I’ve always rejected out of hand the notion that the political spectrum is a horseshoe, that the far-right and far-left are close to one another in various ways. However, what I’ve seen in Facebook groups on both sides of the Atlantic is that the far-right is stealthily digging a tunnel in order to insinuate its ideas into the far-left and beyond.
This mostly takes the form of memes promoting conspiracy theories which target ‘privileged elites’. Superficially persuasive videos blame (most commonly) the Rothschild family (a long-standing anti-semitic canard) and The Vatican for the world’s chaos and corruption. Such videos are distributed by sites which a moment’s investigation reveals to be teeming in pro-Putin/Trump and climate denial material. However, the conspiratorial tone in which they are presented is like catnip to online audiences desperate for easy explanations of troubling but confusing events.
Conspiracy thinking has often been called ‘the poor man’s ideology‘. It’s easier to understand the notion that a secretive group of powerful people controls the world than it is to pick apart the myriad ways in which capitalism preserves itself as a chaotic but impersonal system, in terms of both interacting repressive institutions and also via conservative ideas which circulate at every level – including the ideas that we ourselves hold.
It’s also deeply comforting to think that someone, somewhere is in charge, partly because it lets our own roles in preserving that system off the hook. The problem is always other people’s corruption and venality, none of which can even be addressed directly because They Control Everything. This enables the consumer of conspiracy theories to do nothing but read, watch and share the hidden truth, and to remain in every other way politically passive. Like the ultimate function of a dream, conspiracy theorising works to keep you asleep.
The conspiracist worldview also, ironically, makes those who subscribe to it easy manipulable. Trump’s anti-‘MSM’ tweets are a very clear sign that widespread hostility towards all mass media suits the needs of those who hold formal office. It means what they do and their reasons for doing it face no scrutiny. The fact that he calls all media which questions his power ‘fake’ and instructs his supporters to ignore whatever it says should remind us how essential a free media is to democracy.
What Trump is doing in his blundering way has already been done in a much more sophisticated manner by the Kremlin, with Russia Today. With its line-up of charismatic rebels such as Max Keiser, RT is consistently entertaining. Like all such media, it provides simple but compelling explanations of complex events. Much of its coverage is relatively innocuous, following the same line as other channels. But there is a clear and very clever conspiratorial line in its reporting which dovetails with the content of explicitly right-wing outlets like Infowars and Breitbart, with their pseudo-radical insinuations of a secret Jewish liberal agenda known as the New World Order. That narrative is not coherent, because it doesn’t need to be: it just needs to titillate to the point of being shareable. It is a very short succession of clicks from RT videos showing the ‘truth’ about Russia’s involvement in Syria to ones promoting the idea of a jew-run plot to dominate humanity or denying climate change. It and the videos which (not by coincidence) exist in its orbit are a gateway drug to the far-right.
A key element of media literacy is knowledge of who owns a particular outlet. We need to know who is telling us a given story. Those of us on the Left know to steer clear of Fox News, The Sun, etc. People are also right to be suspicious of the BBC’s coverage of UK politics, given the compromises and connections at the level of personnel. Westminster journalists are often too close to their subjects to have a wider perspective, and they often come to identify with the worldview of those they cover. But the question of whose media we are consuming is even more important on the Internet, because there we are exposed to much more and much more sophisticated means of manipulation.
We need to know which sites to avoid. In particular, those who moderate left-wing forums need to know which sites to automatically block. A good rule of thumb is that if something mentions the Rothschilds or talks about the NWO, it comes from a far-right source and has no place in a left-wing group. However, given the sophistication of attempts to insinuate reactionary ideas into radical circles, we need to be more precise. That’s why this list (helpfully posted by a friend on a pro-Corbyn forum) is so very useful. It consists of a checklist of sites, identifying which are legitimate and which are known to be pushing an insidious agenda. It flags up, for example, the sites yournewswire.com and anonews, both of which I have seen linked to several times in nominally left-wing Facebook groups over the last few days. On each occasion dozens of people who see themselves as progressive have been taken in, liking and sharing material which a moment’s inspection reveals to be far-right propaganda. The Left needs to be much more vigilant about the danger such videos represent. Jeremy Corbyn may represent many things to many people; those who see him as the new David Icke need to be made actively unwelcome in left-wing circles.