Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Guest Article: The Canadian Far-Right an Eco's Hallmarks of Fascism

I had been planning on writing an article for the blog detailing Umberto Eco's fourten hallmarks of fascism and even started gathering some relevant screenshots (some of which I have included). However last month I saw that Twitter user Seussterhoff had already posted a series of tweets providing an outline of the hallmarks. As such I asked Seussterhoff if they would be willing to write an article on the topic for the blog and more fully flesh out the connection between the far right groups ARC, Yellow Vests Canada Exposed, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and others have been reporting on.

I would very much like to thank Seussterhoff for this article; if you aren't following this Twitter account, you really should be.

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The alt-right is like a box of chocolates - or, in the words of Dr. Umberto Eco, ""fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions." Therefore, in the spirit of tarring the alliance/cross-contamination between PEGIDA, Yellow Vests, hate preachers, Wolves/Soldiers of Odin, Northern Guard, and their good buddies with the same brush, I present Eco's fourteen hallmarks of fascism.

Eco, for the record, grew up in Mussolini's Italy. He got to know fascism firsthand. I've often found his fourteen points a useful reference for analyzing groups and movements that are prone to going off the rails. And I see every one of those fourteen points, to some extent, in the Canadian alt-right.

References: Eco's 1995 original (partially paywalled); OpenCulture's summary; Paul Bausch's point-form summary.

My thanks to the good people of ARC Collective for inviting me to expand on my Twitter thread about this. And while the screencaps may not be the world's best or most pointed examples of all the points below, the vast majority of them came from less than half an hour of casual browsing on the Facebook page of Derek Storie, a prominent Yellow Vest.

#1: The cult of tradition....

...."nourished by...syncretistic, occult elements." 

I've got a pagan friend who's prone to rage about all the ways the alt-right has appropriated and twisted Norse and pagan heritage - throwbacks to romanticized days when men were MEN and so forth. The iconography is everywhere:

Note one-eyed Odin, a reference to sacrificing for hidden truths. Ravens, incidentally, reference similar ideas, with a slant toward uncovering secrets and omniscience.

'Syncretism,' for context, is about blending the appealing bits of various cultures and traditions. Observe:

Middle is a Norse valknut symbol, with as many historic and modern interpretations as you can shake a stick at. Very watered-down, basically meaningless apart from its occasional association with white supremacy. Top right is Norse. Top left, in the words of my heathen symbologist friend, is a "Medieval Christian Icelandic 'runesign' most neo-pagans don't realize is Christian." Bottom is a Celtic triskelion. The logo is just one big syncretic mishmash. Neo-pagan or pseudo-Norse iconography like this is all over their social media.

And that's only one small example of their veneration for skewed tradition and heritage. Think about how many of them fly the Red Ensign, Canada's old flag from colonial times, and what they mean by that.

Think, too, what they mean when they try to appropriate and possess the Canadian flag: they're trying to radicalize it as a symbol and position their critics and targets as un-Canadian. Cult of tradition all over the place.

#2: Modernism is the enemy. "The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity." 

Enlightenment values like democracy, egalitarianism, and pluralism are on the chopping block.

Anti-democratic thought runs rampant through many of these groups. Race- and culture-based elitism oppose egalitarianism. What use is pluralism if 'our culture is best; go home to your country' is the way you see the world? And you'd better believe 'modern depravity' is how many of them see the LGBTQ community:

As if attacking Pride parades didn't say enough on its own. Speaking of which:

#3: Action for action's sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.” This is why they're calling certifiable idiots like Chris Vanderweide heroes for charging in swinging.

And this is why, when one of these guys gets lightly jostled, he detonates, escalates instantly and without proportion. A bump or nudge, whether intentional or not, = assault = a trigger for 'justified' gleeful disproportionate retaliation. That's what you see here, when Warren Douglas Brady (VP of Northern Guard Ontario) plus a friend, attacks a protester who jostled his wife Debra Claxton. It's also what you see here at the Hamilton Pride attack, when John Paul Moretti/Ylli Radovicka responds to a small nudge with instant violence. A touch = assault = justification for split-second escalation.

#4: Disagreement is treason, and treason is their favourite word: “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism." More interesting than that, though, is how small differences lead to huge divides. These people will turn on their own in a heartbeat. Here's Wolves of Odin leader Annette Morrison:

And here's a nice little schism between members of the Northern Guard's Calgary chapter, erstwhile best buddies:

#5: “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.” 

Anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, anti-trans, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic.

#6: "Appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups." Hard times are what got the Canadian Yellow Vest movement driving to Ottawa. Hard times get people looking for a scapegoat. Maybe that's refugees, immigrants, LGBT, 'the left,' 'the government,' etc. This is one big reason Trump got elected, and it's a major motive force behind Canada's alt/far right.

#7 Obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

Observe this off-the-cuff conspiracy theory that weaves in the left (unions), the Jews (Soros), and the Liberal federal government, solely because they're the usual suspects. Imagining conspiracies is a way of life.

See also the obsessions with sharia law, Drag Queen Story Hour, and Antifa as 'terrorists.' Clearly it's all a plot against them and their pure children.

#8: “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

This is my favourite of the list. I find it just fascinating. In the fascist construction, the enemy is both an existential threat and beneath contempt. I'm not going to share especially egregious examples of how they see LGBT and immigrant communities this way, but by way of illustration:

#9: Pacifism is weakness, treason, trafficking with the enemy: "For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.” Anything less than direct action makes you unworthy.

#10: Contempt for the weak; “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.” I think we've covered that.

#11: The call for self-sacrifice/heroism/death, targeted at everyone. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.” Again, participate or you're nothing. It's not like Vanderweide and company think they'll evade prison. This is blaze of glory stuff.

#12: Machismo and violence; “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

A lot of these groups have strictly defined gender roles: the women are instigators and cheerleaders and putative victims. (Think Debra Claxton and Warren Douglas Brady, outlined above.) This tendency is so ingrained in the hard right that, if a woman crosses those gender lines, she becomes a target.

'Our' women are venerated non-combatants, weak, to be protected. 'Their' women are (insert slur here), weak fighters, fair targets. This is all bound up in condemnation of non-standard gender roles and orientations and gender expressions. I think we've whipped that dead horse enough.

#13: Selective populism, specifically the claim to speak for the Real People; “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

While I don't see much reflection of the classical 'the leader is the voice of the people' narrative, I see quite a bit of:

The group, the party, the team, is the voice of the Real People.

#14: Impoverished vocabulary and newspeak. "All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Anyone who opposes them can be referred to by the shorthand of 'Antifa', 'commie', or 'the left’ (much as some of their opponents are happy to toss out the terms ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’ without backup or discrimination). Those on the right who aren't sufficiently adhering to orthodoxy are 'cucks.'

'Values' refers to a broad and fuzzily-defined set of exclusive 'my team' touchstones, a whistle that unites by meaning something slightly different to various groups, a pabulum, a call for lack of self-examination.

And of course there's the fetishization of rampant illiteracy - the defiant unwillingness to use a spell check.

(He’s referring to a posse: an ad hoc group of good ol’ boys who ride off to commit extrajudicial killing.)

Eco specifically noted that it's not necessary for every single point to be present; fascism can congeal around any one of them. But the modern Canadian far right fits every single point to every extent or another. A better fit with some than others, to be sure, but a fit across the board nonetheless. This is why I have absolutely no problem using the term ‘fascist’ to describe the Yellow Vests and their friends.

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