Goodbye Sky Harbour – A New Form of Internet

By: Willem Nesbitt

With my discussion last week centering around the proliferation of fringe conspiracies and how the internet has come to play a significant role in their rising popularity, it only makes sense that the conversation would shift into discussions of internet control, gatekeeping, and content. The European Union admits in their overview of the Digital Services Act that “online intermediaries have become vital players in the digital transformation” of society over the last twenty years, and even more over the past five (the internet of today is not like the internet in 2015, and certainly not like it was ten or fifteen years ago, but that’s another discussion to be had).

So then, is this Digital Services Act a potential solution to the ongoing issues with the evolution of the internet? The Act outlines ideas such as rules for the removal of content, mandatory transparency measures, and “traceability” (read: tracking), and this poses a difficult question as to the use of the internet – what will the fallout be from a more controlled internet? The term “wild west” has commonly been used to describe the internet, specifically in its early years before the spread of social media, and the ongoing corporatization of the internet and the increasing use of it as a political tool has created an issue. We see Des Freedman make the argument that the internet, specifically social media, has “nurtured highly skewed media environments” and eventually calls for the reconstruction “media systems in order to undermine the appeal of populist forces on the far right” (p. 604). It is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the internet that I once knew growing up, one that was far more diverse and creative and, in a way, far more lighthearted, has become a repository of doxxing, political radicalization, hate, and non-stop corporate advertisements.

The Role of the Internet

By: Willem Nesbitt

With this week’s readings and topic covering the rise of QAnon, an obvious focus was given to how and why such a conspiracy was able to emerge and propagate across the globe. Placing blame on the ongoing pandemic is an obvious answer, which, as Oxford researcher Johnathan Bright points out; “People are spending even more time online, so have more time to come across anti-vaccine and other conspiracy content.”

With past weeks in our class discussing ideas surrounding how nationalist and right-wing movements have managed to transcend borders in an ironic sense, the internet is most certainly the obvious leading culprit in the ability for those groups, and now conspiratorial movements, to have a wider reach. Beginning quietly on 4chan’s /pol/ board, whether ironically or unironically, that very board fostered and promoted the central Q poster and their adherents, eventually spreading their message to the more mainstream realms of YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook.

With 30% of surveyed Republican voters believing in the central core tenants of the QAnon conspiracy (and an alarming 43% being “uncertain”), it is obvious that the internet has helped spread this conspiracy far beyond the confines of imageboards. This results in a question – do social media sites, whether they be Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or others, have a responsibility to curtail and remove posts regarding conspiracies such as QAnon? Following the temporary shutting down of right-wing social media site Parler earlier this year, a debate erupted over the ideas of “free speech” on the internet, and many on the left believe that these other sites are still not doing enough to prevent the spread of these conspiracies.

Language in Political Discourse

By: Willem Nesbitt

Invoking Matthew 25:35 in his Advent Statement, Pastor Gábor Iványi succinctly and pointedly criticized the hypocrisies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s claims of running a Christian government, but in turn, also provided an interesting insight into the refugee crises that Europe continues to face, and how language plays a key role in it.

Author Dan Stone, in his article “On Neighbours and those Knocking at the Door,” provides the example of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s claim that “phrases such as ‘swarms of refugees’ used by David Cameron” (p. 231) are hauntingly similar to the way the world “turned its back on Jewish refugees.” Likewise, Norimitsu Onishi’s article for the New York Times discusses the right-wing slogan of the “great replacement” and the French author who coined it, a phrase to which Renaud Camus says; “I take responsibility for it. I believe in its relevance.”

This pointed use of language, whether it be slogans, biblical statements, dehumanizing remarks, or any other manners of speech, thus seems to be an integral part of the European refugee crisis, but it leaves me curious about the level of discourse around all level of political conversations around the globe. In North America, for example, the prevalence of phrases such as “snowflake” and many other, often disparaging and slur-heavy, pejoratives seem to have come to fill our political discourse. It may then be worth taking a closer look as to how we ourselves use our language, and also more closely analyze the words, slogans, and phrases used by politicians, political parties, and those passionate about politics to better understand their intentions.

A Return to Transnationalism

By: Willem Nesbitt

The topic of this week’s readings primarily focuses around the idea of the French “Nouvelle Droite,” and importantly tackles concepts within this movement such as transnationalism and the movement’s history. Tamir Bar-On’s article particularly delves into these topics, and an interesting idea emerges concerning transnationalism. This leaves me with a question – is the transnationalist undertakings of the ND in the 1970s paralleled by the transnationalist characteristics of modern-day right-wing groups?

This question was discussed at great length in week 3, reconciling with the idea of how traditionally nationalist and insular right-wing parties and movements seem to be ironically embracing transnationalist ties with other groups in other countries. A similarity, then, seems to emerge with this week’s readings and discussions, with Bar-On asserting that the ND believed “that major changes in belief systems across nations would eventually result in revolutionary political change” (p. 209). For example, by creating ties and networks with other right-wing intellectuals in Italy, Germany, England, and more, ND’s “transnational messenger” Alain de Benoist was able to put into motion the ND’s belief of how “a web of shared networks and beliefs created processes that transcended the centrality of state actors” (p. 209).

As we can see from Riccardo Marchi’s article, the ND was ultimately successful in introducing their ideas to Portugal in particular, while also demonstrating the “ways in which Portuguese radicals engaged and dealt with the ND” (p. 232). To me, while this week’s topic rests much more heavily on concepts of political science, the events and happenings of the Nouvelle Droite in the 1970s and 1980s Europe paints an interesting parallel to what we have seen unfold in the European political landscape this past decade. Through careful efforts of spreading transnationalist ideas, both the ND and the modern right-wing have seen successes in bridging across borders. Perhaps this is due to their wish for a Europe that is, while divide by borders and laws, is regardless “united” under similar political and social values?

Why Donbass Matters More than Navalny

By: Willem Nesbitt

The recent events within Russia concerning Alexei Navalny have captured the world’s attention, and for good reason. From surviving a James Bond-esque assassination attempt to a heartbreaking goodbye to his wife as he was arrested on his return to Russia, Navalny has inspired some of the largest protests in the Putin era. However, these events, while important, ultimately only concern Russia, and the world’s attention being captured by Navalny has allowed a far more important, world-affecting event to fall by the wayside.

Nearly two-hundred years after the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Crimean peninsula and the eastern region of Ukraine are once again notable on the world stage thanks to warfare – only this time instead of cannons and cavalry charges, it is tanks, drones, and modern military tactics deciding the fate of the region. With the Ukrainian separatists rather translucently supported by Russia and debate surrounding the actual presence of Russian regulars, the ongoing events of the War in Donbass harkens back to the history of grey-area conflict utilized by an authoritarian state to further its influence and goals, the world turning a blind eye to it and instead focusing on the recent hubbub surrounding Putin critic Alexei Navalny.

Following the Second World War, a clear dynamic emerged between the capitalist west and communist east, giving birth to the Cold War, a term which reflects the realities of the modern state of warfare. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons in numerous states, the threat of the Cold War “going hot” was a very real threat, but historically led to tensions between competing nuclear-capable nations being fought through proxy wars.

Whether having direct involvement of the global superpowers of America (see: the Vietnam War) or the Soviet Union (see: the Soviet-Afghan War), or more subversive involvement via arms and training support (see: the ongoing Syrian Civil War), the consequences of nuclear weapons have led to a state in which powerful nations no longer wish to directly engage in war with one another. Opting instead for indirect proxy wars as seen with ongoing War in Donbas, modern authoritarian states such as Russia draw on the influence of past tactics by previous authoritarian states in order to expand their influence and control.

The Spanish Civil War was the prologue to the Second World War and saw the struggle of left-leaning Republicans fighting against a revolt of the right-wing Spanish Nationalists. What is important about this war in relation to the conflict in Ukraine was the involvement of fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in supporting the Nationalist side, assisting them in their eventual victory and the establishment of Francoist Spain. With the triumph of Franco in Spain, 1930s Europe now held three relatively powerful fascist nations, Germany and Italy expanding their influence within Europe through direct involvement in an ongoing conflict.

Similarly, the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s also saw a comparable attempt by an authoritarian nation to sway a conflict in its favour. With the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991, the state of Russia found itself too weak to directly support Yugoslavia, and later Serbia, during the war, but stood up for them at the assembly of the United Nations in 1999.

With the war in Donbass soon to reach its seventh year, Russia’s direct and indirect involvement draws much influence from proxy wars and destabilizations of the past. With the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014 igniting the conflict, the instability within the region gave Russia a prime opportunity to intervene and expand its own influence. While simply destabilizing a NATO and UN-friendly country would have been one thing, Russia also made the bold move to annex the Crimean Peninsula, returning the warm-water port of Sevastopol to Russian control and strengthening Russia’s physical footing within Europe.

Under Putin, Russia is no doubt an authoritarian state. The persecution of opposition and activists, open murder of dissenters, and corruption within the government all are obvious signs internally, but the external undertakings of Russia in Ukraine should be given more weight on the world stage than Putin trying to kill off yet another political opponent in Alexei Navalny.

In its attempt to expand its influence and territorial control within eastern Europe as of the last decade, Russia is attempting to undermine the authority of nations and global organizations it perceives as hostile to its own motives and views. Whether it is the direct support of separatists in Ukraine, the supporting Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the alleged interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum, or the many other attempts at destabilizing opponents, Russia is not only drawing from the playbook of past authoritarian nations, but also its own authoritarian past.

The Changing of Memory

By: Willem Nesbitt

Over the course of thirty years, Hugo Spiegel fought for his hometown of Warendorf to erect a monument to commemorate the Holocaust. Having survived the horrors of Dachau and Auschwitz, the last of which took his young daughter’s life, Hugo exemplified the gradual shift in Germany memory of the Holocaust during the latter half of the twentieth century. With surviving Jews emigrating to Israel and America en masse, author Helmut Walser Smith describes how the act of commemoration and remembrance of the Holocaust gradually came into form over the years, with, as outlined by Michael Rothberg, eventually culminating in the “Historikerstreit” in the 1980s. While both authors do attempt to address why it took so long for Germany to reconcile its past, Smith placing emphasis on the idea of German-Jewish co-operation and Rothberg highlighting larger, public commemorations such as Schindler’s List and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both articles gloss over German society itself. While I understand it may be difficult to accurately look into the feelings and actions of an entire population, the articles leave me wondering why it was that the Holocaust fell by the wayside for so long in public consciousness. Was it shame, or perhaps embarrassment? Was it because those who lived through the war themselves did not want to speak of it, and it was only the younger generations who finally picked up the torch?

Women in Far-Right Movements

 By: Willem Nesbitt

The inclusion of women in far-right movements is nothing new. As seen in Wendy Lower’s Hitler’s Furies, women played a prominent role within the Nazi regime, slotting into the role of “adoring wives and robust mothers” (Lower, p. 39), but also participating in Nazi mass murders in concentration camps. What is new to the modern far-right movements, however, is the level of prominence in which women are able to attain. Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connoly, and Angela Giuffrida detail the numerous women who work at the forefront of their nation’s far-right political parties, ranging from Marine Le Pen in France, to Alice Weidel in Germany.

                Opening with an anecdote of AfD MP Corinna Miazga being told “she would be better suited to being a pole dancer than an MP” by a male colleague, the authors of the Guardian article exhibit one of the many ironies surrounding women within far-right movements, detailing how members of the AfD were upset she dared reveal this transgression, more worried about the bad light being cast upon the party than the fact that she was insulted in the first place. This single anecdote exhibits that although modern far-right movements now allow women into their upper echelons, very little has changed in the way of attitude towards them, and the AfD’s gender ratio sitting at only 87% male and 13% female demonstrates how the inclusion of women is still only a very small minority.

From the SA to the Proud Boys – A Common Tradition of Far-Right Violence

By: Willem Nesbitt

On January 6th, Donald Trump and the Republican Party had their very own Beer Hall Putsch moment, the circumstances that led up to the storming of the Capitol drawing parallels to the tactics employed by a rising NSDAP over eighty years ago, specifically with the actions of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups drawing parallels from the Nazi Party’s Sturmabteilung (SA).

            “Stand back and stand by” were the words of former President Donald J. Trump during a presidential debate when asked about denouncing white supremacist and militia groups, words which demonstrate the Republican courting of these very groups. This question was asked following a summer in which America was witness to the largest protests the nation has seen since the anti-Vietnam demonstrations and Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and in these modern protests, opposing sides of the American political spectrum clashed. Self-proclaimed “anti-fascists” made appearances in small groups, meeting stiff opposition from the likes of the Proud Boys and state militia groups.

            When these groups clashed in the cities of Portland, Washington, and Kenosha, an interesting parallel of this important moment in American history emerged with the history of Germany from events in the 1920s and 30s. The rise of the NSDAP during this time saw the employment of similar tactics and actions, ranging from violent clashes between political street gangs, to the storming of an important political building.

            Infiltrating a gathering of the Proud Boys in Portland, Oregon, independent reporter Andrew Callaghan (better known as “All Gas No Brakes”) engaged with the members of this gathering, creating an uncensored, rather humorous glimpse into the workings of this white nationalist group. Breaking out into chants of “F*ck Antifa!” following a prayer, the interviewees of this video made claims of how Antifa are a communist/Marxist group, and, most puzzlingly, “Antifa is the real fascists.”

            Over the course of the summer of 2020, groups of these very Proud Boys and militia groups clashed with Black Lives Matter protestors and pockets of Antifa, some of these protests and counter-protests turning violent. This type of clash between left and right groups is nothing new. In the wake for the First World War, Germany was left in a state of political and economic turmoil, with political groups and parties, ranging from monarchists to communists, taking to the streets to spread their message and build their support.

            With these range of parties all taking to the streets to hold demonstrations and political rallies, it is no surprise that these opposing groups violently clashed. The NSDAPs primary street gang, the “Sturmabteilung” or “SA”, was the party’s paramilitary wing during their initial rise to power and came into form following the events of November 4th, 1921. At the Hofbräuhaus am Platzl beerhall in Munich, NSDAP leader Adolf Hitler gave a lengthy speech that was interrupted by a brawl between the Nazi’s “protection detachment” and socialist and communist individuals who had infiltrated the meeting.

            From here, the SA would go on to act as the NSDAPs muscle into the 1930s, engaging in street fights against the NSDAPs left-wing opponents, and eventually being the ones behind the infamous Kristallnacht.

            While the Proud Boys are most certainly not an official detachment of the American right-wing in the same way the SA was for the NSDAP, former President Trump’s comments in the presidential debate are certainly damming, even more so in the wake of their participation in the events of January 6th. The actions of the Proud Boys and militia groups in cities across America can be seen as a continuation of a tradition from the early days of fascism in Europe. Intimidation, the use of violence against opponents, and eventual attempted insurrection are tactics common to both the Proud Boys and the SA.

            With the recent designation of the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups as terrorist organizations in Canada, along with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, one may think that these events and issues are behind us. That is not so. As with the floundering of the NSDAP following the arrest of its leaders after the failed Beer Hall Putsch, the Republican party, too, seems to be staggered following the loss of the White House and Senate and the threatening of the founding of a splinter Patriot’s Party. But as history shows, even following its failures, the NSDAP resurged and eventually democratically took hold of power in Germany. American Democrats and leftists may be content with the results of the last few months, but a failure to further pursue actions against white nationalist and extremist right-wing groups may result in a further mirroring of Germany’s past.

Homosexuality in Authoritarian States

  By: Willem Nesbitt

The contrasts, comparisons, and evaluations of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia are seemingly endless, though of course done for obvious reasons. While most of these comparisons occur in the realms of warfare and political policy, the readings by Thomas Kühne and Dan Healey offer a unique, overlooked axis of analysis – that of homosexuality and the concept of “manliness” within these authoritative states.

            Both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, unsurprisingly, outlawed homosexual practices, Heinrich Himmler’s “homophobic family policy,” which stemmed from his “obsessive fear of homosexuality,” (Kühne, p. 393) not too dissimilar from the Soviet politburo’s “enthusiastic” embrace of criminalizing male homosexuality in the 1930s (Healey, p. 32). The banning of sexual practices and sexualities opposed to the traditional heterosexual status-quo is simply par for the course for authoritative governments, but the readings also reveal that there was also a certain amount of ambivalence, or at least opaqueness, within both Germany and Russia at the time. The banning of homosexuality in Russia turned a blind eye to lesbianism, instead centering the crime around the act of “sodomy” (Healey p. 32), and likewise, Thomas Kühne’s writing reveals that the practices and guidelines of the SS advocated for husbands and fathers to take on roles that were more traditionally “feminine”, such as child rearing and close friendship with other males. While Healey focuses in-depth on the concepts of homosexuality and queerness within Russia’s gulag system, Kühne centers his paper more-so around the role of the male within German society and the Nazi regime, leaving me to wonder more on the views of homosexuality in Germany. Of course the Holocaust saw the inclusion of homosexuals within its terrible events, but the case of Hitler (at least temporarily) turning a blind eye to Ernst Röhm’s homosexuality leaves me curious.

The Shortcomings of Kraft durch Freude and of Baranowski

By: WIllem Nesbitt

With the return of Germany to the world stage in the 1930s, this time under the leadership of the Nazi regime, the Nazi’s sought to establish the German people as superior, strong, and Ayran, both internally and externally. Whether through the flexing of athletic might at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, or, as seen in Shelley Baranowski’s Strength Through Joy, through establishing nationalist, Ayran ideals via vacations for workers to other countries, the Nazi regime wished to validate their alternative to American “Fordism” and Soviet leftism.

            For all of the seemingly self-proclaimed bravado of the Nazi organization Kraft durch Freude established within Baranowski’s introduction, Chapter 5 paints KdF in a different light, one that I feel the author failed to conclude into a potentially interesting point on the organization and thereby the regime, despite spending most of the chapter discussing it. Baranowski relays stories of KdF tourists displeased with their accommodations and experiences, ranging from being upset over being poured a lesser quality coffee, to Westphalian and Silesian KdF tourists nearly coming to blows over some name-calling, and at one point, states that KdF customers were served “a one-course dish to keep [the restauranteur’s] costs in line with KdF’s reimbursement for the meal” (page 166). This single line, of which Baranowski quickly moves on from to discuss class and racial issues within KdF tours, alludes to the potential fact that KdF and the Nazi regime were falling short. If the intention for this program was to both show foreigners the successes of the German people and to teach the workers who went on these trips that their work was resulting in a successful and prosperous nation, then most surely their meals should have been at the very least equivalent to those of the “private” tourists Baranowski contrasts the KdF tourists with. Although the author makes this point, they fail to further extract an argument from it, one such as that the KdF organization was potentially underfunded, or that, like many other endeavours by the Nazi regime, KdF was simply mismanaged and too brash in its intentions, unable to hold up its promises. For all the interesting anecdotes and insights of Baranowski’s writing, they seem to fail to coalesce these points into a tangible argument, leaving the reader wanting for a more satisfying conclusion.