Naomi Klein: ‘Joe Biden stepping down is the only thing that can stop Trump. He has so enraged young voters by supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza that I doubt he can win’

In her new book ‘Doppelganger,’ the essayist — a leading voice of the anti-globalization movement — reflects on the parallel realities spawned by the internet and recreated in politics, the media and by artificial intelligence

Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein, in Vancouver, in July 2023.Grant Harder
Iker Seisdedos

The first time was in 2011, in a public bathroom near the Occupy Wall Street camp.

―“Did you see what Naomi Klein said?” one woman asked another, outraged by Klein’s alleged criticism of that day’s demonstration.

Klein, who heard them behind the door of one of the stalls and had not said anything about the protest, corrected them as she left: “I think you are talking about Naomi Wolf.”

At the time, the mixup still made some sense. Both were called Naomi and both were left-wing writers “of books about big ideas” — feminism, in the case of Wolf, the author of the successful The Beauty Myth, and the dangers of globalization, in the case of Klein. And they were both Jewish women with long dark hair. Even their partners had the same name: Avram.

But later, Wolf slipped into the abyss of conspiracy theories. She became an anti-vaxxer, an election denier and began appearing on the program of Steve Bannon, the ideologue of Trumpism and leader of The Movement, a right-wing populist group with international influence. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, she fell down the rabbit hole. The mixing up of Klein and Wolf became more than a mere nuisance, going so far as to inspire a poem that went viral: “If the Naomi be Klein / you’re doing just fine / If the Naomi be Wolf / Oh, buddy. Ooooof.”

So Klein, 53, decided during the Covid-19 pandemic that she should write react to “The Other Naomi.” She wrote a book, Doppelganger — a word that comes from the German for double (Doppel) and walker (Gänger). It’s considered a certain archetype of literature, and not just in fantasy fiction. For Freud, dopplegangers represent instances of the uncanny, “that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familar.”

Thanks to her successful books No Logo (1999), a manifesto against corporate globalization, and The Shock Doctrine (2007), about Milton Friedman and his recipes for disaster (capitalism), Klein became one of the most influential voices of the alter-globalization generation at the turn of the century. This generation took to the streets of Seattle, Genoa and Porto Alegre, and did so again a decade later, camping out in squares from Madrid to New York. The following decade, Klein became a climate change activist, fighting the denialism threatening the children of those earlier protesters and writing two books on the subject: This Changes Everything and On Fire.

Doppelganger is a different kind of book. It’s a personal and intellectual memoir of the pandemic, a cultural history of the idea of the double (from Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde to Vertigo and Philip Roth’s masterful novel Operation Shylock) and a treatise on misinformation and how the internet encourages us to create clones of ourselves to feed our personal brand. It’s about seeing how people you thought you knew get radically transformed after wandering into the darkest corners of social media. And it’s about being left “speechless” in the face of conspiracy theories. The result is a brilliant artifact about the world we live in, where reality is diffused and there is ample fertilizer for extremism. The book does not hold back when it comes to criticizing left-wing smugness and the “us versus them” rhetoric.

The real Naomi Klein was last Thursday, shortly after dawn, waiting in the picturesque port of Sechelt for the arrival of the only passenger on the scheduled seaplane that covers the route from Vancouver. The interview was scheduled to take place at the university of the Canadian city, where she teaches a course on climate justice, but the meeting had to be rescheduled due to a snow storm.

Klein moved from the United States with her husband and child to this remote corner of Canada’s southern Pacific coast during the pandemic to “be nearer to her parents.” It was then that she began to become obsessed with her double, and to take writing classes. “Doppelganger,” she explained, while driving her 4x4 down snowy roads, “came out of a desire to write in a different style. I was feeling bored with traditional nonfiction, and hopeless about what it can accomplish. I just couldn’t fathom writing another book that was about the fact we’ve got five more years to respond to the climate emergency.”

Question. From the creator of slogans such as “no logo” and “disaster capitalism,” now comes “mirror world.” How do you define the concept?

Answer. It has to do with the doppelganger effect. We have created a sort of partition in society, a dividing line between “us and them.” The mirror world is not only where Bannon and Wolf live with their conspiracy theories, it is also a dynamic between liberal centrism and the alt-right. They are like parallel realities, with parallel social media, editorials, networks and discussions. They mirror each other, but don’t intersect.

Q. Like two-way mirrors in police station to see without being seen?

A. In a way. Bannon and his people are very much looking at the left, studying who they’re abandoning and what arguments should be absorbed into their political project. I think Georgia Meloni does the same thing in Italy.

Q. Or the far-right party Vox, in Spain.

A. They are all part of Bannon’s international network. Having been part of the anti-globalization movement, it’s interesting to me how certain ideas of ours have been absorbed into this new iteration of the extreme right, and twisted. They talk about the globalists, banks and tech companies as enemies, but it isn’t anti-corporate critique. Their target is the migrants, the vulnerable. They absorb the power of an argument that has been abandoned by the center and the left and absorb it to benefit the fascist agenda. Bannon interests me as a symptom of a seismic change on the right of which Trump is a part. He is the brains of an international operation, he has surpassed the parochial American left. They don’t know how to look beyond the border. There’s something very terrifying when you realize that Bannon is more internationalist than MSNBC.

Naomi Klein
The writer Naomi Klein, in Vancouver, in an image from July 2023.Grant Harder

Q. I suppose we all know someone who fell down the rabbit hole and was unrecognizable when they came back, filled with conspiracy theories.

A. There is a certain smug assumption on the left when it resorts to that image. They say: “No, we have not fallen down the rabbit hole, reality is on our side, we are engaged with the truth, with science.” Ultimately, it is a distraction to think that you are on the right side of the mirror. That is why I also talk in the book about the “shadowlands,” which none of us can bear to look at, but which show that we live in a world based on exploitation, pollution and colonialism, and that no one is innocent. In the days of No logo, it was about drawing attention to something unnoticed. Now we know our complicity. We can no longer pretend that we don’t have all the information.

Q. And whatever happened to reality?

A. I find what is reality a funny question. I asked it to Anishinaabe writer Jesse Wente. He told me: “Reality is a mountain.” Maybe we need to go back to basics, because I’m not sure Canada is real anymore or that money is real. I don’t know what reality is, but I know that mountains are real.

Q. In your research, you traveled to the catacombs of the internet. You write: “Conspiracy theorists get the facts wrong, but often get the feelings right.” Did you understand why people end up sucked into the hole? Were you tempted to let yourself fall?

A. Conspiracy theories satisfy the impulse to understand, even if the reasons are incoherent. It’s natural for people to look for answers. I look for them myself, I draw maps to explain the world based on systems like capitalism or colonialism, because those systems explain it much better than a conspiracy that says that the Jews, the Chinese or the members of the Bilderberg Group met in Davos to engineer a pandemic to enrich pharmaceutical companies. I wish it were Bill Gates’ fault: it would be easier to solve the problems by getting rid of him. The more you study capitalism, the more resistant you become to conspiracies. The only way to counter conspiracy culture is to acknowledge that people have good reason to be suspicious and feel betrayed. They need a scapegoat, and that’s dangerous. In moments of great brokenness, whether it’s the 1930s or now, people are going to look for explanations for how things got this bad. If they don’t get an analysis that provides an opportunity for people to come together and change that system, then they will turn on each other to find it. Very dangerous things will happen. And I think we’re very much on that cusp right now.

Q. When someone like Wolf goes to the other side... are they looking to recover what they lost on this one? John Milton said: “Better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven.”

A. There is something perverse about constantly knowing what works about what you sell. We are all waiting for that immediate feedback on social networks. In Wolf’s case, I think the opprobrium she was subjected to after the publication of her 2019 book [Outrages, in which she misinterpreted files on alleged executions for sodomy in Victorian England] was essential. It was very clear that she was never going to have another book to sell in traditional channels. But the truth is that she has written two more, plus one jointly with Bannon. Maybe you didn’t find out, because it happened in the mirror world. I don’t think, however, that she does it for money. She has to believe that she’s doing it because she’s right. I think people are capable of incredible delusions.

Q. How did Wolf react to Doppelganger’s publication?

A. She blamed it on a conspiracy to destroy her reputation, as if she hadn’t destroyed it herself. The conspiracy is as follows: my husband [filmmaker and journalist Avi Lewis, who ran for federal elections in Canada in 2021] works for pharmaceutical companies, when in fact he has only spoken at events to expand universal health coverage in Canada, which is not exactly what pharmaceutical companies want. She also discovered that my father-in-law was the U.N. ambassador for AIDS in Africa. That apparently makes him also an agent for pharmaceutical companies. They both put me up to write this book, and take her down. I don’t pay much attention to her, although her husband worries me more: he has more weapons.

Q. Do you think it is a good idea to ban people from social media or does this makes them stronger? Wolf’s intro on X is “deplatformed eight times; still right.”

A. There’s no such thing as deplatforming. We do not have the power to expel them from all the networks that exist. The right has gotten very good at using it as a badge of honor.

Q. In your book, you define social media as a “crowded and filthy global toilet.” In the case of Twitter, the toilet is also owned by Elon Musk.

A. Since he took over, it’s much worse. Part of the problem is that we have stopped trusting the media. The more we rely on these corporate-driven platforms for information, the worse it will get.

Q. It seems that some young people sees the extreme right as exciting, while the left is boring and prudish. Like someone who enjoys a cutting Ricky Gervais routine more than politically correct jokes.

A. It is true, and it is dangerous. It has to do with the censorious passion of the left, its policing of speech and the casual cruelty it displays when someone steps out of line. We could talk about cancel culture, if it weren’t such a loaded concept. To me, there’s no doubt that there is bullying, which tends to push anyone who steps out of line. I’m not the only person on the left who is concerned about this. These young people may find the left stifling, a place where a mistake can make your friends turn against you, and they may believe that on the right, it’s possible to disagree, even if that’s not true. There is policing on both sides of the mirror, but I think the right takes better advantage of that strategy to rally people to its cause. I wish the left thought more about how to increase our ranks instead of how to purge them.

That is part of the problem at universities, where it has become normal to cancel speeches of people you disagree with. Speech about Palestine is now being severely constrained. We are figthing the battle for free speech with one hand tied behind our back because the same people who are saying don’t censor speech about Palestine tried to get [Canadian conservative thinker] Jordan Peterson canceled a few months ago. All it takes is for someone to say “I feel unsafe” for something to no longer be said. This politics of difference is being used to silent chants like “From the river to the sea” or the display of Palestinian flags on campuses.

Q. Seen in perspective, the beginning of the pandemic was an illusion for those who believed that we were going to come out of it better off. Meanwhile, on the other side of the mirror, people were being loaded with hatred for masks and vaccines. All in all, we came out worse off.

A. There was some beauty, and at the same time it revealed our contradictions: we applauded the workers, but we hoarded toilet paper. The problem with capitalism is that it keeps us in a state of panic, scarcity and insecurity, and encourages our selfishness. That’s why I believe in working to change that system. There is no future if we maintain the status quo. Things will have to change, and they are changing. Unlike my previous books, Doppelganger is not so clear about the enemy; it could be me. It is more intimate. It is about a menace that is just as or more serious than any of my other books or all of them combined.

Q. The pandemic was the definitive shock, and, at the same time, the moment when the extreme right appropriated your theories of the shock doctrine to affirm that, as in Chile in the 1970s or after Hurricane Katrina, the powers that be were taking advantage of our fears to introduce far-reaching changes?

A. It was a sort of out-of-body experience. But the shock doctrine continues. In Milei’s Argentina or after the Maui fires this summer, which were used to fatten the real estate market. And it is happening before our eyes in Israel.

Q. Is genocide being committed in Gaza, as South Africa is arguing before the International Court of Justice?

A. I think that there’s a very strong case. The biggest argument is those Israeli officials talking publicly about depopulating Gaza and the need to resettle hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Palestinians. If that’s not ethnic cleansing, I don’t know what is. What Israel is doing is the clearest and most violent example of the shock doctrine that I could have imagined: we have a far-right government with explicit plans and hopes to depopulate the West Bank and specifically Gaza, which has always has been the greatest demographic threat to the idea of a Jewish majority. They immediately used October 7 to push through their most radical dreams and ambitions. That doesn’t mean that it was a conspiracy, but rather an opportunity for a group of extremely opportunistic people. And yes, I do believe it fits the definition of genocide and Geneva Convention.

Q. In Doppelganger, you talk about your visit to Gaza, in which you were harassed by the Israeli army. Were you surprised by the October 7 attack?

A. Everyone was surprised, including Netanyahu. Because I had been there and know the architecture [of the occupation], I understood why people saw it as a prison break. Of course, I was horrified to see the extent of the Hamas massacre. As someone who has been part of Palestinian solidarity movements for a long time, I know how important it is for Palestine that international law means something. That is what the South Africa case is about. Those conventions are only as strong as the moral force behind them. That’s why I was also concerned in those days to see some people on the left being very casual about [Israel’s] violations of international law. I wrote about that got attacked for it. It was not the first time, but this was the first time I was attacked by the left.

Q. Is antisemitism on the rise in North America?

A. All hate speech is on the rise. The right uses real antisemitism as a weapon, to justify itself. I hear older Jewish people who are convinced that they have the mob at their gates. So they can’t put out their menorah during Hanukkah, or they can’t have their mezuzah on their door. I think they’re being made afraid by organizations that are using that fear, the trauma, to just to make them just stand with Israel no matter what.

Q. Trump achieved a landslide victory in Iowa, at the start of the primaries. Is there anything that could stand in his way to the White House?

A. Honestly, Joe Biden stepping down. He has so enraged young voters by supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza that I doubt he can win. Not to mention the Arab voters in key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Q. Rereading No logo, there are ideas that now sound naive. Not so much because of the book, but rather because of the brutal evolution of turbocapitalism. You wrote about the power of brands, but you didn’t predict that we would all become one.

A. It was clear then that it was going to be happening for celebrities, and I talk in the book about Michael Jordan, or Oprah [Winfrey]. So it seemed laughable to think that we could all cultivate our brand. How? Putting ads in the local newspaper? There was no Instagram or TikTok. And look at us now: I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel destroyed by what they have to do to feed their online image. This is having a profound impact on our understanding of what life is, on what friendships are for.

Q. What was impossible to foresee is the rise of brand-driven movies, from Air to Tetris, and that one of them, Barbie, would lead an apparently profound cultural debate on feminism.

A. Barbie is like a sugar high. We all like it when it’s happening. But then you feel bad about it, embarrassed. You have a Barbie hangover. All those movies that Mattel plans to release ... remind me of artificial intelligence, another expression of our era of doppelgangers: it’s a mirroring and mimicry machine. It just remixes culture and it can feel innovative, but it’s not.

Translated by Avik Jain Chatlani.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS