. Similar changes occurred in Europe as well.
Here, though, we must make a distinction between the far-right analysis of such events, the liberal one, and the (currently abandoned) leftist understanding. While the right often sees the immigrants themselves as the problem, a liberal sees only the anti-immigrant racism of the people (white, Black, or otherwise) in the communities into which they migrate as the problem. Both focus entirely on the matter of the immigrants themselves, rather than the forces which cause people to become immigrants in the first place.
From a Marxist view, immigrants are doubly-exploited people who function both as victim of oppression and political tool for the capitalist. Liberal economic policies (and foreign military actions) destroy the economies of other nations. Those people make the obviously difficult yet economically-inevitable decision to leave their countries to find work elsewhere. Yet when they arrive, they then function as a ‘reserve labor force’ to drive down wages in the country to which they moved, breaking the power of organized labor.
Racial tensions greatly help this process. When Black or white workers in the United States begin losing jobs or finding their wages stagnating, they accurately note a relationship between their deteriorating economic conditions and the sudden influx of immigrants. However, they miss the larger processes which entrap both the immigrants and themselves, and they can be somewhat forgiven for this failure: relentless media hype about illegal immigration, conservative politicians happy to employ racial fears for votes, and liberal politicians eager to dismiss white workers’ complaints as anti-progressive or downright stupid, all helped to insure neither the immigrants nor the workers united against the primary cause of their common suffering.
To understand how this process works, consider the plight of Russian Jewish immigrants fleeing violence to Israel, where they are then given land in occupied territories and used by the Israeli government as a buffer against Palestinian rage. Or, further back, Europeans fleeing Capitalist enclosure of land to America, then given “free” land in return for helping to kill Native Americans. In both cases, the initial displacement which victimized the people who became immigrants was later wielded to turn the immigrants themselves into weapons of Capital.
None of the current political movements accurately address quite what is happening. Unfortunately, the social justice framework is particularly shallow here: it sides with immigrants not on economic grounds, but on the field of identity and oppression (precisely as the far right does, but in inverse). While immigrants absolutely face racist oppression, the social justice political strategy ignores that this oppression is a continuation of their economic exploitation, rather than a mere moral issue. The economic exploitation of immigrants is bound-up in the same capitalist machinations which deteriorate the economic conditions of the working-class whites which Social Justice activists see as the alpha-oppressor. So while the Left stopped addressing the economic suffering of whites as the ‘working class’ (in favor of focusing on social oppression), their economic suffering continues regardless, making them a ripe field for harvesting by far-right ideologues like Donovan.
Here we can see that, as in so much else of his writing, Donovan is not really wrong in his analysis. The ‘wealthy elites’ to whom he refers do not encounter the refugees and immigrants displaced by their policies or for their profit. None of the politicians who voted for NAFTA, none of the executives of multi-national corporations, and none of the finance brokers of large investment banks experience the direct effects of their decisions, cultural or otherwise. Neither, though, will the investors who reap dividends from those moves, nor will many of the urban liberal bourgeoisie (be they tech workers or hipster business owners) even encounter the immigrants or the disgruntled working-class who directly experience these shocks except as the house-cleaners, construction workers, janitors, or the countless other manual servants who support their lifestyles.
Donovan is not really wrong, but he is also not really right, either. The ‘wealthy elites’ against which he warns benefit both from anti-racism and racism alike. “Elite” (Bourgeois) liberals and conservatives both manipulate the poor beneath them; the Capitalist class wields racist rhetoric to manipulate poor whites against Blacks and immigrants at the very same time that it wields identity politics against those whites. With both hands, the capitalists ensure those upon whom the entire system is built never unite against them.
Conservative-inspired white violence against immigrants ensures that those immigrants remain passive and compliant victims of global capital; Liberal social justice identity politics makes sure that the circumstances and primary cause of that violence is seen not as a result of capitalist policies, but as a result of the white (cis/able-bodied/hetero/male) it identifies as alpha-oppressor. It is a game in which capitalists have bet on both teams, and while the Left stands in the stadium slack-jawed, Donovan has been picking their pockets.
The Violence of the Gilded Age
It is here where we can begin to see that the threat the Wolves poses to antifascists is not what any of his critics think. It is not his virulent brand of misogyny, nor his intoxicating aesthetic, nor even his increasing influence and popularity. Rather, it’s that he’s beating the Left at their own politics, occupying ideological and intellectual territory they forgot they even once possessed, and building a racialized movement with the tools we left behind.
Nowhere is this best seen than in the speech he gave at Schollenrode to a New Right think-tank in February. The 20 minute presentation, called “Violence is Golden,” outlines his primary critique of Liberal Democracy and the modern world.
“We all live by the sword. Every law is a shaking sword, a glock at close range, a hungry pair of handcuffs. Every hate speech law, every anti-discrimination law, every tax that extorts the money you earned and gives it to someone you would never willingly help, who may even hate you, is backed by the threat of violence. IThe people who say they want safe spaces and peace and love will send men with guns to threaten to kill you if you do not do what you want.”
“The prevailing narrative of the Empire of Nothing—the phrase I use to describe the network of governments …is that ‘violence is evil, violence is something others do, violence something that outsiders do, something that criminals and outlaws and sick people do, violence is a disease some kind of affliction that can be cured…they believe it is a symptom of ‘toxic masculinity.’
…old rulers were proud of what they won.and defended using violence…those that give names in modern democratic states obscure that violence…
State violence is euphemized and obscured by terms like law enforcement when a criminal shoots someone its violence, when the police shoot someone its law enforcement.
Democratic violence must be presented as a reluctant, nurturing correction When acts of violence are morally sterilized in this way, good, modern civilized people can absolve themselves of the reality that the laws and regulations they depend on are obeyed only because wielding tasers tears gas batons and firearms. When you accept and internalize this narrative that violence is evil done only by outlwasd what the state does is something else, you wash the blood from your hands. It is easy to convince yourself that you live nonviolently, that you have evolved beyond violence.”
If many of these statements sound in any way familiar, they should. They are the same arguments once used by the Black Panthers, by indigenous resistance movements, by insurrectionist anarchists, by autonomous Marxists, and by every other leftist critic of Liberal Democratic hegemony in the 20th century. They are the core analysis of state violence inherent in anti-civilationist critics and the essential thrust of Ward Churchill’s deconstruction of liberal ‘nonviolence.’ You can find variations of the same statements in the work of European critical theorists like Zizek and Badiou, as well as in my own writing. In fact, last year I wrote critiques both of the way social justice relies on state violence to enforce hate crime legislation as well as how we help Liberal Democracy obscure the violence it commits on our behalf.
Whether or not Jack Donovan reached this analysis through exposure and study of leftist revolutionary theorists or came upon it through his own path, the fact remains that he wields it better than what passes for the Left in the United States. Mass movements such as Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and the mobilizations against Trump and white supremacy expend extraordinary effort to avoid direct criticism of Liberal Democracy, contorting themselves into almost absurd positions. A coalition of activists involved in Black Lives Matter, for instance, produced a platform that skirted completely the connection between the police and liberal democratic violence, offering police reform as their most radical position. Even the manifestations against white nationalists and alt-right groups by antifascist coalitions refuse to make the connection between the police who protect the fascists and the urban ‘progressive’ social order which prosecutes hate crimes on their behalf.
While anti-fascists heavily rely on ‘no-platforming, this complete leftist abandonment of revolutionary attacks against Liberal Democracy actually gives the far-right their platform. It is as if Leftists built a stage, set up a mic and speakers, and brought in a massive audience, but while they became distracted by Liberal Democratic crises (the war on terror, the 2016 presidential elections) and glittering distractions (gay marriage, identity politics), men like Donovan stumbled upon the script and the live mic and began improvising before an eager crowd.
Because while Jack Donovan and the other theorists of the New/Fascist Right are deeply intelligent, their ideas are completely derivative. They are experts at salvage and refurbishment, but aren’t actually able to create anything new. In this way, they are hardly much different from the Nazis who borrowed endlessly from whatever mythic past they could find, repurposing Leftist critiques and even Liberal Democracy itself, into a deadly configuration.
Most important of the Wolves’ work—and least understood by their critics, is their reclamation of a mythic, anti-modern spirituality in the form of Heathenism. Antifascists, liberals, and conservatives alike tend dismiss these aspects as mere oddity or primitivist nonsense, missing that it is from there they derive their true power.
It is useful here to remember first that before Jack Donovan was a hyper-masculinist Heathen, he was Jack Malabranche, a Satanist who spent much of his time in endless troll-sessions with trans women on internet sites. Those who remember him from that time recount a completely different man, one so insecure with his masculinity and beliefs that he could become enraged at the slightest friendly jab about his figure or perceived intelligence.
In his Heathen incarnation, Donovan finally found a milieu in which he could operate, a mythic system more easily-accessed, and something that Left-Hand path work couldn’t offer: a framework of community. Unlike most Pagan, Witch, and Magician paths, Heathenry in the United States emphasizes familial and friendship bonds, a complete moral code of tribe-based solidarity, and a pre-existing masculinist aesthetic into which even the most awkward, socially-inept man can find a sense that he is something more than just a capitalist failure.
Like the rest of his ideas, Donovan’s Heathenry is largely derivative. The tattoos on his chest are standard: the Black Sun, Icelandic staves: nothing every Black Metal-loving suburban kid doesn’t get by the time he’s 19. His occasional quotations of the Eddas or recounting of Odinic tales to illustrate a point are almost awkward to read: they have a greeting-card quality to them, rather than of someone actually initiated into Odinic mysteries.
Paul Waggener and Operation Werewolf are the more dominant influence. Waggener’s esoteric work, however, is more aesthetics than serious magic—for instance, Vakandibok—a Taufr of Awakening, is frankly not much different in scope than the useless drivel that comes out of major pulp-occult publishers like Llewellyn. However, aesthetically it is significantly different: darker, more primitive, and with significantly less New Age ‘bullshit.’ It also offers a cultural aesthetic far less worshipful of hyper-capitalist modernity than most of what non-racialized Paganism offers.
Ultimately, however, the “ancient” spirituality of the Wolves is a political aesthetic. Here we must remember: it’s too easy to dismiss the aesthetic of romanticist primitivism used by groups like the Wolves of Vinland as “mere” aesthetic, as if aethestic had no power. Vikings, European tribalism, return to simpler and more embodied ways of relating to the world, unsubstantiated and patently false notions of racially-pure pasts cannot be dismissed merely because they are aesthetics divorced from historical fact. So, too, the pretensions of modern life, the religious assurances that technological progress, endless growth, and hyper-consumerism have brought peace and equality are likewise mere aesthetic with no reference to truth. Its falsehood is irrelevant to the truth it creates.
What the Wolves are creating through their spiritual aesthetic is of course not a return to ancient ways of being, but an aesthetic of ancient return against a wholly-alienating capitalist, modern present. Whether they believe themselves to be returning or not is not the point; only that, given enough power, the return will happen in their (false yet now-true) ancient way.
Baudrillard’s point that it is impossible to rob a bank in an ‘inauthentic’ way is important here. You cannot simulate a hold-up: regardless of whether you really mean the gun in your hand, you were honest in your written note to the teller, deeply and truly meant to kill hostages if the money were not delivered, or truthfully meant to return the money afterward, the bank is robbed regardless. Authenticity and faithfulness to the original do not matter: everything is always reproduction of an unapproachable and missing original.
Against The Modern World
Thus, whether or not the Wolves are faithfully copying ancient Germanic religion and culture is a question only a liberal (themselves forgetting that Democracy is likewise inauthentic) might find relevant. For the rest of us, the primitive return to Odinic rites and sacred warrior brotherhoods that the Wolves propose must be seen as a wholly political aesthetic akin to the Marxist creation of the proletariat or the Nazi fabrication of the volk, as well as the social justice creation of the oppression identity. Nation, Race, Gender, and Religion are all likewise political aesthetics whose power is undeniable.
The question thus isn’t whether or not the primitive, Heathen aesthetic of the Wolves is true, but why it has power. Here is where we see yet again another deep failure of the Left, a great abandonment of territory occurring at precisely the same time as the Left largely abandoned anti-globalisation. The globalist (neo-liberal, or actually just Liberal) political transformations that have occurred in the last two decades have done for societies now what Marx noted was accomplished by the bourgeoisie in the 19th century:
“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”
Alienation of the body, destruction of local cultures and communities, destruction of religious systems and moral frameworks around which people cohered: these are all the effects of capital’s globalized spread in the name of civilization:
“It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”
Whilst Marx and Engels argued that such transformations were inevitable and would lead to worldwide class revolt, the Messianic promise never manifested. The industrialisation of work under the religious banner of modernity nevertheless succeeded in disrupting every social relation, destroying every cultural form which stood in its way (indigenous, ancient, or otherwise).
The recent rise of new-old religious and cultural forms (such as the Wolves’ anti-modern Heathenry), then, is a political reaction to global capital, regardless of whether or not they identify it as such. There is nothing actually fascist about such reactions; the Left mistakes anti-modernism as fascist only because it has drank the bloody offerings at Capitalism’s altars of progress. Walter Benjamin noted this in his criticisms of the bourgeois-left political formulations in Europe against which the Surrealists fought, especially their dogmatic belief in the conquest of nature and the march of history:
“Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race travelling in the train applies the emergency brake.”
The world of global capital means more environmental, social, and cultural destruction in the name of progress, modernity, and civilization; thus an anti-modern political aesthetic such as what the Wolves utilize is essentially a reaction to capitalism. But it is not quite an anti-capitalist politics, or isn’t any longer now that these critiques are abandoned by the overly-credulous and hyper-modern Left.
These critiques originate in anarchist, socialist, post-colonialist, and anti-imperialist thought, and were once a primary feature of mass movements against global capital. Anti-imperialism, particularly in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America has always made as one of their foundational critiques the overthrow of French, American, and Anglo attempts to ‘civilize’ the conquered natives. Marxist and Anarchist theories, stripped of their European exceptionalism, transformed alchemically into autonomous movements embracing traditional and indigenous ways of being, and where they became strong enough to influence or transform government (as in Bolivia), their aesthetics were ultimately anti-modern (as for instance Evo Morale’s enshrinement of Pachu Mama as an entity with legal rights).
As with the questions of gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy mentioned in the previous essay, the Wolves and other fascist groups have merely squatted aesthetic political territory ceded by the Left.
Here, much more than elsewhere, American Leftists deserve the fiercest of criticisms. A peculiar sort of American urban exceptionalism has arisen which belittles those who do not partake in bourgeois hipsterism. Those who are not part of urban realities, who do not know (or care) about the latest social media frenzy, who experience the modern as relentless alienation and are slow to be educated into the latest pronoun-shifts or poly-bi-non-pan sexualities are ultimately written-off as reactionaries, just as the political cries of those whose material existence has been shattered by global capitalism’s destruction of factories and communities are dismissed as backward or inherently racist.
Stealing Back What’s Stolen
With no leftist alternative to the relentless death-march of globalisation, what the Wolves of Vinland propose is actually an attractive option. A new-old ancient aesthetic built around familial ties, moral codes, re-approach to the land, tribal community, and ethics of self-fulfillment and the reclamation of the body is precisely what Capitalism cannot promise but what resistance to Capital requires. With the exception of Green anarchist, primitivist, anti-colonial, and indigenous movements, the left dismisses such political aesthetic as fascist or least reactionary. But it is neither, except that it is a ceded territory now occupied by fascists.
The primary weapon of anti-fascist organising in the United States has been the use of protests and disruption to silence the voices of fascists and white supremacists. Such tactics, however, can only suffice if those doing the silencing have something equally compelling to say. Unfortunately, few if any of the political aesthetics antifascists offer speak any longer to the crises caused by these new expansions of global capitalism.
It is not enough to say that immigrants must not be discriminated against. Without a conceptual framework which acknowledges how the economic destruction which causes mass immigration in the first place is tied to global capitalism and the policies of the Democratic party in the United States, the left, by focusing their energies only on the racist aspects of anti-immigrant sentiment, is only treating a tertiary symptom of a systemic disorder. Both the horrible economic plight of the immigrant as well as their structural exploitation as weapons against community coherence must be addressed simultaneously, directing our politics back against the capitalists who initiate and maintain the cycle.
So, too, the left can no longer hope that condescension and belittling of anti-modern politics will suffice to stop those politics arising in the first place. Social alienation, the reduction of the human to worker and consumer, the flattening of urban and non-urban life into a great worldwide market in which the same products and same cultural forms annihilate local difference: all these cultural and societal destructions caused by global capitalism will not go away just because urban leftists have made peace with their Instagram accounts and daily lattes, their iPhones and hip clothing made possible by capitalism’s conquest of the entire world.
Particularly the refusal of American leftists to make connections between the police and military violence which gives them access to the resources of the world must be acknowledged and then fought. The hyper-modern urban existence, cluttered with the technological spoils produced by the very same Capitalist exploitation which destroys both indigenous cultures in the global south as well as those of the poor white worker in the United States, must be abandoned. No longer can we pretend inter-connected existence through Facebook and Twitter are adequate replacements for the resilience of local communities and distinct cultural experiences which they displace.
From there, a solidarity can arise with the colonized peoples who have been fighting to preserve their land, culture, and distinction against Empire’s commodification of the world. From such a solidarity, racist and nationalist rhetoric will be easier to fight; when a Mexican immigrant or a Syrian refugee is seen as an ally of the out-of-work American worker against global capitalism, we will no longer need to silence fascists: the poor white worker will no longer have a reason to listen to them.
Unfortunately, we have few examples of what a re-invigorated, anti-modernist, anti-globalist political aesthetic might look like in America except the Wolves of Vinland, and they are not a model we should emulate, but rather a warning of what is replacing us because we fail.
Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.
This is the first part in Wolves in the Interregnum, a two-part series.
“The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Here in the interregnum arises morbid systems.” –Antonio Gramsci
“Increasingly, people are restless. The engineers group themselves into competing teams, but neither side seems to know what to do, and neither seems much different from the other. Around the world, discontent can be heard. The extremists are grinding their knives and moving in as the machine’s coughing and stuttering exposes the inadequacies of the political oligarchies who claimed to have everything in hand. Old gods are rearing their heads, and old answers: revolution, war, ethnic strife. Politics as we have known it totters, like the machine it was built to sustain. In its place could easily arise something more elemental, with a dark heart.” –The Dark Mountain Manifesto
The Wolf Trap
In what is now Germany, particularly in the area called Lower Saxony, a certain symbol appeared etched on stones and trees, demarcating forests left wild for hunting. In such old forests, the wolf, that heavily-culled European apex predator, still ran free, threatened only by ritualized royal chases in which an iron hook was used to trap them. The shape of the trap inspired those border symbols, which also bore its name: Wolfsangel (Wolf-Hook).
Centuries later, peasants angry at the increasingly authoritarian rule of princes and their refusal to honor ancient land-use customs revolted, wielding the symbol as their banner. In the early part of the 20th century, its most well-known use began, this time not as as symbol of revolt but of authority and Empire itself. Inspired by the 1910 German novel Der Wehrwolf, the Nazi Party and many military regiments adopted its use, which is how most of us know of it now.
The wolfsangel (also the Elder Futhork rune Eihwaz) perhaps best explains the struggle for mythic and ideological territory that has defined many of the conflicts between political forces since the birth of Liberal Democracy. Symbols, myths, and ideas seem to change hands, disappear from one place and reappear in another. Old gods and politics are re-tooled for new, darker uses, then again stolen back. The swastika appears on the feet of the Buddha, also the flag of the Nazis; Gramsci’s formulation of metapolitical change becomes abandoned by European leftists and picked up by the European New Right.
In a recent essay at Gods&Radicals, Peter Gaffney examines this process through Foucault’s reading of Nietzche:
“This is how Foucault understands Nietzsche’s concept of Entstehung, which he translates as l’émergence – or alternately as les points de surgissement (the moments, stages or positions of arising)–, by which a discourse always appears anew in the hands of historically contingent forces:
“Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalized; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose. The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing the rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them; controlling this complex mechanism, they will make it function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules.”
There is a simpler and more raw way to envision this process, that of wars over land or sacred territory. Pope Boniface advised his priests to build their churches upon ancient pagan sites; old sacred wells where people prayed to Pagan goddesses in Europe are now all dedicated to Catholic saints and the Virgin. The sites remain, the power means something beyond the colonization and struggle. The poor and faithful still visit the sites of Druid mountains and Pagan temples, still utter prayers, but the words are different, serving different sacred orders.
It matters who holds that territory, and the wars of occupation and reclamation are fiercest at times when Empire loses its grip. Each of the three Fascist uprisings in Europe occurred at times when Liberal Democracy began to crumble, the ‘interregnum’ in which Gramsci warned ‘monsters’ (or morbid systems) awoke.
We are in a similar period.
In each previous instance, Communists and Anarchists relentlessly ceded mythic territory to the nationalist forces. Fascists have always better understood the relationship of power and aesthetic, because they have no qualms about using them. Leftists still fail to heed Gramsci’s analysis, and rather than employ their own mythic imaginings to awaken a new world against the dying of the old, they choose now (as they did last century) to side with the Empire, that “Liberal center,” which in all three instances proved not only to be poor allies, but eager assassins when the fascist threat finally manifested.
Liberal Democracy is failing again. Capitalism has entered another crisis stage, desperately seeking new resources to extract from ever-dwindling wells. The altars of Progress and Modernity demand offerings, and the priests who tend them are sharpening blades, ready to begin new sacrifices.
Eilhwaz, the wolfsangel, is a powerful symbol. It symbolizes Yew, the graveyard tree, the acceptance of death’s inevitability that leads to heroic acts of reckless courage. As a boundary marker it warned those outside the wild that past its etched symbol roamed death, while granting permission to all those on the other side of it to use violence against what passed from its boundary into the settled lands.
From experience, I also know it to be a most powerful warding rune. It trips up those who stalk your secret meetings, protects from surprise, guards territory, and acts exactly as its name suggests: hooking wolves into a struggle to the death. No counter-magic have others found against my uses of it, though those thus trapped can, with a strong enough will, try to use it to tug back (an ensuing struggle much like we might imagine a wolf hooked by a chain held in the hands of a man might have been).
The Wolfsangel was first shown to me in a vision, the last in a series of four glyphs I learned to use during ancestral work. I have used it since, even after I learned a year later that it was symbol co-opted by the Nazis. While the antifascist ‘left’ has shown themselves quite willing to cede territory in order to keep their liberal allies, I have no intention to, anymore than I will give up the use of the wolfsangel.
That stubborness, that refusal to give up what is mine, what is ours by right of ideological and revolutionary ancestors (of blood or otherwise), is the guiding strategy of this essay. It is also the only way to neuter a threat which exists only by our permission.
On the 18th of February this year, several hundred people gathered to hear a man speak, one who’s dedicated years to studying unpopular European philosophers, seeking knowledge from gods of death and war, and cobbling together an analysis of Modernity’s failings and what might be built from its ruins.
Actually, two men spoke on that subject that day, to two different crowds on two different parts of the planet. Both speakers were ‘gay’ men, though reject that identity in favor of self-determination. Both shape their politics of the world around an aesthetic of wild forest, unrestrained humanity, and a refusal to accept Liberal Democracy’s pretensions of peace and progress.
The first man (whose name I will withhold for a short time) presented an hour-long speech on the west coast of the United States. The other presented a 20-minute talk called “Violence is Golden” in a castle beer hall to a group of European Identitarians at the Institut für Staatspolitik. His name was Jack Donovan.
By now you have probably heard his name. You will read (and I will write) it much more than I or you prefer. So be it, though—to look away is to hide from something we ourselves have birthed and empowered, and something only we can stop.
I will not repeat the clumsy, panicked mistakes in the various recent exposés running through your news feed. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s piece in March was deeply flawed, Slate’s piece just last week was even more a failure. These two articles, as well as many other criticisms, have failed completely to explain his appeal while simultaneously missing the core threat of his ideas. These and many other failures betray a deep and intentional blindness particularly within American anti-fascist and ‘leftist’ thought, the product both of a marriage to Liberal Democratic hegemony and an almost ecstatic abdication of revolutionary territory.
Thus, one cannot accurately criticize Jack Donovan without also criticizing the anti-fascist left who has taken upon themselves the task of (ineptly) opposing him. Likewise, one cannot speak about the dangers the Wolves of Vinland (and Paul Waggener’s “Operation Werewolf”) without also telling long-stifled truths about modern society and the various Pagan, Environmental, and Anarchist movements which the Wolves of Vinland are currently poised to supplant.
This is not a comfortable task, and it is ironic that there is more risk to me in this essay than to its intended targets. That risk is not from the Wolves of Vinland’s brutalist-sculpted ‘warriors’ or their aesthetic of violence. I do not fear the muscles and fight-training of Waggener or Donovan (come at me, bro). Rather, it is from the established orthodoxy of American antifascism and its slavish worship of Liberal Democratic conceits that the vast majority of criticism for this work will likely come.
Already my admission that I am intimately acquainted with the Wolfangel has put me at risk of being considered a crypto-fascist, because many antifascist theorists police their borders not with an eye towards reclaiming lost territory, but with a terror of what lurks beyond the well-lit street lights in the dark forests into which the light of cities can never reach.
Despite the risk, I need to write this essay. Not just because I foresee further territory being abandoned as the American left cuts out its insurrectionary heart and offers it on the altars of progress, praying that the Empire can be saved. Nor do I write this only because the future Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland crave is one I do not want to see in this world. More than anything, I write this essay because, on the same day that Jack Donovan helped provide the intellectual justification for violence to a strengthening European Identitarian movement, I did the same thing for a growing Pagan anti-capitalist movement. I was the other speaker that day, 6000 miles away.
Since noting the dark poetry of such simultaneity, I’ve given extensive time to reading Donovan’s work and regretting that our similarities did not end there. It’s precisely these similarities, however, which both demand that I write this essay while also making such an essay dangerous. We occupy similar territory, outside the urbs of Liberal Democratic empire where barbarians and wolves dwell, past the boundary markers where the reach of the civitas and the polis is declawed.
I know this land, these gods, and these ideas. And I will not give them up.
Barbarians in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.
–Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
“In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also embrace fascism, and history will be left to repeat itself.”
–Alley Valkyrie, Propaganda in the Age of Fascism
No discussion of Jack Donovan, the Wolves of Vinland, or Operation Werewolf can truly begin without focusing on their aesthetic. Many have tried, reducing their images to caricature, missing their sublime and intoxicating coherence, dismissing it all as if image had no power. We shall not make the same mistake.
Take a few minutes and scroll through Jack Donovan’s Instagram feed. Linger on the photos. Feel what they convey, let them wash over you. Try to enter the world they narrate. While doing so, note the repeated use of certain filters, the austerity of the backgrounds. Greys, sepias, overuse of ‘Structure’ edits.
What Donovan wants you to see is that the Modern world is too new, too garish, that there is no place within it for people like him nor for people like you. One imagines he hates the imposed efficiency of florescent lights, prefers the slant of sunlight at the end of day, would use lanterns if his eyesight were better, and is allergic to gaudy colors. His is not the aesthetic of a consumer. The exact polar opposite of his proposed milieu is a Walmart, bright lights glaring off the cellophane-wrapped chemically-colored products which define most American lives. Instead, behind him are unfinished concrete walls in gyms or forests, the decayed urban or the feral wild, an old-world feel clipping out the $6 latte area of Portland, Oregon where he until recently lived.
Aesthetic is narrative. Aesthetic tells a story, and Jack Donovan’s story is of anti-modernism. It is not just because he is anti-modern, but he also senses what his increasing fan-base knows and most anti-fascists refuse to admit: the modern is fucking awful. The modern is alienating, full of empty images and promises after which we all chase. Progress brings us a new iPhone each year and more flavors of Doritos, jobs in front of screens and new identities to try on and less and less land in which to play tribe with your friends.
The paradox, of course, is that it is precisely because of the modern that we experience his anti-modern vision, the same convoluted trap in which any critic of Liberal Democratic empire finds themselves. As Walter Benjamin noted, we are never in relationship to the subject of an image, but rather in relationship with a lens and a screen. We only ever interface with the production of images, the machinery of mass-aesthetic.
Donovan’s aesthetic attempts to escape this, but it cannot. What Donovan portrays is crafted just as any other selfie is, posed, selected, filtered and cropped, uploaded into The Feed for us all to see. It is an anti-modern aesthetic made possible only by the modern, a resistance to Empire generated by Empire like Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein waiting with Big Brother’s pre-scripted revolt. In this way, though, he is no different from any of us. The Antifa selfie, the anti-capitalist meme: we do the same.
This paradox in which we are all trapped is not limited to the mere reproduction of the anti-modern by modern means. It is an oppositional aesthetic, crafted constantly in response to the modern. What is anti-modern is determined by the modern itself, just as what is anti-oppressive within social justice is determined by the oppressive, what is ‘left’ is determined by what is ‘right.’
Audre Lourde’s statement that “the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house,” while originally an attack on the bourgeois goals of white feminists, just as easily describes the perpetual paradox of all resistance to the Modern.
A Body Politic
Key to understanding Donovan’s aesthetic, then, is that he is merely retooling the master’s narrative, determined not by some mastery of the will but an almost adolescent act of opposition. Inverting Lourde’s point, Donovan attempts to look like the master himself, becoming what his chosen enemies fear him to be.
Towards this end, his physique is his primary weapon, one that can command erotic respect from fully hetero-men as well as gays. He wants–needs–you to think he is hot, and even his feminist critics often write slobberingly about his body even as they then attack it.
This is his success: the masculinity he wears is bold, brazen, unapologetic: it draws the sort of followers he desires while offending those socialized to find such displays of virility indicative of ‘toxic masculinity.’
This aesthetic politics of the body is part of the core ideology not just of Jack Donovan but also of Operation Werewolf, a site run and founded by Paul Waggener. To understand its appeal, the imagery of its manifesto must be approached the same way the visual aesthetic must be: fully felt, with an eye on the backgrounds and filters:
“Operatives can be found in countries across the world, dripping sweat on the floor of their spartan-style garage weight room, leaving blood on the dirt in the backyard boxing ring, or bringing their feral competitive style to powerlifting meets, MMA events, bars, back alleys and the savage streets of crumbling cities. They are not products of their environment- instead they change the landscape and environment around them, forgers of destiny, architects of their own becoming. They make the flesh strong, knowing that it is the only fit conveyance for a strong mind and an iron will- theirs is a mindset that accepts no weakness.
Some are solitary practitioners, performing the rituals of life and death amongst the ruins of modern civilization, lone wolves howling songs of destruction and new growth in the woods that encroach on the edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall. Others have made it their mission to seek each other out, forming militaristic divisions, chapters led by their strongest member, creating a war-band that seeks to carve its own myth, to create its own saga of power and might- men and women challenging each other to strive ever higher.”
Like this manifesto (powerful, until you realize it’s a sloppy pastiche of Dark Mountain’s manifesto and Peter Grey’s Rewilding Witchcraft), the articles on Operation Werewolf exort the reader towards a vision of self-fulfillment on the “edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall.” Again, sweaty gym-forged bodies with wild forest and concrete as backdrop, perfectly selected sepia filters assuring you they aren’t currently huddled over screens masturbating to porn.
Readers for whom the notion of sweat, brawls, and ‘accepting no weakness’ is off-putting should be reminded that it is supposed to repulse you. It is not to you whom they are writing, any more than it is to the civilized urban feminist that Jack Donovan bares his torso.
Resist, however, the inclination to dismiss this as negative: while Operation Werewolf is not the body-positivity of urban social justice, it is nevertheless the positivity of a body stretched, strained, and repeatedly broken to test its limits and ‘forge the will.’
Here, many critics fall back upon accusations of ‘ableism’ or ‘fat-shaming.’ Without doubt there is no place inscribed into their aesthetic for the overweight person, nor for the chronically-ill, yet such critiques (however true within the framework of liberal social justice politics) fall utterly flat. They are not attempting to build an inclusive ideology, but rather one of difference and exclusion. Dismissing them on these grounds, however morally-satisfying, is utterly useless.
Antifascist responses to such rhetoric through the social justice framework not only fail, but expose an ignored and suppressed difference in their own ranks, best seen within the difference between Liberal and Leftist feminism. The former, which is the predominate form within Social Justice, argues that patriarchal violence is the primary cause of bodily oppression. On the other hand, Leftist iterations (Marxist, post-colonialist) locate the cause of such oppression (anti-disabled, anti-fat, etc.) in the Capitalist’s need to turn humans into workers and the State’s need to turn humans into subjects.
From a Liberal feminist (‘bourgeois’ or ‘white’ feminism) view, any politics or ideology which does not treat all bodies as equal is patriarchal, and each oppression (ableism, transphobia, etc.) is an additional variant of patriarchal rule (consider Liberal feminist statements such as “homophobia is rooted in hatred of women”). To undermine the patriarchy and achieve equality within that framework, all bodies must be accorded the same worth and access, since every exclusion is a reproduction of patriarchal oppression.
Marxist and post-colonial feminist frameworks dismiss such utopianism in favor of the abolition of the conditions which equates the worth of bodies to what can be derived from them: that is, Capitalism. A disabled or chronically-ill person is ‘worth less’ (paid less) under capitalism because they can produce less for their bosses (who are usually men, but often also women). They are valued less because their labor cannot be exploited as easily.
To a Liberal feminist, patriarchy is the problem and the problems of capitalism derive from the patriarchy, not from capitalism itself. Within the feminism of Marxists and post-colonialists, Patriarchy is merely the functional aesthetic of the oppression of bodies, while capitalist control of the body is the core problem.
What Operation Werewolf advocates does not directly conflict this latter, insurrectionist feminism. If anything, people of any gender hoping to be physically strong enough to fight the inevitable police and military backlash against revolutionary actions could benefit from such exortations. If you want to learn to fight Nazis, you’ll need first to learn how to fight.
Too often, though, discussions regarding expanding the capacity of the body are dismissed, labeled ‘ableist’ or ‘fat-shaming,’ and even potentially fascist.
A particularly poignant example of this is the reaction to an essay from Peter Grey last year, a writer and publisher who has repeatedly held the line against fascist incursions into esotericism, including pulling his work from use in publications wherein fascist writers appear. Within Pagan, witch, radical, and esoteric communities, his essay Forging the Body of the Witch was held up by some as proof that the (very not-fascist) writer was potentially fascist, or at the very least engaging in ableism and fat-shaming.
Another case in point: Silvia Federici’s essay, In Praise of the Dancing Body, was similarly attacked as ableist because she advocates dancing as a form of bodily resistance and suggests that capitalism has alienated us from our bodies through extensive medicalization.
Anti-civilizationist, autonomous Marxist, anarchist, and other radical writers have similarly come under such friendly-fire attacks so that, as of now, the only people actually putting forward a framework in which the potential capabilities of the body are fully-embraced are men like Jack Donovan and Paul Waggener.
This is the first example of how Leftists have ceded territory in which fascists can thrive. Leftists abandoned a political framework which embraces the body–both in its weaknesses as well as its strengths–in favor of one which disfavors (and even attacks) any celebration of human capacity as inherently oppressive.
In such a world, the muscular bodies of a factory, farm, or construction worker—the very people whom Leftists once saw as a revolutionary force—are to be hidden, minimized, or even derided, lest those who do not have such bodies or cannot get them feel excluded from insurrectionist discourse.
This is why antifascist criticisms of Donovan (etc.) fall flat. There is nothing inherently fascist about the body work he and Operation Werewolf advocate: indeed, it is also something embraced by many suppressed forms of feminism as well. It is only territory they occupy, colonized by a fascist aesthetic. Such territory once belonged to the Left who have become all too long happy to abandon it.
Doing so means that fascists are then allowed to run free through it and claim it as their own.
Many essays attacking Jack Donovan particularly center their critique on his aesthetic masculinity, effectively reducing his threat to his maleness. While the Slate piece devotes extensive time to his aesthetic of virility, even to the point of slobbering affection (“A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl…he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause,”) the SPLC’s essay reduces his entire appeal to that of his overt maleness, inscribing him into Alex Di Branco’s thesis that it is misogyny itself which is animating new fascist movements.
Both make precisely the same mistake and only strengthen the allure of his raw, uncivilized male aesthetic.
For a constructed masculine aesthetic to be a political aesthetic, it must have a nemesis. Fortunately for him, his critics easily supply that role, reducing him to his masculinity in precisely the same way they accuse men of doing to women. For most of his critics, Donovan is a meat-head, a thug, a dumb man who probably doesn’t use deodorant. Such reductions reproduce the same ‘patriarchal’ modes of dismissal: a woman is just her tits, Donovan is just his muscles.
Like an Antifa protester lobbing a tear gas canister back at the police, Donovan is able swiftly to redeploy these reductions to expand his audience. To understand how, consider the sort of people to whom he appeals: men like him, displaced, uncomfortable in the world, first unsure of and then later angry about the absurd rules of civilization, unable to find meaning except by escape into romantic notions of heroism and courage now that the jobs are all gone overseas.
To such men, seeking something mythic, something to make them feel like they have a place in the world, ridicule of their masculinity only further entrenches their sense of alienation. When a critic ridicules his, Donovan need only hold up their insult before his audience, and suddenly his male tribalism doesn’t even need a sales pitch.
Further, Jack Donovan’s deep intelligence is easily missed by critics who are tricked by his aesthetic. On Instagram he stands shirtless, inked, holding a chainsaw; elsewhere he is wearing hunting gear, or grunting in a gym, drilling wood, wearing a baseball cap. He looks rural, the sort of working-class man urban liberals dismiss immediately as smelly, uneducated, and crass.
Here Donovan is able to leverage an inherent prejudice within what passes for the Left in America: its anti-rural, anti-working class sentiment.
Donovan presents as the sort of man who drives large trucks, thinks forests should be clear-cut, drinks Budweiser in front of football games, and would bash the head in of a man at a rest stop who stared at his crotch. As such, he becomes too easily dismissed, his arguments reduced to mere grunts in, as the SPLC article put it, the “chorus of moaning that emanates from the “Manosphere.”
Donovan is no doubt aware of this, and wields these prejudices deftly against his critics. It is a trick I know well myself: I am a 6 foot 1, gruff-voiced, ‘masculine-presenting’ man who talks more like a ‘bro’ than a theorist. The disconnect between my appearance and my intelligence often puts critics and fans alike off-guard. Thus when my critics attempt to reduce my arguments to my male appearance, they will often appear shallow or uninformed in public forums. This same mechanism works in Jack Donovan’s favor.
More so, by targeting his masculine presentation, critics also re-inforce liberal urban elitism and undermine any other critique they offer. To reduce Donovan to his maleness is to reduce him to his perceived identity, alienating those who see misandry as unhelpful (or even dangerous) as well as lower-class men for whom muscles, power-tools, and backyard construction projects are inherent parts of daily life and work, rather than cultivated threats against women.
This is another territory ceded by the Left. The bodies (and the accompanying concerns of the body) of poor and working-class men–unless their maleness can also be shown to intersect with at least one other oppression identity– are all but completely dismissed in American leftist discourse. It should not surprise us, then, that the aesthetic of overt, unapologetic masculinity which Donovan, Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland celebrate would appeal to those ignored men.
For such men, the aesthetic of brute maleness accompanied by deep thought and independent will shall always be more appealing than what Liberalism has to offer. Marxists and Anarchists once offered them something too, but if they still do, it cannot be found in current American antifascist discourse.
To see how well Donovan reclaims Leftist territory for his own, consider Donovan’s book on male desire, Androphilia. Written in 2006, it advances a vision of homosexuality not as a genetically-deterministic identity class, but of a variation or subset of male desire. The consequences of such a view are that male-male desire is a manifestation of human choice, rather than the current Liberal dogma that gays are ‘born this way.’
Within the vast majority of gay-rights organizing, the insistence that homosexuality is determined by biology rather than being a choice has become divine law. This ironically leaves only anti-homosexual Christian Evangelicals asserting that gay men actually have any agency in their sexual desire (by insisting it can and should be changed.)
The historical reason why it became Liberal consensus that homosexuality is an innate, essential, and biologically-determined identity has nothing to do with science. As in most cases, scientific theory follows political will, and this position was politically strategic.
In order to counter the moral arguments against homosexual sex, gay-rights activists presented homosexual desire as an immutable, scientifically-determined way of being. In such a framework, since gays had no choice but to engage in homosexual behavior, moral arguments that demanded they change their behavior made no sense.
This strategy certainly helped gays gain legal status within most Liberal Democracies, but it also stole from gays belief in their agency. Thus, I as a man who desires men actually have no say in the matter, because my genes make me desire men. The “Leftist” position now, at least the Social Justice position, depoliticizes will and individual choice, adopting the very same Nazi logic which located social-identity (Homosexual, Jew) in the body and then destroyed the body to destroy the identity.
Donovan’s arguments in Androphilia cunningly leverage this transposition. Arguing that male homosexual desire is just another configuration of male desire is really the more liberatory position. Even more (unfortunately) to his credit, rather than arguing to heterosexual men that they should accept male-male desire on account of Liberal Democratic rights, he argues that heterosexual men should embrace their already-existent desire for males.
The territory here that Donovan is able to claim—and the primary reason his ideas have so much resonance—is precisely what was ceded by Leftists who hitched their liberatory politics to the dreams of Liberal Democratic progress. While no doubt forged from a sense of pragmatic urgency (homosexuals were—and are—killed at rather high rates), the political subjectivity and loss of agency such a politics created cannot be easily undone.
Attempts to offer another narrative are often virulently attacked. I have never felt I was ‘born this way,’ yet to write openly about this is to elicit some rather intense rage from social justice activists who see such a position as a sign of my ‘heteronormative privilege,’ that I am not ‘queer enough’ to speak on such matters, or that I must have ‘internalized homophobia.’
In a situation where the leftist position insists sexual selection is innate and pre-determined, it should not surprise anyone that, as according to the Slate article, gays are being attracted to fascism. But contrary to the conclusion of the author, Donovan’s position offers homosexuals back the agency that Liberal Democracy stripped from them in return for protections.
This is not due to anything revolutionary or even original in Donovan’s thinking, but the same abdication of territory (in this case, an abdication of will) that leftists have elsewhere enacted.
Masculinity as Simulacrum
Returning to the matter of Donovan’s particular aesthetic: Donovan presents a vision of a man who is fully in touch with his will, comfortable with his desire for other men, unapologetic about his body, and unconcerned with what anyone thinks of him. In his books we see this aesthetic turn into an entire ethic, a religious redemption of the masculinity which bourgeois feminism sees as the primary cause of oppression.
Here we can re-introduce crucial discussion regarding Donovan’s misogyny, and also see how all these abandoned leftists positions re-animate into something quite morbid. Donovan loathes women. Androphilia blames almost every horrible thing on women; gay men shop because of women, gay men kill themselves because they are trying to be like women, trans women are men who have internalized everything that feminists told them about themselves.
His later books, The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarian, both repeat this same ressentiment. Men are soft because of women, men stay at home instead of adventure because of them. Men don’t have enough men-only spaces because women expect to be everywhere, etc.. It all starts to sound so absurd that it’s easy to miss that he is parodying the excesses of bourgeois feminism in reverse.
In fact, his entire construct of hypermasculine existence could have been constructed by bourgeois feminism itself. If there is anything truly tragic about Jack Donovan’s vision of maleness—the one which fills the pages of his books and his Instagram feed–it is that it was created by the very same feminism which he so deeply loathes.
Such a reality, however, does not reduce its power.
Jean Baudrillard expanded Walter Benjamin’s work on aesthetics by noting how, now that we only have reproduction of art, we now also only have reproduction of politics. The ‘real’ we imagine is always a copy, a simulation of the real. Those copies and simulations become how we determine what is real, affecting our behaviour and the construction of our identities.
Whereas once the aesthetic was the visual representation of a way of being, the aesthetic is now our only blueprint. We do not know what it is like to be masculine except by the representation of the masculine, anymore than we know what it is to be anti-modern without representations of the anti-modern.
More dangerous, however, is that the negatives of images reproduce themselves as well. The aesthetic of hyper-masculinity from which Donovan and Waggener build their politics is produced from the negative space of liberal feminist critiques which reduce men to enemy, alpha-oppressor, toxic, and dangerous.
But negative space is never truly empty, just as territory no longer claimed is never truly vacant. We should be hardly surprised, then, that Wolves have moved into the places we have abandoned, inhabiting ideological homes which were once ours.
It is not clear, however, that many have the strength or will to kick them out.
Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.
He lives in Rennes, Bretagne.
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