Charlottesville, Jerusalem flag day, Ulster Orange July and ultranationalist marches

Street marches are a public and powerful expression of one’s political and sociocultural beliefs. Like-minded people gathering together to express their collective will is an empowering experience. Does not everyone have the right to march peacefully in a democratic society? When the ultranationalist Right marches, they do so for the purpose of intimidation and exclusion, countering any notion of multiethnic or labour solidarity.

The 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – bringing together numerous racist and neo-Confederate groups – was not just a jolly jamboree of recreation. It was an expression of a resurgent white nationalist movement, intended to intimidate minority communities. The demonstrators made clear their determination to reverse the gains made by the civil rights and antiracist movements.

Charlottesville was not the only, and certainly not the last example, of an intimidatory march by a racialised group. The Ulster Orange Order, the pro-British loyalists from the Northern Ireland statelet, stage provocative Protestant ascendancy marches in the Catholic communities of northern Irish towns. Commemorating the victory of Prince William of Orange – a Protestant – over the Catholic James II, the Ulster loyalists deliberately assert the Protestant ascendancy as a bastion of British rule.

The marches of the Orange Order are hardly a simple exercise in free speech and historical memory. They are a triumphalist and sectarian expression of pro-imperial sentiment. Catholic and Irish nationalist communities face the threat of sectarian violence and disruption whenever the Orange loyalist marching season takes place.

The sectarian character of the Orange Ulster marches are no accident. Based on a putative commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne, the Orange marches reinforce British imperial rule over the Northern Ireland statelet, and buttress the Protestant ascendancy in that artificially constructed entity.

Jerusalem flag day

On May 29 every year, thousands of ultrarightist Israeli settlers and extremists march through the streets of East Jerusalem. That date is Flag day, a holiday instituted by Israeli authorities as a triumphalist celebration of the capture of the West Bank and Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Intended as a provocative and sectarian march, the settlers – usually with the connivance of the police and military – chant genocidal slogans and attack the Palestinian residents.

Chanting ‘death to Arabs’, and ‘may your village burn’, the flag march is calculated to increase tensions, wave multiple Israeli flags in a sneering expression of contemptuous triumphalism, and remind the Palestinians of their status as second class citizens in the apartheid state. This year, a new chant was heard by the Palestinians – ‘there is no Shireen’. This is a reference to the targeted assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh earlier this year.

Not only have Israeli ultranationalist settlers marched through the mainly Palestinian quarters of East Jerusalem. They have also staged numerous incursions into the Al Aqsa mosque and its territory. The mosque compound is regularly targeted by Zionist settlers in an attempt to inflame sectarian and religious tensions, with the goal of demolishing one of Islam’s holiest sites.

In a similar way to Ulster loyalism, the Israeli ultrarightist settlers believe they have biblical sanction to carry out their provocative activities against the minority groups. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that Zionism is the equivalent of a Jewish Ulster in Palestine. Both ideologies, while claiming to be emancipatory projects, actually reinforce the imperatives of empire.

The Skokie case

Professor Joseph Massad, in an article for Middle East Eye, draws a direct and necessary comparison between the actions of the ultranationalist Israeli marchers and a historic case – the Skokie affair. The American neo-Nazi party – officially called the National Socialist Party of America – sought to march in Skokie, a mostly Jewish suburb of Illinois in 1977 – a place where numerous Holocaust survivors lived. How would the authorities react to white supremacists marching through a largely Jewish community?

A protracted legal battle ensued, after the local authorities used various means to stop the march. The American neo-Nazis posed as simple and aggrieved defenders of free speech. What is wrong with white Americans expressing their pride in their race? The litigants went all the way to the US Supreme Court. The latter decided to allow the march to continue, in defence of First Amendment rights.

After a sustained and large community outcry about the proposed march, the American neo-Nazi party marched – but not in Skokie, but downtown Chicago. Numbering about 25 in all, they were overwhelmed by thousands of anti-Nazi counter demonstrators. Jewish community groups established a Holocaust museum, providing an educational device for Americans to learn about the suffering of the Jewish people.

Free speech is a right to be treasured – but it is not a blanket licence to simply say whatever is on your mind. Every public utterance – on social media as well – has consequences and impacts the public discussion. The goal is not to make everyone ‘extra careful’ or jittery about what they say. The purpose is to expose those who hide hateful or exclusionary messages behind the seemingly mild disguise of free speech. In this era of increasing ultranationalist marches, it is high time to call them out as parades of hate.

Operation Paperclip, abandoned refugees, and the careers of ex-Nazis after the war

In a few of my previous articles, I mentioned Operation Paperclip, the secret US programme to bring Nazi scientists to America. Only cursory comments were made on this topic; it is time for a closer examination of this episode. Why? It contains relevant lessons for today, not only because of the rise of Eastern European ultranationalist politicians, but also because of what this historical undertaking indicates about the current nature of American society.

In brief, Operation Paperclip involved secretly capturing and bringing Nazi German scientists, engineers and technical experts to the United States. Their expertise in military and scientific matters was considered valuable to the political objectives of the US (and Britain), and they were put to use during the Cold War. In all, approximately 1600 personnel, and their families, were brought to the United States.

A project carried out by US Army intelligence services in conjunction with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the latter reorganised as the CIA in due course – the Nazi past of these scientists, and their involvement in the Nazi party, the SS, and complicity in war crimes – was overlooked or whitewashed.

The definitive account of this operation is the book Operation Paperclip: The secret intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America (2014) by Annie Jacobsen. Originally, the programme was called Overcast, it was renamed after the practice of denoting the files of these Nazi scientists with a paperclip. The culpability of the scientific personnel in war crimes was ignored.

A key goal of the American authorities was to ensure harnessing the vast knowledge capital of the Nazi German scientists. Capturing information about the development of German non-conventional weapons – biological, chemical, nuclear – was important, but not enough. What mattered was the acquisition of the scientists, engineers and technical people themselves.

Located near Nordhausen, Germany, the Mittelwerk-Dora concentration camp complex, was the site where thousands of slave labourers, working in atrocious conditions, provided materials for the Nazi rocketry programme. Many died of starvation, malnutrition and rampant disease. Those who were too slow were killed outright. Wernher von Braun, one of the main rocket scientists employed by the Americans after the war, visited Mittelwerk and oversaw the conditions of the forced labourers himself. The rocket factories were places of exhaustion by overwork and death.

One other person who witnessed the death and inhumanity of the rocket factory complex was American soldier John Risen Jones Jr, Private First Class and sharpshooter with the 104th infantry division. He was so traumatised by the sight of emaciated slave labourers, the stench of death and decaying bodies, and the depravity of condemning so many thousands to death through overwork, he could not talk about what he saw for 51 years. He was just one of thousands of American WW2 soldiers who witnessed first hand the horror of the concentration camps.

While Nazi scientists, engineers and technicians were being spirited away to safety in Britain and the United States, millions of the victims of the Holocaust and the concentration camps – slave labourers, displaced persons and their families – were struggling to rebuild their lives, languishing in makeshift camps across war-ravaged Europe. The testimonies of American war veterans – such as those of Risen Jones mentioned above – were dismissed in the interests of Cold War power politics.

Holocaust survivors and displaced persons were definitely not welcomed with open arms by Britain or the United States. The contrasting treatment of the Paperclip scientists, who were welcomed, and the plight of displaced persons (who were largely ignored) highlights the ethical bankruptcy of postwar American capitalism.

An opinion piece in the OpIndia publication is subtitled, How the USA helped Nazi criminals from WWII evade justice to advance its own military ambitions – not a bad summary. It is useful at this point to highlight that Operation Paperclip was not an exception or unusual undertaking by the United States. Read the account by journalist Eric Lichblau (2014) The Nazis Next Door: How America became a safe haven for Hitler’s men. Not only did Nazi aerospace engineers find sanctuary in the United States, but also former SS and Gestapo personnel, officers involved in the most atrocious war crimes.

Karl Wolff, former Nazi functionary and general, was a personal liaison to Hitler and Himmler. This SS general, considered a ‘moderate Nazi’, met with and was recruited by Allen Dulles, head of the OSS. The latter, morphing into the CIA, continued this practice of shielding former Nazi intelligence officers.

What kind of nation claims to be an exceptional country, priding itself on its democratic institutions, yet recruits white supremacists and murderers into its ranks? This is the ultimate act of disrespect not only to the millions of displaced persons in Europe after the conclusion of hostilities, but also to the American WW2 veterans themselves, who witnessed the degradation and inhumanity of what the Nazi regime and its practitioners established.

Solzhenitsyn, Russian nationalism and anti-Russian hysteria

If we are to believe that Moscow, in its invasion of Ukraine, is contemptuous towards Ukrainian statehood, then we should not be surprised. Anticommunist Russian nationalism has been dismissive of Ukrainian claims to nationhood for years. Russian anticommunist dissidents, feted for decades in the West, expounded Greater Russian ethnic chauvinism over the airwaves. Hostility to non-Russian ethnic groups, including Ukrainians, has been part and parcel of Russian nationalist dissenter ideology for years.

The racism of the anti-Soviet Russians did not impede their careers as celebrity dissident intellectuals in the American empire. Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn – two writers and essayists hailed as courageous heroes in the West for combating Soviet tyranny – expressed a vicious Russian ethnic chauvinism, which involved denying Ukraine its nationhood. Such sentiments are now considered repellent by the corporate media that once welcomed them.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Soviet-era dissident and internationally celebrated novelist (he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1970), expressed a Greater Russian chauvinism that corresponds to Moscow’s current thinking regarding Ukrainian sovereignty. Best known for his novels exposing the gulag system, the anticommunist Solzhenitsyn was a racist Greater Russian ultranationalist, driven by Orthodox beliefs. He advocated a resurgent Russian empire which would, among other things, combine the Crimean peninsula and the Donbas (Eastern Ukraine) under Russian control.

Solzhenitsyn, after returning to Russia in the 1990s, was quite forthright in praising the administration of Vladimir Putin. Uniting Russian ethnic chauvinism with social conservatism, Solzhenitsyn found common ground with Moscow. It is no secret that Solzhenitsyn was an antisemite, dabbling in preposterous ‘Judeo-Bolshevik’ conspiracy theories, which are the hallmarks of far right ideology. In 2007, as Solzhenitsyn was in ill-health, Putin awarded him with a state prize.

Solzhenitsyn never regarded the Ukrainians as a separate and distinct people, but simply ‘little Russians’, and proposed a Slavic union combining Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Interestingly, he cynically deployed Jewish commissar characters in his works, thus surreptitiously suggesting exclusive Jewish responsibility for the 1917 revolution and the doctrines of Bolshevism. This malignant slur has been recycled in different ways by far right movements around the world today.

Yasha Levin writes about usefully weaponised dissidents over at his blog. Weaponised dissidents are useful devices in the ideological arsenal of the American empire. Another example of a politically useful dissident which Levin raises is that of Joseph Brodsky, Russian-American poet and educator. Awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1987, Brodsky was hailed in the US as a courageous opponent of Soviet tyranny. Teaching courses at Yale, Columbia and other prestigious universities, Brodsky was given a platform to express his views.

His views involved, among other things, racist hostility to any notion of Ukrainian independence. A Greater Russian nationalist zealot – similar in outlook to Solzhenitsyn – Brodsky expressed open disdain for Ukrainian independence, especially in the early 1990s with the dissolution of the USSR. The very real possibility of Ukrainian statehood emerged at the time, and Brodsky made his views perfectly clear in a poem he wrote on the subject. Referring to Ukrainians with an ethnic slur, he denounced moves towards Ukrainian independence.

The current Russian constitution commits the government to policies which respect ethnic minorities in the Russian federation. Moscow officially supports the teaching and maintenance of non-Russian languages spoken by the numerous ethnic minority groups. This is the bare minimum expected of a government which claims to be a pluralist democracy.

In the current climate of Russophobia, with demands to ban everything Russian, it is instructive to examine how our own political climate changes with regard to the imperatives of the American military-industrial-financial complex. Calls for the banning of Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, vodka and Russian cigarettes is the height of juvenile puerility. When the United States invaded Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia – among other nations – there were no calls to ban Mark Twain, F Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway on account of their nationality.

Maligning an entire culture and civilisation because you oppose the actions of its political leaders is precisely the kind of creeping totalitarianism we claim to combat in the West. Should we ban the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), Russian psychologist whose findings are an integral part of every university level psychology course? In fact, we have only a limited understanding of Pavlov’s work in the West.

He was interested in more than just salivating dogs and ringing metronomes. He was aiming for a comprehensive understanding of the workings of consciousness – an appreciation of the subjective factor. While primarily a physiologist, he understood that the workings of the mind, while undergirded by physiological processes, could not be reduced to only those workings. His work on the mind-matter duality as a scientist overlapped with the corresponding discussion by philosophers on the subject.

Registering opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is one thing; promoting anti-Russian hysteria is quite another. A harmful and propagandistic preoccupation, let’s not give in to the blanket demonisation of an entire civilisation.

The Galileo gambit – the tactic that needs to be put to rest

We all know the story of Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church. Advocating a heliocentric model of the solar system – the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun, contradicting biblical literalism – the religious authorities censored Galileo and placed him under house arrest. Eventually, the maverick scientist, laughed at by the prevailing powers, was proven correct. An inspiring story to be sure – but this has given rise to the Galileo gambit.

Pseudo scientists and cranks of all kinds – from global warming deniers to creationists to Covid denialists – will at some point claim that when the scientific establishment rejects their ideas, they are in fact the equivalent of Galileo – unfairly maligned mavericks confronting a hostile and dogmatic orthodoxy.

This analogy with Galileo is a logical fallacy on a number of levels. Galileo was hardly an outsider from the scientific establishment of the time – at age 25, he was the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa. Regarded as the father of observational astronomy, he settled at the University of Padua, and had powerful patrons – the Medici family, the latter supporting scientific investigations at the time.

When Galileo presented the results of his observations – the heliocentric model – he was building on the foundations of the Copernican revolution. The latter prompted the paradigmatic shift from the old Ptolemaic system – which regarded the Earth as stationary, occupying a central place in the universe – to the new heliocentrism. Observing the planets revolve around the Sun, Galileo was not on his own. He was cognisant of the fact that he, like Copernicus before him, was confronting the orthodox dogma of the church.

Today’s climate change deniers perversely claim that they are merely scientific mavericks challenging the status quo. However, upon closer inspection, it is the global warming deniers who are analogous to the Catholic Church; driven by a fanatical ideological commitment to the capitalist market. The billionaire corporations which pay for disseminating misinformation to undermine the scientific consensus regarding global warming are espousing a corporatist dogma flying in the face of the preponderance of evidence.

Steven Novella, writing about the Galileo syndrome, says that:

For every visionary scientist whose claims are initially rejected because they are so radical, only to be later confirmed and change our view of the universe, there are uncountable wannabes whose ideas are rejected because they are hopelessly flawed. Being rejected is not the best manner in which to be compared to Galileo, and in itself does not imply that one is a visionary or that one’s ideas are correct. Making the comparison, however, does imply a distorted self-view, and a certain lack of humility that if anything is predictive of being cranky rather than a visionary scientist.

Novella emphasises that Galileo was persecuted, and regarded as a heretic, by a church relying on divine revelation and scriptural authority, not scientific evidence. Albert Einstein, the typical outsider, rested his case on scientific evidence for his theories of special and general relativity, prior to their acceptance by the scientific community. He never promoted himself as a latter-day Galileo.

Being rejected by the scientific establishment is emotionally challenging, and throughout history, numerous scientists who were ridiculed were eventually proven correct. Alfred Wegener (1880-1930), German geologist, was laughed at by the scientific community when he first proposed the theory of continental drift, forming the basis of today’s plate tectonics.

He argued that Pangaea, a supercontinent, existed millions of years ago, which now widely accepted by the geological community. Only achieving vindication after his death, he never once compared himself to Galileo when debating the scientific establishment.

There are scientific disagreements all the time. Scientists debate issues in a wide range of areas. This is standard practice. They also reject quackery and pseudoscience. There is a long-standing tactic employed by those who are quick to wrap themselves in Galileo’s mantle – the magnified minority. The denial of human-induced global warming uses this tactic – elevate the contrarian view to convey the pretence of scientific disagreements among the experts.

Whether it is the proponents of intelligent design, or the now-forgotten HIV/AIDS deniers, posing as the wounded Galileos of our time is a cynical attempt to gain scientific legitimacy for the views of pseudoscience partisans. Back in the 1980s, with the AIDS epidemic, denial of the causal nature of HIV/AIDS, grew exponentially. Peter Duesberg, German-American biologist, still maintains that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. There were numerous declarations by dissenting scientists, pushing the case for HIV/AIDS denial.

By the early 1990s, evidence for the HIV/AIDS connection became overwhelming, but there are still holdouts until today, their hopes revived in part by the growth of Covid denialism. It is noteworthy to observe the interlapping commonalities between various forms of science denialism.

There are numerous examples of scientists, once considered absurdly mistaken, and mocked by the scientific establishment, proven correct by the weight of evidence. However, whenever the Galileo gambit is deployed, let’s remember the words of Stephen Lewandowsky; “Being dismissed by scientists doesn’t automatically entitle you to a Nobel Prize.” Being an aspirational Galileo is no guarantee that your ideas are correct.

The Great Replacement theory, eco-fascism and the Buffalo shooter

The Buffalo shooter, Payton Gendron, carried out his racially motivated hate crime – he drove hundreds of miles specifically to attack African Americans – on the basis of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. The latter, which asserts that mysterious ‘global elites’ are intent on replacing white majority communities with nonwhite people through immigration and multiculturalism, was also cited by the El Paso gunman, the white supremacist who killed Jews in Pittsburgh, and Norwegian white terrorist Anders Breivik.

Why is it important to confront this malicious conspiracy theory? While Donald Trump, the previous president, was a white supremacist, the threat of ideologically motivated domestic terrorism goes deeper than just one politician. Its racially paranoid foundations of alleged white victimhood provides a political worldview capable of mobilising discontent.

The El Paso gunman, back in 2019, rationalised his lethal attack in eco-fascist terms; his motivation, according to his rambling manifesto, was concern about growing numbers of nonwhite immigrants on an already overburdened natural ecosystem. He also legitimised his actions in terms of the great replacement conspiracy theory.

Immigration and multiculturalism, long demonised by conservative politicians as the devious implementation of a demographic conspiracy by ‘global elites’ to replace white European communities, are regarded as threats to the white majority communities in the Anglocentric nations. It is not surprising to see that the Great Replacement conspiracy theory moving into the mainstream.

The US Republican Party, increasingly the home of fascistic and white supremacist elements, has a longstanding practice of citing the Great Replacement theory, with a view to winning over disaffected white voters. In an article for The Atlantic, Adam Serwer writes that the conservative side of politics has advocated a sanitised version of the Great Replacement theory for decades.

Demographic insecurities of the white majority community in settler colonial nations has been a device exploited by conservatives to bolster the exclusionary nature of the polity. Equality for all is the promise of American and European societies; but whom exactly can partake in that equality is up for debate. Serwer writes that in the immediate aftermath of World War 1, the pseudoscientific premises of race science and genetically-based intelligence was used to argue for an exclusion of so-called inferior races from American life.

Back in 1916, American psychologist Madison Grant argued, in his book The Passing of the Great Race, that the Anglo-Saxon Christian majority in America was under threat of being swamped by an influx of nonwhite migrants, particularly from Eastern Europe. Numerous restrictive immigration laws were passed by US authorities in the 1920s.

However, it was European thinkers, in particular the French theorist Renaud Camus, who were responsible for the modern incarnation of the racist and antisemitic package of tropes that make up the Great Replacement conspiracy theory. Camus can take credit for coining the term, alleging that sinister elites – replacist, to use his description – were implementing a plan through mass nonwhite immigration, to reduce the white population in the home nations.

Camus repackaged this notion of demographic replacement – genocide by substitution, he called it – to fit in with the growing Islamophobia enveloping the European and American worlds. Camus was hardly alone in his way of thinking. Former French President Charles De Gaulle commented that, while it was heartening to see Frenchmen of all different colours, too many of them would dilute the essential Frenchness of the host nation. De Gaulle complained about the Muslims, with their turbans and djellabahs, not being French.

When right wing commentators have accepted the reality of human-induced climate change, their solution is an authoritarian and homicidal one – reduce the numbers of people through violence. Usually, this exterminationist perspective is applied, not to themselves, but to nonwhite communities, even though the main drivers of climate change are wealthier white populations in Western nations.

Environmental concerns have long been used by the fanatical Right to advocate not only for control of land and resources, but also who gets to control that land and natural resources. Eco-fascism, the uniting of ecological and far right ideas, was reflected in the manifesto of the Buffalo shooter, which he had largely plagiarised from the Christchurch killer.

Blaming immigration for environmental problems is perversely false, but this has not stopped the far right from latching onto environmental concerns in an effort to greenwash their hate. Taking its roots in the German nationalist ‘blood and soil’ myth, the eco-fascist denounces the private takeover of nature, but turns their critique into an attack on ethnic minorities. After accepting climate change, the far right nationalist advocates a kind of lifeboat ethics; the white community will be saved, and the rest be damned.

There is an urgent requirement for a stronger labour movement, because it is in the inter ethnic solidarity of working class struggles where racism, and its far right advocates, can be defeated politically and ideologically. As long as there are economically insecure people, suffering under austerity and job cuts, there will be more recruits into the cesspit of the ultranationalist Right.