Alt-Histories and Facts: Neo-Fascist and White Nationalist Historical Revisionism in the 21st Century

AHA Session 179
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Columbia 11 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Louie Dean Valencia-García, Texas State University
Lauri Tähtinen, Harvard University and Academy of Finland

Session Abstract

Historians such as Stanley Payne and Robert Paxton have long described the fascist tendency to reimagine or idealize the past, seen both in Mussolini’s desire to create a new Rome and Hitler’s desire to make Germany “great” again. Through the creation of alternate histories and facts, fascism’s impulse has long been to re-write history in its attempt to legitimate itself. This comparative panel will look at multiple case studies to understand ways the contemporary far-right is proposing counter-narratives to accepted historiographical and historical understandings of history. Dr. Louie Dean Valencia-García (Harvard) uses digital archival excavation to situate the recent-history of the far-right, Swedish-based publisher, Arktos, and its sister think tank, “Motpol.” Beginning in the mid-2000s, the organizations have “rescued” the writings of fascist thinkers and published alt-histories written by young, white-nationalist academics, that decry European “degeneration” whilst scapegoating Jews and Muslim immigrants. Today, Arktos’ staff helps run American white nationalist Richard Spencer’s online magazine,, and acts as a voice for the trans-European anti-globalist movement “Generation Identitaire”. A.J. Bauer (N.Y.U.) argues the historiography of modern conservatism in the United States has largely conformed to a long-ascension narrative. Toward understanding the historical subjectivity of the Alt-Right, this paper explores histories of the movement penned by retired intellectual historian Paul Gottfried, known for mentoring Richard Spencer.  Stephanie DePaola (Fordham) shows how the Italian right has used narratives of sexual violence committed by Allied soldiers of color during the occupation of Italy (1943-45) as well as in interracial sexual encounters between Italian women and Allied soldiers. Today, these histories have been co-opted in popular media and political discourse, resulting in the stigmatization of contemporary male immigrants from Africa and been used to account for the current weak state of Italian national unity.  David Idol (U.C. San Diego) describes how the Greek far-right party, Golden Dawn, refers extensively to policies intended to protect national borders from foreign incursions. The nineteenth-century irredentist policy to recreate the borders of the Byzantine Empire has received a second life in the party’s rhetoric. Incursions are perpetrated not only by foreign countries and foreign nationals—the state and private corporations have also laid claims to land that rightly belongs to the Greek nation. This paper examines the ways Golden Dawn has revived and recast nationalist historical narratives from the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries to support these and other policies pertaining to land use, land rights, borders, and immigration. A.K.M. Skarpelis (NYU) compares official reactions to the bombings in Dresden, Hamburg, and Cologne to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The city of Dresden recently commemorated the German victims of the air raids, but framed the overall memorialization around Jewish victims of the Holocaust and present-day refugees, which led to a pointed response by Germany’s new-right. The paper explores this recasting of Germany’s wartime suffering in a context of a German right that seeks to forge transnational alliances. Together, these papers will weave together questions of historiography, imagination, and point to the ways the Alt-Right has been using history.
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