A genocide prevention expert lays out her thoughts after examining the activity of the far right on Parler.
1: Expose the Lies Without Feeding Persecution Narratives
People believe, many quite genuinely, that they are freedom fighters defending the constitution against an evil, global cabal of elites who also comprise the deep state in America. The right wing is deeply invested in defending freedom, saving children, exposing evildoers, and sacrificing themselves in the name of what they define as America’s core values. As we know, they think the election was stolen, that Biden is a member of a deep state cabal that preys on children, and that he is about to institute communist authoritarianism. Since their storyline is false, it is important that a) things are not done that appear to confirm the storyline, and b) things are done that help people see its contradictions and flaws.
An example of a) is the decision to ban Trump’s Twitter accounts, as this has appeared to people to be a confirmation of stage Red1 (in the QAnon narrative, Red1 starts with the deletion of Trump’s Twitter). Red1 is an important acceleration moment in the coming “storm,” when Trump will reveal top secret documents about deep state wrongdoing and will arrest the wrongdoers. The appearance of Red1 created a palpable momentum among right wingers that is of grave concern, since it is a tripwire for Red2 and a series of other occurences that happen in quick succession and result in Trump’s triumph.
Although a good argument can be made for the importance of taking away Trump’s megaphone, given his incredible charismatic appeal, it would have been better to wait to officially ban him until after either the impeachment vote in the House or a robust, no-nonsense statement made by a widely trusted leader who states that our Republic is in peril and that Trump is the source of the peril. This would make a stronger argument for Trump’s banning. Right now the efforts being made by massively powerful private social media conglomerates to shut down right wing voices simply look like the deep state ushering in authoritarian rule. Tying social media bans to individual indictments and convictions takes away the sense that people are being caught in a politically-motivated dragnet and assault on free speech. It also keeps our government honest about respecting our constitutional rights and liberties.
An example of b) is to begin to quickly connect the dots between Trump, global elites, and members of the “deep state,” that is, between Trump and elite power holders in the USA, to show that QAnon is projecting a cabal onto others that Trump really exists within. Creating doubt in the Q narrative is both necessary and very difficult, as QAnon’s theories have a built-in answer to all doubt: everything will eventually be revealed when the time is right. But the insurrection caused doubts: Parler and CloutHub are now full of people demanding that Trump drop the declassified documents now to usher in his next four years of justice, freedom and peace. Some people are demanding that Trump, Guiliani, and the other quislings show them the money. Capitalizing on this doubt about Q cannot be done effectively by the MSM, which right wingers don’t trust, or by the statements from Democratic leadership. It also cannot be achieved by statements from what the right wing calls RINOs, since they think RINOs are either self-serving weaklings or in on the conspiracy to steal the election from Trump. The connections must be very precise and easy to see — there can be no more pulling of punches or equivocation. The Comey investigation and report are now used as evidence of purely politically-motivated persecution. A similar investigation must be avoided.
Doubt must be created through actions, particularly actions that drive wedges between Trump’s trusted associates and make them turn on one another to save their own reputations. Exposing them as manipulators and liars is absolutely critical, and nothing is better than exposure coming from the horses’s mouths. This requires bold action, bold statements, and quick indictments — or serious threats of indictments — involving the leadership of the coup at the highest levels. Members of Congress who have supported Trump’s lies and the January 6 insurrection must face serious consequences, which will force most of them to throw the foot soldiers under a bus, thereby exposing these congresspeople for the snake oil salesmen that they are. I fear we don’t have the resolve needed to accomplish these bold actions. Without them, however, right-wingers will get bolder, more openly violent, and the conditions in America will quickly radicalize. The right is deeply committed to saving America from the cabal. Backing down would expose them as cowards and traitors to their leader, unless, of course, they can see with their own eyes that they are being used in the most despicable way.
#2: Tell People the Truth About their Problems
Rhetoric is very important right now, as is genuine engagement with the people. Both are in very short supply. Trump has been so successful because he is one of the only politicians who seems to level with people, who makes people feel that they are not being dismissed, made fun of, and condescended to. He goes off script, which is refreshing, since the cadence of political speeches in the USA has become synonymous with their empty promises and disingenuous statements of care. We need to put forward leaders like Bernie Sanders, who can act as spokespeople for peace in America, speakers who will not cater to the base racism, homophobia, and sexism of the right, but will level with people about what their problems really are, outside of the racist and antisemitic QAnon mumbo jumbo, and clearly state that insurrection is out of the question.
#3. Teach People to Unite Against Global Power Structures
Stoking division among people outside of the institutions of power is one of the oldest tactics in the book to shore up an elite monopoly on political and economic power. Outreach has to be done to get people thinking about who it serves that they are embracing Q’s story rather than focusing practically on very legitimate grievances they routinely complain about on Parler: corporate power, the wealth gap (billionaires), election rigging, the hyper security state. Bizarre QAnon-influenced statements are often followed by very sharp critiques of power. While QAnon gets people involved in a useless bipartisan drama, which casts politics as made up of two opposing sides, one good and one evil, a better story would endow ordinary folks with the tools necessary to begin peacefully to chip away at the truly frightening power of global elites by themselves, without a messianic figure, showing them how to punch up rather than sideways. It’s not like we train prople in civics in high school, much less in coalition-building, grassroots organizing, and conflict mediation. Naturally the executive branch would not be involved in this training, but our representatives could be and have been. Let’s declare an era of flourishing civil liberties and give people something else that is exciting to do.
#4: Turn Enemies into Allies
There will always be right-wing true believers and fanatics — Nazis, KKK, white supremacists, homophobes, misogynists, xenophobes — people who are addicted to hate and who enjoy cruelty and violence. But there are always more hangers on, people along for the thrill, as we saw on Wednesday. Such people can easily be led to commit atrocities, but they rarely would instigate them on their own. Many of today’s right wingers seem to me to be people who want to be change agents, who resent the elite monopolization of public space (corporations, technocrats, Ivy League lawyers, the beltway & university literati), and who are overwhelmed by the complexity of 21st century American life. They are white people trapped in racism, men trapped in misogyny, straights trapped in homophobia, citizens trapped in xenophobia because the tools to explain their problems in accurate ways are out of reach — either hidden behind expensive tuition, packaged in preachy truisms that they find alienating and humiliating, or shouted at them. Sure, they should show more curiosity and openness, but fascists just don’t do that naturally. Someone has to make efforts to bring these things to them in a form they want to access.
#5: Challenge Perceptions About the Power of the State
State power must be applied in very limited and specific ways that emphasize individual criminal accountability, using laws that have legitimacy, rather than, for example, Trump’s executive order related to the protection of monuments. The right wing shares with many, many other Americans a fear of the power of the American state, especially since 9/11. This is an issue that could unite the right and left, bringing the right back to more sensible explanations of their troubles, and giving them some skin in peaceful movements for change. We can’t expect to create establishment neoliberals out of these folks, nor would that be a productive goal, but we can offer them other ways to think about state power and people power that does not require hanging people from a noose strung up in front of the Capitol building or launching insurgence after insurgence with violent rhetoric and hate that has gotten them exactly nowhere, unless, of course, they successfully take over our government with their powerful backers in the next few weeks and months, which is quite possible.
#6: Devolve Power, Rebuild America
We need to reconstruct society in America. Any president and administration interested in a sustainable peace will emphasize investment in the public good, through public transportation, public schools, public parks, public roads, public health insurance, public utilities, public child care, etc. The president will break up monopolies, break up big banks, and emphasize small business loans and microcredit. The minimum wage would be increased dramatically and immediately. People will be guaranteed income that allows them to live in dignity when they are disabled, unemployed, underemployed, or on parental, family, or medical leave. Power can be devolved through these rights and services in a way that gives people immediate meaning and purpose. Imagine if after giving birth a neighborhood doula came to your house, helped you and your partner, and found resources for things you were lacking without humiliating you? Imagine if the small business association could give out micro loans through an office in every neighborhood that you could walk into with a good idea and find a friendly neighborhood face to help you? Imagine if you were young and wanted to be an EMT and your local government would say, fabulous, we need you, show up on Monday to start classes. Here’s your ID, here’s your mentor, here’s your practicum, and in 12 months you’ll be eligible to work at a, b, c or d. Imagine if you were struggling with depression because your wife left you and your business was doing very poorly and you could walk into a bright, free clinic near your home where someone would trouble-shoot solutions with you and help you strike out on a positive new path. This would be exciting for people. Overnight we could dream! And people wouldn’t be as emotionally needy, intellectually bored, physically exhausted, and spiritually uninspired as we are now.
#7: Many Right-Wingers are Lashing Out From a Sense of Frustration
Many right wingers in the USA are genocidaires—and they cannot see it. They believe in cosmic, zero-sum battles. If Trump doesn’t win, we are doomed. They are obsessed with white, heterosexual reproduction and believe reproduction is one way that their enemies are trying to kill them (through migration, homosexuality, abortion, etc.). Their enemies must be removed from their universe because they are pollutants. They deflect and project as a matter of habit — we didn’t kill the police officer, it was Antifa; we aren’t trying the steal the election, the Democrats are; we aren’t violent, our opponents are; we aren’t racists, BLM is; the Holocaust didn’t happen, but 6MWE.
I’m convinced that many Trump supporters know they are lying, but they simultaneously believe what they are saying. I think the explanation for this dissociation is that they are trying to avoid the desperate sense of vulnerability and cognitive collapse that comes with assessing starkly their daily lives without a functioning materialist critique. If you are not going to say, “this economy is unjust. I work 60 hours a week and still don’t earn enough to pay for my wife’s cancer treatment,” you almost require a mystery writer like QAnon to explain this situation to you. Similarly, if you are not going to think, “my rage is properly directed at a system that has squelched my hopes and dreams and not at my wife, who has her own problems,” you need QAnon to make it all more complicated so you can continue avoiding the harm you are doing. And finally, if you can’t find a way to say, “we really need to make amends for slavery and genocide, as a country, and I’m going to sign up to help with this because I’m sick of this repeating pattern of injustice and exploitation,” you desperately need QAnon to take your whole existence outside of history so that you are not responsible for anything.
The 6th of January’s insurgents were clear that they wanted to make the people’s house truly the people’s house. They feel left out, perhaps intentionally kept out. So they tore down the walls that excluded them. There is actually no irony here, since white supremacy is about building borders to keep black and brown people on the outside of the manor house while ensuring that white people can maintain control over the inside. Of course, the prevalent sense of being excluded is caused by race hysteria, the existential fear caused by any gains — perceived or real — made by people outside the manor house. One of the most familiar responses to perceived or real marginalization from power is fascism and genocide. Another, however, is democratic populism and a flourishing of the collective creative spirit. We still have a chance to make a case for the second while perhaps avoiding the first.
#8: Time is of the Essence
We have a very short window of opportunity to take bold action to clearly identify the insurrectionist actions as criminal, to expose Trump and his powerful backers as selfish charlatans, and to reach out to win people’s hearts and minds. None of this can be staged. It must be sincere. Right wingers are as good as left wingers at identifying insincerity and bullshit. They are currently not sure that they can trust Trump or that they have not been taken for a ride. Trump’s continued silence, his failure to produce the promised top secret documents, and his inability to install himself in power will all begin to drive a wedge between himself and his followers. As they peel off from him we have to make sure they have somewhere peaceful to go. Otherwise they’ll re-emerge as a more radicalized, more violent fascist insurgent force that does not rely on a figurehead and makes all of its own rules.
#9: Overreaction with Security Laws is Dangerous
Relying solely on the violence and coercion of the state at this moment will be counterproductive and, like the Patriot Act, will deform our nation and set us up for even worse threats down the road. The force needed to protect our political leaders across the country must be matched by sincere outreach to all Americans, who are suffering terribly, and by a scaffolding of laws and policies that put people first. This must all happen fast.
#10: It Could Happen Here
America is in desperate need of a national mechanism for genocide prevention. It is time to turn inwards and take stock with clear eyes and a can-do spirit.
Currently the Endowed Chair in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, Elisa von Joeden-Forgey teaches and researches on genocide prevention, gender and genocide, comparative genocide, the Holocaust, sexualized violence, imperialism, race, and war.