Words matter, which is something that the Left has long understood, and we can take the ongoing gun control debate as a prime example. The liberal media is clamoring to ban “assault weapons” and “high-capacity magazines,” and, in the tradition of muddying the waters, CNN has even called out the deadly “full semi-automatic.” Most people arguing against the Left assume it is out of ignorance that they use such nonsensical terms, but the truth is that the elites know precisely what they are doing. Indeed, the term “assault weapon” comes from a 1988 paper by Josh Sugarmann of the anti-gun Violence Policy Center in which he openly wrote that “the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority,” but that a semiautomatic rifle’s “menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.” In short, leftists knew the public would not support their efforts to ban all handguns, so they formulated language to trick people onto the slippery slope.
This helps to explain why the Left consistently refers to their enemies—from milquetoast Republicans to far-right reactionaries—as “Nazis” and “white supremacists.” Consider, according to an Ipsos poll, 9 in 10 Americans believe that the races should be treated equally, and 7 in 10 believe the races are actually equal. Similarly, a poll conducted for ABC News/Washington Post shows that 91% of Americans do not find it acceptable to hold “neo-Nazi or white supremacist views.” Once you start bandying about accusations of “Nazi” and “white supremacist,” it takes little effort for the liberal media to find Republicans who will jump at the chance to condemn anyone and everyone so accused, which only serves to legitimize the accusations in the minds of independents and mainstream rightists alike. It does not matter whether or not the accusations are true. It only matters that the labels can be made to stick and evoke the desired reaction. After all, it is easy to scream “Nazi,” but it is much harder to convince people that you aren’t the next would-be Adolf Hitler once the accusation has been made.
Consider the recent interview conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference between Osita Nwanevu, a Nigerian staff writer for Slate, and Peter Brimelow, former editor of National Review and founder of VDare. During the interview, Nwanevu said that he considers Brimelow to be a “white nationalist,” and, despite Brimelow protesting that he instead considers himself a “civic nationalist,” the article refers to VDare as a “white nationalist site.” Brimelow took to twitter to question being referred to as such despite him self-identifying otherwise. To this, Nwanevu simply responded, “I genuinely think white nationalist is fair as a description.” No evidence was offered for the assertion, only his opinion. In fact, the supposed “journalist” did not even bother to define “white nationalist” in the piece or his defense thereof. This is because “white nationalist” is not meant to be a substantive description but is rather a purposely nebulous yet scary label, the equivalent of accusing someone of being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. The Left understands that if they can successfully brand someone as a “Nazi,” “white supremacist,” or “white nationalist” the vast majority of the American people will not listen to their message. The intent is to isolate and alienate.
This more than anything is why the Reactionary Right has been having internal squabbles over the optics of some throwing up Nazi salutes, using Nazi chants, and so on. On the one hand, there are those who say the movement should not be embracing the very things with which the Left wishes to malign everyone. On the other, there are some who think the Left will call everyone “Nazi” anyway so they may as well just embrace it, or at the very least not be concerned over those who do. One must wonder how the average person responds to headlines like “Neo-Nazis Clash With Protesters At Richard Spencer MSU Appearance," or "Violence erupts, arrests made during white nationalist’s MSU visit," or "Hundreds protest white nationalist Richard Spencer at Michigan State University." It does not really matter whether or not Spencer is a Nazi, or that the violence occurs because of leftists. It is a bridge too far, however, to suggest that this somehow shifts the "Overton window" on the issue of "Nazis." People are not desensitized to Hitler, albeit they hear "Nazi" a lot.
Look at the gentleman above throwing a Nazi salute. He is seemingly a member of the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP). In the moment, he was likely frustrated as they were being harassed by an aggressive group of communist Antifa, but that moment frozen in time only shows him angrily saluting, dressed all in black while surrounded by his fellow party members similarly dressed. Would the average white American object to his views? It does not really matter because the Left has exactly what they need: namely, a white man fitting the stereotype the Left desperately wants people to believe about white men. As the media tells it, reactionary politics is terrifying and will lead to another Holocaust, and countless people easily internalize the narrative because of what they are seeing.
This is seemingly where the TWP wants to be. After all, the second point of their 25 Points is that they want a National Socialist government. The Propaganda section of their site includes Nazi salutes, Nazi iconography, and themes reminiscent of Nazi posters during World War II, as seen above. They also associate with the National Socialist Movement. This is all fine if you happen to be a Nationalsozialist, but what if you aren't?
Therein lies the problem of the Reactionary Right: namely, most of the nebulous factions lack clear language to distinguish themselves from others, and, since the Nazis are clearly identifiable and fit the Left's narrative, everyone is labeled a "Nazi." The argument can be made that "NatSoc" are playing into the Left's hands, but the truth is that it would be less of an issue if there was clear delineation between the factions, which would also naturally help better define the broader movement. A monarchist is clearly not a republican, and neither of those are a national socialist. So what brings them together into a movement? If a leftist calls you a Nazi, would it not be better to affirmatively define what you are for in clear terms rather than trying to "signal" against Nazism as a haphazard defense?
Let's return to the CPAC interview with Peter Brimelow. In the exchange, besides asserting that he was a "civic nationalist," he also said,
I was quite happy being a paleoconservative, but we were driven out of that name because it became associated too much with hyper-Catholicism and social conservatism. And that’s why Richard [Spencer] didn’t like it, and he invented the alt-right. Now we’re sort of driven out of that because it’s too associated with him. John Derbyshire has a long essay on the site saying we should describe ourselves as “dissident right.” In other words, the Republican establishment is obviously corrupt. I like “right opposition” from my days arguing with student Marxists in England.
In one interview, Brimelow called himself a "civic nationalist" and a "paleoconservative," and he further spoke of the Alt-Right, Dissident Right, and Right Opposition. But what specifically does any of that mean? What does any of that convey to the reader to counter the much simpler manipulation of the writer calling him a "white nationalist"? The latter may be no more universally defined than the other labels, but it does not need to be as most people will see it as negative even if the specific scope or scale of the imagined crime varies. The Left has carefully worked for decades to paint reactionaries into a corner, and, so far, there has not been a real answer because there has been no real movement.
Look at what Brimelow said of paleoconservatism—"it became associated too much with hyper-Catholicism and social conservatism." This is perhaps confusing at first glance as socially conservative theocrats should be the most paleo of paleoconservatives, but what is actually being referenced here is better termed neotraditionalism and neoconservatism—two faces of the same parasitical ideology that appears conservative on the surface while being built on a foundation of liberal ideals. Indeed, traditions are reimagined through the lens of modernity, and any effort to conserve tradition is limited to the current status quo in any given moment. This is why the 20th century saw a steady march to the left with supposed conservatives losing every battle in the Culture War and accepting each defeat. In fact, neotraditionalists and neoconservatives can seemingly only ever be bothered to truly wage war on those who are to their right, those who actually fight for tradition.
For example, The American Conservative has been critical of the Reactionary Right, and Chronicles has run articles against "white identity," the only potentially effective response to the Left's identity politics. With the rise of the so-called "Alt-Right," First Things has targeted reactionaries with articles such as "The Impossibility of 'Alt-Right Christianity'" and "The Anti-Christian Alt-Right." The authors of such articles are all allegedly Christian conservatives, but here they are rabidly attacking the Reactionary Right for espousing ideas that would have been seen as perfectly mainsteam just a generation or two ago. In other words, they have generally accepted the Left's framing of key issues. They may be more conservative than avowed progressives today, but they are little different from the same progressives a few short years ago. And they will continue to move leftward as the status quo—and thus what is perceived as "tradition"—is changed to suit the Left.
When we speak of paleoconservatism being subverted, it obviously is not because people who are too conservative started to self-identify with the label. It is rather that people with varying degrees of modernist sensibilities started to do so, and that ultimately robbed the term of meaning. Paleoconservatives were distinguished from mainstream conservatives in that they were more conservative, so what good is the label if it comes to be associated with people who are just as likely as any liberal to condemn you for speaking of race, or believing that women should not be allowed to vote, and so on? Liberal A may be less liberal than Liberal B, but they are both still liberals. The problem is that Liberal B started calling herself "conservative," and Liberal C started calling himself "paleoconservative" because he felt he was less liberal than either A or B. In other words, the Left has slowly expanded its domain while shrinking the political spectrum so that people are left with nothing but liberal choices in terms of politics. Do you want to vote for the Communist, Socialist, or the Moderate Liberal? In the end, they all work together to destroy tradition.
The same phenomenon has happened in religious, and, more specifically, Catholic, circles as well. Today, it is easy to find people who refer to themselves as "traditionalists," or even radicals, but any actual traditionalism is little more than a cheap façade, a costume that is worn because it marks them as being the most traditional modernists. They may pay lip service to traditions such as ad orientem, but, to them, tradition is really defined by 1965. They ultimately embrace Vatican II, and they accept that the future of the Church will be built on a modernist foundation. Just as the secular neoconservatives only really fight the Left on certain narrow issues, so too does the Catholic neotraditionalist squabble over relatively minor issues while they passively watch an ever more liberal hierarchy move further and further away from Church tradition and scripture.
A medievalist Catholic obviously has little in common with a "traditionalist" who thinks Africanized Catholicism is going to save the faith because "Africans hate gays," or that an apologist for Islam will fix the Vatican because "he supports ad orientem," or that mass immigration is good because "a lot of the Third World is Catholic." The neoconservative's call of "at least I still have the Constitution" is replaced with "at least I have Latin Mass." "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" is replaced with "Import them all and rebuild the Tower of Babel." What then is the true traditionalist to do when the label has been warped and twisted into applying, without a hint of irony, to the neotraditionalist?
How do you set yourself apart from the neotraditionalists and, for that matter, the Nazis? The simple answer is that words (and optics) matter. You need to be able to convey to the masses what it is you believe and why, but you also need to be able to do so when you may only have seconds before they tune you out. If you refer to yourself as a "traditionalist Catholic" and they assume you are deeply loyal to the hierarchy, you are already losing the battle because you have to waste time separating yourself from the neotraditionalists rather than just promoting your own message. In the case of other factions such as the Nazis, there is the additional concern that trying to separate yourself from them will then be perceived as "punching right" by others within the Reactionary Right.
While it would be all too easy to blame the Nazis, neoconservatives, or neotraditionalists for the confusion, the truth is that none of it would matter if the various other factions had their own identifiable ideology with clear messaging. That in and of itself would create the necessary space between "us" and "them" so the focus can remain on promoting ours and not signaling against theirs. The problem is that this is easier said than done. Look at the fact that there are people who self-identify as reactionaries (Rx), neoreactionaries (NRx), heroic romantic reactionaries (HRx), and counter-revolutionaries (CRx). None of those is sufficient as a label to clearly set one apart from the rest, so that, "I am A," will almost certainly be met with, "What does that mean?" In other words, they do not actually emcompass an identity or an ethos that can spread and become identifiable by others.
Compare these rather nebulous terms with Italian Fascism, German Nazism, Spanish Falangism, Romanian Legionarism, Belgian Rexism, and so on. Each is a similar fascist ideology, but they had their own identity and culture that made them stand out from the others. Therein is the value of specific language used to encompass the totality of a whole movement with all of its complexities. If the various factions of the Reactionary Right wish to break out from a mere presence on the internet (and do not want to be labeled as Nazis), they need to formulate their own specific identities, something that stands out from others and is not one of many vague groups espousing a vague ideology.
But, again, this is easier said than done. What does a traditionalist Catholic use to refer to themselves and likeminded individuals when the most straightforward language has been subverted by people who are not actually traditionalists? What does a paleoconservative call himself when paleoconservative, conservative, and libertarian all typically mean some variety of liberal neoconservative? Only time will tell if the broader Reactionary Right can start to spawn focused movements and organizations; bright stars bringing light to the darkness rather than endless nebulas full of vague ideas and hot air.