Alt-right leaders are insincere opportunists. But their followers aren’t.

On the long list of sins committed by the dipshit ideological leaders of the alt-right, an underappreciated one is that many of them don’t even believe the bad things they are saying.

Joseph Bernstein has a terrific report in Buzzfeed News about the case of Lane Davis, an alt-right hysteric also know as Seattle4Truth. Online, Seattle4Truth was a burgeoning media personality, with a manic hatred for leftists and an ability to connect his enemies to pedophilia with such fervor that many close to him assumed he was doing a bit. In the real world, Davis was a shut-in, one of the many losers in what seems to be a growing lost generation of white male failsons. And what a failure of a son Lane was: his tense relationship with his family came to a head when he stabbed his father repeatedly while screaming that he was a leftist pedophile.

Bernstein’s article is searing: a piece of reporting that I suspect will be cited often as stories like this become more common. Because Lane is not an exception; violence is on the rise among people like him, a physical manifestation of the brutality core to the delusion of alt-right ideology. But what separated Lane from the grunts of the movement—the Youtube commentators and the people on Twitter who tell feminists to kill themselves but don’t have thousands of followers—was his content skills. He was, at least by the tenuous standards of far-right publishing, a good reporter and decent video producer. His burgeoning talents were nurtured by Ralph Report editor Ethan Ralph.

It’s Ralph who gives Bernstein some of the most revealing quotes in the story about the nature of the alt-right media ecosystem. Here he is talking about his involvement in Gamergate, a hate movement in video game industry that established many conservative celebrities and set the stage for the greater alt-right online movement:

“Before Gamergate I was a pretty standard liberal or even a socialist,” Ralph told me. “I’d write hit pieces on right-wing figures. It was a hobby. But when Gamergate broke out and I got an audience that happened to be more reactionary, I thought, It’s my job to do propaganda for Gamergate. The ethics in video game journalism stuff, I didn’t care about that.”

Ralph’s trajectory–disinterest swayed by the realization that there was a sizable audience in reactionary media commentary–mirrors that of a number of prominent Gamergate and alt-right figures. Milo Yiannopoulos, the fallen son of Stephen Bannon who fueled the early days of Gamergate through his Breitbart columns, was quoted years earlier mocking the gamers he would later champion. Heated gaming moment originator Ian Miles Cheong spent months attacking Gamergate online before realizing there was more money and influence in supporting the movement. As the effects of Gamergate continue to be felt in our poisoned culture and Republican-controlled politics, it’s instructive to remember that most of its early adopters were simple opportunists: people otherwise disinterested in the idea of politics in gaming but saw it as an opening to raise their own profile or promote their message of cultural warfare. People like Ralph saw an opportunity, but according to him, that doesn’t mean he believes everything on Ralph Report. More from Bernstein:

If the Ralphs felt guilt over the killing, though, they felt an equal amount of anger and bewilderment. It astounded them that Lane had been serious all along. No one could really believe, they thought, in a Marxist plot to enforce pedophilia with antifa shock troops.
“He completely ruined his life with some stupid internet shit,” Ralph said. “He didn’t get the game.”

What game, you ask? Here’s Ralph’s wife, Nora, with some more explanation:

“I watch Alex Jones,” Nora told me. “To me, that’s entertainment. We don’t really think the frogs are gay. I don’t think the protein powder works. I never thought some people watch this stuff and are like, yes, this is hard-hitting journalism. I thought most of us could distinguish between entertainment and facts. I never really thought people were stupid enough to get caught up in this stuff.”

The prospect that alt-right media is, on some level, a farce is not a new idea. Most of the movement’s celebrities seem to keep a safe distance from the things they claim to believe. Yiannopoulos often hides behind the shield of provocateur when pushed on his statements advocating violence against women and Muslims. Sandy Hook truther Alex Jones tried to pass off his work as character acting when faced with the prospect of losing custody of his children in a divorce trial. Rape apologist and Pizzagate dumbass Mike Cernovich sometimes seems to be laying the groundwork for a pivot to the center. Speaking of Pizzagate: one of its biggest promoters, Jack Posobiec, backtracked on his association with the  conspiracy theory sometime between getting a more reputable job at One America Network and an armed gunman entering the pizzeria at the center of the delusion. That’s a lot of deniability for a group with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Faced with having to distance himself from a murder, Ralph is simply giving voice to a sentiment normally unsaid among the alt-right elite: I don’t actually believe a lot of this shit.

People like Ralph are at the top of a massive shrine of lies, constructed precariously to build media empires catering exclusively to extremely online simpletons. They are capitalistic content creators impersonating actual ideologues. If the audience wants conspiracies, they will get increasingly absurd conspiracies; if they want people to hate for being communists or leftists or pedophiles, people like Ralph are happy to oblige, exaggerating and playing up a character and screaming on live streams all along the way to the bank.

It is, after all, just meant to be entertainment, provocation, or some weird intentionally blurred representation of fact. 

But intent doesn’t matter when you’ve created an audience that believes your bullshit.  People like Lane Davis are out there in numbers I suspect we don’t fully comprehend the scale of. Isolated from society, secluded from the workforce, and radicalized to believe both are the result of a grand conspiracy against them, these Youtube Nazis are created from the perfect storm of exploitable algorithms and new-media opportunists like Ralph.

An ideology based on grievance and conspiracy, especially one predicated on withdrawing from mainstream society, is always going to be a powder-keg for violence. Whether it comes from insincere messengers or not is irrelevant when the audience is repeatedly and increasingly proving that they are not joking about their hatred. 


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