Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Hoppean Snake...


When Trumpists use images of the “Hoppean Snake,” offering “free helicopter rides,” they’re advocating a program of extermination.

AMONG THE PANOPLY of bizarre memes that far-right extremists flash at Trump rallies and share obsessively online, one of the more disturbing for its frightening historical reference is that of the “Hoppean Snake.” The image typically consists of a coiled serpent sporting the officer’s cap of notorious Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet. In the background fly childlike depictions of helicopters from which stick figures are jettisoned to their death, crying “Aaaahhh” in a barely legible scrawl. In one of its many variants, the snake-as-Pinochet proclaims with a sardonic smirk, “I’m evil for throwing people out of helicopters? False. Commies aren’t people.” It’s unclear why Pinochet is depicted as a snake, though it may be inspired by the recalcitrant snake on the Gadsden flag that warns “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Far from being a joking homage to Pinochet — putschist, tyrant, torturer, mass murderer, puppet of the CIA, and hater of all things socialist, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 — the fetishized totem of the Hoppean Snake has dire significance for U.S. paramilitaries. When Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, armed Trumpists, and the like wear T-shirts that offer “free helicopter rides,” they are referencing a program of extermination.

Following Pinochet’s 1973 coup d’état, which ended the short-lived and turbulent administration of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende, an avowed Marxist, thousands of Allende’s supporters were killed, tens of thousands of perceived enemies of the putschist regime were tortured, and thousands of others were disappeared, often after being flown in a military helicopter and toppled from the sky. Sometimes this free helicopter ride included splitting open the guts of kidnapped victims while they were still alive so that their bodies wouldn’t float when dumped in the sea.

“The Hoppean Snake is utilizing Cold War-era anti-communist imagery of a once-hidden history of right-wing brutality and terror that utilized U.S. military hardware,” said Portland-based investigative photojournalist Jeff Schwilk, who has documented the iconography of the alt-right since 2016. “Pinochet specifically hearkens to the heyday of U.S.-backed death squads in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, from the Phoenix Program in Vietnam to Suharto in Indonesia to the Contras in Nicaragua. It is a direct threat of the intention of deadly mass violence and future death squads targeting the left in the United States and anyone else deemed an enemy. It reveals the true nature of this ideology.”

On January 27, the Department of Homeland Security issued a terrorism advisory bulletin warning of the ongoing threat from far-right domestic extremists. The January 6 assault on the Capitol was said to be mere prologue, with “DVEs” — domestic violent extremists — now “emboldened … to target elected officials and government facilities.” The Homeland Security bulletin further warned of threats “against critical infrastructure, including the electric, telecommunications and healthcare sectors.”

In the wake of Allende’s election in 1970, right-wing elements in Chile formed a paramilitary group called Patria y Libertad, or Fatherland and Liberty. Patria y Libertad was not too different in spirit from the militias now common on the right in the U.S., though it had foreign funding and training, courtesy of the CIA. The group engaged in arsons, assassinations, and disruptions of infrastructure — exactly what the Department of Homeland Security warns we should expect from violent domestic extremists today.

I FIRST CAME across the image of the Hoppean Snake while editing Schwilk’s 2020 book of essays and photography, “Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America.” Schwilk’s intention was to find a modicum of humor in the costumed display and ostentation of the alt-right, and in the Hoppean Snake, there is something at first glance that’s comedic: the smiling crayon-colored reptile and the plunging stick figures, the deluded implication of a communist threat in U.S. politics (Who are these commies? I ask myself. The corporate capitalist dollar-drenched Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer?), all of it suggestive of ignorant, harmless folk propaganda. But this imagery, and the history it evokes, is far from harmless.

The origin of the name, when Schwilk first related it, seemed to strain belief. Prior to his entrance into the limelight of the epic realm of far-right struggle, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a German-born immigrant to the United States, was a mostly forgotten libertarian economist who served out his days in the dungeons of academia at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Hoppe’s claim to fame in the small world of libertarian economics was as second-stringer and all-around gopher to his hero and intimate friend, Ludwig von Mises, who was considered, alongside Friedrich August von Hayek, one of the leading lights of the so-called Austrian school of economics. The Austrian school posited that there was no such thing as society except as a concatenation of individual choices in the marketplace. The individual was all; society was a mere afterthought of the many atomized creatures in it, and any attempt to aggregate the interests of the clashing atoms — say, in the form of democratic decision-making via universal suffrage — was a form of oppressive statist intervention. Hoppe’s contribution to the Austrian school was his 2001 book, “Democracy: The God That Failed,” whose title basically was the message.

That the snake is “Hoppean” begins to make a kind of conspiratorial sense when you consider the career of Mises’s intellectual brother, Hayek, who died in 1992. Hayek was a big fan of Pinochet, visiting Chile in 1975 to meet with the dictator to celebrate and advise on the dismantling of the country’s programs of social welfare, the massive privatization of public goods, and the deregulation of corporate interests. Along with Milton Friedman, Hayek was among the ambassadors of neoliberalism in fascist Chile described by Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine.” As historian Greg Grandin writes, “Hayek glimpsed in Pinochet the avatar of true freedom, who would rule as a dictator only for a ‘transitional period,’ only so long as needed to reverse decades of state regulation.” The concern of the libertarians — Hayek, Friedman, and their ilk — was the liberty of business to make more money but not at all the humans who were being murdered and tortured to further the great project of corporate freedom.

What garnered Hoppe the far right’s honor of associating him with Pinochet’s homicidal regime, however, was not the introduction of neoliberalism in Chile but specifically his musings about the democratic god that failed. Hoppe contends that the “physical removal” of undesirable citizens will be required in a putative libertarian “compact.” “There can be no tolerance,” he writes, “toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They — the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism — will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.”

When I wrote Hoppe to ask, as I put it in an email, about his name “being associated with a meme that celebrates mass murder,” he replied, “Your question — and insinuation — indicates that you are completely ignorant regarding my person and intellectual work. Even by the low intellectual standards of most contemporary journalists and journalism, then, [it] strikes me as scandalous and impudent. As even a cursory study of my website would reveal, for more than 40 years I have been an intellectual champion of private property right, free markets, freedom of contract and association, and peace.”

When I pressed him about the tying of his ideas to the snake meme, he wrote back, “What do I know? There are lots of crazy people out there!” Perhaps he should communicate this to the extremists who have adopted him as an avatar for a doctrine of terror.

By Christopher Ketcham


  1. Sounds like the meme's development was purely reactionary to provocations by ANTIFA types... so instead of taking the memes seriously, I'll take it for how it was meant.

  2. Replies
    1. provocative as "Punch a Nazi" is to everyone to the Left of Stalin.

    2. Besides, it's true.... the Left can't meme. They take themselves WAY too seriously.

  3. #1 No. The timeline doesn't work. The alt-right's 'ground zero' was (which has since been 'cancelled'). Next came Andrew Anglin (The Daily Stormer), who started the whole meme business, with his 'jocular approach' to racism, WS, AS, Trump etc etc.

    All this resulted in a barrage of Pepe memes and later the Hoppean Snake but all that PREDATES BLM/antifa.

    #4. The left isn't good with memes (and I couldn't care less). But re. taking themselves too serious? That's rich coming from someone reprinting sometimes unreadable and endless tracts by Zizek!

  4. Re. that last UToob, these types of memes can only be funny if you identify with the cause(s) they represent.

    Like Holocaust 'gags' (how many J-ws can you fit into a minicooper? 14: 4 in the car and 10 in the ashtray!): technically the pun works but only a Jew hater would find the joke funny (or propagate it)

  5. A story about a prominent alt-right memer...

    You still identify with the alt-Right? Heaven forbid!

  6. Re. the Pinochet video, I can only see anyone who approves of a 'leftist Holocaust' finding this funny. QED per the comment section, please don't say they're being... erm... 'ironic' (like Anglin always did)

    It's SICK and one has to be a sadistic fantasist to approve of it. Or a total political illiterate... I might give them the benefit of the doubt on that.

  7. Replies
    1. ...and yes, I still identify w/ Vietnam as a "Communist Containment" strategic necessity. Russian Ambassador Kennan sure won Isaiah Berlin over, along with the entire US Defense establishment.

    2. What I don't agree with is the Hoppean idea that you can "exile" or "exterminate" political parties you disagree with. You may have to fight and kill them at times, but you can't attempt a "final solution." And I suffer from no delusions that the Left would have done to Pinochet what he did to them in a second.

    3. Allende was merely the Hugo Chavez of his day.

      Here's the thing. America assumed the role of "world police" in 1941. Since 1989 and the success of the "Containment" strategy...I now think it's time to disengage from the world and go back to our pre-WWII isolation. I blame GHWB for missing THAT strategic pivot.

    4. I'm all FOR adopting Britain's pre-post Empire "Balance of Powers" strategy.

    5. ,,,after all, we're not the mercantilists you once were.

  8. Vietnam WAS containment, of course. The question is whether such a horrible war is a cure worse than the disease.

    But the ‘policing’ in LA is hard to sell as ‘containment’, when you support monsters like Pinochet. Firstly, because claims of Democracy/Freedom/Liberty become a Big Lie when dictators like Pinochet are adoringly given support/free reign.

    Secondly when Big American Businesses benefit from these interventions it becomes Empire building, not policing.

    As re. that Big Lie, we seem to have stumbled into that with a bloodless coup, nowadays. How did we get here?

    And I suffer from no delusions that the Left would have done to Pinochet what he did to them in a second.

    … is playing ‘alternative histories’. Truth is we just don’t know because there’s no way to find out.

  9. In the case of Chile I don’t know how much US Big Business benefited from Pinochetism but the latter was a foul and extreme version of neoliberalism, the negatives of which are still felt today.

    What both Pinochet and Thatcher achieved was a brutal offensive on Chilean and British society on behalf of big business hidden under the guise of “national renewal”. They attacked the idea and social base of collective action, attempting to force what in the post-Cold War climate became a catch cry for neo-liberal capitalists: “there is no alternative”. In the Sunday Times in May 1981, she alarmingly stated: “economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul”.


  10. Is it really fighting Communism/Socialism when it results in decimating the working class while bestowing benefits on one’s best business friends?

  11. Hayek infamously wrote in a letter to the Times:

    “I have not been able to find a single person even in much maligned Chile who did not agree that personal freedom was much greater under Pinochet than it had been under Allende.”

    Do you think he was simply unaware of Pinochet’s crimes?

    1. What's your opinion of the Myanmar coup? Are the Rohinga a minority that can coexist with an ever shrinking Buddist minority? Should it break apart after an India-style ethnic cleanse, allowing both groups to go their separate ways?

    2. btw- I'm a huge fan of "confederacies" like the Delian League.

    3. Arcadian League... and Aratus of the Aechaen Legue. The Iroquois Confederacy was Ben Franklin's model under the original American Articles of Confederation.

    4. Supporting Pinochet definitely made the US enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine throughout LA harder than it needed to be. Unfortunately, if I've learned nothing else, its' often harder to "correct" your allies than punish your enemies. Its' typically all "carrot" with only a hint at "stick".

    5. This was obviously designed by Anarcho-Capitalists to piss off Anarcho-Syndicalists, not as a policy statement endorsing genocide. In other words it says, "We don't take you seriously, and you'd be a fool to take me so." But of course, there are plenty of fools on both sides to go round.

    6. Gert,

      The history of Latin America is a story of poor people being exploited in turn by rich oligarchs and socialist "saviors."

      Go yahoogle Venezuela Boligarchia or boligarchs.

      The American left only cares about oppression from "the right." They defend socialist and marxist oppression (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua).

  12. America's humorless, intellectually-stunted left is too stupid to understand when its being mocked.

    This is one practical reason why you should never use power to silence your enemies. Having no natural predators makes you fat, lazy and stupid, and as Dean Wormer warned us, that is no way to go through life.

  13. Gert,

    None of my comments are meant as an insult to you. You are a thinking man posting original thoughts, which is rare nowadays.