Insights into the rise of the alt-right in the US

Some people involved in radical politics and extreme social activism can change. And repent. And good people need to stand up against those deliberately promoting bad stuff.

Katie McHugh’s story gives some insights into the rise of the alt-right white nationalist movement in the Unites States.

“Get Out While You Can” – A Former Alt-Right Member’s Message: Get Out While You Still Can

Once notorious for her racist and bigoted tweets, Katie McHugh saw the dark insides of the white nationalist movement.

Examples of past tweets:

“The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

“Funny how Europeans assimilated, unlike Third Worlders demanding welfare while raping, killing Americans.”

“There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.”

An intruduction:

I didn’t know what to make of her. This was someone whom I’d known to be a bigot, someone who freely threw around the “cuck” slur and who represented the kind of ideology I have devoted much of my career so far to explaining and exposing. It was a little over a year after Charlottesville. The bad things from the internet had started to come to life, with terrible, violent, and real consequences. It was bizarre to see in person someone who had existed for me only as an online symbol of the very worst parts of contemporary politics.

She was saying she wanted to leave it all behind: her years as a far-right media figure and tweeter, and someone who close observers of right-wing media knew was one of Breitbart’s most obvious connections to the white supremacist core of the alt-right.

McHugh had dated Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct right-wing campus youth group that billed itself as promoting “the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage,” but was entwined with the white nationalist movement; Jared Taylor, the self-described “white advocate” founder of American Renaissance, once fundraised for the group.

Her disparaging tweets about people of color and Muslims made her stand out even at Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, which had launched Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, had featured a “black crime” tag for stories, and had been described by Bannon himself as a “platform for the alt-right.”

Her story is fascinating, and sometimes frustrating. She wishes she had never said the things she’s said or did the things she’s done, but when I first met her, she still insisted that they were often jokes gone wrong and that, on some level, she’d said these things because she’d been egged on by others. She seemed unable to face her full complicity in her own behavior.

Where was McHugh radicalized? Her story is about support systems and pipelines. It’s about how an angry young conservative with reactionary views got herself involved with a small coterie of ideologues in Washington and prepped for a conservative media career in the crucial years before the rise of Donald Trump, as extremism became more popular on the right and as people could optimize themselves for success through attention on social media.

It’s about how the organizations she worked for either turned a blind eye to or were genuinely ignorant of the fact that one of their young stars was leading a double life among hardcore racist activists. And it’s about how the cultlike atmosphere of the so-called alt-right helped people make more and more harmful decisions.

Her story is also about something that has ended. The events she described to me took place mostly between 2013 and 2017, a span of time in which the alt-right rose and fell dramatically as it attempted to go mainstream.

“I take responsibility for all my actions,” McHugh says now. “Everything I said that was terrible was my fault.” She says she knows she was a racist. She says that she has changed. And she’s ready to tell everything she knows.

A lengthy insight into her alt-right involvement follows.

In conclusion:

This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.

“They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.”

I see aspects of this here in New Zealand, on Twitter and Facebook, in Whale Oil posts and comments and in Kiwiblog comments. Familiar tactics, familiar phrasing, but these are loose associations, a sort of mob effort but encouraged on Whale Oil and pushed by individuals on Twitter and Facebook.

Knowing exactly what to do with McHugh isn’t easy; but the point is more what she is able to do, not what society is supposed to do for her. She said terrible things and helped empower a destructive social and political movement. She was part of a group of people who took advantage of others’ trust and obliviousness to smuggle racists into polite society.

Now, she says, she’s changed. She knows that many people won’t believe that she has. “That’s why I’m saying I take full responsibility for everything I said, every mistake I made, anyone who I hurt in this process, period,” she told me last year.

At age 28, she has made herself unemployable in the career field she chose — even on its fringes. She perpetually struggles to support herself financially. It’s easy to see how someone in McHugh’s position might regret the path she took that got her here. Would she regret it if she still had friends, still had a writing job?

McHugh has a message for the people on a similar path, though, one that can be considered regardless of whether you believe she’s actually changed.

“People like me should be given a chance to recognize how bad this is and that the alt-right is not a replacement for any kind of liberal democracy whatsoever, any kind of system; they have no chance, and they’re just harmful,” McHugh said.

“There is forgiveness, there is redemption. You have to own up to what you did and then forcefully reject this and explain to people and tell your story and say, ‘Get out while you can.’”

Exposure by people like who have been a part of the alt-right and promoters of white nationalism like McHugh help explains what has been happening, and may deter some or prompt them to get out while they can, but it won’t stop the sort of extremism that has used alternate media and social media to try to drive up hate and division, and to try to precipitate a sort of clash of civilisations

It is mostly still a sort of an uncivil war of words, but the Christchurch mosque massacres show that it can become far more damaging through the efforts of a single person encouraged by a toxic ideology.

On a world scale at this stage it is more isolated and less of a threat than radical Islamic terrorism, but in New Zealand it is a big deal. The death toll from the Christchurch attacks has just risen to 51.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke (include good women in that).


Leave a comment


  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  3rd May 2019

    The world is full of men and women doing nothing. On the whole that is fortunate because mostly if they did do something it would be bad.

  2. sorethumb

     /  3rd May 2019

    The politics of national populism are not, as critics claim, simply and only cloaks for fascistic voters and governments’ pursuing policies of racial discrimination—though some obviously are. But other iterations of this are instead natural expressions of community—a perfectly uncontroversial idea that was indeed once conventional wisdom. Those of us interested in moving beyond flame-throwing—and into a useful conversation about how to create meaningful and effective public policy that benefits the most people—would do well to return to it.

  3. The Consultant

     /  3rd May 2019

    At age 28, she has made herself unemployable in the career field she chose — even on its fringes.

    Perhaps the New York Times can hire her. After all they hired Sarah Jeong to their editorial board and kept her even after the following Tweets were revealed:

    “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants.”

    It’s “kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”

    I’m “just imagining being white and waking up every morning with a terrible existential dread about how I have no culture.”

    “Are white people genetically predisposed to burn faster in the sun, thus logically only being fit to live underground like groveling bilious goblins?”

    “Have you ever tried to figure out all the things that white people are allowed to do that aren’t cultural appropriation? There’s literally nothing.”

    “The world could get by just fine with zero white people.”

    She also has many defenders, including writers at Vox and The Atlantic, not to mention the professors she had while obtaining her degrees at Berkeley and Harvard Law School.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  3rd May 2019

      She sounds insane; dangerously so. The things she says are nonsensical. They’re not opinions, they’re rubbish.

      The old white men story is like the Nazi Unity Mitford who gleefully recounted as a hugely funny joke how an old Jewish woman asked her for directions to somewhere. The old woman was carrying a heavy bundle with difficulty. Unity Mitford sent her miles away in the wrong direction (on purpose, of course) and told the story with delight. It’s hard to have too much sympathy for her own later life and death.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  3rd May 2019

        She looks quite pale to me, despite her Chinese surname.

        The tweets are passed off as humour.

  4. The Consultant

     /  3rd May 2019

    McHug might consider re-starting her education by enrolling at university. The following program at Webster University in the US might be useful, Witnessing Whiteness:

    [Webster] plans to operate a “safe space” in the fall of 2019 for recovering white people to admit that they are, by virtue of being white, anti-black racists. Only whites are welcome in these meetings, where students can confess to their racism and their white privilege.

    There you go, and since it’s a “Whites Only” program, McHugh will feel comfortable discussing herself and her motivations.

  5. The Consultant

     /  3rd May 2019

    In New Zealand we probably need programs like that of Webster University to deal with all those whites who have real problems with the Treaty of Waitangi. How else are we doing to have a discussion about the structural racism and privileges that lead to such vehement opposition.

  6. Reply
    • Gezza

       /  3rd May 2019

      Suppose it had to happen. Alex’s rants were really something to behold when I first encountered him. Some website described him as “He never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like”, & that seemed a pretty apt description to me.

      Some of his personal rants & website content & callers were unabashec lunacy. It was hard to tell where the showman ended & the nutbar started.

      He’s been making a fortune exploiting the retarded & the paranoid, & if you can believe them, a lot of them are gun nuts. Or pimply fragile socially anaemic youths sitting in their bedrooms pretending they’re Rambos.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  3rd May 2019

        Katie Hopkins seems to be going over the edge. She tweeted during the Notre Dame fire that there was a man in a robe wandering around with the firemen (among other equally loony, Islamophobic rants)

  7. Corky

     /  3rd May 2019

    Motto of the story..keep emotions out of the debate. Debate the the facts or rational extrapolations of these issues.

    ”The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

    Not a great way to start a story of redemption. Of a person who has disowned her racist past.

    That above quote is a sane solution to the present situation regarding Islam in the West.

    I subscribe to it myself.

    If Saudi Arabia can ban a dude from their country for being ”too handsome”- what’s the problem?

  1. Insights into the rise of the alt-right in the US — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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