As an artist who works in what I call “professional faggotry” (a mix of cabaret, drag, theater, nightlife, art and my normal daily practice of being gay as hell), I am fascinated with gateway drugs. No, not the widely discredited theory of the racist drug war that says if you try a little weed, you’ll be carrying a Pez dispenser full of brain-deoxygenating pharmaceutical wonders everywhere you go. When I say “gateway drugs,” I mean entry points. The pandemic has put many of us in a constant state of freeze response. Many want to contribute to mutual aid, participate in anti-racist efforts, or fight against the growing tide of fascism in our country but do not always know how to “plug in.” For many of us, even just getting through the day can feel overwhelming as fuck.
As many anti-authoritarian experts are warning, fascism is closer to our shores than any of us would want to admit, and the urge to fall into a permanent freeze response is strong. That’s why I fell in love with counter far-right researcher Spencer Sunshine’s guide 40 Ways to Fight Fascists: Street-Legal Tactics for Community Activists. I read the guide right around the time a call went out for submissions to my favorite online drag show, Cyber Distancing, led by the incredible New Orleans drag queens Laveau Contraire and Tarah Cards. The theme was dystopia, or as I like to call it . . . *GESTURES VAGUELY INTO THE AIR* . . . all of this. I dug out my drag character, Mx. Asa Metric, and made one of my agitprop surrealist videos as a staged reading of Spencer Sunshine’s guide . . . with plenty of irreverent bullshit along the way.
Before you read one more word from me, click over to Spencer Sunshine’s page and read the guide itself. Not only does each step contain full annotations and explanations, the guide also contains further resources to continue building your anti-fascist action plan. The beauty of 40 Ways is that it contains many different kinds of actions: you don’t necessarily have to be punching Nazis yourself to be fighting the fight. Once you’re done reading the guide, check out the video and get ready to fight!
- STROBE WARNING
- TW: Discussions of Fascism, Authoritarianism, and State Violence
A NOTE ON SUBTITLES [spoilers, skip if you want to avoid]:
The captions play a character in this video. In instances where the “gag” captions differ from what is being said, the real captions will be displayed above (if CC is turned on), with the “gag” captions below. When there is no discrepancy, only one set of captions will be displayed.
I probably don’t have to tell you that the fight against white nationalism and fascism in the United States does not end with a vote. Regardless of who is president, virulent strains of white nationalism and burgeoning fascist movements linger in too many corners of this country, from vigilante groups like the Proud Boys to horrifyingly racist and authoritarian police forces. Hopefully Spencer Sunshine’s guide, and by extension my silly little “staged reading” of it, can inspire you to join in the fight if you have not started already.
Below, in order of appearance, is an annotated guide to the references and jokes within the video. Enjoy . . . and let’s shake that fascist groove thing!
Turner Classic Movies
There was an arthouse movie theater I grew up near that year-round would have a screen dedicated to films featuring Nazis and World War II. That led me to joke that we needed a ten-year moratorium on three things: musical theater grad programs, productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Holocaust movies (those first two are unrelated but COME ON, amirite?). One of the major targets of this goofy-ass video’s satire is the sentiment that “it cannot happen here”; the “it,” of course, being fascist authoritarianism.
We have many classic films about what happened in World War II, and several of them could be correctly described as anti-fascist. However, too few of them look at how fascism developed and how dictators like Mussolini and Hitler came to power; too many become oppression porn. We’re often dropped in the middle of a concentration camp or a resistance cell right in the middle of the war, and a steady diet of content like this has the side effect of making the viewer believe that fascism must look *exactly* like what we see in Casablanca or Schindler’s List, or it must not be fascism at all . . . right? While I love those films, we must be careful not to let them give us a feeling of “safe distance” from international white supremacist and fascist movements. After all, a lot of Hitler’s material came from peeking over America’s racist shoulder like a booger-filled preteen trying to cheat on the chem final. So I thought: what better way to undercut that then to introduce a nonsense-mouthed parody of Robert Osborne, the host from Turner Classic Movies? My apologies, Robert Osborne. I love ya, but I couldn’t resist!
The protagonist’s monologue in the fake film The Bad Times Only Happened in Grayscale is a parody of the opening monologue from one of my problematic faves, Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1940).
The MAGA Troll
To create a character to represent the fascist alt-right, I made the character a literal bootlicking troll. Look, I didn’t say I was imaginative. I’m not sure you should rub this troll’s tummy . . . but if you want you can read up on the history the online troll!
Once again, I never claimed to be clever! If I or one of my leftist friends calls you a bootlicker, you’ve got a problem. We like the original definition according to the Oxford dictionary: “behaving in an excessively obedient or servile way as a means of gaining favor.” Now, if this your kink, and you and your partner get off on LITERAL bootlicking, then we’re all good.
The troll is surrounded by two popular online travesties. The first is a giant Q representing the QAnon conspiracy theory. If you haven’t heard of QAnon, you are a blessed, sweet summer child, and I would like to trade lives with you. But I’m about to spoil your blissful reprieve with this definition from the Guardian: “‘Qanon’ is a baseless internet conspiracy theory whose followers believe that a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children. QAnon followers believe that Donald Trump is waging a secret battle against this cabal and its ‘deep state’ collaborators to expose the malefactors and send them all to Guantánamo Bay.”
For those keeping score, usually when Hollywood, celebrities, or “elites” are mentioned in conspiracy theories, what’s almost always meant is that Jews are behind it all. So, as a Jewish Nonbinary Professional Faggot, this one rankles me to my core. No matter the result of the election, this conspiracy theory has wide appeal and will live on for some time. To learn more about this conspiracy, I highly suggest articles like this one or the wonderful, extensive QAnon Anonymous podcast.
Pepe the Frog
The second online travesty. Poor Matt Furie. This comic artist just wanted to carve out a little slice of psychedelia to call his own, and accidentally created a far-right sensation. Pepe the Frog, initially a fairly apolitical cartoon character, was appropriated by internet jagoffs to become the mascot for the alt-right. For more, I recommend checking out the film Feels Good Man, which charts Pepe’s sad journey from Kermit-adjacent cartoon to someone Indiana Jones would have punched in the throat. Maybe the racist fantasy of Indiana Jones isn’t the best comparison. Anyway, I digress . . .
Heaven 17 and “We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang”
There were two major inspirations for this video, the first being the aforementioned guide by Spencer Sunshine, and this song being the second. Heaven 17 is a band founded in 1980 by two former members of the Human League (Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh) alongside Glenn Gregory. I came across this song through a cover by LCD Soundsystem and totally fell in love with its ability to hold dancefloor corniness alongside its righteousness. The original track was about Ronald Reagan and got censored on the BBC for calling him a fascist. While you can make the argument that Reagan wasn’t technically a fascist (sure, OK, you’re not wrong), as a queer who sees every day the legacy of Reagan’s genocidal AIDS response and his obsession with the racist drug war (which became a bipartisan favorite in the following years), I’m not gonna push the technicalities here. The band wasn’t being hyperbolic when it wrote the song, and we’re not being hyperbolic when we sing it today.
“This Machine Kills Fascists”
This is a message Woody Guthrie put on his guitar back in the 1940s. It has spawned a gazillion artists (yes, that’s the actual number) to do the same in their own way—so much so that it’s become a bit of a cliché. It is the height of hubris to put the phrase onto my own makeup mirror as all that machine really does is kill my pores. But it’s still there on my mirror, and it reminds me to aspire to the revolutionary aspects of drag culture that are very much alive and well despite the hyper-commercialized space drag often finds itself in today.
The Face of Fascism (Das Gesicht Des Faschismus)
An artwork created by John J. Heartfield in 1928, just a few years after Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, its double-exposed photo collage portrays fascism as the death cult it is.
“No Mercy For Fascism” (Original Date Unknown)
Maybe my Indiana Jones reference wasn’t too off base, as crushing snakes has been a common visual thread in anti-fascist art. One of the earliest references I can find for this was in a Soviet Poster from 1937, which, in a death-defying feat of intellectually dishonest tightrope walking conflated fascism, Trotskyism, and Bukharinism. This will not be the only symbol in the video whose original usage gives off mixed messaging but became used later on as a general anti-fascist trope. But no matter how these symbols evolve over time, we can all agree: Indiana Jones is still racist.
Death of An Aviator
Albert Tucker, an Australian modernist painter whose work is sometimes described as surrealist, took images from his surroundings to create damning visions of war. As an “official war artist” tasked during WWII with preserving images of wounded veterans for posterity, he had plenty of horrific images to work with. His work was always politically charged, often being exhibited in shows like the Anti-Fascist Exhibition of the Contemporary Art Society in 1942. This work is just one of his many anti-war, anti-fascist rallying cries.
In June 1942, Hitler ordered the annihilation of the village of Lidice in what is now the Czech Republic. This 1943 painting is artist Antonin Pelc’s commemoration of that horrific event.
“Sometimes Anti-Social, Always Anti-Fascist”
I love this graffito from Krakow, for a few reasons: 1. I love that it’s from Poland, where my grandfather was born and subsequently captured by Nazis and survived internment at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. 2. It gives a shout-out to the socially awkward among us (which lezbereal, after this pandemic is over will be ALL of us), and reminds us that there are many ways to fight the right, even if we aren’t great in crowds. 3. It gives us a non-racist Harrison Ford character to swoon after as we fight. Also, can we talk about how many Star Wars nerds seem to not get that the whole point of the movie is “Fascism: Bad”? I digress. This is the last bullet point that will mention Harrison Ford characters, I promise.
From 1943, this piece of anti-fascist art by American artist Harry Steinberg depicts fascism as a three-headed goblin. The art history website Sartle claims “the three faces that the monstrous giant wears belong to Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito respectively”. The Library of Congress describes it as an image of a “three-headed monster in armor trampling on religion, literature, and culture amid death and devastation.” If that’s so, I have some bad news for Steinberg about religion (particularly but not only evangelical Christianity)’s complicity in the rise of modern-day fascism.
C.N.T., Comité Nacional A.I.T., Oficina de Información y Propaganda. Fascismo
This is anti-fascist poster, dating back to sometime during the Spanish Civil War, “was produced by the anarcho-syndicalist trade union Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in conjunction with the international anarchist organization Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores (AIT).” Here we find fascism once again as a snake, this time meeting the business end of a hammer instead of being choked. As far as I can tell, the point of this poster is that becoming anti-fascist makes your butt look really, really great. Honestly? No lies detected there. All my antifascist friends have GREAT butts.
The Three Arrows
Two of my drag looks in this video feature the anti-fascist “Three Arrows” symbol. This is another symbol with somewhat complicated and problematic origins; it was originally the symbol for the Iron Front, a paramilitary organization favored by “social democrats, trade unionists, and liberals.” It later became an official symbol of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The symbol originally put both fascism and communism under its crosshairs, in yet another feat of intellectually questionable conflations. As a lefty queer much more sympathetic to socialism and communism than the German SDP was, I am using it in the spirit that the American Antifa movement does: as a general anti-fascist symbol.
The Pink Triangle
The pink triangle emblazoned on my head is a slightly more familiar symbol. The Nazi Party famously branded captured queer prisoners with this symbol as a mark of shame (similarly to the yellow Star of David used to denote Jewish prisoners, a symbol my family is all too familiar with). The symbol later became reappropriated by queer communities as a mark of pride and rage, most famously by the activist collective AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP).
“Bukake for Trump or Whatever / Bukake for Justice”
I’ll explain that one when you’re older, sweetie.
Anti-Racist Bar Crawl in Black-Owned Bars
While admittedly it’s harder to do a bar crawl now than it’s ever been, many are still open and need your support! Here’s the link from the video in easy-to-click hyperlink format: https://thirstymag.com/black-owned-busineses/
Enemas of the State
Blink 182 once wrote an album called Enema of the State. Beyond the title, though, there was no actual enema representation in the album. I decided to right this historic wrong. You can thank me later. Be careful with the studded one.
Anti-Fascist Enema Quotes
Many people have an instinctual understanding of fascism as authoritarianism, but there are some specific characteristics that are important. While there are many definitions of fascism out there, I find Walter Laqueur’s to be persuasive: “nationalism; Social Darwinism; racialism, the need for leadership, a new aristocracy, and obedience; and the negation of the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.” Let’s forget for a moment the extremely problematic legacy of Enlightenment thinking and some of the stickier elements of the French Revolution (don’t forget, that’s how we got Napoleon). The “need for leadership,” usually identified as a single charismatic leader with a cult-like following, is the piece of fascism most of us are familiar with.
However, while fascism does not necessitate a specific economic system, I find the “new aristocracy” piece particularly illustrative as we have witnessed close relationships between fascist dictatorships and aggressive capitalism in the 20th and 21st century. It also highlights how there is more overlap between the racist dehumanization of capitalism and fascist dictatorship than we might like to imagine. Thus two of the quotes our enema heroes squeeze out relate directly to this phenomenon, and the other focuses on a kind of misinformation we are very familiar with these days:
At slide 21 (“Organize Trainings and Resource Fairs”), I drop a whole bunch of book titles. They were chosen as introductions to anti-fascist and anti-racist work, not as a panacea or as an even remotely complete list. If you’re beginning your journey, these books are a great place to start. Here they are in list form if you don’t want to pause the video:
- The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
- White Rage, Carol Anderson
- The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
- The Anti-Fascist Handbook, Mark Bray
- Chokehold, Paul Butler
- Are Prisons Obsolete?, Angela Davis
- My Life, Emma Goldman
- “Bullshit Jobs, David Graber
- The Ghetto Fights, Mark Edelman
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire
- Manufacturing Consent, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
- The Antifa Comic Book, Gord Hill
- From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, Elizabeth Kai Hinton
- The Black and the Blue, Matthew Horace
- The Blood in My Eye, George Jackson
- How to Be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
- Healing From Hate, Michael Kimmel
- Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
- It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
- The U.S. Antifascism Reader, Ed. Mullen and Vials
- Alt-America, David Neiwert
- So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
- The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O Paxton
- The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein
- Fascinating Fascism, Susan Sontag
- How Fascism Works: the Politics of Us and Them, Jason Stanley
- Everything You Love Will Burn, Vegas Tenold
- Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win, Clara Zetkin
- And many others . . .
Bail funds are one of many ways to make your dollars fight fascism. For a partial list, visit https://bailfunds.github.io. Be sure to check your local antifascist and antiracist organizations’ social media feeds for updated ways to make your money work, if you are able to give.
“All You Fascists Bound to Lose”
Voting is the bare minimum step. While necessary to help define the terms of the fight against fascism, it’s woefully inadequate on its own in fighting white nationalists (who will go on to survive regardless of what happens in the 2020 election). I certainly endorse voting, but only in concert with a fuller anti-racist, anti-fasicst, and anti-oppressive action plan. The 40 steps Spencer Sunshine lays out are a great way to create your action plan. Define your capacity, acknowledge your resources, and find a way to put them to work!
Once again, if you’ve gotten through this whole article and still haven’t clicked through to find Spencer Sunshine’s guide, go and do it! If you ever need an accountabilibuddy for getting these action steps, so do I. Slide in my DMs (insta: @mzasametric) and let’s plan together!
Be well, be safe, and be in community, y’all. We need each other. Solidarity forever!!!
Evan Spigelman is a performer, light designer, and co-founder of New Orleans performance collective Skin Horse Theater and of LOUD, the New Orleans Queer Youth Theater. Find out more at evanspigelman.com.