Though it was just one part of Donald Trump’s disastrously incompetent and cruel response to the coronavirus crisis, the president’s executive order on immigration in April revealed the dynamics that shape his administration better than just about anything he’s done in the past three and a half years. Announced via tweet to the great surprise of many government officials, it was implemented—sort of—two days later. “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” Trump wrote on a Monday evening. That Wednesday, he signed the hastily drafted order, which did not actually suspend immigration into the United States but did restrict it further, targeting people who qualify for green cards through family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents (so-called “chain migration”), or through the visa lottery. Last year, according to the Migration Policy Institute, the groups covered by the order received about three hundred thousand green cards; the federal government issues about a million annually.
Immigration to the United States had already been severely limited amid the coronavirus pandemic even before this order, as the government agencies that regulate and administer it were all effectively on pause: the refugee program had been halted, visa processing was suspended, and citizenship ceremonies were postponed. In March, the CDC had issued a thirty-day ban (later extended) on all non-essential travel into the United States from Mexico and Canada. Tens of thousands of migrants apprehended at the southern border, between ports of entry, were immediately removed to Mexico without detention or due process. Despite the fact that any noncitizen arriving in the United States, “irrespective“ of their status, has a right to apply for asylum, Border Patrol was refusing to hear the vast majority of claims ostensibly out of concern for public health. In a sense, then, Trump’s executive order didn’t change very much. But it revealed a significant contradiction within his administration and the wider conservative coalition, the stability of which has been threatened by Covid-19.
The order, which was framed as being for the benefit of the economy, contains several significant exceptions: it does not apply to medical professionals, wealthy investors, or temporary migrant farm workers. That the United States would seek out foreign labor in a time of crisis is not strange. The health care system was overburdened and in need of workers; the food supply chain was thrown into a state of confusion and in need of workers. (As for foreign investors, well, borders have never existed for capital.) But carving out these exceptions seemed to contradict the singular, animating principle of the Trump administration: immigrants are a threat to the health and well-being of the U.S. citizen.
The nativist faction both within and without the administration expressed their dissatisfaction with the order as written. In a letter addressed to Trump, Dan Stein, president of the hard-line anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform, described the order as “designed to satisfy powerful business interests that value a steady flow of cheap foreign labor”; he called for a new one to be issued within thirty days. “However well intentioned, this executive order will provide little relief to Americans,” Jessica Vaughn, policy director for the slightly more buttoned-up Center for Immigration Studies, wrote in a blog post. “We recommend that the president take much bolder steps to help U.S. workers.” Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, expressed his hope that the order could be amended to stop all immigration until unemployment reaches zero. “My answer has been that it made no sense to have a permanent immigration program of more than one million a year BEFORE the pandemic and that it certainly makes no sense to renew that rate of new permanent foreign workers before the official unemployment rate falls back down in the 3 percent level,” he wrote. “Why should the U.S. jobs be re-opened to mass immigration while there are still Americans waiting in line?”
After the order was signed, Trump adviser Stephen Miller, one of its main authors, who has long sought to frame immigration as a public health risk, attempted to reassure these groups that everything was going according to plan. “The most important thing is to turn off the faucet of new immigrant labor,” he said on a conference call, a recording of which was obtained by the Washington Post. “As a numerical proposition, when you suspend the entry of a new immigrant from abroad, you’re also reducing immigration further because the chains of follow-on migration that are disrupted. . . . So the benefit to American workers compounds with time.” Miller demanded his allies’ support:
All around the country, Americans of every political stripe will rally behind an initiative to make sure that they, their children, their parents, their husbands, wives, sons, uncles, nephews, cousins can be the first to get a job when it opens up, to get her old job back when they rehire or to keep their job if they already have one. . . . Those individuals have a right and an expectation to get their jobs back and not to be replaced by foreign workers. That’s the action the president took, it is historic. It is vital, it is necessary, it is patriotic and it deserves the full-throated support of everybody on this call.
While the order was temporary and limited, Miller seemed to suggest that it could be extended and expanded—but not without the backing of the wider reactionary coalition. His defensive bluster notwithstanding, it is true that the guardrails on the president’s order serve the purposes of U.S. industries like agriculture and construction reliant on migrant labor, but this has been the arrangement for decades: militarized federal enforcement agencies and a robust nativist media apparatus keep immigrant workers in a state of vulnerability and precariousness through the ever-present threat of removal, which suits the capitalists who exploit them just fine, so long as they remain senior partners in the arrangement. In other words, while the capitalist class favors the expansion of deportability, they do not actually want to see everyone who qualifies deported.
This is no rerun of the Tea Party moment.
At the same time, the Supreme Court has been slowly but steadily expanding the executive branch’s ability to do whatever it wants when it comes to immigration—an area where the president already enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. A day after Trump signed the executive order, the court strengthened the administration’s ability to deport legal residents for crimes committed while in the United States. The order itself relies on the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212(f), which grants the executive broad authority to restrict “any aliens or of any class of aliens” from entering the United States if their admission would be “detrimental to the interests” of the country. As authors (and contributors to this magazine) Felipe De La Hoz and Gaby Del Valle have pointed out in a recent Border/Lines newsletter, many of Trump’s other orders on immigration, including the Muslim travel ban, rely on this same statute.
Meanwhile, a decision on the administration’s efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) looms. Given the partisan composition of the court and U.S. conservatism’s increasing commitment to the theory of the unitary executive—that the president has full control of the executive branch and even quasi-independent agencies must bend to his will—it seems likely that the end of DACA is near: if not with this decision, then another.
The bitter irony here is that conservatives spent years complaining that the Obama administration had overstepped its bounds and was becoming a dictatorial force repressing the entrepreneurial spirit of red-blooded American small business owners. So it was regarding the Affordable Care Act; so it was regarding DACA. Now it’s clear that the opposition was not to broad executive authority as such, but only to exercising it to alleviate, however minimally, the suffering of the exploited and oppressed.
There was a moment this spring when the astroturf opposition groups of the Obama era attempted to reconstitute themselves, organizing protests at state legislatures and hospitals demanding that the economy be reopened, public health risks be damned. Although many of the same participants were featured, this is no rerun of the Tea Party moment: the far-right libertarian faction of the ruling class that provided so much support to the anti-Obama protest movement of a decade ago holds too much power in the current administration for that. But the contradictions of the movement they once funded have not dissipated; if anything, they are deepening, thanks to Trump. While the billionaires have found his presidency to be fertile ground for their political program, the small business owners and disaffected white workers they relied on for votes are growing increasingly restless—and more radical.
The central component of the Koch network, Americans for Prosperity, was instrumental in organizing the Tea Party. But in recent months it kept the anti-lockdown protesters at arm’s length. “The question is—what is the best way to get people back to work? We don’t see protests as the best way to do that,” the AFP’s chief executive Emily Seidel said in a statement. “Instead, we are working directly with policymakers to bring business leaders and public health officials together to help develop standards to safely reopen the economy without jeopardizing public health. The choice between full shutdown and immediately opening everything is a false choice.” Frayda Levin, an AFP board member, could barely hide her disdain for the protests: “We saw what we wanted in the Tea Party. It didn’t work out like we’d like. And now we’re much more practical.”
If you’re wondering what practical means, well, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short is not only a longtime ally—he worked on Pence’s gubernatorial campaign—but a veteran of the Koch network. Before joining the Trump administration, he served as president of Freedom Partners, a major funding apparatus, and consulted for the Club for Growth, which helped get many members of the House Freedom Caucus elected. Short reportedly “exerted significant influence over the coronavirus task force,” questioning the seriousness of the health crisis and pushing to reopen the economy. “We’re really trying to get this thing going quicker than a lot of people may expect,” Georgia senator David Perdue said in mid-April. “What we see right now is the free market, free-enterprise system is under threat. . . . Don’t come in and tell us how to run our lives.” Perdue was scrutinized for possible insider trading at the beginning of the pandemic; since early March, the Koch network’s super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action, has spent over $360,000 supporting his reelection.
Two central Tea Party movement organizations, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, have coordinated “reopen” protests, however. They were assisted by a law firm staffed by former Trump administration officials, as well as the Save Our Country coalition, which is steered by Stephen Moore, a right-wing economist favored by Trump. “Get open, get open, get open—we kept pressing that point,” Moore told the Washington Post of a series of April phone calls with the president. If Trump failed to get the economy back up and running, Moore said, “You’ll have a mini-Great Depression. You’ll have body bags of dead businesses and jobs that will never be resurrected.” The Save Our Country coalition also includes the American Legislative Exchange Council, the infamous bill mill funded by billionaire donors and a slew of U.S. corporations. ALEC has been particularly active in efforts to lift pandemic-related restrictions on economic activity, Sarah Lazare reported for In These Times. “We believe preparations need to be made for a clarion call to get Americans back to work, and so the economy can start its rebound,” ALEC chief executive Lisa Nelson told Newt Gingrich on an episode of the council’s podcast in March.
Still, the rebound has not come quickly enough for many, who have thrown their lot in with a newly radicalized crop of white nationalists and fascists. Even as lobbyists and policymakers sought to lay out their own plan to restart the economy, no matter the cost, the president, enamored with images of protesters who may as well have been on their way to one of his campaign rallies, encouraged the opposition to his own administration’s CDC. Just minutes after an April Fox News segment on protests in Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota, Trump tweeted, “LIBERATE VIRGINIA!,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” Matt Seely, a city councilman and spokesman for the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which organized a protest in Lansing, told The Daily Beast, “For him to say ‘liberate,’ I think what he’s really saying is ‘restore our freedom.’”
This was not as simple as Trump watching TV and popping off. As it turns out, the Michigan Conservative Coalition was founded by a Republican member of the state legislature who held an event in January with members of the Trump campaign. They are also known as Michigan Trump Republicans. And the group with whom the MCC organized the Lansing protest, the Michigan Freedom Fund, has received more than $500,000 from the DeVos family.
Even if certain core components of the far-right funding apparatus would prefer not to openly associate with neo-Confederates and anti-vaxxers, the lines get blurry around the edges. A somewhat peripheral organizing campaign to rewrite the U.S. constitution so that it is even more favorable to capitalists, funded in part by the Mercer family and run by Koch operatives, also pivoted to supporting the anti-lockdown protests. “We’re providing a digital platform for people to plan and communicate about what they’re doing,” Eric O’Keefe, who is involved in all sorts of Koch-funded projects, said. “To shut down our rural counties because of what’s going on in New York City, or in some sense Milwaukee, is draconian.”
But keeping the protesters on message proved difficult. “Ok folks, I implore you, please leave Confederate flags and/or AR15s, AK47s, or any other long guns at home,” the treasurer of the Wisconsin state Republican Party wrote in a private Facebook group ahead of a rally in Madison. “I well understand that the Confederacy was more about states rights than slavery. But that does not change the truth of how we should try to control the optics during the event.” Confederate flags and long guns were nevertheless seen in abundance at these gatherings. During a protest in Lansing called “Operation Gridlock,” crowds briefly blocked ambulances on their way to Sparrow Hospital, the region’s sole Level One trauma center. Among the thousands assembled was Phil Robinson, a Michigan militia leader fond of fascist memes and pagan imagery—hence his nom de guerre, “Phil Odinson”—along with members of the Proud Boys, a quasi-fascist street-fighting organization whose chairman, Enrique Tarrio, helped organize a Miami anti-lockdown protest. “A lot of small businesses are hurting. We’re also seeing that a big portion of this money coming from the SBA [Small Business Administration] is hogged up by corporations that really don’t need it,” Tarrio, who is also Florida state director of Latinos for Trump, told the Miami New Times. “I don’t think people care right now whoever put this together. I think a lot of people are eager to get out and work.”
The absence of a coherent response to the public health crisis is an inevitable outcome of the bipartisan commitment to neoliberal governance and the maintenance of U.S. empire.
One protester in Chicago went so far as to express this sentiment in the terms that chillingly welcomed Jews to Auschwitz, with a sign that read “Arbeit macht frei, JB.” (Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker is Jewish.) In Michigan and Kentucky, demonstrators hanged their governors in effigy. Another anti-lockdown protester, who bore a sign accusing Jews of being “the real plague,” had been previously photographed at a white power rally with Timothy Wilson, who planned to bomb a hospital in Missouri and died of injuries sustained during an attempted arrest by federal agents in March. He was an active participant in Telegram chats affiliated with two neo-Nazi groups, Nick Martin of The Informant reports.
In Idaho, infamous militiaman Ammon Bundy, who led the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and participated in his father’s standoff with federal agents at the family’s Nevada ranch in 2014, organized an Easter Sunday service with the president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, funded in part by the Coors family fortune. “They’ll speak all matter of evil against you,” minister Diego Rodriguez, a former Republican candidate for state senate, told congregants. “They’ll say that you are just trying to bring attention to yourself, they’ll say that you are trying to destroy other people’s freedoms because if you go outside and you breathe somebody might die.” Days later, Bundy led a demonstration outside the home of a police officer who he accused of unlawfully arresting Sara Walton Brady, an anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist who had organized a protest at a local playground. “There was a woman at a park with her children and she was arrested!” Bundy yelled. “The people will not allow you guys to do this for very long. . . . You will not go into parks and arrest mothers, and you will not go anywhere and arrest us for exercising what our rights are.”
In Austin, Texas, prominent anti-vaxxer Del Bigtree attended an anti-lockdown protest and subsequently hosted Wendy Darling, founder of Michigan United For Liberty, on his internet show. Michiganders “are not afraid of dying from the coronavirus,” Darling said. “We’ve got thousands of people in Michigan United for Liberty and the consensus there is, you know, we are not. We’re more afraid of the government than we are of the virus at this point.” Some anti-lockdown activists have committed to refusing any future coronavirus vaccine, according to The Daily Beast. QAnon conspiracy theorists also seized upon the panic, alternatively spreading disinformation about miracle cures and denying the existence of the disease altogether; in both cases, health care workers have ended up bearing the brunt.
As with all such demonstrations and campaigns, it is important not to overstate their influence or significance. While nearly two million accounts signed up for more than five hundred anti-lockdown Facebook groups, contemporaneous polling indicated that the majority of people in the United States were more worried about lockdowns ending too soon rather than going on for too long. But while it is true that most people did not support the anti-lockdown protests, it is also true that modern conservatives are perfectly happy to rule from a minority position, justified on economic, racial, or religious grounds, or some combination of all three. “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public,” Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, wrote in a memo to the Justice Department in April. “But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”
Barr, who has staked his career on the theory of the unitary executive, is a man of the moment: when Trump took office, 14 percent of Republicans believed that “presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts.” Last August, that number was 43 percent. As more extreme measures are taken to preserve the status quo, the status quo begins to change, threatening to transform into something else altogether.
A Unified and Coherent Response
When the coronavirus hit the United States, it seemed feasible that Trump would seize the opportunity to embark upon a kind of herrenvolk social democracy, mobilized around a state-mediated campaign of ethnic cleansing, the promise of which has been implicit in his campaign politics since the beginning. Think “Medicare for All U.S. Citizens Without a Criminal Record.” So far, this has not come to fruition: migrant labor is too important to the U.S. economy for the big bourgeoisie to allow for its categorical exclusion, whatever Stephen Miller’s cronies or the most extreme faction of the lockdown protesters might have demanded. While capital relies on nativism—and all forms of racism—to remain in power, these forces remain subordinated to its own interests. To the paltry extent possible, then, Trump tried to pursue business as usual.
This is why his administration not only continued to allow migrant farm workers into the country, but sped up visa applications for many of them. It has even made it easier for these workers to remain once they arrive, traveling from one employer to another as different crops come into season, without needing to return to their countries of origin. This was not an act of liberal beneficence: the administration also sought to cut pay for those on H-2A visas, who constitute about 10 percent of all U.S. farm workers. As the Wall Street Journal straight-facedly reported, “Many agricultural employers support lower wages.”
Meanwhile, Trump signed another executive order that claimed meat and poultry as “scarce and critical material essential to the national defense” under the Defense Production Act. The order came just days after John H. Tyson, billionaire heir and chairman of Tyson Foods, warned in a full-page ad published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that “there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.” Tyson’s president and the CEO of Perdue Farms both serve on Trump’s Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups, a bipartisan coalition that will, per an April White House briefing, “chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity.” Meanwhile, facilities round the country had become coronavirus hotspots; virus clusters around Tyson and Perdue poultry plants in rural Virginia threatened to overwhelm the county’s only hospital. According to one analysis, almost half of the nation’s meat-processing workers are immigrants.
Just as the president must have his hamburgers, the wheels of the U.S. war machine cannot be permitted to stop turning. As the outbreak spread, defense contractors successfully lobbied Congress and the Pentagon to be designated as “essential,” so that production plants like those owned by the submarine-builder Electric Boat in Connecticut and Rhode Island could remain open. (The CEO of General Dynamics, of which Electric Boat is a division, is also a part of the Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups.) Even as dozens of workers became sick, Electric Boat delivered a nuclear-powered attack submarine to the U.S. Navy. Two weeks later, company president Kevin Graney, who himself tested positive for Covid-19, announced that the company would be supplying workers with antigen and antibody testing. “As you know,” Graney wrote, “it’s been challenging to get access to tests, and we will now be able to offer employees a way to get some valuable information about your personal health that might help you.”
This was not as simple as Trump watching TV and popping off.
It’s not just the home front that has remained active. As the State Department approved more than $2 billion in weapons sales to India, Morocco, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon began pressuring state and federal governments in Mexico to reopen the maquiladoras just across the border. Many of these low-wage and dangerous facilities supply parts to U.S. defense companies like Honeywell and Lockheed Martin, which, like General Dynamics and Perdue, are also represented in the Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups. “Mexico right now is somewhat problematical for us,” Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters in April, “but we’re working through our embassy.” The processes of deindustrialization and offshoring ushered in by the neoliberal era that created these maquiladoras also contributed to the United States’ inability to produce the goods and materials necessary for people to survive the coronavirus pandemic—or, indeed, to produce much more than the bombs that continue to fall on places like Somalia, where the Covid-19 infection has rapidly spread.
The absence of a unified, coherent response to the public health crisis has not been simply a function of Donald Trump’s incompetence and narcissism: it is an inevitable outcome of the bipartisan commitment to neoliberal governance and the maintenance of U.S. empire—in other words, to capitalism. “If you remember SARS, that affected GDP. Are there worries about a pandemic at this point?” a CNBC reporter asked Trump at Davos in January. By then, seventeen people had died from Covid-19 and more than five hundred were infected; one case had been identified in Washington state. “We have it under control,” Trump said. “It’s going to be just fine.” By the end of May, more than six million people around the world were infected and more than 372,000 dead; in the United States, 1.8 million had been infected and more than 98,000 were dead. If the United States had begun to impose social distancing even a week earlier than it did, about 36,000 fewer people would have died, according to one model.
Even before the pandemic, the global economy was teetering on the edge of a recession; if there is a slight recovery later this year, a deeper, years-long depression looms. As of this writing, the official unemployment rate is 13.3 percent, though the actual number is probably closer to about 16.3 percent. The Trump administration celebrated the recovery of 2.5 million jobs in May, ignoring that at least 20.5 million people had lost their jobs in April. Still more remain underemployed, picking up part-time work, or have given up on looking for new work altogether. Since March, more than forty million people have filed for expanded unemployment benefits that will soon run out. The inadequate federal stimulus known as the CARES Act has already been depleted, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that any future stimulus must shield employers from liability should their workers contract coronavirus.
At the same time, corporate-funded think tanks like the Mackinac Center and the California Policy Center have pushed austerity measures onto states with plummeting tax revenues. New York City and Los Angeles are cutting funding for many public services, but as of this writing, not for their police departments (the nationwide uprising against police brutality may change this). The increasingly militarized Veterans Affairs department has increased its spending on riot gear. Private companies like Peter Thiel’s Palantir, already embedded in federal law enforcement, are now helping government agencies including the CDC, Health and Human Services, and the Coast Guard track and respond to the spread of coronavirus. As the capitalists and their politicians force workers in the United States back into the withering job market in an effort to kick-start the economy, countries in the developing world will be compelled to follow suit. The further we are pulled into this waking nightmare, the more unstable it becomes.
Three Feet on the Gas
Alongside the dregs of the Tea Party, the graying remnants of the Patriot movement, and the fractured remains of the “alt-right,” a younger, more extreme cohort of fascists has been working out its politics behind innumerable layers of irony and obscure memes, primarily in Discord chats and an interlocking network of Telegram channels known as “Terrorgram.”
White supremacists in the United States and elsewhere have long fantasized about an apocalyptic race war that would restore them and their people to power. This was the myth articulated in The Turner Diaries by William Pierce (a.k.a. Andrew Macdonald), which directly inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh is heralded on Terrorgram as a “saint,” along with more recent killers like Dylann Roof and Brenton Tarrant. The idea of the race war is also contained in James Mason’s Siege, which became a sort of ur-text for the now-defunct web forum Iron March. (Iron March was like the Velvet Underground of Trump-era fascist organizing: not very many people used it, but everyone who did went out and started a neo-Nazi terror cell.)
Recently, in addition to The Turner Diaries and Siege, a third text has proven popular with the Terrorgram set, passing from one channel to another: Harassment Architecture, a memoir-cum-manifesto by former Milo Yiannopoulos associate Mike Mahoney (a.k.a. Mike Ma), who was on the payroll at Steve Bannon’s production company, Glittering Steel, as recently as September 2016. “The only cleansing agent is fire; widespread and unending. Let it wash this planet out. Fight fire with fire until it’s all pure again,” Mahoney writes. “We are leaning into the collapse. We are pushing for the ignition of cleansing fire. I am acceleration and I am the reaction. . . . I am the world’s fire and I am the world burning.”
Protect private property, the fascist says. The liberal and conservative nod in agreement. Which rightly belongs to white men, the fascist adds. The liberal stammers; the conservative pretends not to hear.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and the early years of the Trump administration, “accelerationism” was a marginal position on the far right, kept there by the prospect of actually building and wielding power. But that possibility diminishes each time the interests of capital prevail over the drive toward ethnonationalism. Hence the recent proliferation of accelerationist groups and the growth of their influence. They were seen at anti-lockdown protests, decked out in assault rifles, tactical gear, and Hawaiian shirts in honor of the “Big Luau,” a play on “boogaloo,” a reference to an internet meme glorifying the coming of a second civil war (i.e., Civil War 2: Electric Boogaloo). Three “boogaloo bois” were arrested for bringing explosives to an anti-police brutality demonstration in Las Vegas; they had previously been active in ReOpen Nevada protests, which they were frustrated had not taken an insurrectionist turn.
Unlike the older activists of the Oath Keepers and Three Percenter militias, who understand themselves as guardians of the U.S. Constitution, protecting the polity against the corrupting influence of liberals who would strip people of their right to carry a gun and force them to get an abortion and wear an N95 mask, this new crop of militants is not particularly interested in recruiting new members or building a constituency beyond those who find their own way into the sphere. The “boogaloo bois,” or “big igloo bois,” or “boojahideen,” are equally hostile toward the left, liberals, and conservatives—they train their ire on “the system” as a whole, including law enforcement. “Cop killers go to heaven,” reads one meme shared in a Siege-themed Telegram channel. “Cops / Stand no chance / They sleep just like you and me / Make sure you work under the black sun,” reads another. A third, featuring the black sun, or sonnenrad, extolls “the supremacy of violence,” a classic fascist trope.
The superficial iconoclasm of the boogaloo bois among the far-right makes some degree of sense: accelerationism isn’t itself an ideology; it’s an orientation and a strategy. In scattered instances, both online and in real life, this cop-hate has even manifested as sympathy for anti-racist demonstrators. That sympathy is fleeting, however: the allure of militarized police in riot gear beating up protesters proves too great to maintain any semblance of solidarity for long. The same viral videos of police brutality and vigilante violence that have generated outrage in the streets and on Twitter were also being shared on Terrorgram channels and far-right Facebook groups, where they were met with titillation and delight.
But if accelerationism isn’t an ideology, there nonetheless is something fueling it. It is a kind of “national socialism,” or fascism, which demands the subordination of capital to the nation—and the master race. Terrorgram channels are filled with vaporwave music videos featuring edited footage from Nazi rallies in Germany and street fights with contemporary anti-fascists. Users share snuff videos and manuals on how to build different kinds of guns at home. Lush, mountainous landscapes and smiling white families are fetishized; so too is the lone, faceless warrior. Random acts of violence are encouraged, the better to acclimate oneself to brutality. Ditto political violence, especially targeting sites of key infrastructure. One meme articulates the Terrorgram weltanschauung vividly:
Our World isn’t Collapsing. It’s Deteriorating. Day by day. Hour by hour. Except you. You and a few like you have noticed. Taxes go up and they don’t come down. Stocks go down and they never come up. Countries are burning and our Children are dying but most still go about their day like nothing is wrong. Inaction is not a choice any longer. Either build the community infrastructure to survive the deterioration together, or help further it along. There is no other choice.
Behind the American death drive’s most spectacular expressions, whether found in extremist chat rooms or a swimming pool bar in the Lake of the Ozarks, there lies a sense of exhaustion: a nihilistic shrug at the very idea of politics, even as the “nested crises” of our time collapse upon one another in vivid fashion. Such nihilism serves the purposes of the ruling class—both the progressive neoliberal faction and the conservative ethnonationalists. It was perhaps no accident that the anti-lockdown protests began to accelerate at the same time it became clear the coronavirus dead were disproportionately not white: across the United States, the Covid-19 mortality rate is twice as high for black Americans as it is for white, Asian, or Latinx Americans, APM Research Lab found. In Arizona, the mortality rate for Indigenous Americans is more than five times higher than the rate for all other groups; in New Mexico, it is more than seven times higher. “When you start seeing where the cases are coming from and the demographics—I’m not worried,” a shopper in an affluent Atlanta suburb said after Georgia governor Brian Kemp lifted the stay-at-home order there.
Fascist eschatology courses through the thinking of the post-Trump right.
Just over three weeks later, police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd and unleashed a historic wave of protests across the United States. This uprising has had its own contradictions and convulsions that can only be worked out in the course of conflict and confrontation, which police departments across the country have been more than happy to provide. Fascists and white nationalists have prowled the edges of the rebellion in different cities, forming vigilante patrols in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Albuquerque, and elsewhere—here working to antagonize the cops, there to support them. Ultimately, however, their activity appears to have been completely drowned out by the two primary subjects of the conflict: the people and the police. That is not to say that these groups can be dismissed or that they do not pose a threat to people fighting for black and working-class liberation; rather, at the present moment, the greatest danger to the anti-capitalist movement comes from armed agents of the state.
But history is moving quickly these days. The police are running riot through U.S. cities every night. The mayors to whom their departments are ostensibly accountable hem and haw, their leadership rejected by cops and constituents alike. Trump, Barr, and reactionaries like Senator Tom Cotton have screamed for blood and spectacles of domination: a predator Border Patrol drone circled over Minneapolis; Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were deployed to do crowd control in Washington, D.C. The NYPD and FBI have questioned protesters, already surveilled by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, about their political beliefs. Elsewhere, Trump’s trade war with China continues to escalate, pushing the world ever closer toward a period of deglobalization that might set the stage for a new ultranationalism to rise in the dying empire, either led or tended to by fascists.
Some of them will wear uniforms; probably some of them already do. Others will not. But already the outline of their program is beginning to take shape: close the borders; open the economy; use violence against those who resist this order. Protect private property, the fascist says. The liberal and conservative nod in agreement. Which rightly belongs to white men, the fascist adds. The liberal stammers; the conservative pretends not to hear.
“The American frontiersman is idolized as possessing the quintessential essence of the American spirit of Manifest Destiny. But why exactly is this? He was the freest man on earth because he fucking earned it,” one Terrorgram screed inveighs.
Look at the quintessential American of our dark modern days: Fat, slovenly, weak, lazy, addicted to television and pornography and a false idea of history and reality given to him by people who despise him. Entertained by bread and circuses and sports performed by people he has no racial, spiritual or even local connection to. Addicted to gossip and material gain and status chasing after things built by massive corporations comprised of men who laugh at his choosing his own enslavement.
The new frontiersmen, who are willing to give up every temptation this System offers them, are the only ones who will survive this. And that’s how it SHOULD be. Look around you. You’ll never get a better wake up call than this. No one will be able to say you were not warned when they come knocking at your inner city apartment door with a needle in their hands. No one is coming to save you. This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Or the worst. You have to take care of yourself.
Such fascist eschatology courses through the thinking of the post-Trump right, offering an escape from its own contradictions. Confronted with a global pandemic and masses of people in the streets demanding justice for the victims of police terror, the post-Trump American right turns apocalyptic, millenarian. Feeling besieged, the powerful invoke a kaleidoscopic array of conspiracy theories to terrify and animate their loyal supporters: the small business tyrants, the entrepreneurial vampires, the “self-made” heirs to family fortunes, the cops. Their politics are reduced to three principles: domination, humiliation, and exploitation.
Very little stands between us and the abyss.