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THE Christchurch mass murder shows fascism’s violent extreme. But, as the alleged killer’s manifesto shows, the fascists are also looking at ways to reach into the mainstream.
Worse, you don’t have to look to hard to see mainstream politicians reaching back and playing with the same racist themes that have ended in bloodshed.
Fifty men, women and children had their lives brutally taken. The pain, bravery and dignity of the victims and their loved ones should be in our hearts. But unfortunately we also have to understand the poison that killed them.
The killer wanted to murder his way from zero to hero. I don’t want to reward this inadequate man by taking his essay too seriously, but the document does show a core modern fascist idea in its title: “The Great Replacement.” Fascists want to convince the world that immigrants are “replacing” white people in the West: they particularly hate Muslims, but all non-white folk, Jewish people and Roma are also called “invaders” who must be driven out.
This basic racism leads to a full fascist ideology: immigrants are succeeding because “white birth rates” are too low: “white” women must have more babies. Western culture is causing the “destruction of the traditional family unit” because of “degenerate pop icons” — the manifesto singles out Madonna and Freddy Mercury among the bigger dangers.
Murdering people at prayer, wanting a society that will stop pop music and make “white” women have more babies to outnumber “immigrants,” calling our migrant friends, neighbours and workmates “invaders” — it’s not a politics that will easily appeal beyond an ugly hard core.
Fascists know their full politics look ugly and sound stupid to most, so have strategies to reach beyond their core. They are very keen on mainstream politicians who reflect just some of their views. They want to smuggle their ideas out disguised in “humour” or “irony,” because stating them directly causes revulsion.
A leaked style guide for leading fascist website The Daily Stormer says why: it promotes the “ironic,” sarcastic style of far-right talk that has become synonymous with the “alt right” because “most people are not comfortable with material that comes across as vitriolic, raging, non-ironic hatred.” It says: “The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not.”
The Christchurch manifesto justifies actual murder, but also encourages using “edgy humour and memes.” Using semi-secret, deniable signs and jokes is a way for fascists to build a wider group of friends in the broader right. So racist pranksters on the website 4Chan/pol/ promoted the idea that the “OK” hand symbol could also stand for “W.P.” or “White Power” — the circled finger and thumb forming the top of the “P,” the three loose fingers the “W.”
This gives loads of racists the chance to be “playfully” racist. Make the “OK” symbol with an ironically arched eyebrow. Should any “liberal” complain, just say they are being paranoid and it’s no more racist than a “thumbs up.” It sounds absurd but it is also sinister.
The alleged Christchurch gunman carefully posed with the “OK” sign in handcuffs, at his first court appearance. It’s a right-wing prank using the same fingers which may have been pulling the trigger and ending lives just a day before.
The manifesto also encourages the spread of racist attitudes beyond the right. The full “Great Replacement” theory is for the hard core. But anyone suggesting there are “too many” immigrants, or that they are “taking over” any part of the West is a good thing.
So the manifesto states: “The person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens” — a leading figure in pro-Trump group “Turning Point USA.” This looks like the ambiguous humour of the alt right: the manifesto says Owens is a bit “too” extreme. This is clearly untrue, Owens is a Conservative, far less “extreme” than a fascist terrorist. But this is hiding Owens’s worth to the hard right in a “joke.”
Owens has often used “Great Replacement” themes, writing, for example “according to the birth rate, Europe will fall and become a Muslim majority continent by 2050” — making core fascist ideas mainstream.
Fascists being pleased about rightwingers picking up their themes is one danger. The bigger one is that conservative politicians seem keen to pick up these fascist themes. Tory politicians and right-wing media are aware that, thanks to economic stagnation, they are not attracting voters, leaving them with a smaller, ageing group of supporters. They think a dose of nationalist or racist tonic will give them a bit of zing: they are looking to the same “alt-right“ territory.
So we see “Great Replacement” themes of Muslims or other immigrants “taking over” “white territory” being mobilised across the right: “No Go” areas, “Sharia law” spreading, the Muslim “birth rate,” “invasions” by ships of migrants and so on appear throughout the Tory-supporting press and among Conservative Party “intellectuals.” We see the Tories enthused when Owens — named in the fascist manifesto — launches “Turning Point UK.”
When Boris Johnson makes crude insults about some Islamic dress making women look like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers,” he is trying to spice up the Tories waning appeal with racist energy. It’s disgusting, and it is also dangerous. The Tories want some of that racist oomf. It will encourage fascists and drive “official “ politics to ugly solutions.
We need to expose the link between these smaller racist arguments that Conservatives are playing with and the unattractive fascist theory behind them — this is not just casual prejudice, it is a plan by deluded, violent people who want to attack immigrants, and also think popular music is degenerate and are obsessed with how many babies people have.
We can also support New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s declaration of “As-Salaam-Alaikum” — peace-be-upon-you, and the way she has shown, directly and physically, that Muslims and all immigrants are our brothers and sisters.
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