Conspiracy Theories and the Far Right

Our October assembly was introduced by historian, author and activist Dave Renton who talked about conspiracy theories and the far right. You can watch the video of Dave’s introduction here:

Dave is the author of a number of books and articles on fascism and the far right. We have a small number of reduced price copies of his two most recent books ‘The New Authoritarians’ and ‘Fascism: History and Theory’ – we can send them for £13 including postage – email for details. Once they are gone we strongly suggest that you order from Lighthouse Books.

Dave’s talk was followed by an open discussion.

N.G. said there has been a longer history of conspiracy theories. These had emerged round 9/11, but they were now more central to politics. They had become part of the normalisation of the hard Right. 

In some ways the US was harder to move to the Right, because of its history of democratic institutions. However, the hard Right weren’t confining their activities to the presidential elections, but were taking over judiciaries, not just the Supreme Court, but at state level too.

There were three ways to react to  Trump in the forthcoming election

  1. Support Biden as the progressive candidate.
  2. Vote for Biden without any illusions that he is progressive, but as an anti-Trump move.
  3. A plague on both camps.

G.B. said he thought that fascists relied on idealising a mythological past.

L. H. argued that the distinctive feature of fascism was its desire to smash all opposition. Trump has shown a willingness to use the Patriot Boys, an armed street fighting force, but this is for his own ends not necessarily that of the fascists.

M.P. said he thought that Trump was prepared to lose this election, the better to organise the Right for the next presidential election after the inevitable failures and disappointments of a Biden presidency. These would be greater than those following Obama’s presidencies.

Dave Renton (D.R.) in reply. said that he thought that so far the Patriot Boys’ use of guns is primarily for show not use.

He argued that a distinction should be made between Hard Right figures like Farage, who did look to an idealised past of British imperial greatness and to Fascists like Mussolini and Hitlers’ followers, who idealised a future based on the latest technologies, but with the violent and brutal suppression of opposition, particularly workers in their workplaces.

He also argued that the creation of chaos was important for fascists. This allowed for the cumulative radicalisation.

Although antisemitism has been a significant feature of Far Right politics, fascists can draw on a whole hodgepodge of ideas in their attempts to radicalise. Conspiracy theories are part of this process.

S.W. asked, how do we counter conspiracy theories? Not only Republicans but many Democrats subscribe to conspiracy theories.

D.R. said it was important to circulate good material which challenges conspiracy theories. George Monbiot had done this at the time of 9/11. Momentum had also produced some good material on David Icke. He has emerged as a central figure in the anti-vaxxer and Covid-19 conspiracy theories.

R.M. said there had always been a strong relationship between Fascism and conspiracy theories. Hitler used the Bolshevik/Jewish conspiracy theory. Today the US militias are in alliance with Qanon conspiracy theorists. However, they had been unable to mount a successful counter to BLM.

We need to create our own narrative over Covid-19.

L.C. had recently been on a Kurdish solidarity demo. She said that the Kurds there see Turkey as a fascist state.

W.B. said that a lot of the people who had attended the Trafalgar Square anti-lock down demos were not yet footsoldiers of the Far Right. Many were people squeezed in the middle, not having the collective organisation of labour or the power of large capital. However, the continuing retreat of organised labour in the workplace and the growth of individualised zero hours contracts could allow fascists to make more gains.

D.R. said that he had a lot of respect for the work of Merseyside Anti-Fascists. They had gone along to anti-Covid-19 lockdown demos to monitor the situation and to see who was participating. They were attracting younger people who were showed hostility to the over 30s who they saw as responsible for imposing lock-downs. This is different from the Brexit/Trump support which is older.

He argued that, under Erdogan, Turkey was a fairly typical Right authoritarian state, but he understood how Kurds felt, and would encourage solidarity.

He also argued that the Far Right were too dependent on conspiracy theories.

He thought that Trump’s resort to the Far Right was not to facilitate a fascist takeover, but to create enough mayhem around the election results to hand over the final decision to the Right dominated Supreme Court.

It is still possible to derail the extreme Right.

S.?. asked what other terms than Fascism could be used to describe today’s hard Right. Would ‘neo-fascism’ or ‘creeping fascim’, be more appropriate

A.A. argued that the classical Fascism, Dave was addressing, under Mussolini and Hitler, was only necessary for the Italian and German ruling class, because of the immediate and real threat from the Left. Today the Left is weak, so the ruling class does not need to resort to full-blown fascism. But workers and the oppressed are still under major attack with the removal of more and more rights. Historically there has been another model – the ‘apartheid’ type state, whether the Confederate South, the Orange ‘Ulster’, South Africa or Israel. In these parliamentary forms continued for those from the dominant section – Whites, Protestants, Afrikaaner/‘English’, Jewish, whereas Blacks (in the US South and South Africa), Catholics and Palestinians  experience/d levels of oppression and violence found in Fascist states (which have varied in intensity from Portugal and  Spain to Italy and Germany). Furthermore, these ‘apartheid’ type states have lasted longer than full-blown fascist states.

Turkey is an increasingly ethnic Turkish supremacist state, resorting to vicious repression against Kurds, so it is not surprising that Kurds feel they are living under Fascism. We can’t take comfort from the unlikelihood of an immediate full-blown Fascist takeover, when Right populist authoritarian regimes have already promoted both state repression (police attacks and imprisonment) and encouraged the Far Right in their brutal and sometimes murderous attacks on the oppressed. The increased resort to ethnic supremacist constitutions (Israel) and ethnic exclusive electoral franchises (UK) show there is an increased move to Right populist authoritarian states. We need to be arguing how these can be confronted.

L.T. argued that there has been an increased radicalisation amongst Scottish Loyalists. They had turned up in Glasgow’s George Square. singing Rule Britannia to ‘protect’ statues with imperialist symbolism after the BLM protests and to counter demonstrations in support of evicted asylum seekers. This demo was bigger than any organised by the SDL and the Loyalists took over George Square.

L.C. took up A.A.’s point and said that if you are LBGT in Poland (under another Right populist authoritarian regime) you already experienced fascist-type oppression and physical attacks. Furthermore, the Polish state wanted to extend the suppression of women’s rights particularly over abortion.

D.R. said that despite the differences in government, neither Ireland nor Scotland were immune to racism or to the Far Right. What is happening is political polarisation, with a radical Left and radical Right. emerging

He also said that the Hard and Far Right over-exaggerate the threat from the Left, whether it be the small Antifa, or the ‘cultural Marxists’ penetration of media and education.

He also took up, S.?’s point and argued against using terms like ‘neo-fascist’ or ‘creeping fascist’. This just creates the same problems as ‘fascist’. For full-blown fascism you need a rupture in the state. The Polish government is not trying to mobilise fascists.

He argued that historically there has been a relationship between Fascist regimes and their state’s history of colonialism. In some senses, fascism is the application at home of the techniques the state had practised in their colonies,

S.W, said that Sarah Hightower had done some research into Qanon, comparing it to cults like Aum Shinrikyro in Japan (,) 

D.R. summarised by saying that there was a difference between Trump’s first presidential campaign, which resorted mainly to Hard Right online media, and his current one, which is making open appeals to Far Right militias. What we are seeing is the Weimarisation of politics in the US.

He also said it was important to challenge conspiracy theories especially in their earlier stages. 9/10 of those who watch David Icke videos see them as a joke. The Far Right promote different level of online propaganda and conspiracy theories, which are designed to attract viewers to Harder Right material. This material can be challenged, as so much of it is patent nonsense.

However, the best way for the Left to challenge the Right is to promote its own alternative view of the world and the collective organisation necessary for this to happen.

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