(This article was updated on 23 November to reflect the discovery of the 4chan link and the emergence of further examples of this rhetoric.)
Leftists have been warning about this for decades, but liberals — like usual, as they always do — haven’t been listening.
The Right is and has constantly been co-opting the rhetoric and ideas that are so in vogue among (neo)liberals today:
- The far-right, fascist apologist publication National Review uses identity politics to smear socialism and the Left more generally.
- Right-wing think tanks openly advocate identity politics, publishing articles by officials at self-declared “conservative Christian organizations” titled “Conservatives, Check Your Privilege.”
- Liberal identitarians say elect people of your particular identity group “regardless of their policies,” just like white nativists.
- Republicans fall back on identity politics to appeal to the white working class, drawing attention away from the ever-increasing poverty and immiseration their policies accelerate.
- Ex-FBI agents claim opposition to mass governmental surveillance is a product of “white privilege.”
The list goes on.
Now, things are getting even more ludicrous.
On 22 November, a series of so-called “White Student Union” Facebook pages began to pop up rapidly around the US. Fascists and white supremacists on websites like 4chan and the neo-Nazi forum The Daily Stormer called for racist trolls to create such Facebook pages at prominent universities.
Regardless of who or what is behind it, the sudden emergence of the groups began galvanizing white supremacist students. Some people wrote off the danger of such groups as a short-lived joke, yet it ultimately does not matter whether or not students created the pages. Students are now joining, liking, and commenting on these groups, regardless of who made it. The white supremacist student unions are like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — they have already let the genie out of the bottle, normalized the narrative, and made it okay for Americans to air their virulent racism.
What is particularly curious beyond all of this, and what is going unscrutinized amidst the confusion, is the rhetoric of these white supremacist groups, and how it directly echoes the rhetoric of liberal identitarians.
Case 1: UC Berkeley
As a case in point of this co-option in action, take a look at the rhetoric of the introductory statement of a new white supremacist group at the University of California, Berkeley, the so-called White Student Union (archived here, in case it is later deleted):
Note: The white supremacists say they “unapologetically provide a safe space for white students.” A “safe space™.”
The rhetoric is fundamentally anti-intellectual, in the sense that it is rooted — like the rhetoric of many liberals today — not in discussion of the material conditions of the economic and political system, but rather in discussion of “feelings” and emotion. The white supremacist group says it gives white students an opportunity to “air their true feelings.” Their “feelings.” We are supposed to care about how they feel, not about how society, how this country’s economic and political institutions, preferentially treats them.
Moreover, they talk a lot about “allies,” noting the group is meant “for students of European descent (and allies).” We know what they mean when they say allies: They mean they want a group by and for white people and only white people; but saying that outright would expose their segregationist intentions, so they disguise it with “ally,” the liberal’s favorite weasel word.
“Every ethnic group has the right to organize and represent themselves and their interests,” the white supremacists insist. Fascists love to talk about “self-determination” too.
This is the ideological climate we live in today, and it was partially brought upon by liberals, who are too oblivious to understand how their reactionary ideas and rhetoric are just asking to be co-opting by the Right. The increasingly popular notion of supporting separate organizations for people of a particular identity and their “allies,” in which members can create a “safe space” removed from society as a whole, is only giving more and more fodder to fascists who want to keep people of different identity groups separated — and thus, when it comes to trying to create real collective mass movements against systems of oppression, atomized and powerless.
These principles are fundamentally opposed to solidarity. They are about preservation of ethnic (and ideological) homogeneity; they are antagonistic to mixture — and, given how dialectical mixture is the vehicle of progressive change in history, they are fundamentally reactionary.
Case 2: NYU
An even more ludicrous paragon of this co-option could be seen in posts by the newly created Union of White NYU (New York University) Students.
In a post on 23 November, the soi-disant NYU white supremacists wrote (emphasis mine):
In response to this page and to our brother and sister unions across the country many have said that we of European descent should not identify as “white” but rather as a European ethnicity. This is problematic for a couple reasons.
1. It is not up to others to define our ethnic identity for us. Presuming to speak for People of Whiteness and to define their identity for them reeks of racism.
2. Due to our historical experience, in America People of Whiteness are often of many different mixed ethnicities, and thus white is their most clear and coherent identification. Telling people that they cannot or should not identify as white, but rather identify as German, English etc is literally an erasure of their identity.
Please be mindful of this in the future when you presume to speak on behalf of People of Whiteness. We welcome allies of all races, but it’s not necessarily our job to educate you on these matters so try to be respectful.
The rhetoric, once again, is directly lifted from the identitarians. The bolded phrases are all common lines one would hear from liberal identitarians — “problematic,” “erasure,” “not our job to educate you,” etc.
They may be moronic fascists, but they know what they are doing. And they know that what they are doing is dangerous: They are exposing how similar liberal identitarian ideology is to their own, and ergo trying to normalize their ideas by pointing out the similitude.
As I constantly reiterate, it’s not a coincidence that, in Europe, “Identarianism” is a literal fascist movement. Like their fascist counterparts in Europe, identitarians in the US frequently criticize interracial and interethnic relationships. They disparage left-wing movements as “problematic,” and sometimes even go so far as to openly lambaste multiculturalism. Likewise, it’s the same European white supremacists who, like those in UC Berkeley and elsewhere, say they want to “get back in touch with their cultural heritage.” They co-opt liberal identitarian rhetoric about “safe spaces,” “allies,” “cultural appropriation,” and more. They disguise segregation as self-determination.
We know what the white supremacists in the UC Berkeley White Student Union really mean when they say they seek to “develop a positive program to restore the pioneering will and greatness of our unique and virtuous people”: They mean they want to continue to cultivate and strengthen white supremacist institutions. When the White Student Union says “unique and virtuous people,” we know it actually means “uniquely virtuous.”
Yet there is of course rarely any talk of institutions, of structures of oppression, let alone of capitalism; it is all individualized discussion of lifestyle and ritual. Identitarians, of both the far-right and liberal strands, have a myopic obsession with individual experiences and lifestyles.
This is to say, they are neoliberal. Their ideas are part of a larger bourgeois ideological apparatus — one that uncoincidentally happens to be quite convenient to those very systems of oppression they are upholding. We live in an age in which these ideological strands, once separate, are now intermingling. Leaders like India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, or Israel’s soon to be longest-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders who effortlessly combine neoliberalism and fascistic ethnonationalism, embody this frightening new trend.
In short, they often want the same things. It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that their rhetoric is identical.