On April 1, 2023, a conference was held in Lyon, France, under the title “Syria and Its Allies on the March Towards a Multipolar World.” It was held by Egalite et Reconciliation (Equality and Reconciliation), a think tank founded by Alain Soral, a former member of France’s right-wing National Front party (rebranded in 2018 as the “National Rally”). Soral was imprisoned in 2019 for racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The syncretic think tank he founded, whose motto is “left-wing on labor, right-wing on values,” combines social and economic ideas from the left with values around family and nation traditionally associated with the right.
The conference brought together members of the far right to update them on the current situation in Syria and thank the country for “its war on terrorism.” At first sight, it may seem strange that European fascists are organizing to stand in solidarity with an Arab dictator. But in fact, President Bashar al-Assad’s war on the Syrian people who rose up against him appeals to fascist sensibilities across the globe.
James Alex Fields Jr. was 20 years old when he drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, killing the 32-year-old protester Heather Heyer and injuring numerous others. Fields had long been public with his far-right views, and efforts by his alleged colleagues in the fascist group Vanguard America to disavow his allegiance were unconvincing. In seeking to understand Fields’ motives, the many journalists and others who checked his Facebook account were greeted by an image of Assad with the word “Undefeated.” Why, they found themselves asking, would an American white nationalist celebrate an Arab leader from a majority-Muslim country, and what might this say about the movement from which he emerged?
Fields is not the only far-right activist to display admiration for Assad. A number of other attendees of the “Unite the Right” rally expressed similar sympathies. One protester boasted a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Bashar’s Barrel Delivery Co.,” in reference to the improvised bombs that have caused thousands of civilian deaths and turned whole Syrian cities into rubble. Another declared, “Support the Syrian Arab Army … fight against the globalists!” to which the alt-right YouTuber Baked Alaska responded, “Assad did nothing wrong, right?”
Far-right figures expressing common cause with the Syrian dictator long predates this rally. As far back as 2005, the Klansman-cum-state legislator David Duke visited Damascus and declared in a speech aired on Syrian state television that “part of my country is occupied by Zionists, just as part of your country, the Golan Heights, is occupied by Zionists. The Zionists occupy most of the American media and now control much of the American government.” Assad’s regime has only increased in popularity with the far right since.
Adoration of Assad is, indeed, widespread among the far right. Some of this support mirrors more commonly held notions about Assad: that he is the only force effectively fighting the Islamic State group, that he is somehow holding the country and region together or that he is protecting Christians and other religious minorities. (This is the basis on which one far-right Christian nongovernmental organization, known as SOS Chretiens d’Orient, has supported the Syrian dictator. It is now under investigation in France, where it is based, after New Lines published an expose of its activities.) Many other groups, however, demonstrate clearly fascist motives. [Continue reading…]