Before you went to the bar, Mr Farage, we were talking about why people like you and me were jumping into our little spaceships and hurtling back through time. I was talking about time just being another modern consumable and argued that providing there were enough independent time traders like your good self around, going backwards rather than forwards was always going to be a purchase option for the electorate. I then made some pompous remark about Einstein’s idea of time dilation and the curvature of space and followed it up with some reckless comparison between classic car lovers and fundamentalists. At that point you told me to sod-off, queued up ‘Park Life’ and the ‘Pushbike Song’ on the jukebox and got in another round of drinks.
But I jest ye not.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
It may sound a little sweeping and grandiose several rounds short of closing time, but successive attempts are being made to re-set the World Clock to ‘Year Zero’. Much the same attempts were made by Pol Pot and North Korea. And no it’s not the drink talking. As humanity adjusts to globalization we are (to borrow a phrase from Baudrillard) not moving toward the end of history but ‘going into reverse’. The complex meta-narratives of post-modernism and consumerism have led to a sense of overcrowding and the ‘blood and soil’ aesthetics of Radical and Romantic Nationalism seem like a crude and often brutal attempt to alleviate this burden and simplify these narratives. Reduce, reuse, recycle. The sacralization of the authentic has taken root at the heart of all these movements. In fact, it’s difficult to conceive of any kind of fundamentalism that doesn’t conform to such a view. Does that make relatively harmless National Conservatives like our Nigel a threat to national security? Not in my opinion, no. Not immediately.
In the truest sense of the word this is not fundamentalism at all. People like Nigel might have embarked on some princely quest to reclaim the fundamental spirit of a bygone England, some mythical core or quality, but he’s hardly proceeding in a scientific fashion.
If you were to ask him to put it down on paper, you’d probably have something that resembled a stream of national consciousness; words and phrases like Yorkshire Pudding, Red Letter Boxes, Red Telephone Boxes, Pig Roasts, Queen Victoria, Steed from The Avengers, Double Decker Buses, Jousting Tournaments and Chimney Sweeps. Nigel’s idea of British History would look a little like something out of a Thomas Pynchon novel – only without any kind of narrative structure, or indeed — a point.
His enter pitch is based on one of presumption: that there is some discreet relationship, or some logical continuity between these endearing national symbols and the benefits of leaving the European Union. For all the good these images will do to restore confidence to the markets, bridge racial and ethnic divides, reduce crime or reconnect individuals with communities he might as well be promising time-travel.
If there is a narrative structure then he’s leaving his readers to fill in the gaps.
Fundamentalism though, whilst conservative, requires an unshakable commitment to a series of irreducible beliefs. Fundamentalism requires a literal apprehension of some truth or other, a route-planner, a design for life. It only takes one look at the photo in the first part of this article to tell you that Nigel doesn’t have a design for life. He has a foaming pint of ale, a new pack of ink-cartridges in his pocket and some ill-defined desire to revive certain aspects of Britain’s past. As far as the Security Industry is concerned Nigel and his core supporters are a low-level risk. In fact, in terms of the threat he poses to Britain (nevermind the rest of world), Nigel is somewhere between Mary Berry of The Great British Bake Off and Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson.
Farage’s claim that ‘open borders are putting lives at risk’ and that the Brussels terror attacks exposed the dangers of lax immigration controls may be unproductive but they generally conform to the customs and standards of democratic engagement. It’s the new breed of politician who more mindfully trashes and subverts those standards that presents a more credible and immediate threat to the processes and conventions that make democracies in the West successful.
It is ‘straight-talking’ Common Sense Nationalists like Donald Trump that who present a more clear and present danger.
Donald has gleefully adopted the role of belligerent, irascible agitator. In fact he might be the first President in history to suggest that we replace the Libertas torch on the Statue of Liberty with a pitchfork. He might also suggest we change the inscription on the bronze tablet inside the statue’s pedestal from the famous poem by Emma Lazarus about welcoming immigrants to one that says simply, ‘F*!k Off! – We’ve Built A Wall’. Think of the angry torch wielding lynch mob in the James Whale Frankenstein movie made up of struggling farmers, disenfranchised shepherds, burly bikers and those without a college degree and you won’t be far off the mark.
As a response to the unprecedented violence ahead of a rally in Chicago Trump even offered the ‘will of the people’ battle cry defined in Eco’s Turning Back The Clock. Regardless of what Trump tries to tell us, the violence was not the manifestation of simmering public anger with America (or the will of god) but a super-charged response to sustained verbal sparring from both camps. The command to get in ‘formation’ that Beyonce had barked from the stage during the half-time show at the Super Bowl in February has been duly obeyed by America. And even now, some six weeks later, they remain in that pre-snap formation, locked shoulder to shoulder, helmet to helmet, and with no firm plans to advance the ball any, just making the occasional threat to snap it back from time to time.
Whereas our pal Nigel’s battle plans are based around community and collective principles, Trump has devised a more divisive strategy (deriving only a collective spirit off the back of pushing public opinion to its most violent extremes). This sneaky chaos raptor may have invested no shortage of effort in reviving some mythical golden past but that is precisely what it is, an investment. He may have applied that same common-lore touch and boast that same common sense bravura as Nigel, but Donald is a businessman. Any investment he has made will be brief and rather speculative. Those stocks and shares may have some currency now, but he’ll have no conscience in trading them in once the mood in America changes. He’s a populist through and through.
And here’s another thing. If you were to use Umberto Eco‘s 14-point guide to eternal fascism as a checklist, then Donald clearly fulfils more of the criteria. Nigel may understand the ‘thoughts, hopes and aspirations of ordinary people’ and he may present a clear challenge to ‘all that political correctness’ but he doesn’t say how he would run the country. In focusing too conscientiously on UKIP’s ‘plain spoken patriotism’ he hasn’t thought about the economy or how he’ll stop such a ‘swarm’ of migrants 9. Donald on the otherhand has: he’ll build a wall. And when he’s finished building that one, he’ll build another one; not just along the borders with Mexico this time but one that blocks out the rest of the world. It makes Nigel’s standing on the beach at Dover screaming at the waves idea seem positively crude and low-budget by comparison.
Donald may be full of hot air, but as we have all seen from balloons, air’s surprising molecular qualities can help things scale significant heights when someone turns up the heat.
Building a 110 Storey Fair Trade Center
Trump has also given thought to the economy. Quite a lot of thought actually. And though his economic goals don’t always make a lot of sense or appear consistent for the most part, they chime agreeably enough with the fears and concerns of a substantial demographic that demand a good deal more than their lot.
Like the Nazi Party of the 1930s, Trump advocates ‘fair trade’ over free trade. Trump also says he believes in a genuine free market and he insists that no such thing exists under the present terms of NAFTA, CAFTA or the TPP. Trump argues that the trade agreements that Obama has pursued with Mexico and China were very poorly negotiated. Americans got a bum deal. And more importantly (in the context of his decision to run at this election at least) Donald got a bum deal too.
Hitler traded with poorer European countries in exchange for German goods; he localized production and became a major industrial and military threat. Whether Trump has sincere plans to deliver the same economic punch is really beyond the scope of this article (and my own knowledge base to be fair), but he’s making all the right noises, and at the moment it is the noises that count. Trump has taken Eco’s 14-point guide to modern fascism and used it as a route-planner rather than as the cautionary tale it was intended to be 10
Donald Trump is not a Nazi. The majority of his supporters are not Nazis but they could be embarking on that same evolutionary journey if the temporary bluster should take a more purposeful turn.
Whilst there is little denying that Nigel’s warm, eccentric brand of common-or-garden bigotry helps replenish the trough of far-right extremism in Britain his failure to posit a unique and meaningful vision of his own sees him perform less successfully at rallies and elections (in fact his pledge in his closing statement to ‘outshine all their expectations’ on May 7th was not a roaring success but it did help shoe-horn the Tories in).
And here’s the problem (as churlish as it seems to say given that he’s just got in a round of drinks) — Nigel doesn’t have a route-planner and he rarely issues a call to action. The totalitarian regimes that dominated Europe in the early part of the 20th Century were based on frighteningly well-realized ideals, whether it was the corporatism of Mussolini, the Social Darwinism and anti-capitalism of the Nazis or the Marxist-Leninist ‘kolkhozy’ ideals advocated by Stalin and his regime. And neither Nigel or Donald have been able to devise anything close to an ideology or philosophical system, not just on this scale, but on any scale. But whilst Donald’s conspiratorial fictions routinely reveal themselves to be falling apart with incoherences and contradictions the energy he is able to bring to such intense nostalgic episodes is immense. And it is this that propels him forward: he makes it sound like he’s actually doing something. The language he uses is very kinetic. It’s action-based, it’s full of verbs.
Everywhere in the news you look you’ll see that Donald is ‘demanding action’, whether it’s over the care of wounded warriors, the bloated waiting lists in healthcare or illegal immigration. Nigel would never explicitly suggest barring Muslims from entering the United Kingdom, ‘demand action’ on the surveillance of mosques or suggest that British Home Office produce a registry of British Muslims (much like Hitler and the Third Reich did with ‘the Jews’). He might think it, but these things would never make it into any of his public addresses.
But Donald isn’t producing policies, he’s producing images. Like he’s said on several occasions already, “as long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big” and he adopts much the same approach to talking.
Donald Trump is a builder by trade. He sees towers and walls everywhere he looks. Mental and cultural spaces are defined by solid, clear building lines. Everything has sharp and regular contours. Things are built to last rather than perish, though there is little room for negotiation in any of the designs. Donald understands that in a world of accelerated trends and economics there is little room for subtlety or ambiguity, as such things travel neither light nor fast. Remember that scene in the movie Mars in which Matt Damon dismantles the MAV space pod? Damon’s character strips it down to its bare bones. This is because in order for the MAV to gain enough velocity to escape the atmosphere of Mars, its weight had to be reduced. And Trump has adopted much the same principle with language.
We live in a period of history in which the world’s problems have to be solved in a 140 characters or less. Those specializing in providing content for social media know that speed is everything. If the message is to gain dominance in the media, and maintain that dominance, the messenger must set specific goals, provide a clear ‘call-to-action’ and support it with strong visual cues. The Twitter service is the natural expression of the digital economy, the logical conclusion of an oral tradition that has its roots in folk tales, songs and Chinese whispers.
Tweets are the currency of the moment and Social Media has played no small part in Trump docking with the national ‘space station’. And he’s used a combustible mix of manipulative populism and controversy to do it 11 . He’s been thinking like the editor of a newspaper. He’s increased his market share by being able to provoke and to support and to politicize and to tease. He’s been able to maintain his dominance by gaming the semiotic exchange mechanism in his favour. Trump responds to cumbersome world problems with super-sleek solutions: he’ll stop movement, he’ll build walls. If the problem is too complex he’ll just make it simple. He’s dismantling the cultural MAV, so to speak.
As Donald has said already, “My Twitter has become so powerful that I can actually make my enemies tell the truth.”
By contrast Nigel is the the political equivalent of King Canute, standing on the shores of Dover, and using little more than a pint of craft ale and a Churchillian cigar to repel the uncontrollable waves of people entering his country. That he has neither the moral nor political mandate to do it, doesn’t seem to deter him.
The only thing Nigel is currently demanding is another cigar.
Let’s make the past great again! ™
Here’s another major difference between Donald Trump and Nigel Farage: Donald will say exactly what he means whereas Nigel will skate tirelessly around the issue with all the pomp and ceremony of a Dancing on Ice Christmas final. Donald understands the power of images in a hugely competitive world where only the loudest and most outrageously sculpted images makes an impression. The Islamic State recognises that and so does Donald; it’s the most shocking images that travel.
Whilst the offspring of insanely more fascist ideals have taken root at the heart of other British Nationalist groups and organizations over the years (The British National Party, the British Union of Fascists, the National Front and and so forth) Nigel and the UK Independence Party base their entire pitch around the return of a more ‘authentic Britain’. Like Trump, the one thing that Nigel does share with his fascist cousins is a celebration of the Cult of Tradition (the first, and arguably most important, feature of Umberto Eco’s Eternal Fascism). He looks for a return to tradition from the media, from education, from women and even from his ale.
As Eco wrote in in 1995, ‘traditionalism is older than fascism and implies the rejection of modernism’ 12. And this is why you’ll have hard time trying to envisage Nigel and his mates getting themselves into a right royal lather over which emoji symbol they’re going to use, or worrying about which version of the Android operating system they have on their Samsung smartphone. And it is much the same with Team Donald. Trump’s own feud with major technologists like Apple and the deeply progressive spirit of Silicon Valley are already under intense media scrutiny.
Traditionalist thinkers tend to reject technology, as technology is about as far removed from the ‘authentic’ as you can possibly get (although both the Nazis and Islamic State have embraced it as necessary evil in obtaining a militaristic edge). And yes Nigel may, like all those historic fascist movements before him ‘appeal to the frustrated middle classes disquieted by some economic crisis or political humiliation’ 13 but it’s based more on a rejection of change and modernity than any firm ideological or economic connivance. They don’t want to dismiss modernity altogether, they just want to see to see it on the other side of the pub window.
And in this respect both Nigel and Donald have, to varying degrees, a great deal in common with the meta-modernists (although neither camp would probably admit it).
The basic premise of the meta modernist movement is to reject the inertia and nihilism that arrived with postmodernism. They celebrate action, engagement and a return to traditional forms of storytelling. Relativism isn’t to be tolerated. There is to be a return to absolutes, not because absolutes boast any intrinsic fidelity to the truth, but because they offer hope and facilitate action.
Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who carried out the 2011 attacks in Norway boasted a similar meta-modernist aesthetic. In his sprawling 1500 page copy n paste manifesto, 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, he describes himself as a ‘cultural Christian’. By his own admission Breivik says that whilst not in any way religious he seeks to preserve ‘the basics of the European Christian cultural legacy’. He likes the hope that the Christian ideal offers and the action that a religiously devised crusade can facilitate. He seeks to preserve Christianity only as a cultural vehicle, a powerful story and his elaborate Templar uniform served little more than a visual cue.
Public health warning: storytelling can kill
Storytelling, folklore and mythology provide the narrative structure and fabric of the Meta-modernist movement, much like it did for the Romantic Nationalists of the 17th Century and the later Völkisch movement. But then perhaps all movements begin life like this: with a cautionary tale to tell. As Umberto Eco wrote in The Island of the Day Before: the purpose of a story is to teach and to please at once, and what it teaches is how to recognize the snares of the world. Some might say there are stories, and that there is nothing outside of stories. Eco was probably one of them.
For me, Eco’s words go someway to explaining the increasing virulence and popularity of Conspiracy Theory. Such narratives, it might be argued, have been the default expression of Radical Nationalist movements for some several hundred years. Whether it is ‘reds under the beds’, as it was during the McCarthy witch-hunts, Stalinist accusations of Trotsky-led insurrections or the suspicious death of Persian King Bardiya in 522 BC, conspiracy theories have always satisfied our need for alternative histories, and often at a time when we most need to redraft the future. Naturally, they’ve got more outlandish and more imaginative as time has moved on and have changed from being explicitly political to something a little more esoteric, but they serve much the same toxic function now as they ever did. They were and remain a deeply infectious carrier, whose ability to replicate and spread has increased exponentially with the arrival of the Internet. The escalation of these stories has always relied on whispers rather than shouts and the dark, sticky silk spun on the world wide web is a dynamic and very flexible conduit in this respect.
Such theories have always been there, it’s just now they are being expressed more regularly, more aggressively and in ever more disturbing fashions.
Described as the poor man’s ‘cognitive mapping’ by Fredric Jameson, conspiracy theories in the 21st Century have become the dreams of paranoid minds struggling to represent the increasingly invisible processes of politics and economics to themselves and those around them. They are to the Meta-modernists what the tales of the Grimm brothers were to those early Romantic Nationalists. These are modern urban fairy tales whose desperate, thrashing quill-strokes aspire to lift a torch to the darkness of the world but whose ultimately spoiled intentions end up throwing all manner of skewed reliefs upon the distorted and very grim looking walls around them.
And in a fashion that’s enough to sour any man’s beer, it’s these dark and unseen forces that many of these groups have come to do battle with.
Who knows, maybe the The World Trade Center became the focal point of Bin Laden’s war on America because it represented, at a symbolic level, all the unseen waves and charges of invisible power in the West. Just think about it Mr Farage: 110 storeys, 104 floors and nearly 1500 feet of solid steel frames and curtain walls — providing a near impenetrable shield to all the inner machinations of a sinister global plot. To Bin Laden and the hijackers the two towers must have stood like the colossal twin shafts of a two-pole electric plug, with all the currents of invisible power bristling like static therein. It couldn’t have been anything less than profound. Seeing the smoke billow out of those two towers must have been like seeing the life-giving ichor pour out from the heel of the giant Talos in the tale of the Golden Fleece. As power failures went, it was by far the most disturbing and most symbolic in human history.
Of course it will come as no surprise to learn that several of the books recovered from Bin Laden’s Pakistani compound included alleged exposes of the US banking system, all-powerful cabals and sinister Jewish plots.
Among the books that were found were The Secrets of the Federal Reserve which claims that central banking system of the United States is the result of a conspiracy of politicians, billionaires and European and Jewish bankers. The Committee of 300 by John Coleman pursues much the same narrative: an elite group of specialists from all corners of global industry and answerable to no one but its members, control every aspect of our modern lives: politics, religion, commerce, the drug trade and petroleum. Bloodlines of the Illuminati was also retrieved from the compound. The book is a genealogical ‘who’s who’ of mainstream conspiracy that imaginatively draws together everyone from Jack the Ripper to Jack Kennedy into one sinister master-narrative of Judeo-Masonic intent that’s literally bursting with occultist references and comparative Satanics.
A new breed of conspiracy junkie has also been able to extend this paranoid worldview to vanguards of popular-culture like The Simpsons. When it was discovered that a 1997 episode of The Simpsons featured a scene in which Bart holds up a $9 travelogue with the two towers of the World Trade Center rising eerily in the background, it was immediately seized as evidence that America knew about the attacks long before they happened. And this week things took a similarly awkward turn, when it announced that a later episode of the show, screened in 2000, depicts another nightmare scenario: Donald Trump as President. And even though the writers have stated publicly that this was a warning of just how far things could degenerate in the United States, the Conspiracy sub-culture, currently consuming so very much of the bandwidth on the Dark Web, will see it as yet further evidence of an all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful cabal agreeing the shape and direction of our future.
The fact that Trump has already made several bids for the American Presidency (including a brief one for The Reform Party in 2000) will be duly dismissed or ignored by the actors and audiences involved in the circulation of such fantasies. Just as they are also likely to forget that the World Trade Center had been the target of sustained attacks, both real and fictional, for the best part of ten-years in the years leading up to 9/11. Al-Qaeda terrorists had first attacked the Trade Centre in 1993, but even that attack may have been inspired in part by the plots of authors, Tom Clancy (Debt of Honour, 1994) and Don DeLillo (Players, 1977).
That spooky 9 dollar prediction may also have a more prosaic explanation too. ‘Nine dollar specials’ have become almost something of a cliche among marketers and promoters looking to pitch a price somewhere just under that magical ten dollar price threshold. It’s entered the national consciousness as something of a byword for anything that’s mid-price, cheap, or budget. Bart even remarks that the ‘super sitter fare’ the brochure is advertising is surprisingly affordable. The shows in the early days were teeming with references to crafty commercial practices. It was probably more a nod and a wink to the plots and schemes of New York bus companies than the Illuminati.
Why these people don’t consign such patterns to coincidence, or the culmination of a series of unconscious desires in the cultural and political mindsets isn’t entirely clear. Perhaps certain psychologies just can’t see a series of dots without going to extravagant lengths to join them. Maybe its some compulsive obsessive disorder — an overlooked parameter on the autism spectrum — some prolific cognitive mania or other. Or maybe its just another undiagnosed case of motivated forgetting brought on by too great a dependence on State apparatus. Perhaps some of us simply cannot cope with the fact that absolute democracies have surrendered absolute control to the vagaries and perversions of a determined (and violent) minority. Perhaps conspiracy narratives are just one way of restoring the omnipotence of the state who have, to some extent, replaced God at the centre of a vacuum universe.
Winning the justice narrative features as prominently in the tropes and pledges of Trump and Farage, as it does it in the books found in Bin Laden’s compound. Each of them tells a story of righting wrongs and restoring balances. The ill deeds of men rise like smoke in the valley of ashes and the work of the Conspiracy Theorist is to negotiate a path through to a promised land where the air is clean and the ground more giving. These little books of conspiracies are the ‘fantastic farms’ of the pious mind, desperate to reseed the moral integrity of a God that now rules without conscience. Theology’s collision with pulp fiction has given rise to a whole new literary genre: pop-eschatology — a post-apocalyptic tussle with a pre-apocalyptic world in which the random casualties of poorly regulated banking practices and realpolitik are habitually recast as the unsuspecting dupe in an elaborate global sting. If the State is God then all things happen for a reason, however dreadful. Or so the logic goes.
Rolf Fredheim, a research associate writing as part of the Conspiracy and Democracy Project at the University of Cambridge, downplays the strong conspiracy undercurrent surging beneath the calm veneer of populist movements like the UK Independence Party in Britain and their various counterparts in Europe. Rolf describes such theories (not inaccurately) as “disreputable counter-knowledges” too thin and uncertain to cause major disruptions within democracy.
And whilst Rolf is not alone in his view that Conspiracy Theory is “a marginal phenomenon … unlikely to bring down strong democratic governments” there are some significant changes taking place. The further that populists like Donald Trump advance to the White House the frighteningly more reputable those “disreputable counter-knowledges” become. David Cameron is already saying that he fears that poor turn-out among pro-European voters could spell disaster in June’s referendum. This is just one instance in which minorities can effect major disruptions. Sometimes its the failure of majorities to act, rather than the actions of the few that deliver the most damaging blows. And though it’s only sensible to avoid any knee-jerk alarmist claims, we have to look at the facts: this entity has two faces.
In ancient Roman religion and myth, the god, Janus is often depicted as having two faces: he looks to the future and to the past. As a consequence Janus is generally regarded to preside over the beginning and ending of conflict, the god of change and time. And it really couldn’t be more apt in the circumstances.
Anna-Marie Crampton, a former UKIP candidate in East Sussex, was (somewhat reluctantly) suspended from the party after making sensational claims on Facebook and the Secrets of The Fed website that the Second World War was “engineered by the Zionist.” And my own research suggests she is not alone. In UKIP and its affiliates there are literally thousands of keyboard activists dividing their time between websites like the British Democracy Forum and the more paranoid and outrageous, Above Top Secret and Secrets of The Fed.
And much the same duality exists elsewhere in Europe — Germany’s Pegida, Italy’s Nothern League, Greece’s Order of the Golden Dawn, France’s National Front, the Ukraine’s Svoboda, Austria’s FPO, the Danish People’s Party, the Finns Party — all have made significant gains as a result of so-called ‘migrant crisis’ and all have significant volumes of members and representatives sharpening their knives and honing their rhetorical and narrative skills on websites like those described above.
Theirs is a maelstrom that consists of various tides and currents; those that meet society’s accepted standards of democratic engagement, and those plumbed from the depths of more toxic and fantastic environments.
Many of those uncovered in the course of press investigations have ‘vigorously denied’ their activities on these websites, but then the practice of Conspiracy Theory is much like any other taboo; the social and democratic customs that restrict and prohibit their practice can often lead to more secret and more widespread abuse.
And because these activities are often out in secret, it is very difficult to assess the scale of the problem.
Let’s make conspiracy theory great again!™
Bruce Cockburn presents a convincing alternative to the usual conspiracy narratives by describing the rise and growth of ISIS, not as some counterfeit agent in a State controlled doomsday scenario, but as the dross and the slag of the West’s ‘disastrous policies‘ in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and the result of its leaders having handed a ‘free pass’ to Saudi Arabia to launch indiscriminate bombings campaigns in Yemen. And it’s not an isolated case by any means. We also might want to consider the scoria and the slag that the institutionalized paranoia within the Intelligence community tosses up from time to time. These particular spoil-tips have the potential to rival even the mountainous Mbeubeuss waste dump in Senegal †.
Donald and Nigel are both no stranger to the power of a conspiracy. Nigel’s conspiracies are a little more muted of course, as is the custom in Britain. In the run-up to the 2015 General Election Nigel asked the British Public to ‘punish’ the greed, sleaze and corruption of the Political Establishment. The demand was based on a fairly generic idea that the entire British Establishment was somehow ‘bad’. There was something ‘rotten’ at the heart of Britain. Like Hamlet, Nigel was ‘waxing desperate with his imagination’. Britain’s sex and expenses scandals had uncovered a veritable snake-pit of crookedness and fraud. Nigel responded by attempting to relocate discussion and debate within the codices of conspiracy and to run his policies along a parallel quest for justice.
An appetite for conspiracy on this occasion provided something of a foothold from which to make progress with a deeply suspicious electorate.
Donald’s recently adopted slogan, ‘Let’s Make America Great Again‘ attempts a similar manoeuvre. It is based on a tried and tested advertising practice, known in the industry (and linguistic circles) as presupposition. Now Donald could have said, ‘America is sh*t but I could make it good’. But as much as Donald loves to take a combative and provocative approach to things, being so forthright on this occasion could have backfired enormously, as it is a statement that’s too hostile and simply too easy to challenge. Instead Donald has encoded the same message (or planted the same hidden payload) in a statement that not only resists a direct challenge, but also claims some kind of common understanding (or shared values) with the listener. It’s a statement that demands a certain amount of cooperation between Donald and the American public. And its all the more powerful because of it: it’s a negative statement masquerading as a positive one.
Donald is not only saying that America is ‘broken’ or has been made ‘ungreat’, he is saying that it is a view that is commonly accepted by the vast majority of American people, that’s it’s self-evident, it’s taken for granted. It’s a like the advertising slogan, ‘What makes Kellogs Cornflakes so great?’. It’s not a question but a claim. It’s like saying ‘Kellogs Cornflakes are great and here’s why everybody thinks so’. The difference is one of relationships. Donald, like Kellogs, is assuming you share his view. So convinced is Donald that America is not great (and has been made ‘ungreat’ by previous administrations) that he doesn’t even need to say it. It’s an exercise in damage escalation not limitation. It’s an attempt at social and ideological collusion and communion. The slogan boasts an implicit meaning and demands a tacit acceptance of that meaning.
A carefully maintained spirit of collusion also formed the basis of his campaign address in Muscataine Iowa in January. After an uncharacteristically gracious start Trump ramps up the paranoia. He talks of the global media not wanting to show the size of his crowds and the reluctance of the analysts to acknowledge the sheer scale of their success in the polls. Trump systematically relocates the challenge he presents in the context of conspiracy; they are being denied a collective voice. If folks weren’t feeling disenfranchised prior to the speech, they sure as hell were now. He was willfully and deliberately petitioning the ghosts of suffrage. The ‘silent majority’ were being stifled. His suffering was their suffering. Trump was radicalizing the crowds. The gracious and humble start was a tactical manoeuvre; at a figurative level Donald had to come down from Trump Tower and take his place among the crowd. The whole Them & Us dynamic depended upon it. In order to turn the people against their oppressor they must first know they are being oppressed.
Donald had come to battle with corrupt America and he knows you want to do battle also.
And just to really ram the point home, he’s put his money where his mouth is and formally trademarked the pledge. In doing so he has staked a claim to all it means and represents. The gesture was driven by symbolic rather commercial obligations (that the slogan has been borrowed wholesale from a campaign term first used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s only adds to its worth).
Both men are tilting at windmills, but Donald, in his own inimitable straight-talking fashion, has shaved off the needless excesses and generalities that characterize the justice rhetoric of Farage.
If you were wanting to talk conspiracies, then Donald is your man.
Donald has it from an ‘extremely credible source’ that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud, he’s made statements that help perpetuate the myth that Obama is really a Muslim, he’s pushed the age-old, Agenda 21 conspiracy theory (a popular theory in Conservative circles that the nonbinding plan approved by UN officials in 1992 was actually a vehicle for the United Nations to seize control of the US). Trump even claims that he predicted the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11. And yes, he’s even postulated that the attacks may have been allowed to happen.
There and back again – A Fascist’s Tale
There’s nothing mysterious about the devices being used by Donald and Nigel here. In a bid for dominance within the democratic process, they first seek to erode trust in the very systems and the very offices that represent it.
Even now it is the shadows (and the ghosts that lurk within those shadows) that seem to present the gravest threat to our psyches. The Eye of Sauron looking out across Mordor conveys much the same menace. It’s paranoia that binds these people together and it’s paranoia that has characterized the fairy tale and the folk tale ever since the time of Grimm.
Maybe this is why Ethnic Nationalists like the Heathen Front and the European New Right have made repeated use of popular mythical narratives like Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings to defend various forms of fascism. What better symbolic challenge to the New World Order than the story of Frodo and his friends coming together as fellowship to defend the world against evil? Theirs is a story that binds worlds together in the common language of myth – — a successful alliance of ‘authentic’ ethnic-communities coming heroically together to defeat a totalitarian adversary.
The ability of these largely disparate Nationalist groups to coalesce shouldn’t be underestimated, as ironic and contradictory as a pan-National alliance might seem on first hearing (especially in view of their chronic euroscepticism).
Both the English Defence League and Norwegian Defence Party that Anders Breivik sought succour from in the late 2000s continue to expand under the broader auspices of the European Defence League (a Fascintern?), which itself has become affiliated with the larger European Freedom Initiative and the SIOE movement. All of these groups, to one degree or another, derive substantial inspiration from the New World Order narratives first devised by Pat Robertson in the US. Combining these narratives with the eternal spur of religious apocalypticism provides a compelling call to arms and membership is increasing right across the cultural spectrum (Alan Cullison produced an excellent report for the Wall Street Journal about Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the role that classic conspiracy theory played in the Boston Marathon Bombings of 2013 – and a report that chimed with my own findings)
Tolkien’s trilogy of books has also played a crucial role in Troy Southgate’s National Anarchist movement. In his compilation of essays and other writings, Tradition and Revolution (2010) Southgate elucidates on the plans of the New Right Movement in Europe to see establishment of autonomous, mono-racial communities — places where people can ‘occupy their own space in which to live according to their own values and principles’.
Southgate even anticipates that the movement will be forced to collaborate with their traditional ‘foes’ in a pan-National alliance if it is to stand any chance of defeating the global order. The example he uses (again, again, and again) is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in which he describes the Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves and Men coming together as a temporary fellowship. Interestingly ISIS have tendered much the same scheme. It may also come as no surprise to learn that Gianluca Casseri, who shot two Senegalese street vendors dead in Florence a few years ago, produced a Tolkien fanzine. Casseri’s own novel, Le chiavi del caos (The Keys of Chaos) was also clearly inspired by the book.
Nigel and his plucky pals in Hobbiton just want things back the way they used to be. They are strangers in a strange land, scratching around desperately for the reassuring and the familiar:
Nostalgia motivates the rehearsal of past experiences that can remind us of our authentic self. In the midst of a kaleidoscope of social and personal transformation, nostalgic reminiscence grounds us with the reminder of the one constant—we are the source of our thoughts, actions, and feelings across time and change” — Looking to Our Past: Escapism or Exploration?, Krystine I. Batcho
Anybody who has made the hugely disruptive move from one part of the world to the other will know that the past offers a reassuring and very welcome retreat. During those initial days and weeks of adjustment you are likely to find yourself looking over old photographs and old home movies or corresponding regularly ‘with folks back home’. And as this tense transition period continues, and the very core of who you are comes increasingly under threat, it seems inevitable that folks like us respond with a somewhat manic pursuit of ‘the known’. I know because I’ve done it myself, as have you if you’re really being honest.
When the future looks so uncertain, and the moment seems so strange, it’s probably only natural to send your little spaceship hurtling through space and time back to what you know. And there’s none more certain a place than the past.
The Garden of the Dead
So what does nostalgia offer us? Does it ever serve the world a practical function? Well the University of Southampton’s Tim Wildschut thinks it does. Tim views nostalgia as an ‘organising emotion, strengthening group membership and developing collective identities’ 14.
But there’s an issue of intent here, surely?
The mythical pasts offered like rewards by independent time traders like Nigel are used to present outsiders as threats, whilst simultaneously providing a solacing bonding agent to those bunkered down in their castles feeling like strangers in a strange land. Imagined or not, the ‘immigrant psychosis’ described by psychologists like Isaac Frost is now being felt by those who perceive a threat from migrants 15.
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that such a mentally repressive condition is more commonly associated with those experiencing loss, grief and depression. Vamik Volcan, a Turkish-Cypriot now working in Washington has already theorized that immigrants and refugees are especially prone to feelings of nostalgia. In fact Volcan goes one further: nostalgic episodes and activities become the core features of a collective identity, in that they can consolidate and reinforce our social identities and self-concepts 16.
And here’s another thing I think you’ll like Nigel.
As a response to a rapidly changing social and political environment in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Slovenian Scholar Mitja Velikonja described a new phenomenon: ‘red nostalgia’ — a nostalgia for the communist past 17.
So yes, Nigel, you and your friends are not the first to have felt like this, not by a long chalk.
Psychologist Krystine Batcho is of course right when she says that nostalgia ‘strengthens our social connectedness and helps us regulate our moods’ (Longing for Nostalgia, 2014). But there is a clear downside. As much as nostalgia strengthens our connectedness to old, established networks, it simultaneously weakens our resolve and our ability to adapt to change. As a temporary resting station or a travel hub between the present and the future it can safeguard against disengagement or even breakdown, but as as permanent retreat it can only lead to a failure to thrive.
A seed consists of two essential properties: a shell, or protective coating, and an embryonic plant, invariably consisting of a zygote and an endosperm. Nostalgia is the shell of the experience — its protective membrane or protective mechanism — but it is fresh experiences that foster growth. A competent gardener would no more plant the husk than he would the petals of a rose, however pretty it may have looked.
It seems weird to think that when told to prepare for the ‘Resurrection of the Dead’ I wouldn’t have wagered it to be the return of vinyl records or Donald Trump’s 2015 comeback. In fact, it’s rather like looking for the Four Horses of the Apocalypse and seeing only the 1st four placings at the 11.30 steeplechase at Aintree coming trotting along.
As Nigel staggers off to the men’s room, I’m going to leave you with the words of a theme tune to a memorable 1970s sitcom. A suitable beginning to a suitable ending.
Oh what happened to you, whatever happened to me,
What became of the people we used to be to be
Tomorrow’s almost over, the day went by so fast,
The only thing to look forward to … the past — The Likely Lads Theme, 1973
Part One of this article can be found here: The Garden of the Dead: Nostalgia & Romantic Nationalism in Europe and America (part 1)
† This is a complex area. No serious analysis of Conspiracy Theory should overlook the impact that the plots and devices perfected during the Cold War by the world’s various Intelligence agencies have had on the Conspiracy genre, nor the systematic failure of the media to report in a fair or inaccurate fashion (for whatever reasons). Gaps in understanding often to lead to the most imaginative of leaps. You have only to acknowledge the easy familiarity with which the ‘Conspiracy Community’ have adopted familiar Intelligence expressions like Black Propaganda and False Flag to appreciate the scale of influence that State-sanctioned conspiracy has had.
9 – Closing Statement, Pre-election debate ITV, Nigel Farage
10 – UR-Fascism, Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco, 2002
11 – The Triumph of the Political Class, 2008, Peter Oborne
12 – UR-Fascism, Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco, 2002
13 – UR-Fascism, Five Moral Pieces, Umberto Eco, 2002
14 – Collective nostalgia: A group-level emotion that confers unique benefits on the group. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Tim Wildschut, 2014
15 – Home-sickness and Immigrant Psychoses. Austrian and German Domestic Servants the Basis of Study, Isaac Frost, 1938
16 – Nostalgia as a Linking Phenomenon, Vamik Volkan, 1999
17 – red Shades, Nostalgia For Socialism, Mitja Velikonja, 2012
There is a further exploration of Tolkien in Italian New Right Movements here:
Roger Griffin, The Blend of Literary and Historical Fantasy in the Italian New Right, Oxford Brookes University 1985