American fascists hail the Taliban
Why the fall of Kabul has become a political piñata for the US far right
"I celebrate every time the gay American regime is embarassed," wrote the US far-right activist Vincent James last week, adding: "You should too."
There's an obvious reason why the far-right extremists in the USA are celebrating the Taliban's victory. It has punctured a hole in the credibility of the Biden administration and seriously damaged Western belief in a rules-based global order.
With 18 American states passing voter suppression laws since January, and the Republican right falling over themselves to exonerate the Capitol Hill insurrection, US fascism can see a path back to its preferred "new normal": right-wing populism in control of both Congress and the GOP, opening the space for their own symbolic violence and the criminalisation of progressive resistance.
Nicholas Fuentes, a prominent far-right figure, wrote on Telegram:
The Taliban is a conservative, religious force, the US is godless and liberal. The defeat of the US government in Afghanistan is unequivocally a positive development.
In short, the Taliban victory moves both geopolitics and domestic politics several notches in the direction of the far right's ultimate goal - catastrophic collapse.
But there's a deeper, philosophical reason for the far-right's Taliban mania, which goes to the heart of how 21st century fascism has changed. The new fascism, at its ideological roots, is a movement against modernity. I don't mean the modernity that starts with Picasso, but the modernity that starts with Galileo.
In How To Stop Fascism I've identified three foundations for the new fascist thought-architecture: irrationality, scientific racism and machine worship (especially where the gun is the machine). The Taliban tick all three.
When traditionalist philosopher Alexander Dugin calls for the reversal of historical time to a pre-Enlightenment era, the Taliban say "hold my coat".
Thought they have, during the past decade, abandoned Pushtun nationalism in favour of a more inclusive Islamism, they remain genocidally hostile to the Hazara people who form the working class of the major cities, and the peasantry of the central mountains.
And during almost 30 years of existence the Taliban have revelled in the individual power conferred on the armed man.
So it's no surprise to see both spontaneous expressions of support for the Taliban takeover among the US and international far right, and cynical manipulations of it by the global disinformation machine.
A report by the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab has chapter and verse so far (there will likely be more during the traumatic last phase of the evacuation).
The key themes are emulation (they did it, so can we), symmetries (their politcs and ours are the same) and catastrophism (they have hastened the collapse of the West).
Andrew Torba, the founder of the far-right platform Gab, summed up the emulation trope:
If a bunch of dudes who hid in caves or twenty years can take their country back from the Globalist American Empire then there's no reason we can't too. All we have to do is exit their system and build our own.
Since all far right narratives operate as text and subtext, it's worth spelling out the logical, subtextual core: (i) There will be a far-right insurrection in the USA (ii) Preparation for it means creating islands of counter-power, making the Republic ungovernable.
Rinaldo Nizzaro, leader of the banned far-right terror group BASE, reportedly posted a video urging his followers to emulate the Taliban's strategy of taking rural territory before moving to regional capitals: "we need to think bigger [and] try to organise on a regional level".
Meanwhile, among the white nationalists not overtly gung-ho for Taliban rule, the emphasis has been on the symmetry between the Islamist insurrection and the one planned by white Christians in the USA. A Telegram channel allied to the far-right Proud Boys explained:
“What we celebrate has very little to do with the Taliban. We are celebrating the fact that despite trying for 20 years, the system has failed to subvert a local populace into accepting degeneracy. We’re celebrating that a small band of armed militiamen was able to defeat the forces of Jewish power arrayed against them. We are celebrating the fact that their are millions more armed white Americans than their are Taliban, most with better weaponry. White Unity will be the future, that is what we are celebrating.”
If the US far right were just a few thousand powerless wannabes tweeting from their bedrooms, this overt identification with a quasi-medieval and potentially genocidal movement, and with American strategic defeat, might be a worrying sideshow.
But as University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew points out, in Bring the War Home, the fall of Saigon in 1975, and the imagery of betrayal and defeat coming out of it, proved a major driver of white supremacism among embittered veterans. She writes:
A holistic study of the white power movement reveals a startling and unexpected origin: the aftermath of the Vietnam War. The story activists told about Vietnam and the response to the war on the right were major forces in uniting disparate strands of American white supremacism and in sustaining that unity.
[Belew, Kathleen. Bring the War Home (p. 3). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.]
Indeed, the entry of a young, trained and radicalised cadre of Vietnam vets was instrumental in triggering the turn of the "old" white power movements, tracing their lineage to the KKK, towards the military insurrection strategy in 1983, culminating in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing.
If you compare the world that produced Timothy McVeigh to the world of now, you will understand the increased danger. Already, those monitoring social media in the veteran community are picking up themes of disillusion and despair among a "small but vocal minority" of posters who fought in Afghanistan. The Russian state media, meanwhile, has wasted no time amplifying the talking points: that the lives lost in the Afghan war were wasted and Western democracies are ineffective.
At this stage it's too early to say whether the fall of Kabul will have the same political impetus to far-right extremism as Saigon did, nearly half a century ago - but new and specific features of modern fascism make it possible.
As I argue in the book, today's fascism is no longer a "tribute band" to Nazism, Falangism and Mussolini. It has been regrown from its original philosophical roots in pre-1914 Europe: Nietzsche, Bergson, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Spengler, Sorel and Le Bon. As a result, it is unencumbered by remnants of 20th century fascism that might hinder its growth in a networked and globalised environment.
As a result, first, it is no longer purely what Roger Griffin called a "palingenic ultranationalism". Though many modern fascists still want to "make nation X great again", their strategic objective is a global ethnic civil war, which ends modernity and re-sets the world order into a series of ethnically pure states. As a result genocide, which was optional for Mussolini, is built into the project - and any geopolitical event that leads to “Day X” is welcomed.
Nationalism - as in supporting the US military against its enemies - is displaced by far-right internationalism, where a defeat for the USA is a defeat for feminism, Zionism, Marxism, liberalism, globalism and social justice.
Second, modern fascism is co-created by its activists. Despite the salience of influencers like Fuentes and James, the ideas the advocate would proliferate without them. There is no modern Mein Kampf - and no Führer or Duce standing as the single gatekeeper to the ideology. As QAnon shows, it can be created through acts of interpretation, by activists at the base or periphery of the movement.
Third, for modern fascists anti-feminism is a co-equal strand of the ideology to racism. In the Great Replacement Theory, migrants are enacting a "genocide" of the white race, feminists are their co-conspirators, suppressing the birth-rate and depriving white incels of their right to have sex and procreate, finally liberalism, academia and the rule of law are the facilitators of the alien "occupation" - and as such classified as fronts for Marxism.
Fourth, 21st century is strongly attractive to people who practice performative self-deception. It is like a vortex sucking in anti-vaxxers, climate skeptics, anti-lockdown libertarians, anti-feminists drawn to "evolutionary psychology" and full blown conspiracy theorists like the QAnon movement. America's sudden and catastrophic defeat by the Taliban has not yet been fully incorporated into the lexicon of self-deception - in part because it is the direct result of an action taken by Donald Trump - but you can be sure it will be.
The central thesis of How To Stop Fascism is that, in a world dominated by multiple crises - of democracy, geopolitics, climate and inequality - the risk of fascism is rising. If risk, as in the basic business mantra, equals likelihood times impact, then the likelihood of a second fascist era is clearly rising, even though it is not imminent, while the impact - on a world where women have formal rights and many countries are inextricably multi-ethnic, and state machines have access to massive surveillance and repression - might be much more catastrophic than Hitler's seizure of power in 1933.
Unfortunately, out of the blue, and just like the Capitol Hill insurrection, the smashing of American power in Afghanistan looks likely to be a political piñata for American fascism, showering it with themes, grievances, proofs and opportunities.
How To Stop Fascism: History, Ideology, Resistance is published this week. German, Slovak and Italian translations are in process. Preorder the book on ebook, audio or hardback here. And please share, subscribe and retweet.