Operational Hygiene: Spheres of Activism for the Alt Right

I was relieved to note that towards the end of 2017 after serious infighting, public arguing, and hurt feelings, not to mention cases of business rivalry gone awry, several major outlets of the AltRight addressed what is — my mind— a vital topic of internal and organizational discipline. Among the people who talked about what I would like to dub “Operational Hygiene” were Caerulus Rex of TheRightStuff.biz and Richard Spencer. In the following, I will try to flesh out this concept some more and hope to give my kind reader an idea of its importance for establishing a staunch and steadfast operational structure capable of braving the challenges lying ahead. I feel compelled to make clear that I do not intend to spoon-feed any AltRight activist or sympathizer in the United States while riding the not-so-enlightened Old World horse (as some of my similarly inclined colleagues within the European New Right have done, especially in the aftermath of Charlottesville; some still do). On the contrary, I hope to draw attention to an issue that might be of even more importance for the ossified political right in Europe and might become worth considering after it is successfully proved in the US, which is where Europeans are by and large still prone to look for ideas or guidance.

When I was asked to give a lecture in Munich in late June 2017 about what was to be learned from the AltRight’s sweeping performance during the later stages of the Trump campaign and afterwards, I chose the working title “Ethnostate, Movement, /pol/,” playfully channeling Carl Schmitt’s infamous 1933 essay Staat, Bewegung, Volk in which Schmitt, whom I consider one of my prime influences in the political realm, for the most part cheered the Gleichschaltung legislation of the early National Socialist government.[1] My ambition in the following is not to evoke a forthcoming seizure of power by the National Policy Institute or Andrew Anglin’s media-hyped troll army, but rather to stress the structural concept of the (meta-)political triad Schmitt had hinted at with his title (and in doing so, to take little to no account of its historical implications). The three catchwords I chose for my lecture were meant to represent the three spheres of Alternative Right work in order to make it more understandable for people who had never before heard of it, let alone actively followed its development online: 1.) the realm of Realpolitik, whether in collaboration with the GOP or not, aiming at a reversal of the catastrophic developments ever since at least the mid-1960s; 2.) the realm of the activities of all the people and organizations associated with the term “AltRight”, such as conferences, public speeches, tiki torch marches und so weiter; and 3.) the realm of informational warfare—trolling and memeing, and using sophisticated, but at the same time tongue-in-cheek anarchical, anti-establishment culture jamming. And while I tried to use these three spheres to outline a rugged morphology of the diffuse political and cultural landscape that is the AltRight, I found a (slightly forced) way to apply this triad to European and German political developments. This application, however, evidently works as well across the Big Pond.

As for the thought-provoking impulse that set me on track, I am indebted to my dear friend and colleague Benedikt Kaiser, a fellow author for Germany’s New Right political journal Sezession.[2] In the April 2017 issue, he published a strategic article on the question whether and how parliamentary and non-parliamentary forces on the right should interact to maximize impact while at the same time minimizing vulnerability towards the adversaries.[3] The article pivots on the relations between the non-parliamentary French Génération Identitaire and the parliamentary Front National. This distinction became relevant to the German anti-establishment scene as well in the period between composition and publication. Although the German domestic intelligence service “Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz” (BfV; Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) had announced its surveillance of the German Identitarian Movement due to “suspicions of anti-constitutional ambitions” in August 2016, the Bavarian party leader of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) Petr Bystron publically declared his support of various dissident non-parliamentary groups, including the Identitarian Movement, for raising important political subjects, thus making himself a target for Bavaria’s domestic intelligence service from March to September 2017. In France, Front National’s campaign for the parliamentary elections in June 2017 led to a major brain drain within the ranks of Génération Identitaire that left the movement intellectually and organizationally crippled down to the present day — most notably, Génération Identitaire’s leader up to that time, Philippe Vardon (also renowned for composing the French movement’s cultural substratum[4]). Vardon jumped ship in favor of a good-paying party job.

Kaiser’s emphasis was on the need for parliamentary and non-parliamentary dissident forces to work complementarily, without one obstructing or compromising the other. This is the idea of a “tessellated right,” a term hijacked from leftist politicians and labor union officials who conceptualized a “tessellated left” as a means of strategic counteraction against neo-liberalism and globalization.[5] As Kaiser notes, “a genuine meshing of parliamentary and non-parliamentary actors necessitates the realization that parliament and movement complement each other like ‘engaged leg and free leg’ (Rosa Luxemburg); that – as Antonio Negri did not say – a ‘fighting’ and a ‘ruling’ political right (to come) complement each other as a dialectical twosome, drive each other forward strategically and at the same time force adjustments in each other.”

However, this must not beguile leading dissident actors into hastily mitigating their (meta-)political work in order to signal their willingness to compromise. This would mean falling for the “lure of political ‘responsibility.’” This concept, as described by the prominent fascist-turned-marxist German-Italian theorist Johannes Agnoli,[6] historically always served the establishment well by muting or disintegrating any fundamental opposition in its deadly embrace. James Burnham observed that such former oppositionists, who got baited with small concessions to no longer question the broad consent, “are as trivial, in relation to entrenched power, as the old court jesters.”[7]

In the United States, the Republican Party has made it sufficiently clear that it will throw the AltRight’s grassroots support under the bus at any given time in a futile attempt to make advances to the powers that be. Notable exceptions, such as — hitherto — Paul Nehlen, unfortunately carry no weight. This requires a major adjustment of Benedikt Kaiser’s “tessellated right” concept, in concreto the removal of the party element from the equation and the ultimate decoupling of the Alternative Right from any establishment institution.

Thus conceptualized, and in accordance with the aforementioned “three spheres” model, my proposition for the AltRight’s operational triad incorporates the following elements:

  • Organizational sphere. This is where the fundamental work happens. Institutions like the National Policy Institute as well as publications like American Renaissance, VDARE, Counter-Currents / North American New Right, or The Occidental Quarterly and The Occidental Observer, serve as both educational programs and initial points for conferences, public speeches, other kinds of gatherings, and various activities, which bring people together — people who possibly did not know of each other before. These people are then provided a safe environment where they are able to communicate their points of view and put forward their political thinking—a genuine interchange of ideas. At the same time, entities like the aforementioned ones exert a certain publicity power, especially with regards to the media, that comes down to a posture condensed best in the classic Italian rallying cry — Me ne frego, I don’t give a f*ck! This mitigated the damage caused by “Hailgate,” just as it turned the disgraceful audience reactions at both Auburn University and the University of Florida into Pyrrhic victories for the supposed “moral majority” du jour.
  • Hands-on sphere. This is where the action happens. This includes IRL activities of every description, from Identity Evropa’s “Art of Daring” and “Project Siege” via the Houston Goylers’ “Hate Hikes” through to TheRightStuff’s “Pool Parties” and The Daily Stormer’s “Book Clubs.” There are two main purposes of these. First off, they serve to create a certain communal spirit which strives to counter the atomizing effects of modernity and bind like-minded people together, forming peer-to-peer structures that might also act as backstops for fellows that have been given a raw deal by their adversaries, e.g. in the November 2017 case of Tony Hovater. Second off, they make contact with the “outside” world in the person of Joe Six-Pack, thus inherently fulfilling a social function. This aspect is of extreme importance, because it bypasses the usually hostile media seeking to position its distorting interpretations between sender and receiver, thus replacing the actual information with their own insidious agenda.

This, however, necessitates careful planning and execution (alas, also regarding the vexatious topic of “optics”). In general, the Italian social-revolutionary movement CasaPound Italia set the agenda by framing their ambition as “We want to appeal to our grandmothers, not to terrify them,” and by adopting old-school social work like gathering food for people in need or caring about the elderly, thus proving that they are not the thugs and scoundrels as portrayed by the media while also driving home the point that it is they who are actually the ones hung out to dry by the establishment. Only recently, Identity Evropa’s ad-hoc memorials to Kate Steinle and Justine Damond as well as their “Christmas Community Outreach“ showed that this strategic approach has been understood and practiced.

  • Hyperreal sphere. This is where the “magic” happens. Be it /pol/, be it the seething dissident Twitter community (as long as it is still allowed to exist), be it alternative news sites, subversive podcasts, or top-notch intellectual blogs — the internet has developed from a loose and slow network of newsgroups and forums that liberals had doubtless hoped they could turn network into their playground. What we have now is a pluriverse of avid edgelords who are beset by liberals who are all too eager to censor any free speech that is not their special brand of “free” speech. The reason for this oppressive behavior is a major misperformance of the left: while they embraced the new digital opportunities of educating their followers and slandering their opponents, they failed to see the online community as an autonomous entity in and of itself. But the changes made can not be undone — due to its rhizomatic structure,[8] the cyberspace has both overspread and permeated all aspects of today’s life, rendering it virtually indispensable. Especially the /pol/ imageboard community has recently proven its activist worth with spontaneous, intuitive actions like disrupting the various incarnations of actor Shia LaBeouf’s “He Will Not Divide Us” installations or tracking down the Anarchist bike-lock assailant of Berkeley. Most notably, the “It’s OK to be white” leaflet campaign of late 2017 has shown the helplessness of established media when confronted with a seemingly chaotic provocation — they found no better way to handle it than to condemn a perfectly innocuous slogan and blame it on a vast fascist online conspiracy, effectively admitting their ineptitude by being unable to discuss or even grasp the matter in unemoational terms.

Given these three spheres, work on literally any political and social level is possible. But it needs to be done in a strategic way, and this is where “Operational Hygiene” comes in. While organizational matters may and should be worked out, institutions, initiatives, and individuals need to try to formally confine theirselves to the one sphere they’ve chosen according to their talents and inclinations. This does not only prevent the few overly zealous people from overexerting themselves. It also serves to chip away at the media’s usual game of “guilt by association,” putting numerous high-profile people and groups in contact with one another without the opportunity of constructing elaborate conspiracies based on who may have met whom at which event organized by whom.

This especially holds true for proponents of parliamentary parties who are interested in their non-parliamentary political comrades-in-arms. Yet, it is necessary for both sides to realize that any party is a means to an end, but not the end itself. As Kaiser notes in his conclusion: “[The parties] must work as parliamentary representatives of a broader movement, which because of its pluralism (think tanks, periodicals, youth movements, and so on) we shall call ‘tessellated right.’”

The cautious distance of the tessellated right from parties and parliaments is necessary to prevent it from losing its edge by trying to please and impress the political allies of the day. In his personal thoughts about the “tessellated left,” left-wing activist Thomas Seibert named “spontaneousness, calculation, and autonomy” as the core principles of radical politics that would enable the return of the “primacy of the movement nature of politics.”[9] For achieving this, there is no use in placing comrades in well-paid political jobs. A genuine non-parliamentary anti-establishment movement can work with, but must not work towards parliamentary forces. It needs the ability and flexibility to reach out into other milieus and contexts, and it must provide the intellectual space for experiments and radical reconsideration of opportunities as they arise. This flexibility will be achieved by a triad of spheres that do not hamper one another; this space will be adjusted by “Operational Hygiene;” both in Europe and the US, until victory be won.

[1] Cf. Carl Schmitt, State, Movement, People. Washington, D.C.: Plutarch Press, 2001. Originally published as: Staat, Bewegung, Volk: Die Dreigliederung der politischen Einheit. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1933.

[2] For introductory informations about Sezession, its publisher Institut für Staatspolitik (IfS; Institute for State Policies) and Antaios publishing house, cf. James Angelos, “The Prophet of Germany’s New Right,” The New York Times Magazine, October 15, 2017. Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/10/magazine/the-prophet-of-germanys-new-right.html (accessed December 30, 2017).

[3] Cf. Benedikt Kaiser, “Mosaik-Rechte und Jugendbewegung,” Sezession 77 (2017):46–7. Online: https://sezession.de/57218/mosaik-rechte-und-jugendbewegung (accessed December 30, 2017).

[4] Cf. Philippe Vardon-Raybaud, Éléments pour une contre-culture identitaire. Nice: IDées, 2011.

[5] Cf. for instance Hans-Jürgen Urban, “konstruktive veto-spieler? Die Gewerkschaften und die neue Mosaik-Linke,” prager frühling 1 (2008):68–80. Online: http://www.prager-fruehling-magazin.de/de/article/118.konstruktive_veto_spieler.html (accessed December 30, 2017).

[6] Cf. Johannes Agnoli, “Die Transformation der Demokratie,” in Die Transformation der Demokratie, ed. Johannes Agnoli and Peter Brückner (Berlin: Voltaire-Verlag 1967), 7–87.

[7] James Burnham, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom (New York: John Day Co., 1943), 249.

[8] For an introduction into the philosophical concept of the rhizome, cf. Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Other – albeit more or less leftist – (post-)structuralist works important for philosophical thinking about modern mass media as well as the internet and their manufacture of hyperreality are Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994, and Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black and Red, 1977.

[9] Thomas Seibert, “Spontaneität, Kalkül und Autonomie. Strategie- und Organisationsfragen der Mosaik-Linken,” Luxemburg 3 (2010):30–7. Online: http://www.zeitschrift-luxemburg.de/spontaneitaet-kalkuel-und-autonomie/ (accessed December 30, 2017).

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