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Doing Justice to the Classics

Election Defeat Prompts Comparisons to Roman Emperors by White Supremacists

Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election has predictably prompted a wave of conspiracy theories among his supporters about the result, many of which the President himself has promoted, most recently saying that “it’s going to be a very hard thing to concede because we know there was massive fraud.” White supremacist websites, already hotbeds for such theories are no exception, have joined in searching for any explanation for Trump’s loss other than the real one, that the President didn’t get enough votes. What may be less predictable is that one of the white supremacist sites that Pharos documents has turned to analogies to Roman Emperors to explain why their favored candidate lost.

Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency he has been compared to Roman Emperors, usually by critics, occasionally by supporters, sometimes as a joke. Perhaps surprisingly this comparison was not as common on white supremacist sites, although his patent authoritarianism prompted an occasional reference to Julius Caesar (on Counter Currents, before Trump’s election in 2016) or, more obliquely, to Augustus (on The Daily Stormer). But in the days following Trump’s loss in November The Occidental Observer, which Pharos has documented several times, published two essays comparing Trump to Roman emperors in the service of racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the election.

The first was an essay by Tom Sunic, a prominent translator of the works of European nationalists and director of the American Freedom Party, whom Pharos has documented previously for an essay on The Occidental Observer making Sallust and Juvenal prophets of America’s supposed degeneracy. In his latest piece, entitled “‘Who will guard the guards?’; Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Mail-In Voter Fraud, and Repercussions for Europe,” Sunic again takes inspiration from Juvenal, whose Quis custodiet ipsos custodes provides Sunic with the first part of his title. Sunic, who simply assumes that there was “ballot fraud surrounding the latest US Presidential election” offers what he calls a version of this line in “contemporary Bidenesque English:…’Who will observe the ballot counters?’” There is, of course, no evidence of any ballot fraud in any U.S. state.

But this invocation of Juvenal is not central to Sunic’s topic, which is instead a comparison of Trump to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. According to Sunic, “despite his stoic awareness of the transience of all life on Earth, Aurelius knew that when fighting the barbarians, a free man cannot live by books alone — he also needs a solid sword.” Sunic goes on to claim that Aurelius “preferred the company of his soldiers who protected the northern and eastern borders of the empire…[that] was under constant onslaught of military intruders coming from the North and East.” Sunic then makes the typical white supremacist move of erasing any distinction between the movements of modern immigrants and ancient military actions against the Roman empire: “today this area,” he says, “has become a new major route for new illegal intruders, i.e. Afro-Asian migrants heading toward the heart of Europe.” Europe, he implies, lacks the kind of xenophobic leadership that Trump, and Marcus Aurelius provided, because unlike Trump what Sunic calls its “paranoid” leadership is “haunt[ed]” by “the insulting label of ‘fascism,’ ‘racism,’ or ‘colonialism.’” That is, he imputes to Marcus Aurelius the same anti-immigrant xenophobia that Trump has enacted as president, claiming that both Trump and Aurelius have shown leadership in “turbulent scenarios where peoples of European ancestry will soon have to make a choice: how to preserve their racial and cultural identity in the face of the coming migrant storms.”

The departure of Trump from power does not mean the end of racism in the United States

In a second comparison Sunic brings up “Aurelius’ grandfather, the emperor Hadrian,” whom he similarly admires for “wag[ing] devastating wars in the shaky southern part of the empire against revolutionary Jews in the Roman province of Judea.” Here however Sunic shifts from anti-immigrant rhetoric to anti-Semitism. Hadrian’s wars, he says, created “an indelible anti-European grudge in the Jewish collective memory.” Sunic does not elaborate on this point because, writing for a website run by Kevin MacDonald, the man who has been described as the “primary voice for anti-Semitism from far-right intellectuals,” he doesn’t need to: he can assume that his readers subscribe to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people seek to bring about the destruction of white civilization by promoting immigration. And so when in the closing of his essay Sunic praises Trump because “the Deep State in the EU and the US resent him very, very much” and calls on “proponents of state sovereignty” to resist the “proponents of globalism” we are safe in detecting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about the election wrapped up in the Hadrianic parallel. Sunic implies that Trump’s loss is the result of the “anti-European grudge” that Sunic says Hadrian created in Jewish people, a loss that in Sunic’s view “will be the end not just of the people and culture of traditional America, but of the entire West.”

A second article, also published by The Occidental Observer, that compares Trump to a Roman emperor makes this anti-Semitic argument explicitly. In “Trump and Julian”, published a few days after Sunic’s piece, someone using the pseudonym “Marcus Apostate” offers a comparison of Trump and Julian the Apostate, emperor of Rome from 361–363 and best known for his rejection of Christianity, into which Julian’s uncle Constantine, as emperor, had been baptized. “Marcus Apostate” finds in Julian a kind of white supremacist prototype, writing that Julian “was very unhappy that Rome had succumbed to Christianity and that the aristocratic, Roman, manly virtues had been replaced by an overly-sentimentalist slave morality that valued equality over excellence and posited that all things Roman were bad, while they celebrated values that denigrated life and their own people.” We can recognize in this analysis parallels to the modern white supremacist beliefs that the dominant culture of modernity is anti-white, and that white people are unjustly considered responsible for all evil in the world.

“Marcus Apostate” catalogues some superficial similarities between Trump and Julian. He compares Julian’s practice of “openly debat[ing] with Senators” to Trump’s extensive use of Twitter. He says Julian “tried to clear the swamp” in Rome “by dismissing thousands of servants and idle bureaucrats,” and “angered the corrupt imperial government” in various ways. But the main parallel he wants to make is between their downfalls. Repeating the claim that Julian was killed by treachery, a story found only in Libanius (himself a Pagan in the Christian Roman empire)  and not in other ancient sources, “Marcus Apostate” implies that Julian’s opposition to Christianity incurred the displeasure of elites in the imperial government and led to his death. For white supremacists who often regard Christianity as a Jewish plot to weaken white ethnocentrism by importing universalizing values, it is only a short leap from that to claiming that Jewish people orchestrated Julian’s fall from power.

Whatever the white supremacist movement has to talk about, Classical antiquity will be there

This is exactly what “Marcus Apostate” claims about Trump’s loss. He sees the entire 2020 Election as a Jewish plot to remove Trump from office. As evidence he cites the fact that Trumps opponent Bernie Sanders is Jewish and that President-elect Biden’s children married Jewish people; he even believes that Jewish people infiltrated Trump’s own family, pointing to Jared Kushner’s “outsized influence on the president’s policy.” He laments that even the Libertarian party’s candidate for vice president in 2020 was Jewish. “When it comes to contemporary American politics,” he writes, “rather than turtles, it is Jews (Jewish White people) all the way down.” Trump, he says, “unwittingly threw in his lot with the oppressors, only to realize, too late, why the Tribe found his growing nativist populism a real threat.”

On the one hand these comparisons — both of which impose upon ancient emperors the qualities of Trump that they wish to parallel — may seem the desperate sour grapes of a movement facing marginalization after four years of ascendancy under a president committed to white supremacy. But they are also a reminder of two things, one specific to Pharos’ mission of documenting white supremacist appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity and one that needs to be understood everywhere.  For Pharos, these appropriations show that whatever the white supremacist movement has to talk about, Classical antiquity will be there. For the country, they remind us (as do the many non-Classical essays being published every day on white supremacist sites), that the departure of Trump from power does not mean the end of racism in the United States.  As Ijeoma Oluo wrote on election day, “This election doesn’t change the work we need to do, it just determines how much harder that work may be.”

To avoid generating traffic for The Occidental Observer we have linked above to archived versions of these essays.

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