So, not long ago I lost another friend to the alt-right. Not so much a friend; more of an acquaintance. Let’s call him “Joe.” I had followed him on social media a long time ago, and we exchanged messages once in a while, but he was never a close friend. In retrospect that was a blessing. Until I gave up my Twitter not long ago, I used to make a lot of friends like this, particularly in the heavy metal scene, so Joe was not really that unique. About two years ago–in the hellish societal crucible of 2016 that gave us civilization-destroyers like Brexit and our unfortunate President–I recall Joe posting, on Twitter, something laudatory about Breitbart troll Milo Yiannopolous, a Nazi apologist whose fifteen minutes of fulsome fame was up when he was exposed as a fan of pedophilia. I even remember thinking, “Oh, damn, that’s trouble. If he admires Milo, it’s a bad sign.” Call me naive, but at that time I didn’t know the term “alt-right.” Now I know more about it than I ever cared to. This was far from the only incident. Joe was soon a fan of toxic masculinity disguised as the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement,” and he was going on frequent rants against Muslims. After watching Joe descend into the heart of darkness, I finally cut him off. I don’t need those people in my life. But I admit, even though he was just an acquaintance, it was kind of soul-destroying to have to do it, largely because Joe is about the 3rd or 4th friend or acquaintance in the past few years who’s become too toxic to stomach.
Before Joe, there was “Charlie.” He was also a social media acquaintance, also from the heavy metal scene, and lived in another country–the UK, in point of fact. Charlie’s descent began with Brexit. In the months leading up to the UK’s June 2016 referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union, Charlie was obviously and loudly a strong supporter of the “Leave” campaign, and posted a great deal about it on his Twitter feed. Charlie seemed like an honestly nice person. While I didn’t agree with his pro-Brexit arguments, we were able to have reasoned discussions about them. Some of his take involved the “sovereignty argument” (the notion, mostly erroneous, that the UK should “not give up its sovereignty” to the European Union–which was never actually a reality), but it seemed he was particularly motivated by the desire to stop immigration to the UK. Charlie never really crossed a line, at least not up until June 23, 2016, the day of the vote, when he passionately defended UKIP, the xenophobic party led by Nigel Farage, the most prominent British politician associated with the alt-right. I was shocked by the result of the Brexit vote. Charlie’s head nearly exploded in orgasmic bliss. At that point I made a conscious decision not to engage Charlie in conversation if I could help it.
Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), is a failed politician who had a lot to do with the Brexit vote. He now lends his voice to numerous alt-right causes.
About 18 months later, toward the end of 2017, on a whim I clicked on Charlie’s profile which I hadn’t looked at in a long time. In the age of Trump he had gone way, way down the rabbit hole. His feed was full of retweets of Russia Today (Putin’s propaganda arm in the West), lewd headlines of brutal crimes–especially rapes–supposedly committed by Muslims in European countries, and lots and lots of Donald Trump. Reasoned discussion was impossible with him now. It’s like he was a different person, and I’d watched the initial stages of his slide.
By now, late 2018, the rise of fascism and neo-fascism in the Western world is not something that should surprise anyone, though it should horrify everyone. Political and social ideas that seem like the second coming of Hitler and Mussolini have been becoming increasingly visible and militant. I first wrote about the trend on this blog in November 2015, in an article ostensibly about the 1972 film Cabaret, whose subject is the rise of fascism in Germany in the early 1930s. In the three years since then I’ve seen it happen now to several people I know. The alt-right is attracting people, particularly young men who spend a lot of time on the Internet, for many of the same reasons the young men of Weimar Germany were attracted to the Nazi Party. We, like they, live in a time of accelerating social change and dislocation. Young people face an increasingly bleak economic future, just as it was in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. And there are convenient scapegoats about: in Europe in the 1920s it was Jews, and today it’s Muslims in headscarves or “illegal immigrants” in the Southwestern desert. Leaders like today’s alt-right figureheads know how to stoke this discontent and gain political power. I don’t write about this process very much, but Padre Steve, a history blogger I follow, frequently does; he wrote about it just the other day. We must not be blind to this process. It can happen here, and it is happening.
The Freikorps, paramilitary units made up primarily of disaffected young men, used to prowl the streets of Weimar Germany looking to beat up Communists before they were outlawed in 1921. Many Freikorps members later became Nazis.
Unlike Joe and Charlie, who were online acquaintances I never met face to face, I have lost real flesh and blood friends to the alt-right. The saddest story involves “Henry.” Henry and I were friends, first online, then in real life; during my yearly visits to one of my favorite cities, he and I were inseparable. I do remember–this was about 2008 or so, even before Obama got elected–that Henry was very much into what I used to call “dating tactics.” He had little sayings and techniques for “getting girls,” some of which were occasionally successful. One night at a pub Henry went on a tear about girls who “cockblock.” I didn’t even know what that was supposed to mean, except it was apparently something that girls he didn’t like did to prevent girls he did like from having sex with him. I just thought it was puffed-up masculine talk from a frustrated 20-something guy. I didn’t think much of it at the time.
Fast-forward a couple of years. Henry, who I hadn’t seen in person in a long time, still messaged me occasionally. What I had called “dating tactics” was now called “game,” a term used by PUAs (Pick-Up Artists) to describe behavior, much of it sexist, designed to attract women that PUAs judged by superficial standards to be desirable. “Game” worked even far less often than Henry’s rudimentary techniques, but now, when a relationship ended or he couldn’t get with a girl he wanted, Henry seethed with resentment, evidently believing that he was entitled to sex from women he found attractive. He started ranting about “third-wave feminists” and “SJWs” (Social Justice Warriors, an imaginary boogeyman of the alt-right). I messaged Henry less and less often. It is well-documented that anti-feminism and “Men’s Rights” nonsense is something of a gateway drug to the alt-right.
In August 2017, alt-right Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia for their hateful and disgusting beliefs. This is what the alt-right stands for: the ugliness that is the exact opposite of everything that was ever great about America.
You know where this is going–except you don’t. In 2016, although at first denouncing Trump as a buffoon, Henry eventually went all-in on Trumpmania. But his reasons were that Hillary was a puppet of George Soros and the “New World Order.” He predicted she would win the election because he expected the Illuminati to rig it. In addition to the toxic misogyny of PUA culture, Henry had descended into conspiracy theories, and he believed them all. Fortunately I didn’t have to disconnect from Henry. In his eyes I had become a fulsome SJW myself, and he wanted nothing to do with me. This nearly 10-year friendship ended abruptly and acrimoniously. I don’t know where Henry is now or what he’s up to, and I don’t want to know.
This is more than just having political differences with someone. It used to be that political beliefs were no impediment to finding a real connection with somebody, but unfortunately those days, if not gone forever, are numbered. Partisanship has become so weaponized, and all of us so entrenched in our own “silos,” that it’s hard to see beyond them; but in our defense, or at least in mine, the worldview of the alt-right with its racist nihilism is so toxic and corrosive that I don’t think you can blame me for wanting none of it in my life. There’s a point beyond which “the benefit of the doubt” simply can’t stretch. With Charlie and Henry, certainly I reached that point; and I aborted my relationship with Joe because I knew with grim inevitability where it would lead. You can’t change people’s minds, especially about things they feel so viscerally. The alt-right becomes an identity for most of its adherents. They can only shake it off if they find it in themselves to do so. It can’t be done from the outside.
Amidst the assholes there are still good people too, like these anti-fascist counter-protestors at the Charlottesville rally.
While I have no regrets about disconnecting from these people, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad for them. Hate is an exhausting and soul-destroying ideology. That’s self-evident to me, but for others it’s a lesson I fear the world will inevitably teach them, probably at significant cost. That too is a pattern that repeats throughout history, and it never ends pleasantly.