A while back, Vice published a piece that brought attention to some increasingly frequent and uncomfortable cozying up between prominent members of the Atheist community (such as it is) and members of the alt-right, neo-nazi community (you’ll note I consistently refuse to grant those benighted terms the privilege of capitalization: that choice is not mere happenstance). The article sparked a defensive response from prominent atheist bloggers David G. McAfee and Hemant Mehta, in which Mehta argued:
“The bottom line is that, yes, there are atheists whose other beliefs overlap with the politics of the alt-right. Those of us with a platform ought to condemn those views when we see fit.”
Watching this dialogue play out, I was struck by the final, appended proviso clause in Mehta’s statement: “when we see fit.” When would you not see fit, as a member of a community under threat of increasing cooptation by publicly racist infiltrators, to call that infiltration out, equally publicly and decisively? In the current socio-political climate in the U.S. that has racist alt-right, neo-nazi types doffing MAGA hats to the White House (see the photo in this article), we’re seeing as well an ever steadier march of such folks into Pagan, Atheist, and Satanic communities (or at least a “great awakening” of those already latent therein), erecting their besmirched banner-cause right alongside those communities’ own already fraying banners. This is a problem. I refuse to let rabid curs enter my home, let alone shit on the carpet.
Many, like the pundits and public figures called out in the Vice article, who take up the issue of openly racist, neo-nazi, alt-right speech from outside those particular, fraught communities insist on putting the whole thing forward as an issue of Free Speech. Sam Harris has especially pushed this view. I, meanwhile, have argued (at great length!) on my personal blog that hate-speech and rhetoric may well not constitute normal, descriptive, truth-conditional uses of language at all, but rather may be a form of what some linguists call expressives: a type of language used for the sole purpose of conveying strong, usually negative, emotion and not arguing for or advocating a specific point of view. In the unanimous 1942 Supreme Court decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, the High Court seemingly acknowledged as much themselves in ruling that “insulting” or “fighting words” were not necessarily protected under the First Amendment. The Justices wrote:
“Resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument.” (emphasis added)
Even when neo-nazi, alt-right speakers make seemingly more descriptive statements about race superiority or inferiority, the “opinions” they express and “facts” they share in support thereof are so obviously and simply falsified by the current state of knowledge in the sciences that they can be regarded as tantamount to the hollowest of rationalizations for an unreflective negative feeling that rears its ugly head most clearly in the frequent slurs to which such speakers make near constant recourse. This is why no one stops to carefully reflect on the content of racist screeds, treating them as serious expositions of serious ideas that merit equally serious consideration. No. Racists speak hate in order to vent their own toxic emotions, to inspire likeminded hearers to similar heights of violent emoting, and to instill fear and apprehension in the hearts and minds of hearers who not only don’t share their views but who would be directly victimized were sympathetic listeners to act on the emotions called forth in the problematic speech. I see nothing particularly protected under the First Amendment in any of that.
Moreover, I personally see the issue of how to deal with racist, neo-nazi, alt-right speech as a matter of justice that transcends the law and legal institutions. The second tenet of The Satanic Temple states:
“The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.”
Even if racist speech is regarded as ultimately protected under the letter of the law, does that mean we justice-seeking Satanists have to countenance it? Arguing for the protected status of speech whose sole purpose is to incite and further the aims of oppressive hate and not freedom-loving justice simply serves to platform that speech; precisely such platforming constituted a principle charge brought against atheists in the Vice article.
Satanism has a problematic history and present when it comes to things nazi. In order to push back against the potential guilt-by-association stemming from this collective experience, it behooves all Satanists who are unwilling to be counted as potential allies to the neo-nazi, alt-right to proclaim in no uncertain terms that their Satanism is wholly and completely incompatible with racism. We must all make peace with at least this much of a “No True Satanist” declaration.
A significant problem, though, comes with having to decide on what principled basis can we, as Satanists opposed to racist infiltration and expression, decide which “free speech” to denounce and which to respect, which self-proclaimed Satanists have valid claims to the label and which do not. The principle I suggest is simply the preservation of what I regard as the single most widely agreed-upon high Satanic value there is: universal sovereignty of individual will and inviolability of individual physical person. We need merely ask: Which speech and which “Satanists” tend toward the maximization of sovereignty of will and inviolability of body and which do not? Or perhaps more rightly: Which “Satanists” seek to maximize this highest Satanic value, and which seek to minimize it? We accept the former, while denouncing—and bouncing!—the latter.
Satan champions the fringe and the oppressed—true—but the alt-right is…er…was only fringe because they found themselves on the outside of much of social power and control, not because they are or were themselves the victims of it. The frustration members of the racist, neo-nazi, alt-right express is that of members of the very class that currently holds the preponderance of societal power but who, by dint of the unsavory extremity of their views, have been judged by “polite” society as distasteful and “gauche” in the most condescending sense of that French term. Many of their most stalwart supporters also come from the lowest economic echelons for members of their demographic, a fact which only increases the alienation from and antipathy toward the rest of society that they so keenly feel. Racism as a political ideology begins its life as a spurious rationalization to explain why those with every societal reason to be wealthy, successful, powerful simply aren’t, or at least aren’t in the way of the complete and total dominance they would like. Situations of looming demographic reversal such as prevail in the United States at present only intensify the felt need for such rationalizations and make those who resort to them all the more desperate to assert themselves.
The fringe and oppressed whom Satan champions are victims of powerful elites, not frustrated members of the elite class who simply don’t currently have their hands on the levers of the awful machinery of state. The kind of “oppression”—if that’s what you want to call it—that denies a platform to public racists operates bottom-up, not top-down. Holding the alt-right down serves to keep an acknowledged aggressor in check. This is reverse dominance hierarchy at its finest and the very definition of pursuing universal sovereignty of will and bodily autonomy in the face of a clear and present danger to same.
But you discuss amongst yourselves. I’m feeling a little too verklempt at the moment to say any more myself.