Below is an interview conducted with anti-fascist author and organizer Alexander Reid Ross addressing many of the themes raised in his upcoming book, Against the Fascist Creep. We discuss what the idea of “creeping fascism” is, where it has become prevalent, and what organizations have begun to confront it.
Anti-Fascist News: Could you explain a little bit about this concept of “creeping fascism” that you built the book on?
Alexander Reid Ross: So the idea of creeping fascism is the emergence of fascism on the global stage through its tacit and often concealed acceptance either organizationally or in theory. So, for example, when leftwing movements in, say, 2009-2010 started trading in a very conservative language of ethnic nationalism and separatism, you know, like “white people deserve their own place because people of color are naturally inclined towards one another,” that was a sign that there some kind of influence and networking that was going on, and, again, if not organizationally, then in the ideological terrain. And I’m not saying that all left wing organizations were doing that, but I did notice a marked pattern in some of them. There was a sense in some sectors, even when Occupy came around, that we had to defeat the liberals in power even if that means letting the fascists in through the back door. I think that’s been proven false, and we need to learn from those mistakes through material analysis.
AFN: What kind of movements was that showing up in?
ARR: I think I saw it emerging in the anarchist movement and, to an extent, in some of the left wing issue based movements where Marxists were more prevalent, whether anti-imperialist or anti-war or whatever. Then there are the non-left or post-left radical groups that are just as vulnerable, if not more so. I found out, for example, that the national anarchists had been trying to affect an influence, like in Earth First! even, in the northeast, which came as kind of a surprise to me. It did sort of open my eyes to the fact that because as an editor of the Earth First! Journal during that period, I had been sort of unwittingly implicated in this process.
I think there was also a point after 2008 and the market crash that radical movements experienced an influx of people and didn’t have a filtering process that was equipped to handle the parsing through of different ideas that exist in the radical milieu, and that’s really where it takes place. Fascism emerges from the radical milieu as a combination of right and left wing ideas. If you just want to say, “I’m neither left nor right but I’m radical,” then there’s going to be a lot of territory that is contested, and that is very vulnerable to a sort of fascistic proclamations and ideological positions.
AFN: How do you respond to that then or how should left wing movements respond to that creeping influence? What are effective strategies I guess?
ARR: I think first and foremost is education. That was one thing that I started to do for myself after the news about Earth First! came out. The fact was that this one national anarchist had helped to schedule a fundraiser for Earth First!, and then they used that to speak very loudly to a European national anarchist audience about connections between Earth First! and national anarchism.
Any single move like that can be blown up into direct coordination, which is terrible, but you can always immediately quash that openly. What’s more difficult is that you have to be careful about the world of ideas in order to recognize how left wing intentions and ideas can be twisted by racists or sexists, and how that is connected to organizational affinities. So it’s equally important to recognize both the intellectual history of fascism and the trajectory of different fascist organizations. Both have fostered new movements and ideological currents that have also segued into the left wing.
The organizational factor is particularly important when talking about national anarchism because a lot of people see broader radical subcultures or milieus as more safe or secure from fascism than the left. For example, people embrace queer culture as distinct from the left, denying that fascism can have queer folks, suggesting that if there are queer people in a particular group or movement it can’t be fascist. Of course some of the most important fascists have been queer, from Rohm to Kuhnen, Nicky Crane, and Douglas P to David McCalden and perhaps Roy Cohn. The same thing goes for environmentalism, vegetarianism, avant-garde music and cultural scenes, punk, and other subcultural milieus.
Without any kind of introspection, the left or subcultures can safely say that Fascism is ultranationalist and administrative, so you would never have a fascist talking about breaking down nation-states and building up anti-hierarchical communities or, rather, communities who function through “organic hierarchy.” But, in fact, if you look at fascist organizations in the past, that is precisely what’s made them more radical than their conservative antagonists—that they have attacked nationalism in a bureaucratic or technocratic form, saying that what’s necessarily in politics is a nationalism of energy and vigor rather than a nationalism of intellectuals and functionaries, and what’s necessary isn’t a nation-state at all but a “spiritual empire” with a grand patriarch at the helm who makes the law through decision.
Without understanding the way that those ambiguous ideas are applied in different milieus, like with national anarchism and autonomous nationalism and those sorts of things, radicals can fall for easy platitudes. Pan-secessionism is another great example. When radicals start talking about the need for separatism without a clear, cosmopolitan follow-up strategy, they leave ourselves wide open to their influence and the insinuation of fascism and the ability for fascist ideas and movements to gain ground in the radical milieu and also in the broader subcultures and in mainstream cultures. When they start talking about ethnic separatism—particularly white separatism, whether de jure or de facto—they’ve basically given up the field.
I think that people in the radical milieu are very disconnected from the impact and effect that they have and their ideas actually have on the mainstream. People often look to radicals to get a sense of direction, particularly vis-a-vis subcultures, so if fascists are given a pass to influence subcultures then the mainstream is far more likely to accept them piecemeal on the basis of accepted ideas and attitudes which are very deleterious. For example, you’ve probably heard of people who you might have thought of as a left wing or a radical saying things like “I don’t believe in equality” or “equality is nonsense” or “I don’t believe in freedom,” or that kind of thing. These kinds of statements seem geared to impress people or shock them or both, but does all that really work for us?
AFN: As there has been a rise of white nationalism, what movements or organizations do you think have really effectively started to counter organize that?
ARR: It is great to see all of the Antifa groups springing up, the first of which I think was Rose City Antifa, but New York City Antifa and a bunch of others are equally important. When it works, it’s one of the best models for channeling the popular reflexes and spontaneous movements towards confronting fascism in organized and focused ways. I think networking these horizontal groups will provide important support bases for people down the road.
In the long run I also think that groups Public Research Associatesand Searchlight have done great watchdogging, and more recently the One Peoples Project has been excellent at pinpointing National Policy Institute and American Renaissance. The alt-right. They were really the first group to identify these sort of “mom’s basement trolls” as wielding a significant power in todays Internet 2.0 or in todays intellectual circuit, academia even. And they’ve done a really good job at confronting it as well, not just through massive protests but through pressure campaigns; calling, getting their events shut down.
Other media outlets are key. Anti-Fascist News has done an awesome job of disseminating key information about these groups and this movement before anybody else and that’s one of the reasons people say mainstream society is influenced by the radical movements. Part of the reason is because radical movements can see changes when they are happening in mainstream society so that distance where its difficult to measure the impact, and the effect is also part of the virtue because it means that there’s a critical analysis that’s taking place. That’s why I think that, for example, Anti-Fascist News has been able to do such a great job of identifying these momentum-building movements and also chokepoints of getting them shut down.
So I do think that there is always going to be a place for militant anti-fascism, but a huge part of that is just researching, understanding a cost-benefit analysis strategy, and rather mainstream stuff like getting events shut down. So those are some of the biggest things, I think—like the increase of organized Antifas, people willing to show up in the streets and willing to protest and fight fascists, and the middle ground mainstream groups, of which I think One People’s Project has been the most forward thinking and I think also media like Anti-Fascist News and It’s Going Down, for example, have really picked up a lot of slack in terms of analyzing Trump, analyzing the alt-right, and actually using intelligence to shut them down.