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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 10-09-2022 02:00

Neo-Nazi memes and the conspiracy to kill Cristina Fernández de Kirchner

Our level of distrust in democratic institutions, the media, and society in general is well documented and it follows certain global trends that have given rise to dangerous fringe organisations, particularly right-wingers, more broadly grouped by having been pushed toward the edges of the system.

A couple of fresh polls indicate a troubling tendency regarding the assassination attempt against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner: approximately half of the population believes it didn’t happen. Whether Fernando Andrés Sabag Montiel, aka ‘Tedi’ aka ‘Nando,’ intended to take out the vice-president and leader of the pan-Peronist Frente de Todos coalition at a moment of extreme political division that she sought to use in her favour, or whether he was part of an orchestrated distracting manoeuvre to “change the game,” the final outcome is the same. At this point there is no concrete evidence explaining why he did it (even though there are several very interesting lines we will be discussing) and the socio-political ecosystem has entered a new phase that is potentially more dangerous – and in which some will benefit and others suffer.

According to an interesting study put together by political consultancy firm Trespuntozero conducted during the two successive days after the attempted murder, 53.6 percent of respondents believe it was “a situation created so that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner can play the role of the victim.” Only 30.8 percent believe it was a real attack on her life. Even among those who voted for the Frente de Todos, 24.4 percent believe it was “made up.' These are shocking figures that tell us more about ourselves as a society than about what actually happened. Our level of distrust in democratic institutions, the media, and society in general is well documented and it follows certain global trends that have given rise to dangerous fringe organisations, particularly right-wingers, more broadly grouped by having been pushed toward the edges of the system.

Whether he was part of a plot or not, Sabag Montiel fits the description perfectly. In a brilliant piece by journalist Juan Ruocco titled ‘Memes and assassination’ published in his blog, he explains how Sabag Montiel’s digital persona matches that of radicalised agents believing neo-Nazi conspiracy theories. Following in the line of philosopher Dan Dennett’s “dangerous memes,” Ruocco accepts that memes are “cultural replicators that spread like viruses” that shape our conscious community, “with only the most advantageous or ‘fittest’ of them surviv[ing].” (The term was originally coined by evolutionary scientist and writer Richard Dawkins in his book titled The Selfish Gene published in 1976). While we generally associate memes with funny pictures shared online, Ruocco uses the concept of a “memeplex” or collection interrelated cultural phenomena and hones in on a specific fascist set of memes that can lead into violent action.

Sabag Montiel had one of the most widely used crypto-Nazi symbols tattooed on his elbow, the “black sun,” which was used by the most high-profile participants in recent mass shootings, Brenton Tarrant (Christchurch shooting in New Zealand, 51 killed), Anders Brievik (Utoya massacre in Norway, 77 killed), Patrick Crusius (El Paso shooting in USA, 23 killed), and Payton Gendron (Buffalo shooting in USA, 10 killed). They have become the heroes of these movements and all of them used the same methodology according to Ruocco, “mass shooting, manifesto, neo-Nazi memes.” The overarching idea that connects their beliefs is that we are experiencing decadence in Western values as a consequence of a racial contamination, whether it’s by the Jews, African Americans or other immigrants. A racial war must be fought in order to rid the West of ‘The Left’s’ cultural control, which can include Marxism and feminism, among other ideologies.

These ideas spread like wildfire online, particularly in certain online forums (which are essentially open to the public and not hidden in the “Dark Web”) like 4Chan and 8Kun, or Rouzed in Argentina, where “frivolous anonymous posts about hair care and humour memes mingled with conversations full of comments and memes regarding racism, sexual abuse, and even discrimination against people with Down’s syndrome,” Ruocco explains. Memes build on memes to create this fascist memplex which has a global platform to spread, the Internet. There are many parallels with the rise of QAnon in the United States, where mental health also becomes an issue. Several of these users become highly paranoid, believing in conspiracy theories that also include ‘Deep State’ agents controlling global narratives. The exhaustion of the financialised model of capitalism that has excluded and alienated large portions of society could be one of the catalysts, along with a global resurgence of fascism. In Argentina, a traditional line of anti-Peronism is beginning to mix with a growing influence of libertarians, particularly followers of economist Javier Miliei, who many see as an inspiration in this battle against “the caste.”

As the investigation continues it is becoming apparent that Sabag Montiel and his girlfriend, Brenda Uliarte, co-mingled with far-right ideology both online and in the physical world, that their economic situation was increasingly dire, and that in some sort of way they planned the attack with some level of additional support. The fact that the gun didn’t go off despite having a five bullets in the magazine, the pathetic reaction of the veep’s security detail, the fact that CFK didn’t even flinch, the erasing of Sabag Montiel’s phone, and several other details will only add to the speculation.

The intended effect is already under way, though. Initially the whole of the political ecosystem (with the notable exception of Milei) condemned the attack. Yet very quickly the government, starting with President Alberto Fernández, sought to blame the Judiciary, the media, and the opposition for fostering hate speech. In the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition they picked up the glove, accusing Crisitina and the Frente de Todos of trying to take political advantage of the situation. Rather than accepting that both sides share part of the blame and that a structural situation of polarisation and rising poverty must be the main priority, the leading coalitions have given the sceptics and disenfranchised another reason to distrust them. A law banning hate speech, which isn’t even being considered officially, has deepened the divide.

Some of the dystopian effects of postmodernity have finally made their way to Argentina.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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