Right-Wing Folk Politics

Srnicek & Williams make an interesting observation regarding left-wing protest movements, riots and demonstrations that have occurred throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries. “For a brief moment, nothing stood between us and the convention centre. We scrambled atop the toppled fence, but for the most part we went no further, as if our intention all along had been simply to replace the state’s chain-link and concrete barrier with a human one of our own making”[1]. This exemplifies the folk political condition the authors describe, focused as it is on the instantaneous affect of the protest or the riot. The event is the locus of political action. A spectacle emerges whether in the WTO protests, the Occupy movement or the George Floyd summer protests where the activity of expression is prised above abstract goals. Ideas of direct democracy or police abolition are made memetic through these symbolic expressions, being extensions of the protest or the riot rather than their cause and effect.

Among right-wing movements and actions these dynamics have gone one step further. The Capitol Hill demonstrators went beyond the fence and the security services, entering the Capitol building and potentiating a face-to-face conflict between legislators and legislated. However the same paralysis overcame these actions too. The most significant events were minor skirmishes, interactions at the pulpit and idiotic figures walking through and stealing things. The confrontation of politicians and the “people” whimpered out as the rioters found neither significant resistance nor significant power. The goals of QAnon and the Stop the Steal protestors quickly found that actual political power was more diffuse and more liminal than the constraints and corridors of Capitol Hill.

Even when the fence is broken and the doors are kicked open the same folk political mechanisms played out. No serious change was either committed to or actioned. No revelations were revealed. This right-wing folk politics was as focused on the affect and the event as left-wing movements, unable to move beyond these initial skirmishes into a wider critique of American governance. Even going outwards toward more extreme movements on the right, such as siege accelerationist groups like Atomwaffen and National Action or militia-type movements like the Boogaloo Bois or the Proud Boys, the same folk political common sense remains as a barrier toward actual political power.

While the FBI may warn of these groups as constituting a white supremacist/far-right threat that is disruptive toward the normal functioning of social and political life, they are more like perforations along a membrane, neither truly threatening nor unfixable. The most extreme actions, such as the New Zealand mosque shootings or Dylann Roof, have been completely ineffectual in demanding new understandings of racial or ethnic dynamics (whether by encouraging a race war or allowing for greater action). They constitute a low-level form of civil conflict, taking part in counter-demonstrations during left-wing actions (like the George Floyd protests), organising anti-lockdown protests and being involved in quasi-terrorist activities (particularly in the case of siege/ACC groups).

This is a folk political violence caught in a mediatised climate that makes it easier for groups like this to emerge and advertise themselves. They constitute a domestic 4th generation warfare that is instantiated in localistic political formats and ideological culture wars (mediated by social media and network effects). However even this violence proves unable to little more than perforate the logistical sovereignty of modern nation-states. Logistical sovereignty being the diffusion of administrative power away from central government structures into semi-autonomous agencies with their own legal codifications and symbolic systems. Such autonomous power can be seen in agencies like Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA or the Pentagon, acting as extensions of the security apparatus of American governance. Alternatively concepts like stakeholdership and subsidiarity comprise similar ideological presuppositions, as do organisational forms like platforms and stacks.

In combatting these autonomous administrative systems through 4th generation warfare tactics (i.e. networked activities, small-scale terrorism, guerrilla warfare) as well as 5th generation tactics (information warfare or social media organisation) what we see is the conflictualisation of these systems as part of the milieu of violent activity i.e. autonomous agencies are made into direct combatants when combatting ideological or epistemic systems that these agencies are within. However this doesn’t displace these systems nor develop a counter-hegemonic position. Even events like 9/11 did little to displace the semi-autonomous power of the security apparatus, instead becoming part of security theatre that can exploit immediate fears and temporarily cripple global traffic (of goods, people and travel). If anything it bolstered their power by making it unquestionable and necessary, allowing for the developments of FISA powers, NSA expansion and the growth of a security stack that becomes its own form of governance.

“What is troubling about the covert state of transnational terrorism – that unknown quantity – is its growing subordination to a techno-scientific progress which is, itself, unauthored and dependent on the development of its own audiovisual media and platforms”[2]. As Virilio notes, Islamic terrorists are themselves Western, the reflection of the other of the Western system whose dynamics are reliant on Western ones (of securitarian interests in the Middle East and oil politics). Al Qaeda and ISIS were ineffectual alteric structures that grew from the power gaps in Iraqi, Afghan, Yemeni, etc. societies.

Similarly the folk political movements of the right are reliant on the platforms of the mainstream. Right-wing social movements without Gab or Trump without Twitter are radically different things in their reach and affect. By removing from them these systems of spectacle, they are diminished and pushed to the periphery. It is in the periphery that these conflicts tend to play out. The narco-terrorism of the Mexican borderlands has given way to narco-governance that sits against the centre of Mexican government. However its reliance on high levels of violence and the maintenance of transitory drug markets mean the cyclicality of these forms of governance are much higher and more volatile. The terrorist groups in the Middle East sit within the peripheries of their countries, facing the skeletons of security apparatuses while maintaining a depleted infrastructure of their own.

The peripheries of these folk political conflicts appear spatially to exist in Seattle, Portland, Kenosha or other hotspots of civil unrest, in autonomous zones and business districts. For right-wing movements they exist on the periphery of platform structures, neither developing a counter-institutionalism nor amplifying a wider conflict. Folk politics, whether violent or not, is of the periphery, producing an ineffectual alterity that instantiates low-level civil conflict, both challenging and auguring the power of autonomous systems of control.

The power of existing structures to either reintegrate these alteric forms or other them completely remains. The Republican Party could develop a populist neoconservatism that integrates the demands of a Trumpist base with the elite considerations of grandees and donors. The UK Conservative Party achieved similar things by integrating the populist language of UKIP when describing Brexit, affirming particular voter demands while changing little of their initial policy platform. Equally the Democratic Party has tried to do this by integrating a charged activist base with the desires of its own party elites, reproducing forms of a politicised woke capital. Of course such coalitional activity opens up the potential for further perforations, encouraging civil conflict. But in this case the dynamic of othering can come in, as has been done to antifa groups by DHS in describing elements of them as domestic terrorists. Whichever direction is taken, the folk politics of these various movements on the left and right will either fit in with established structures or be pushed beyond the centre.

[1] Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek, Inventing the Future

[2] Paul Virilio, Ground Zero

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