The anxiety of the “alt-right” over LARPing has a precedent and parallel in the wider right-wing obsession with “stolen valor,” which is ostensibly motivated by a concern with appropriately honoring the agents of the police state (any distinction between the military and law enforcement having become marginal to the point of irrelevance) but which is equally motivated by the need to guard who has access to political violence. Right-wing militias like the Oath Keepers, open only to veterans of military service or former law enforcement officers, strive to attain that access by aligning themselves with the state, positioning themselves as guardians of law and order while pursuing extralegal political violence: working alongside local police departments to suppress left-wing dissidents at demonstrations, as private security for GOP officials, or in conjunction with Customs and Border Protection officials, themselves agents of gratuitous cruelty, to detain migrants and refugees crossing the border with Mexico.

When militia members, Proud Boys, or crypto-fascists self-deputize, however, they reveal something deeper about the nature of political violence: After decades of neoliberal austerity, the state, having privatized everything else, now puts violence on the market as well.

Brendan O’Connor on the elephant in the room.

“Gee, Alis. You dump on superhero stories a lot. Like I mean, what’s the harm in simple fantasies about heavily armed individuals co-opting the state’s monopoly on violence for the purpose of executing extrajudicial revenge against actors they don’t believe the state itself is appropriately addressing? I mean, that’s just silly fun, right? It could never be taken the wrong way or have real-world consequences! Stop taking everything so seriously! It’s totally a coincidence that the massive rise in popularity of superhero narratives in modern pop culture just happens to coincide with the breakdown of rule of law in America, the increasing polarized aggression of its population, and the biggest global rise in fascist movements since the 1930s! I mean, Superman was created by Jewish men! Captain America punches Nazis! Black Panther… exists! They have to be progressive, right? Stories with those sorts of narrative trappings can’t possibly be using them as a distraction in order to slide in a violent, anti-egalitarian ideology under the door! Particularly one that’s not even intentional so much as it is a subconscious manifestation of a cultural malaise and patterns of thought that’ve been implanted in the Western polity by right-wing actors since at least the 1970s! Like how all those movies in the 1980s had the EPA as the bad guys! That had no negative impact on public perception of or policy around environmental regulation whatsoever! Stop worrying and just let people mindlessly consume pop culture without having to think more broadly about how it fits into institutional and cultural patterns of control because, like, it’s not like that’s ever been suggested as a form of fascism before! You no-fun party pooper! Also, you totally read a superhero comic once and are probably playing a violent videogame right now so that makes you a hypocrite and that means I don’t have to listen to anything you say! So nyyah!”