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Doing Justice to the Classics

Virgil’s Aeneid Gives Hope to Totalitarians after Failed Capitol Attack

Following the domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, white supremacist websites were awash with conspiracy theories, praise for the rioters, and false equivalencies between their violent insurrection and the summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. One contributor to the white supremacist site Counter Currents, however, expressed his disillusionment with President Trump, calling it “unforgivable and inexcusable for him to condemn and abandon the supporters that answered his call and attended this rally.” It is hard to tell how widespread this disillusionment is among white supremacists with a president who did more than any other recent elected official to advance their agenda, but this author suggests that after being “betrayed by Trump,” “it is time for white Americans to form a new identity and a new mythos.” What follows is a call for totalitarianism wrapped in the veneer of Classical prestige. “In many ways,” the author writes, “the Roman poet Virgil did these things for the Roman Empire and the Roman people.”

A screenshot of the article "Patriotic Feelings" by pseudonymous author Fullmoon Ancestry. It features a detail from the 1688 painting "Aneas’s defeat of Turnus" by Luca Giordana, depicting a triumphant Aeneas standing over a defeated Turnus as goddesses in the sky look away.

The image contains the first paragraph of the article, which reads as follows: "For most of my life, I have never really felt patriotic about America or being an American. The only time I felt a strong connection to America was during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign of 2016. I would drive hundreds of miles just to attend his campaign rallies and meet other Trump supporters. As the fallout of the Capitol occupation has led to increased censorship and arrests, I thought about the Trump supporters I met five years ago. These events have also reminded me of Virgil’s Aeneid. Just as Virgil helped shape a new mythos and identity for the Roman people, the Dissident Right can also help Trump supporters forge a new path for their land, their sovereignty, and their identity."

This author, who goes by the pseudonym “Fullmoon Ancestry,” has written on Classical topics for Counter Currents before, including an essay where he says he “felt the anger of Achilles as terrorist groups like Antifa and BLM burned our cities and destroyed our monuments” and another where he advises readers that “the writings of the Stoic philosophers can give white advocates some clarity and wisdom” in a world where “our governments and politicians no longer represent us” and “most corporations are supporting our enemies while firing any white employees that question or criticize the anti-white terrorist groups that are BLM and Antifa.”

In his piece published after the Capitol attack, he describes his journey from growing up with parents that were “aware of the increasing anti-white propaganda in American society and even noticed these issues in their own lives and careers” to “finally [finding in Trump] a presidential candidate that had the guts to say what most white Americans were thinking and feeling,” and his pleasure at giving “a big middle finger to all the schools, media companies, and government institutions that shamed and vilified white people [his] entire life.” But when the “thousands of Trump supporters from around the country [that] had enough bravery and courage to show up in Washington DC to support their president on January 6, 2021” were “even denounced by Trump…this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

This author is already looking to the future by looking to the past: "These events have reminded me of Virgil’s Aeneid"

However much this disappointment is shared by the members of the more than 800 hate groups still active in the United States, they aren’t closing up shop because Trump lost the election. For his part, “Fullmoon Ancestry” is already looking to the future by looking to the past. “These events have reminded me of Virgil’s Aeneid,” he wrote. “Just as Virgil helped shape a new mythos and identity for the Roman people, the Dissident Right can also help Trump supporters forge a new path for their land, their sovereignty, and their identity.”

Trump’s “failure” to adequately support the Capitol insurrectionists evidently prompted this author to think about his ideals of leadership, and his search for models brought him to Virgil’s poem. “The Aeneid,” he writes, “portrays Aeneas as a strong leader who is dedicated to securing the survival of the Trojan people.” It is not entirely clear that Virgil intended us to feel this about Aeneas: our first introduction to him in the Aeneid shows him so terrified by an ocean storm that he wishes that Diomedes had killed him in the Trojan war (1.98), hardly the portrait of man “dedicated to securing the survival” of his people. And after surviving the storm, Aeneas “feigns hope on his face” while trying to encourage his shipwrecked crew, pretending to be confident while he is consumed by grief (1.208), which is perhaps a desirable quality but probably not what neofascists have in mind when they think of “strong leaders.” The Counter Currents essay begins with a painting of Aeneas killing Turnus at the end of the poem, which is doubtless intended here to be understood as a moment of decisive, righteous action in victory, and not, as that passage has also been understood, as a portrait of the man who was supposed to found a line of just and “civilizing” rulers succumbing to irrational, all-consuming rage.

“Fullmoon Ancestry” does not incorporate these moments of ambivalence from the poem into his interpretation because he is committed to the older way of reading the poem that makes Aeneas a flattering analogue to the Emperor Augustus. On this interpretation, “the Aeneid exemplified [the] ideals” that Augustus “attempted to implement” in order to establish “a new era of peace and prosperity.” Augustus is, of course, a favorite model not just for historical fascists like Mussolini but for contemporary white supremacists as well. Describing the career of a man who proscribed his political enemies, slaughtered the inhabitants of a town that harbored his adversaries, confiscated and redistributed land to his supporters, and hollowed out and subverted Republican political institutions as a “new era of peace and prosperity” is simply to accept the propaganda of the totalitarian ruler himself.

White supremacists don’t need to minimize anything about Augustus. They knew he was a ruthless autocrat and they celebrate him for it

You don’t even have to visit a white supremacist website to find this version of Augustus’ legacy memorialized. You can find it in older historical works like J. C. Stobart’s The Grandeur That Was Rome (1912), which has an image of Augustus facing its title page. And if you’re looking for something a little more modern, you can find the same basic idea in the “National Geographic Resource Library” which describes Augustus as “one of ancient Rome’s most successful leaders who led the transformation of Rome from a republic to an empire” and “restored peace and prosperity to the Roman state.” Minimizing the violence and totalitarianism of Augustus’ legacy is nothing new, nor something we’ve left behind.

But white supremacists like “Fullmoon Ancestry” don’t need to minimize anything about Augustus when they wish that their next candidate will be less like Trump turned out to be and more like Augustus. They know Augustus was a ruthless autocrat and they celebrate him for it. The neofascist group that recently vandalized BLM signage and posted their own flyers at Xavier University used to begin their “manifesto” with a declaration that “the time of the Republic has passed in America … the time has come for a new Caesar to revive the American spirit.”

This is essentially the same message that “Fullmoon Ancestry” is pushing in 2021. “America has become an oligarchical empire that has turned against conservative white people,” he writes. “Despite paying the taxes and doing the jobs that keep America running, white Americans are shamed, vilified, and persecuted. For the last several years, the US government has been working with both political parties and various corporations to import immigrants for our democratic and demographic displacement.” Actually, Black workers and immigrants are the ones who keep America running (especially during the Coronavirus pandemic), including in many cases paying Social Security taxes with little expectation of benefiting from them.

"The bravery of Aeneas" is cited to inspire "white people in America [to] forge a new path of ethnic sovereignty and white solidarity"

None of this matters, however, for those coming to terms with the fact that “Trump was not the hero that would recapture our glory or lead us to a new land of opportunity” as, according to this reading of the Aeneid, Virgil’s hero did. Except that this interpretation of the Aeneid is as much a sanitization of the poem’s narrative as calling Augustus as a bringer of peace: Aeneas’ men may have found in Italy “a new land of opportunity” but they obtained that land through the violent subjugation of those who were already living there. That aspect of the Aeneid, of course, resonates significantly with America’s own genocidal history, but this author needs to idealize both the Roman and American past in order to justify his call for a “new mythos,” a new type of leader, and — what his celebration of Augustus ultimately points to — the dismantling of democratic institutions as well.

Despite his disappointment in 2020, Fullmoon Ancestry believes the time is ripe for the revolution he has in mind. Noting that “Virgil wrote the Aeneid during a time of social and political instability” when “the future of Rome seemed uncertain,” he represents America of today as an empire on the verge of collapse. “Being a white American today feels like being a Soviet citizen in 1990 or a Yugoslav citizen in 1991.” He does not seem worried about this impending catastrophe, however, but rather sees it as an opportunity for white people to strengthen their racial consciousness, just as, he claims, the former-citizens of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia “turned to their ethnic and racial identities…when those declining empires fell.”  For white people, he argues, this can only result in a renewed sense of purpose and pride, since “the ancestors of white Americans were some of the best explorers, settlers, and pioneers of Europe.” As a historical example he cites “the bravery of Aeneas,” which he hopes can inspire “white people in America [to] forge a new path of ethnic sovereignty and white solidarity” just as Virgil’s hero did in Italy, at least in the white supremacist fantasy that posits racial and spiritual continuity between ancient Greeks and Romans and contemporary white people.

“Fullmoon Ancestry” seems to believe that this process has already begun: “Rome may have been founded by Aeneas and his fellow Trojans,” he writes, “but the capital of my country was founded on January 6” by the five insurrectionists who died during the attack. However superficial this author’s understanding of the politics of the Aeneid may be, their deaths are a sobering reminder of the power of political narratives — based in reality or not — to motivate violent political action. Trump’s failure to capitalize on the attack on the Capitol left “Fullmoon Ancestry” disillusioned and looking for both a new Augustus and a mythology to give him legitimacy. Let’s hope his movement doesn’t find one.

We have linked above to archived versions of the posts documented here to avoid generating traffic for Counter Currents. “Fullmoon Ancestry’s” original post is available here.

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