As you may have seen I’ve been calling the parade of incel/rightist/white nationalist mass shooters or would-be mass shooters “feral dweebs.” I mainly attach this description because it is accurate. Loners, angry, awkward, failures, sexually frustrated, women- and minority- and Jew-hating. It seems like a popular tag for these guys. But unsurprisingly and I think understandably, some people say it makes light of something that is literally deadly serious.
I don’t think I can be accused of not seeing the danger, literal and figurative, these guys represent. Killing Jews is almost always high on their list of priorities, ranked up with killing African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants generally, women. As a Jew with at least a semi-high public profile, none of this is theoretical for me.
But mockery isn’t just a diversion or for kicks. It’s also a political act.
It is a difficult balance. We cannot be casual or indifferent to the real danger these men pose or the cloud of menace that flows out from their specific massacres and crimes to a much broader area. But at some level we empower them by participating in their drama. The great majority truly are feral dweebs. Look at them in Charlottesville or Portland, with their handmade shields adorned with pseudo-medieval insignia cut and pasted off the Internet. They deserve our mockery as well as our resistance.
I’ve thought this for some time, but it clicked in my mind again over the weekend when I noticed some of the counter-protesters in the last round of white nationalist/counter-protest showdown were wearing banana costumes. Spokesperson for the group PopMob, Effie Baum, said “The far-right wants to get into fights and act all macho,” Baum said. “We want to make that virtually impossible.”
Dressing up as a ninja isn’t the only way to fight fascism.
For every maniac who goes the whole nine yards and perpetrates an El Paso or a Pittsburgh massacre there are countless others — like many of those rounded up over the last week — stock piling weapons, making online threats, biding their time before they mount their own atrocity, or in the great majority of cases, simply derive affirmation and feelings of power when others do. It is this penumbra of empowerment that must be a focus of attention. There is a clear line connecting the gun massacre incel and white supremacist to the anonymous or quasi-anonymous ragers who populate social media taunting and menacing women, POC, Jews or simply liberals. They draw power from each other.
There’s a similar economy of empowerment sustained by guns. As I’ve noted elsewhere, our national paralysis in the face of the political power of guns heightens their attraction to would-be mass shooting perpetrators. Gun massacres are displays of total power and domination, albeit fleeting ones. The total power of a highly armed maniac over defenseless victims is the key to that. But it’s inseparable from the cultural, political power of guns that the mass murderers can associate themselves with in their massacres.
In combating fascists and all manner of rightist hooligans and authoritarians, it is a constant battle not to be drawn into fighting on their terms. The 1930s and 1940s and particularly World War II are the ultimate example that fascist violence, in the final analysis and at the extremes, can only be fought and defeated by anti-fascist violence. But even at that extreme level, anti-fascism must remain distinct from its dark counterpart. In civil society, once you’re engaging in tests of gang violence on the streets, you’ve already ceded half the battle. Street violence, with its principled elevation of menace and terror, is simply something racists and fascists are better prepared for. It’s more consistent with their ideology.
At a basic level we must resist their drama and their conceits as much as their violence and their hate.