I have been thinking about the far-right’s obsession with “homelands” and with being “at home.” Paradoxically, some of those who hold the most power and have the most social stability, feel that their home is being usurped by those literally in need of one (such as refugees).
Take fascist Richard Spencer (the one that got punched in the face). An heir to Southern slave-holding plantation wealth, Spencer currently has at least two homes in the conventional sense (one in Montana and one close to Washington, D.C.), and spreading his hateful ideology appears to be his only job. That a wealthy blonde white American man believes himself to be fighting for a homeland would be comical, were his movement not so dangerous.
In an advertisement for his organization, Spencer promises prospective followers a feeling of “home”:
“Who are you? I’m not talking about your name or your occupation. I’m talking about something bigger, something deeper…Today, we seem to have no idea who we are. We are rootless…Man doesn’t live and die for freedom. Man lives and dies for a homeland.”
Spencer’s organization recently united with a few other neo-fascist and white supremacist organizations to form a coalition they are calling “Operation Homeland.”
Richard Spencer is not original. New terms like “alt-right” aside, today’s neo-fascists have the same ideology and mostly the same rhetorical tactics as their forbears a little under a century ago. For example, in a terrifying short book (Prophets of Deceit) that studies the speeches of 1940s American anti-Semitic “agitators,” Leo Lowenthal argues that the anti-Semitic agitator was unconsciously, perversely envious of the Jewish refugee, against whom the agitator preached hate and violence. The refugee, the fascist believed, was usurping his home. In response to this perceived takeover, the fascists promised “housecleaning” (akin to “swamp draining”?). Lowenthal writes:
The practical steps that the agitator advocates…consist almost uniformly of metaphors of discarding, throwing out, eliminating, as preparatory for extermination. “All refugees…should be returned to the lands from which they came”; “All aliens and former aliens should be deported.” The United States should “throw the Reds out” and “kick out” the Jews. Sometimes the orderliness and police character of the procedure is indicated by references to the need for “so called Refugees” to “be catalogued” and for compiling lists of names of the undesirables to be deported. The accompanying imagery is consistently drawn from the realm of hygiene…a “cleansing bath…of violence,” a purge “of every ‘ism,” the “political sterilization of the Jewish internationalists.”
The white American citizen fascist in the 1940s, like those today, jealously fumed that his enemies felt at home everywhere, derisively terming them “internationalists.” (Today, the equivalent term of derision used by far-right outlets like Breitbart, is “globalist.”)
Appealing not to reason but to feelings of alienation and “malaise,” the 1940s fascist agitator promised recruits “a home for the homeless,” Lowenthal suggests. The agitator assured the socially isolated individual that her sense of uneasiness in relation to the modern capitalist society could be cured, that she could feel at home again in the world. However, the fascist agitator’s promise is a false one: believing that it is impossible to make the world more loving or more just, the fascist offers only an alliance of the powerful against the powerless. At the conclusion of his book, Lowenthal offers a “translation” of the fascist agitator’s rhetoric, making explicit fascism’s latent message:
“We will ally ourselves with the powerful in order to gain part of their privilege. We will be the policemen rather than the prisoners. And I will be the leader. I will think for you, I will tell you what to do and when to do it. I will act out your lives for you in my public role as leader. But I will also protect you. In the shadow of my venom, you will find a home.”
All human beings need community, companionship, and a place of safety. But we cannot afford a world that demands that we all equally define ourselves by a psychic rootedness in our “homes” or “homelands,” as these are chosen and prescribed by leaders. We have seen before where that political ideology leads: to mass expulsions and ultimately death camps. It uproots and makes homeless the outsiders, in the name of making room for the powerful to feel more “rooted.”
By contrast, I continue to believe that it is only in our common humanity that we can find that for which “homelands” are inadequate substitutes. Instead of securing our “homeland”—the Bush administration’s creation of a “Homeland Security” agency was frightening to the left at the time, the term now almost taken for granted—we can find our security in one another and build a better future together.
Note: I would like to thank my colleague Dr. Kriszta Sajber for her recent conference paper, also on the theme of “homes” and “homelands,” which got me thinking further about this topic.