We are Change: Who are you? April 16, 2008Posted by smiffy in 9/11, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Lisbon Treaty.
The Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign took a swerve into the bizarre on Monday night, with the alleged assault on Prionsias de Rossa after a debate in Liberty Hall. While the details are still rather sketchy (and I’ve heard about it from a number of sources, including those who were present) it’s been covered in the Irish Times and on yesterday afternoon’s Liveline. The discussion on politics.ie is as tasteful and informative as one might expect, although it is depressingly aging to hear de Rossa described as an ‘elderly gentleman’ (all the more so, given that it’s accurate).
It seems that those responsible for the assault come from the strange ‘We Are Change Ireland‘ group, a local branch of a loose organisation based primarily in the United States but with affiliates in the UK, Canada and here. While one shouldn’t read too much into yesterday’s incident at this stage, it may represent the first strand of a more worrying trend.
WAC originate in the crazier extremes of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement. Glancing at the self-produced videos on their website, they come across as a group of rather amateurish Michael Moore wannabes, the kind of people who have never met a conspiracy theory they didn’t like, or accept. Incidentally, the ‘confrontation’ of Gerry Adams is hilarious, as is the encounter between our old comrade Nick Cohen and the We Are Change UK group.
Despite their image as a humourous misfits, it’s very hard to place them on the political spectrum. While some of the jargon they employ about civil liberties and the militarization of the European Union might suggest a leftist bent, they also appear to have some sympathy with a certain kind of right-wing extremism exemplified in the likes of Lyndon LaRouche and, to an extent, Alex Jones. There’s even the pseudo-religious strands (see the interview with arch-crank Michael Tsarion) which resemble the worldview outlined in online films like Zeitgeist and the pronouncements of David Icke.
Indeed, this kind of Ickean mixture of conspiracy theory politics and crazy, mystical cod philosophy does tend to leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth. In Jon Ronson’s chapter on Icke in his great book Them: Adventures with Extremists, he recounts the debate about whether, when Icke talks about giant, blood-drinking lizards ruling the world, he actually means Jews (and the more he protests that he really means lizards, the more this is interpreted by his opponents as really meaning Jews). Amusing as that particular anecdote is, what Ronson’s book is particularly good at is demonstrating the overlap between the outlook of conspiracy theorists and that of genuine neo-fascist organisations.
I am conscious of using the terms ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’ are perjoratives. This is not to suggest, of course, that political conspiracies don’t exist and that states don’t engage in activities about which they would prefer the public remained ignorant. However, the problem with a certain kind of individual or group – best analysed in Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, a little dated in the age of the internet but well worth reading – is that it substitutes ‘analysis’ (to be generous) for activism. It seems to see the process of uncovering hidden motivations, alliances and activities as progressive in and of itself. It provides no attempt to actually change anything or to improve anyone’s life (except insofar as seeing the hidden hand of the Illuminati everywhere enhances your life). It’s a recipe for political quietism.
Perhaps it would be accurate to see WAC as anti-political, in this sense – in engaging in a simulcarum of activist politics but with no real political goals or objectives other than as a self-perpetuating mechanism for generating new and even more bizarre conspiracy tales.
This alone would make them an interesting phenomenon – a group whose political outlook is entirely generating from the internet and devoid of any substantial content – and certainly worth noting. However, Monday’s events seem a little more sinsiter. The tactics employed both within the meeting and afterwards would be familiar to those who have followed the development of Youth Defence (a genuinely far-right organisation) over the last 15 years. One hopes that WAC are, and will remain, a tiny group of crackpots, rather than the tip of the iceberg of something much worse.