Virgil’s Aeneid Gives Hope to Totalitarians after Failed Capitol Attack

Following the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, white supremacist websites were awash with conspiracy theories, praise for the rioters, and false equivalencies between their violent insurrection and the summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. One contributor to the white supremacist site Counter Currents, however, expressed his disillusionment with President Trump, calling it “unforgivable and inexcusable for him to condemn and abandon the supporters that answered his call and attended this rally.” It is hard to tell how widespread this disillusionment is among white supremacists with a president who did more than any other recent elected official to advance their agenda, but this author suggests that after being “betrayed by Trump,” “it is time for white Americans to form a new identity and a new mythos.” What follows is a call for totalitarianism wrapped in the veneer of Classical prestige. “In many ways,” the author writes, “the Roman poet Virgil did these things for the Roman Empire and the Roman people.”

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Capitol Terrorists Take Inspiration from Ancient World

On January 6, 2021 a group of domestic terrorists, encouraged by the outgoing President of the United States, attacked the U.S. Capitol Building. Capitol security offering so little resistance to white rioters attempting to enter a government building made for a striking contrast to a year of police attacking Black Lives Matter demonstrations, 93% of which involved no violence at all. The white supremacy that motivated the attackers soon became clear as well. Although most of the people and groups Pharos has documented work primarily online, the attack on the Capitol saw violent terrorists in the seat of our nation’s government displaying familiar Classical symbols. This post will attempt to collect examples of these. Many of these have already been noted and discussed in a wide-ranging essay by Spencer Alexander McDaniel on many of the symbols seen at the Capital attack (not just Classical ones). If you are aware of any examples not included here please send them to pharosclassics@vassar.edu or contact us on Twitter.

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The Third Year of Pharos

by Curtis Dozier, Director of Pharos

2020 has been a year in which the increasing visibility and influence of overtly white supremacist groups in the United States continued, including those whose use of Greco-Roman antiquity Pharos documents. But it was also the year that a police officer murdered George Floyd (and many other Black people) and that the Coronavirus Pandemic took a disproportionate toll on communities of color. As the insidious and deadly operation of racism and structural inequality at the heart of mainstream American institutions and social practices received widespread attention from white people who are ordinarily sheltered from it, I wasn’t always sure whether Pharos met a need. When police officers can kill Black people with impunity, when our nation’s economy and public health system treats Black and Brown lives as disposable, the latest essay about Juvenal on an avowedly white supremacist website did not always seem worthy of attention. Our country has a huge problem with overt racism, but we have an even bigger problem with the racism embedded to the point of invisibility — if you’re white — in every aspect of our society.

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Election Defeat Prompts Comparisons to Roman Emperors by White Supremacists

Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election has predictably prompted a wave of conspiracy theories among his supporters about the result, many of which the President himself has promoted, most recently saying that “it’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud.” White supremacist websites, already hotbeds for such theories are no exception, have joined in searching for any explanation for Trump’s loss other than the real one, that the President didn’t get enough votes. What may be less predictable is that one of the white supremacist sites that Pharos documents has turned to analogies to Roman Emperors to explain why their favored candidate lost.

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When History Meets Race Pseudo-Science

“Human Biodiversity” is a euphemism that racists use to lend respectability to their pseudo-scientific claim that white superiority has a genetic or evolutionary basis. Many white supremacist ideas derive from this claim: if white superiority is “natural” and immutable, the argument goes, there is no point in attempting to help non-white people whose inferiority is similarly “natural.” Racist science also suggests that it is impossible for white people to live in harmony with non-white people, that society should (continue to) be organized to give white people more power than other people, and that any demographic change that reduces the percentage of white people in a nation can only be detrimental to that nation’s prosperity. The term “Human Biodiversity,” often abbreviated “HBD,” was coined by Jonathan Marks, a prominent critic of racist science, but quickly became popular with the same racists whose ideas Marks intended to reject. Many of the leading “researchers” in HBD receive funding from white supremacist organizations like The Pioneer Fund and publish their findings in white supremacist journals like Mankind Quarterly, which there is a decent chance your university library subscribes to. HBD embodies the evolution of racist pseudo-science from the measurement of visible features like skulls or noses to the study of genetics as a way of inventing racial differences between human beings. As such it may seem like an area of white supremacy where we would be unlikely to find Greco-Roman Antiquity being invoked. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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The Proud Boys and Greco-Roman Masculinity

During the first debate of the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign, President Trump was asked to condemn white supremacy. Instead he said “Proud Boys, Stand Back and Stand By…somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” Trump’s expression of support for a white supremacist and anti-Semitic organization that promotes and engages in violence is just the latest evidence of the white supremacy in the Trump administration. A former neo-Nazi recognized this as “clear encouragment for continued violence,” coming from an administration that has attempted to downplay the threat of white supremacy in America. It is to be hoped that such a high-profile shout-out to a racist organization will call (further) attention to these facts and to the true nature of The Proud Boys, whose founder claims the group’s focus is not race but “Western Values.” And indeed, the group’s website describes them as “Western Chauvinists” who “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” The Proud Boys are thus yet another organization that attempts to conceal its racism behind arguments about the supposed superiority of “Western Civilization.” And wherever such claims are made, Greco-Roman antiquity usually comes up as well. The articles in “Proud Boy Magazine” are no exception.

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The Fall of Rome as “the End of the White World”: Jean Raspail’s “Camp of the Saints”

The Camp of the Saints is a xenophobic novel by Jean Raspail published in French in 1973 and translated into English in 1975. Generally well-received when first published, it imagines a race war in Europe sparked by unchecked immigration. Its author, who died in June 2020, has won two of the most prestigious literary prizes in France, and more recently the book has been praised and promoted in the United States by a Congressional Representative and three senior advisors to the President of the United States, making it one of the most influential white supremacist books ever written, one that Historian and Artist Nell Painter has identified as a key text for understanding “American Whiteness Since Trump.” Unlike other French xenophobic treatises, The Camp of the Saints did not engage much with Greco-Roman Antiquity. Until, that is, it was reprinted 1985 with a new author’s preface.

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Bronze Age Greeks Inspire Violent White Masculinity

Bronze Age Mindset is a book published in 2018 by someone using the pseudonym “Bronze Age Pervert” (abbreviated BAP in this article). Written in the ironic style characteristic of what used to be called the “alt right” but which is more properly recognized as the evolution of white supremacy, this self-described “exhortation” decries modernity as “the most debased of ages” (113). For inspiration about how to survive in “our trash world” (164) it looks to mythological and historical figures from Greek antiquity that provide models for how to defy and ultimately overthrow “the great and suffocating shadow of our time, that smothers all higher life out” (67). The book, which has attracted the admiration of mainstream politicians, is said to have “lit the online right on fire” because it “understands the fundamental draw of right-wing traditionalist ideology…by providing adherents with a sense of their own ‘specialiness’ in a mythic narrative created for them.” It’s a narrative that depends on a toxic blend of misogyny and white supremacy, with the ancient world as its archetype and source of prestige.

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Sallust and Juvenal Made Prophets of Racial Decline

Tomislav Sunić sits on the board of directors of the white nationalist American Freedom Party and is a prolific writer and frequent lecturer at white supremacist conferences. In a transcript of one such speech published on The Occidental Observer, Sunić argues that “in view of the large-scale racial replacement of European peoples by the masses of non-European peoples, the old European world seems to be now preordained not to a transient decadence, but rather to a terminal decadence.” His analysis uses ancient Rome, which he calls the first of the “series of decadences [Europe] has encountered over its history,” as an explanatory model for the causes and effects of this supposed decline. The example of Rome, he claims, shows that “once a nation’s heritage, including its heredity, is forgotten or compromised, society begins to fall apart as was observed in Rome and as we can see every day in Europe now.”

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Racist Commemoration of Greco-Roman History as White History

“Today in White History” is a Twitter account that commemorates technological, scientific, athletic, and artistic accomplishments of people that the account’s curator regards as “white,” occasionally adding racist commentary or a  “White Live Matter” hashtag to its descriptions. The account intends to provide daily evidence for one of the fundamental beliefs of white supremacy, namely that white people have made more significant contributions to human history than other kinds of people. And just as many white supremacists regard the histories of ancient Greece and Rome to be exclusively “white” histories, “Today in White History” not only includes Greco-Roman history in its feed but gives the Classical special prominence by using an image of the Roman orator Cicero as its avatar.

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