By Jesse Crall
In a recent episode of the Bad Faith podcast, host and former Bernie Sanders communications director Briahna Joy Gray engaged in a contentious discussion over the American far-right with journalist Talia Lavin. Lavin’s upcoming book, Culture Warlord, explores what she calls “the dark web of white supremacy.” Lavin argues that the figures making up this dark web are sick and that proponents of de-radicalization practices severely underestimate the difficulty in converting bastions of hatred. I don’t doubt it. But I have to wonder: Why in the hell are we so worked up about Neo-Nazis?
Okay, I know why: Because Americans spend far too much time worried over motives instead of power dynamics. According to the Anti-Defamation League, right-wing extremists killed 38 people in 2019, a number comparable to annual U.S. deaths resulting from lightning strikes. For comparison, approximately 2,000 Americans are killed by intimate partners in any given year and 130,000 Americans die as a direct result of poverty. Extremist right-wing violence doesn’t remotely compare to the far more common destruction that receives a fraction of the outrage.
Lavin and Gray argue over “coalition building,” with the former arguing that Gray wants to “hold hands with a Nazi and kiss them on the cheek” because…I’m actually at a loss. The entire debate is pointless because Nazis are insignificant. They have no constituency. Far-right groups alienate the vast majority of the American populace including self-described conservatives. The January 6th mob, another target of pointless left-wing hysteria, featured people who by & large strike me as distinct from Nazi and fascist groups. Still, 87% of Americans surveyed believe federal law enforcement should prosecute them for their actions. Does anyone seriously think an organized band of Nazis would produce more favorable responses?
Lavin supports punching Nazis with brass knuckles. What in the world does that accomplish? Where are Nazis so prevalent that only violence can restore order? I’m not naive enough to think handing out tulips to skinheads chanting about the white race will turn them into Dr. King but I’m at a loss as to why Nazis need serious confrontation at all. They make absolutely zero impact on any of our societal pillars. Businesses beyond some deluded fringes won’t embrace the far right because alienating politics tend to hurt profits. Nike can use foreign slave labor to manufacture their kicks but they’re not replacing Kaepernick ads with ones featuring a Daily Stormer columnist. If Nazis mounted organized political campaigns, they could at best weasel their way into a handful of, what, City Council seats scattered across the country? And all that would do is provide a low-impact freak show Democrats can exploit for easy opposition fundraising.
One might argue that Donald Trump ushered Nazism into the White House, what with Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller and all the rest of it. I disagree. First off, Miller is Jewish. As is Jared Kushner, who pursued a series of policies highly favorable to the State of Israel. And while child separation at the border was a deliberately heinous policy, it was also unpopular enough with the American people that Trump had to end it. One of its architects, Miles Taylor, managed to whitewash his role in its implementation to benefit from a CNN contract, a book deal with Hatchett & sinecures at Google and Auburn University, all institutions weighted toward liberals. Few cared. And now with Biden at the helm, undocumented immigrants can once again enjoy a kindler, gentler form of detention in under-funded, over-crowded facilities. Hooray for Neoliberalism.
The most significant problems afflicting the United States are awful but they’re also old. Global capitalist systems undermine domestic labor and allow corporations to exploit foreign labor and use their immense profits to influence our political system. Massive allocations to the Department of Defense preserve an imperial project designed to maintain capital flows in ways that benefit a limited number of people and groups. An entrenched two-party project bypasses the most vulnerable Americans, instead offering endless propaganda and pandering to increasingly rile up their middle-class bases and preserve a material status quo. The media, driven by advertising and viewer outrage, subsumes truth in order to carry water for their varied demographics.
We’re living through the lamentable results of these dynamics, all of which are vastly more consequential than the latest group of right-wing assholes saying horrible things online and at sparse rallies but accomplishing very little. The notorious Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville featured about 500 avowed white supremacists, a number of par with the attendance at a high school basketball game. Heather Heyer was killed counterprotesting the Charlottesville creeps; her death was a tragedy and her killer is reprehensible. But Respectable Pundits wasted a good deal of ink and air time justifying a military invasion to Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. To those arguing that we should condemn both, sure, but Heyer’s murderer was prosecuted. One of the leaders in supporting the Iraq invasion was elected president last year. The amplification of white supremacist groups directs focus and outrage away from the infinitely more consequential matters occurring as a matter of fact in our board rooms, green rooms and legislative bodies every day.
The summary of Lavin’s upcoming book describes her as “every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist.” I’d argue the opposite: that Lavin represents the perfect fuel for these clowns by giving them her attention and outrage while demanding yours as well. And for what? So a small group of alienated losers can feel important while the real drivers of American despair enjoy bonuses, beach houses, ActBlue contributions and humanitarian awards. I think we can channel our energies to more constructive ends.
To finish off, I leave you with this clip from the 1979 classic Manhattan. It’s funny for a host of reasons, among them Woody Allen taking the same position on Nazis as Talia Lavin, something I can’t imagine she’d much celebrate. It also shows that 42 years later, the conversation in Intelligentsia Land hasn’t changed. You have the physically unimposing writer suggesting bricks and bats against fascists, the pretentious windbags rhapsodizing over a feckless satire in the Times and a filmmaker butting in to self-aggrandize. If nothing else, our systems are stable.
A Los Angeles native, Jesse Crall graduated from UCLA’s English Department before working as a copywriter, script reader and project manager for an engineering firm.