Apocalypse Near? A brief primer on Accelerationism.

This blog is intended as a brief primer on the complex concept of accelerationism – with a focus on terrorist organisations and their weaponisation of the concept as a pervasive,  recurrent theme.

From Muslims in Christchurch to Jews in Pittsburgh, Christians in Colombo and migrants in El Paso, recent attacks by extremists from Islamic and Alt-Right ideologies have one prevailing attribute in common: the belief that their actions will herald the collapse of society as we know it – or be yet another step toward making that revolution come to pass.

Commonly referred to as ‘Accelerationism’ in Alt-Right manifestos, this agenda is not new nor is it unique to terrorist organisations. Engineered to capitalise on pre-existing societal fractures and tensions to hustle people into action, accelerationism is inherently time critical and attempts to fast-track a particular outcome in a target population.

What is Accelerationism?

Accelerationism is defined – in political, aesthetic and philosophical terms – as the argument that the only way out of the current ‘predicament’ humanity finds itself in, is by pushing through it [1]. That is, in any given context, the acceleration of a particular ideology is to push society – on a national or global scale – to the point of revolution in order to enact the desired change. The ‘predicament’ is drawn from ideological and historical narratives to suit each organisation’s goals.

Campaigners do this by setting clear agendas in their organisation’s strategic narrative and tightly framing information and content to increase organic amplification and therefore out-group exposure. Attention to strategic detail follows, with sympathetic (brand) colour palette selection, music choice, the inclusion of iconography and the use of specific in-group language.

Conspiracy theories are also woven in with the same attention to detail, used predominately but not exclusively by contemporary Alt-Right [2] organisations while Extreme Islamists prefer stereotypical views of the West [3] yet both manipulations serve the same purpose – to validate a counter-culture that is inextricably ‘righteous.’

Based in large part on classical Marxism, The Communist Manifesto‘s description of the global effects of capitalism, the concept’s end-state is the beginning of an era of social revolution. Of course, this revolution can be interpreted as one’s freedom fighter and another’s terrorist depending on who is framing that revolution. Accelerationism has also been linked to Nietzsche’s ‘greatest crisis of humanity’ in which he describes the advent of nihilism as the beginning of the end.

When extremists adopt accelerationism to further their ideologies, they move beyond capitalism (in fact many specifically rage against it and identify a litany of social problems caused by it) and into the realm of prophecy, where again their interpretation is rigorously misapplied alongside similarly misinterpreted religious scriptures to afford it some legitimacy and credibility.

Together with off-line action, the end goal of these organisations is to hasten the achievement of their unique version of Utopia.

Alt-Right Accelerationism

The Anti Defamation League define the ‘Alt-Right’ as “short for alternative-right… the term actually encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favour of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy… People who identify with Alt-Right regard mainstream or traditional conservatives as weak and impotent, largely because they do not sufficiently support racism and antisemitism.”

Aligned with this definition, the Alt-Right utopia is best described in their “14 words” slogan:

“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

The use of nazi symbology and rhetoric is commonplace, as is the adoption of Old Norse warrior mythology which doubles as an ideation of racial purity.

Islamic Extremist Accelerationism

Islamic Extremists subscribe to the fulfilment of the Prophet Mohammed’s prophecy of the establishment of a Caliphate and that this prophecy will come to pass ‘at the end of time.’ This theme has been adopted by both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. By bringing about the ‘end of time’ via puritanical and violent means, these terrorist organisations believe that the Caliphate will be restored to them in victory [4].

The secondary theme to note here is the interpretation of Jihad as sanctioned by Allah, which is understood in military terms. Jihad viewed in this context is both redemptive and spiritually necessary. Those who have strayed from the path of Islam or sinned against its precepts, can be redeemed through military Jihad, and Martyrs are promised a fast track to Janna (Heaven), a place at the right hand of Allah and the company of 72 virgins.

Martyrdom, as an example of where extremism diverges significantly from mainstream Muslim belief, and is highlighted as a permissible action [5] which is in contrast to mainstream Islamic views of suicide which clearly state it is haram (not permissible).

Violence as means to bring about societal destabilisation

The Alt-Right point to material published from within their cohort to support the idea that only through acts of extreme violence can accelerationist action be achieved.

The Turner Diaries, Siege, The Great Replacement and The Kalergi Plan all encourage the use of extreme violence to speed up the ‘inevitable collapse’ from which a new world can be reborn.

Similarly, Islamic Jihadists point to scripture and the ‘rightful’ interpretation of sacred texts and historical battles to validate why only extreme violence can realise the prophecy of the establishment of the Caliphate. In it’s now defunct magazines Dabiq and Rumiyah, for example, ISIS thematically validates and justifies the use of extreme violence (along with other matters such as owning slaves, sexual servitude and enforcing Sharia Law). While ISIS claims to have achieved the Caliphate – even in defeat – it cannot claim the prophecy has been fulfilled in totality because not all ‘infidels’ have been vanquished from its borders.

Apocalypse Near?

If the Alt-Right and Islamic Extremists are both on a fast-track to their own versions of the apocalypse, should we be worried about increases in violent attacks?

Yes … and no.

Statistically, we can view a spike in global terrorism aligned with major conflicts such as the rise of ISIS in 2013 to the beginning of the their demise in Syria and Iraq; alongside ongoing conflict in countries such as Sudan, India and Pakistan.

These statistic when viewed comparatively with the number of deaths attributed to terrorism, which for some countries such as Australia is a more recent development in comparison to places of historical conflict such as Ireland, Spain and the Middle East – paints a surprising picture in places that don’t usually spring to mind as terrorist targets.

While the number of deaths in places like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand (noting the data range is limited to 2017 when the Global Terrorism Database lost State Department funding), Belgium, France and Canada are relatively small in comparison to the Middle East, their occurence is statistically high for each respective country.

So statistically Yes, the likelihood of terrorist attacks remains probable, but No – the apocalypse isn’t on the horizon… yet.

As Leon Trotsky said:

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

This war – the war on democracy and freedom – is interested in you.

Proponents of accelerationism are interested in you. They are interested in you because they want you to join them or know and fear them. They want your doubts and fears – stoked by fake news and disinformation campaigns, to manifest into perceptions, beliefs and actions that can help them bring about their revolution. Whether you love or hate them, you help them along on this journey.

The Russians have a saying:

Полезный идиот

meaning – Useful Idiot.

In some respects, we have all been made the unwilling useful idiots of these organisations as they wage their information wars on our social media feeds and via our news channels. Experts at manufacturing outrage, accelerationists understand how the click-per-view mainstream media works to amplify their otherwise un-newsworthy content.

If you’ve ever digested fake news and let it colour your opinions, perceptions and beliefs instead of believing the facts; if you’ve been manipulated by disinformation into altering your views about a people because of their race, religion or culture; or if you’ve ever based your fear and dislike of a people on the actions of the extremists in their midst (in our midsts) then you been a useful idiot on the chess board that is accelerationism. You have played your part in the participatory propaganda model that is used by extremists to drive a wedge into societal fractures to manipulate your worldview towards sympathetic alignment with theirs – or further away from it [6].

Next time you feel the hustle of extremist slogans and content tugging at your perceptions, will you knock another Pawn off the chessboard or will you put that audacious King into checkmate?

We can beat the accelerationists at their own game by calling out fascism, tyranny, despotism, sexism and racism where ever we see it. Only by collectively rejecting the ideals of extremists – and not succumbing to their fear inducing tactics to drive societal divisions – can we unite against them to send them back into the irrelevancy they fear so much.

[1] https://manifold.umn.edu/read/no-speed-limit/section/1b09b41b-002e-4b2d-ade0-b7ee76e5e9cc

[2] For more on extreme right-wing meme culture read:

The Alt-Right as Counterculture: Memes, Video Games and Violence by Rumi Khan (2019) in the Harvard Political Review.

[3] For Islamic extremism’s use of memes and deep cultural themes I highly recommend:

Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists by Thomas Hegghammer.

The Master Narratives of Islamic Extremists by J. Halverson.

[4] William McCants (2014) Islamic State Involves Prophecy to Justify Its Claim to Caliphate. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2014/11/05/islamic-state-invokes-prophecy-to-justify-its-claim-to-caliphate/

[5] Moghadam, Assaf (2010) The Salafi-Jihad as a Religious Ideology. https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2010/06/Vol1Iss3-Art5.pdf

[6] For more on Participatory Propaganda read Alicia Wanless’ work here https://lageneralista.com/participatory-propaganda-in-7-simple-steps/ and here https://lageneralista.com/participatory-propaganda-a-model/.