IN A PHOTOGRAPH posted to Facebook in 2011, an American man named John Morgan stands on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi, wearing a white dhoti. He smiles, and holds a small bag in his hand. The sun is setting over the river, into which, just moments earlier, he had scattered the ashes of his beloved cat. When the photo was taken, Morgan had been living in India for two years.
Several of his friends commented on the photo. “I didn’t know that you are inclined towards Sahajiya Vaishnavism. Traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavism sorts that path better,” one wrote.
“I’m interested in everything Vedic,” Morgan replied. “I’m not even certain that I’m really a Gaudiya Vaishnava, since I find the Sri Vaishnavas and even Advaita Vedanta fascinating.”
A few comments down, he responded to a friend’s speculation that he may be a Saivite, a worshipper of the Hindu god Shiva. “Mahaprasade govinde nama brahmani vaishnava…” Morgan wrote, invoking a prayer typically sung by the Hare Krishnas. “I chanted that as I read it,” his friend replied.
At first glance, Morgan may have seemed like any number of Western tourists, travelling in India and trying on different styles of spiritualism. But Morgan was not just another tourist. He is a co-founder, and until recently, was the editor-in-chief, of Arktos—the world’s largest and most influential publishing house for the “alt-right.”
The alt-right—a loose affiliation of white nationalists, white supremacists, neo-monarchists, masculinists, reactionaries, conspiracists, neo-paganists and social-media trolls—has come to define a new, extreme-right political discourse emboldened by Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election. Obsessed with white identity and perceived threats to it, the alt-right in the United States and Europe generally yearns for the coming of a golden age—though the nature of that golden age is internally disputed. For some, it is a 1950s America of strict gender roles and a racially divided society before the expansion of civil rights for non-whites. For others it is a resurrected Roman Empire, and for others still a resurrected Persian Empire.
All of these longed-for ages, among various others, are models for a supposed white utopia, either with tolerated cohabitation with subordinate “non-Aryans,” or a territory cleansed of those undesirables. Although such ideologies are clearly fascistic and Nazi-like, most alt-righters categorically reject such taxonomy, preferring euphemisms such as “identitarian,” “traditionalist” and “alt-right” itself. An amorphous and factional group prone to territorial infighting, the alt-right has nevertheless materialised in internet memes, street violence and rallies designed to intimidate minorities. The far-right broadly has a long-standing history of violence and terrorism, but the alt-right claims to be different, and attempts to distance itself from extremism. Yet one alt-right rally, in the US city of Charlottesville in August 2017, resulted in the death of a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and the injury of dozens, when an alt-right demonstrator plowed his car into a crowd of peaceful counterprotestors. White supremacists at the rally chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and carried torches that harkened back to Ku Klux Klan lynching rallies around the turn of the twentieth century.
Arktos was incorporated in November 2009, and was among the first to translate and publish many of the international texts that have formed the alt-right canon. The works it prints or resells have also begun to creep into the mainstream, as right-wing politicians across Europe and the United States adopt them. In January 2017, just days before Trump’s inauguration, the company officially partnered with the de-facto face of the alt-right, the neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, to found the “Alt-Right Corporation”—an organisation created to foment, as Spencer was quoted as saying in The Atlantic magazine, “a total integration of the European New Right and the US alt-right.” Arktos is now based in Hungary, and represents the European wing of the corporatised alt-right. It has published in nearly every European language, and has produced, according to the US-based non-profit the Southern Poverty Law Center, nearly 180 unique titles.
But before all that, Arktos’s first home was India. The publishing house’s presence in the country was no coincidence. Although Morgan and his Swedish co-founder Daniel Friberg have both stated this was purely for the sake of keeping operational costs down, evidence suggests otherwise. Arktos has displayed a surprising affinity for religious systems and philosophies rooted in India. The publishing house seems to be inspired by certain strains of Hindu thought, although it often refers to “Vedism” instead of “Hinduism,” and conceives of the ideas it venerates as more “Aryan” than South Asian.
Arktos has also fostered direct connections with Indian politicians, holding meetings with prominent members of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, at least twice—though both meetings occurred several months before the BJP came to power under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014. On another occasion, Morgan has said, Arktos coordinated a meeting between BJP officials and members of the far-right, anti-immigrant Hungarian party Jobbík. Friberg claims to have conducted over a hundred meetings with influential figures in India, including politicians, religious leaders and publishers.
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Carol Schaeffer is an independent writer and journalist covering the rise of the far-right around the globe. She has been based in New York, Belgrade, London and Paris, and can be found on Twitter as @ThenCarolSaid.