It was a pleasure to join Spokane pastor Jason Jones and Todd Gossett on their podcast, Thoughtfoolery. They are thinking about how their congregation can help people and how to respond to members of their broader community who are being recruited into hate and conspiracy theories.
We talked about boundaries and self-care; solidarity with impacted communities; prevention and inoculation against conspiracy theories and hate; the psychological needs that attract people to hate groups, as well as their political dimensions; and how to be an anchor to reality for people on the brink. They even asked me about Erich Fromm!
Local interfaith newspaper Fig Tree did a nice write-up profiling my work as part of their follow-up to the Hate Studies conference in the fall. It’s always a pleasure to engage the public around my research and to create more bridges between campus and community. That article is here: https://thefigtree.org/march22/030122guiohsbraun.html.
I’m speaking on a panel on Sunday, February 27 at 10:30am PT, “Separate Histories, Common Challenges,” cosponsored by Temple Beth Shalom and Spokane Jewish Family Services. The panel covers intersections between racism and antisemitism in light of current resurgent white supremacy in the U.S.
The other panelists are Spokane NAACP president Kiantha Duncan; Eastern Washington University Africana Studies program director Dr. Scott Finnie; ADL Center on Extremism investigative researcher Emily Kaufman; and Latah County Human Rights Task Force chairwoman Joann Muneta; with Gonzaga University’s Dr. Michael DeLand as moderator.
Bill Morlin, a legendary Spokane journalist and Southern Poverty Law Center writer and researcher, recently passed. His courageous reporting on the Aryan Nations compound in north Idaho was essential for this region’s pushback against white supremacist hate. I didn’t know Bill as well I’d like, but I was honored to share my appreciation of his work and his kind assistance to me after I received hate literature in the mail from Nazis several years ago: https://www.rangemedia.co/p/the-mentorship-of-bill-morlin.
The article reflects on three recent books that all address fascism’s dishonesty and denialism: Claudia Leeb’s The Politics of Repressed Guilt: The Tragedy of Austrian Silence; Federico Finchelstein’s A Brief History of Fascist Lies; and Keith Kahn-Harris’s Denial: The Unspeakable Truth.
I argue that fascists lie in at least three ways: (1) tactically, to deceive others; (2) as a psychological defense mechanism; and (3) with a degree of paradoxical sincerity, since fascism believes that truth is a product of the violent enforcement of myth, not something that can be accessed by reason.
I conclude with some reflections on denialism within American racism; the ongoing effects of Trumpism; and some recommendations for confronting fascism.
On the “tactical” lying of fascists:
“Despite decades of philosophical and sociological exploration of fascists’ fundamental dishonesty and their leering, tactical bullying—such as their repeated claims to be ‘just joking’—the general public still falls for liberal arguments for inclusion of fascists in a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ Many people still naively hope that the threat of fascism can be overcome by publicly debating fascists. This assumption fails to account for the fact that, in debating fascists, one does not enter into a collective search for truth between the debaters and audience, but rather one plays host to a tactical performance by the fascist to generate publicity, outrage, recruitment, or mockery of enemies.”
Concluding paragraph of the essay:
“Fascist movements in U.S. American society are not a bizarre fringe element to gawk at, but express structures and sentiments at the center of American history and economic, political, and social power. Overcoming the danger they pose will be a long road and will require both structural change and honest collective reflection, not mere protesting or policing. However, perhaps we can create a society more conducive to truth through building our ’embodied reflective judgment’ through genuine solidarity, confronting our own denial by being bravely honest, and confronting fascist myths of heroic greatness with the reality of the experience of its victims and survivors.”
Bridges Not Walls (a Muslim-Catholic dialogue and friendship group in Spokane that I’m involved in) is cosponsoring this event Saturday with our friends at MCAS (Muslims for Community Action and Support), along with other local groups: Saturday, Dec. 11, 2-5pm at the Women’s Club of Spokane (1428 W. 9th Ave.). All are welcome. Drop by and join us in welcoming Afghan refugee families to Spokane. There will be Afghan tea and cookies, some brief presentations, and time to meet our new neighbors.
Here is the video from my talk on Monday, November 29, to Bündnis Gegen Antisemitismus Köln (Alliance Against Antisemitism, Cologne, Germany). I enjoyed the discussion and hope that this explanation of the conspiracy theory of “cultural Marxism”–which is not just about opposition to the Frankfurt School’s ideas, but repackages the conspiracy theory of Judeo-Bolshevism for a post-Cold War context–will prove helpful. I also discuss the growing convergence of conspiracy theories targeting “cultural Marxism” and “Critical Race Theory.” Both right-wing reactionary responses, I argue, are rooted deeply in defensiveness designed to protect denial. (I have been thinking a lot lately about the role that “denial” and “denialism,” as psychological/emotional reactions, play in white supremacy and fascism. I have an article on that topic coming out next week in an open-source psychoanalytic journal, which I’ll link on this site when it becomes available.)
On Monday, November 29, 10:30 a.m. PST, I will be speaking online to Bündnis Gegen Antisemitismus – Köln (Alliance Against Antisemitism – Cologne, Germany) on the antisemitic conspiracy theory of “Cultural Marxism” and how the conspiracy theory is spreading as well as undermining antiracist education through the overlap of this conspiracy theory with conspiracy theories about “Critical Race Theory.” The talk will be in English.
“Cultural Marxism” is an antisemitic conspiracy theory about Jewish Marxist scholars belonging to the Frankfurt School. According to the conspiracy theory, these scholars implemented a slow takeover of “culture,” seeking to undermine Christianity, family, and nation in favor of a new worldview and international system of control, involving embracing diversity, sexual liberation, and moral and aesthetic decline. The conspiracy theorists believe that “cultural Marxism” now controls all areas of public life, including the media, schools, entertainment, the economy, and national and global systems of governance. Not only does this theory vastly overestimate the influence of a small group of Jewish intellectuals; it repackages old antisemitic tropes and serves as an updated, post-Cold War version of the Nazi “Judeo-Bolshevism” conspiracy theory.
The cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is popular among fascists and white supremacists, and has inspired mass shootings, including the attacks by Norwegian white nationalist Anders Breivik in 2011. However, the conspiracy theory is also making its way into the conservative mainstream. It has been favorably referenced by some conservative politicians around the world, often in the context of attacks on education and academic freedom. In the United States, the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is increasingly merging with conspiracy theories about “Critical Race Theory” which aim to shut down anti-racist education in schools and workplaces. Conspiracy theories about “Critical Race Theory” and “cultural Marxism” trade on similar fears. For example, both conspiracy theories claim that teachers are using Critical Race Theory or Cultural Marxism to suppress “free speech” or “make white children feel ashamed.” Since the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory is often merging with conspiracy theories targeting other minority groups, overcoming its influence may require uniting in solidarity against a variety of conspiracy theories targeting Jews as well as other minority groups.
Dr. Joan Braune is a Lecturer in Philosophy at Gonzaga University, and her current research explores Frankfurt School Critical Theory’s work on fascism and applies Critical Theory insights to countering the rise of fascism and far-right movements today, especially in the United States. She is author of the book Erich Fromm’s Revolutionary Hope: Prophetic Messianism as a Critical Theory of the Future (Sense Publishers 2014) and co-editor with Kieran Durkin of Erich Fromm’s Critical Theory: Hope, Humanism and the Future (Bloomsbury 2020). She has written numerous articles, including “Who’s Afraid of the Frankfurt School? ‘Cultural Marxism’ as an Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory.” She is a frequent speaker on countering hate groups, is active in the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Hate Studies. She has helped organize locally against white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups active in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
If you missed it, a video of Devin Shaw’s and my presentations on fascism for the Radical Philosophy Association is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi0kcblJrbQ&t=2548s. (My presentation was on the limits of counterextremism discourse for understanding fascism, and there was a lot of nice overlap and harmony between Devin’s presentation and mine.)