Jeff Sparrow was prompted to write Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch Massacre after the Christchurch massacre that, he said, represents a new phase of fascist organising. More than 40 people crowded into the Newcastle Resistance Centre on January 23 to hear about his new book.
In a wide-ranging talk, Sparrow traced the history of modern fascism, from Oswald Mosley — lauded by today’s fascists because he was an English-speaking fascist who was able to take the ideas of classical fascism into the post-war period — through the anti-immigrant movements of the 1960s to the internet-based fascist movement of today.
Sparrow said the Christchurch massacre perpetrator represented something new: he openly declared himself to be a fascist in the 74-page manifesto he posted online just before carrying out the massacre and he live-streamed the attack on the first mosque. It was his use of social media that represented a new way of reaching people.
Sparrow said today’s fascists, like those of the 1920s and 1930s, are typically middle-class young men “who were terrified that in the context of an economic crisis they would lose their relatively privileged status and would be driven down into the ranks of the working class”. This explains one of the defining characteristics of fascism: its absolute hostility to any notion of social equality.
Sparrow also discussed fascism’s belief in “redemptive violence: violence that was not simply the means to an end, a way of defeating your political opponents, but as a way of transforming its cadre into different sorts of people and society into a new order”.
While there were always some fascists, in the second half of the 20th century they were in decline. For Sparrow, 21st century fascism really began with the 9/11 attacks and the rise of Islamophobia, which used all the classical tropes of anti-Semitism but applied them to Muslims, Blacks and Hispanics.
They had tried and failed to create a street movement so they took to the internet, developing websites and opening chat rooms, giving themselves far greater ability not only to organise but to mobilise potential recruits.
Particularly in the US after Donald Trump’s election, these recruits took on the culture of gun massacres, adding explicitly fascist elements to their manifestos and choosing their victims, not at random, but among particular races or religious groups. They always use violence to distinguish themselves from racist right-wing populists.
Sparrow warned that we must be on the alert to oppose fascists whenever and wherever they appear. He cautioned that even the climate movement is not immune, pointing to some “climate fascists” who argue Australia must keep out climate refugees.
But, he concluded, if fascists are born of the politics of nihilism and fear, the answer is to offer the politics of hope.