How does one recruit for a paramilitary Nazi organization in the 21st century? There has never really been a solid answer regarding the hordes of HYDRA agents that seem to be reaped like wheat in every second issue of a Marvel comic, and yet they must come from somewhere, with some understanding of what HYDRA does. I doubt they follow a man in SS uniform because it appeals to their fashion sense, after all. In Captain America #28, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates revealed a method of recruitment that seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.
The Red Skull has a YouTube channel, and on said channel, he has his “10 Rules for Life,” praises Austrian anti-Semite Karl Lueger, and bemoans “The Feminist Trap.” It may seem odd for this to be the modern way in which HYDRA recruits, but as the world has become more and more online and connected, it would be odd for the organization to have no online presence in an increasingly partisan world. Here, Coates has clearly modeled Red Skull’s behavior on professor Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist who rose to fame for misrepresenting the C-16 bill, which would have added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Surely, you think, Coates is overstepping himself here. After all, with the rise of open fascism in the western world, it may be dangerous to compare people, no matter their views, to actual, literal Nazis a la the Red Skull. But Coates understands the way that online radicalization works. Before his tenure at Marvel Comics, Coates worked for The Atlantic, a political magazine that employs journalists from all over the political spectrum, often drawing ire from vocal white supremacist elements for his views on race in America. He has seen the online spaces in which they proliferate, and he understands what leads them to white supremacy.
It is here that you need to critically assess Peterson’s positions to discern why Coates has modeled the Red Skull on him. His misrepresentation of the C-16 bill primarily focused on cultural Marxism and postmodernism destroying western society. Cultural Marxism has its origins in cultural Bolshevism, the Nazi idea that Jewish cultural influence caused the degradation of the west under the Weimar Republic. This shot Peterson to fame in the right-wing sphere, where he attracted more positive attention from them for comparing human hierarchies to the hierarchy of the famously civilized lobster and saying that “feminists support the right of Muslims because of their unconscious wish for brutal domination.”
Peterson has also written two self-help books based on his “12 Rules for Life,” titled 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos and Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life, which are largely inoffensive due to their bland nature, but serves as a jumping off point for Peterson’s larger field of work in online right-wing spaces. In these spaces he debates Marxism without reading any of Marx’s works, claims that Frozen 2 is feminist propaganda, but that he is fine with the creepy resolution of Sleeping Beauty. He poses with a fan wearing a shirt that reads “I’m an Islamaphobe,” and rages against “SJWs and snowflakes.”
To insinuate here that he is guiding all his fans to become Nazis is to miss the point of Coates’ comparison entirely; nothing on the Red Skull’s YouTube channel directly influences people to join HYDRA, nor does Peterson openly endorse the KKK or other right-wing extremist movements. In fact, HYDRA’s logo is not even visible on the page, and Peterson claims to decry ideologues of any political leaning. The recruitment pipeline is longer and deeper, and the initial period of radicalization is not characterized by acts of violence and arson, it is characterized by a subtle change in attitudes by the radicalized.
In the Western world, we have seen how this pipeline directs people, and it is often, but not always, white men who follow these steps. They feel disconnected from a world in which their lives did not meet some fantasized absolute that was depicted for them, a world in which their cultural dominance is beginning to fade. Someone may read Peterson’s book to alleviate these concerns about their place in society, and they may find it incredibly helpful in their current predicament. From there, they may look up Peterson and find his views, and may agree with them, particularly the ones blaming minority groups for the way the world is.
Vocal attacks from Peterson-adjacent internet personalities that are directed at minorities suddenly become acceptable, especially attacks that come from those endorsed by Peterson. His appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience exposed his fans to the host and his guests, who have included Alex Jones, Owen Benjamin, and Sargon of Akkad, figures on the far-right who peddle conspiracy theories such as “The Great Replacement,” the idea that Jewish billionaires are trying to replace white people with Muslims under the guise of refugee programs.
As the pipeline continues the radicalized belief that these minority groups have a level of control over them and deserve the abuse they get. These acts of stochastic terrorism only fuel the radicalized to act further, often with increasingly fatal results. We have seen this happen over the last year, as Donald Trump’s COVID-fueled anti-Asian rhetoric was echoed by online right-wing spaces, fueling a rise in Asian hate crimes that has continued to this day.
Through copying Peterson’s methods, the Red Skull and HYDRA have a path to the radicalization of those curious enough to click onto Red Skull’s YouTube channel. It starts with the promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and decrying feminism and ends with acts of mass terrorism designed to incite even further acts of terrorism.
In the recent issue, Captain America monologues that “He [The Red Skull] tells them what they always wanted to hear. That they are secretly great. That the whole world is against them. That if they’re truly men, they’ll fight back. And bingo-that’s their purpose.” The Red Skull refers to the waning of the cultural dominance of the American man as the transition between a “conqueror” and a “caretaker” who stands for a “dream of nothing” and offers his viewers “the sword of Manhood,” phallic language that is mirrored by Jordan Peterson’s Jungian stylings in describing the feminine as “the dragon of chaos.”
Michael Rosen, a former Children’s Laureate, once wrote in a poem that, “I sometimes fear that people think that fascism arrives in fancy dress worn by grotesques and monsters as played out in endless re-runs of the Nazis.” Rosen, who had lost family members to the Holocaust, was afraid of the idea that people perceived fascism as a unique, one-time political ideology that had been swiftly defeated following Hitler’s fall, when everyone was convincing themselves of the lie that “it could never happen here” even as mass detention centers were opened for illegal immigrants on the borders of many Western countries.
This issue was Coates’ attempt to communicate Rosen’s notion, that the lack of knowledge about the way fascism works has seen it resurgent in the 21st century under the guise of academia, free speech, and respectability. An article in The Atlantic has a higher academic barrier of entry than Captain America #28 does, and Captain America has established canon behind it that can help ground a reader, challenge the reader’s notions, and help the reader relate to the different ideas presented.
Recently, though, Jordan Peterson has been posting memes on Twitter in which the Red Skull, in full Nazi uniform, is quoting 12 Rules for Life. Presumably, this is to make Coates look foolish, but his fanbase have latched onto the idea that the Red Skull is actually a hero and have uncritically started meme-ing the phrase “Hail Lobster.” This is a parody of the Hydra slogan “Hail Hydra,” which is itself based on the Nazi “Heil Hitler.” Peterson has also recently retweeted a photo of his daughter dressed in lobster themed lingerie, also quoting it with “Hail Lobster.” Coates’ warning has not only been ignored, it has been subverted in online right-wing spaces by people who are already halfway through the process of radicalization, unable to critically assess why they are mimicking a Nazi slogan to defend a man who they have never met.
(Editor’s Note – 6/10/21: We have removed links to Peterson’s Twitter to avoid sending him direct traffic and/or attention)
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