Some Notes From Fascism 101

"We need strong networks of community care and defense, aggressive political education initiatives."

Some Notes From Fascism 101
Image: Canva

I recently spoke on a panel called Fascism 101: Building Anti-Fascist Resistance for the 21st Century. It was the final installment of a seven-part series organized by Ejeris Dixon, Vision Change Win, and the Highlander Institute, among others. I am told that the full series will (probably) eventually be available online, but I wanted to go ahead and share some excerpts from my own comments at the event because I believe these are important conversations, and I want us to think about what it means to fight authoritarianism and fascism together as we enter a new year. Sendolo Diaminah and Loan Tran were also on the panel, but you will not find their remarks here as I do not have a recording or a transcript of the event. My answers, as featured here, have been recreated from notes I took in advance of the event.

The panel was moderated by my good friend Ejeris Dixon, and there was a lot of nuanced discussion that won’t be captured here. But for the sake of sharing, here are some broad strokes, followed by a list of quotes and resources I shared with attendees.

Ejeris Dixon: Please offer us your perspective on the antifascist strategy. How do we win against rising fascism and authoritarian movements in the US?

So, the quick and dirty of how I think we should fight fascism centers on the fact that, in addition to studying fascism, I also study collapse – or the ways in which ecosystems, economies, governments, and social systems unravel. We are presently witnessing staggered versions of collapse on a global scale due to climate chaos, militarism, and other compounding effects of capitalism.

As more land becomes uninhabitable and more people become landless, mass migration is helping to fuel a major rightward lurch by world governments because, in the US and Europe, mass migration fuels conservatism. From Elon Musk to Donald Trump, Netanyahu, and Germany’s Christian Democrats, the scarcity mindset and xenophobia that mass migration triggers in Western societies are being exploited to promote policies of exclusion grounded in carcerality and the violence of borders.

It’s essential to frame these developments in the context of sustained catastrophe, because, in the minds of neoliberal and conservative world leaders, western civilization is a collapsing box. Inside the box, we have habitable land and intact supply lines. Basically, we have the means of survival, divvied up by the norms of capitalism. As habitable land decreases, and supply lines break, the capitalist solution is not to help the land or displaced people recover. It’s to push more people out of the box as it collapses. From the neoliberal perspective, this will be framed as a matter of pragmatism and inevitability. From a fascist perspective, it will be framed as a recovery of the natural order.

Both neoliberals and fascists are already hard at work advancing their agendas within the framework of the collapsing box. For neoliberals, this leads to authoritarianism, which likely collapses into fascism, because the more authoritarian Democrats become, the less inclined people will be to oppose fascists on their behalf. We’re already seeing this play out.

Now, there are, of course, major distinctions. Under fascism, there will be no pretense about reinforcing old hierarchies. We are talking about the total social consumption of our world by people who are doubling down on traditional gender roles, racist hierarchies, state control of our bodies and our movements, and the embrace of mass death for anyone who is deemed expendable and unwanted – which would ultimately be most of us.

To fight this, we need both structure-based and self-selected organizing across a spectrum of issues, to defend both people and land, and we need the kind of political education that will help us unite those issues thematically in an antifascist struggle. We need solidarity networks to protect and defend targeted communities. For example, we need to oppose laws targeting unhoused people, substance users and people with mental health issues – and we need to resist the forced warehousing of those communities.

The Care Court Law in California is an example of where things are headed, in terms of capitalism finding ways to cut its losses and forcibly contain people who are not surviving on its cut-throat terms. The border deals Biden is making right now are also part of that process. The fascistic use of technology, including the use of AI for surveillance in our schools, facial recognition to control people’s movements in Palestine, and the IDF’s new targeting technology that’s been called “a mass assassination factory” are all part of this equation – as are the fascistic ideologies that have taken hold in the tech world. These forces are the means by which the box collapses on authoritarian or fascist terms. To oppose them, we need strong networks of community care and defense, aggressive political education initiatives, and strategic campaigns backed by a new generation of base-building for our times.

ED: From your perspective, what role does the 2024 presidential election, and electoral organizing in general, play in addressing rising fascism in the US?

(Note: There was a lot of discussion of Palestine, in this section of the panel, as it relates to Biden, that I will not be including here because I don’t have a transcript. A lot of contempt for Biden, his facilitation of genocide, and his support of Netanyahu’s fascistic governance in Israel was expressed. I may have used the words “fuck Biden” repeatedly. In addition to these concerns, my fellow panelists and I also discussed the risks of a Trump presidency. What follows was my main point during this part of the discussion.)

First, I want to say that if you are abstaining from electoral participation for political reasons, I respect your autonomy and your choices. If you are going to be engaged in electoral work in 2024, I likewise respect your autonomy and choices. I am not an electoral organizer, so I am not going to talk to you about electoral strategy.

What I will appeal to you all to consider, from an anti-fascist perspective, is that the worst thing we could possibly do around this election is attack each other. As someone who studies authoritarianism, fascism and collapse, I can tell you now that we are going to need each other in the coming years in ways we have not yet begun to imagine. In his book, The Next Apocalypse, archeologist and survivalist instructor Chris Begley has a chapter called “Who Survives and Why” which refers to who survives apocalyptic events and what enables them to do so. I have reread that chapter many times and the truth of it alarms me, given our political tendencies.

According to Begley, the first factor in determining who is likely to survive is discernment: can you tell good information from bad information, or good leadership from bad leadership? The second major factor is the ability to work across difference – meaning, how able are we to do the work of collective survival with people who are not of our own choosing? I am not just talking about what it takes to survive fascism here, or to fight it. I am talking about what it takes to survive everything this era of catastrophe is going to throw at us. To do that, we are going to need a culture of care and mutual recognition, and we are going to need to be able to work together.

I got my own wake up call around this after engaging in a lot of verbal skirmishes around the 2020 presidential primaries.

A bunch of us who had been in the streets together, who had trusted each other, who had years of experience at our backs, could not fucking stand each other in March of 2020. And amid all of that rancor, we were then hit with a catastrophe in which we needed each other’s solidarity, creativity and collaboration like we never had before. I am not ashamed to tell you all, I felt foolish for allowing electoralism to throw wrenches into my potential organizing in that moment. I have nothing but gratitude and admiration for folks who pushed past those beefs, and others, to do the work of collective survival. But I am telling you all, 2024 is going to be a clusterfuck, especially on social media, and in this era of catastrophe and collapse, you do not want to alienate a huge spectrum of your potential allies come 2025. So, my advice is that whatever your work is, focus on that. If people are wrong about something, sometimes you just have to let them be wrong, and keep it moving. Focus on what you can heal and what you can build. That’s what antifascist discipline demands of us in this moment.

And I also have to say, in 2016 I heard some movement people say things like, “If you vote for Hillary Clinton, you have blood on your hands,” and y’all… we live in the imperial fucking core. There are no clean hands here. I am a Native person whose ancestors experienced genocide and whose land was stolen, and who organizes for collective liberation, but given the structure of capitalism and imperialism, I am still living at the expense of a lot of fucking people. I want to change that math, but to do that, we are going to need each other. We can’t afford unnecessary rancor in our movements, and we can’t allow disagreements about electoralism to tear us apart.

ED: What needs to change about how we organize, the culture of our groups, and movement spaces, to defeat fascism?

First, I think we need to understand how the world is changing – which can be difficult to face. A lot of people are rightly focused on Israel right now, and as far as fascist and authoritarian movements and governments are concerned, Israel is a model for the world – and it's one that’s being embraced. Israel has tested the next generation of high-tech surveillance, containment, targeting, and annihilation on Palestine, and its arms business is booming. It is exporting its tech and its worldview globally. European countries have been devouring Israel’s border technology, as has the United States. Netanyahu has positioned his ethno-nationalist authoritarian worldview as an antidote for the so-called failures of multiculturalism in an era of mass migration and catastrophe. That worldview is winning.

Now, none of this began with Israel, but Israel is part of a global feedback loop, in terms of the violence of imperialism and settler colonialism. We are currently experiencing the end game of a multitude of horrors that have been refined and redistributed for hundreds of years – including the environmental consequences of capitalism, militarism, and imperialism. Our experience of that end game is uneven as fuck, but it’s here.

So we have to understand that context. And we have to understand that the culture-building work ahead of us will be increasingly revolutionary and countercultural, given that context. We need a movement of movements built in defiance of bordering, carcerality, and human disposability. We need a fundamental and shared commitment to the idea that we will refuse to abandon each other, or our humanity, come what may. We have to be ready to hold our ground when those positions are not only unpopular, but when we are scapegoated, and accused of making things worse by refusing to accept what’s supposedly necessary or “inevitable.” The task of keeping as many of us alive as possible, for as long as possible – and by us, I mean human beings and the rest of the living world – is going to be depicted as childish, out of touch with reality, and ultimately, traitorous. We will be called dangerous, and we will be called terrorists, and for some of us, that’s all in a day’s work, but the stakes will get much higher.

We all want to believe that, under pressure, we will be the bravest and best versions of ourselves, but that’s not going to come easy. We are going to need deep investments in communities of shared risk. We are going to need strength in numbers. We are going to need to build power, relationships, and political communion around the idea that, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore tells us, “where life is precious, life is precious.” Life has to be precious to us, and we have to be precious to each other, because as my own people can attest, that is how you survive fascistic conditions, and that is how you survive a fucking apocalypse.

A question that wasn’t asked, that I really wanted to answer: What is the role of media in the fight against fascism?

If you look back at resistance movements, during historical moments when fascist regimes took hold, the role of anti-fascist media was absolutely crucial. To disseminate the truth under regimes that aim to obliterate, demean, outlaw, override, and overrule reality is one of the first goals of any effective resistance. This is why you will find histories about rebel newspapers and educators in anti-fascist movements, and it’s why some of those people met tragic ends – because information and shared understanding are crucial to liberation movements, and this is especially true under fascist and authoritarian regimes. Right now, we are not yet in an environment, here in the U.S., where facts are repressed, on pain of imprisonment, but we are seeing examples of repression on the basis of speech.

The professional consequences that academics, journalists, students, and others in the US have faced for condemning Israel’s genocidal violence harkens back to this country’s long history of silencing dissent. Many people compare such moments to McCarthyism, but the truth is, throughout the history of the United States, marginalized groups and dissidents have been expected to establish their fealty anytime the ruling class or white society has been made to feel threatened – whether those threats were real or imagined, foreign or domestic. Some people believe that the safety of folks like themselves should never be compromised and that the ongoing safety of people like themselves is the first rule of “normalcy.” When they feel their safety is compromised, due to the actions of a foreign nation, or because people they relate to have been harmed, they expect everyone they might associate with whatever they feel threatened by to perform rites of loyalty and harmlessness. Those who refuse are deemed dangerous. This trend will continue as white people and the ruling class feel increasingly threatened by mass migration, resistance movements, and radical politics that question the norms of capitalism. As systems unravel, there will always be scapegoats. The corporate media, unfortunately, will primarily serve to enforce such agendas. So, when I talk about the importance of media, I am talking about media that serves the interests of the people, rather than the ruling class.

If you have lived through multiple mass movements, you have likely observed that there has always been a correlation between violence against protesters and violence against journalists who cover protests. We should expect that trend to continue and worsen. As protesters are scapegoated and afforded less sympathy, journalists who are swept up in violence against protesters will experience more violence and less sympathy. We are currently witnessing the unprecedented targeting of journalists in Gaza. This is fascistic violence and the lack of condemnation these assassinations have received here in the US does not bode well for the future safety of journalists in general.

It’s also worth noting that under a Republican regime, we could see criminal penalties for all sorts of newly criminalized speech, including laws already on the books that could be used to prosecute people for publishing information about abortion. We can also look at what’s happening in Israel for indications of what more fascistic restrictions on speech might look like here, in the US. People in Israel are being arrested for social media posts that would be considered mundane by US standards – seemingly on the basis of how these posts make Jewish Israelis feel in the wake of the October 7 attacks.

Independent media, zines, and political education efforts all have the potential to bring us into an ongoing, shared understanding and analysis of what we’re up against. The work of creating shared realities is more important than ever, as modern fascist movements are not creating a singular narrative that is being proliferated as the gospel by adherents, but rather, an endless hailstorm of conspiracy and bullshit. We are not in a duel between a false reality and the truth we know it. Instead, the truth is being obscured and overwhelmed by a tsunami of propaganda, misinformation, and cultish ideas.

We are going to have to work hard to cultivate shared realities because social media and the rest of our media infrastructure are designed to splinter our shared reality into oblivion. Part of Elon Musk’s motivation for buying Twitter was to escalate that splintering, because people without a shared reality can’t have a shared analysis, or a shared sense of struggle. Our enemies want us to scroll through our own algorithmically curated realities and zone out in front of our televisions. Alienation and escapism are the primary containment strategies for the vast majority of people here in the US. We have to actively work against that by reading together, thinking alongside one another, and creating spaces where we can simply be human together, while also processing things that are hard to understand or accept.

We have to exist in opposition to what’s killing us, and we need to get imaginative and ambitious about what that demands of us.

I also want to note that offline tools like zines will be crucial to spreading information that is either made illegal or otherwise invisibilized on the internet. Given that the tech world is dominated by its own fascistic cults and accelerationist ideologies, we are going to need a powerful neo-Luddite movement that helps us reclaim the technologies we rely on, while also acting outside of them.

The following are some explainer notes and resources I shared with folks who attended the panel. (And yes, I am still technically on a work break.)

What Do I Mean When I Say “Fascism”?

Given that you have heard various definitions and opinions across the course of these sessions, I want to clarify that I draw heavily on Robert O. Paxton’s work in defining fascism.

As I explained in this piece with Maya Schenwar:

In The Anatomy of Fascism, political scientist and historian Robert O. Paxton characterizes fascism as being “marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity.” The sense of decline and victimhood plays into the creation of scapegoats and political villains — those who are supposedly to blame for the suffering of those whose identity is being privileged within the fascist construct. Inequality, as it functions in fascist understanding, is not a social condition but an innate reality of what it means to be human. The greatness of those being privileged is natural and preordained, and if the privileged are suffering, it is because lesser peoples have been allowed to thwart their prosperity.”

Fascism requires a mass movement, which is a useful factor in differentiating fascism from non-fascist authoritarianism.

I talked with Shane Burley about why MAGA fits Paxton’s definition of fascism (as well as the diffuse nature of modern fascism) here, and Paxton talked about why Trump meets his definition of a fascist here.

As Toni Morrison explained…

“[Fascism] changes citizens into taxpayers—so individuals become angry at even the notion of the public good. It changes neighbors into consumers—so the measure of our value as humans is not our humanity or our compassion or our generosity but what we own. It changes parenting into panicking—so that we vote against the interests of our own children; against their health care, their education, their safety from weapons. And in effecting these changes it produces the perfect capitalist, one who is willing to kill a human being for a product (a pair of sneakers, a jacket, a car) or kill generations for control of products (oil, drugs, fruit, gold).” ― Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

Sarah Kendzior and I talk about authoritarianism and fascism in the context of Israel and the US (including explanations of how Democrats like Biden are driving us to authoritarianism in the US) here.

On Tech and Fascism, Authoritarianism and Oligarchs

Longtermism and the TESCREAL bundle of ideologies:

“It’s really important for people to understand what [the TESCREAL] bundle of ideologies is, because it’s become so hugely influential, and is shaping our world right now, and will continue to shape it for the foreseeable future,” says philosopher and historian Émile P. Torres.

On AI as a tool of fascism (that calls for an anti-fascist approach):

“Eichmann was unable to express or explain himself in ways that broke out of bureaucratic jargon: ‘Officialese (Amtssprache) is my only language’ (Schiff, 2013, p 103). Like many in the SS, he prided himself on his ‘objective’ attitude. Extermination camps were matters of ‘administration’, ‘economy’ and ‘solutions’. The conclusion [Arendt] drew from this extreme case was that thoughtlessness can apply to any systemic arrangement where people are being distanced from acknowledging obvious harms and inhibited from feeling any empathy with those experiencing them. Thoughtlessness can increase suffering by enabling direct acts of deliberate repression or by making it easier to carry out the prosaic oppressions of a punitive welfare system. In institutions with the power to cause social harms, the threat of AI is not the substitution of humans by machines but the computational extension of existing social automatism and thoughtlessness.” - Dan McQuillan, Resisting AI (p. 63)

On the new space race narrative:

“Musk’s claim that he is going to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars is utter nonsense, but it is not enough to simply know or assert that. The world we inhabit has been carved up and ravaged by people who leveraged ideas that were, in my opinion, no less absurd.” - Kelly Hayes (in conversation with Mary-Jane Rubenstein on Movement Memos)

On seizing the means of computation:

“If you’ve never tried to organize a movement without the internet, I’m here to tell you, it’s really hard. We need to seize the means of computation, because while the internet isn’t the most important thing that we have to worry about right now, all the things that are more important, gender and racial justice, inequality, the climate emergency, those are struggles that we’re going to win or lose by organizing on the internet.” - Cory Doctorow (in conversation with Kelly Hayes on Movement Memos)

Action notes: When it comes to TESCREAL ideologies, the best thing we can do at this stage is understand and expose them. When it comes to anti-fascist approaches to AI, I highly recommend checking out Dan McQuillan’s book. If you are interested in legislative and legal approaches, I recommend Cory Doctorow’s book The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (and/or checking out the above podcast featuring Cory).

On Collapse

In addition to being a student of fascism, I am also a student of collapse, and my analysis of the two are inseparable.

“One of the things we see when things get bad is that one of the ways out for the elites that are sort of holding onto their last bit of power or the group that senses it’s losing control is to scapegoat another group. That provides sort of a common enemy. It provides easily digested talking points. It energizes people. It creates this emotional reaction to the rhetoric that results in sort of the desired effect or the desired action.” - Chris Begley (in conversation with Kelly Hayes on Movement Memos)

On the “collapsing box”...

“We are all experiencing the theft of time. As the world becomes less habitable, and more people are displaced, we are living in a collapsing box, where borders and the extraction of time redraw boundaries of habitability and survival, and more and more people find themselves zoned into death worlds and sacrifice zones.” - Kelly Hayes (in conversation with Ruth Wilson Gilmore on Movement Memos)

On CARE Court

“On October 1, over the vehement objections of disabled activists, housing justice activists, and human rights organizations, the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act went into effect in seven California counties. The law empowers family members, social service providers, police, and first responders to refer primarily unhoused people diagnosed with schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses to a regime of civil courts that would compel them to accept a “care plan” handed down by a judge. In theory, people are allowed to refuse the care plan, but non-compliance could potentially initiate institutionalization or even conservatorship proceedings.” - Leah Harris, Return of the Ugly Laws: In the Name of ‘Modernization,’ the Newsom Administration Wants to Disappear Unhoused and Disabled People from the Streets, Rebuild the Asylums

On Israel

“Netanyahuism aims to crush Palestinian aspirations. During President Barack Obama’s term, he argued that it was “unsustainable” to indefinitely occupy another people because racism and colonialism were relics from a different era. Netanyahu vehemently disagreed. According to Netanyahu, Jewish writer Peter Beinart explained, “the future belonged not to liberalism as Obama defined it—tolerance, equal rights, and the rule of law—but to authoritarian capitalism: governments that combined aggressive and often racist nationalism with economic and technological might. The future, Netanyahu implied, would produce leaders who resembled not Obama, but him.” - Antony Loewenstein, The Palestine Laboratory (You can find my conversation with Antony about the book here.)

On the question of whether Israel is fascist:

“[Israel has] ethnic nationalism as a founding principle, so when the right pushes policies it has ethnic and social exclusion and nationalism right at the beginning. The Settlement movement and the far-right has grown really rapidly with the support of Likud, which now needs them for their ruling coalition, and the right will likely use [October 7] to consolidate power around their own version of the one-state solution: annexation, apartheid, and population transfer. So I think if anyone has a fascist government, Israel could be roped in, but we also don't want to overshadow resistance movements or flatten the differences. Right now there is an attack on the independence of the judiciary, a further slide into authoritarianism, and there has basically been an uprising against it. There is also a place for opposition in Israel, but the conditions of apartheid make it largely toothless.” - Shane Burley (in conversation with Kelly Hayes)

“[In Israel,] anti-war demonstrations have been effectively banned in many towns across Israel, with the backing of the country’s Supreme Court. New amendments to counterterrorism laws now deem the mere “consumption” of videos affiliated with terrorist organizations a potential crime. On top of that, state coordination with social media companies has ramped up to surveil and censor dissent online.” - Luke Goldstein, Israel Rounds Up Palestinians for Social Media Posts

“Tools of apartheid and genocide are not just military weapons—they are facial recognition, drone surveillance, and persistent dehumanization through technology, the gospel of technosolutionism singing its clarion call. Israel’s brutal crackdown in Gaza is a bleak reminder of how authoritarianism and technology go hand in hand, as rockets and drones in the sky dim the stars of Bethlehem.” - Petra Molnar, The New Gospel of Violence: Surveillance Meets Border Violence in Palestine

Crackdowns on US Journalism

“At least 12 journalists were arrested or detained this year across the U.S., according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s annual report … Five of the reporters arrested or detained this year were covering protests. In just over a month, three journalists were charged with disorderly conduct, jaywalking, and criminal trespassing while reporting on pro-Palestinian protests sparked by Israel’s genocide in Gaza … In 2023, journalists in the U.S. were also subjected to 30 subpoenas/legal orders, 11 prior restraints, 11 chilling statements, 11 instances of equipment damage, seven denials of access, four equipment searches or seizures, and 44 assaults … In August, an entire town’s police force raided the Marion County Record.” - Zane McNeill, 12 Journalists Arrested, 44 Assaulted Across the US This Year

Action note: It is crucially important to support independent media.

On Abortion Rights

“Quietly sitting on the books, where it’s been for nearly three decades, is a law that explicitly makes it a crime to discuss abortion online. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major attempt by Congress to define what would be lawful on the internet. The act includes a provision that criminalizes discussing abortion, with potential punishment of up to five years in jail, $250,000 in fines, or both.” - Melissa Gira Grant, A Forgotten 1990s Law Could Make It Illegal to Discuss Abortion Online

Enforcement of this provision under a Republican administration could make pieces like this one illegal.

Action note: Preserve this information offline and circulate it via zines, wheatpasting, graffiti, poetry, or however else you can share it.

Anti-Trans Laws

Trump plans to push for a nation-wide ban on gender affirming care that would include punishments for any doctors who provide gender affirming care.

If Trump is not reelected, we should expect these attacks, as well as attacks by fascist movements, to continue at the state level. Trans communities must be defended.

Bipartisan Carcerality

“Accounts of the rise of the carceral state have emphasized conservative ire, liberal frustration, and shifting voting blocs, but this commitment to reforming law enforcement won popular support because it had police support. The War on Crime was not only the result of white electoral backlash against the gains of the civil rights movement, or concerted organizing among elites to prevent those gains.11 By the late 1960s, attempting to ensure social peace by means of police reform was already the US approach in dozens of countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.” – Stuart Schrader, Badges without Borders

Resources on How We Win

Let This Radicalize You: Organizing and the Revolution of Reciprocal Care by Kelly Hayes and Mariame Kaba

Mutual Aid by Dean Spade (You can find my most recent convo with Dean here.)

No Pasarán! Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis by Shane Burley (You can find my most recent convo with Shane here.)

Resisting AI by Dan McQuillan (I talk a lot about this book here.)

Becoming Kin by Patty Krawec (You can hear me talk with Patty here.)

The Next Apocalypse by Chris Begley

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