In the age of the alt-right, antifascist organizing is increasingly a topic of mainstream political dialogue. While most of what is focused on in the news consists of misinformation around subjects such as black bloc, Nazi punching, and deplatforming, there is another tactic that largely goes undiscussed: counter-recruitment.
First off, let’s get this out of the way: counter-recruitment is not necessarily about converting someone to your point of view, but rather refocusing their aim from those most marginalized in society towards those actually responsible for oppression. In other words, it’s not about turning people into socialists, anarchists, libertarians, or whatever, but rather it’s about making them realize that immigrants, anti-police brutality activists, people of color, etc. are not their enemy. This does not mean that counter-recruitment never succeeds in converting someone politically, just that even if it doesn’t that doesn’t mean it’s a failure.
One of the prime examples of this praxis comes from efforts involving the American Pit Vipers (APV). APV is a “patriot militia” with a traditionally conservative leaning. They are self-styled “Constitutional defenders” and consider themselves part of the larger patriot militia movement, a movement that unfortunately is rife with white supremacist and alt-right infiltration. Yet APV ranks itself among the few within said movement to openly denounce such bigoted fringes after their local Redneck Revolt chapter reached out to them to open up a dialogue.
Despite the original skepticism, APV began to open up after realizing that much of what they thought of RR was “fake news” and that they had more commonalities than differences. Over time, these meetings came to include both members of the local Black Lives Matter chapter and members of the local Heritage Not Hate movement. Throughout all of this, none of these groups changed their underlying politics, missions, etc. but instead came to a clearer understanding of each other and their true agendas, minus all of the propaganda. This has led to a rather strange alliance which has included several BLM members officially joining the APV, as well as the APV and the local HNH chapter officially endorsing and attending BLM protests. BLM’s facebook group photo even has members of all of these groups standing as a united front against racism, with one member still proudly waving a confederate battle flag. It is a strange sight indeed but at the end of the day folks saw the lies they were told about each other for what they truly were: they saw that anybody truly fighting for limited government and against tyranny should automatically support BLM.
It’s not just conservative movements like APV that are targeted by fascists as recruiting grounds, but thankfully there’s no shortage of groups springing up to combat them. Groups like the Traditionalist Workers Party and people like Richard Spencer have tried to make inroads within the socialist left by utilizing national bolshevik, strausserite, and third positionist rhetoric. At the same time, they have made much further inroads into the Libertarian Party and surrounding movements. Thankfully groups like Anti-Fascist Action (Antifa) and the Libertarian Anti-Fascist Committee have done their best to fight against fascist recruitment within their respective movements.
One of the most important aspects of counter-recruitment is to listen to people’s concerns and get to their root causes. A great example of this comes from Andrew Yangs’s 2020 presidential campaign, namely his handling of the issue of immigration. While far from a perfect platform on the issue, he does make it very clear that a wall will not solve the underlying issue. The main reasons cited for fearing such immigration tend to be crime and job loss. He brushes off the first concern as unsubstantiated while going full force into addressing the second. What he points out is that immigrants aren’t the reason for rampant job loss but rather automation is.
By listening to the concerns of Trump voters, pondering the roots of said concerns, and offering alternative solutions that directly address those concerns without throwing others under the bus, we can help shift societal views and combat fascist recruitment efforts. Fascists are great at taking people’s real concerns and misdirecting the blame towards marginalized groups. We need to reverse that trend. Ignoring the original problems that led them to seek solutions from such a vile crowd only serves to leave these people feeling alienated and unheard. When one feels like their needs are not being addressed, and then someone finally offers hope of a solution, no matter how asinine, then desperate and alienated people will latch onto those “solutions.” When confronted by antifascists who attack them for being wrong without ever offering a solid alternative solution to the underlying issue, these types tend to double down and defend the only “solution” they’ve been offered thus far.
It is precisely because Yang addresses the needs of truck drivers, factory workers, etc. that he is able to swing Trump voters away from more dangerous anti-immigrant “solutions.”
Because of his unwillingness to ignore the core concerns of the problems of people who are susceptible to bigoted solutions, Yang has been slandered as a crypto-fascist or at least someone who is pandering to the alt-right. While his immigration policy is still pretty right-of-center (as with most Democrats) and a cause for concern, upon further examination it seems that this is not the case that he is pandering but rather he is attempting to direct people away from bigotry and violence as solutions to their issue and clear up the propaganda which blames immigrants and other scapegoats for the problems caused by corporations and the state. Education and outreach are not the same as pandering, and they are important parts of counter-recruitment. Such outreach involves meeting people where they are at, even if you have to go on Ben Shapiro.
So in the end, anti-fascist counter-recruitment is less about conversion and purity politics and more about education, compassion, outreach, and open dialogue. This, combined with deplatforming, doxxing, and mass counter-protests can go a long way towards squashing the power of fascist organizing in our communities and putting an end to their campaigns of political and physical violence in our communities once and for all.