In the United States, fascism presently unfolds as a simulation. The fascist simulation constitutes itself as a pixelated sea of livestreams, images, posts, and comments, circulating widely as its own networked, autonomous model of reality. It is enacted as an ensemble of people, social media platforms, presidential tweets, superspreader events, confederate flags, television chyrons, informatic infrastructures, automatic rifles, toxic masculinities, MAGA hats, racist hashtags, and video game servers. It is fascist ideology reified through consumer technology.
The fascist simulation most recently spilled into reality on January 6th, when armed groups overwhelmed police forces and briefly occupied the capitol building only to (re)discover and (re)affirm that their power actually rests elsewhere. Rather than militantly attempt to seize state power as many feared they would, those who had stormed the building instead were reflexively and irresistibly drawn back towards the glowing screens of the networked devices that had organized and brought them all together in Washington in the first place. In fleeting states of mediated ecstasy, those running free in the capitol, armed with rifles and cell phones, spent their time urgently uploading videos from politicians’ hastily abandoned offices and staging meme-ready photos in evacuated congressional chambers, ultimately choosing the logic of the computer over the logic of the coup.
The fascist simulation proceeds as a model of the world that is so complete that it becomes formally indistinguishable from the world itself. It is a shared, affective experience that is lived and propagated by its participants. Within the fascist simulation, subjectivities are given form, metanarratives are articulated, and repertoires of action and violence are incentivized and justified. The fascist simulation offers its own nuanced sets of emotional registers, aesthetic sensibilities, semiotic traditions, sexual regimes, and political antagonisms. Every encounter with and experience of the world can be wholly subsumed by and neatly organized within the fascist simulation’s assimilative and digestive structure.
The fascist simulation’s way of knowing the world, its epistemology, flows and loops through closed circuits, recursively reconfirming its fascist assumptions more completely. In the fascist simulation, America was always great, has been made great, is great, will be made great, and can always be made great again. Built upon a digitized foundation of networked media objects—images, profiles, videos, groups, apps, chats, forums, texts—all that is needed to sustain and grow the simulation are the contents of the simulation itself. Its self-referentiality is, like a database, combinatorial yet inescapably circular. While Trump’s narcissism can be likened to an ouroboros, the participatory and networked form of the fascist simulation resembles a tangled mass of serpents competing to swallow one another’s tails. The storming of the capitol was never intended to be a definitive climax, but rather was only another looped, networked iteration of a simulation that desires only to circulate ever more sweepingly and at ever greater velocities.
The fascist simulation is structured by conspiratorial fantasies—a flexible assemblage of theories concerning stolen elections, pedophilia rings, jewish/globalist plots, homosexual subversions, salaried anarchists, and vaccine microchips, each its own unique crystalization of white/male/hetero anxieties and paranoias—but it matters little whether they correspond with anything real at all. Conversely, as the distance between a simulation and reality increases, so do the simulation’s durability and potency. Simulated norms also simulate their corresponding abnormalities, and the simulation’s technical and epistemological protocols happily capture and redirect any dissenting signals. The more radically a thing comes to contradict the simulation, the more facilely and unthinkingly it can be recuperated.
The fascist simulation’s raison d’etre is ultimately to produce, sustain, and multiply fascist lifeworlds. To these ends, the fascist simulation cultivates its own immune systems, its own modes of neutralizing whatever aspects of reality fail to correspond with its models of the world. The fascist simulation is structurally organized to subsume and capture every lived experience—sexual, cultural, economic, political—within fascist regimes of meaning. In the digital recesses of its manichean worlds, every other life is encountered only as a friend or enemy that must either be eternally embraced or entirely exterminated. The affective regimes of the fascist simulation, the binary couplings of total love of the same and total hatred of the other, render its means and ends indistinguishable: the simulation fights only for itself, and every tender caress of or violent clash with reality only confirms and heightens the felt momentum of the simulation’s procession.
The fascist simulation unavoidably collides with reality as it expands, always thirsting for more stimuli upon which its models and measures can be imposed. It desires only to multiply its networks, to subsume more and more data as a means of becoming more refined in its detail and commanding in its force. Whether coded as MAGA, QAnon, Blue Lives Matter, Proud Boys, or Militias, every encounter is interpreted and then enshrined as a confirmation and substantiation of the fascist simulation. Progressing as a networked machine that connects and parses the world according to fascism’s totalitarian logic, every militant demonstration, livestream event, campus debate, sponsored podcast, and media spectacle cultivates and sows the computational territories of the simulation, producing and instilling its own autonomous modes of reasoning and regimes of sensibility that ward off all contrasting forms of reason and sense.
The fascist simulation is not invulnerable, and when it is in some way threatened—when parts of its infrastructure collapse, when its internal consistencies begin to disintegrate, or when its edges bleed into lines of potential flight—its response is always to dramatically amplify and intensify itself. The affects that course through the fascist simulation oscillate between totally operative power and totally compromising vulnerability; any acceleration, expansion, or connection is experienced within the simulation as a totally messianic conquest, while any deceleration, contraction, or disconnection is experienced within the simulation as a totally existential threat. Regardless of stimuli—whether Trump triumphs or is trounced, or whether the Proud Boys take over the town or are chased out of town—the simulation generates the collective desire to lash out only more desperately and frenetically, to explode in a volatile synthesis of joyous and humiliated fury, the logic of which is inescapably suicidal. The fascist simulation, ultimately, desires only to annihilate everything as a means of annihilating and putting an end to itself.
The fascist simulation must be defeated—these past years have taught this to us again and again in manifold ways—but it cannot be meaningfully confronted without also confronting the enmeshed, adjacent simulations that sustain it. We all live in some version of a simulated world, perhaps in one where climate change is not actively accelerating beyond return, where colonial and genocidal pasts no longer shape and determine the present, where sexual violence is consistently denied refuge, where capitalism doesn’t subjugate and dispossess all of life, or where police don’t regularly execute Black people in the streets. In the networked present, it is crucial to understand that the fascist simulation isn’t simply an irregularity or anomaly that has strayed from an otherwise amiable and equitable reality, but is rather built upon the legacies and inheritances of profound, incomprehensible violence that actively structure each of our social, political, and economic lives.
The fascist simulation is built upon many other dimensions of domination—capitalist, patriarchal, colonial, racist—that also impose themselves in simulated fashions, grafted to and underpinning one another, that cannot simply be disentangled and addressed one by one. If there is any hope of breaking down the fascist simulation before it breaks all of us, those simulations must also be terminated as well, in a continuous, destituent gesture. Undoing the fascist simulation, quite simply, requires undoing the world which sustains it, which nurtures it, which is its substrate. This, and nothing less, is the work required of us.