Most of the time, my head is on straight
Most of the time, I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ’till it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick
– Dylan, “Most of the Time,” Oh Mercy (1989)
Depending on the level of credulity you apply to the DC bash, it was either led by a band of Bozos who seemed most intent on nicking the French glazed crullers right out of the Capitol Coppers cups as they watched and said, “I prefer you didn’t,” or else it was a genuine “insurrection” and Trump’s MAGA lads, at the megaphoney’s behest, were woking the nation to fraud and deceit on a scale never before realized.
Fraud and deceit among the politicians whose job description highlights compromised positions? In America? I’m going with the crullers scenario.
But however one chooses to see the events of January 6 (or ‘1/6/1’ — if you’re keeping tabs of the rolling pearl harbors), on display was fat slobby mighty whitey devilry, led by a Proud Boy FBI informant and, apparently, avid Stephen King readers over at QAnon, the couch potato caliphate, who finally got off their asses and did something. Rebel Yell in the corridors. One of them even hee-hawed off with Nancy Pelosi’s podium, although I’m told she maintained control of the gavel.
Well, I might find it all funny, I was born white, and thus into the right integumentary caste, no power, no money, but plenty of this (he pulls his cheek to show the purity of his stock, slightly acne-pocked). Even the Cappie Cop who had his life ‘extinguished’ by some loudmouthed firebrand turns out to have been a pawn in the media’s game to turn the slapstick event into a reason for a new Domestic Terrorism bill. The NYT was the first major outlet to express how wonderful it would be to see drones filling the Skies Of America. Now I see why.
Investigative journalist Talia Lavin doesn’t think it’s all funny though. In Culture Warlords: My Journey Into The Dark Web Of White Supremacy, Lavin, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, had her own ‘woke’ moment at the Charlottesville, VA 2017 white supremicist rally, when “White supremacists that weekend chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and filled the air with cries of deus vult—“god wills it,” a Crusader battle cry.” Never again kicked in.
And she vowed to herself on the spot to take some chimps down, somehow conjuring up the chutzpah to take on the raw, unprocessed evil, hatred and anger that fuels the MAGA Right. She hung out with them in the dungeon-minded Deep Web. Her journo mission: “It was a means to elevate the grim, dirty business of racist violence.” It’s not funny, but she brings her wryest Jewish humor.
Culture Warlords (2020) was published before the recent presidential election but it contains far deeper insights to the promulgation of ideology and forces that led to the January 6 event, another new milestone of our seemingly choreographed national demise that, at times, seems like a Hollywood script, complete with gratuitous visceral violence, special effects, and hammed up acting. That’s not what’s trippy. It’s the far-out manipulated response to the B-grade movie that brings flashbacks where previously there was no Nam. Hmph.
It’s mighty dangerous work Lavin sets out on, especially being a self-described
[S]chlubby, bisexual Jew, living in Brooklyn, with long brown ratty curls, the matronlyfigure of a mother in a Philip Roth novel, and brassy personal politics that aren’t particularly sectarian but fall considerably to the left of Medicare for All.
Full disclosure: She sounds like my kind of woman. I can imagine breaking sabbath bread over each other’s head, maybe with some lox. But probably it was the Philip Roth that snagged my heart. The Jew-qua-Jew doesn’t do much for me one way or the other. But “The Conversion of the Jews” made me cry with laughter when I was a kid. Or maybe it was Portnoy’s Complaint. And Lavin seemed at times to be livin’ it up, making the Zogs go left, but mostly right, to safely catch her love with their safety sheets — presumably just their KKK sheets pulled off as acts of chivalry. Yeah, chivalry. That’s the ticket.
Lavin gets into it. Imagine if you discovered that the descendants of the Aryans you thought were taken care of at the Hague war crimes tribunal many years before had grown up as Classics Illustrated versions of their forbears — Toon brains, the sound of Jew’s Harp in every step taken, all achy-breaky for old time pie-eatin’ patriotism. MAGA caps man-datory. She’s antifa, and she wants a piece of them.
Culture Warlords has ten chapters covering three main areas: Jewish (and others) identity — the object they hate from subject;s POV; Lavin’s infiltrations into the seedy side of life amongst the largely male, gloomily under-sexed revenge-patriots (‘If I can’t git laid, then we need a revolution.’); and, what to do about these travesties of the dim lit, Just Is lifestyle. Lavin’s prose is clever, articulate and passionate, and includes lots of funny cultural ‘anthropological’ observations — the kind that get stand-up comedians invited back to the Hole in the Wall club again.
One of her first dark web infiltration is in June 2019. She finds (or loses) herself in a chatroom called “The Bunkhouse,” where in the wee hours of one morning, “hazy and sleepless, I found a discussion in the chat room about whether I was too ugly to rape.” She listens in quietly. They go on and on, Lavin thinking to the reader that she can’t fathom what their problem with her is, as she’s had only a few pieces published at that point about white supremacists
I’d written a feature for the New Yorker and another for the New Republic on far-right shenanigans…they hardly amounted to a substantive blow against a rising American fascist movement. But there they are, going on:
Most users found me too ugly to rape—“Talia Lavin’s appearance makes me viscerally ill,” “I can smell her through the monitor,” “Talia Levin [sic] would make me wanna throw up my intestines.”
Yuck. Intestines? Probably watched Zombieland too many times.
One user outdoes them all, “James Mason” (presumably, and appropriately, channeling Humbert Humbert from Lolita) pipes up, “I’d rape her with my double barrel.” She’s perplexed by “how strange it was that a complete stranger had expressed the desire to rape me with a double-barreledshotgun.” Misogyny and ant-semitism and racism abound. Some of them discuss fantasies of Lavin having sex with dogs. She writes, “That was my first real
encounter with anti-Semitism in its modern incarnation, out of the jackboots and behind the keyboard.” And this is key: Internet activities have emboldened dweebs and devils alike. And the January 6th sugar-glazed cruller revolution was scariest for its bizarre comedy. The nut jobs are on the loose.
And not just leaving their dark web jungle gyms behind to ‘come out’ in numbers (I counted at least 12 electoral college rioters at Das Capitol for the beer-belly putsch). But the crazy, as some of us have suspected for along time, are also found in the midst of our Congresspersons, some of whom abetted Trump, some even bringing in handguns into the chamber (some guns nicknamed, like, Marilyn Chambers), in case they had to deliver “a love letter straight from the heart, fucker.”
Incredibly, just as the acid of impeachment was wearing off, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene was called on the carpet (still wet from where some QAnoner took a pee) for a antisemitc gobbledygoo assertion that California’s wildfires were causes by Jewish laser David beams from outer space. Or something like that. As a Guardian piece points out, instead of being taken out on a gurney to the local looney bin for bun injections of happy, she was given “a standing ovation.” Hmph.
And further, in another piece, and almost as an afterthought, the Press reminded us that Congress also contains Jackie Speier, a survivor of the Jim Jones Guyana Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Club, an especially ironic allusion since JJ shot a congressman to death when he came to visit in 1978. She told fellow Congresspersons that Trump was a “cult” leader and that we must mind against “groupthink.” She, too, got a standing ovation, except for Mitch McConnell who was overheard saying to a Capitol cop, “If she moves toward the punchbowl, shoot her. She might be a Jones mole.”
Meanwhile, back in the book, Lavin, working at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, is having to deal with the neo-Nazi group, Stormfront, who were taking interest in diesen Juden Knödel mit der knicky knöckers. Mail arrived:
Anonymous figures gave graphic descriptions of what they wanted to do to our writers: murder, dismemberment, torture. It was clear that the reasons they wished to do this had everything to do with the fact that we were Jews.
This deeply good-natured woman responded to this tripe with a desire to fight the power, the ivory snow power of white supremacy.
There’s so much grist that Lavin doesn’t know where to begin again. She dives back into the Dumpster, this time dressed as “Aryan Queen,” who was to be, for the day at least, “a sexy young woman with an interest in saving the white race through violence.” Men looking for Kates and bogies in all the wrong bloodsucking places again. Lavin writes, “I went to dark places; I spoke to bad people and good people on the front lines of the battle for America.” She listened to them describe murderer Robert Bowers as a “saint,” heard buzzwords over and over — kill, kikes, blood, violence. Podcasts, videos, Racism “as their raison d’etre.” Then, she says, she “snapped.”
After multiple dives into a throwaway culture she wasn’t sure could take much more. It went beyond even what she had anticipated:
I admit it: I started this book angry at the racist right. I set out with the idea of writing a profane but intellectual, impassioned but clear book to spell out just exactly who these people are and what they want to do. Before I started writing, I was already the top Google search result for “greasy fat kike,” thanks to neoNazi website the Daily Stormer.
She was expecting to be among monsters, but was flummoxed by ‘the banality of evil’ factor, as time and again she owned she was dealing with people, not monsters.
Lavin is almost unable to cope with the fact that there is no easy divide between these racists and ordinary people, no Mason-Dixon line of the heart. She writes,
Just people, mostly men and some women, all over this country and this world, who have chosen to hate, to base the meaning of their lives on hate, to base their communities of solidarity on hate, to cultivate their hate with tender, daily attention. They are just people, people with an entire alternate curriculum of history, who operate within an insular world of propaganda, built to stoke rage and incite killings and for no other purpose at all.
In this light, they sound an awful lot like the thieves and vandals and loudmouths who descended upon American Rome like cartoon Visigoths on Jan 6.
They don’t look like gargoyles or twisted up fiends (most of them), the way you’d expect hatred to emanate and seethe from the pores of rabid dogmatists, changing their features, making them day by day even less sexually attractive to ordinary women, until they, at last, long for someone to frag them with a gay grenade so that they can break out of the “blue” spectrum. But no, it’s not like that so much, not so much as the MSM paints it:
They could work in the next cubicle over and you might not know it; sit one seat over in class from you and you might not know it; live in your neighborhood, play on your sports team, and you would never know that deep in the night they trade photos of lynchings like baseball cards, and laugh…The hate they promulgate and the violence they desire are the culmination of dozens or hundreds of small human choices.
I’m feeling suddenly suspicious, the adjunct to paranoid, feeling surrounded by people out to get other people, probably including me. It’s a dark valley.
Lavin points out one ‘philosophical’ intention of the White Supremacist movemnent — the notion of “Accelerationism.” As times get tougher and scapegoats are yet again needed to distract from the real reasons for America’s decline, many of the groups had in common the one goal of accelerating toward a race war and, perhaps, a new Civil War, with a view to slaughtering Jews and Blacks, and probably women who won’t put out. Lavin describes it as
a philosophy of far-right accelerationism—the notion that a white-supremacist revolution can be attained only through violence, not politics or rhetoric, and that the best time to begin such violent acts is right now.
Jan 6 could be the beginning of the shape of things to come.
Such a desire for a new war that re-subjugates Blacks to a new version of overt slavery recalls an observation by Civil War congressman Clement Vallandigham, who, in a speech (1864) on the nature of the slavers, said:
Certainly, sir, there are two white races in the United States, both from the same common stock, and yet so distinct — one of them so peculiar — that they develop different forms of civilization, and might belong, almost, to different types of mankind.
Certainly the sense of these crackers belonging to another race altogether pervades Lavin’s narrative. Vallandigham, a Democrat, and leader of a pacifist group, the Copperheads, was opposed to the Civil War and called on Americans to reject the nations’ first draft. Vallandigham believed that a war could be avoided, slavery ended elsewise.
Recently, I re-watched two movies from the Reagan era, which deal with the rise of hatred, anger and evil in the public discourse, but before the Internet, when zealots and cabals of all stripes had to meet physically, regularly to plan chicanery and violence. Both films Talk Radio and Betrayed were released in 1988, just at the end of the Reagan ‘voodoo economics’ period, when some people were chomping at the bit to find scapegoats for the trickle-down economic benefits of letting the raiders do whatever they wanted on Wall Street. And, of course, there was talk of taking out the Russians. They’ve been handy for 75 years — no corrupt Democracy would want to leave home without them.
In Talk Radio, an Oliver Stone film based on the play by Eric Bogosian (who also stars in both), a radio host rises to popularity by his rough fielding of calls from the hate-filled and ignorant who seem to fill the wee hours of America’s heartland. The play and film is based on true events. The antisemitic murder of radio host Alan Berg in Colorado in 1984. Berg was killed by a member of the Turner’s Diary-inspired David Lane, who was, writes Lavin,
a member of the terror cell the Order, wrote a tract while imprisoned for Berg’s murder that came to be known as the “white genocide manifesto”—echoing alarms about white “racial suicide” dating back to the era of eugenics.
In prison for the murder, Lane wrote a tract in which he avers, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Some people actually believe this shit.
At one point in the film, the Berg-like character becomes so frustrated with the bottomless ignorance and immutability of his listeners that hee seems bound for a breakdown. In an impassioned monologue directed at his hateful listeners, some of whom call up just to hate on his Jewishness, and others who “love” him for the entertainment value of his honest analysis, he screams at them, “What’s the matter with you? Why do you keep coming back?” He’s at tethers end.
But a far more effective film for depicting how such hatred is integrated into a “normal” heartland community is the Tom Beringer-Debra Winger vehicle, Betrayed. The film begins the way Talk Radio ended — with a murder. Winger plays an undercover FBI agent out to discover who gunned down a talk show radio host, also seemingly based on Alan Berg. One of the more chilling scenes I’ve ever watched in a film has Winger’s character saying goodnight to the widower Beringer’s two kids, only to have the innocence of the moment broken by their repetition of Dad’s hatred for Blacks and Jews. Unbelievable, the molestation of mental freedom, but commonplace among the haters.
In the end of Culture Warlords, Lavin openly admits to and expresses pride in belonging to antifa. Her definition and purpose of the “movement” is as good anyone’s and more summary:
Antifa is short for “antifascists” (or “antifascism”), a leaderless, loosely organized movement whose primary purpose is to block, outmaneuver, and dismantle far-right and fascist organizing. It takes a number of distinct forms—from identifying and publicizing the real names of far-right activists; to infiltrating far-right groups and attempting sabotage from within; to counterprotesting at fascist rallies.
Lavin seems to approach such infiltrations as a dangerous game. It’s important to keep separate identities for that purpose and to hide one’s digital footprints. There appears to be quite a bit of it going on. The head of the Proud Boys was recently outed as an FBI snitch after the Jan 6 farce, and the group now seems fractured and on the point of disbanding. Infiltration would seem to be an effective tactic for disrupting the Dark Web machinations and conspiracies.
In any case, it’s an energetic and enlightening read and highly recommended.