From Exile to Dirtbag: Edgelord geopolitics and the rise of “National Bolshevism” in the U.S.National Bolshevism Empowered
Though the eXile left Moscow, it maintained an online presence as Russian foreign policy grew more interventionist. From Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 to the war in Ukraine in 2014, The eXile’s editors helped frame West-East conflict in ways that deflected criticism of Putin back to the US and reflected Russia’s propaganda line, which brought left and right together in a geopolitical struggle with National Bolshevik overtones.
Ames blamed the U.S. for Putin’s election rigging; The eXile blamed the rise of the far-right within Putin’s government on the US’s support for Yeltsin in the 1990s; Dolan and Ames both relished Russia’s invasion of Georgia, with the War Nerd calling it “the war of my dreams.” Richard Spencer, while praising the War Nerd’s position, felt it necessary to add that Dolan’s “taste for blood and guts exceeds mine.” Meanwhile, Putin waged a personal war against opponents and hired Lyndon LaRouche associate, Sergei Glazyev, as his advisor on Eurasian integration.
Transferring nostalgia for the Soviet Empire into modern, capitalist conditions, Putin oversaw the rehabilitation of the reputation of far-right figures like Ivan Ilyin as well as Stalin, while amassing a vast personal fortuneand unleashing far-right oligarchs on eastern Ukraine. When a Ukrainian revolution overthrew Yanukovych in 2013, Putin sent troops who wrote things like “For Stalin!” on their tanks in semi-clandestine efforts to establish an imperial “Greater Russia.” To this day, pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine manifest a melange of mercenaries and ideological fascists, authoritarian communists, and National Bolsheviks.
Looking at Ukraine, Ames took two conflicting analyses which were shredded by analyst Marcy Wheeler. The first report discussed by Wheeler presented a nuanced discussion of the interests of the opposition, while the second offered a weird and dubious account of pro-Western neoliberals responsible for teaming up with fascists to instigate regime change. His position was summed up in another article: “Stay the Hell out of Russia’s way for awhile… Sorry Ukraine, but you’re screwed.”
Limonov rejoined Putin’s side after years on the opposition, enraptured by the convergence of ultranationalism and Soviet nostalgia. Limonov’s former close comrade, Dugin, exhorted pro-Russian forces in Ukraine to “Kill! Kill! Kill Ukrainians!” and his close associates took leading roles in the Kremlin-supported “civil war.” Limonov and Dugin appeared on Russian TV together, a symbol of the power of the invasion of Ukraine to reunite old comrades.
The alt-right received a meaningful boost from both cofounders of the National Bolshevik Party. Dugin afforded Spencer a platform at his think tank’s website, and Spencer’s then wife served as Dugin’s English translator. Much of the American far right read Dugin’s books and developed international alliances with his international network — for example, Matt Heimbach’s once-influential Traditional Workers Party.
Meanwhile, left-wingers from the West increasingly flocked to the newly minted Sputnik News, joining the head of Dugin’s Center for Conservative Studies on podcasts promoting conspiracy theories and denouncing “Atlanticists.” Joining the cry of many an anti-imperialist, Spencer appeared on RT to denounce the U.S.’s “cold war” in Ukraine.
Moscow’s clandestine social media influence operations and public support for quixotic “anti-imperialist” movements that united left and right against liberalism followed the patterns of National Bolshevism. Amid the resurgence, Limonov even experienced a small comeback. Holocaust denier and erstwhile Wikileaks collaborator, Israel Shamir, boasted of Limonov as his “friend” in the left-wing site CounterPunch. In a 2017 article in the alt-right associated Unz Review, antisemitic blogger Anatoly Karlin, who had already lauded the eXile as “irreverent court jesters,” recalled “the chiliastic chic of Limonov’s monthly rant.”
Meanwhile, the far right kept up its love affair with The eXile. When the Washington Post’s Kathy Lally described The eXile as “juvenile, stunt-obsessed and pornographic, titillating for high school boys,” Sailer jumped to defend Taibbi and Ames in the Unz Review. One Unz commentator opined, “Their support of Limonov actually makes them somewhat precursors of the alt-right.” Indeed, the War Nerd published white nationalist talking points in Taki’s Mag during the formation of the alt-right, and Ames and Taibbi’s book figured as a life-changing influence for leading MRAs.
For Ames’s part, having spent years creating travel documentaries for RT, he migrated to Pando News, a site partly funded by Silicon Valley Trump supporter, Facebook board member, and Palantir co-founder, Peter Theil. According to the New York Times, a Palantir employee would work closely with Cambridge Analytica to inappropriately gain access to millions of Facebook users’ information and use that data to assist the Trump campaign.The “Next Stage” of Dirtbags
Despite continuing to defend and promote Limonov amid the rise of the alt-right, The eXile’s alums became idols for a growing online community of self-described “dirtbag leftists,” a term coined by podcaster Amber A’Lee Frost to describe a contingent of leftists associated with the controversial podcast,Chapo Trap House.
The top-ranked podcast on Patreon, Chapo Trap House (CTH) emerged in 2016, growing to include more than 26,000 patrons dishing out over $108,000 per month. Known for an “ironic” sense of humor that blurs the distinction between truth and ideology, the million-dollar a year podcast typically garners 100,000–200,000 listens per episode.
Like the alt-right, hosts make often self-deprecating jokes at the expense ofrape survivors and people with autism. Controversy flared when CTH hosts seemingly mocked the #MeToo movement and responded to a critical essay by Jeet Heer in The New Republic with a homophobic comment.
Given their misogynistic tendencies and opportunistic blurring of satire and reality, it is no surprise that in the early days, CTH fawned over Taibbi as “our old pal and first mega-guest.” When Dolan and Ames’s podcast, Radio War Nerd, was listed as part of the “dirtbag left” in a critical piece, Ames tweeeted out the hashtag, “#JeSuisDirtbag.”
Showing the alt-right’s sustained enjoyment of The eXile’s form of offensive irreverence, now in the form of the “dirtbag left,” Richard Spencer told an audience, “I do find it kind of amazing. If you listen to fifteen minutes of [CTH], it sounds like an alt-right podcast in terms of the jokes, the memes, the cynicism, the irreverence. It’s pretty funny. So I do think that that’s going to be the next stage.”
Spencer’s comments may not be not far off. A few years before CTH started, soon-to-be host Virgil Texas brought the alt-right “comedy group,” Million Dollar Extreme, to perform at one of his events, indicating the proximity between their style, if not politics.
The “dirtbag left” also engaged in an interesting pattern of geopolitical analysis so conducive to National Bolshevik ideology that the Duginist blog,Fourth Revolutionary War, cross-posted a number of articles and podcasts from Ames, Dolan, and CTH, including a CTH episode with Taibbi. CTH hosts seem to invite such crossovers, having gone on Sputnik and RT and toed the Kremlin’s foreign policy line — particularly with regard to the war in Syria, where one of their hosts praised war criminal Issam Zahreddine.
While Spencer changed his Twitter handle to feature an image of the Syrian regime’s flag after Assad forces deployed a chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaykhun, another CTH host named Will Menaker joined conspiracy theorists in speculating that the attack was a “false flag” on Twitter before deleting the tweet.
Such false-flag conspiracy theories are promoted through an extensive pro-Kremlin network involving a mix of left and right-wing commentatorsattempting to discredit the Syrian opposition — especially the first responders known as the White Helmets, whom the purveyors of disinformation accuse of staging the chemical attacks. These accusations, often used to deflect from efforts to confront genocide in Syria, issue from a tendency to support authoritarian dictators that the left has yet to fully reckon with.
Although many of their fans have attempted to distance themselves from The eXile’s former editors, CTH hosted a Syria podcast with the War Nerd, who deflected from regime atrocities in Aleppo. For their podcast, Radio War Nerd, Dolan and Ames brought on frequent RT and Sputnik commentator Max Blumenthal, who has mocked Syrian victims, referred to the White Helmets rescue workers as “an arm of Al Qaeda,” and is currently facing a defamation lawsuit for allegedly participating in a “coordinated effort to attack, discredit and endanger journalists whose work counters a certain political line.”
Aside from attacking me personally in an article cowritten with Blumenthal, Ames has defended a similar line on a number of salient issues. Following the GRU’s Novichok attack in Salisbury that left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia hospitalized and killed a bystander, Ames and a number of pro-Kremlin pundits and right-wing conspiracy theorists started trying to poke holes in the “official narrative.” After open-source analysts at Bellingcat uncovered the identities of the two suspects as members of the GRU, Ames joined The eXile’s Yasha Levine and an extensive pro-Kremlin reaction against the open-source investigation group.
Indeed, Ames has a history of attacking Bellingcat, stretching back to harsh words comparing the group to 9/11 Truthers after it uncovered evidence that Russia had been involved in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17). Ames and Bellingcat crossed swords again in 2017, when Ames attacked founder, Eliot Higgins, for critiquing journalist Seymour Hersh’s debunked reporting on Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
The “dirtbag left” and associated lefties have revealed similar clustering tendencies regarding Donald Trump — for instance, dismissing allegations of collaboration with Russia, defending Trump’s foreign policy, and supporting left-right convergences. When liberals brought up the potential that Russia engaged in elections meddling, Taibbi compared them to WMD theorists — a comparison repeated by Trump less than a week later. When Trump shocked NATO by questioning the defense of small member states like Montenegro, which had narrowly avoided a Russia-backed coup coordinated with Serbian ethno-nationalists, Blumenthal used the opportunity to deflect from Trump by taking another stab at liberals. When CTH favorite Angela Nagle appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show in favor of hard borders amid Trump’s concocted “border crisis,” Richard Spencer giddily tweeted out, “NazBol [National Bolshevik] gang when?”
It bears noting, despite tendencies to align, that the “dirtbag left” is a complex and decentralized political ecosystem with different pundits related along particular lines of affinity and harboring distinct grudges. Even a CTH host denounced Nagle for her comments on borders, while a host of the related Dead Pundits Society podcast defended her. It is further worth noting that, while the “podcast left” of would-be pundits have an outsized influence, they hardly constitute the ideals of the left, in general. Although they have capitalized on the left’s growth since 2008, the dirtbags’s egos are viewed by many leftists as a liability and an impediment to actual left-wing organizing.