AntiFascism and the Future of Complex Warfare Part 1
12:43AM Feb 8, 2021
Welcome to The Fire These Times, the podcast bringing you conversations at the intersection of politics, culture and the environment. I am your host Joey Ayoub, and today we'll be talking to Emmi Bevensee, they are data journalists who utilizes a data storytelling approach to make complexity understandable. Now, go ahead and check out the categories listed in the episode description. You can even pause this for a sec if you want. That's how many things we get into.. and this is just part one.
So, I won't even try to summarize these two episodes. I will only say that if you are interested in understanding complex problems impacting our world today, I hope that you will find these two episodes useful. So that's today's episode.
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So, I'm just gonna play banjo for like the first half [Joey laughs] of the interview, okay?
Yes, exactly. That's- That's the point.
Uhm.. Okay, so like, just.. so before we even start me, can you tell us a bit about some of the billion projects you're involved with at the moment?
Um, yeah, I don't know how I got involved in so many things. [laughs] This was supposed... 2020 was supposed to be the year that I like, cut out all my projects and just focused on one. But instead, I still had a lot of things going on. I guess I should start with like, I'm a data scientist. I.. my background is mostly in researching fascist groups, and weird forms of fascist creep on the left, and stuff like that.
But I.. I'm involved in a million things like I was helping run this project that we hope to turn into a book about like, the role of feelings work in like activist communities. That project is called Emotional Anarchism. I like ran a symposium about decentralization and economic coordination, basically, where we're just trying to think about like, how different... you know, everybody's like, 'Oh, central planning, like in a Stalinist state is bad. But also capitalism is bad. So how do we do economies?' And so we had a big conversation about that stuff.
And.. I don't know I have.. I have, I wrote a paper about eco fascism, I.. I just had a really big article, where we, we basically analyzed these, uh, these email... The people at the center of QAnon are, it's 8chan, now 8kun, and we analyze these like, they, they basically set up their email server wrong and made the logs of everyone they email public. So we just archived it. But then we like, did a bunch of data analysis on it and stuff like that. I don't know. I'm all over the place, Joey.
Yes, I was just laughing. I muted myself because I was laughing too much. But like, you're basically like me, you have no idea how to summarize what you do. That's that's basically the conclusion.
Yeah, I have a Twitter bio that I can read you. [both laugh]
Well, we'll go- We'll go through them in the chat. That's fine. [Emmi laughs in the background] Like, let's- let's start- Let's just start with one of them. You have you have a piece entitled, you know, I basically stole the.. you know, the title of it for this episode. Like, 'It Takes a Network To Defeat A Network: Anti-Fascism and the Future of Complex Warfare.' And I think it's upcoming, if I'm not mistaken. So like, what is it about? It.. Let's- just walk us through the- some of the main arguments and we'll- we'll take ot from there.
Yeah, so that article has actually recently split into probably 3 different articles that we're pitching. Like 1 is for a book, and then 2 for 2 different outlets. And so there's gonna be some versions of that sooner, I think. And... that [sighs] the- the premis for that article was basically like, me and some friends of mine [exhales] have been having this thing that's been bothering us for awhile, which is that al-.. kind of the vast majority of leftist theory has not really been updated with like, the advancements of complexity theory, or like information theory, or just like the modern.. technically interconnected world, or like cybernetics, or all these things that have happened since the Industrial Revolution. And so we started thinking about like, how could we use these frameworks to.. to create better paths for resistance, and also to make predictions that are grounded in sort of trends, that- emergent trends in these spaces that we think would like, would better serve a wide range of resistance movements. And so we started settling in on a few specific topics that make it easy to show this thing. And one of the first ones we started talking about was like conflict, more generally, but also war specifically. And not just like violent warfare, but like hybrid or gray zone warfare, however you want to like, below the threshold of violence, kind of information, warfare and stuff like that. Because those- those.. those fields make it really obv- make this stuff really obvious. So some of the big things that we highlight are that there are- there are emergent trends towards individual super empowerment. And so what we mean by that is like, one person can do a lot of damage, or make a lot of impact... or a very small cluster of people. And, you know, we first started seeing that when... you know, 8chan was a joke in the old days. It was extremely niche. I tried to pitch articles about it all the time, and people were like, 'This is way too niche'. And then obviously, Christchurch, and now we have-
You know, QAnon are storming the U.S. Capital. So, there's this way in which like, very niche things, because of the internet and the complexity of our like modern system can.. can have these huge impacts. And there's there's so in com- that's like the information side of it. And you can have like, all these weird disinfo actors, and they can be state backed, or they can be grassroots, and they interact in comple- complete ways. And, um, but then.. on the like.. on the like warfare side, there's also these like- I'm really interested in 3D printed guns and like drone warfare, not because I'm like excited, inherently, about the concept, but just because there's a 100% chance that they're going to become an increasingly large part of our future, and so I think that we should understand the like, implications of them. And the implications are.. are kind of weird in that they favor asymmetric actors, like, who sees set up a hobby drone, and used it to attack an oil refinery.
In Saudi Arabia.
Yeah, in Saudi Arabia. So it's like, that's huuuge. That's, that's like... Whatever y-.. not talking about the politics of it at all, just like a non state actor using a $25 toy, basically. And rigging it to destroy massive infrastructure of.. of one of the, like, largest states, like most powerful states in the world. And, and so there's a question of, like, you know, historically, the in- the invi- like, the AK 47, in some ways, really facilitated decolonization of Africa. Like, there are serious complicated arguments to be made about that. Obviously, all kinds of other comp- fucked up stuff happened and guns are.. guns. But these types of asymmetric developments have really complicated implications for the structure of different forces in conflict with each other. And so, so we kind of predict that states, as people develop more autonomy and more power, states are gonna, like, double down on what they can do to stop that. But a lot of this is very hard to stop. Like, you could make 3D printers illegal, but you can also make 3D printers. You know? There's only so much you can do to stop any of this. And so, you know, it kind of begs the question about what states are going to do. I think, probably adopt like a Chinese surveillance model in some ways. So that stuff's pretty scary. But there's some kind of exciting trends about like, the general structure of these- of interconnectedness favoring asymmetric actors. Which is that like.. Communities that are already good at working networks, like anti-authoritarian communities, for example, have kind of an advantage in this terrain in terms of carving out spaces. And so anti-fascists have been pioneering networks. So some of the tactics that I think are interesting are like, OSINT, for example, Open Source Intelligence, which is basically just like, using information that's available on the internet- it's like really high tech googling, just, that's all you need to know about this.
And... and, you know, like, anti-fascist communities have kind of pioneered this technique of being like, having a small, highly trusted group that's very private and works together. But also utilizing, you know, these huge swarms of people. Those used to be pretty niche techniques, but they've already hugely expanded. So now with the like, coup attempt with the like, you know, B-level coup attempt on the U.S. Capitol. They, like, you know, now, like, liberals are getting in on this tactic. They're not very good at it, actually, they're pretty irresponsible at it. So a lot of anti-fascists are [chuckles] kind of mad about that. But it's become, like mainstream understood, that we can work in crowds of 10,000 to identify a dude who brought full on tactical gear to kidnap or whatever, like, people in Congress. And so I do have some hope that we have-
The other thing is like, ideally, these anti-authoritarian left communities are- are kind of inherently good at internationalism. Like I think this like vulgar, anti-internationalist, tankie movement is a- is a mutation on a lot of the value. And we should be acting in solidarity with people instead of states, because their conflicts are nested. They're going to have conflicts with an imperialist over here, and they're going to have local conflicts with power actors there. I think most people understand that, and that comes from us, like, contrary to fascists, like... wanting to believe in an open society, to just throw a little Soros buzzword in there. [chuckles]
You know, we want-
Might- might- might as well since like, we're gonna be accused of being Sorosons anyway. [Emmi laughs]
Like, we want to believe in empathy. We're not naive, but we want to believe in like, we recognize that our problems are interconnected. So like, another example of this kind of weird complexity theory, conflict things is, like states engage in information warfare, but it's not the Cold War anymore. And there's the internet. And so it's extremely chaos, like Russia... So there's this outlet called, I don't know how it's pronounced, Ka-tuh-huan. K-A-T-E-H-O-N. I don't actually speak Russian. And.. it's pretty transparently run by Russian intelligence. But they were they were propagating a lot of conspiracies about how 5G causes Coronavirus and stuff like that. But now Russia has some of the worst infection rates in in the world. So obviously, like in the Cold War or something, it would be advantageous for them to like, you know, try to fuck up the United States by getting a lot of us to die in a pandemic or something. When obviously, we can do that well on our own. [both chuckle]
Yeah, but.. Yeah. That's, that's-
But now because of the internet, and the complexity area, and also playing fire- like pandemics are the quintessential example of complexity dynamics, because viral spread is a complex phenomenon. So now, they're they're fucked by Coronavirus too. Soo, and now there's like QAnon shit, you know? So it's like, the information warfare of the old era just.. is like kind of insanely short sighted at this point.
Yeah, I- I- whenever I watched one of those old spy movies, it's you know, by modern standards, or like what the sort of technology that we have now you could guess who the spy is within like five minutes into the movie. And it doesn't [Emmi laughs] the plot doesn't really work anymore. And [Emmi laughs in the background] it's it's incredible.
I- I've been thinking a lot about I mean, I think you know, you already notice obviously like the the disinformation problem. I've had both Eliot Higgins on, and and Peter Pomerantsev on, and a few other folks who either focus- usually either focus on Russia/Ukraine or they focus on Syria, sometimes both but not as many. I will say there's been a lot of missed opportunity between Ukrainians and Syrians to actually link up at some point. There was quite a lot of attention on both countries for, unfortunately, the similar reason, namely their government involvement. But yeah, I mean, that's, I'll- I'll try and make- maybe do an episode on that.
But, what- so like you mentioned the the- the 8kun, 8chan shit that's been happening recently, especially since the coup and you've got your recent- You've recently published the scoop on Bellingcat.. Speaking of [inaudable] on Bellingcat, and the whole of 8kun and the coup attempt. So for those, let's try and be kind to the listeners.
Because those are very niche within a niche within- or they used to be anyway. Back in the old-
Back in the good old days. Very niche sections of the internet where very weird shit happens. And if we are also to be extra nice, if that's okay, for those who have been living under a rock, can you sort of give your own take or at least summarize what the fuck happened on January the 6th in the first place? The online dynamic of it anyway.
Yeah. Okay, so, um, so maybe this should have been my bio at the beginning. When you ask me what I'm up to.
I'm- I'm a data journalist. I- I like to scrape far right websites, and then analyze what they're up to,
and then publish articles about them, which seems to make them mad for some reason.
[chuckles] Some reason. [Emmi laughs]
And... and so I've had, like. I've had beef- I've been paying attention to 8chan for a long time and the chan-world for a long time. And-
So that's like- that's like 4chan first, and then 8chan..
Yeah, so.. So we had this whole GamerGate thing; and the GamerGate thing is kind of an example of where this complex swarm tactics kind of emerged on the right. The right was like, 'We can have these anonymous image boards, they're just forums where you post a picture, and then say, a racist thing.
And then everybody says you're doing a good job,' and 'We can have these, and we can coordinate large scale doxxing and harassment', you know, campaigns against female journalists, or like female gamers and stuff like that. Wow, I just said the word female. That's- that came out of my mouth. [both laugh]
And so they kind of found their power. And that's basically how the alt right started. And then, 4chan slightly cracked down on the most genocide prone aspects of their user base, like the most hardcore neo-nazi larpers. And so those people moved to this platform called 8chan. And 8chan was like, the super racist version of the racist site. And they, yeah, they were- there were brutal in the way that they would attack people. So a lot of us that were active in those scenes like, developed a very thick skin for their style of attacking you. I won't go into that.. because it's just depressing. But um, so 8chan was run by this pig farmer in the Philippines named Jim Watkins, who got his start running child sexual abuse websites and trying to circumvent Japanese porn- pornography laws using these image boards.
Which is amazingly ironic for QAnon to then develop on that given their supposed obsession with-
Hate- hating pedophiles, and whatever, and yeah. Anyway, sorry, continue.
They're like, 'Yes, let's get all the virtue signal points of hating child sexual abusers, but then let's also support them because we stand for nothing. We're QAnon. The storm is coming.' Um.. [laughs]
Um, so... Jim, yeah. Jim's.. Jim's a creep. He's like cartoonishly evil. He's like, too on the nose. He's like Eric Prince of Blackwater. You're just like, 'Dude, this character is not believable.' He's too evil to be real.
You literally could only write it in an action movie because you need more nuance in movies most of the time [Emmi laughs].
I need some redeemable characteristics here! [laughs] You just got to boggles the mind of like, 'How do you become this person?'
And.. so, but he has a son named Ron Watkins, and they became the center of QAnon. Like, because Q-drops, well they used to happen on 4chan, but they started happening on 8chan. And there's a lot of arguments about whether Jim or Ron, or both, are even Q themselves or whatever. And we've- I got blocked by Jim Watkins a while ago for asking about inconsistencies in this- this verification system that they have for the Q-drops called tripcodes. And he just blocked me for asking about that. So, um, but.. but yeah, so they- aside from being like this.. Aside from like, inspiring multiple mass shootings by being this concentrated force for hardcore white supremacy and like, these swarm tactics, they also became the center of QAnon because they were hosting the the Q-drops. And QAnon, obviously let, you know, built the the energy, the like tsunami, for everything that came to happen with like, you know, Stop the Steal, and ultimately, the March on the Capitol and stuff like that. Is that- is that uh.. Does that cover the basics of the story for...?
Yeah. Yeah. For those who don't know, what exactly are swarm tactics? What- what happens when they do that?
Yeah, so... So, anti-fascists and fascists do this tactic differently, but there are some similarities. Like, arguably in my mind... not arguably, like consistently fascists have, like.. no... like ethics of warfare equivalent.They're just like, 'I'll- I'll doxx your grandma. I'll like, call your child's school. I'll like,' you know. They're just trolls, they come out of this- the worst part of old anonymous culture. And so they're just like, they want to be maximally edgy and... and they don't really stand for anything. And whereas like anti-fascist tend to be try to- try to be careful and like more... like, don't do civilian casualty equivalence, and stuff like that. And if they do, they get seriously like, harassed by the community, they get blacklisted basically. And but basically, the swarm tactics aspect of it, is trying to use the internet to leverage tons of people acting at the same time for a common purpose. And so like swarming over a topic, like... and there's some real advantages to having large numbers like, you know, someone will just recognize their neighbor from the, you know, capital breach or whatever.
Or, or just like, you know, I watched this one story, I was like, BBC Eye, or something like that. And they were trying to find this mountain range somewhere in Sub Saharan Africa, I think in the Great Lakes region and- and, like, they were like, you know, in Google Earth all the time trying to find this mountain range. And then finally, someone was like, 'Yo, isn't that like, right in this spot by where my friends village is?' and like, tags their friend, and their friend was like, 'Oh, yeah, I know, that mountain.' So there's like some advantages to having just like, a huge number of eyes on a problem. Because you can cover more ground, especially if you're working in a semi coordinated way, like.. And so it's- it's very powerful, because like, if you've tried to do OSINT research alone, there are things that are better to do alone or in a small group, but the biggest- the hardest part about it is that you have so much information to go through that it's just really hard to parse.. without your brain just like melting out of your ears. So that's, that's kind of the advantage of these these swarm tactics, but there's a lot of different forms of it. This is just like.. you know like, fascists also like to do like block trains for- or not block trains like- like brigading. So they'll have like a Telegram group where they'll be like, 'Okay, this anti-fascist account is getting too effective. I want everyone in this Telegram channel to report them. And so try to get that that person's Twitter removed, or something like that.' So it's like, yeah, it's.. it's like heart to heart*. Yeah
Amazingly similar to just, you know, poor government tools in the Arab world, that happens quite a lot as well.
And they seem to be just as organized often, or they mix in with bots and sometimes it's difficult to tell them apart, to be honest. But, yeah.
And yeah, there's maybe also some parallel with like... should be how organizations like the way that you can kind of leverage paramilitary forces in like a hands-on hands-off kind of way. It's like, 'do your bidding.'
Also happens in Latin America a lot like whenever the Mexican government wants to attack the Zapatista autonomous zones, they can't do it legally with the Mexican army, so they have to use these very patriotically named paramilitary groups. Yeah, it's kind of like that, because it's just like- or it's like Donald Trump, you know. He's just like, [immitates a western sounding Trump] 'Yeah, I don't hate the Proud Boys. It sure wouldn't be too bad. If they like beat up all of my political rivals. That'd be kind of funny. But anyways, don't do it.'
There's a lot- there's a lot of like, affect in the way he does things. I feel like that's the part of an episode in itself. Like, you know how in the middle of the attempted coup, he would say things like, you know.. What did he say? Like I- 'You're very special, I care about you,' whatever it is. That some- that's some like very like, cult 101 shit like, this really... I've seen this in Lebanon with like, Hezbollah crap. This is not, uh... Yeah, it was very familiar and very weird to see it just like.. on- on my timeline at the time. But yeah, that's- that's a different story.
Yeah. So.. So, there's- there's aspects of that where you can like- A centralized actor can leverage a swarm. Like, a swarm can have grassroots dynamics, or it can be manipulated by like a state's warfare. So like, there's, in my opinion, there's very probably state actor involvement at high high levels and like QAnon, or I would be embarrassed by the Kremlin, if there wasn't. Like, it would be, [laughingly] you know, like.. The U.S. does this shit everywhere, all over the world. The Kremlin does this shit everywhere, all over the world. They're all incompetent, but they're all also very powerful. So, you know, I'd be shocked if there wasn't some involvement. But- But swarms are complicated, like states can't control 'em. They're not like, you know, a Vanguard can't... You can't- You can't control the entire QAnon movement. It's way too big. It's way too chaotic. You can do a Q-drop, but then people will be like, even if it gets too weird in your queue droup, people will, you know, just be like, come up with a new conspiracy. So... So yeah, that's... that's kind of, um.. So anyways, we had this big scoop with 8kun where they- they didn't update their email server for like 5 years, and it made everyone that they were emailing visible. And their emails were pretty interesting. So Ron Watkins is Jim's son. Sorry, I'm bouncing around on this.
That makes sense.
It's a complicated network, anyway. So I'm, I- I just assumed that our conversation is going to be like that as well.
So, Ron Watkins is Jim Watkins son, and Ron Watkins was the admin. He stepped down from being admin to grift full time on Stop the Steal. He's basically largely responsible for the Dominion conspiracy. He was cited in the Kracken brief, by Sidney Powell. And he was cited and retweeted extensively by Donald Trump, and he went on OANN and stuff like that. So he became- he got a really, really powerful grift going for Stop the Steal. But he was admin of 8kun, and 8chan previously, during all this other shit. And so we also got all his emails, it's probably his fault. Like he was saying, 'Oh, I'm a network security analyst. I'm the best in the world.' And then he had this email server that was like exposing all their traffic. And their IP addresses, by the way. Like, and the entire structure of their databases and everything else on their fucking website. So... there was really interesting email contacts. Jim was like actively coordinating with high level QAnon celebrities like Neon Revolt. So that kind of shows that that they were actively involved in the QAnon phenomenon.
Jim was also extensively emailing this woman who is a senior contract specialist at a U.S. Army base in Alabama. Um, you know, we can't know the exact content of their messages, but we can know that she's the one he emailed most. Not that I think that she's Q, I don't. I think she's like, a really weird conspiracy Boomer. Like maybe his e-girlfriend or something. But it's still really wild that he was like connecting her with all these QAnon celebrities and talking with her so much and she probably has some.. classification, or some.. clearance level. At least secret. Yeah, Jim found- we sent Jim and Ron write a reply, of course. Ron did not respond. Jim like responded like six times. [laughs] Um, and one of the funny things that he responded about was, he was like, 'It's not like I was emailing the FBI,' which I think is like a message to his QAnon followers like, 'Don't worry, I'm not in the deep state.' But what was funny about the email logs is he literally was emailing the FBI. [laughs]
It's incredible like, at what- At what point would the people behind the conspiracies, or at least the people who are like high level influencers, so to speak within the conspiracies, at what point with the- the masses, uh.. you know, whatever you want to call them, most people- most- most QAnoners, or whatever they're called, at what point would they turn on them? And if it ends up being this- and this is kind of a side, um.. you know, side question in some ways. But as you mentioned before, like there is no actual way of controlling these things. There are ways of slowing it down, and maybe we can get into this, or the radicalizing people and you know, those kind of tactics. I know they exist. And I mean... I will also say, I think it is important to mention that, you know, people can be changed on these things. Not everyone probably but like a lot of them. You know, that be- bring all of that aside, what happens when the people that believe the numbers behind the movement turn on the ones that are its main influencers? Like, at what point do they just create a post QAnon thing or whatever it is?
I think that because they're... um, like... QAnon is a cult in my mind. But it's a different type of cult, because it's much more decentralized than cults that we're used to.
Like, there are Q-drops, which is this point of centralization. But the Q-drops, if you ever read them, they're more vague than like astrology readings. They're extremely vague. They're like..... What..[sighs] 'The wave- watch the waters. -Q,' you know? And then so everyone's like, 'Oh, this must be about watermarks on ballots,' you know what I mean? And then they like retro actively make a whole mythos about it. But it's just- it's just bullshit. And it's just like, cold reading. And... so.. because it's like a decentralized cult, I think it's much harder to control. But it's also much more adaptive. Because like.. people.. people can justify any, any, any anything that happens, they did turn on Pence. I mean, they were like, they were all like, 'We have to hang Pence,' or whatever. And in our Parlor data, you know, that's like a- that's like a QAnon 8chan kind of thing, 8kun thing. But then in our data that we have from Parler, before it shut down, we find tons of people who are like, talking about trying to kidnap Pence or whatever, you know. So.. it can turn on people, but also it can just morph. Like, I think that.. there's been no- I think that there is going to be some critical mass of people who fall off once Biden like becomes president or whatever. And Trump doesn't like do some last ditch, you know, epic battle against the deep state or whatever. I think it was-
[interupts] Yeah, sorry. You were say- Was probably we're gonna say-
Yeah, no, no. Go on.
They actually- I have heard some of them, and I follow it as much as my mental health can afford. There are- They do seem to like the image that they have of Donald Trump is not Donald Trump. It's absolutely not the person. It's not the dude like, he- it's so- It's such a much more impressive human being, or creature, whatever, than the figure of the person of Donald Trump. It's very obvious if you're not obviously within the cult. But then what happens when... you know, reality hits.
I mean, a lot of them have sort of gone into this like, very deeply and they've cut off ties with their own family members and there are very, very depressing stories that have come out of this. In the UK as well. When I- there was a BBC, um.. there was a BBC podcast, I think, of this woman who's one of the leaders in the in the UK of QAnon, and her son has been so disaffected by her that he doesn't even consider her his mother anymore. So there are these- and there have been like, horrific- horrifying like, deaths and suicides, and all of these things have also happened. But like, yeah, so my question was.. it doesn't really have an answer, I suppose. I'm also just kind of thinking out loud on this, because it- if- There are ways like- you know, we usually call it sometime- the word cult, sorry- like, a bit haphazardly. I do agree in this case, it's definitely a cult. But you know, I also call Hezbollah a cult and in many ways it is, but it's also much more centralized.
And there are- there is a logic to what they do, at least an internal logic to what they do. Obviously, not a good one. But you know, like any kind of movements, uh.. extremist movement, cults, whatever you want to call them, at various parts of that, like spectrum. There is an internal logic and they want to kind of turn on the "dear leader." You know, Hassan Nasrallah, he's sacrosanct, and he's not gonna- They never insult him, he's not someone who they can, you know, hang, Mike Pence kind of situation.
But they can go against those that are, like lower ranks, you know, they might say that 'The party is corrupt, but not him,' or like the 'Other MPs are corrupt, but not him.' And so there's always this "but," but that, in itself allows a bit more flexibility. You can talk to most of, not all of them, and I've tried and I failed many times. But you- you can talk to a lot of them. With QAnoners, it's.. it's- it's that- I mean, many of them you can talk, and you know, there's this podcast by Jake Hanrahan on- on QAnon as well, people can check that out. I've listened to a few of them, and he did interview someone who at that stage was sort of like becoming a bit skeptical of QAnon but was still within that world. And so you can talk to them, and many of them, you know, mean well or are seriously misinformed, or they've been brainwashed, or-
Like, the deep state is pretty fucked up. [laghingly] You know, like.
If these guys were just doing critiques-
of the CIA and the FBI. Like, there's plenty of long left history, you know, that they could have dove into and capitalize upon. Like, there's plenty of valid things to critique. You know, it's not like I liked the deep state. [laughs] But it's just- there's something different about, 'Oh, I wanna' there's something different about like, 'I think the FBI is bad because they do bad things.' And 'I think the FBI, is zealous sycophants. Like that's- it's a- it's a slight distinction, but I think an important one [laughs].
I mean, this is a perfect transition, because I wanted to put- I know, based on previous episodes, and you know, some listeners that have given me some feedback and whatever, that there definitely seems to be a lot of awareness when it comes to like, how fascism develops and how it takes over. But one aspect of it, and it's something that I've myself have been very bad at explaining because, it hasn't it's been vague in my mind for a long time, is how they can actually very comfortably live within very left wing circles as well. Like the syn- synthetic nature of- of fascism and the entryist forms of it.
What's your understanding of how this functions? Because I know that, for example, you have focused on you know, usually I don't mention them, but because it's relevant to this conversation, like gray zone and that sort of shit. It appeals to a lot of people that I would describe as sort of, like tankie-lite, right? Like, they're not and that's on the quote unquote, "the left" and obviously there's the right wing equivalent of that, the far right. They- they're not necessarily, like you know, they wouldn't go read like Stalin's autobiography or whatever the fuck he used to write you know. It's not- it's not that kind of dedication. But-
It does- It does evolve around the same kind of very binary sort of logic and very binary sort of thinking and whatever you know, campism, essentially. And like the episode that I recorded just this before this one, so it will come out a week before this comes out. It was was with Rohini Hensman. And she wrote this book, called 'Indefensible,' about how the rhetoric of anti-imperialism is so easily used by people that I would then- I myself would describe as alt-imperialist or psuedo anti-imperialist or whatever other terms people have used. Leila Shami just calls them-
Or, [inaudible] neo-Nazis.
Or straight up neo-nazis, also-
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's one of the- it's one of the arguments that I've made in terms of, there is such a thing as fascist anti-imperialism, it does exist. And so being anti-imperialist in itself does not make you progressive or anti-authoritarian or whatever. But anyway, like all of this to say that, if you're talking to someone who doesn't really understand why, quote, unquote, like, okay.
I'll try and give a semi concrete example, why someone who is good on domestic issues in the U.S. can be so horrifically bad on anything that's not related to the U.S.. Like they just jump- they go to the other extreme, and they become completely identical, from my standpoint to like someone on the far right. How would you understand that phenomo- phenomenon? And in your view, like, what are some of the similarities between this and what we would then understand as like, antitheism, and you know, the syncretic nature of fascism? And if you can also kind of define them briefly? For those who don't know, as well?
Yeah, okay.So, obviously, this is 8 books of topics. [chuckles]
And there, it's- it's very complex, and there's a lot of dynamics at play. So I.. so take anything I say right now as an invitation, or as a set of questions, rather than as the final word on this. And also, even just with myself, I have my views on these issues. But I encourage people to just destroy my views and challenge them, and complexify them, and make them into better, stronger things that are more accurate.
So I think the- there's a few- there's a few big dynamics at play. So I'll just say like, a context about the U.S., I think a lot of this shit comes from the U.S. and the UK, particularly, but obviously it's in other places. And for us... I think, we- us, particularly my generation. We grew up, everyone in the world knew that the U.S. and the UK lied about weapons of mass destruction in order to evade invade Iraq. So we grew up with like this very visceral understanding that our government lies to everyone in order to justify war. And that was like... that became the cornerstone of like boomer socialist organizing, anti-war organizing in particular. So in the U.S., there's like old anti-war infrastructure organizations like ANSWER coalition, which are horrible on Syria. They're like, kind of indistinguishable from the SSNP at points,
And the Stop The War movement in the UK as well.
And... they like, they really mingle with hardcore, antisemitic organizations. And I'm not- and I'm- I'm absolutely not critiquing, or I'm not conflating critiques of Israel with antisemitism. I'm talking about actually antisemitic organizations. And they- they control a lot of infrastructure in the U.S., and so whenever there's like a call to war, they're often able to mobilize like a bunch of old white socialists. And, like, get a few people on the streets, they have tons of signs printed and stuff like that. And so they're kind of like.. there's kind of like the sense of, 'if we challenge them, then you're pro war,' or whatever. But like.. Joey, these people are so ridiculous. Like, where I live. Where I live, there's a huge Syrian population. A lot of these, a lot of these people are from Aleppo, and are from east Aleppo. And the see- that our anti-war, like left boomers wanted to welcome these people and go show their support to them..... So they bought.. regime flags [deep exhale]. They bought... they bought the regime flags to welcome Syrian refugees have burial bombings, like they're just so disc-, they have no concept of people's like, lived realities in these- and traumas and the geopolitics.
It's like, even if you have some critique of like, you know, Islamic fundamentalism or something like that, you don't, you don't bring the flag of someone who just barrel bombed people to those- to those refugees, like it's just like wildly inconsiderate, and Trump and re-traumatizing. And so that kind of stuff is pretty common, like when I can't- so I- I used to work. I used to live and work on the Syrian border on the Turkish side for like a year, but I was also working in the Sy- with Syrians for like 2 or 3 years on total, in that kind of dedicated way. And so when I came back to the U.S., and I met all my old, like.. a lot of my leftist friends, even good faith, ones who aren't tankies, they're like anarchists... because of the infrastructure that these tankie-lites hold, not just on the streets, but also in media organizations. There was just a very extreme form of disinformation, to the point where I would like get in physical confrontations with people at demos and stuff like that, because... I would just be like, 'What the fuck are you talking about?' You know, like. Because I- I have like, I have all of these people's stories in my- Like, there's.. the types of things that are not.. even questions of debate amongst Syrians... Like the Overton Window is so far from the actual things that are considered questions among Syrians, that I would just- it was just, like, baffling to me. It was like being gaslit in this really intense way.
And I'm white, you know, like, I'm.. my- my trauma is vicarious. It's nothing compared to the people whose stories I heard. But like, still, it was just so baffling to me. And so that was kind of how I started getting- getting interested in this- in this phenomena. And so I mentioned there's like this question of old infrastructure, and the Iraq war and not updating. And also just like, the complexities of like, how do you parse information when it's coming from somewhere that you don't live and you don't understand the culture. And meanwhile, you're getting spoon fed, like, really elaborate disinformation operations from a state backed actor, multiple state actors, and it's pretty hard. I'll give sympathy that it's like, it's hard to know what's going on. You know, like, when I first started making friends with more people from Hong Kong, I couldn't quite get a sense of what was going on. Until I- until there, I- had more friends and I had there was more media outlets that I ran into and stuff like that.
Yeah, same for me.
So, I'm sympathetic. Yeah, I'm sympathetic to that. For sure. But there's like a fundamentalism to the way it works, at least in the West. Where..... Yeah, like, I- I can't organize with a lot of the socialists here, unfortunately. Because their- their politics are so bad on the Middle East that I- I can't like, even be around them. They're like, 'We need to.. We need to stage a vigil for Soleimani.' [laughs] But Why though? [laughing]
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Have you ever considered not? [laughs together] And so okay, there's that- there's that level. Then the other- the other level and something that I wanted to kind of talk to you about.. is there's.. there's some tension of populism. So.. there's like.. the- the, you know, the Duginist view of like, pure red-brown, like red-brown, meaning like, you know, leftist aesthetics and fascist politics usually blended together. Uhm, sometimes-
Do explain- Do explain who Du-
Do explain for those who are happy,
And don't know who he is.
Dugin is like this... wacky, wacky Russian philosopher, but he- he has held some- some degree of power in the Russian state at various times. He was very influential in the Russian military. Like with Grasimov, who- who was like the Chief of Staff for the Russian [glitch] military or whatever, like, was very influential with him. But he's kind of- he's kind of also viewed as a wacky figure, and like he's kind of losing influence to like the pure Russian nationalist chauvinists. But he has this view of basically a hard left and far right populist alliance against liberalism. And most people would not... get behind- most leftist would not get behind something like that when it's stated that clearly, like if I was like, 'Hey, liberalism is bad, right?' And they're like, 'Yeah!' and I'm like, 'So you wanna ally with neo nazis about it?' They'd be like, 'Wait, what?' [laughs]
But [chuckes] most reasonable people, although a lot of people just straight up are- are about it now. It's becoming more and more of a thing. There are all these conferences and stuff. Like, you know, I might get cancelled for this, but like, um.... like, a lot of figurs on the left, like a lot of The Grayzone periphery people, but also people like Ajamu Baraka, who, you know, was vice president candidate for the Green Party, and was like-
And who- who visited Damascus.
Yeah, who went on junket tours. And he- he went twice to this conference in- he was a speaker in this conference in Iran. And it's just like, an explicitly red-brown conference, like... tankie spy- tank- out and out tankie spies who work with Syrian and Russian intelligence, alongside like this dude who was involved in a false flag bombing of a Hungarian, like Cultural Center for the AfD, which is like this fascist political party in Germany. All these people just like, David Duke went to this conference one time. A bunch of CODEPINK people went one time, but like Medea Benjamin said, and Gareth Porter said that it was a mistake. And Pepe Escobar said it was a mistake too, he was like, [fragantly soft voice] 'I had no idea!' But then he kept going back every year after that. [laughs]
So yeah, there are people who are explicitly doing this thing. But then in the more reasonable spectrum, there's just like diluted forms of it that happen. And that just is like a product of shared goals. Like, there are a lot of people who think Israel is bad. And not all of those people have the same politics, suffice to say. A lot of people think liberalism is bad, and those people can have really, really different politics than each other. And so if you- if you want to build- so there's this idea of like, in left culture of like, we need to build a big movement with as many people as possible. And in order to do that, we have to have populist rhetoric. And like anti-fascists in the- antifa or whatever, it used to be very unpopular in the U.S., because they were always critical of- of this kind of populism.
They would make- they would make very controversial statements like, in the Cascadia movement in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. there was this conference at one point, and there was this like, Indigenous speaker who was going to speak there and Rose City Antifa was like, 'No, you guys cannot have this speaker.' And everybody was like, 'What are you talking about, this dude's Indigenous? Like, how can you, some like, cluster of shadowy figures, say that we can't have the speake?' and they're like, 'Well, that guy explicitly allies with Neo-traditionalist revisionism that's hugely ant- anti-queer, and like, you know, he makes speaking tours with with- with neo-nazi circles, because he wants to build this, like, patchwork nationalism. And, like, I don't think that you guys should ally with this person,' and things like that were really, really, really controversial at the time. But I think, now a lot of the world has seen what plays out when you allow your movement to ally with the far right. Your movement just gets destroyed. Because-
Just because you share one goal doesn't mean you share any values. And so it's like, it's seen as very practical, but it's- it's not practical at all. It's like, sabotage. Yeap.
I sort of have like 2 different questions that are not directly related. So the first one, uh... Just go back a bit to to Syria. I don't know, you know, you can share as much as you want on this, but I can you talk a bit about your time on the border- on the Syrian Turkish border, and how that sort of informed your own view of, let's say Syria related politics, and especially the sort of narratives that, you know, once upon a time I used to really obsess about.
The tankies and those guys when it comes- their influences, especially in America and in the UK, and... the fact of influence that that means on the rest of the world, and I'd like to see any differences between your own politics before that trip or even, I don't know when that started really, but like, a before and after sort of thing, do you see any contrast there that you think are, you know, worth pointing out?
Yeah, I mean, I grew up in a like, I guess I was always.. somewhat anarchists. [chuckles]Maybe more than somewhat, and [chuckles] But like, all my mentors were- were mostly like... old school PoC socialists, and had a pretty, like, I was really, really into post colonial theory and subaltern theory, and you know, I grew up in the Iraq War era, too. So, I held a lot of those same views, but I basically was like, I- I believed.... okay, I have to be careful about how I say this. Um...
I mean, I- I do sympathize, because like, whenever you can say, can be taken in- in very wrong ways. [Yeah] take your time on this.
Um, so, obviously the US is this horrifying actor in international politics. However, I think that when I was younger, I had this overly simple view of the enemies of the U.S., and the internal struggles that people place- have in other places. And so, one of the most challenging things for me, once I started having like, really robust Syrian community, is people being like, 'We want a no-fly zone.' Everyone that I knew wanted a no-fly zone. Literally no Syrian that I knew thought that that was a bad idea.
And you know, like.. and I'm like- I'm like, 'Oh, well, um... you know, don't you know [laughs] don't you know that the US is imperialist? Like, if you get our boots on the ground, it's game over?' And they're like, 'Are you fucking kidding me? [Laughs, "Bitch."] Like, yes, we know.' [laughs] You know, like, I had a bunch of Iraqi friends, too. They're like, [sternly] 'Yes, we know. But like, you need to understand what Russia is doing and what Russia's gonna do. And like, what's actually happening in the situation. Like, there are no, there are no beautiful clear cut choices that we have here.' None of these people were stupid. None of them lacked an anti-imperialist understanding of the world. It was like, it's in their experience, you know. It's like in their familial memory. It's not like some abstract theoretical thing, like my, you know, U.S.ian ass. So... So, actually, my anti-imperialism was a form of chauvinism. Was a form of like, paternalism. And that was confusing for me to deal with.
You know, to have these smart- and I'm not talking just about liberals. I'm talking about like hardcore Marxists, and like anarchists, and.. you know, like, a wide, wide range of people. You know, like, friends I had, who were- who were, you know, Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. But were anti-Assadist, and were tortured, you know? So like... yeah. So that really [sighs] that really changed my perspective a lot. But I think the other thing that really impacted me was, um.. Well, I got really into open border work. So, um..
Yeah, so now I live in the U.S.-Mexico border, and definitely the lessons I learned from the Syrian refugee crisis, and what we would call "hospitality" here. Uhm, uh.... [chuckles] We call it hosp- Yeah, there's a lot of felonies around this topic. So I'm just gonna leave it alone. Um [chuckles] but, um, but yeah, so I learned a lot about hospitality culture. I think also Syria is what got me into anti-fascism.
Because the reason I- The reason I started working with Syrians.. like, probably there's weird white people stuff in there, but from my heart of heart, like, I just honestly believe that our struggles were interconnected. And that, like.. I needed to follow the leadership of the Arab Spring, because they were pioneering new technologies of revolt, and.. rebuilding their societies. It was a very exciting time, you know. And so.. and I- I believed that, however different Syria and the U.S. are, that there was a lot of similarities.
Like, we have, you know, complex religious issues in a similar way. We have like, paramilitary issues. We have, you know, a- gender, and rural, a city side, and, you know, we have all- a lot of similar like, deep structures. And so my- my- my sense was that I could learn something, and possibly contribute some skills. And so one of the things that I wasn't necessarily thinking about at that time, but became really clear to me, was how fascists can coup good faith social movements. And that like, you know, a lot of my friends were- were very brave.
But they weren't like... they weren't like people who had fought in multiple wars, you know. They were very powerful organizers, but when groups came, who had like huge amounts of war experience, they were able to, like, take over their village or something just because.. they could protect it better. And so I realized, like, 'Oh, that's how fast it happens,' you know. And I- I felt that that was a lesson that I needed to learn about the U.S. as well. And so I got really interested in anti-fascism from that. And.. you know, by the time I came back to the U.S., it was like.. 2015. So I was kind of there during the height of the refugee crisis. And I came back to the U.S., and at that point, I was already starting- I was already studying, like, fascist currents in the U.S., and I was like, 'Oh, this is- this is going to happen here.' Like, it's not going to be the same, because we like, we have stronger institutions in the U.S. for one. We have civil society, and like, there's some- we have- we're a capitalist imperialist country, like, there's some obvious differences. But.. I was like, 'Oh, this is happening. This thing, I saw this thing that my friend told me stories about, it.. it's happening.' So that's how I got into, like, anti-fascist research and why I became concerned about entryism. I've never talked to any- I- I've never talked to anyone about this, because people don't really understand. [chuckles]
I mean [sighs] I unfortunately, do. [chuckles] I moved to the- you know, I already mentioned this, so if listeners are gonna get bored, you can, you know, skip like 5 minutes or something. I- I moved to the UK in 2015, and.. from Lebanon, obviously. And between 2015 and 2016, is when I really started getting more active in Syria stuff than I was before. Before, when I was still in Lebanon, it was just largely just like around Arab Spring first, and then like just supporting refugee rights and very low level. I didn't really do anything that impressive. And in 2015-2016, is when I started noticing, especially on Facebook at a time, I was very active on Facebook before deleting it... Which I highly recommend everyone do, by the way anyone's listening, just delete it. [chuckles] And in 2015-2016, is when I started seeing stuff like, you know, obviously, this is the in the, you know, in the year before the fall of Aleppo.
So there was a lot of intensification of conflict, even more barrel bombs, even more chemical warfare, and all of that. And at the same time, I started seeing a very obvious- I mean, it was very obvious to me, but I didn't really know what to do about it because it felt like you know, you had access to this secret that was also very open. Of how a lot of the far shit was being just replicated on the left, and they were actually identical. And I developed this obsession with tracking, which I should have done a just better jo- job at document to it- of documenting it in retrospect. Of like, who you- who would go to Damascus in terms of like Westerners and foreigners, on the invitation of universal desertification* of the regime. And it was like 60-70% of them would be on the far right, and 30% would be on the quote unquote "left" whatever. Like, Ajamu Al Baraka is one of them that you mentioned [inhales] and many others, including those whose name I should not mention. [both chuckle] And, you know, I wrote this piece at the time, I don't even remember why I published it. But it was like on the Stop the War movement in the UK, and for those who don't know, like, it's the m- it's- it's- I mean, as the name suggests, it came out after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and you know, in the- in the months preceding it as well.
And one of their guys, Secretary Something of Something, published an article against the no-fly zone in- in- in Syria, which was barely being discussed anyway, in the UK, it was never going to happen. But like they- they wrote this article, and in it, I.. just this amazing sentence that I quoted is like, "If you- if you, um.. support the no-fly zone, or something, ask Libyans about it." And the problem is that in that piece, there was no Libyans being quoted. And all of the Libyans that have been asked, and the polls that have been done on these things, it's pretty clear, like a lot of them would be like, sort of like, 'Well, it's not our first option,' that was in the context of Gaddafi obviously, 'That's not our like, first option, but there were no other options.' And indeed, the majority did somewhat support it, if not like, happily, but like, you know.. with some kind of lukewarm response. And that's- that's like miles away from this sort of reaction that I used to see that there were actual protests on the streets of London, and other smaller parts of the UK, but especially in London, with these ready made signs, by the Stop the War movement. For those who know they would- they're very, very.. visible, very obvious. And you will see the signs in- for almost anything, like to go back to the established infrastructure that you mentioned before, like there could be a- you know, stop student tuition hikes, whatever. And then you will see the signs by the Stop the War movement. And so they had- they have- they have their resources, essentially.
But then, there were- and you know, that's kind of an obvious point to make here. But there were no similar- not even a fraction of those protests, when it came to actual barrel bombs, and, you know. There were proposals at the UK Parliament at the time to even just have like, not even a no-fly zone, but just like develop food over besieged cities. And even that got no real support on the- on the British left, like not nothing whatsoever. And whenever I would go to, like protests against Bashar Al Assad or whatever, then you would have like 95% of the people that are being Syrians. And then you see these protests by the Stop the War movement, and there's like 1 or 2 Syrians, and that's about it. And you're more likely to see before, I think it was banned at some point by the UK Parliament, but you were more likely to see at the time a flag of Hezbollah and that sort of thing.
And there was, and I'll mentioned this as a sort of anecdote, but just to kind of drive that point home, there was a protest in- in- in London in 2015, I think- or early 2016 or whatever. And it was about [inaudable] it was about Syria, I can't remember what. And I went there with a Palestinian friend, and there was this guy who had this Hezbollah flag in the middle of the protest. He was the only one. And we went up to him, assuming that he was an Arab. You know, like, I-
Laughing, "Oh, god, no"
I just assumed that it was a- a.. I don't know, some Lebanese weirdo or something. Because they do exist, you know, they- they're everywhere. And I- I got really pissed.
It was a white guy, wasn't it.
It, no, no. It was-
It was probably a white guy. [chuckles]
It was not a white guy.
It was this... [Emmi laughs] I think Pakistani from- from the accent that he- like, you know. But he was given the flag by this random Lebanese guy and told to waive it, and he did it because he thought that this was the anti-imperialist thing to do. And he genuinely meant well, and he had no fucking idea what Hezbollah was, and what they did, and you know, they didn't- he didn't even know they were in Syria. He had no idea. And then the Lebanese guy came, the other guy. And the Lebanese guy just basically dismissed me and this Palestinian friend as being imperialist, and you know, the usual crap. And so all of this to say that it's extremely complex. And it gets even more complex when you start entering into the sub-categories of identities, and whatever. [outro music begins playing] There was this piece at some point, I don't remember.. I don't even remember if it was good, but I think it was interesting. Of like, there is this phenomenon of queer PoC's on the internet being like super tankies about things and whatever. Like they do exist, and they tend to have a disproportionate impact probably due to other dynamics.
Hey, folks, apologies for the awkward break here. We didn't actually know that this was going to be 2 parts. We just continued talking, and talking, and talking. So I'm cutting the conversation here. I know it is a bit awkward, as I said, so apologies for that again. But part two will be available next weekend. Thank you for listening.
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