"During my three months inside New York’s alt-right, TheDaily Stormer Book Club never got around to reading any books. Instead, they plotted their move off the internet and onto the streets, drank beer, and shot the shit. Through the Book Club I entered a network of far-right activists integrating the old guard of white nationalism with millennial internet trolls while drawing new recruits from the websites and podcasts of online youth culture. Much of their shadowy organizing happens openly in New York City bars, sometimes within earshot of the normies.
This was early 2017. Trump’s victory gave white nationalists a boom akin to what Occupy did for the left. In the year and a half since, the alt-right has been beaten back by the combined pressure of antifascist streetfighters, PR-conscious tech companies, embarrassing internal scandals, the disaster in Charlottesville, and most importantly, a critical mass of ordinary white people rejecting openly-espoused white chauvinism—for now. But if the alt-right has demonstrated one thing, it’s that ideological white supremacism, ingrained as it is within American society, can be remarkably versatile. When pushed back to the shadows, it won’t stay there forever.
I didn’t infiltrate the alt-right as a writing project. I wanted to do whatever I could to inhibit its transition from the internet to the streets, and decided I could help best by gathering information on the ground level. Looking back on this bizarre experience, I hope to provide a sketch of the people I met and the social world they inhabit. For brevity’s sake, I’ve condensed ten meetups stretching over forty hours into a basic narrative that omits dozens of minor characters, focusing instead on the guys I got to know best. While it’s impossible to abstain entirely from debate surrounding the origins of, and remedy for, the resurgent far-right, my intent is rather to present this outré world to the reader faithfully.
> “I didn’t infiltrate the alt-right as a writing project. I wanted to do whatever I could to inhibit its transition from the internet to the streets, and decided I could help best by gathering information on the ground level.”
> I first became aware of the alt-right after the 2015 massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter, Dylann Roof, frequented an online hub for neo-Nazi news and social networking called The Daily Stormer. What surprised me most about the Stormer was its novelty. Irony-soaked meme culture flowed neatly into serious fascist treatise by an angry everyman named Andrew Anglin. Just below the surface of Anglin’s humor lurked a ghastly bitterness and visceral disgust at politicians, celebrities, commercialism, and every imaginable sacred cow of liberal society. The Stormer offered a nihilistic rejection of daily life, to which Nazi politics almost seemed an afterthought. And in a way, it makes sense. As Sid Vicious demonstrated by donning a swastika, once you’ve become the sworn enemy of all that is holy, what’s left to do but declare yourself a Nazi?
The Stormer led me to The Right Stuff (TRS) network of podcasts. Its expansive roster covers a variety of niche topics – The Fatherland for fathers, The War Room for veterans, Fash the Nation for policy wonks, The Convict Report for Australians, and so forth. TRS is a subcultural hothouse for memes and loyalty-cultivating in-jokes, such as the practice of placing three parentheses around a Jewish name, which extend far beyond the network’s more than 100,000 listeners. Steeped in bittersweet nostalgia, TRS flagship The Daily Shoah harks back to ‘90s shock jocks like Opie and Anthony and pranksters like the Jerky Boys. The Shoah‘s juvenile humor, with polished song parodies like “Summer of ’88” (the code numbers for “Heil Hitler”) set to the tune of the Bryan Adam’s hit “Summer of ’69,” provides a cloak of irony for politics that have become sharper and more activist-oriented in the four years since it debuted.
I had encountered neo-Nazis before. They lurk on the fringes of every punk scene, kept at bay only by violence. But the alt-right movement, though no less contemptible, was different from the old guard of self-serious skinheads and Nazi costume players. Their podcasts sounded like my dorky high school lunch table, with many of the same jokes repeated verbatim. These were not historical reenactors. They were the kind of ordinary guys I grew up with in a downwardly mobile, opioid-soaked, white-flight wasteland. I could picture my old friends, numbing themselves to the banal brutality of the world with liquor and gallows humor, enraged at having been fucked out of a quality of life their parents had known, which itself wasn’t that great to start. Now they are getting mad as hell, and who is helping them give their problems a name?
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