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).