Getting the right wrong

One thing that I think is persistently overlooked and underestimated by some commentators and casual observers of the right is the extent to which its infrastructure and organization depends on a relatively small cadre of donors and activist plutocrats.
There’s a narrative line of sorts running right through the Reagan era (and its own analogues here in Canada), the Tea Party, and now the Trumpian alt-right which likes to portray outbursts of right wing rage and resentment as fundamentally populist: the product of working class pathologies and prejudices.
But this account of the right, among its many errors, really misses the mark in explaining how well organized and politically effective its been in setting the political agenda in many countries (particularly the United States). If anything, the mistaken image of right wing politics as inherently populist is just further evidence of a successful strategy on the part of the people who’ve masterminded them.
Some of the recent news and allegations about Rebel Media are a case in point.
Yesterday, Press Progress reported that Ezra Levant has received an unspecified amount of money from a far right outlet called the “Middle East Forum”. As a [surprisingly excellent] 2011 study from the Centre for American Progress revealed, the Middle East Forum is part of an established network of hard right “think tanks” and media projects engineered specifically to spread xenophobic propaganda and funded in trickle-down fashion by several “foundations” set up by an extremely small subset of unfathomably wealthy people (see the chart below). Much of the actual money for this stuff comes from above, but the further you go down the chain the more the official branding associates itself with crowdfunding and non-partisan “watchdog” models or independent “truth-telling” alternative media aesthetics.
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Image: Centre for American Progress

The same might be said about countless right wing organizations that frame themselves in populist or charitable terms (“foundation”), giving themselves grassroots-ey titles like “council” or “federation” despite being funded by wealthy donors who they very often refuse to disclose. (A few months ago I made a similar observation after Press Progress investigated Kellie Leitch’s donor base and found that the “anti-elite” campaign we’d been told by the Canadian media had set off a “culture war” was getting much of its funding from plenty of supposedly respectable patricians who evidently had no issue with racist dog-whistles.)
Sure, there’s clearly a popular base for this stuff – after all, it needs an audience. But even this tends to be much more affluent and upper middle class than it’s fashionable to admit, and people from this strata are probably a lot more likely to become the right’s footsoldiers than the “ignorant redneck” archetype and others in the same family suggest.
This matters for many reasons, but especially because our understanding of what the right *is* informs in a big way how we decide to fight against it. And conceiving its most reactionary elements as flourishes of mindless ignorance by dumb, uncultured proles lets the very worst people in our society off the hook. 

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