Presidential chaos GARY LACHMAN
GARY LACHMAN wonders whether underlying America’s current political upheavals is a dark web of memes and magic: are the alt-right practising chaos magick?
I f asked what single word characterised President Donald J Trump’s first year in office, many would answer “chaos”. His numerous cabinet changes, rapid hiringand-firings, and policy switches – not to mention FBI investigations – suggest as much; but, if nothing else, Trump’s personal style itself tends to the unpredictable, if not the erratic. As he wrote in his self-help book The Art of
the Deal: “I play it very loose”; “You can’t be imaginative and entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops”; “Sometimes it pays to be a little wild.” 1
Such tactics might work in business; politics, however, is another matter. But is Trump the only one spreading chaos?
One of the odder incidents following Trump’s presidential victory happened during the annual meeting of the National Policy Institute in the Ronald Regan Building, not far from the White House, soon after the election. Richard Spencer, leader of the NPI – a far-right organisation which had backed Trump – opened the proceedings with a chilling cheer, which was received with an even more ominous response. As Spencer declaimed “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail our victory!” the crowd responded with enthusiastic applause and not a few Hitler salutes. 3 But what’s even stranger is that Spencer and his followers took credit for Trump’s victory. He called it “a victory of the will”, and declared that “We willed Donald Trump
The essence of chaos magick is to have some practical effect
into office, we made this dream our reality.” 4
Writing about this incident, New Thought blogger Harvey Bishop pointed out that making dreams a reality is the central aim of various forms of “mental science” or “positive thinking,” practices of which, we know, Trump himself is a devotee. 5 Now it seemed that Spencer and Co. had been getting up to something similar. These and other forms of “creative visualisation” or “mind magic” share the common belief that “thoughts are things”. This means that if visualised persistently enough, through sheer mental intention, an ardent wish can become a concrete reality.
The way in which Spencer and other members of the alt-right made their dream of a Trump presidency a reality, if in fact they did, was through what we can see as a darker variant of positive thinking. They used what is known as “meme magic”.
The term meme was coined by the biologist Richard Dawkins. Memes are images, symbols, slogans, or any other cultural product that can be transmitted to and imitated by others, and Dawkins believed that they serve the same function in culture as genes do in organisms. When Dawkins first coined the term, back in 1989, the main media for the dispersal of memes were books, art, music, television, films – old school stuff. Today, they spread through the Internet.
The “magic” end of meme magic comes from its link to “chaos magick”. What’s that? Simply put, rather than stick to the spells and rituals of traditional magic, chaos magick prefers a “do-it-yourself” approach that favours the magician’s personal initiative and imagination, his ability, that is, to make it up as he goes along – rather as Trump seems to be doing. Rather than fuss over wands and bells and incense, the chaos magician uses whatever is at hand; the principle is the same as with objets trouvés – the “found objects” that magically become “art”. What is at hand for the chaos magician today are the memes propagated across the net.
The essence of chaos magick is to have some practical effect on reality – to “make things happen”. In principle, it’s the same aim shared by New Thought and positive thinking. Although they seem worlds apart, Rev. Norman Vincent Peale – Trump’s mentor – who popularised “the power of positive thinking,” and Austin Osman Spare, the transgressive artist-magician, generally recognised as the grandfather of chaos magick (see FT144:34-40), have more in common than we might at first suspect.
Meme magick started when teenage online gaming addicts recognised that images from pop culture they had been posting seemed to be having an effect in the “real” world. For instance, they saw odd coincidences between the crash of German Wings flight 9525 in 2015 and a scene from the 2012 film The Dark Knight
Rises. Fans of the film started a thread (“Baneposting”) on which they commented on the many similarities between the film scene and the real-life disaster.
For example, “Bruce Robin” was the name of one of the crash investigators, and a town near the crash site in the French Alps was called “Bain”. Bane is the name of the villain in the film, Batman’s secret identity is Bruce Wayne and Robin is Batman’s sidekick. In the film, Bane causes the flight to crash, and the evidence suggests that Flight 9525’s co-pilot crashed the plane deliberately. There are other coincidences and readers can find them at the knowyourmeme. com site. 6
This phenomenon was christened “synchromysticism.” 7 Synchronicity is the psychologist CG Jung’s name for a “meaningful coincidence”, when something happening in the mind seems to be mirrored in the outer world, with no obvious connection (see FT171:42-47) – again, the basic aim of chaos magick and positive thinking. “Synchromysticism” substitutes the Internet for the imagination. It happens when something on the net affects things in the “real” world. We can say that chaos magick – all magic in fact – works on the principle of
inducing synchronicities; and the same can be said for positive thinking.
One of the principles of chaos magick is that anything can be used as a “sigil”, a magical symbol or image charged with will and imagination. Chaos magick differentiated itself from old forms by appropriating images from popular culture and using them as magical tools. In the case of Spencer and Trump’s “victory of the will,” the icon commandeered was the cartoonist Matt Furie’s slacker amphibian Pepe the Frog.
Pepe started out innocuously enough, but once launched there’s no controlling a meme, and it wasn’t long before he made his way to the dark side. He became a mascot for the alt-right, who posted his image all over the net. Pepe quickly became part of Trump’s campaign, with images of him appearing alongside Trump and even as Trump himself. The idea was that if random posting of a scene from a film could have a real effect in the real world, then the intentional repeated posting of images – memes – should produce even greater results. Several strange coincidences surrounding Pepe – which I can’t go into here – made it seem that he was indeed magical. Many saw him as the incarnation of an ancient Egyptian god of chaos, with Trump as his avatar, clearing the way for his return.
In any case, Trump won, and if Spencer and his followers are correct, then meme magic must be included, along with blue-collar disenchantment and Hillary Clinton’s bad reputation, as calculable reasons for his victory.
But political chaos magick isn’t limited to the American far-right fringe. Years before the alt-right turned positive thinking and meme magick to its own ends, ex-Soviet dissident-turned- establishment-intellectual and sometimes Putin advisor Alexandr Dugin hoisted the flag of chaos over a political landscape even more uncertain than Trump’s chaotic presidency (see FT349:48-51). Dugin, whose heady text The
Fourth Political Theory proposes a “politics of chaos”, has appropriated the eight-pointed “chaos star” as the emblem of his Eurasian Youth Union. This is the far-right patriotic movement – or street gang – that was unleashed on anti-Putin protestors and liberal Western diplomats when necessary. The “chaos star” itself, practically a trademark of chaos magick, began its life as an element in the British writer Michael Moorcock’s “Eternal Champion” series of fantasy novels, which centre around a never-ending battle between the forces of Order and Chaos.
This is a theme Dugin reprises in his own notion of a similar eternal war between the Western “Atlanticist” seafaring people, and the mother of all continents, the Eurasian heartland. With his recent excursions into Crimea and Ukraine, Putin seems to want this heartland to expand, and the English edition of Dugin’s book, Eurasian Mission, showing him how do to so, sports a yellow chaos star against a dark, sombre background.
Publishers have to sell books and graphic designers help them do it. But perhaps a burning star of chaos rising against darkness suggests something more. I think it might, and in my forthcoming book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump (on which this brief taster is based) I explain why.
LEFT: Richard Spencer: Hail Trump. BELOW: The President tweeted an image of himself as Pepe the Frog.
ABOVE: A right wing protester holds a sign of Pepe the Frog at a rally in Berkeley, California, on 27 April 2017. BELOW: The yellow-on-black ‘chaos star’ used by as an emblem by Alexandr Dugin’s youth movement.