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Fascists Are Attempting to Win Followers by Rebranding as Antiwar

Fascist activists are seeking to exploit a fracture on the left over the war in Ukraine to grow their movement.

Former U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard speaks at the "Rage Against the War Machine" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on February 19, 2023.

The idea of a political coalition that mixes self-identified communists with neo-Nazis may seem implausible at first. However, a February 19 rally in Washington, D.C., branded as an effort to “Rage Against the War Machine,” brought together dissident parts of the left and the right into common opposition to the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) role in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people from so many different walks of life unite today to come out and say: It’s time for Washington to stop prolonging this war in Ukraine,” said Wyatt Reed, a reporter for the Russia-backed outlet Sputnik, before an applauding crowd.

The coalition included a strange assortment of libertarians, journalists, party-switching politicians and former presidential candidates.

Arun Gupta, a journalist who attended the rally, said the event ended up being different than it was branded. “It was not an antiwar rally because it was pretty clear that it was generally a pro-Russian bent,” Gupta told Truthout.

For those at the rally claiming the banner of the left, the greatest evil is the U.S. war machine. Some argued that supporting U.S. adversaries, even if they are far right authoritarians like Russian President Vladimir Putin, is strategically important to defeat the leading imperialist state. The far right participants claimed U.S. and European Union hegemony exports multiculturalism, liberalism and “wokeness,” thus painting over ethnic, racial, and cultural differences and foiling countries like Russia, who they say are upholding “traditional values” like homophobia, transphobia and patriarchal dominance.

“This is a religious war, it is a cultural war, and it is a political war against the people of East Ukraine who only ever wanted to go home,” said Matthew Heimbach, who was there to promote the Patriotic Socialist Front. This organization describes itself as an orthodox Marxist-Leninist socialist organization that maintains a “patriotism” for their home country and a celebration of ethnic identity, something they claim is not only conducive with socialism, but a proper manifestation of the Marxist ideal. “Patriotic socialism” is a word known to historians of communist movements, particularly those maintaining Stalinist authoritarian and nationalist trends. Antifascists argue that it is an attempt to rebrand far right politics with Marxist jargon.

For the past three years, Heimbach has attempted to distance himself from decades organizing as a U.S. neo-Nazi leader in white nationalist circles. Despite now claiming to be a part of the antiwar, socialist left, his fascist politics remain.

Many familiar with Heimbach’s history doubted his claims of conversion, as attempts to enter the activist left through a “Red-Brown Alliance” and bring fascist politics into ostensibly leftist social movements is not an uncommon strategy for the far right. With the left fractured on how to respond to U.S. intervention in the Russian war on Ukraine, this confusion has created a fissure that fascist activists may seek to exploit to grow their movement.

Not a New Tactic for Fascists

From the earliest days of the communist movement, there were many attempts to synthesize Marxist critiques of capitalism with nationalism. The most notable example may be Weimar Germany’s National Bolshevik movement, which combined social traditionalism, nationalism, and elements of fascism with an authoritarian socialist bent that often venerates leaders like Joseph Stalin. The term National Bolshevism is now often used to describe these trends that, even outside of the Russian context, mix a vulgar Marxism with autocratic nationalism and hierarchical social values.

These forces even played into the development of the National Socialist Party in Germany, with the “Strasserite” wing offering themselves as a uniquely “socialistic” form of Nazism that injected antisemitic conspiracy theories into class struggle politics. The “Strasserites,” named after Nazi leaders Gregor and Otto Strasser, argued for taking on the German elite class and employed a more thoroughly “anti-capitalist” form of Nazism. They mobilized a type of fascist economic populism, suggesting that capitalism was a system created and controlled by Jews to destroy the creative genius of the German volk. These ideas have been an important part of far right movements since, often mobilizing class struggle narratives by reframing them in antisemitic, conspiratorial and racial nationalist terms.

As income inequality and capitalist instability becomes more ubiquitously acknowledged across the working class, the right has, more generally, looked for a way to capture popular narratives around class struggle. Through its own version of anti-capitalism, the right is attempting to recruit from the left and base the notion of class struggle on ethnic nationalism and conspiracy theories. These trends are also contemporarily referred to as “Third Positionism,” an idea opposed to both capitalism and communism for their purported values of multiculturalism, egalitarianism and modernism.

Since the more fragmented political scene of the New Left, the far right has actively forged connections with social movements where it can find immediate, if superficial, agreement on immediate goals. The antiwar and anti-globalization movements of the 1990s and 2000s saw attempts at co-optation by those on the right who wanted to push for U.S. isolationism, economic nationalism, and to build alliances with authoritarian leaders who were at odds with the U.S., as well as mobilize around antisemitic conspiracy theories emerging from 9/11. Many far right activists continue to engage in “entryism,” joining left movements to push their politics rightward.

“Red-Brown Alliances, or coalitions that unite radical left-wing groups with fascists, may seem like aberrations, but they have become increasingly prominent in the last several years,” says Alexander Reid Ross, who researches far right movements. Ross says that while National Bolshevism may have emerged in the 1930s, since the 1970s, it has continued to have a heavy influence on a far right that is trying to respond to the gains of the left.

We have seen examples of left-right alliances, such as opposition from the far right to intervention in Syria in 2017, fringe actors on the left and the right uniting in opposition to the COVID vaccine, or conspiracy theories like “9/11 Truth” created an overlap between dissidents. It is conspiracism and a lack of political clarity that has allowed some on the left to ally with the right, following the misguided assumption that cross-ideological partnerships will make their movements more powerful in their battle against a common foe. In the case of the Russia-Ukraine war, far right activists can appeal to the antiwar community, and specifically anti-imperialist consciousness, which for them emerges from their support for Russia and other reactionary regimes as an alternative to the liberal West.

Heimbach has an antisemitic far right interpretation of anti-capitalism, one that sees “free markets” as a threat to national and racial sovereignty. It is not uncommon to see him support policies of economic redistribution, opposition to foreign wars, and demands for environmental protections, yet his underlying political vision shares little with the equalitarian multiculturalism of the modern left.

In April 2020, Heimbach joined the “Countering Violent Extremism” organization Light Upon Light after saying he had left the white nationalist movement, according to an interview on a podcast with the organization’s founder, Jesse Morton. Light Upon Light billed itself as a “deradicalization” group, working to expose “extremist” groups, including both white nationalist and Islamist movements, and to move former extremists out of these destructive patterns. Critics have suggested that Light Upon Light, and several similar organizations, lacked rigorous standards and often acted as a “rubber stamp” that allows white nationalists to appear reformed without doing the reparative work necessary, while also allowing them to speak as “experts” without sufficient experience.

When Heimbach joined Light Upon Light, he had recently worked with the neo-Nazi National Socialist Charitable Coalition raising money for James Alex Fields, who was convicted of murdering anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. On the Light Upon Light podcast, Heimbach blamed “Drag Queen Story Hour” and “antifa” for fascist violence. In a leaked correspondence between Heimbach and Morton, Heimbach’s self-conception becomes clear. “Cosmopolitanism is best summed up as the current neoliberal world order, where policies support the removal of all cultural, religious, and traditions of the proletariat. Cosmopolitanism is the ideological reflection of the capitalist system,” says Heimbach, before quoting Stalin.

In subsequent writing and interviews, Heimbach said he left behind white nationalism for an ideology he calls “patriotic socialism.” Building on Stalin’s theory of “Socialism in One Country,” that term suggests socialists can continue to employ nationalism, which some anti-fascists say is the definition of National Socialism. “You can be patriotic and have an ethnic identity and you can do that, but it can only be done from the perspective of socialism and solidarity,” said Heimbach in an exclusive interview, directly before saying that he still believed in race differences in IQ, that transgender people were “mentally ill,” that we had to preserve “traditional marriage,” and that Jews were “rootless cosmopolitans” who disproportionately in control of the economy and politics.

Heimbach’s previous organization, the Traditionalist Workers Party, was one of the largest formations related to the so-called “alt-right,” but the organization dissolved after Heimbach’s affair with his father in law’s wife was exposed in 2017, and he was later arrested in 2018 for assaulting his wife. He moved on to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, but was eventually expelled. “[Heimbach] was promoting some communist type stuff and it didn’t resonate well with the membership of the group,” said former NSM Commander Jeff Schoep in an exclusive 2020 interview.

Heimbach eventually rebranded as a “former white nationalist” and attempted inroads with the left. He appeared on the podcast of popular protest musician David Rovics, whom Heimbach said was a favorite of his both before and during his time in white nationalism. After backlash, Rovics temporarily took down the interview with Heimbach, though indicated he had kept up correspondence with him, and that he didn’t believe Heimbach was a fascist, and has published multiple articles singling out anti-fascists as the real threat. At this point Heimbach still faced civil litigation for his role at Unite the Right, one that he, along with co-defendants like alt-right leader Richard Spencer, was ultimately found liable for in 2021.

After the Rage Against the War Machine rally, Heimbach joined an event held by the Center for Political Innovation (CPI) after the rally. CPI, and its controversial leader Caleb Maupin, have long been accused of Red-Brown Alliances, offering an authoritarian vision of socialism that often venerates the Syrian, Russian and Iranian states, while also defending China against accusations of genocide against Muslim Uyghurs.

Maupin shares Heimbach’s synthesis of social conservatism and nationalist socialism, which has led to accusations of fascism. Former members of CPI, Maupin’s inner circle, recently issued a public statement accusing him of running CPI like a cult, holding authoritarian control over participants, and engaging in unwanted sexual conduct. Maupin has been accused of numerous far right collaborations, including being interviewed by Matt Parrott, former organizer with the Traditionalist Workers Party and Heimbach’s former father-in-law. In photos, posted by Maupin, Heimbach and his colleague, former Vanguard America member and Ohio National Guardsman Shandon Simpson, seem to be standing at the back of the crowd at the CPI event, clearly visible from Maupin’s position.

Inside of the Patriot Socialist Front, the politics look like an extension of the earlier nationalist socialism and national bolshevism that Heimbach had long prompted. According to a February 4, 2023 livestream published on Simpson’s YouTube channel and bearing the Patriotic Socialist Front’s branding, Heimbach appears to have joined the organization along with Simpson and a former neo-Nazi going by the name “Andrew Stryker.”

An investigation by Unicorn Riot revealed that Simpson was deployed to Washington, D.C., as part of the efforts to quell Black Lives Matter protests. The National Guardsman, who was photographed alongside Fields at Unite the Right, has communicated online with neo-Nazis going back to 2017, according to Unicorn Riot, who describes the chats as including “ ‘doxing’, harassing, and threatening anti-racist activists.”

The revelation that Simpson was an active National Guardsman drew attention to the issue of white nationalist organizing inside of military. The livestream was hosted under Simpson’s pseudonym, “Zoltanous,” revealed by Jared Holt of Right-Wing Watch and where Simpson communicated publicly as himself, which also appears as a byline on the Patriotic Socialist Front’s Substack account, the organization’s primary ideological publication. Heimbach’s writes that “the government and media” are using “wokeness” to justify sending “American workers” to war to suppress freedom of religion, and promote homosexuality and abortion. Heimbach in another post shows appreciation for the Nation of Islam for their beliefs about Jews.

Heimbach’s new organization’s strategy is to build a “united front” against capitalism, suggesting that both fascists and communists have a common cause. This rhetoric was common among the alt-right, with organizations such as Keith Preston’s Attack the System arguing for an alliance of anti-government white nationalists and anarcho-communists against their shared enemy, or the arguments made by European “new right” theorists like Alain de Benoist that the left and right need to form a tactical alliance of the fringes against the center.

The organization’s politics become clearer when you enter their private Telegram channels. In one chat where Heimbach was active and listed as an admin (and whose Telegram name is “John Warren”), the pinned message instructs the chatters to post “no N words.” Along with photos of the Front at CPI’s antiwar event, there are photos of antiracist protesters they suggest are a threat, posts venerating national bolshevik and authoritarian socialist leaders (such as North Korea’s Kim Il Sung), and posts about the Israel-Palestinian conflict reflecting their conspiratorial reinterpretation of anti-Zionism.

Nazi leader Gregor Strasser, Russian fascist militia the Black Hundreds, and the German terrorist group Organisation Consul all are of particular interest to the chat, amid various alt-right slang and memes. In now deleted posts leaked by antifascist researchers at Red Orchestra AFA, a group member posted an update they received from the neo-Nazi Patriot Front about threats they believe they face from “antifa” ahead of both groups’ seeming plans to travel to East Palestine, Ohio, to exploit the recent trail crash crisis. Patriot Party went as far as to share video from the Rage Against the War Machine rally on their Oregon affiliate Telegram.

The Patriotic Socialist Front is well represented in the larger “Red-Brown” chats flourishing across the messaging app Telegram, which usually combine admiration for the worst excesses of authoritarian leaders, such as Pol Pot or Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, and venerating now deceased fascist leaders. Organized in groups like the Union of Nazbols, they combine “third-worldism” with esoteric traditionalism, pro-union rhetoric combined with fear mongering about gender-affirming health care. The participants of these chats span multiple countries and languages, owing to their internationalist intentions.

At the February rally, Front members carried National Bolshevik, Soviet Union, and Imperial Russian flags, and at least one member was photographed with a “skull mask” typical of the alt-right. The logo for the Patriotic Socialist Front bears a striking resemblance to that of the openly white supremacist Traditionalist Workers Party, echoing the same synthesis of racial nationalism and economic redistribution. While there were some onlookers who questioned their participation, organizers made no attempt to remove them from the event, and there were other speakers that echoed some of their sentiments.

“I am from the alt-right, and I understand there are many comrades here who do not like my politics, and that’s fine,” said one attendee over a megaphone. “I am here because I don’t want to see the end of another great Western civilization called Russia, which is conservative and does not agree with this hyper woke culture.”

While Heimbach is still marginal, he is forging the kind of pathway that many on the far right hope to follow in order to gain access to a base of activists that fascist propaganda would otherwise not appeal to. As the crisis unfolds in East Palestine, groups like the Patriot Front, the National Justice Party, and the Patriotic Socialist Party are exploiting the very real consequences of deindustrialization, deregulation and the lack of social services to make a case for their own fascist solutions, the same way they are trying to exploit cracks in the liberal consensus around U.S. foreign policy.

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