On December 14, 2020, the UK Labour party leader Keir Starmer appeared on the radio show LBC with host Nick Ferrari when a caller, introducing herself as ‘Gemma from Cambridge,’ took the opportunity to propagate the Neo-Nazi ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory on a national media platform. She stated: “in the wake of organisations such as BLM and other racial advocacy groups pushing what’s best for their people, I just want to ask, should white people also start playing identity politics now, before they become a minority themselves by 2066?”
This bizarre event was made even more bewildering when a Twitter user revealed that ‘Gemma from Cambridge’ was in fact Jody Swingler, a yoga teacher and musician living in Ibiza, a far cry from the archetypal image of the hapless neo-nazi social outcast in their parents’ basement, pulling the wings off flies and ranting on obscure online messageboards about how The Jews had prevented them from securing a girlfriend. Swingler had also recorded two YouTube shows with Mark Collett and Laura Melia, leaders of the white nationalist political party Patriotic Alternative, which opposes the “replacement and displacement” of white Britons by people who “have no right to these lands.”
It may seem striking that people who advocate new age, spiritual beliefs, previously associated with ‘flower power’ and the countercultural movement of the 1960's, could wind up on the same side as the far right. But in fact, the link between new age spirituality and extremist politics is not new. The Nazis drew support from the occultist Thule Society, and prominent Nazi figures such as Heinrich Himmler and Rudolf Hess endorsed homeopathy and alternative medicine, with Himmler supporting using plant extracts to cure cancer. In 1934, Hess set up an alternative medicine centre in Dresden. Their embrace of holism and spirituality, broadly, was underpinned by a rejection of the precepts of the Enlightenment, which posited that the world could be understood through logical processes, subordinating religious and monarchical obscurantism to the supremacy of the faculty of reason. Many Nazi figures saw a romanticised, agrarian age as a solution to the modern menaces of industrialisation and materialism. For example, Ernst Lehmann, a Nazi professor of botany, stated:
“We recognize that separating humanity from nature, from the whole of life, leads to humankind’s own destruction and to the death of nations. Only through a reintegration of humanity into the whole of nature can our people be made stronger… This striving toward connectedness with the totality of life, with nature itself, a nature into which we are born, this is the deepest meaning and the true essence of National Socialist thought.”
A desire to undo the crude, materialist logic that undergirded liberal democracy, and to restructure the relationship between the citizen and the State, therefore, spawned the Nazis’ fascination with holism and the reintegration of man with nature. 'Blood and soil' meant an organic connection with one’s homeland that could not be expressed through the civic or legal frameworks engendered by the minority protection clauses of the League of Nations, but only through the maintenance of racial purity. Mark Mazower wrote in his book Dark Continent that:“The League (of Nations) , after all, was an organisation of States. But what was the State? According to Hitler’s biological view of politics, it was no less than a ‘living organism,’” adding: “Hitler’s own vision of geopolitics unlike that of many geopoliticians — rested upon race: the State itself was merely an expression of the racial ‘Volk.’” Railing against the ‘juridification of politics,’ many Nazi legal theorists saw the nation as a biological organism, corruptible by outside influences and requiring protection from alleged Jewish subversion.
What Marquette University history professor Peter Staudenmeier describes as the “link between a yearning for purity in the environmental sphere and a desire for racialized purity in the social sphere” also undergirds the ecofascist tendencies common to many modern neo-nazis such as Anders Brevik and the El Paso shooter, who characterised non-white populations as invaders seeking to despoil the environment through having more children and consuming more resources. This was also reflected in the writings of ecologist Garrett Hardin, listed by the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Centre) as a white nationalist, who wrote about the supposed threats that overpopulation posed to the Earth’s future. The myth of overpopulation has, however, been roundly debunked; a study from Oxfam showed that the world’s richest 1% are responsible for double the CO2 emissions of the poorest 50%.
More recently, the contention that COVID-19 is a hoax has been a point of convergence between new age hippies and the far-right. Back in October, thousands of anti-vaxxers marched through Trafalgar Square in London at the COVID-sceptic ‘Unite for Freedom’ event, during which a BUF (British Union of Fascists) flag was spotted. The event was hosted by notorious conspiracy theorist David Icke, whose theories have been endorsed by both neo-nazis groups such as Combat 18, and the new age spiritual movement. It was also revealed that Jake Angeli, a Trump supporter nicknamed the ‘QAnon shaman’ who stormed the Capitol, had stated that COVID-19 was a hoax. According to his mother, he had also refused to eat non-organic food.
The two groups are united in their rejection of the perceived infringement on their liberties; in the case of the far-right, the supposed stifling of their ability to criticise the unaccountable technocracy that is allegedly imposing open borders and multiculturalism, and in the case of the new age conspiracists, the personal, bodily autonomy connoted by 'natural' methods of healing, which are at odds with modern, scientific forms of inoculation such as vaccines. The excoriation of Bill Gates as a central figure in a supposed global plot to undermine civil liberties by using vaccines as a method of social control, including implanting microchips into unfortunate victims, has also been propagated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has suggested that vaccines are part of a government-induced eugenics programme.
A theory known as the ‘Great Reset’ has also taken root in many far right circles, pushed by websites such as Breitbart, which asserts that COVID-19 represents an attempt by a cabal of wealthy politicians, financiers and bureaucrats to establish a global government, eroding national sovereignty and dictating fiscal and monetary policy. During a conversation with former Alex Jones acolyte Paul Joseph Watson, Breitbart columnist James Delingpole described the Great Reset as “another variation on the theme of the New World Order,” stating: “it’s a technocratic elite — an unelected technocratic elite — deciding how you and I should live our lives.”
Scepticism towards authority and heightened awareness of the erosion of civil liberties by governments using crises as a pretext to usher in technocratic dominance is not without merit. In an era characterised by the technocratic monopolisation of communications by companies whose business models are predicated on mining consumer data, in which a global pandemic has drastically increased the purview of the State’s influence over the lives of ordinary citizens, and in which finance, industry and production have all been centralised in the hands of a few multinational corporations, it is not unreasonable to be wary of authoritarian overreach.
However, the vague criticisms of systems of power enunciated by new age hippies, and the wild, conspiratorial denunciations of the ‘New World Order’ or the ‘Great Reset,’ common to extreme right wing political figures lack an empirical, material analysis. While it is certainly true that in Britain, at least, the pandemic has seen a worrying development in outsourcing the ‘Test and Trace’ system to companies such as G4S and Serco, which have been involved in nefarious operations from setting up immigration detention centres to developing some of Britain’s first for-profit prisons, the potential for government overreach is no grounds for denying the existence, or the severity, of COVID-19.
As outlined above, both aforementioned groups reject a materialist, empirically rigorous analysis of the global economy and the role of the State in abrogating civil liberties, idealising a preindustrial, agrarian past and asserting that the world’s problems are caused by a shadowy cabal (the root of most antisemitic conspiracy theories). This pandemic has shown that these groups, though widely considered to have diametrically opposed political interests, are more similar than they appear, and have been willing to set aside their ideological differences for the pursuit of wider goals. Unless their scepticism of the technocratic impulses of governments seeking to curtail civil liberties, much of which is justified, can be countered with a thorough and precise refutation of conspiratorial political narratives, the implications of this unholy alliance could be significant.
Subscribe to The Pangean
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox