Wednesday, 5 October 2016


The movie Imperium has Daniel Radcliffe in a novel incarnation: from magician Harry Potter to undercover FBI agent Nate Foster. Opposing not dastardly Voldemort but white, neo-Nazi extremists. Well, still a kind of battle of light versus darkness, no?

FBI tactics of penetrating dodgy movements isn’t new. During the Cold War its agents, in notorious Operation SOLO, infiltrated the ranks of the American Communist Party in so large numbers that half of the Party’s upper echelons were actually spies. With the…ahem… laudable aim of disrupting and discrediting the comrades’ activities. As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Imperium opens with agent Foster contending with another set of awful chaps, Islamist terrorists, but his female superior Angela tells Harry – sorry, Nate! – that something even more evil this way comes. Swastika-loving baddies are planning some massive, dirty bombing and Nate is the right guy to stop them. So, the diminutive and wimpish-looking youth shaves his head, mugs up heaps of racist tracts and, hey, presto! plunges into the murky, Aryan, neo-Nazi underworld. And amazingly quickly, too. A quasi-magical feat indeed worthy of Harry P.

A hierarchy of far-right organisations and human types is paraded. From yobbish, tattooed skinheads, to the droll KKK hoodies and to more sophisticated ideologues. A penchant for violence is the connecting link. Like all undercover snoops, Nate Foster’s challenge is to act as a convincing extremist but can he really behave like one? Engage in actual attacks? Does he join in harassing an interracial couple or not? His magic works OK but just as well he doesn’t have to sleep with some hot far-right chick, like British cops did when monitoring fanatical environmentalist groups. Like them, the promiscuous female might have sued him afterwards!

Demonising neo-Nazis is a cinch but writer-director Daniel Ragussis does not lack subtlety. Chief racist Gerry Conway is a polite, vegetarian aficionado of classical music. Confessing to listening to composer Leonard Bernstein, he quips: ‘Jews like listening to Wagner, don’t they?’ A realistic touch. Jonathan Bowden, a now defunct English nationalist and anti-Semite, once told me how he much appreciated Ernst Bloch’s writings on Greek tragedy. A case of Aryan self-contradiction? Or maybe Jews are all right when they underwrite European high culture?

The fascination with revolutionary violence may be tricky. Violence can swivel around and lash out against its advocates. Like in the case of George Lincoln Rockwell, once the leader of the US National Socialist White People Party. A tall, pipe-smoking and nattily dressed fellow (when not wearing his brown shirted uniform), Rockwell was Machiavellian enough to forge links with the Nation of Islam, a radical movement that advocated the separation of races and the creation of an independent Black State in America. He realised Black extremists and Aryan Supremacists could have compatible goals. Anyway, in 1967 Rockwell, as he came out of an Arlington Laundromat, was gunned down by a former follower, a disaffected Aryan. ‘Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword’, I recall someone saying.

Many critics have panned Imperium and it has disappeared from London cinemas after the first night. Not enough sex, maybe? But it boasts Nazi symbolism galore and they say a book or a film sells like hotcakes if it shows a swastika on the cover or poster. Maybe the producer thought it dangerous? Unwittingly, it might advertise far right ideas? Quite possible. Brits are thought to be allergic to skin racism and yet their perennial fixation over immigration, a decisive component in the Brexit vote, reveals a lurking potential there. Indeed, Imperium is also the title of a white supremacist book by F.P. Yockey, aka Ulick Varange, which found some success in Britain. (One of the texts Nate Foster is shown studying, in fact.) A cult book de riguer for ‘Aryan’ activists, I am told.

The key to understanding the rationale of this movie, I think, is in its beginning. Jihadis, Islamist radicals and their plots are now the main preoccupation of Western nations but you can bet your boots President Obumble has directed the FBI to be a bit fairer in their pursuits. Chasing brown-skinned Muslims must be balanced with hunting the other end of the spectrum, the white supremacy bogeys, as agent Nate Foster is directed to do.  It is a smart game called triangulation. You identify two extremes - real or bogus, no matter – and then put yourself virtuously in the middle, equidistant from both. Politically, it makes sense. Everybody loves moderation and dislikes Jihadis and neo-Nazis alike. What to do though when the centre shows itself extreme? After all it was not neo-Nazis who invaded and visited destruction on Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, was it? That was state mega-violence, in the name of the most self-righteous kind of regimes in the world, liberal democratic

True to his magic, mole Harry-Nate saves Washington from an improbable Aryan conflagration. A big sigh of relief but…wait! I see more and greater perils ahead. What if the white extremists, taking a leaf out of old George Lincoln Rockwell’s Mein Kampf, were to strike alliance with the Jihadi boys? As an Arab would exclaim: La samaha Allah! God forbid!

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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