Revenge of the Trolls

By Colón, John Michael | In These Times, August 2017 | Go to article overview

Revenge of the Trolls


Colón, John Michael, In These Times


Leftists who write thinkpieces or satires about the alt-right too often lob satisfying but unhelpful insults like "anime Nazi dorks" and "neckbeard fedoras" as a stand-in for analysis. By contrast, in Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4chan and Tumblr to Trump

and the Alt-Right, the Irish journalist Angela Nagle explores what's driving the alt-rights rise- and how the Left's worst tendencies help it grow.

Nagle traces the alt-right's origins to the message boards, chat rooms, wikis and blogs that, before social media rose to full dominance, offered anonymity, fleeting interactions and information overload. These spaces fostered a milieu of digital pranksterism and sophisticated in-jokes centered on two core interests: celebrating geek culture and transgressing social mores.

This culture was a mess of contradictions. For a time, it was a hotbed of principled cyber-activism, and endeavors such as the Anonymous movement and early WikiLeaks exposed much Obama-era corporate and government wrongdoing. In April 2010, for example, WikiLeaks released a video of U.S. helicopters shooting a Reuters journalist and several civilians in Baghdad.

As Nagle sees it, this radical element has faded away, undermined not only by state spying and repression but also by the inherent limits of its leaderless structure and ideological vagueness. What's left behind is something more toxic: a shallow online identity politics of both the Left and Right that Nagle calls "politics as culture war."

The right-wing side grew out of forums like 4chan, where largely white and upper-middle-class teenagers, protected by screen names and driven by deep social alienation, could plot to ruin the lives of random strangers through online harassment and the publication of personal information (known as doxxing) while cracking "ironic" jokes on sexist, pedophiliac, anti-Semitic and racist themes. In these web communities, its intentionally ambiguous whether phrases like "Jews did 9/11" are meant to be absurd or true.

The 2014 "Gamergate" controversy turned this apolitical "culture of transgression" into a far-right cultural movement. When video-game critic Anita Sarkeesian took on sexism in the gaming world, male gamers harassed, doxxed, and threatened her with rape and death. Like-minded young men (and some women) took note, and a decentralized coalition of anti-feminists, white nationalists, libertarians and self-proclaimed monarchists declared war on political correctness. The shared culture they developed, Nagle writes, was "characterized by a particularly dark preoccupation with thwarted or failed white Western masculinity as a grand metaphor."

Out of this primordial proto-fascist stew emerged the alt-right and its component movements. The misogynists of the Manosphere believe feminism has destroyed both the family and their own sexual prospects. Richard Spencer and his ilk argue for the biological reality of race, the impossibility of multiculturalism, and the creation of white ethnostates to defend the West from immigrants and Islam. Carnival barkers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Gavin Mclnnes have built media careers by baiting over-earnest progressives into shrill and predictable denunciations. And lets not forget the sad parade of self-help gurus, conspiracy theorists and supplement-peddling hucksters-think InfoWars.com owner Alex Jones-who have found a way to make a buck and a name for themselves in the alt-right digital ecosystem.

At her best, Nagle cuts to the psychological roots of this new far Right- particularly its anti-feminist core. …

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