The Neo-Nazi Propaganda War in the Post-January 6 United States

In the aftermath of the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6 criminal investigations have left some national organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia network largely hamstrung. As many on the left are all too well aware, it can be very difficult for a movement to maintain a high level of militancy while many of its participants are awaiting trial on charges that could result in significant time in prison. However, the intense focus on the militia and “alt-light” segments of the far right has generally given white nationalist and neo-Nazi commentators the opportunity to, on one hand, definitively cut ties with and disavow any lingering support for Donald Trump, the GOP, or conventional politics while, on the other hand, working to lure lingering supporters of “Conservative, Inc.,” as some far-right factions call it, toward more radical positions.

The current mood among white nationalists differs from what it was a few years ago, when they saw themselves as an ascendant force and struck a triumphalist tone. Where the alt-right was associated (rightly or wrongly) with an attempt to win converts through aesthetics and to make their politics more appealing by positioning themselves as a fresh, upstart voice with flashy haircuts and an innovative approach to social problems, its successors, influenced by the neo-Nazi accelerationist current, now work to stoke blunt anger at what they perceive as the political failure of mainstream conservatism and a visceral sense of outrage at the rise of a broad Black liberation movement since the spring of 2020. The gloves are clearly off and they have abandoned any pretense of a soft-sell approach.

Martyr Cult

In spite of the enormous blowback it has created for certain far-right groups, January 6 has also proven to be a useful rhetorical reference point for various reactionary ideological currents. They have turned it into the latest chapter in an ongoing narrative of victimization and retribution that far-right activists regularly use to exhort their supporters to take some kind of (often unspecified) action. Four participants died in the course of the attack on the Capitol but, given the fact that some of them passed away under hazy and unheroic circumstances, three of them have come to be thought of as part of a small, undifferentiated collective of martyrs. The fourth, however, has become a potent symbol for a broad swath of right-wing radicals.

Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by Capitol Police while attempting to climb through a broken window near the House chamber, was perhaps the ideal martyr for any number of far-right ideologies: she was a military veteran, stoking outrage among Patriot movement adherents and militia participants; she was unarmed and not actually attacking anyone when she was shot, justifying claims by Trumpist conservatives that the insurrectionists have been (in Babbitt’s case literally) unfairly targeted; and she was a fair-haired white woman — some far-right sources erroneously identify her as a mother — felled by the hand of an unnamed Black shooter, which is used to rationalize visceral anger on the white nationalist and neo-Nazi end of the far-right spectrum. The fact that she had already broken numerous federal laws and was at the leading edge of a charge into the most sensitive part of a high-security government building when she was shot is consistently set aside in favor of a pure, beatific characterization.

The banner of the Jan. 6 “martyrs” was all but ubiquitous on far-right social media sites in the weeks following the insurrection. The stars represent the four insurrectionists who died, however only Ashli Babbitt is pictured.

On January 8, white nationalist intellectual Gregory Hood posted an essay called “Her Name Was Ashli Babbitt” on “race realist” Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance website. After first pointing out that the shooter was “apparently black,” Hood spends most of the essay attacking liberal Twitter users who posted derogatory comments about Babbitt and, in particular, contrasting what he views as the unfair treatment of the insurrectionists with the free hand given to Black Lives Matter protesters. While Babbitt was “a young woman at Wednesday’s protests” who “had no weapon, not even a stick” and “posed no danger to anyone,” Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville, Kentucky police after they broke into her home at night while Taylor was sleeping, was “deeply involved in her boyfriend’s drug operation.” In “An Open Letter to Trump Supporters,” published on American Renaissance on January 20, Hood makes a direct connection between Babbitt’s death and “an endless wave of black-on-white violence in this country.”

Warren Balogh of the National Justice Party (NJP), a small, but influential organization in neo-Nazi circles, spelled it out more directly. In an essay titled “The Martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt” posted to his group’s website in April, he writes, “Ashli Babbitt was killed because she was White, because she was part of a movement that was overwhelmingly White, and was moved, whether consciously or unconsciously, by the impulse to defend America from the encirclement and slow destruction planned for us by our enemies.” In criticizing the Justice Department’s refusal to prosecute Babbitt’s “executioner,” he blames “the people in control of the power centers of our society. What they have in common is not just that they are Jews, but that they promote a uniquely Jewish brand of ‘justice.’”

In a video posted to his BitChute channel on January 15, Mark Collett, formerly a leading figure in the fascist British National Party and more recently a founder of the white nationalist Patriotic Alternative, declared that “the establishment don’t just hate Ashli Babbitt, they hate white people. They hate Western civilization. And they’re attempting to do away with both.” He concludes that, “if you haven’t realized by now, maybe the death of Ashli Babbitt will help you to wake up to the undeniable fact: if you are white and you love your country, the establishment, the media, the press, and the social media companies hate you. In fact, they want you dead.”

Hypermasculine Rhetoric & Real Life

The phrase “they want you dead” is one that comes up a lot on white nationalist and neo-Nazi social media. Telegram channel The Western Chauvinist, a Proud Boys-affiliated account run by self-identified national socialists with just under 49,000 followers, uses it frequently to encourage white men to get organized and to train for fighting and warfare. One admin wrote on April 26 that “[t]he people that hate you and want you dead, have done a great job of turning [Hitler] into history’s greatest monster; it’s time normal people started asking why.” On April 12, that same account declared that “[w]e are ruled by an oligarchy that wants us dead & replaced” and advised readers to “[p]ull the blinders off. No one is coming to save us. Either we resist now or enter a new dark age.”

Positioning whiteness as something that is vulnerable and targeted while simultaneously calling for white people to resist their murderous overlords (like that famously misunderstood historical figure Adolf Hitler did) is an important propaganda frame for neo-Nazis. The recommended form for this resistance is small, autonomous groups of men who practice various kinds of combat skills together and engage in some form of “activism.” The Western Chauvinist regularly posts messages re-emphasizing that point and outlining where it could lead. In May, it re-posted a message from an Australian neo-Nazi group that prescribed daily training with small groups, then less frequent training with larger groups. It also posted a Patriot Front propaganda video and advised that “[t]hese tactics can be used by any small group of men, or anyone acting solo.” In April, it described neo-Nazi intellectual William Pierce’s extremely violent millenarian utopian novel The Turner Diaries (1978) as “a powerful and griping tale of a small but dedicated group of white people who launch a revolution against the anti-white system.” In aggregate, these kinds of messages point toward not only offering ideas for how to organize, but also what kind of action a group of organized white men might want to take.

Screenshot from a video montage published in June by Telegram channel The Western Chauvinist. The background image is from the 2007 film ‘300’ about the Battle of Thermopylae. White nationalists frequently invoke the story of this 480 BCE battle to invoke a tradition of Western warrior heroism against “invaders,” which is a term they frequently use as an epithet for non-white people in white-majority countries.

The putative need for small, all-male fighting groups has long been part of the far-right rhetorical canon, but was particularly popularized for the current generation by far-right “manosphere” figure Jack Donovan. Donovan’s 2012 book The Way of Men asserted that, “Relieved of moral pretense and stripped of folk costumes, the raw masculinity that all men know in their gut has to do with being good at being a man within a small, embattled gang of men struggling to survive. The Way of Men is the way of that gang.” Although Donovan has distanced himself from white nationalism since Unite the Right, his Manichean perspective is entirely compatible with an ideology that seeks to combat a perceived “replacement” of white populations and establish an ethnically pure white homeland, whether by secession, expulsion (what European new rightists have dubbed “remigration”), or mass killing.

One of the leading proponents of far-right male gang organizing at the moment is a group operating under the name The Mannerbund, a misspelling of the German term Männerbund. While the word has been used in different ways at different times, the fetish for German terminology among American neo-Nazis as well as the straightforward etymology of a term that means an “association of men” indicate that they are trying to invoke the Hitler Youth, Germany’s post-WWI Freikorps militias, or something similar. The Mannerbund’s extremely romanticized rhetoric emphasizes a kind of personal heroism within the context of hypermasculine units. As one contributor wrote in an essay called “Tempering the Warrior” last February, “Bonds between men are the basis from which great things are accomplished.” Or, as The Mannerbund’s Telegram channel reposted from another group in June 2020, “[t]he war-cry that frightens away or discourages weak spirits is the same call that summons the nature of true warriors. We must understand that if a group of men rise above the apathy of the masses, and their total energy and strength is concentrated towards one goal, that these few percent will rise to be the overlords of all. … This very separation of the strong from the weak is a guarantee of our success.”

Patriot Front

While much of the online rhetoric calling for white men to train, organize, and arm themselves points toward the formation of small, autonomous cells of people who know each other personally, the highest profile and perhaps the most aggressive neo-Nazi presence at the moment is undoubtedly Patriot Front, which organizes on slightly different principles. It does encourage small groups to engage in local, autonomous “activism” (mostly in the form of deploying stickers, flyers, and banners), which has recently resulted in vandalism of two different George Floyd memorials in Brooklyn, New York and Newark, New Jersey as well as a bust of York, the first Black person to cross North America to the Pacific Ocean, in Portland, Oregon, and several murals commemorating Floyd and Breonna Taylor across the country.

However, Patriot Front is also a national organization and has been regularly organizing marches of a few hundred masked and anonymous members in cities around the country for at least the past year and a half; between late May and early July of this year alone, they staged demonstrations in San Antonio, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These marches always culminate in a rally of sorts in which leader Thomas Rousseau speechifies into a bullhorn like the villain from a Hollywood superhero movie. Rousseau appears at these rallies backed up by his small army of anonymous, masked, flag-bearing gang members, usually producing a kind of word salad loaded with dramatic verbiage (lots of “blood,” “sacrifice,” and “legacy;” he is the type who would never say “work” when he could just as easily say “toil”).

Left: A screenshot from a Patriot Front video shot outside the US Capitol on Feb. 8, 2020. The flags take up a lot of space and much of the video is shot from a low angle to make their presence look larger than it is and project power. Right: A view of the same demonstration from across the street. Patriot Front are the ones all the way in the background with the police escort.

What Rousseau does not have at these events, however, is a physical audience. Patriot Front members are rather carefully vetted before they are allowed to participate in actions like these, so it is assured that they already agree with his program. The intended audience, of course, is not anyone who is actually present at these events, but rather young, white, disaffected men who might see a slickly produced Patriot Front promo video online.

Patriot Front propaganda functions, to a great extent, on the basis of surprise. Their marches are unannounced and usually go through areas where they are unlikely to encounter much opposition, either because the public there is perceived to be somewhat sympathetic (or at least non-confrontational, such as in tourist areas) or because their marches take place on weekends when businesses are closed and few people are around. This allows videographers to shoot from up close, often at low angles creating a visual perception of larger numbers and more power than the attending Patriot Front members actually have. At the same time, because group members train to fight and defend themselves together, they arrive prepared to ward off counterprotestors, whereas community members who show up to confront them are not allowed the chance to prepare in advance. With careful editing, they are able to turn almost any conflict into an apparent victory for themselves.

“Documentaries”

Finally, in recent months, the neo-Nazi propaganda effort has ratcheted up its deployment of what are often interminably long montages of clips from other documentaries, interviews, and movies. They add voiceovers and music and then present the final results as original “documentaries.” The 2013 film Adolf Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told had faded from view over the past two or three years, but it has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent months, if the frequency of its mention in white nationalist social media is any indication. Although it relies very heavily on footage from a Canadian public television miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, it nonetheless presents the Führer as a heroic savior who emerges from obscurity to fight corruption and a nefarious elite in the name of his Volk — a narrative very much in the same vein as other influential reactionary productions like D.W. Griffith’s epic pro-Ku Klux Klan film The Birth of a Nation (1915) and The Turner Diaries. It also astonishingly deploys a Muzak version of “Unchained Melody” as a Leitmotif for Hitler’s relationship with Eva Braun.

For a “documentary” that purports to reveal forbidden truths, it plays embarrassingly fast and loose with basic facts. One intertitle, for instance, states that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was a best-seller, but fails to mention that the book was also required reading under a dictatorship. Another says that Hitler ushered in a crackdown on vice in Berlin in 1933, forcing Marlene Dietrich (“a known bisexual”) to flee the country, despite the fact that she left Germany in 1930 — three years before Hitler took power. A third, describing the origins of the swastika as a Nazi symbol, says that, “Unlike the Soviets with their hammer and sickle, the National Socialists had no such flag or emblem,” although there are many photographs available proving that Freikorps militants were already using the swastika to identify themselves as early as 1919, shortly after World War I ended. While not all Freikorps participants became National Socialists, its veterans nonetheless made up a significant portion of the Nazi brownshirts (including SA leader Ernst Röhm), so the connection is fairly direct. Any of these errors could have been resolved with a quick Google or Wikipedia search.

A newer addition to the canon is an unwieldy production called Europa: The Last Battle. Subdivided into ten parts and weighing in at a total of almost twelve and a half hours, what it lacks in brevity it also lacks in coherence. I have to admit to not having watched the whole thing, but from what I have seen, I can, with a high degree of confidence, offer a spoiler: the Jews did it. And “it,” in this case, means every imaginable bad thing that has happened since the start of the twentieth century: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the scourge of “cultural Marxism,” and probably the Titanic and David Lynch’s forced decision to prematurely reveal who killed Laura Palmer as well. In making its case, this film likewise relies heavily on footage from Hitler: The Rise of Evil.

Lastly, Hellstorm: The Biggest Cover-Up in History purports to reveal the Allied atrocities committed against Germany during World War II. To be fair, I would welcome a serious documentary addressing Allied war crimes. In fact, it is our failure to openly discuss the firebombing of Dresden or Hamburg, among other things, that has had the unfortunate effect of ceding that entire conversation to Nazi apologists. Hellstorm is exactly what comes of that.

This shameless misappropriation is the last thing viewers see at the end of ‘Hellstorm.’ It implies not only Holocaust denial, but also Nazi victimhood.

The debates concerning Allied attacks on civilian targets during the war will not be resolved in the final paragraphs of a semi-anonymously composed essay on the internet. However the producers of this “documentary” seem to have no interest in furthering that discussion either. It is, after all, impossible to take a film seriously when it starts with a voiceover telling us that, during and after World War II, “millions upon millions of Germans, many of whom had nothing to do with the war, were systematically raped, tortured, slaughtered, and all in the most sadistic and sickening ways imaginable,” but that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of the Nazi regime. Even Dachau (the only concentration camp mentioned by name in the film) is reduced to the site of an atrocity by US soldiers against German guards. In fact, Thomas Goodrich, whose book formed the basis for the film, says from the outset that “there will be no attempt to present the viewpoint of the other side.” Well, that sort of makes it impossible to understand why anyone would attack Germany in the first place or what the context for the war was in the first place, doesn’t it.

From that point on, it is evident that the objective of the film is only to reframe the Nazis as the real victims of World War II generally and Jewish conspirators specifically. Consistent exaggerations (no, not every German city was firebombed; no, the firebombing of Dresden didn’t kill hundreds of thousands of people) and overdramatizations (“by the final months of the war, the aim of the approaching Allies was nothing less than the utter extinction of the German nation: every man, every woman, every child”) don’t help their case either (how many different episodes are we to believe constituted “hell on earth”? how many times can this be only the beginning of Germany’s nightmare?). On the contrary, it strikes me as an insult to the civilian dead to see their lives distorted so cartoonishly and for such vile purposes.

No, the point of this film is not to open up a discussion about firebombing or mass rape as means of warfare. That would actually be a helpful reminder that the US, the UK. and Russia — even when they were fighting Nazis — are not and never have been the heroic societies that their respective patriotic ideologues would make them out to be. Instead, we are left with a ninety-minute propaganda piece designed, again, to stoke outrage and identification with the perceived victims while marking Jews and, in some cases, Mongols as innately heartless and brutal — people deserving of retribution. This “documentary” is yet another shameful reminder of how fundamentally dishonest fascists are and why they do not deserve a platform anywhere.

Conclusion

Taken collectively, what all of these tell us about white nationalist and neo-Nazi mindset at this moment is that they are ratcheting up their recruitment and incitement efforts through frenzied and hyperbolic messaging. The martyr cult around Ashli Babbitt, the exhortations to form purely white male combat groups, Patriot Front’s hit-and-run “activism,” and documentaries that position the Nazi regime as the helpless target of an international Jewish conspiracy all point toward a worldview that fits a narrative of victimhood and the need to righteously exact revenge and take power.

The months since January 6 have felt oddly calm with respect to far-right violence, but that is a deceptive impression. The rhetoric on platforms like Telegram, Gab, BitChute, and Odysee has only grown more provocative over the past six months and calls for violence are more thinly veiled than before. On July 7, a man in Terre Haute, Indiana threw a fire bomb at the local FBI field office building and got into a shootout with local police, killing one. While the motive for the attack has not yet been revealed publicly, The Western Chauvinist responded by writing that “It is not ‘senseless’ to think that there will be blowback from citizens operating in their own defense against the traitors that work in league with the anti-White system.” Meanwhile, The Huffington Post has tenuously linked a white shooter’s murder of two Black victims in Winthrop, Massachusetts on June 26 with a Telegram post on the same day on the now archived channel Boogaloo Intel Drop. It may be impossible to ever definitively prove or disprove a connection between them, however the constant drumbeat on those platforms of videos depicting “black-on-white violence,” dehumanizing language (a search for the word “parasite” in The Western Chauvinist brings up 344 different messages since mid-October), and calls for white unity against various threats creates exactly the kind of ideological infrastructure that produces what is known as “scripted violence” or “stochastic terrorism.” Both terms refer to the tendency of repeated narratives or tropes to incite violence that cannot be predicted or anticipated with any degree of specificity.

There is, therefore, no reason to let our guard down. White nationalist and neo-Nazi violence remains a genuine threat to the general public and understanding how it is produced is an important step toward combating it.

Researching/writing about the transatlantic far right, their language & narratives they use for recruiting & incitement. www.joseph-k.com