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Doing Justice to the Classics

Classical Antiquity the Go-to Trope for White Supremacist “Politician”

Augustus Sol Invictus is a white supremacist and former U.S. Senate candidate. As Pharos has documented, he admires Greco-Roman antiquity so much that he legally changed his name to one that invokes ancient Roman imperial and religious associations. Although the SPLC notes that Invictus has “faded from the scene” since he was the headline speaker at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, nevertheless his website, The Revolutionary Conservative, continues to feature new content written by Invictus himself and other contributors, and also maintains an active presence on social media. A look at the material he has published lately reveals that both his commitment to racist politics and his belief that Classical Antiquity supports his views remain strong.

Bernini – The Rape of Proserpina (detail), 1622-1625: Augustus Sol Invictus’ symbol of what needs to be restored

In November 2018 Invictus himself published a “Photo Essay” entitled “The New Dark Ages,” which shows a series of photos, labelled “Before” and “After the Fall.” The implication is that the latter photos are symbols of contemporary decline and decadence, while the former are symbols of a lost world that Invictus wishes to reestablish.

The “Before the Fall” section includes black and white images of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, a sculpture of Richard the Lionheart, an archival image of a group of Boy Scouts of America, and a famous sculpture by Bernini portraying the Greco-Roman myth of Pluto’s violent rape of Proserpina. Invictus is not the only person to admire this sculpture, which is a celebrated example of the baroque style in sculpture. But this history of acclaim should be seen as an example of using the prestige of classics to idealize rape. For example, when one critic notes that “representations of such rape scenes depended on Bernini’s new, dynamic conception for the next hundred and fifty years” he is taking for granted that “good” art should include scenes of violent rape and celebrating the way Bernini’s sculpture inspired later treatments. Critics have also praised the technical skill with which Bernini portrayed Pluto’s fingers digging into Proserpina’s flesh. Praise for the technique avoids or erases any recognition of the violence of the act. This erasure is rhetorically useful to Invictus: he includes the sculpture as a widely admired example of past glory that turns that admiration into an endorsement of his belief in the desirability of patriarchal oppression of women. Equally disturbing is his idealization of Richard the Lionheart: many people have a favorable impression of him because of his (unhistorical) association with the folk-hero Robin Hood, but his refusal to allow Jewish people to attend his coronation led to persecution of Jewish people and even massacres, and Invictus, as an Islamophobe, probably also admires him for leading the Third Crusade.

Praiseworthy sculpting or idealization of violence? Or both?

Images from “After the Fall” include several patently xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic images and captions, such as a photograph of African American high school students behind a “Police Line: Do Not Cross” outside Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School. The photo was probably taken after a shooting of a non-student that took place outside the school in 2016. The photo is labelled “American Youth” and seems intended to paint the young men in the picture, who are simply going about their business, as a threat to the nation by referencing the racist stereotype of black men as violent criminals.

Greco-Roman antiquity has been important to Invictus for a long time

The section also includes a collage of supposedly anti-white headlines with the white supremacist slogan “It’s OK to be white”, a photograph of refugees labelled “Invasion,” another of a toppled confederate monument with a caption criticizing the removal, one of a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event with the caption “There is no gay agenda,” and finally one of President Donald Trump’s belated denouncement of anti-Semitism paired with a quote from white supremacist Kevin Alfred Strom that invokes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: “To determine the true rulers of any society, all you must do is ask yourself this question: Who is it that I am not permitted to criticize?” Nor is the classical absent from this section, which pairs an image of Muslim demonstrators in Europe with a quote from Vergil’s Aeneid that was used by classical scholar and British MP Enoch Powell in a famous racist speech that is quoted in its entirety elsewhere on Invictus’ website.

Greco-Roman antiquity has been important to Invictus for a long time. He named his law firm, where he defended a skinhead who advocated a race war, “Imperium,”the Roman word for “empire.” He has self-published a three volume autobiography, Set the World on Fire with a cover showing a version of the fascist eagle, a symbol based on the Roman military’s aquilla. At the transphobic and misogynistic “Make Men Great Again” gathering from 2017 Invictus invoked the ancient Roman term virtus (“manliness”) to support his definition of masculinity (a rhetorical move Pharos has documented on a prominent misogynist site). And he published an essay on his site entitled “America: Land of the Lotus Eaters” (after the apathetic society described in the Odyssey). It contains Invictus’ standard diatribe against the moral decline of contemporary America alongside praise of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and a misogynist claim that it is a “mathematical fact” that “the number of virtuous women will always correspond to the number of virtuous men” because “a woman looks to a man like a sailor looks to the North Star.”

According to Invictus’ site, Odysseus embodies the "folk soul" of "the continent that birthed what is now the most hated and hunted race on the planet"

Invictus’ engagement with Classical Antiquity seems to have inspired other authors on his site. Rachel Summers (if it is not a pseudonym), who is one of his most prolific contributors, especially of anti-Semitic material like an article praising an anti-Semitic essay on the pro-Kremlin website Russia Today, wrote two essays in which she built on Invictus’ comparison of America and the land of the lotus eaters to exhort readers to think of themselves as Odysseus, lost in the hostile world of modern decadence with only their wits to save them. She writes that she chose Odysseus because he embodies the “folk soul” of “the continent that birthed what is now the most hated and hunted race on the planet.”  This is a reference to the white supremacist fear of “white genocide“: Summers is claiming that white Europeans are somehow endangered in the current climate and must turn to Odyssean wiles to survive.

Other contributors to the site have taken up classical material as well. It recently published an essay by C. B. Roberston, who also writes for the Neo-Nazi site Counter-Currents and has written a book called In Defense of Hatred, arguing that “irony” — not race or “Cultural Marxism” — is to blame for the supposed decline of American society. Robertson appears to claim that irony caused the fall of Rome, and he calls Odysseus “the heroic silencer of demoralizing irony,” citing the passage from the Iliad where Odysseus violently silences Thersites’ criticism of Agamemnon’s leadership. Robertson, however, remains hopeful that America will “recover” because of its violent, hateful history, which he celebrates: “We have, in the past, deported more people faster, closed down our borders more rigidly, rebuked communists more harshly, and imprisoned or killed our enemies more ruthlessly than we would need to do today in order to fix our schools, our taxes, our infrastructure, our military, our media, and our debt. All we lack is the will to do it.”

Augustus Sol Invictus’ political fortunes seem to be declining, but what about the fortunes of his hateful vision of what Classical Antiquity means? He and his partisans may be in the political wilderness but others who share their beliefs are not. It is going to be hard to wrest the Greco-Roman past from their grips.

We have linked above to archived images of articles to avoid generating revenue for The Revolutionary Conservative, which does feature advertisements. The original photo essay “The New Dark Ages” is here.

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