Columns

MRR #436 • September 2019

Ultra-radical punk teachers!

SHAMELESS PLUG: This column has blossomed into a new book: Teaching Resistance: Radicals, Revolutionaries, and Cultural Subversives in the Classroom, coming out this October on esteemed imprint PM Press! Check out the slick promo video (with a soundtrack from THE MINUTEMEN, thanks Mike Watt) and presale link right here! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ww3/teaching-resistance-radicals-in-the-classroom-the-book

Ultra-radical punk teachers! Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous to many of you. School, especially primary and secondary school (before college) has not been traditionally designated as a place where punks have flourished. A quick tally of the number of punk and hardcore songs that mention school can reach easily into the hundreds, almost always describing it as a cursed place that inspires alienation, conflict, misinformation, abuse from authority figures, and utter hatred. It is precisely because of these passionate feelings about school that more punks need to become teachers.

Teaching, especially in the United States, is one of the most overwhelming, under-compensated, and difficult jobs a slightly-overeducated person can do. It is also potentially one of the most inspiring and life-affirming jobs that exist, one of the few “professional” jobs (outside of professional activism) where actual political radicals can make a genuine difference in the lives of many people. Those who hated school as an oppressive, alienating environment often tend to make the best teachers, teachers who have a strong urge to make learning stuff suck less for students who feel like they are being stepped on and left out—students who are like they were. As a subculture literally built from alienation, punk has proven to be an excellent recruiting ground for the kind of teachers who want to teach their students—especially those who are marginalized and have experienced systemic oppression—how to deconstruct the living shit out of everything, speak up, and fight back.

When Teaching Resistance started in 2015, I was pretty aware of the dirty semi-secret that there are many highly-educated punks, but I never realized how many of them—particularly the politically-radical ones—are teachers, from preschool up through the loftiest levels of Universities. Many work in the humanities, especially English and Social Sciences, which affords them excellent opportunities to indoctrinate the living hell out of kids with wild ideas about things like radical autonomy, destruction of hierarchies, radical critiques of identity and the construction of knowledge, critical class/gender/racial justice studies, and so much more.

Being a Social Studies teacher in a high school (and formerly an adult school), I am fortunate to be able to have incredible conversations every day with a bunch of wily, sassy, angry, beautiful young minds who are just itching to tear everything down and build an entirely new world in its place—sounds like the kind of punk I like. I feel lucky to have this job, and lucky to have heard so many stories from those who are like me and also do this insane thing.

So—with the launch of this newfangled all-online MRR, this is the official inaugural re-launch of the Teaching Resistance column, and a big open call for all radical punk teachers all over the world to send me your stories, your lesson plans, your reflections, your rants, your reportage of important labor struggles, anything you—as a teacher—feel needs to be heard! And so, here’s the old-school pitch from the magazine; get it together, punk teachers and send me some stuff so we can hear your voice!

The Teaching Resistance column is designed to provide a platform for radical, punk-affiliated, subversive teachers/educators to share their ideas and draw attention to important issues around education; particularly compulsory- and community-based education. If you are a teacher (anywhere in the world) for students of primary or secondary school ages (K-12), Community Colleges, or alternative learning arrangements such as collectivist free schools, and you want to submit an idea for a column, please write an email to teachingresistance@gmail.com.
—John No, Teaching Resistance editor

Welcome to the Fuckin’ Future!

Welcome to the fuckin’ future! No more ink-stained fingers, no more magazines lost in the mail, no more having to wait a month to see your column in print because somebody forgot to run it…you know, the future isn’t that bad if you really think about it. Of course, life isn’t all cyber-rainbows and byte-rflies as yours truly managed to break the fuck out of his ankle at a SHITCOFFINS/THERAPY gig a couple months ago, requiring surgery and a lot of enforced boredom (I fucking had to miss SOW THREAT, which I am still pretty pissed about). It wasn’t a ton of fun kicking my legally-acquired opiate addiction from the painkillers either, but we’re not here to talk about my various miseries, we’re here to talk about the latest (*) in dumb, noizy loud punk!

(* some of this stuff is pretty old, since it took a while for me to write this and MRR to be ready to post it. Est quod est.)

The supernatural shit golem that is currently the Fuhrer of these United States can shit talk Baltimore all he wants—those in the know know that Baltimore is a rad city. Its many assets include a very reasonable cost of living, one of the best aquaria on the East Coast, Celebrated Summer record shop, and it played a huge role in lives and legacies of two of America’s greatest pop culture icons: Edgar Allen Poe and John Waters! On top of all that, the greater Baltimore area is also the home turf of VARIATION, a new band featuring some of the originators of the US noizecore revival. Rising from the ashes of CHAOS DESTROY, much of what made that band great is evident in the two VARIATION demos (One and Two, respectively), primarily the frenetic lead bass and the songwriting that embraces frequent and dramatic shifts in tempo. Some of the song structures are so heavily informed by powerviolence that they could just as easily be slotted in alongside CROSSED OUT on a mixtape as CONFUSE. That being said, the heart and soul of VARIATION are deeply rooted in the Kyushu sound, particularly the more hardcore-oriented bands like GAI, demo-era NO CUT and the VIOLENCE YOUTH FLAK. VARIATION are definitely a darker band than CHAOS DESTROY, with much nastier vocals and more aggressive, hard-hitting drumming. The creepy minimalist approach to the art reinforces that darkness while evoking the shit-fi classics of the ’80s.  Both demos were self-released by the band and are well worth checking out, with the piss-raw rehearsal recording that makes up the b-side of One being a particular highlight for the noize extremists. Those who appreciate a bit more refinement will prefer Two, which has a really excellent recording, still raw but very well-balanced while highlighting the painful-sounding vocals (good luck searching the internet for “Variation One” haha).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Chiba Japan’s U.D.A. (USED DAMAGED ASSHOLE) are mining a similar sound to VARIATION and achieving similarly excellent results. The most impressive thing about their rather plain-looking Demonstration Disc (available from the band or from the UK’s Private Scandal Productions) is the fact that this is a hardcore band that does not indulge in any of the hardcore tricks of the trade aside from speed and distortion. The riffing, the themes, the vocals are all 100% pure punk, just performed at a ridiculous pace and with maximum noize inserted wherever possible. Indignation-era CONFUSE are a touchpoint, with a large dollop of SWANKYS-style brattiness included as well (as evidenced by the title and content of the disc-opening “Black Belt’s Masturbation”). My copy came with a badge that’ll probably raise more questions than it’s worth to wear in public.

Private Scandal also graced the world with the first-ever internationally-distributed release by the long-running off-again, on-again Chiba noizepunk band THE C+C, recently subject to an excellent feature piece in Private Scandal zine. The Demonstration 2 CD features three tracks of glammy, attitude-heavy punk that sit comfortably on an axis between SLADE and SWANKYS. The foundation is built upon ’77 revival punk à la VIBRATE TWO FINGERS and the like, but the sound is touched by both hardcore and psychedelia. “20th Cenzury Boy” is a plain tip-off of that, as is the chaotic falling-apartness of the aptly titled “Unfinish.” This is a sound that will be very familiar to a very small group of people and (hopefully) will be fresh and revelatory to many more. One can only hope that this is a sampling of things to come in the near future and not an isolated release in the band’s very erratic schedule.

Speaking of bands making triumphant returns, Canada’s d-beat monster ABSOLUT has returned, battling through severe adversity to return to gigging and to produce the 2019 Demonstration cassette! ABSOLUT have been evolving throughout their existence, adding thick layers of metal to their later ANTI-CIMEX-inspired core. This new material continues that trend with a thrash attack so intense that it’s more reminiscent of GHOUL (US) than anything with a DIS-prefix. The drumming is excellent, both in execution and recording, heavy on the double kicks without over complicating things, very much recalling the work on ZADKIEL’s pioneering metal punk EP Hell’s Bomber. The bleak vocals (some of the darkest wailing this side of MUNDO MUERTO) and the frequent use of the melodic minor in the riffs are very Absolut Country of Sweden though the thrash quotient intensifies as the record progresses. ABSOLUT obviously is aware that bands like DESTRUCTION and SODOM were just as inspired by DISCHARGE as ’CIMEX were, and the blistering closing track (“Desecrate”) explores that same space to great effect. These four songs blast by so quickly I still can’t quite tell where one ends and the other begins.  The basic-as-dirt layout for the tape recalls the promo cassettes of olden times, when smaller metal labels with big dreams would blanket radio stations and stores with endless same-y looking tapes of upcoming releases. I wonder if it’s an intentional reference?

This is a super late-pass, but since we’re on the subject of brutal bands I gotta at least touch on UNARM’s The Voice From the Forced Silence EP. UNARM have previously struggled to capture their live ferocity on vinyl (the 2010 EP and most of the LP simply do not do the source material justice) but goddamn this thing hits on all cylinders! The meaty recording does every aspect of the band justice while highlighting Nanae’s hoarse, throat-ripping vocals and Nenji’s relentless drum attack (a generation ago this guy would have fit in flawlessly on FRIGORA’s drum stool). The songwriting has a veteran confidence and swagger than recalls Bay Area vets like SHIT COFFINS or NEEDLES, existing within a tradition without explicitly aping any one band or style. There are elements of crust, elements of noize but mostly this is just good old fucking hardcore punk, delivered by a band that has finally perfected every element of their secret formula. Kudos to Adult Crash records for having the good taste and good timing to release this one!

Osaka’s FEROCIOUS X haven’t had any particular troubles with their recordings but their recent jaunt to Australia represented a very rare overseas trip in their storied history. To celebrate, Hardcore Victim paired them with Australia’s own SISTEMA EN DECADENCIA for a limited split EP.  First off, it’s a great looking record with a clear cut’n’paste aesthetic, art drawn from any number of esoteric punk and occult sources. The included tour poster looks fantastic and I’m sure can now be found gracing the walls of many of the finer punk houses down under. FEROCIOUS X kick things off with the vicious “Varld av Skit,” a nasty short shock of Scandi-core that’s of a piece with the recent Den Gra Sannigen cassette (now reissued on EP) material. The second and final track (“Varning till Gelenskap”) is a rare mid-tempo burner from the usually furiously-paced band, with a strong later AVSKUM vibe. Personally, I prefer the faster stuff but it is an unusual and thus interesting change of pace. Split-mates SISTEMA EN DECADENCIA have an extremely chaotic sound, even for this style of crasher-y crust. Indeed, they wouldn’t sound terribly out of place on one of the early noisecore compilations like Nobody Listens Anymore! The excellent recording preserves the band’s raw as fuck sound while sacrificing none of its chaos or power. As always, I’d rather have been there than have the tour record, but as far as those things go this is one of the better ones (to be fair, anything involving FEROCIOUS X is usually superior).

Having no clever segue available at this juncture, let me simply tell you that PISTOL JOKE’s latest is a flexi-disc entitled Frustration Noise and it is a fucking rager. There’s a bit more hardcore intensity to this than their previous recordings, particularly in the aggressive backing vocals, but you’ll never mistake this for DEATH SIDE or anything—PISTOL JOKE is a noizy pogo-punk band through and through. The base is equal parts CHAOTIC DISCHORD, DISORDER (there’s a flagrant “Daily Life” rip that runs through “Noise and Beer”) and the EJECTED, the filter is the early Pogo 77 catalog à la TOM & BOOT BOYS, DISLIKE and SHIT-FACED, with the end result being some artfully sloppy (these guys are much better musicians then they’re usually willing to admit), super-catchy drunk fucking punk. This wobbly little record is housed in a nice sturdy sleeve to help prevent damage, and unlike many of these records actually received a pretty decent pressing, with different cover variations for distribution to Japan and overseas. Highest recommendation for fans of noizepunk, drunk punk and songs called “All Fuck.”

Pogo 77 boss Nori celebrated the milestone of 100 releases on his label with a pair of TOM & BOOT BOYS reissues, the Demo 1995 and Demo 1996 EPs (POGO 100 and 101). Look, at the best of times T&BB aren’t exactly the most technical or innovative of bands and of course the early demos are even simpler than their later, more “polished” works but c’mon, that’s the appeal of these things! Demo 1995 is definitely the more shambolic of the two, highlighted by the one-note guitar solo in “Shut Up and Die” that goes on and on, and the way “We Are Still Punks” just kind of peters out like the band succumbed to drink mid-recording. Demo 1996 is a much more fully-realized model of T&BB, featuring faster, shorter songs that established the template for pretty much everything else the band has done since. The amount of f-words they were able to fit into “Fuck You” puts me to shame, and my swearing game is pretty on-point. These are deeply, unabashedly inessential but for the life of me I can’t imagine a single reason not to want them. In a world that is so constantly bleak and cruel, the cheerful formulas offered by TOM & BOOTS BOYS (beer=good, punk=good, beer+punk=everything) are more essential than ever.

Reissue specialists FOAD Records are on another tear right now, I especially want to highlight the CRAWL NOISE Wall of Noisecore 1987/1989 LP because I’m not sure the ad copy or the online hype really captures just how nutty this record is both in terms of content and context. First of all, this is shit-fi of the absolute highest order, up there with the DECAY and GENOCIDE ASSOCIATION. The short version of the story is that back in 1987, when grindcore was just emerging as a genre, somehow a handful of Swiss dudes in a relatively rural area got together and formed one of the very first noisecore bands in history! This is pioneering stuff, just as if not more chaotic and extreme than their contemporaries 7 MINUTES OF NAUSEA and MERCILESS NOISE. The A-side features the band’s two “studio” demos (the second was recorded in a cowshed on a farm!), ultra raw, blurry whirlwinds of guttural vocals, cement mixer guitars and ridiculously fast drumming (the drummer would be poached by FEAR OF GOD when C.N. wound down). On the reverse, two of the band’s very rare live performances are captured, the first (7/7/87!) liberally scattered with covers of then brand-new NAPALM DEATH tracks, the second (29/2/88) much more focused and intense and devoted almost entirely to original material. This is a rare record where the inclusion of live material is really worthwhile and not just obvious filler. By the way, pay attention to the labels! This is one of those 45/33 LPs and it could be a very confusing experience for a listener who misses that. Fans of this kind of chaotic noisecore will also do well to check out F.O.A.D.’s recent reissues of Greece’s SOUND POLLUTION and the SOUND POLLUTION/7 MINUTES OF NAUSEA collaboration band INDUSTRIAL RESISTANCE for more of the same!

F.O.A.D. also did their Japanese reissue thing, this time tackling the excellent if somewhat scant discography of JANKY. The Dead Society 1983-1987 LP collects the band’s sole stand alone record, 1984’s incredible Low Life flexi disc. This is a real gem, notable for its strong international hardcore influences with a vocal style that wouldn’t be out of place on a contemporary Mexican or South American hardcore record and some riffing that is distinctly Scandinavian in style (along with a pretty blatant AC/DC rip at one point as well). By 1987’s split with MAD CONFLUX (another band whose discography was reissued by F.O.A.D.!) JANKY were very much at the forefront of the emerging and soon-to-be iconic Japanese hardcore sound, fusing metallic guitar solos and leads to aggressively catchy group choruses and epic songwriting, with vocals that are much more in the slurring tough guy style than previously. The live tracks that round out the record, culled from the Dirty Party gig compilation tape, are fairly rough recordings but capture the band at an interesting time, still transitioning between their earlier straight-up hardcore style and the new metallic direction by adding some quite shaky solos and gang choruses to the mix. These tracks are the weakest of the bunch but are still interesting due to context. The packaging is lovely as usual, with beautiful cover art that incorporates the included obi strip and a lovely booklet that reproduces all the art for the included records as well as photos and gig flyers.

Another reissue of relatively little historical importance but of great emotional resonance (at least to yours truly) is War Cloud’s release of LITTLE STAR’s discography, March’n of Little Star. Collecting their ’87 demo, ’89 flexi and one live track, this is a document of a super inconsequential but very fun band of high school buddies in the mold of the poppier and more popular punk bands of the time à la ANARCHY and the BLUE HEARTS, delivered with great enthusiasm and no small amount of talent, especially in the guitar writing/playing and the charismatic yet snotty vocals. This little tape isn’t going to set anyone’s world on fire but it’s a very charming and fun to listen to recording and is definitely something you’re unlikely to stumble across on your own.

To be honest, I’ve got a bunch more stuff to write about but I’m dying to get up on the newly set up and formatted site (plus there’s no monthly schedule as such so I can just send more over whenever I guess) so let’s call it a column for now.  Again, welcome to the future of Maximumrocknroll and thanks for sticking with us!

No More Bad Future

I saw Bikini Kill play at Brixton Academy last week. The former music hall has a sloping floor, I had the distinct impression of nearly falling but not quite, tripped up by strangely apt gradients. I was too young to be an OG riot grrrl and way too into the Cro-Mags to ever find my way into its many reincarnations, so I can’t claim to have been as excited to see the reformed BKs as those for whom it meant the world, but it was invigorating. The novelty of seeing friends lit up against cavernous black sails was heart-warming.

Child’s Pose opened and they were well-practiced and poised, somehow their clatter-natter worked perfect on the huge stage. I always want pop blasted but they were contractually muted. I learnt all huge venues do this slow increase of volume, so as you creep up the bill, someone behind the desk cranks up the fader. Ridiculous. Maybe this is why I like radically quiet sounds like Young Marble Giants so much, how they transcend the requisite of volume as status. Sop’s yell sits like a low throat murmur between chords, playing with volume too, composed yet always contorted.

A two-hour set would be a real test of both concept and contract for any band, let alone this group so predicated on impact, the fast burn, the fury-as-weapon. Yet somehow Bikini Kill approached this gargantuan room and made it feel small, making accidental theatre out of their own unrehearsed banter and fallibility They came over like a sort of exquisite corpse variety act, dropping in anecdotes and chatting with us like excited but slightly scattered pals. There were a bunch of half charming half confusing monologues including garbled nods to the progress (or at least current norms) of gender politics since they last played London, some of which landed in my chest, some of which fluttered to the floor, namely “turning the woman sign sideways because times are changing.”

There were no neat one-liners from the band who once birthed some of feminist punks’ most enduring ones, perhaps intentionally. Our times do not require any further sloganeering! It looked like cool grown women chipping into something bigger, kicking back at pedestals they didn’t ask for. Women well-acquainted with thirst, just a shame the pints in here cost like six quid.

The alienating experience of crowds is almost a cliché to bring in, but I was left with the feeling that a punk gig’s best aspects just don’t scale well, that our mass is best left imagined. The fizzing in the air at this show is a testament to the fact that punk’s best ideas do, otherwise why would five thousand people feel so lifted watching a group made in basements long (mostly) before their time?

Herstories and theystories let us transmute linear time. Maybe it’s the punk part of punk that is a bad idea? Something shifted for me during Tobi’s songs. Through sheer force, I still felt the same chest-rending energy transfer as I still do watching every group where an enraged gal just lets her throat open and tears the roof off the room. When she shouted out “everyone from DIY Space for London” this escalated to looking at the ceiling and crying a bit because I am not immune to the power of having my work recognized.

Later, a song got undone by a technical glitch and instead of ignoring, smoothing it out, or otherwise frowning, Tobi calmly launched into a ten-directions-at-once band practice soapbox-style chat. There is a wild level of cool-girl confidence inherent in addressing five thousand people this way, even if in practice it was maybe only darkness. She spoke about Brechtian imperfections, stating how it’s totally okay that she “can’t really play the bass” and (crucially, cuz no one needs a humble genius) how she knows she is really, really, good at drums.

I’d have doubted that low-key sharing in the radical possibilities of making mistakes (and acknowledging your own skill) could translate to a room this large and dark, but they did it. All Cool Girls Break Down the Fourth Wall Now. Right at the end, for a nearly imperceptible moment, Kathleen fluffed the lyrics to Rebel Girl, carried away from the songs of the past to the energy of the now. Call it trite ‘n’ cheesy, but this felt like a full circle, squared. No, a hundred young teens will not form their own bands after this evening in the mobile network-branded palace, but only cuz those bands have already started through other more twenty nineteen impetuses. Everything can be fuel.

*

There was a healthy sort of fake secrecy for writing for Maximum in print and this is all a bit too bloody immediate by comparison. The slow unraveling of side-eyes and shit talk that is my stock in trade is, it’s entirely fair to say, not what the internet needs any more of! But here I am, far too close to the eyes and fickle minds of the ten thousand or so networked individuals claiming to be part of some type of imagined global “punk community” that has an entirely different scope, shape, and scale depending on where you are and who you ask. It was safer being fodder for your leaky bathroom floor, a dependable hate-read at best. But, hey. Let me get you comfortable and we can pretend like we’ve known each other for ten years or like we’re total strangers. Neither is true, babes, so it’s all the same to me.

*

I spent a lucid run of warm Spring days in Berlin on some strange self-reconnaissance mission, perhaps my first time in a semi-familiar city with no plan, beyond checking out an exhibition at the Gay Museum I’d been commissioned to write something about. This initiative called Objects of Desire is a sex-worker led project to preserve sex workers’ stories through archiving and exhibiting their artifacts and
narratives.

I borrowed a bike and rode around solo-slow-slow. Sticking my toes into hot grass, pleasing myself, playing with the line between invisible and invincible, romancing myself for fun. I rode the wrong way down Karl Marx Allee and no one stopped me and I laughed by myself in the rain. Trying to get right with feeling unseen in our age of hyper-visibility whilst savoring it, and feeling slightly guilty of the strange novelty of being able to move freely, no harassment, no language, no noise.

I marched through Schoneberg alongside sex workers protesting the “Prostitute’s Protection Act” that has forced STI testing and registration cards onto this already targeted and harassed community. Someone explained patiently to me why the march had chosen to avoid the well-known working street, symbolism taking second place to safety. At the event I watched a French performer piss into a tray of dry ice, letting it bloom onto my shoes as they spoke about the art of turning “the abject” into money. Piss into gold.

I bought a Petticoats single from Iffi at Static Shock who fed me the most deliciously delicate fragrant curry from a hob out the back. I remembered how I first learned about the Petticoats in Maximum via an interview Jess Scott did with Stef Petticoat. This reminded me that one of her other bands was called Fucked with Candles.

Later, I would miss my flight, lost in text messages instead of the time. I came back to the city and got back on my loanercycle, circling the monument to dead communist soldiers in Treptower park, playing chicken with the fried battery on my phone, letting the Photoautomat flash on my boobs for kicks, jangling a key in my pocket. Alive and unseen. No one is watching me, she hoped. No one is watching me, she feared.

Later that evening I wobbled off my bike under sharpening concrete right where a new jigsaw piece of spiralized Autobahn was being ever so efficiently built. I realized I’d wandered onto a closed construction site, the end of somewhere. I was lost, near dark, with 1%. Tasting hard fear and dust, I was scared for a second. I drank it in, taking the sudden onset of panic as a bittersweet reminder; perhaps I wasn’t invisible after all.

What’s Left?

If you can’t tell the difference between glorification and ridicule—does it matter?
—Spencer Sunshine

I read recently that San Francisco’s Financial District, called “Wall Street West,” is being downgraded. The district is both downsizing economically and shrinking physically. Financial services are moving online and it’s just too damned expensive for employees in downtown banking and financial companies to live in the city anymore, thanks to the booming tech industry’s gentrifying impact on San Francisco. I remember back fondly to Sunday, February 16, 2003, when a quarter of a million people protesting Junior Bush’s invasion of Iraq shut down the Financial District and briefly the Bay Bridge. Mass anti-war protests continued to disrupt “business as usual” in Wall Street West for weeks to come.

I’d forged my leftist politics and love for street action during the ’70s, but America’s steady rightward reaction and the sudden international collapse of the Soviet bloc over the next two decades depressed the hell out of me. The resurgence of Left activism with the Iraq War was quite heartening. I wanted to be in the thick of those demonstrations despite having fractured the big toe and one of the sesamoid bones in my right foot in an accident several months before.

I was hobbling around in great pain but elated to be experiencing popular street politics once again, exhilarated to be roaming the city with a small group of friends demonstrating, blockading traffic, participating in impromptu sit-ins, engaging in general vandalism and mayhem, etc. I had my black bloc gear in hand, but I was in no shape to take part in those tactics.

Then, out of the swirling chaos, an odd vision materialized. Tony marched along Market Street at the head of a one-man parade. I’d known Tony from San Diego where he’d played in hardcore punk bands and belonged to an infamous Maoist communist party. We met again when we both moved to the Bay Area. Tony was a postmodern Leftist studying at UC Berkeley and in post-hardcore bands. Now, he was dressed in a pure black Army combat uniform, shouting anti-war slogans.

Black combat boots, black trousers with black tactical belt, black jacket over black t-shirt, black patrol cap, black megaphone. “1, 2, 3, 4; We Don’t Want Your Fucking War! 5, 6, 7, 8; Organize To Smash The State!” So why the all-black getup? Was it parody or was Tony serious? Had Tony gone full anarchist and was this a militarized black bloc outfit? Was it some homage to Third World socialist revolution, paying tribute to the VietCong and the EZLN? Had Tony joined the Army or the police? Was he now a Special Forces or SWAT recruit? Had Tony perhaps gone right-wing fascist and was he aping the Falange or SS wardrobes? Or was this all camp, an elaborate, theatrical performance piece? My signals were getting crossed.

I was simultaneously intrigued and bewildered, befuddled by the semiotic mixed messages. I’m in the middle of a three-part series on Third Positionism, a type of “red/brown” politics that claims to “go beyond Left and Right.” This politics is dead serious about mixing far-left and far-right elements into a confusing new type of Fascism that, in the case of Perónism, for instance, attempted to fuse extreme nationalism with pro-working class initiatives. Third Positionism might prove as baffling as my reaction to Tony, but it’s genuine.

Let’s talk instead of deliberate obfuscation by the far-right in throwing up ambiguous slogans, symbols, memes, texts, ideas, etc., calculated to muddy any political or social discourse. In Spencer Sunshine’s unpublished piece “Industrial Nazi Camouflage,”* he discusses the evolution of the industrial music scene, noted for its fascination with the taboo and transgressive.

Warning that it’s never a good idea to play with Nazi imagery because you can’t control how such imagery is interpreted, Sunshine is intent on figuring out who in the industrial music scene was innocently flirting and who loved Nazism, who was being ironic and who was offering a sophisticated critique, who was obsessed and who was willing to commit, who believed in fascism theoretically and who was engaged in fascist activism.

He periodizes that scene into a time when individuals and bands were fascinated with but not yet committed to Nazism, to active Nazi participation between 1986 to 1996, and finally to lying profusely about those involvements back in the day and their current fascist commitments. Ultimately, Sunshine suggests that if you can’t tell whether something is genuine or a joke, or someone is being upfront or engaged in camouflage, does it really matter?

Treat it all as fascism or fascist adjacent is what I say. The otherwise insipid, reactionary, ahistorical critique of the alt-right offered by Angela Nagel in Kill All Normies asserts that the far-right uses intentional obfuscation and ironic misdirection as deliberate tactics, as ways to maintain plausible deniability and camouflage their true intentions. They want normies to be confused about their true message, unable to know when to take them seriously and when to shrug them off.

Gavin McInnes loves to distinguish between a liar and a bullshitter in his sad career, which includes a lackluster stint as a comedian. His internet “talk shows” often featured calls to violence as in “I want violence. I want punching in the face.” But when his critics lambasted him for promoting violence he invariably deflected such criticisms by demanding “Can’t you take a joke?” In one motion, McInnes and his ilk throw out threats of violence while simultaneously denying they are being threatening or violent, masking their intentions with crude humor or irony that they then claim their viewers simply don’t get. It’s the perfect ploy for the far right to seed confusion among people trying to suss them out. The antifascist Left is neither confused nor amused, however.

What then to make of some supposedly unique, if bewildering aspects of the far right in the US? Both antifascist researchers Spencer Sunshine (“Decentralization & The U.S. Far Right”*) and Matthew Lyons (“Some Thoughts On Fascism and The Current Moment”) imply there’s an American fascist exceptionalism in the far right’s embrace of decentralization, in contrast to traditional Fascist totalitarian centralism.

George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party pioneered the shift from white supremacy to white nationalism, allowing American fascists to parry Leftist calls for “Black Power/Black Separatism” with “White Power/White Separatism,” encouraging white nationalists to work with black nationalists along pro-segregation/anti-miscegenation lines, and developing the strategy of a white ethnostate that portended scenarios of side-by-side racialist nationalism.

Drawing inspiration from American history, two ultra-patriotic movements arose opposed to the power of the federal government; the Posse Comitatus movement of the 1960s (from posse comitatus common law traditions) and the Militia Movement of the 1990s (from the colonial/Revolutionary War institution of the independent local militia). Both took the States’ Rights Movement further right. Deeply distrustful of government beyond the county level, Posse Comitatus proposed the county sheriff as the highest lawful authority whereas the Militia Movement insisted that any armed citizenry organized into decentralized militia groups was the highest civil authority.

Given the various failures of the States’ Rights Movement, elements of these two movements within the Patriot Movement now propose extending white ethnonationalism down to county, municipal and individual levels, implying the possibility of an ethno-pluralism where decentralized racial nationalist enclaves can reside concurrently. Finally, there’s leaderless resistance as put forward by KKK member Louis Beam, which uses a decentralized, horizontal structure of small, independent cells to resist what they consider a tyrannical Federal government.

“[T]hese ethno-pluralist views can facilitate a politics that, on the surface at least, is not in conflict with the demands of oppressed groups,” according to Spencer Sunshine, who acknowledges it’s an “ethnic or racial pluralism that is opposed to multicultural and cosmopolitan societies.” Matthew Lyons argues that “[m]any of today’s fascists actually advocate breaking up political entities into smaller units, and exercising totalizing control [authoritarianism] through small-scale institutions such as local government, church congregations, or the patriarchal family.” Before declaring the US far right a unique American “wild west” Third Positionism however, consider that the alt-right’s flirtations with decentralization might be at the very least a purely defensive reaction to the exigencies of battling the Federal government. At most, it may be an outright deception designed to confuse and obfuscate. That the American far right on every level is enamored with the Führerprinzip leadership principle—from their own charismatic cult leaders to a president who governs by executive decree and routinely violates the Constitution—makes it likely in any case that the far right’s much vaunted decentralism will be the first thing abandoned come their fascist revolution. I’ve talked about the libertarian-to-fascism/alt-right pipeline before, a process as disingenuous as the industrial music scene. For me, the far right’s appropriation of the Left’s aspirations for freedom and self-determination is the sly semiotic joke here. And thus our differences with them do matter.

* Spencer says: Both essays are available as special items for Patron who give at least $2 a month to my Patreon. However, if you’re broke (and boy have I been there), drop me a line and I’ll send you copies: www.spencersunshine.com/contact.