New age fascism, much like its most influential predecessor, Nazism, is a lot of things. It is racist, homophobic, antisemitic, exclusionary, authoritarian, and absolutely disgusting. But how do we identify fascism when we see it?
Let’s first determine what fascism really is. Fascism is a political philosophy comprised of the beliefs that those of European heritage are united under the umbrella of “the white race” or “Western Civilization,” that Jews are developing a plot to destroy the “white race” through practices such as multiculturalism, which fascists see as “white genocide” or “ethnic replacement,” and that the only way to save this “white race” is through the establishment of an all-white ethnostate, purging the degenerates and undesirables. A key component of fascism is also the forcible suppression of opposition; for example, attacking protesting moms with military force and tear gas.
These views are so abhorrent and beyond the pale that it really shouldn’t be hard to identify these people and practices, right?
Well, not necessarily.
The initial tactic used in the most widespread fascist propaganda video, created by white supremacist and neo-nazi Richard Spencer, is an appeal to emotion and heritage, and a supposed cause to fight for something greater. The opening monologue says:
“Who are you? I’m not talking about your name or your occupation. I’m talking about something bigger, something deeper. I’m talking about your connection to a culture, a history, a destiny. Our ancestors had a very strong sense of their identity. They could say ‘I’m a Roman,’ ‘I’m a Saxon,’ ‘I’m a Dane.’ We’re often told that being an American, or a Briton, or a German, or any nationality is about being dedicated to a collection of abstractions and buzzwords: democracy, freedom, tolerance, multiculturalism. But a nation based on freedom is just another place to go shopping.”
Fascism and Neo-Nazism promise its followers a sense of belonging rooted in tradition in a new-age civilization.
Now, the notion that appreciating the Roman, Greek, or Saxon cultures of the past is somehow linked to creating an ethnostate is a ridiculous leap in logic. But some people that live in unfulfilled mediocrity with a menial job looking for something purposeful in their lives may just be desperate enough to latch on to something, anything, to feel like a part of something greater.
The response to the 2017 Charlottesville Rally was where most fascists and Neo-Nazis realized that their beliefs went too far for most citizens, and began to backpedal the divisive rhetoric, with notable Neo-Nazis like former Twitter user BakedAlaska saying “We must come together as a country and try to understand each other peacefully. We can’t continue to scream Nazi or SJW back and forth,” and Richard Spencer publicly dissociating himself from Jason Kessler, a Neo-Nazi who referred to Heather Heyer, the counterprotester murdered at Charlottesville, as a “fat, disgusting communist.”
Did BakedAlaska and Spencer actually resign their fascistic beliefs after seeing the true nature of their followers? Absolutely not. They were just smart enough to be more covert about it.
Shortly after the Charlottesville disaster, the Neo-Nazis were headed back to the drawing board to rethink strategy. They discussed strategy on the /pol/ forum of 4chan, entirely anonymously. Some ideas that gained traction were presented here:
The first strategy listed to make fascism more palatable to conservatives, centrists, and liberals, is to publicly disavow those that make a showing out of being a Nazi or white supremacist, which Richard Spencer took note of. The posts also recognize that slogans like “The Jews will not replace us” won’t be received very well by the public. Such conversations are proof that these people understand how disgusting and inhumane their goals are, yet still believe in them.
When overt racism is politically unacceptable, white supremacists have to resort to more codified language in order to make their ideas more acceptable. This pragmatism is exemplified by Republican strategist Lee Atwater, also an aide for both the Reagan and first Bush Administrations, who stated in an interview: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N----, n----, n----.’ By 1968 you can't say ‘n----’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N-----, n------.’”
So, if you want to be able to hear the supremacist dog-whistles, you must be willing to read between the lines and look for subtext.
Rallies with confederate flags, swastikas, and Nazi iconography tend to be the exception to fascist rhetoric, not the rule which they follow. In fact, most fascists will denounce white supremacy, fascism, and nazism as a supposed opposition, but their actions will still contradict their words. Obviously, many of the people who are against white supremacy are also against fascism, but make no mistake: a denial like this isn’t worth much, as actions speak much louder than words.
Additionally, manipulation of euphemisms and language is another tool in the fascist workbench. Once a movement or ideology, such as nazism or white supremacy, becomes widely unpopular (for good reason), those that hold these beliefs will simply change their labels to something more palatable, such as “alt-right” or “nationalist.” And as those labels begin to develop a negative connotation, white supremacists will shift to other labels, such as “identitarian.”
In fact, the most infamous instance of co-opting language comes from none other than Nazi Germany itself, where the word Nazi was a direct call to “National Socialism,” which made some socialists and communists jump onboard, with pro-worker and nationalist rhetoric. However, the actual socialists and communists of the time would be immediately executed and imprisoned as political prisoners as the Nazi party grew to power, further emphasizing how different the two rhetorics were.
Since it is no longer appropriate to advocate for the outright purging of minorities, many fascists will euphemize and talk about getting rid of the rapists, criminals, and illegal immigrants instead, concepts and beliefs much more common in our current political discussion. Again, does that mean everybody supporting these policies is a fascist? No, but the fascists are the ones who hear the high-pitched and color-coded dog whistles between one another.
Symbols are another use of secret code between fascists and neo-nazis, and one of their favorites. Common knowledge of the Third Reich iconography is that the swastika was initially a symbol of divinity and spirituality in Asian culture. The co-opting of this symbol is just the beginning of the depths of fascist symbolism. The best symbols for fascists to co-op are the ones that can have multiple meanings that fly over the heads of what they call “normies” (conservatives, centrists, and liberals alike fall into this category). In Nazi Germany, some of these symbols were the Othala rune and Iron Cross:
However, once again, as these symbols became more recognizable and attributable to nazism and fascism, fascists moved to even more innocuous forms of symbolism. Among modern fascists and neo-nazis, things like Pepe the frog, an inconspicuous Twitch emote (which avid users have refused to cede to fascists) , the ‘ok’ symbol, and just a finger in the air emoji, have been used to indicate white supremacy.
To most, these assertions may even make people seem paranoid; however, that is the goal of neo-nazis. Blurring the lines between fascist code and regular symbols is exactly what allows them to work behind the scenes. The only way to keep up with these constantly shifting symbols is to look at the leaders who use them publicly, such as James Allsup and Richard Spencer, again, both professed “identitarians” who want separate racial ethnostates. Does this mean that everybody that uses the ‘ok’ symbol, or the Pepe twitch emote is a fascist? Yet again, absolutely not, but be wary of people that seem proud to be using symbols like these. An advantage of these neo-nazis co-opting innocent symbols like these is the easy defense to those unaware, “Even these silly idiots think that this frog is racist now?” painting those that can decrypt the symbolism as entirely irrational and paranoid. Again, these symbols on their own don’t make anybody a fascist, but they may be a smaller piece in a bigger puzzle of identifying one and identifying fascist behavior.
Another uniquely modern twist that many fascists like to use in order to mask their beliefs is irony and satire in something as simple as a meme, defending their veiled opinions through edginess. Does this mean that edgy memers are fascists? Certainly not, but that’s the point, it can be hard and almost impossible to tell. I like some edginess in my memes, but make sure they aren’t dog-whistling over your head. A prime example of this was the modern use of “Kekistan,” a supposed satire on identity politics, as referenced in the Richard Spencer tweet earlier. The flag was designed in Nazi iconography and eventually classified as a hate symbol by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), rightfully so.
A seemingly tame tactic of fascists is the invoking of a free speech defense, stating something along the lines of “you may disagree, but I have a right to what I am saying.” This one has a relatively unknown historical parallel which helps put it into context. Richard Wagner, a German musician, wrote an essay in 1869 titled “Das Judenthum in der Musik,” or “Jewishness in music.” This is widely regarded as one of the landmarks of the construction of antisemitism in German society. The interesting thing about this piece was that Wagner wrote it under a pseudonym, K. Freigedank. Freigedank directly translates to “Freethought” and “Free Speech.” By appealing to the liberal values of free speech, fascists attempt to garner sympathy from those that believe in these values, while they themselves will not reciprocate those same freedoms for others. Are all free speech absolutists neo-nazis? No, but look out for those that fall back on free speech as a deflection from discussing their true viewpoints..
And while I will respect all people, even fascists’, freedom of speech, I refuse to give them the right to a megaphone. A relevant idea here is the paradox of intolerance, which philosopher Karl Popper states “if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. Popper described it as the seemingly paradoxical idea that ‘In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.’” In order to create the most tolerant and loving society possible, we must be intolerant of the intolerant. This is not to say that we should shun all people with divisive or hate-filled rhetoric, but rather educate them and prevent these unfounded hatreds from becoming full-blown fascistic ideals.
So, what can you do? Resist these strategies as a whole. Call a spade a spade and let those around you know if you disagree with them when their opinions start to become potentially harmful. Don’t go around calling everyone who disagrees with you a nazi or fascist, and be able to recognize the difference between slightly differing opinions and literal fascism.
But most of all, remember that we are all human, even the fascists, and it’s never too late to grow out of those harmful ideas. If you think you or someone you know may have fallen down this alt-right rabbit hole, here’s a support system founded by a former neo-nazi who helps people get out of hate groups: https://www.lifeafterhate.org/.
Stay safe and vigilant.