Thursday, November 21, 2019

Fear of Accelerationism

At Vox, Zack Beauchamp goes all in on fear of the white nationalist doctrine of "Accelerationism."
Bernstein’s 2018 slaying marked the beginning of an extraordinary period of white supremacist violence — a spate of murders and mass shootings that has continued through this year.

The October 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue was the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in American history. The March 2019 Islamophobic attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the deadliest mass shooting in the country’s history. It was followed in April by another attack on an American synagogue (this time in Poway, California), and an August 2019 shooting at an El Paso Walmart that was one of the most brutal attacks targeting Hispanics in US history. . . .

These killings were often linked to the alt-right, described as an outgrowth of the movement’s rise in the Trump era. But many of these suspected killers, from Atomwaffen thugs to the New Zealand mosque shooter to the Poway synagogue attacker, are more tightly connected to a newer and more radical white supremacist ideology, one that dismisses the alt-right as cowards unwilling to take matters into their own hands.

It’s called “accelerationism,” and it rests on the idea that Western governments are irreparably corrupt. As a result, the best thing white supremacists can do is accelerate their demise by sowing chaos and creating political tension. Accelerationist ideas have been cited in mass shooters’ manifestos — explicitly, in the case of the New Zealand killer — and are frequently referenced in white supremacist web forums and chat rooms.

Accelerationists reject any effort to seize political power through the ballot box, dismissing the alt-right’s attempts to engage in mass politics as pointless. If one votes, one should vote for the most extreme candidate, left or right, to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western societies. Their preferred tactic for heightening these contradictions, however, is not voting, but violence — attacking racial minorities and Jews as a way of bringing us closer to a race war, and using firearms to spark divisive fights over gun control. The ultimate goal is to collapse the government itself; they hope for a white-dominated future after that.
Two things about this alarmism. First, as Beauchamp, admits, violence has become more attractive to white nationalist extremists because they have realized they have no hope in democratic politics. Donald Trump seems to be the farthest American politics can go in that direction, and his departure in 2020 or 2024 is likely to bring in a major rebound.

Second, none of this is new. Beauchamp does a weird bit of signaling when he calls these tactics "heightening contradictions." That is what Lenin called it, drawing on a tradition of revolutionary thought going back to the mid 1800s. So Beauchamp lets sophisticates like me know that he knows these ideas are all 150 years old. Yet that doesn't keep him from going on as if this were some new and terrifying threat. He never says, oh, by the way, 19th-century anarchists said the same thing, and somehow civilization survived.

I think knowing that "accelerationism" is just the contemporary version of 150-year-old rhetoric is important for understanding what is happening. Modern civilization has had a radical fringe for as long as it has existed. The fringe has taken different forms, from the Anarchists to the Red Brigades to the Monkey Wrench Gang, but it has never gone away. It is a problem, yes, but the risk that any of us will die from it is tiny. The police killed ten times as many Americans last year as terrorists and school shooters combined, and opiate overdose killed fifty times more than that.

Which is not to say that terrorism is not a concern. We should take it seriously. Maybe the FBI was slow to take white supremacists seriously as a threat, but it seems clear that they do now, and based on past experience we can predict that given time the FBI and other police forces will roll up any violent networks that form. They eventually got the anarchists and the Weathermen, after all. There is a price to be paid in terms of privacy and civil liberties, but most Americans seem to think the protection provided is worth it. I can't see any way that a few hundred or a few thousands violent right wingers are our threat to our way of life.

Of all the things to worry about in our world, I think neo-Nazi terrorism is far down the list.

1 comment:

David said...

A minor quibble: the FBI didn't actually bring down the Weathermen. Agents got close to some major arrests at one point in the early 70s, but Weather always eluded them. Some of the Weathermen got caught in the wake of the Brinks robbery of 1981, but most of the others came in under their own power, aware that time and the culture had passed them by.

I take your larger point though. Certainly the FBI utterly smashed the Panthers (in part by exacerbating pre-existing divisions). And yes, I would agree that this kind of violent nihilism is both old and probably can be readily-enough dealt with by contemporary law enforcement. But I think mainstream white nationalism is more dangerous, at least to the extent that it is likely to form a long-enduring, troublesome carbuncle on our body politic, able to win elections and influence the nation's direction.