From ‘Too Online’ to Alt-Right and Back Again

There’s a comedian (that I know nothing about) that does a bit about taco bell. There’s a joke that involves finding out the remaining 70% is saw dust, then he cuts down a tree to make nachos.

His name is Chris Porter. I hope he isn’t a milkshake duck.

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The topic of online radicalization is something that will always scare the shit out of me because in hindsight I almost fell into that rabbit hole in highschool. I was angry and depressed and I didn’t really realize it yet or realize why. I thought I was just some miserable white boy who liked games too much. (When I was actually a depressed and repressed queer non-binary person who has terrible parents).

Anyway one day I finally checked out this one dude that Youtube just, kept recommending me, The Amazing Atheist. I found some popular video about him ranting about the hosts of The View making fun of a guy who CW: Sexual Violence got his genitals cut off.

At the time I wasn’t actively looking for reasons I was miserable, but man, this Amazing Athiest sure was making some good points. Then he said the C word and got a little too angry for me and I said “eh, maybe I don’t need to watch anymore of this dude’s videos”.

I think about that moment a lot. What I’d be like if I decided to watch more. Probably, a much worse person.

This post comes off as really rambley and self-absorbed but I guess I’m saying all this because Danielle is right, there isn’t much in the way of good guidance for boys outside the home, if they are even really getting guidance there in the first place, and there really needs to be. I could have been radicalized against a lot of shit that I am and I’m sure there are plenty of people who have been. The internet is a hell of a radicalization tool and I don’t think that just good parenting is often enough to resist it. Part of combating online radicalization has to be better guidance in the lives of young people outside of the home.

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Not to sidetrack the discussion here about the radicalization story, but Rob talking about struggling with instruction manuals, and having trouble getting into a board game without someone who already has a feel for it—that’s like, the reason why I’ve never really tried to get into tabletop or board games. I’ve just always had trouble learning from written instructions, and I always have that exact same problem where I try to read an instruction manual, can never quite grasp it, and give up if I’m not playing with someone who’s already familiar with the mechanics. (Also, I think, why I like video games so much and especially action-heavy genres, because they do all that for you.) Huh. Kinda thinking about trying to give these things another shot at some point, considering.

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I think a lot of white boys like myself have similar stories. There’s always a point for decent people when ingesting that stuff where we say “whoa there that’s kinda fucked up” and our paths diverge from the people for whom that kind of rhetoric is a gateway.

I also had that kind of experience with the nu - atheist movement. All their content came across as painfully and aggrievedly angry and it seemed deeply uncool to me. At the time, I needed everything I agreed with to be drowned in a swimming pool of irony, so their grievance-based existences came across as sad and annoying.

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God, I fell into the New Atheist movement hard. Sort of the opposite to yourself, I enjoyed that anger because I couldn’t externalise my own emotional problem and I don’t think I realised I had mental health problems. I read Dawkins etc and I’d look for any excuse to tell you why what you believe is wrong/dumb to avoid addressing my own issues.

It was only when someone told me Dawkins is a phenomenal biologist, but genuinely knows fuck all about Religion that the walls started falling down (he’s also a massive blurt).

If you’d have told 14 year old me I’d graduate Uni doing Philosophy, Ethics and World Religions I would have lost my shit.

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This might be a bit too rigid. It’s suggesting that a person escaping the whirlpool of hatred was somehow destined to be decent, or that anyone who succumbs to the siren song of extremism never had a chance. I’ll speak for myself here: If I hadn’t been engaged by living, breathing people to set me straight, I would be a markedly worse person than I am today. When it came to specific, ingrained misconceptions, I wasn’t aligned by some innate sense of decency. People corrected me.

Now, to be absolutely clear, if you’d asked close friends or family to describe me at the time, I’d put good money on them spitting out some variation of “decent” or “good”. Point being, my path through life was excruciatingly nuanced, and no single junction point was that clear-cut.

I’ll also say that I’ve seen seemingly indecent people come back from beyond the brink, and good people break real fucking bad.

Apologies if I read too far into what you wrote, I just think you’re painting with too broad a brush.

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Sorry. I’m speaking more to my own experience as I really didn’t have anyone to set me straight or check my worst impulses.
I just thought “this isn’t cool” and put some distance between myself and that kind of thinking. I really could have gone down the wrong path but for some reason 16 year old me thought that shit was lame.

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Being a kid can’t half be shit

I was so on the cusp of falling into New Atheism and I’m embarrassed when I think about it. I had some friends in middle school who loved Dawkins and would constantly try and get me to read him. Eventually we went to high school, those dudes went to a different school than I did, my friendgroup really diversified outside of “a bunch of white dudes” and my parents, who are both pretty hard leftists sat me down and basically gave me a talking to and a copy of The Communist Manifesto.

I saw one of those middle school people at a New Year’s party with a bunch of old friends and was shocked to find he basically hadn’t changed, he just moved from thinking he was enlightened because he read Dawkins to thinking he was enlightened because he read Dawkins while on acid.

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It’s cool to hear new voices on the podcast, and I hope we get more crossover from other good Vice stuff.

So much in this article doesn’t ring true to me, particularly the inciting incident at the school. But then at the rally there’s a guy with a Nazi flag who’s getting filmed and the press is smiling and nodding at him, because (get it?) reporters can’t stop profiling Nazis! I dunno, maybe that’s a real thing. It’s just so pat in this story that I can’t really take anything else, particularly the kid’s instant deradicalization, as things that actually happened to a person somewhere. That when I googled this story I found a Federalist article titled “Mom Reveals how her Lefty Tribe Breeds Affection for the Alt-Right” might have influenced my thinking on this. The way the original piece always refers to the kid as having been unquestionably in the right and legitimately mistreated by crazy, “liberal” faculty rubs me the wrong way, and kind of starts to point in that Federalist direction.

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I cant shake the feeling that his comment in school wasn’t just some innocuous insider joke. That Rob hits the nail on the head, that there was no sudden change that Sam experienced due to his experience, that Sam was already on clearly on track to being a bellend

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Yeah, I got a tingling suspicion in the back of my mind while reading the piece that a lot of it sounded like backdoor cover, or just the underlying but unstated presumption/viewpoint, for that played out pseudo-argument that “PC goes too far” because “if you tell people not to be Nazis they’ll turn into Nazis”

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Yeah, I agree. The way the mom consistently presents the incident was more what I was talking about, and the way it fits into the arc the article is trying to explicitly sell.

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It definitely reminds me of times in my childhood/adolescence when I thought I was being unjustly punished and my parents stepped in to protect me from said punishment. Looking back… no, I was in the wrong and my parents were just buying into my bullshit.

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That’s exactly what i’m getting, but I think the kid knows full well what he’s doing. The whole meme community is built around irony and everyone else just not getting it. It’s not funny in and of itself but because it’s Ironic.

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I just read the article and bleh. The minimizing and denial of a serious sexual harassment accusation, the marketplace-of-ideas-ing of hanging out with nazis, and the ignoring of warning signs that the kid was doxxing others all point to a family that is ok with bigotry as long as the quiet parts aren’t said out loud. The drawing the line at being around weed was a particularly sweet cherry on this shit sundae.

Privileged white folks who think their child’s “intellectual” curiosity is more important than the very real danger they pose to others, they can get fucked.

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So, apologies in advance for a personal story here and probably one that isn’t particularly interesting. I have less of a hard time buying that a random, chance interaction with someone can drastically change your viewpoint because it personally happened to me albeit in a way less dramatic fashion and I was never even vaguely close to neo-Nazi territory.

As a white guy in high school, I was like most other young men a complete and utter shit show when it came to women. Sexist jokes, being too familiar, snapping bras, basically being an unbearable bastard. We all thought this was just a gas, and of course the girls did too because they just sort of laughed it off or rolled their eyes. Like I said, an utter shit show. I know for a fact that time travel backwards will never be invented in my lifetime because at no point did an older version of myself appear and smack me around for being a complete moron, but I digress…

Anyway, one day I’m hanging out late with a group of mixed friends eating at a food court, and as it keeps getting later and later and more people are peeling off to go home. Eventually it’s well after dark and it’s just me and a girl I liked left talking for a bit. Finally, it’s time to go, and she asks if I can walk her to her car. Being the height of wit and charm, I make some joke about it. Instead of laughing, she just tells me that the other week a mutual friend of ours had a man follow her out into the parking lot and try to get into her car when she unlocked the doors. She screamed, the guy ran off, but nothing really happened and no one knew who it was. To my extremely limited credit, I immediately shut the fuck up and apologized, walked her to her car quietly, and said goodbye as she drove off.

The walk back to my own car was probably the longest 90 seconds of my life and I must have sat motionless in the driver’s seat for a half an hour. I’m not proud of admitting this because I was damn near 18 at the time, but it completely changed my entire way of thinking from that moment on. It had been laid out to me cleanly and plainly by someone I knew and trusted, that she and I lived in two entirely different worlds. To me, a dark parking lot was nothing. It was the exact same thing as it was during the day, a boring place I needed to trudge through to get where I was going. To her, and to other women, it was something to be afraid of and the plan for. We might occupy the same space, but the reality that she and other women lived in was alien to me.

To a lot of people, that’s an eye roll worthy story, “Local Man Discovers Women Experience Things Differently” and that is a completely valid and fair critique of just how dumb and sheltered I was. Being confronted with it so bluntly as a fact that needed to be dealt with made me seriously rethink many, many things that I thought I understood and change my behavior dramatically.

I can’t speak to the authenticity of the rest of the story, but as a person who had the real life equivalent of someone flicking on the lightbulb above my idiot head, that part of it is at the very least plausible.

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As a young kid, it does sometimes take an experience to teach you, speaking for myself, especially when you’re a big shithead who was completely locked into their narrow beliefs, being told just wasn’t enough, because I knew better than everyone.

Again, my interaction with a local Muslim completely changed my world view and how I interact with people.

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I was side-eying the story after the author mentioned reading Kill All Normies, there’s too much about their recollection that feels like an extrapolation of the book’s core message; that the overreach of progressives causes a whiplash effect which can push regular people into reactionary spaces.

That analysis always comes off as total bupkis, framed from the position of someone over-exaggerating the influence of Tumblr’s pocket communities. Online reactionaries were already looking for anecdotes of progressives going Too Far, who put a big spotlight on the instances they found as targets for ridicule.

For me, these shifts in ideology always came gradually after spending a considerable amount of time in certain spaces. I spent a lot of time on 4chan when I was 15 and started to become an aggressive, reactionary person. I wasn’t until I was about 17 that I started hanging out on the SA forums and got steadily pushed back to more socialist viewpoints.

This story has a very “sunlight is the best disinfectant” moral at the center of it. If seeing the true face of fascism helped you or someone else to see reason, great. But not every person involved in those groups are going to be rational actors, and they don’t really care how bad their ideology looks.

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This podcast really hit close to home. I was also a toxic teen and probably would have become alt-right if that had existed in the internet of the late 90’s-early 2000’s. Below is my long winded personal story.

For me I think it’s what Danielle said, that society does a really poor job of socializing young men. I’ve always had problems with romantic interactions with women from an early age. As an Italian/Brazilian there was always some pressure that if you weren’t a womanizer you were a failure as a man. This didn’t go well with my fear of rejection, low self esteem, and bad anxiety and depression. Women became a sort of “other”, not a person in the same way I was. I did not know how to show the girls I liked that I was in to them romantically, and only had my first girlfriend at 17. I basically only had two dates between that relationship ending and turning 24.

I got in to some pretty misogynist communities online around the year 2000, when I was 13, that also shared my woes of “girls not liking good guys”. They would definitely be alt-right and anti-SJW today. They were definitely already anti-PC at the time. Between those communities and my fairly right-wing parents I was that embarrassing sort of contrarian Rob discusses on the show throughout high school and parts of college. To further cement that stereotype I was also in to military history at the time, especially the German army in WWII :expressionless:

Ironically what helped get me out of that toxic place I was in was finding the Pickup Artist/Seduction community. I never used their “canned” routines, because even at that low point I thought they were morally wrong. However their self help stuff was actually very useful. A lot of it was just basic self care, and improving your self-esteem. It’s embarrassing to admit, but a life-changing revelation from the pickup artist community at the time was that women actually like sex, and it’s easier to “get it” if you treat them like a “normal human being” (ie. like you would treat another cis-male). Sorry, that’s a really gross way to express it and even recalling that I once thought that way makes me cringe in guilt and embarrassment. As Contrapoints points out in her Jordan Peterson and Incel videos, a lot of the advice in these communities is self-help messaging that would actually be useful for troubled teens, if they came without the shitty alt-right messaging.

At this point I was in university and surrounded by a lot of left-leaning friends in the UK, who slowly tempered my shittier right wing opinions over time. Eventually I switched from studying Video Games to studying Archaeology. Archaeology helped me see the horrors of colonialism and capitalism and how terrible and unjust societies in the past could be, especially to women or “outsiders”. That’s when I really started veering left and becoming feminist as well. Honestly, if you study non-military history and/or archaeology and don’t come out a bit of a lefty, either you had an intentionally misleading curriculum or are a sociopath. Military history is a right-wing trash fire however.

This is also when I stopped frequenting online pickup artist spaces and had my first healthy relationship with a woman (my now wife!), when I was 24 years old.

Moving here to the US further changed my world view, as I was deprived from even the basic social amenities I had growing up in Europe (public transportation, bike infrastructure, walkable neighborhoods, affordable socialized medical care, etc.). Capitalism here is so “loud” I find it disconcerting - there are ads everywhere all the time, and everything is about money, owning property, and the individual above everyone else.

Working as an archaeologist over here further exposed me to the genocide of Native Americans and their continued awful treatment, pushing me further left. I’m even feeling morally ambiguous about being a white cis-male working with Native American history, considering the terrible colonial foundations of archaeology. I’m trying to stick to providing only technical services like artifact typologies, site recordation and mapping, as I don’t think it’s my place to do anything interpretative like writing histories or trying to “explain” how Native American societies worked.

And then I found Idle Weekend, which led me to Waypoint, which eventually introduced me to Citations Needed, Contrapoints, donoteat, and Dia Lacina and now I’m basically an Environmentalist SJW Commie! So a happy ending, I hope :slight_smile:

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