The Re-Branding of the Alt-Right

Tread
Libertarianism: Because that is exactly what America needs–another capitalist party.

AUGUSTA, MAINE- The alt-right’s pathetic efforts to re-brand itself in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, and its overwhelming defeats in Boston and Berkeley, California, last month, were on full display in Maine, this past weekend. A right-wing “free speech” rally in Augusta on September 30 was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise the demonstrators’ racist, white nationalist views.

Fortunately, nearly 100 protesters—including many from local socialist organizations—turned out to oppose them.

The coalition of left groups included the Portland, Maine branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), along with the John Brown Gun Club, The Socialist Party of Maine, the NAACP of Bangor, the Southern Maine IWW, and the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), among others. The groups gathered across from the Capitol Building, where the right-wing rally was taking place.

The organizers of the alt-right demonstration, bearing the generic name, “Rally to Denounce Political Violence,” seemed, at first glance, to represent an odd combination of libertarians, right-wingers, out-of-state political candidates (most of them running as Libertarians), and even a few Occupy Wall Street activists.

But closer inspection of the rally’s principal organizers reveals many familiar faces and themes of the so-called “alt-right.”

For starters, John Rasmussen, a Portland native and organizer of the rally, also helped assemble the original Boston “Free Speech” rally, back in May. Boston NPR-affiliate, WBUR, described the rally, at the time, as a coalition of “veterans, ex-police, Tea Party Republicans and young people affiliated with the self-described ‘alt-right’—a conservative faction that mixes racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism…”

Other rally organizers, including an individual who goes only by the name Jarody, have a clear online history of expressing or demonstrating support for white nationalist and far-right views. The cartoon character, Pepe the Frog, widely viewed as the alt-right’s mascot, features prominently on the organizers’ social media pages. One woman showed up to the Augusta rally wearing a hat featuring the character.

A social media page for the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” described the event as a “day to denounce the violence that has arisen recently due to political fearmongering. We advocate for peaceful discussion and the spread of ideas from all points of view.”

The rally organizers even had the gall to conclude the event summary with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet as Portland ISO member, Erica Hall observed, the free-market, austerity-pushing, privatization policies libertarians advocate are, themselves, a form of violence.

“Libertarians are capitalists, and capitalism is inherently violent,” Hall said. “They make these forms of oppression make sense to people, as if they are natural. But of course, they are not.”

Indeed, ripping apart the already frayed social safety net, abolishing public programs and social services, replacing public schools with private or charter schools, and valuing private property over human lives, are all forms of political violence against poor and working-class people.

Of course, the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” conveniently overlooked all of these forms of violence. Its focus was, instead, exclusively on the purported violence of the left—particularly anti-fascist groups like Antifa and the Black Bloc anarchists.

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THE RIGHT in Maine is clearly taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book—condemning violence on “both sides,” even though it is really only their side that is actively seeking to perpetuate violent acts and intimidation. Its members seek to draw a moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa, suggesting that both are equally responsible for promoting violence.

Jarody pushed this false equivalency in an interview with the Portland Phoenix’s Nick Schroeder, prior to the rally.

“We’ve got groups like Antifa and the John Brown Gun Club coming to oppose us,” said Jarody. “I’d like to see the organizers of the counter-rally make sure to rein in those on their side who might show up to incite violence.”

This is, of course, a baseless comparison.

The efforts of anti-fascists to defend themselves and marginalized people—violently, if necessary—is in no way comparable to the racism and hate-mongering incited by the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. While those of us in the ISO often disagree with Antifa and Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics, we fully reject the alt-right’s attempts to conflate the two.

As a joint press release issued by the left-wing coalitions stated, “This event, the ‘Rally to Denounce Political Violence,’ … is an attempt to provide shelter for alt-right ideologies under the guise of free speech.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Jarody refused to concede to the Phoenix’s Schroeder that the murder of 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, is a form of political violence.

“Nobody knows what [was] going on in that guy’s head,” Jarody told Schroeder, referring to assailant, James Alex Fields, who drove his car into a group of ISO activists, killing Heyer. “Nobody knows what his intentions were. Even though we have footage of it, that’s basically the work of lawyers [sic]. I’d have to listen to what [Fields] says up on the stand.”

Rasmussen, in an interview on a local right-wing radio station a few days prior to the rally, was similarly evasive in his description of Fields’ murder of Heyer.

“Everybody is attacking everybody right now,” Rasmussen said when asked about the events in Charlottesville, on August 12. This cop-out of a reply prompted the conservative interviewer to respond merely, “Okay,” and move on to another topic.

Rasmussen then launched into a rambling, mostly incoherent tirade about how the alleged violence of the left is “going to cycle incredibly fast,” and conservatives are in danger of “walking right into their [the left’s] trap.”

Still, the right’s newfound strategy is clear. They want to paint leftists and anti-racists as unhinged, violent instigators, deeply intolerant of the right’s freedom of speech. Consider this the alt-right’s attempt to re-brand itself as the “alt-light.” They are desperately trying to bury their overt appeals to white nationalism and anti-Semitism, while casting themselves as victims of an antagonistic extreme left that is out for blood.

But counter-protesters were not buying any of it. They understood all too well that this poorly disguised, “free speech” rally was the same vile, rotten right-wing product in a slightly different package.

Indeed, the left easily outnumbered the 20 or so right-wingers who ultimately showed up the Augusta rally. The Portland ISO raised chants and sold copies of the ISO’s monthly newspaper, Socialist Worker. Our group conveyed the strongest political orientation among a friendly, but politically mixed crowd.

A version of this essay also appeared on Socialist Worker.org.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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National Propaganda Radio

Free Palestine

MPBN falsely equates the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement with “anti-Semitism.”

A recent edition of Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN)’s lunch-time call-in show, Maine Calling, dealt with the topic of the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Maine and throughout the nation.

The topic is no doubt worthy of timely, intellectual discourse. Donald Trump and members of his administration frequently deride Jews alongside Muslims, immigrants, women and other oppressed groups—though their slights against Jews tend to be more subtle compared to those directed at other groups.

Trump, for instance, seemed to go out of his way to omit the Jews from his list of victims to be honored on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, back in January. More recently, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, in an ignorant attempt to portray Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as worse than Hitler, falsely claimed the latter “never used chemical weapons” against his enemies.

Sadly, host, Jennifer Rooks and her three bourgeois guests seemed more interested in using the hour to promote Zionist views that falsely equate the growing anti-imperialist, Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with “anti-Semitism.”

According to guest, Abraham Peck, a history professor at the University of Southern Maine and Bates College, BDS has created an unsafe environment for Jewish students on college campuses. He then proceeds to describe the BDS movement using a series of “weasel words” (“seems like,” “what is seen as,” etc.)

BDS, Peck says, “essentially seeks to punish the state of Israel for what is seen as Israel’s unfair, illegitimate occupation of the West Bank and also its relationship to Gaza.”

Peck goes on to baselessly claim BDS activists have greeted Jewish students with “anti-Semitic chants, Nazi symbols, and swastikas on their doors …”

But if Israel’s illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is “seen as” “unfair,” and “illegitimate,” that is because a majority of human rights groups and international organizations have determined it to be such.

Furthermore, the aim of BDS is not so much to “punish” the state of Israel, as to advocate for justice for Israel’s victims—the people of Palestine. Indeed, this warped inversion of the purpose of international law suggests that it is Israel—not the people of the occupied territories—who is the true victim in this conflict.

As for Peck’s ludicrous charge that BDS activists routinely incorporate “anti-Semitic chants, Nazi symbols, and swastikas” in their demonstrations, all I can say is this is news to me. Peck is either deliberately making false claims about the movement, or is confusing its actions with those of campus Neo-Nazi groups—which have proliferated since Trump’s election.

Curiously, Rooks and her guests have virtually nothing to say about the latter groups, which represent a real anti-Semitic threat to Jewish students throughout the country. Instead, they remain fixated on BDS.

Rabbi Erica Asch, of Temple Beth El in Augusta, concurs with Peck lamenting the Jewish students who may have to “go through a barricade of students chanting at them about Israel,” in order to seek out “services for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.”

How this scenario differs from, say clients of Planned Parenthood in Portland, who must pass through a barricade of right-wing anti-choice zealots in order to enter the door, Rabbi Asch does not explain. This is in no way an endorsement of those “pro-life” (read: pro-birth) activists, who stand outside Planned Parenthood every Friday, and harass and shame the women who enter. It is merely to point out that, for better or worse, free speech cuts both ways.

Asch, echoing the current liberal obsession with “safe spaces,” asserts Jewish students should “not have to think about Israel” if they do not want to.

Well, college students are certainly free to think about or ignore whichever social, political, or international issues they care to. That is one of the great things about college. But the very presence of BDS on college campuses is not, in of itself, an example of anti-Semitism—nor, for that matter, does it mean universities have suddenly become a hostile environment for Jewish students.

But the real coup de grace comes when the pundits are confronted by a caller who asks whether one who voices disagreement with Israel’s foreign policy is automatically an “anti-Semite.” Asch’s conflicting answer is quite telling.

She says:

I would say absolutely not. I mean … you only have to look at what goes on in Israel amongst Israelis to know that voicing disagreement with Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic. In fact, I think that many Israelis view that as patriotic.

… I think that the difficulty is when that turns into either a criticism of Jews in general, a singling out of Israel on the world stage as the only actor that commits human rights abuses when we see many, many other countries are also doing this, or a time when people are really questioning the legitimacy of Israel, couched in words like, “Well, it should be one state,” which we know will ultimately lead to the end of the Jewish democratic state of Israel.

So I would say, absolutely it’s okay to criticize Israel. But there is a point at which that crosses the line and becomes an unacceptable form of speech and denying the right of the Jewish State to exist.

In other words, the balance between legitimate criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and outright hatred of the Jewish people is a sort of slippery-slope, in which the former can quite easily lead to the latter. This, incidentally, is the same tactic supporters of Hillary Clinton used to silence valid criticism of her record or neoliberal platform: Equate legitimate political disagreement with outright sexism.

The fact is, opposition to Israel’s apartheid regime, and abject hatred of Jewish people are two highly disparate things. There is very little ambiguity separating the two. And the implication that the two groups—BDS activists, and Neo-Nazis—frequently travel in the same circles can be immediately dismissed by anyone who has spent any time with BDS activists or the left in general. Indeed, the liberal practice of “calling-out” perceived incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like within leftist groups is so prevalent, an actual anti-Semite would have a difficult time getting anywhere near a BDS rally.

(I am going to leave aside Asch’s straw man argument that Israel should not be “singled out” for war crimes and human rights abuses since other nations throughout the world engage in similar behavior. No doubt, other nations—including the United States—engage in horrific human rights abuses. But very few of them approach the apartheid-style colonialism that characterizes the state of Israel. As for the equally vapid claim that BDS activists often “couch their language” in a call for a one-state solution, there is really only one side in the Israel-Palestine conflict that routinely calls for a one-state solution, and it is not the Palestinians or the BDS movement. It is the Israeli government.)

But Asch’s implication—that there is little, rhetorically, separating the BDS movement and full-blown anti-Semitism—seems to be shared by the panelists. And there is no BDS advocate or representative to counter the other panelists’ lies and Zionist propaganda.

This sort of one-sided coverage of BDS—or of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general–is certainly not unique among the corporate media networks. But one would expect NPR/MPBN to at least attempt to offer a more nuanced perspective on the topic.

Sadly, one would be wrong.

The fact is that NPR, despite its reputation as a bellwether of objective reporting, and informed, robust perspectives, fails to truly differentiate its approach to news-coverage from that of the corporate news outlets. Case in point, a popular NPR evening show is called Marketplace, but there is no comparable show offering a labor perspective. Yet, despite this clear oversight—itself indicative of a clear ideological bias—the right routinely informs us that the media are “liberal.”

As the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), has long observed through meticulous studies of NPR’s coverage, the network largely draws from the same narrow, elite circle of mostly white and male talking heads. In questioning to what extent the public is actually represented on public radio, FAIR concluded in a 2004 report that NPR “relies on the same elite and influential sources that dominate mainstream commercial news, and falls short of reflecting the diversity of the American public.”

Indeed, the right-wing billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch are frequent contributors to NPR, and have, in recent years, exerted significant influence on the network’s news and editorial decisions. In a time when liberals are so quick to denounce the Trump administration’s use of so-called “alternative facts,” it is discouraging to see so many in the capitalist media employ their own blatant disregard for the truth.

If MPBN wants to host a debate on the merits–or, indeed, the perceived ideological orientation–of the BDS movement, then it should do just that.

But such a debate should necessarily entail, 1) including a spokesperson or advocate for BDS and, 2) not presenting the debate under the misleading, generic headline, “Anti-Semitism.” Rather, a more appropriate and direct show title would be, “Is BDS anti-Semitic?” or something to that effect.

This is yet another example of why socialists need their own media outlets.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!