Harlequins, Laughing Demons and The Alt-Right.
Ever since the start of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, when it first caught the attention of the meme-savvy basement dwelling autists of the internet a strange correlation appeared between the Emperor of the fictional Universe of the Tabletop wargame 40,000 and this ultimate outsider in American politics.
The Warhammer 40,000 universe is one in which after an era of mass expansion and colonisation throughout the Galaxy Mankind was stricken by a massive Judas Iscariot style backstab, in which the Main man responsible for leading Mankind into the conquering of the Galaxy, a powerful Psychic known only as the Emperor, is attacked by his favoured son and right-hand man, Horus in a blatantly Biblically derivative fashion. The Emperor is able to get over his Parental angst at the last moment and utterly obliterate his Firstborn, but not before being wounded so badly that he is confined to a life support chair known as the Golden Throne on Earth. From there he Psychically watches over and protects Humanity for the next ten-thousand years until the 41st Millennium when the Table-top game takes place.
Now I am going to try to keep the explanation of the lore in the game to the minimum required to explain the point I want to make in this article but I cannot do that without at least mentioning the Power of Chaos which is central to the setting. Horus, the Emperor’s son was tempted to rebel against his Father by four powerful Deity’s known as the Chaos Gods who dwell in the Warp, this settings version of Hyperspace, a realm made of roiling emotion and desire whose numerous demonic entities can only take form when they use a mortal’s moment of mental or emotional weakness to tear a whole between the two realms and enter the physical world. The four Chaos Gods; Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Slaanesh are only manifestations of Humans (And other beings as well but I will get to that later) love of War, fear of Death, need for Change, and desire for Pleasure and Perfection respectively. They are literally maintained by the emotions of humans and their belief in the Chaos Gods themselves.
Knowing this, when the Emperor was launching his great Crusade he sought to starve and kill the Chaos God’s by going full Dawkins and mandating Atheism for everyone. Unfortunately, that attempt fell flat on its face with the aforementioned consequences. After the Emperor was sitting comatose on his special chair the movers and shakers in the Imperium decided that the Atheism Lark was a bad idea and that a Galaxy spanning theocracy with the Emperor as resident flying spaghetti monster would be a better idea. From a purely practical point of view it made sense.
The Emperors prodigious psychic potential was boosted by the literal God status bestowed by an entire Galaxies worth of fanatical belief and faith. Technically all this is simply an excuse for cool Gothic architecture in a Sci-fi universe, genetically engineered super humans screaming religious epithets and actual Xenophobic hate speech as they tear blue or green aliens’ limb from limb, not to mention wide-brimmed hat wearing inquisitors who purge heresy first and ask questions later.
All of this contributes to a blatant and silly parody of totalitarianism in the style of Starship Troopers, while the ever present and beyond evil Lovecraftian horror of Chaos creates enough of a justification so that you never totally lose sympathy for the Imperium. All this does a fairly good job of explaining the numerous examples of Donald Trump being referred to as the “God-Emperor of Mankind” and photo-shopped images of the real estate magnates head over art of the Emperor in his prime, probably on his way to purge some inferior and dirty alien species for the glory of the superior human race.
The media portrayed Donald Trump as a buffoon so blatantly tyrannical and wrong that no one in their right mind could ever idolize him. What better response from his fans than to associate their favourite candidate with a system that epitomised a cartoonishly “oppressive” image which is so justified in its existence?
In a country in which criminal aliens are given more sympathy than their victims, in which masculinity is decried as representing only the cruel tyrant and not also the noble hero, and those who spread hate and fear through the civilised world in the name of alien and savage deities are described as misunderstood and victimised instead of repulsed with faith and fire, what else could they do but turn to symbols of a belief that announces that the protection of your land, people, and faith does not require introspection, self-criticism or caution and doubt before action but instead a dogmatic and fierce intolerance to evil?
In my mind, the Imperium represents many things but one of them is the idea that no matter what terrible fate the future holds, even if the very universe itself turns to unimaginable “Chaos” even if reality itself longs at every level to intimately tear civilisation apart in the most cruelly human way, Mankind will reshape itself through faith and intolerance if need be to face the horrors and temptations of the supernatural powers who see humans as playthings, and spit curses at demons till the end.
The Emperor and the Imperium represents what the Alt-right wishes Trump could be and what their people and nations will have to be in their minds if they are to rise above the coming catastrophe to triumph once more. But it is with hope and fear for the future that Donald Trump’s fans create their lovingly photo shopped tributes, not as a very accurate representation of the current struggle.
The Imperium is a monolithic and authoritarian empire on the verge of collapse and insofar as America accurately represents that metaphor it is not in a way the Alt-right is a fan of. The enemies that America is currently fighting are by and large not who the Alt-right are thinking of as they show an image of Donald Trump fending of a Chaos Space Marine with an American flag. For the analogy to make the most sense between modern political fanart and the Imperium imagine that the Imperium has been corrupted by Chaos and using the last of his strength the Emperor rises from his throne to rally the last warriors still loyal to take back his legacy and safeguard Humanity’s future or die trying. Nonetheless the analogy only makes sense with a look to a desired future.
However, there is another organisation in the Warhammer 40k Universe who follow another deity, who is a more perfect metaphor for the current attitudes, tactics and emotions the alt-right uses and experiences. To understand them we have to dive deep back into the lore of the universe.
Long ago a race of beings ruled over the Galaxy unopposed. They were called the Eldar and the easiest way to understand them is that they were Tolkien’s elves in space. The Eldar worshiped a pantheon of Gods, there was Asuryan the Phoenix King, Vaul the Smith, Khaine the Bloody Handed War God, and Cegorach the Trickster to name but a few. The Eldar empire spread throughout the stars and their cultural advancements reached their zenith.
But in an entirely unoriginal turn of events their mastery over the Universe made them decadent and perverse. They forgot their old Gods and the values and ethics that had led them to fight heroic battles against their enemies in the past. With the lack of Faith keeping them maintained their deities began to wither away to shadows of their former selves. The Eldar turned to the most perverse and debauched behaviour, torture, sadism, and unbelievable hedonism.
Some Eldar turned to a hippy agricultural lifestyle on remote planets to try and escape the degeneration of their society. Other Eldar who lived on massive explorer ships called Craftworlds who in their thousand year voyages travelled to the furthest extents of the Empire and back, were able to detect the horrific degeneration of Eldar society and were mostly insulated from it. In the final moments of the Eldar Empire as the bulk of Eldar society engaged in evil and debauched acts beyond what they had reached before, the last uncorrupted elements of Eldar society were evacuated onto the massive Craftworlds. At this time, there were only three Chaos Gods, who were mostly powered by the nascent belief of humanity. They were Khorne, God of bloodshed and War whose brass throne cries out for skulls, Nurgle, God of decay but also stasis, and Tzeentch, God of ambition, change, and lust for knowledge. But with the eons long moral collapse of the Eldar a fourth Chaos God was born. With a soul shattering psychic scream Slaanesh was born. The majority of the souls of the Eldar race were consumed mere moments after the new God’s birth. The weakened elder pantheon was no match for the new God, birthed from centuries of almost exclusive access to the emotion of almost the entire Eldar race.
All of the Eldar Gods, except for three were consumed in quick succession. The Eldar Goddess of life was about to be eaten by Slaanesh when Nurgle, moved by compassion, snatched her to safety in an example of his paradoxical prevention of death through a new form of false life. The only two Eldar Gods left were Khaine, the bloody handed God and Cegorach the joker. Khaine drew the Wailing Doom and fought the new God with all the savage contempt that was his nature. But despite his best efforts Slaanesh defeated him and was about to glut herself on his essence when Khorne with a rage-filled bellow challenged Slaanesh for his right to Khaine’s form. As a result of their clash Khaine’s body was shattered into pieces which fell into the fleeing Craftworlds, so that millennia hence whenever the need is greatest the Craftworld Eldar can summon an Avatar of Khaine’s past glory to fight their battles at their side. But while this titanic clash in the heavens was taking place Cegorach seized his moment and fled into the Webway with a mocking laugh at his children’s ironic fate.
In the “modern” 40k setting there are four main factions of Eldar who each use their own methods for evading the pull their souls have to be consumed by She-Who-Thirsts. The Craftworld Eldar use soul stones to contain their souls in the infinity circuit of their Craftworld to prevent their souls from being eaten by Slaanesh. The Exodite Eldar who live their savage agrarian lifestyles on their maiden worlds use a similar system. And the Dark Eldar, the depraved remnants of the old Eldar Empire who fled to the metropolis of Commaragh in the depths of the Webway, feed on the suffering of the souls of their captured slaves in the same way Slaanesh feeds on their souls so that the soul essence leeched from their bodies throughout their lives is constantly replaced by essence stolen from lesser mortals. This psychic vampirism keeps the Dark Eldar alive forever as long as they maintain a supply of victims but the eternal fear of death keeps them constantly on the move, hungry and self-centred.
But there is a fourth group who is far different from the rest, who face the greatest enemy not only without fear, but with mocking laughter.
There is a secret place in the depths of the Webway called the Black Library, which contains all the knowledge the Eldar race has collected on the forces of Chaos. And it is guarded by the Harlequins, the devoted followers of the laughing God, the last free and unharmed Deity of the Eldar pantheon. Cegorach and his followers are a tiny fraction of the last remnants of a once great Empire, who suffered such unbelievable setbacks and suffering, who nonetheless fight the overwhelming foe with mocking laughter and glee. This is where the first big correlation between the Harlequins and the Alt-right comes in.
The Craftworld Eldar are traditional conservatives, fighting a rear-guard action against an enemy they are psychologically ill prepared to fight, preserving the last of what is good in what seems to be a fruitless and ultimately doomed struggle whose outcome seems certain. The Dark Eldar represent both individualistic late stage capitalism and pointless self-centred modern selfishness, totally unconcerned with the plight of their people as a whole. The Exodites are hipsters and doomsday preppers cutting themselves off from the world in the hope they will live full lives before the end. The cult of Ynnead, who believe that only when every Eldar has died can their souls form into a God of death powerful enough to defeat Slaanesh, are Climate change activists who believe in population control, and radical left-wing Marxist progressives who believe humanity is so irredeemable that only through the sacrifice of our lives can we atone for our sins.
But the Harlequins are the Alt-right, through expert use of the Webway(Internet) they strike when and where the enemy least expects it. They hold the secret knowledge in the Black Library (Red Pill) that empowers them to know the enemy, understand them and not fear them. The Alt-right has adopted the motifs of Hitler and Nazism, just like the Harlequins wear demonic face masks, almost less because they represent their views accurately and more because they are the Satan of western civilisation, and just like the Harlequins ever twisting and changing grinning face masks, they transform into what the enemy fears most to show they are unafraid of being falsely associated with evil.
In the tabletop game, there is a special rule which all Daemonic units have, and it gives all Daemons the ability to ignore on a roll of a five or six, all damage from an attack they are wounded by. As well as the ability to cause fear among the enemy they are fighting. Harlequins do not have the special rule which Daemonic units have which applies these effects, but they do have the ability to ignore damage on a five or six which is conferred to them by their shimmering holographic cloaks, and the ability to cause fear in their foes, conferred to them by their terrifying masks. Just like the Harlequins the Alt-right are true heroes fighting for a noble goal, but they take on the aspects of what Western society considers the greatest evil, Nazism and white supremacy. And Just like Kek and Pepe are meme worthy avatars of chaos and change, but are used by the new radical generation of conservatives, Cegorach is a laughing and unpredictable troll worshipped by those who wish for a return to the old civilised order.
The Alt-right is a tiny movement with no institutional power that projects power far beyond what it is capable of. When the media associates anyone who dares to stand up to Progressivism and Islam as Alt-right they are following the mythical archetype of the monster under the bed, the witch, and the Daemon. Instead of doing what conservatives have always done and deny the accusation furiously while citing all of the progressive views they hold as reasons why they should not be reviled (just like the Craftworld Eldar deny themselves basic pleasures and maintain strict discipline as a way to atone for their sins) The Alt-right accepts the terms their enemy labels them with. In the 40k Universe the other Eldar are unsure of the Harlequins, as they seem to use the tactics and style of the enemy, just as the Alt-right uses tactics and ideologies associated with progressivism, like collectivism, identity politics, and anti-capitalist rhetoric.
The Harlequins and the Alt right hide behind masks of Demonic intent and evil aspect. If they will always be considered evil by their enemies, then they shall wear the crudely drawn face of the strawman their enemies accuse them of being. But the unnatural uncaring smile they wear hides the truth that they cannot admit to themselves for fear of what it might mean, that they are noble Warriors fighting a war which could not be more righteous or justified, more pure and honourable in its cause or more self-sacrificial in its outcome. There is a prophecy said to be prophesied by Cegorach himself in which his final trick will be to deceive Slaanesh into saving the Eldar race instead of consuming it. Such a thing seems impossible but even if it is only Cegorach playing a trick on his followers they care not, for the last remnant of their past stands beside them unhurt, while all the rest have fallen, with his mocking laughter ringing in the ears of the most unimaginable evil the Galaxy has ever seen. When the other Eldar fight against the forces of the great enemy every victory they achieve is a fleeting detour on the road to hell, every defeat bringing irredeemable loss and suffering. But when the Harlequins fight they feel an impossible hope and glee in the most unlikely of circumstances, and when the self-assured enemy unacquainted with true defeat or loss looks upon those hideous laughing masks they feel true fear.