Right-wing white nationalists are co-opting the language used by left-wing anti-corporate activists in order to expand their racist movement.
‘Corporate America doesn’t need to be destroyed, but just shown that they are on the wrong side of history. That if they don’t bend, they will break.’ These are the alleged words of the shooter in El Paso, Texas, who killed 22 individuals and wounded more than 20 others in a race-based attack. The anti-corporate rhetoric found in this manifesto speaks to an increasingly popular line of thinking among radical right individuals, one with potentially significant repercussions for recruitment.
The El Paso gunman professed his political opinions not only through the nature of his attack (he is reported to have informed police officers that he had intended to shoot ‘Mexicans’), but also, like other lone-wolf attackers on the radical right, in a manifesto (in this case published on 8chan). The document explicates fairly common-place ideas among the radical right, including those about ‘The Great Replacement’ and the societal harm wrought by immigrants. However, it also devotes considerable time to anti-corporate language, and then connects the two strains of thought.
According to the El Paso shooter, corporations govern American society, and it is their desire for greater profit that has precipitated deleterious government policies on climate change, labour conditions, and, most significantly, immigration. The manifesto states that, ‘Corporations…like immigration because more people means a bigger market for their products,’ and ‘lobby for even more illegal immigration even after decades of it happening,’ in order to sustain a constant number of workers willing to work for low wages. The manifesto links poverty and the hardship of working-class Americans to the steady stream of immigrants who supposedly deflate wages and whose children aspire to replace white American workers in higher-income positions. Due to their perceived control of the government, corporations are thereby classified as being at the root of the Great Replacement.
The radical right shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, also blamed capitalism for partly precipitating ethnic replacement. His manifesto urges readers to ‘KILL YOUR LOCAL ANTI-WHITE CEO,’ and asserts that corporations and corporate elites encourage immigration in order ‘to replace the White people who have failed to reproduce, failed to create the cheap labour, new consumers and tax base that the corporations and states need to thrive.’ The document also supports the production of goods with climate issues and human dignity in mind, as well as measures ‘encouraging and pushing increases to the minimum wage; furthering the unionization of workers; increasing the native birthrate and thereby reducing the need for the importation of labour; increasing the rights of workers.’
Even the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed more than 75 people and injured hundreds of others in his 2011 attack in Norway, considers the complicity of corporations in encouraging immigration of non-Westerners to Western countries. While claiming to be anti-socialist, Breivik’s arguments and rhetoric run parallel to anti-capitalist critiques of the status quo.
Criticism of the banking system might appear a long-standing element of radical right rhetoric (consider the historic trope of the global Jewish banking conspiracy), but radical right thinkers are increasingly using anti-capitalist or anti-corporate rhetoric, and are now often mirroring left-wing language about corporate influence.
Apart from manifestos of attackers, evidence of this can be found in the coded language used by the radical right figures to sow or inflame distrust of existing systems of power. Steve Bannon’s term ‘the party of Davos’ (referring to the annual World Economic Forum meeting held in Davos), portrays business elites as part of a cabal bearing undue influence on states, has germinated radical right thinking.
Additional criticisms of George Soros that have been classified as a ‘dog-whistle’ among the radical right not only focus on his stance as a left-leaning Jewish philanthropist, but also target him based on his wealth, often painting him as part of the (secret) uber-wealthy governing elite. Meanwhile, at the Generation Identity 2019 Summer conference, ‘the bourgeoisie’ was invoked and censured. Rhetoric about the 1% (evoking the language of the Occupy Movement) pervades the radical right, and its members consistently point to the threat of a ‘global elite,’ the ‘swamp,’ and the CEOs of massive corporations as using their wealth to influence politics.
While there are occasional references to CEOs as ‘race traitors’, the radical right often directs its animosity towards ‘the 1%,’ the ‘bourgeoisie,’ or ‘elites,’ in a populist approach that bears similarity to vocabulary among certain factions of left-wing movements. By exposing the abuses of corporations and CEOs, the radical right position themselves as the voices and champions of the (white) working-class. In linking these corporate abuses to racial issues such as immigration or crime, radical right thinkers can further their ethno-nationalist agendas, presenting their vision of racially-homogenous nation-states as the solution to modern problems. Placing blame on corporations for immigration also allows the radical right to recast support for immigration as a stance held by a minority of people, and thus something that could be justifiably changed.
Although the rationale behind their criticisms of the economic status quo is fundamentally different from most anti-capitalist or anti-corporate actors—who are traditionally identified as left-wing or socialist—there are reasons for the co-optation of left-wing anti-establishment vocabulary. Certain radical right thinkers have publicly stated that they hope to convert those who believe in economic protectionism, who are anti-elite or anti-establishment, or who feel animosity towards corporations or corporate power.
For example, Bannon and his supporters throughout Europe have characterized their activities as ‘economic nationalism,’ based on care for workers within their nation, so as to encourage disaffected workers, proud of their nationality and desirous of a more fair economy, to join. Similarly, the alt-right figure Richard Spencer, highlighted what he perceived to be potential for the recruitment of those critical of corporate power, as well as supportive of economic protectionism to the side of the radical right. He has both positively reviewed statements made by Bernie Sanders relating to immigration, the American economy, and poverty, and said ‘Surely we can find some heretical Bernie Bros out there…can’t we?’
Unlike other identifiable forms of radical right recruitment in which those with racial prejudices are pushed towards further radical action, there is a sustained, if not rising, interest in encouraging people concerned about their economic security or working-class issues to consider their concerns along racial lines. Given the sustained skepticism or outright distrust of both corporate power and claims that capitalism is meritocratic, as well as the electoral success of many candidates who link economic policies and xenophobia or racism within traditional party structures across Western democracies, this strategy among the radical right may prove incredibly successful. Tracking the use of anti-capitalist rhetoric may yet prove illuminating in uncovering and disrupting radical right recruitment.
Ms Bethan Johnson is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate in Department of History, University of Cambridge. See her profile here.
© Bethan Johsnon. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
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