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Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: ‘There Is No Political Solution’

Understanding Accelerationist Narratives: ‘There Is No Political Solution’
2nd September 2021 Matthew Kriner
In Insights

On 6 January 2021, thousands of Americans inspired by the months-long online campaign to “Stop the Steal” stormed the US Capitol with the intent to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. Many participants, some belonging to violent extremist organisations that leverage accelerationist talking points to recruit and mobilise, embraced the notion that the election had been stolen. They held the viewpoint that there were no political means to achieve their goals and that they therefore had to take matters into their own hands. The events of that day represent a tangible worldview shift for a substantial portion of the American electorate. 6 January acts as an acute manifestation of the belief that the current political system in the US is so irreconcilably broken that violence is the only viable solution.

Since the insurrection, Republican support of the rioters who laid siege to the Capitol has increased, contrasting earlier reactions condemning the riot. According to the same poll, over half of Republicans believe that 6 January was rooted in ‘patriotism’ or ‘defending freedom.’ To understand how the deadly event has become one deemed not only defensible but worth celebrating by a not-so-insignificant portion of Americans, we turn to an examination of the increasingly mainstream narrative ‘there is no political solution’ (TINPS). While not exclusive to accelerationism, TINPS is a strategic narrative harnessed as an advantageous tool in the accelerationist toolkit. It also serves as a key feature of accelerationist doctrine that has permeated more orthodox ideologies as well as motivated violence among everyday Americans. This article will be the first installment in a series on accelerationist narratives.

What is TINPS?

Embracing Kurt Braddock’s definition of narratives as “cohesive, causally linked sequences of events that take place in dynamic worlds subject to conflict, transformation, and resolution through non-habitual, purposeful action performed by characters,” we analyse TINPS through the framing of a strategic narrative meant to persuade. Additionally, TINPS can incorporate various hyponymic narratives that use similar phrasing and framings, though that delineation is outside the parameters of this article. This framework is helpful in beginning to conceptualise TINPS’s persuasive power in fomenting paranoia and hysteria and, in turn, laying the groundwork for escalation to violence. It is a powerful tool in constructing extremist worldviews; those who adopt TINPS as a discursive demonstration of their beliefs are convinced they face an existential threat from a perceived outgroup. Moreover, these individuals and/or groups feel that defending themselves cannot be done through voting, legislation, or any other liberal democratic means. Braddock’s meta-analysis of literature on the measurable persuasive influence of narratives, especially when used by extremists, concludes that “narratives induce a positive persuasive effect on individuals that consume them, regardless of the context in which they are presented.” Indeed, if we are to embrace the theorisation put forth by Rick Busselle and Helena Bilandzic that narratives are only as persuasive as their ability to enable the audiences of a respective narrative to construct their own ‘mental models’ of reality, then TINPS is an easily adaptable and thereby easily weaponised narrative.

Historically, TINPS was consigned to fringe millenarian extremist groups and movements (e.g. Christian Identity, survivalists, and preppers, among others) that were convinced modern society’s apocalyptic demise was imminent. Yet in recent years, TINPS has evolved into a palatable narrative that has played a role in facilitating mass radicalisation. As evidenced by 6 January, TINPS has grown in its mainstream prevalence. With encouragement from hardened white supremacist movements like Siegism and neo-Nazi groups like The Base, TINPS has spread into other extremist circles that once viewed politics as a viable solution and are now adopting violent accelerationist narratives (e.g. Oath Keepers).

The TINPS narrative can be weaponised in two ways. First, it can be—and is indeed often—embraced as a foundational ingroup identity formation feature for accelerationist groups. These individuals and organisations readily take up arms against the government and other perceived enemies to hasten what they believe to be looming and inevitable societal collapse. Secondly, it can be exploited by accelerationists as a mechanism for rallying, organising, uniting, and inciting those who have not yet been radicalised to violently mobilise against their enemy. For the average member of a liberal democratic society, ‘there is no political solution’ does not sound particularly partisan nor extreme. However, we have seen firsthand just how dangerous it can be when the belief is adopted more widely.

What is Accelerationism?

As Jade Parker first outlined for GNET, accelerationism is defined as “an ideologically agnostic doctrine of violent and non-violent actions taken to exploit contradictions intrinsic to a political system to ‘accelerate’ its destruction through the friction caused by its features.” Across the landscape of actors who adhere to this doctrinal approach, eradicating the prevalence of liberal democratic governance globally is the primary objective. However, it is worth noting that the US is frequently seen as the keystone that will precipitate the global collapse of liberal democratic norms. Accelerationists often turn to online platforms to express their disapproval of the US government and its democratic system. In doing so, they promote the TINPS narrative and convey their support for violent solutions to any of the following: grievance narratives expressed by others, the irreparably broken status quo, and/or advocacy for systemic demise. Cultivating shared adversaries and tactics enables a broad coalition of actors and their ideologies to cooperate and mobilise in tandem for short-term gains.

In spite of these collaborations borne of convenience, there is still stratification among groups who adopt TINPS in some form or fashion. While some groups are explicitly oriented towards overt terroristic accelerationism (e.g. The Base and Atomwaffen Division), some are heavily influenced by accelerationist doctrine and engage in insurrectionary violence (e.g. Proud Boys and Boogaloo), and others may adopt accelerationist narratives for recruitment purposes but realistically are unlikely to take up arms.

Manifesting the Collapse

While 6 January was the first mass manifestation of the TINPS narrative in recent memory, there have been individual extremists who have mobilised to violence and invoked the TINPS narrative. These violent extremists—the Charleston, Pittsburgh, Christchurch, and El Paso shooters, in particular—penned emotional manifestos and/or past social media posts attempting to explain their actions, incite future violence, and further exacerbate social divides. Some have also become icons and martyrs (sometimes referred to as ‘saints’) within accelerationist communities. In these online spaces, users seek to celebrate, emulate, or ‘one-up’ the attackers, attempting to further destabilise the liberal democratic system to the point of collapse.

The 2015 Charleston shooter intended to start a race war when he murdered nine Black churchgoers attending Bible study. Angered by those who defended Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray instead of the individuals responsible for their deaths, the shooter decided violence was the only way to catalyse the changes he wished to see in society. He expressed in his manifesto that he “[had] no choice” since “no one [was] doing anything but talking on the internet.” Several years later, on the morning of 27 October 2018, a Gab user posted, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” Soon after, that individual allegedly killed 11 people and wounded six more at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. A subsequent analysis of the accused shooter’s social media posts revealed his belief that the US had been victimised by the Jewish community, among others; therefore his escalation to violence to effect change was, in his eyes, necessary.

Then, in early 2019, a gunman livestreamed his murder of 51 Muslims as they prayed in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The shooter’s apocalyptic manifesto revealed a deep-seated fear that minorities would soon replace white Europeans, and cited birth rates, demographic statistics, and ‘replacement fertility levels’ in support of that belief. He displayed clear adherence to the TINPS narrative, claiming in his manifesto that political figures can only bring about minimal change and therefore, the masses must step up to take violent action if radical change is to occur. In August of that year, an individual opened fire in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The alleged perpetrator wrote a similarly themed manifesto on 8chan indicating that his actions were motivated by his belief that Latinx immigrants were invading the US. In interviews following the attack, he told investigators, “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

The El Paso and Christchurch shooters’ manifestos articulated similar goals, especially their apparent attempts to inspire future acts of violence. “You cannot expect others to take the risks for you […] if you are unwilling,” the Christchurch shooter had noted. The shooter specifically asserted the need for believers to “destabilize, then take control” and sought to instill confidence in others by stating that they should “not fear change, we are change.” The El Paso shooter echoed this sentiment, claiming that “inaction is a choice” and that he could “no longer bear the shame of inaction.” He wrote that “when American patriots fail to reform our country and it collapses or when we save it” is when the broader public will understand the dangers to America’s white population posed by ‘invaders’. Not only did these shooters use their manifestos to try and justify their escalation to violence, but they used them to promote a wider uptake of the TINPS belief. This is a key component of the accelerationist doctrine’s objectives: to create cascading and escalating acts of violence.

All of the shooters discussed herein attempted to strategically situate themselves as going on the offensive by taking matters into their own hands. They simultaneously positioned themselves as being on the defense against existential threats, arguing that they were protecting themselves and their ingroup members (white people) from a certain decline caused by an outgroup. In the case of Charleston, that outgroup was Black people. In the case of Pittsburgh, that outgroup was Jewish people. In the case of El Paso, that outgroup was Latinx immigrants. In the case of Christchurch, that outgroup was Muslims. Each shooter felt that their respective liberal democratic governments could not adequately address the existential threats posed by the respective outgroup. Indeed, each shooter believed there was no political solution.

The Mainstreaming of TINPS

The events of 6 January 2021, demonstrated TINPS’s arrival in the mainstream. In recent years, trust in political institutions and the perception that the liberal democratic system works have steadily declined, and accelerationists have been keen to add fuel to the fire. Some individuals present at the US Capitol on 6 January supported the TINPS-adhering narrative of ‘Stop the Steal’, but did not directly engage in the violence. Meanwhile, some attackers were specifically driven to the Capitol by their desire for violence. Through their language and actions, accelerationists are often able to incite violent action among individuals who may otherwise not feel compelled to escalate to violence. TINPS and other accelerationist narratives depend upon a susceptible populace primed for that escalation. The events leading up to 6 January and the public perception of the day’s events thereafter have conveyed just how primed the American public is for TINPS-style rhetoric and action.

Throughout 2020, largely in response to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, domestic extremist attacks peaked and multiple violent attacks on state capitol buildings unfolded. Militias and armed groups adopted the belief that political figures had removed all other recourse from patriotic citizens looking to protect their individual liberties. Perhaps the most notable example occurred in Michigan, where heavily-armed militia and Boogaloo members stormed the state capitol in protest of ‘tyrannical’ COVID-19 lockdowns. Two of those individuals would later be implicated in the plot devised by 14 members of the Boogaloo-inspired ‘Wolverine Watchmen’ to kidnap, extrajudicially try, and execute Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. Similar events unfolded in Washington state; on 6 January, Patriot Prayer and Stop the Steal protestors besieged Washington’s state legislature and penetrated the governor’s mansion security perimeter.

Conclusions

The TINPS narrative is not new nor is it purely an American phenomenon. Societal shifts that lead to divisive and contentious debate (e.g. the mid-2010s immigration policies of the European Union) present fertile ground for accelerationist narratives like TINPS. Across the so-called Western world, white supremacists, identitarians, and other ideologies that share accelerationist leanings have adopted the stance that democratic political options are no longer viable. These adherents believe that something more direct must occur in order to course correct.

Looking ahead, greater attention should be paid to cultivating an understanding of where and how accelerationists who want to incite insurrectionary violence deploy TINPS and similar strategic narratives. For example, the Christchurch shooter wrote that acts of terrorism “turned [his] thoughts from pursuing a democratic, political solution and finally caused the revelation of the truth, that a violent, revolutionary solution is the only possible solution to our current crisis.” Moreover, he specifically noted that he carried out his attack “to create conflict between the two ideologies within the United States on the ownership of firearms in order to further the social, cultural, political and racial divide within the United States.” Given the high levels of ‘sanctification’ for the Christchurch shooter and the desires by other accelerationists to emulate his attack style, it is crucial that analysts and researchers incorporate these types of stated motivations into their frameworks.

The consequences for the mainstreaming of the TINPS narrative are dire. When more mainstream groups and individuals embrace the notion that violence is inevitable and that the liberal democratic system has failed, violent extremist ideologies, groups, and movements gain legitimacy and support. The events of 6 January show how TINPS can rapidly affect pillars of democratic society, all-the-while blending mainstream political institutions and processes with violence in an effort to drive change. What remains to be seen is if 6 January will become a symbolic event on par with Ruby Ridge, Waco, and other resonant events of significance. Accelerationists would welcome it, if for no other reason than it deepens the increasingly widespread belief that there is no political solution.