By Lauren McCoy

In our seminar discussions, we have previously considered how within fascist discourses, specific terms become empty signifier that collapse multiple strands of thought and become embedded with an ethical dimension. Within the multiple misappropriation and incorrect uses of terms within anti-genderism, the comparison of abortion to the Holocaust among Polish nationalist struck me as especially interesting. While I can understand how academic terms can become removed from and expanded beyond their original definition – as with the case of Gender analysis – I thought part of this misuse might be rooted in their lack of use in public lexicon prior to their misappropriation. As the Peto and Butler article highlight, Gender studies was largely invisible in national consciousness prior to it being used by right politicians across Europe, allowing these groups to create a new, alternative understanding of these terms.

Yet this isn’t the case with anti-abortion protesters use of the Holocaust. When first considering this issue, I thought it was strange how an event with such a strong image and understanding within public memory could become misused, especially with the many memorials and novels/films that reaffirm a specific historical narrative regarding the Holocaust. Perhaps the answer lies in Poland’s unique and complicated public memory and complicated relationship with the Holocaust, which may have contributed to their ability to manipulate the image and emotion evoked by the Holocaust. Yet still I’m left wondering – what are the qualities that connected the terms and ideas that become misappropriated by alt-right discourses? While reoccurring ideas can appear within fascist rhetoric (including anti-immigration, white supremacy, a support for “traditional” values regarding the family and gender roles), since fascist do not rely on factual or historical evidence to support their claims, it seems like even the most well-understood ideas can become warped. Do alt-right groups latch onto any terms that become widely circulated (for instances, I thought it was amazingly ironic that gender ideology is described as “ideological colonization” by Pope Francis, maybe reflecting increasing discussions surrounding the impacts of colonialism?) or is there another quality that they also latch onto? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

The Malleability of Race

By Lauren McCoy

While the subject of race has been discussed a lot within our seminar, I was really struck with the malleability of racial identities in this week’s reading. Previously we discussed how Jewishness in far-right rhetorics could be transformed to encompass whatever flavour of anti-semitic conspiracy was most resonated with a national population. A similar flexibility is visible in Güner article in regards to whiteness in Turkey. It’s interested that just last week we discussed anti-turkish violence in the context of anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism sentiments in German, where this week they become associated with Whiteness as a way to legitimize their “development” in Sub-Saharan Africa. Turkish Whiteness seems to be entirely relative to who they are surrounded by – being white enough to be associated with Europe, yet still not white enough to actually be European.

              A similar malleability is visible in ideas of race and Jewish identity in Moses article, where Indonesian anti-colonialism sentiments surrounding Europe and Israel became interlocked in acts of anti-Chinese racism. While it may seem strange to associate Jewish people and Chinese populations, invoking ideas of anti-semitism global conspiracies seem to have less to do with an actual dislike for Jewish people and more so as a justification for violence against Chinese populations. This isn’t the only example of where a false association with Jewish people was used to imply the threat an ethnic group posed to the national population. In England’s interwar era, a similar conspiracy of a Jewish-Irish alliance was evoked by fascist parties like the League of Fascist and The Britons to showcase the threat of an independent Ireland to empire and as justification to re-conquer the nation.

              I’m not entirely sure how these ideas connect with some of the other readings/videos this week, but I think the malleability of identity, especially around social constructed categorizes of race, will become an important theme in examining European identity in regards to mass migration and de-colonial movements.

Rings of Power: How Irish Stereotypes Force us to Confront British Fascism

By Lauren McCoy

Amazon’s flagship series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powers has created a lot of controversy since it first debuted in early September. Yet within all this scandal, accusations that the series reproduces racial hierarchies that depict the Irish as biologically inferior have gone notably overlooked. More than discriminatory, these representations reveal troubling connections between anti-Irish sentiment and British fascism.

Proto-Hobbits and Famine Cosplay

Set a thousand years before the original series, the Harfoots (ancestral predecessors of the Hobbits) are the first in the franchise to take on an Irish accent. The depiction isn’t flattering. Where RP-speaking Elves are at the forefront of science and combat great evils, the Harfoots stumble through mud with twigs in their hair, stuffing themselves with berries in what some have called “famine cosplay”. Having not yet founded the Shire, the migratory Harfoots reside in raggedy camps, writing in a rudimentary form of pictographs and acting as the light-hearted interlude between more serious plotlines. With rosy cheeks and dirt under their fingernails, it is hard not to view the lovable Harfoots as undeveloped when compared to other fantasy races.

The parallels between the Harfoots and discriminatory Irish stereotypes are staggering. Irish people were seen as incapable of reasoning, whose mental deficiency was linked to superstition, alcoholism, and minimal emotional control. Much like the Harfoots, the Irish were depicted as dressing in filthy rags that suited their “naturally” pre-industrial character. In this view, the Irish lacked the discipline to work their way out of squalor, reducing them to a ‘child-like’ race unable to achieve civility without Britain’s colonial supervision. What’s more concerning is that these characteristics were considered hereditary – preventing the Irish from being seen as anything beyond “amusing savages”.

The Harfoots’ exaggerated Irish accent reproduces the stereotype of Irish simplicity. With research showing that accents are connected to judgments about social status, the show’s reliance on “Irishness” as a shorthand for “primitive” demonstrates the continued relevance of these discriminatory representations. The Harfoots’ Irish accent is especially suspicious when considering our favourite Hobbits spoke with British accents – creating a dangerous implication that as Harfoots “evolve” into sedentary farmers, they mature out of their Irish accent. The deliberate use of Irish accents reveals the deep hierarchy of whiteness that lay at the heart of Rings of Power, where Irish under-development is counter-opposed by English civility.

Anti-Irish British Fascism

While hibernophobic representations are well-established in British history, these ideas found a new life on the extreme right. Between 1920s and 1930s, British fascists revived anti-Irish sentiments as a point of radicalization for right-leaning conservatives, utilizing ideas of Irish inferiority to garner support for more extreme anti-immigration policies. These efforts were supported by groups like The International Fascist League (IFL), who in emphasizing British identity as heritable and rooted in whiteness, stoked fears of the Irish as a biological threat to the purity of the British race.

Following Britain’s failure to prevent Irish Independence, fascists capitalized on feelings of “national humiliation” to generate anxieties about Britain’s decaying political system and racial vitality. With Irish Independence posing a serious threat to images of Britain’s biological superiority, fears of an Independent Ireland became a gateway to radical anti-Semitic Judeo-Bolshevik conspiracies. Fascist parties like The Britons depicted Irish populations conspiring with Jews to establish a Communist state on Britain’s backdoor, reframing Irish nationalism as part of a global plot to overthrow English civilization.

In light of what was interpreted as Britain’s imperial decline, parties like the British Fascists and The British Union of Fascists positioned themselves as saviours of the empire. For the far-right, the firm hand of authoritarianism was essential to ensure imperial unity and protect the empire. Latching onto understandings of British imperialism as a “civilizing mission”, fascists added a moralistic dimension to their politics. Calls to re-conquer the Irish became tied not only to the reassertion of racial hierarchies, but to global stability itself. The power of their anti-Irish position was immense, appealing to mainstream British citizens by emphasizing British biological superiority and affirming their dedication to the empire.

Anti-Irish Sentiments on the Rise?

While the days of interwar fascism may seem far removed, recent signs indicate that anti-Irish sentiment may be on the rise yet again. From discrimination against Irish footballer to holiday parks blacklisting guests with Irish surnames, concerns of hibernophobic attitudes have prompted an anti-Irish discrimination motion as recently as 2019. In this context, the Harfoots make up one small piece in a larger pattern of anti-Irish sentiments.

It would be alarmist to suggest that Rings of Power is a sign of anti-Irish action to come. However, when we look at historic connections between Irish racism and British fascism, the fact that Irishness remains synonymous with “primitiveness” is worth interrogating. The Rings of Power reminds us of the power these representations hold – prompting us to look backwards, consider how they’ve been manipulated in the past, and question our own prejudices in the present.

Pan-European Tensions

By Lauren McCoy

While our previous classes have highlighted the importance of inter-European relationships between fascist parties, this week’s material re-emphasized the importance of inequalities within and among European states as a contributor to fascist movements. While our class discussion has always maintained fascist movements as distinctly nationalistic, I think it can be easy to equate a post-war European Union as having reconciled tensions that existed in the first half of the 20th century and focus on a pan-European identity against immigration from the Global South. While the Molnar reading reaffirms the important role that fears of the “non-European immigrant” play in far-right movements, the Kalb and Mamonova et. al readings have helped reveal resistance to the cosmopolitan European Union that I hadn’t considered previously. This was most visible in how the Mamonova et. al reading emphasized that East Germans joined fascist movements despite Islamophobic attitudes – revealing other tensions at play beyond racialized fears.

This left me with a question that perhaps I would be interested in discussing next class – has globalization and European integration made fears of “international conspiracies” seem more legitimate? I am not suggesting that radical anti-Semitic theories have any basis in reality, nor proposing that they should be taken as anything beyond hateful. Yet comparing global interconnections in 2022 from the mid-twentieth “classic” era of fascism, the advents of a European economy and neo-liberal capitalism have heightened international connections. The Kalb reading showcases this twofold: where national economies become increasingly dependent on global finance and where feelings of abandonment increase as cosmopolitan considerations replace labour/welfare/rural need. Reading about the relationship between neo-liberalism and East-European workers, I can see why disempowered populations may feel as though international forces have stripped their control over their livelihoods or how their considerations become sidelined by government agendas.

Does modern globalization serve to bolster long-standing capitalist conspiracy theories in a way that wasn’t present in the past? Or am I simply diminishing the international connections that existed previously among European states?

Dungeons, Dragons and Biological Determinism – How to Overcome White Supremacy in your Favourite RPG

By Lauren McCoy

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has officially outgrown its basement origins. Selling more copies in 2018 alone than in its previous 44 years of print, the once fringe hobby has amassed a global player base of over 50 million and cemented itself into the mainstream.

With this D&D renaissance, the stereotypical image of the anti-social cis-hetero white guy is no longer reflective of its diverse fanbase. Yet, despite the company’s commitment to inclusivity, players remains doubtful that the game may ever reconcile the harmful beliefs that underlie its core mechanics; namely, how themes of biological determinism reinforce White Supremacy in Dungeons and Dragons.

Biological Determinism

Biological determinism refers to the belief that human characteristics are determined by hereditary factors, reducing fluid social identities into strictly biological characteristics. The dangers of this type of thinking should not be understated. Biological determinism is often linked to racist and misogynistic stereotypes, where race and gender are understood not as social constructs but as biological realities that determine someone’s behaviours and overall “character”.

At its most extreme, biological determinism can fuel ethnocentrism and xenophobia. Since behaviour is understood as a heritable quality, biological determinists believe that it is imperative to prevent the proliferation of “bad genes” that occurs when “undesirables” reproduce. Eugenic policies become enforced in the name of strengthening the nation or preventing social collapse, ranging from restrictive immigration to forced sterilization and genocidal extermination.

So when co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons, Gary Gygax, self-identifies as a biological determinist, there are reasons to raise concern.

Not All Races Created Equal – Racial Essentialism

The biological deterministic foundations of D&D are most visible in the blatant racial essentialism that underlines character creation. The fantasy “races” that populate D&D are ascribed with fixed a set of behavioural and physical traits, represented in the form of “racial abilities” and “ability score increases” that shape character’s personality and skillset.

This situation is made worse by the game’s heavy reliance on racially coded language that reaffirms historical narratives of white supremacy. As many have pointed out, fantasy races act as the vessel to reproduce racial stereotypes, where the physical and behavioural descriptions echo the harmful rhetoric used to demonize non-European cultures and People of Colour. The concept of moral alignment within D&D makes these values judgments explicit – dehumanizing “primitive” races like Orcs while justifying the moral supremacy of white-coded races like Elves. Concerns have also been raised over how combat as a core mechanic allows players to enact racialized violence. With entire races classified as “evil”, the game encourages slaughter-without-empathy as part of the player’s crusade to defend an idealized, white-washed, medieval fantasy.

Looking Backwards – Misogyny and Gender Essentialism

Lacklustre attempts to address race essentialism within D&D have left many concerned that the game may never overcome its biological deterministic foundations. However, these critiques fail to consider how biological determinism has been previously dismantled – this time, in the form of gender essentialism.

In very real terms, D&D was not designed for female players. The biological deterministic perspective of D&D creators conceived of the game as a “boys club”, citing that women could never truly appreciate the game like men, who had evolved to enjoy simulated fantasy combat. It’s for this reason that the earliest editions of the D&D playbook exclusively use male pronouns, failing to even consider the possibility of serious female players.

While not meaningfully included as playable characters, essentialist representations of female bodies remained present within the game’s monsters. Female monsters often reproduced misogynistic tropes of women as animalistic and emotionally irrational, unable to control their bodily urges and requiring rational male heroes to tamed them. The monstrous representation made clear that the source of women’s evil was rooted in their hyper-sexualized physicality – a dehumanizing condition that was impossible to overcome and justified violent intervention.

When considering how to manage playable female characters, concerns revolved around how to appropriately quantify women’s physical differences from men. One early solution involved capping the abilities of female fighters’ by reducing their strength modifier and preventing them from surpassing level 10. This ensured that female fighters always fought at a disadvantage that reflected their “natural” weakness and created a sense of “realism” within the game. The appeal to a supposed “biological reality” that made it inconceivable for women to be as strong as men within a fantasy setting underlines exactly how gender essentialism served to reinforce misogynistic and patriarchal ideas about women.

Possibilities for the Future

Examining the evolution of D&D from its 1974 origins to the most recent 2014 release, scholar Antero Garcia traced the shift towards empowering images of female heroes over the course of multiple editions. This change is paralleled by the increasing use of gender-neutral language – going from justifying male exclusive language as “neutral”, to more frequent references towards female players, to eventually vetoing gendered language all together. The result was that by the 5th Edition, D&D has erased the gender essentialist rules and representations that plagued early versions of the game, encouraging an understanding of gender grounded in identity and not biological fact.

Garcia argues that this gradual shift was the result of the changing social context. Just as much as D&D is influenced by its prior editions, it is also informed by cultural forces that shape how the game is understood. However, this explanation fails to highlight the active role of community protest in re-defining the rules of D&D, who’s efforts are visible as early as the 1970s. Dismantling gender essentialism wasn’t achieved passively, but through resistance among female and male players alike. With women making up only 10% of the playerbase in 1979, this solidarity among fans was vital to removing misogynistic rules within D&D.

These protests were strengthened by the presence of Homebrewed content. While the official Players Handbook acts as a starting point for gameplay, it only holds as much power as the adventuring party allows. In a game predicated on imagination, Homebrewing can act as a vital space for resistance and experimentation against the distasteful elements of biological determinism.

Just as meaningful change was implemented to address gender essentialism, similar possibilities exist for dismantling White Supremacy within D&D. Vocal disapproval and solidarity among the fanbase is vital to ensure official rules are inclusive and reflect the needs of modern players. In the meantime, Homebrewed content offer alternatives paths to dismantle White Supremacy within personal campaigns – a process already underway by the community.

While there is no mistaking the harmful rhetoric that underlined the game’s creation, it is ultimately up to the players to determine for themselves the future of Dungeons and Dragons.

Camouflaging Fascism

By Lauren McCoy

The camouflaging nature of fascism was a major theme in this week’s content. While we had previously discussed the gamification and coding that comes with modern fascist symbols, the ideological basis of those symbols was not discussed. Prior to this week, I had assumed that the discourses that grounded interwar fascism were inherited by neo-fascist, without considering how Europe’s political and cultural context would influence those rhetorics. I thought Griffin’s argument regarding the shifting nature of fascism from its interwar context to the postwar context was compelling and spoke to the modern challenges that come with defining current fascist movements – if fascism is only defined by its interwar appearance, then new iterations of fascist ideology relating to the modern context will never be taken seriously as “true fascism”, regardless of their potential for harm.

I believe Griffin’s quote summarizes the situation well: “ “Fascism” nor “racism” will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognize them easily” (Griffin, 36). Where overt fascist dialogues are no longer acceptable, new discourses have emerged that conceal their ideological foundations. This is best observed in Bar-On’s reading, where Alain de Benoist could spread Nouvelle Droite’s ideology without raising alarm in an anti-fascist postwar era by “avoid[ing] the ‘outdated vocabulary’ associated with fascism, racism, colonialism, and antisemitism.”  (Bar-On, 24).

The question that I am left with revolves around whether modern fascists are truly unable to see the relationship between their beliefs and fascist regimes of the past as a result of this heavily coded discourse. The inability to admit the fascist basis of their ideologies is a repeated occurrence in this course, where fascist disassociate themselves from the term “fascism” for something more appealing and less controversial. Is this just a technique to gain a broader appeal, or is there some truth to the idea that neo-fascists do not see themselves as fascists?

Malleability and Imagined Possibilities

By Lauren McCoy

An interesting theme from this week’s readings was the malleability of history, where shifting cultural/political contexts and individual interpretations can heavily shape how we represent the recent past. Added to the pliability of memory, it seems impossible for us to create a stable view of the past, especially when the subject is as complex and morally-charged as the Holocaust.

An interesting pattern across the readings was how the past was employed or re-invented to meet the needs of present actors – ranging from Nazis trying to reconcile their involvement in the Third Reich to American directors trying to take the moral lessons of German history and connect it to his own national challenges. Though for different purposes, both cases forward a plausible but ultimately inaccurate version of the past, deviating from “historical fact” to better fit a simplified narrative or to serve their needs in the present.

 While I think it’s easy for us to be suspicious of representations of the past that aren’t “accurate”, I think there is an interesting space here for “imagined possibilities” of the past. I’m not trying to suggest that representations or understandings shouldn’t be grounded on factual evidence or to encourage people to falsify the past for their own benefit (which, as previous classes have shown, is common in fascist regimes). However, I think it may be useful considering the complexity of Holocaust experiences to use “imagined possibilities”, where perhaps an event didn’t occur exactly how it is represented but is grounded in real history or combines several historical experiences for a more “complete” narrative. The film Judgment at Nuremberg showcases this, straying from official trial transcripts to create a plausible situation that spoke more to the American context. I think this is common within the history of slavery, where the lack of resources by enslaved peoples has forced historians to use what evidence is available and “fictionalize” historical experience.

I’d be interested to hear what you guys think!

Question of Agency

By Lauren McCoy

            Considering the oppressive nature of fascist dictatorship, the agency demonstrated in this week’s material surprised me. Although this was limited to those who were considered legitimate citizens or within the “in-group” of fascist ideology, certain segments of the population seemed able to maneuver and negotiate the restrictive ideologies that, looking only at the strict policies of their government, would seem impossible in theory. In doing so, these citizens are offered a degree of flexibility in their actions, allowing them to challenge or contradict official mandates in a way that the “out-group” was not able to. This is best demonstrated through the leniency towards queer Aryan women or the tolerance towards men who failed to meet the masculine ideal of the super-solider – while opposing gender roles was officially discouraged, there was a grey zone citizens could operate within without evoking the anger of the state.

By extension, these citizens were able to manipulate official mandates to their own advantage. The Blue Angels reading by López and Sánchez illustrates this idea well. While some women fought as Republicans in support of Franco, there seemed to be several instances where women utilized the Republican movement to their own advantage – including Carina Unciti, who was spurred to create the Auxilio Azul Marı´a Paz organization in retaliation for the death of her sister Maria, or the female Catholic organization whose main concern was to protect the clergy from violence during the conflict. While the reading does not go into much detail about their personal beliefs, it is possible that these women were motivated to side with Franco because of what the Republican movement could offer them (i.e ability to act against the elements of the Nationalist movement that they opposed) just as much as their personal investment in his extremist ideology. The Marhoefer reading illustrated a similar idea. Neighbours were able to use Gestapo to their advantage for personal grievances and prejudices, ignoring official interest in persecuting Jewish people to report queer women, a group not formally targeted by the government. It seems clear that there are multiple reasons individuals supported (or at the very least remained complicit) to fascist dictatorship beyond ideology alone, including how their personal interests could be enhanced by the movement.

The Flexibility of Fascist Ideology – Internationalism by Lauren McCoy

After considering this week’s material, it feels like fascism’s relationship to internationalism is intentionally flexible, which allows it to make contradictory claims that benefit its national cause. When reading last week’s material on defining populism, one of the elements that stood out to me was the suggestion that populism lacks an ideology in it itself, instead attaching itself to existing political beliefs without disrupting them. At the time, I had assumed this lack of ideology is what separated populism and fascism, since fascists clearly have a strict, uncompromising worldview. While maybe fascism cannot camouflage itself quite as well as populism, in reflecting on this week’s reading I feel like fascism is much more flexible than I had previously thought. I think this flexibility may speak to how fascism is emotionally driven rather than ideologically, like other traditional political ideologies. Rather than conform their actions to an ideological framework, fascists create their own meaning for elements that support their movement. This allows them to be contradictory and shift their stance as they see fit, since an intellectual-base isn’t the source of their authority.

By extension then, I think fascist governments can maintain a contradictory stance toward internationalism without decreasing its validity because their ideology is so flexible. This allows for anti-internationalism and pro-internationalism views to exist within the same body of fascist thought, so long as both support the overall movement. Having a looming, existential international enemy in the form of Judeo-Bolshevism or liberal democracies is extremely effective in their fear-mongering, creating a single enemy for their national army to violently rally against in the creation of their nation. The Judeo-Bolshevism is especially good considering how variable interpretations of a supposed Jewish communist revolution have shifted dramatically, allowing each state to make its own specific claims and arguments that speak to their national circumstances while remaining tied to the overall antisemitic movement. At the same time, placing yourself in a global anti-liberal/antisemitic movement adds further validity to fascist “ideology” while providing the strategic benefit of allies (more support in the international system, resources, e.c.t.).

Fascism vs Populism: Differentiated by Violence? By Lauren McCoy

For this week’s reading response, I wanted to take a closer look at the relationship between populism and violence. Within his chapter, Finchelstein argues that while populism is the successor of fascism in the post-war context and possesses many similar features, its rejection of violence is critical in understanding how it differs from fascism. This disassociation between populism and violence is further visible in the other material for this week – while Finchelstein and Paxton both identified violence as a key part of fascism, neither Mudde nor Brubaker mentioned violence in their description of populism.

While I agree that top-down violence is a critical feature of fascism, I am confused about how populism could be seen as non-violent. Combining Mudde’s Monist understanding of “The People” and Brubaker’s emphasis of populism as fueled by a (economic, cultural, physical) protectionist narrative, it’s easy to imagine how this type of rhetoric could both scare and empower “The People” to act against the perceived threat. This is especially the case since this minority “threat” is considered illegitimate within a populist understanding of citizenship, negating their right to protection. Potential examples could include the violence against Muslim populations under Indian Prime Minister Modi and white terrorism in the United States – where violence is legitimized by the perceived threat posed by minorities against “true citizens”.

While these acts of violence are not the same as the institutionalized violence conducted within fascist governments, I do not understand how you could consider populism as unrelated to the violent consequences of its rhetoric.