"I just feel like I had my best girlfriend break up with me," Alex Jones declared in a live rant last month during the American bombing of Syria. "I will tell Trump that you really betrayed your family and your name, and everything you stood for with this horse manure."
Jones' comments were, as is his wont, more than a little ridiculous. But they weren't isolated. Many people on the right and far right, including Fox hosts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, opposed the Syria airstrikes and criticized President Donald Trump for launching them. The impassioned dissent from the right was in sharp contrast to statements by Democratic Senate leaders. Charles Schumer (New York) and Dick Durbin (Illinois) were mildly critical of Trump for not consulting Congress, but praised the bombing for being a "measured response" to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons on his own people.
Given the contrasting reactions of Jones and Durbin, some on the left have begun to see the right as a more promising anti-imperial partner than the Democratic Party. The appeal of a new politics to end the American empire is understandable. But it's also dangerous—not least because it won't actually end empire. The right-wing fever swamp doesn't lead to peace. It leads to fascism. The Democratic Party, despite its serious flaws and past failures, remains, at the moment, the best possibility for restraining war.
For many on the left, this idea is counterintuitive: If right-wing figures are willing to oppose war, why not work with them? The Intercept founder and dedicated anti-war journalist Glenn Greenwald, for example, appeared on Tucker Carlson's show to condemn the bombing of Syria. Vanessa Beeley, the editor of the conspiracy-theory-mongering 21st Century Wire and a vocal opponent of war in Syria, is a frequent guest on Jones' Infowars.
Beeley is an outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights, a position that is generally viewed as leftist. But she's also a climate change denier—a position associated with the right. This ideological confusion is part of the danger of anti-war flirtations with the right, according to Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep. Ross explains to me by phone that part of the goal of fascism is to create "this new man, this new figure, that is neither left nor right." The old, hidebound establishment is cast aside as ideologies are reborn and rebuilt.
The glue for this rebuilding is conspiracy theories. Beeley is one of the main figures pushing the argument that George Soros is paying the United Nations to invent evidence that Assad is using chemical weapons against his people. This fits neatly into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish globalists pushing war on behalf of Israel. Such arguments are, of course, congenial to far-right neo-Nazi figures like Richard Spencer. Spencer, not coincidentally, also opposed the Syria attacks. (Spencer supports Vladimir Putin, and believes that opposition to Putin's ally Assad is being orchestrated by Jews.)
Creating an anti-war coalition around conspiracy-theory defenses of people like Assad is a bad idea for numerous reasons. First, apologizing for murderous dictators is immoral, not least because it mocks, silences, and erases their victims.
Second, defending Assad doesn't create a consensus for demilitarization in other places. In fact, Ross points out, right-wing opponents of Syrian intervention are often also apologists for Russian intervention in places like Ukraine, since they admire Putin as a proto-fascist leader. For that matter, Carlson hasn't been especially dovish in his coverage of North Korea.
And finally, the erosion of standards of truth, and the reliance on conspiracy theories, undermines faith in independent reporting. Lies and attacks on the press make those in power less accountable. And less accountable leaders are more, not less, likely to engage in war.
Reaching out to the right is also counterproductive because it alienates the core of the left. Carlson traffics in rabid racism and anti-immigrant demagoguery. When Greenwald goes on his show, what does that say to black and POC anti-war activists about their place in the movement? "When you include some people, you exclude others," explains Lirael Lowenstein, an organizer and street medic who uses an alias online to avoid reprisals. "Lots of people in demographic groups targeted by the alt-right aren't going to want to attend events where alt-right people are present." Lowenstein says that she actually left an anti-war rally recently because she recognized alt-right people whom she'd protested in the past, and she didn't feel safe. "Inviting Nazis into your movement drives a lot of other people out."
The right, then, is not a good partner in anti-imperialism. But why should we trust the Democrats? Democratic opposition to invasion and militarism has been, at best, fickle and half-hearted. President Barack Obama, who was elected on an anti-war platform because of his stand against the War in Iraq, failed to end the war in Afghanistan, started a new conflict in Libya, and quietly embroiled the United States in a hideously immoral proxy war in Yemen. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a foreign policy analyst who served in the Obama administration, admitted on Twitter that the Syrian airstrikes were illegal and would not help the Syrian people—but concluded that she supported them anyway.
Bad as they are, though, the Democrats are, in practice, less likely to use military force than Republicans. It was President George W. Bush who embroiled us in Iraq. Leftist commenters like Greenwald claimed during the 2016 campaign that candidate Trump had dovish tendencies and favored "fewer wars." But, in fact, Trump, as president, has escalated air strikes, loosened terms of engagement, flirted with a catastrophic conflict on the Korean peninsula, and recently elevated the uber-hawk John Bolton to the post of national security adviser.
Democrats are, then, marginally but definitively less war-happy than Republicans—and there's reason to think that the left can build on that. Twenty years ago, the Democratic party largely opposed marriage equality; today, following sustained activism and pressure, the party supports it. Ten years ago, the Democratic Party considered universal, single-payer health care to be hardly feasible. Today, just about every prospective Democratic presidential contender has come out in favor of the policy.
There's no question that shifting the Democrats away from imperialism will be very difficult. Activists will need to develop specific policy proposals; repealing the 2001 Authorization of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) bill would be a good first step. And then they will need to lobby and push for years, or more than years, to get the issue on the Democratic agenda. Passing compromised, inadequate health reform took decades. A meaningful change in American's military policy could take even longer.
In the meantime, America will continue to drop bombs, foment wars, and kill people overseas. Anti-imperialists must do what we can to stop it. That should include working with Democrats when we can, and protesting against both political parties when they try to lead us to war. But it should not include allying with the right in a conspiratorial populist crusade against (((globalists))). As Trump is busy demonstrating through air strikes in Syria and warmongering against Iran, a fascist-curious U.S. administration does not mean a more peaceful, less imperialist U.S. An anti-war movement that embraces authoritarianism and conspiracy theories is an anti-war movement that will lead us to more war. The world needs us to pick a better path.