On August 15th, President Donald Trump threw the door wide open for American fascism. Speaking confidently on his home turf of Trump Tower in New York City, Trump blamed "many sides" for the violent clashes between antifascists and alt-right groups including white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. In a reversal from his August 14th condemnation of far-right extremists (itself a pivot from his initial dose of false equivalency made just one day prior), he falsely claimed that "alt-left" counter-protestors like antifa and Black Lives Matter were "very very violent," adding that "a lot of good people" were simply "peacefully protesting" the removal of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee's statue. According to Trump, it's those left-wing activists who want to destroy the "unity, healing, and love" the president called for in the wake of the events in Charlottesville.
Then, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, a week later, Trump doubled down on those statements, attributing the hysteria over white nationalism to a biased liberal media that's "fomenting division." "The only time [the media] show the crowds is when there's a disrupter or an anarchist in the room," Trump said. "I call them anarchists. Because, believe me, we have plenty of anarchists. They don't want to talk about the anarchists."
To be clear: The president of the United States of America offered up in Charlottesville a defense of white nationalism, one that former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and neo-Nazi Richard Spencer embraced. Even with firebrand Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon out of the White House, Trump remains the effective head of the alt-right, whether he likes it or not.
But Trump's week-long arc from Charlottesville to Phoenix is less an acknowledgement of the old nationalism than a baptism of the new, known colloquially as the alt-right. If white supremacy and authoritarian nativism, banished to the outskirts of American civil society, spent a half century living on dog whistles, the president finally offered up a bona fide siren song for the new generation of American ethno-nationalism. Fifty years of social and cultural norms, hard won by GIs and activists, are gone; everything old is new again.
In the early 1920s, German conservative reactionaries Ernst Junger and Helmut Franke formulated a new revolutionary program amid the ruins of the post-war German Empire. Disgusted by the feeble squabble of parliamentary democracy and enamored with the authoritarian military commanders of Italy's nascent fascist regime, the two railed against the newfound Weimar Republic in favor of an ethno-nationalist fascist state, assailing the bourgeois political establishment that had enabled Germany's humiliation under the Treaty of Versailles as, essentially, a stab in the back—the very myth that would fuel the rise of Nazism years later. The goal was simple: Smash the state, toss out the elites, replace weak institutions with strong leaders, and protect the German nation from the outsiders at the gates.
"Fascism," Franke wrote in the revolutionary journal Arminius in 1924, "is little else than the synthesis between conservatism and modernism." Junger was a bit more succinct: "I hate democracy like the plague."
But theirs was not the totalitarian fascism that defines, say, modern North Korea under the Kim dynasty. Influenced by the anarchist-individualist roots of the Italian regime and the general strikes organized by Spanish syndicalists, Junger would, over his lifetime, develop a fascism that, somewhat paradoxically, fixated on elevating the sovereign individual: the anarch. "I am an anarch—not because I despise authority, but because I need it," he wrote in Eumeswil in 1977. "Likewise, I am not a non-believer, but a man who demands something worth believing in." If a stateless but peaceful anarchic utopia is an ideal end of history, then it can only exist in a culturally homogenous society where solidarity is a function of belief rather than social contract.
Fifty years of social and cultural norms are gone; everything old is new again.
Their "anarcho-nationalism," or anarcho-fascism, should be a contradiction in terms, but it's strangely not.
Anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist, anti-globalist, anti-bourgeoisie, opposed to multiculturalism, multiracialism, and immigration, and bent on undoing liberal institutions in favor of ethno-nationalist solidarity, anarcho-fascism is tinged with ethno-racial nationalist anxiety. And now, the intellectual progeny of Junger and Franke—midwifed by Troy Southgate, the far-right British activist and self-described national anarchist who formed the the National Revolutionary Faction to overthrow the British government in the 1990s—is having its moment.
If the goal of anarcho-fascism is indeed to build an ethno-nationalist state, then the alt-right vanguard on display in Charlottesville is nothing other than anarcho-fascism. Only now, there's an Internet connection—and everything the Internet provides—involved.
Perhaps that's why the alt-right is usually characterized more by trollish behavior than political association. First articulated by paleoconservative Paul Gottfried as sneering condemnation of conservatism's failure in the 2008 election and popularized during the 2016 regime change by Spencer, the movement's broad range of provocateurs, from neo-Nazis to "men's rights activists," are are psychologically different than the usual conservative Beltway rabble-rousers. They don't generally engage with the traditional institutions of "the discourse," or follow rules of civility (see: memes); they view those sorts of pillars as mere systems of control, working on the behalf of the global establishment.
Consider the "Red Pill" mentality adopted from The Matrix by men's right activists. It's paranoia wrapped up in the guise of enlightenment: Either you're against the system or you're a part of it, and anything else just supports a suffocating superstructure in need of smashing.
Born and raised online, the alt-right is the decentralized anarchic militia envisioned by Junger and Franke and actually implemented by Southgate. Using the trolling tactics of the actual digital anarchists found on 4chan—a community with its own quasi-anarchic problems—to assail political and cultural norms in a campaign of epistemological warfare (see: "fake news"), the alt-right has translated "smash the state" to a world no longer dominated by nation-states.
Steve Bannon, until this month, was positioned to transform both the state and culture that feed one another. The Breitbart proprietor and former senior Trump adviser had previously declared Breitbart "a platform for the alt-right," but his approach to the American political condition was far more sophisticated. A self-described "Leninist," Bannon built the Trump regime, per the Washington Post, on "deconstructing the administrative state" that's defined the federal government since the Great Depression. "Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that's my goal too," Bannon told historian Ronald Radosh in 2013. "I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment."
Bannon may be out of the White House, but in the time between the president's Charlottesville remarks and his Phoenix remarks, it's clear that the Bannon's brand of anarcho-fascism won't be leaving the political DNA of the White House anytime soon.
Indeed, the Trump administration has been intent on burning American institutions to the ground, and not just the cultural power of the presidency that's been slowly debased by the insulter-in-chief but its literal manpower. Political appointments to essential executive branch positions (see: the Department of State, the Department of Defense) sit unfilled; the Environmental Protection Agency is in a state of political neglect; despite control of the federal government, Republicans are unable to pass a legislative agenda while the president embraces the executive orders that his base derided Barack Obama for; the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, is changing under an influx of conservative judges.
This impulse to destroy and neutralize has now spread beyond Bannon or Trump or even the alt-right, and is slowly seeping into our everyday culture. Consider James Damore, the Google engineer fired for penning a 3,300-word essay on workplace diversity and, despite his protestations, a poster boy for the alt-right's war on norms. Or Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and critical player in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, who preferred Trump's chaos-baiting to the global elitism of the Democrats he digitally assailed with leaks (a focus made clear by his reported disinterest in Russian government documents). Or the Twitter personalities who, with every cry of "fake news," engage in a terrifyingly effective form of epistemological warfare.
Instead of the youth-fueled vanguard favored by Franke or Junger or Southgate, this new anarcho-fascism represents a dialectic war against the post-modern "monarchy," waged by milieu of masses bound together only by their shared misery. Trump could denounce the alt-right once and for all, and Bannon could shrink from the limelight, but really, the damage has already been done.