David Neiwert – Alt America: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

CoverTwo leather chairs, a small table with a bowl of decorative flowers, a rug underneath, all on an otherwise empty stage. David Neiwert and Paul Thomas – of the New Zealand Listener – walk out and take their seats. Thomas introduces the topic and starts the talk with this quote from Neiwert’s book, Alt-America‘:

“America has been very, very lucky so far when it comes to fascistic political movements”.

From here, the magnitude of the conversation to follow is set.

Neiwert was a composed and confident speaker who spoke with the authority that his years of research has given him on the subject. Thomas, as interviewer, did a fantastic job allowing Neiwert space to highlight his obvious expertise on the topic. Together they dived into the depths of the horrifying reality and violence of the extremist right in American politics. The horrifying elements of such a movement were explicitly put forward for all to understand as Neiwert described a scene in which a counter-protester was shot by an Alt-Right supporter 10 metres in front of him – a harrowing example of the violence the new American extremist right is capable of.

Neiwert described Alt-America – the world in which the new extremist right in America appear to live in – as an “epistemological bubble comprised of conspiracy theories, alternative facts, and outright fabrications”. This world, is of course curated and manufactured by various influencers and conspiracy theorist of the far right – including the notorious Fox News and the infamous Alex Jones.

Most chilling of all was the conversation about domestic terrorism in the USA. Here, Neiwert spoke of extremist far right elements in America that have done unspeakable violent acts (such as the one described above). As he spoke about the race based crimes committed by Dylann Roof in a Charleston church two days after Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy, chills ran down my spine at the horror of the reality of it all. This was of course, just one such example.

Something that Neiwert did very well – which sets him apart from over commentators attempting to understand the rise of the Alt-Right as a political phenomenon – is the manner through which he historicises the fascistic tendencies that define the Alt-Right as they have appeared throughout American history. He places a particular emphasis on the conspiratorial militia movement of the 1990s and how a lot of the ideas of the Alt-Right can be directly traced back to this.

Put succinctly by Neiwert himself:

“This isn’t an overnight thing… this has been building for a very long time”.

Given America’s history of flirting with fascism, from slavery, to the KKK, and segregation, it is easy to see his reasoning.

He then went on to discuss how the future is uncertain and that a lot could depend on the 2020 election in America. Not just the outcome itself, but if Trump is defeated in the election, what kind of reaction should we expect from his fan base. They have proven in the past that they are capable of violence.

At the end of the talk the conversation was opened up to the audience for questions. The question that got the most striking response was a question on gender and the Alt-Right. Here, Neiwert explains that the Alt-Right is a fundamentally misogynistic ideology and that a central aspect of their Alt-America belief is that American values are being ruined by women; most notably, feminist women; this continues with the conspiratorial theme of Alt-America.

David Neiwert. Image supplied.

Neiwert is an obviously intelligent man who has braved the depths of far-right politics as a liberal and lived to tell the tale. As harrowing as the topic could be, it was equally informative and explained well the rise of this new radical political movement. Neiwert was a fantastic speaker, and Thomas facilitated the conversation exceptionally well.

This is of course, a chilling subject. Something that is on the minds of many and something that frightens many; understandably so. When Paul Thomas introduced the talk by opening with that quote about America’s luck with fascism up until this point in history he was doing so to highlight the gravity of this talk; is America’s luck about to run out?

Neiwert’s book, Alt-America, is a very well written account of the re-emergence of right wing extremism in America. Through tracing the ideological blueprints of the self-proclaimed ‘Alt-Right’ back to the American Patriot Militia Movements of the 1990s, its mainstream manifestation in the backlash to Obama’s election; most notably in the Tea Party movement that arose, and through controversial conspiratorial politics, he successfully explains the emergence of what was to many a seemingly overnight political phenomenon.

David Neiwert’s sessions at WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

David Neiwert: Alt-America Thursday 30 August 6pm

Playing the Trump card

Trump has been a clear favourite of many magazines this year. Here is a selection of the Trump covers from RBdigital Magazines.

Podcast – Human rights in the era of Trump

Speak Up Kōrerotia logoChristchurch City Libraries blog hosts a series of regular podcasts from specialist human rights radio show Speak up – Kōrerotia. This show is created by Sally Carlton.

This episode discusses Human Rights the era of the Trump presidency specifically –

  • increasingly inward-facing politics
  • the overarching importance of the commercial sector and the impact of economics and equality
  • the disconnect of the political elite from the people they are supposed to represent
  • foreign and domestic policy decisions
  • the role of the media
  • decisions being made about women’s and other’s rights

Preceded by reflections from long-time human rights advocate John Pace, listen as panellists Peter Field (University of Canterbury), Howard Klein and Laurie Siegel-Woodward (expat Americans) and Kevin Clements (National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago) discuss this huge topic.

Transcript – Human Rights in the era of Trump

Find out more in our collection

Cover of Radical hope Cover of Strangers in their own land Cover of Listen, liberal Cover of Requiem for the American dream Cover of The age of selfishness Cover of Hijacking America Cover of The evangelicals Cover of Twilight of the Elites Cover of Angry white men Cover of Trump revealed

More about Speak up – Kōrerotia

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We need to talk about America…

Not that we haven’t been doing just that for the last few months, but there’s so much to say. America fascinates and repulses me. I couldn’t live there – not just because I would eat all the food – but it is a fascinating place to observe, and we are fortunate to generally be able to enjoy its cultural output, both high and lowbrow. So naturally I was intrigued when I spied Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody in a bookshop in Auckland. I immediately went to the nearest library, hopped on the wifi and requested a copy (btw – aren’t libraries great?).

Cover of American rhapsodyIt’s a funny book, endeavouring to “present the the kaleidoscopic story of the creation of a culture.” Lofty intentions indeed! However, it is more of a collection of biographical and critical essays about a range of major players in American culture. The first two-thirds of the essays – which include Wharton, Fitzgerald, Hepburn and Gershwin are perfectly okay, but it’s the final third where, for me, the book truly comes alive. Orson Welles‘ and Laurence Olivier‘s (not from the US but that’s not the point) approaches to acting and Shakespeare are compared and contrasted. What is naturalism, how – and should – America tackle Shakespeare? These themes of naturalism and an American theatrical tradition are continued in an essay on Marlon Brando.

Cover of James Baldwin: Early novels and storiesWe are reminded that Brando was a supporter of the Civil Rights movement, and the last two essays cover novelist James Baldwin and singer Nina Simone who – to my shame – I didn’t know much about at all. Reading about these two African-Americans and learning more about the the nuances and iterations of the wider Civil Rights movement is inspiring me – to read their words and listen to their music and make an effort to further understand America’s painful history.

So, I’ve come away from this book thinking about acting and how we express our country through our cultural creations, and also with some new inspirational figures to look to. We need them.

Donald Vs Hillary – Is it really that simple? – WORD Christchurch

The last day of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured a balanced and illuminating discussion on The State of America – the USA’s venomous series of electoral struggles.

One would think that any discussion on the scrap for supremacy between Trump and Clinton would be over pretty quick: Trump’s obviously nuts! There goes that! Thanks for coming! But, believe it or not, it’s not that simple. Or so we were told by three very learned and wise humans who took the stage to give us some context on the whole quagmire. They were: historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely (who helped produce American Dad! and 30 Rock).

Here is a surprising sample of what seemed to be the consensus of the multi-partisan panel:

First, it was argued Hillary has been given a markedly easier ride from the media.

After all, Trump is so scandalous and acrid that he distracts us with the kind of entertainment befitting of The Real Housewives of Auckland. But, all his antics have overshadowed what so many Americans are concerned about – Hillary’s alleged (arguably law breaking) ineptitude as Secretary of State (no, not a normal secretary, rather, senior official overseeing national security).

Peter Field. Image supplied.

That cute local rag the New York Times claims as Secretary of State, Hillary used her unprotected home PC for sending and receiving highly sensitive material pertaining to national security (you know, as you do). This is kind of problematic, cos’ her private server is much easier hacked, putting thousands at risk – Americans take that kind of thing rather seriously … Further, such material should have been automatically archived for the purposes of governmental transparency, accountability and future reference.

So, these are apparently very serious, and apparently justified allegations. Yet generally overlooked by world media. So, while we all think the decision is pretty obvious, for lots of Americans the whole choice is a bit perplexing.

There was also another speculation – “is this the end of both (Republican and Democrat) parties?” Are we going to see genuine multi-party competition in the USA? With this, the discussion turned quickly to the widespread concern among Republicans that Trump’s’ damaging the party beyond repair, with Peter S. Field mooting “Trump is a sign of the end of the Republican Party”. But then, Dr Fletcher pointed out that lots of republican voters loved seeing Trump take down Jeb Bush, “whos a rich, establishment Republican”, who “never gets told what to do”, but got severely told. By Trump! Supposedly, rugged, liberty loving Republicans rejoiced at this public hanging, despite other party faithful freaking out about a future with the same Trump who gave lots of money to Democrat campaigns in the recent past – conflict of interest? In any case, it’d be cool to see the end of the two party electoral monopolization stifling American democracy.

It was a treat getting to hear from learned American citizens regarding their election. The only thing good about the whole thing is that I don’t have to make that decision.

WORD Christchurch

America in music

It’s a big old Stars and Stripes, star spangled banner day today as Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. There was a lot of talk about the founding fathers, the spirit of America … and Aretha Franklin rocking the joint in a hat with a big bow on it. And spookily enough a mashup utilising David Bowie’s This is not America is playing on my headphones.

Which has got me thinking about American music. Who are the bands and the artists that spring to mind?

  • Bruce Springsteen, troubadours and poets like Bob Dylan
  •  Motown  (the sound of the Motor City record label still sounds righteous at the age of 50. A recent Guardian poll tried to find the top Motown tune … what a task. I plumped for “Just my imagination” by The Temptations)
  • Madonna, Michael Jackson,  Hip hop and rap, Run DMC,  The Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin, Country,  Dolly Parton, Robert Johnson, Kanye West, Diana Ross, Elvis, Gershwin, Cole Porter … ok now I have made my head spin.

What song says America to you??