The Bane of the Alt-Right
Why do so many of the white nationalists behind the alt-right idolize an undocumented Hispanic crime-lord?
If recent coverage is anything to go by, the alt-right has become one of the primary, and one of the giddiest, buttresses of Donald Trump’s campaign. Thanks to Trump’s footsie with white nationalists and Know-Nothing xenophobes — two of the primary strains within the alt-right — sociological examinations of the alt-right have begun working their way into mainstream discourse, tracing the group’s growth from online message boards to its manifestations underneath a presidential candidate. Per Vox, the alt-right “blends together straight-up white supremacists, nationalists who think conservatives have sold out to globalization, and nativists who fear immigration will spur civil disarray.” The Federalist further expounded on the groups racialized, cis-gendered discourse, which “mix[es] … old bigotries and new identity and victimhood politics adapted for the straight white male.”
The alt-right, as the past few months have revealed, has congealed strains of both white supremacy and America-First nationalism into something approaching a semi-coherent movement. And yet, in tracing the alt-right’s most recent, outsized moments, a different theme arises, dripping in ideological irony. Rather than prostrating themselves in front of the Pat Buchanans and George Wallaces of the world, members of the alt-right have instead opted to idolize someone altogether different: an undocumented, drug-sotted, Hispanic immigrant whose warlordism helped inject a militarized cartel onto US territory.
That roid-freak Batman baddie known for his foreign provenance and lucha libre mask. That man who broke the Bat. That Bane.*
For those unfamiliar with Bane’s origins, a quick primer. Born on the small, northern Caribbean island of Santa Prisca — ethnographically Spanish and African — Bane spent his earliest years holed within the Peña Duro prison, honing his homicidal proclivities within the dank surroundings. Bane, of course, managed to break free, and soon clawed his way to Gotham. His mercenaries, heavily armed, helped crater one of the wings of Arkham Asylum, forcing Batman to track and collect the scattered villains. Eventually, Batman — drained, strained, woefully weakened — finds Bane in his path. The villain proceeds to heave Batman skyward, and whip him down over Bane’s knee, shearing the Caped Crusader’s vertebrae:
Now, a few decades on, members of the alt-right have begun citing Bane as their lodestar. A recent white nationalist conference, for instance, saw a young member approach a reporter from BuzzFeed and cite Bane’s dialog from 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises: “We’re crashing the plane — with no survivors.” Bane-based citations have consistently cropped up throughout assorted alt-right outlets, from the Traditionalist Workers Party to the white supremacist Daily Stormer site.
More ominously, at a shooting of Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis last fall — an assault that left five demonstrators wounded — a video emerged of a pair of men jouncing toward the protest from the Twin Cities’ suburbs. Faces obscured, these two men pledged to do “a little reverse cultural enriching,” and enjoined listeners to “stay white!” In the midst of their speechifying, one reached back to Bane’s mantra from The Dark Knight Rises, intoning, “The fire rises!” According to The Washington Post, the two later ad-libbed more lines from Bane:
The fire is rising. The fire is rising. Things are getting heated. We don’t know if this is part of their plan, to just stand here. … They almost expect one of us to do something. They expect one of us to be in the wreckage of all of this. It’s boiling man. It’s boiling. It’s going to be happening. It’s going to be happening soon. We don’t know how. We don’t know when. But it’s going to be happening. It’s just crazy. S — is going crazy all over the f — — world, not just here but everywhere. That’s basically why we are here. We are here to see the fire rise.
There isn’t a wholesale explanation yet written on the alt-right’s glorification of Bane. (The closest you could find comes from a Know Your Meme run-down of “Baneposting.”) However, two strains appear clear — both of which can help delineate the alt-right’s ideological, and sociological, underpinnings.
Firstly, the alt-right has shown a clear preference for the most recent iteration of Bane — that is, Tom Hardy’s portrayal within Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Unlike Heath Ledger’s Joker or Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow before him, Hardy’s Bane layers his intellectualized extremism with a miasmic mass of muscle, such that, as in the comics prior, Nolan’s iteration manages to sever the spine of Christian Bale’s Batman. In the film, there’s little known of Bane’s background; his initial appearance occurs somewhere in or near Uzbekistan, and his only exploit prior to nuclearizing Gotham involves a “coup in West Africa.” And the pit-prison that produced Bane is, as Alfred finds, located in a “more ancient part of the world.” Hardy’s accent — shunted through a metallic maw, rather than a lucha libre mask — comes across as purposely stateless, ending up as a close approximation of Adam Sandler doing an impression of a carnival barker. Bane, like Ledger’s Joker, simply appears.
His ideological leanings, however, are far easier to trace, at least initially. Via endzone proclamations and Bastille-type prison stormings, Bane seeks to position himself as the forefront of a “fire” that, unbeknownst to Gotham’s tottering elites, “rises.” Blurring an economic populism rooted in — though not inspired by — the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street, Bane lacerates Gotham’s well-monied class, and says, of the city’s piled wealth, “we give it to you: the people.” (There’s a reason, after all, that the alt-right is joined in its Bane-philia by those on the American far-left, including those who work at Russian propaganda outlets.) Much as the alt-right, via its support for Trump, has foregone the traditional outposts of post-Reagan conservatism — regressive taxation, slashed welfare state, etc. — so, too, does Bane reassure Gotham’s citizens that they are, in the end, owed: “Tomorrow,” Bane thunders, “you claim what is rightfully yours.”
That is, as much as the alt-right consecrates masculinity, their mound-of-flesh idol is but hired labor for the movie’s ultimate — female — villain.
Of course, the “people” have no agency within the film, whether as equitable recipients of Gotham’s largesse or as those in equal standing under any remaining law. Under Bane’s regime, Gotham has returned to its pre-Batman, Hobbesian state; Bane, as Leviathan, reigns. Bane rules as strongman: plutocrats heeled, societal norms shredded, Putinism (or Kadyrovism) rampant. While the film skirts the five-month sociological fallout under Bane’s rule, we can assume that a tribalism — that touchstone of alt-right fantasy — has arisen. (Bane’s men — and they are always men — present a raft of races, but the entire leadership structure of Bane’s inner circle remains white.) The alt-right’s fetishization of masculinity runs unimpeded, with guns, grit, and glory gained by those who glom themselves onto Bane’s muscle-bound machinations. A proto-fascism takes hold, for the sake of the destruction of the status quo — for the sake of the warlordism the alt-right so gleefully courts.
But there is a second strain within the alt-right’s hero-worship of Bane that not only countermands many of the claims within the first reality, but also makes it that much easier to mock the alt-right’s nominal politics. As aforementioned, the alt-right denizens who’ve deified Bane arrive with a limited, bowdlerized view on the character — helping remind those outside the alt-right just how limited and bowdlerized their views remain on most topics.
Look, again, at Hardy’s Bane. While this version of of the villain proffers an Occupy-tinted approach to Gotham’s material wealth — so much so that Breitbart explicitly linked Bane with Zuccotti Park — he is, in the end, doing little more than pulling a long-con on the citizens of Gotham. Much as Trump has been accused of effecting a con on his voters, Bane couldn’t care less about the putative inequalities lacing Gotham; the people, and the terror resultant, are but a means to a further, separate end. Bane may claim to be “necessary evil,” and he may espouse Leninist appeals to the masses, but he is, as the movie’s twist unveils, merely serving at the behest of another, for another purpose altogether: to further the aims of Talia al Ghul, in the pursuit of Batman’s spiritual implosion. That is, as much as the alt-right consecrates masculinity, their mound-of-flesh idol is but hired labor for the movie’s ultimate — female — villain.
[Bane] is, as Temple University’s Ariel Arnau notes, “perhaps the greatest Latino comic book character” yet created.
Yet this reality isn’t the lone irony within the alt-right’s Bane obsession. While the origins of Hardy’s Bane remain geographically uncertain, the character of Bane, both pre- and post-dating The Dark Knight Rises, remains unquestionably non-white. Yes, Bane’s father was a British mercenary in the comics. But there has been no iteration within the Batman canon in which Bane, with Spanish as his first language, is not unambiguously Latino. Even in the instances in which he’s not from Santa Prisca, Bane’s Hispanic heritage remains. Here, for instance, is Bane’s Cuban iteration in the seminal Batman: The Animated Series:
Among the primary Batman villains, Bane retains a status apart: He is, as Temple University’s Ariel Arnau notes, “perhaps the greatest Latino comic book character” yet created. And watching alt-right Twitter accounts tie themselves in knots to justify their support for Bane only helps confirm this reality.
Moreover, Bane is almost certainly in the US illegally. He’s skirted any of the immigration regulations the alt-right claims to back, and funneled his crime network into the US in the pursuit of state desecration — effectively undercutting any professions the alt-right may carry about notions of state security or illegal immigration. In the end, the appeal to Bane’s rote power — his dictatorial means; his destruction of enemies real and imagined — outweighs any policy proposals the alt-right may claim to own.
The ironies within the alt-right’s exaltation of Bane run, obviously, rampant. Of all the primary members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, the alt-right tacked toward an undocumented Hispanic immigrant — the lone non-American, taking opportunities from hard-working American villains—who is bent, in a roid-addled fit, on internationalizing his crime syndicate within one of the US’s foremost cities.
To be sure, expecting positions that stand to scrutiny within the alt-right is much the same as, say, expecting to understand everything Hardy’s Bane gargles through his mask. But once more, the members of the alt-right have sacrificed their claimed politics at the altar of a muscle-draped strongman — and have opened up a Bane-sized cavern for us to criticize their politics yet again.
*If anyone’s wondering why I’m writing a sociological screed about a Batman villain’s impact on Trump’s campaign, it’s due to a course I taught on the Caped Crusader at Rice University a few years back. Time still well-spent.