Recommendation: Part activism, part journalism, this is an excellent entre/explainer on white supremacy and the alt-right. Going Dark is probably better than this, but I would suggest it over Antisocial
Where to read: Under your bed
Read with: Knob Creek bourbon
In brief: Lavin went right into the mud researching this (a common theme in these kinds of books) and her rage and discomfort echo through the entire text. It is beautifully bitchy and bracingly honest, both about the toll this work takes on her and about the satisfaction to be found in cutting cretins down to size.
Levin, a braver woman than most, infiltrated a range of white nationalist/white supremacist/Nazi internet spaces in order to write Culture Warlords and sets out, chapter by chapter, some of the main trends in those spaces, explaining both the ideological tenets of these particular strands of “thought” and her methods of investigating them. At the end, having led you through 250 odd pages of effluent, she offers an explanation and defence, if any were necessary, of antifascist activists and their tactics (doxing etc.), including by extension her own. The key point is that the anonymity of the internet or an Atomwaffen skull mask has to be stripped away and white supremacists exposed to real social and legal consequence.
Probably unsurprisingly, there is a rich seam of anti-Semitism running through white supremacy and fascism, taken to the extreme in Nazi Germany but by no means confined to Nazi ideology alone. In Levin’s telling, anti-Semitism provides a core unifying ideology, the original Big Lie, which underpins most strands of alt-right thinking. At Charlottesville, the infamous tiki torch parade featured chants of “Jews will not replace us”, QAnon draws heavily on the historically anti-Semitic vision of a globalist cabal running the world and there is a bizarre theory which explains the civil rights movement as a Jewish conspiracy for weakening the white race (because in their view, people of colour would not be capable of organising on their own).
A global Jewish conspiracy also provides a convenient explanation for anything that goes against them, from deplatforming by tech companies (who are part of the globalist cabal), to attempts by the media to point out that they are in fact fucking crazy, to election losses. This is classic conspiracy thinking – folding anything and everything in to make it compatible with said conspiracy.
There are **spoiler alert** a lot of frustrated, entitled, hateful men out on the internet and, as it turns out, it’s not that hard to turn angry, disaffected young men into potentially violent racists. The slightly interesting twist is the various ways this is manifested and channelled.
On the one hand, there is a long historical obsession with the purity and chastity of white women and the perceived threat posed by black men in particular to that purity. White nationalist appeals to traditional white masculinity and the “traditional white family” play strongly into those notions, creating a completely creepy reverence for white, anti-feminist women as the vehicles for perpetuating a white race in danger of being out-bred. Women in those spaces (and yes, there are women in these spaces) are expected to be subservient and traditionally feminine and while I don’t know that there is some version of the Mother’s Cross (the Nazi medal awarded to women who had large numbers of children for the Reich), I’m sure they’re getting around to it.
This is all awful but the other part of the white supremacy/misogynist Venn diagram is truly horrendous. We are talking, of course, about the MRAs and the Incels (involuntary celibates). As part of her research, Lavin infiltrated a number of Incel “safe spaces” posing as a furiously virginal college student called “Tommy”, and while I’m not particularly surprised by the horrific sludge she found there, it is still shocking to read and see what these pathetically failed human beings say in their own spaces. Incel cant does not need to be repeated but the language is a nauseating mixture of crude and hateful and the ideology is even worse – Lavin describes “blackpill” philosophy as a ‘mix of carefully cherry-picked scientific theories, misogynistic social conclusions, and, often, a fatalism so deep an existentialist would faint‘. Running through all of this horror is a veneration of Elliot Rodgers, the psychopathic little coward who went on a shooting spree in 2014, as the “Supreme Gentleman” or “Saint Elliot”.
Christianity is probably the most obvious religious vehicle for white supremacist ideas – in part because it’s the dominant religion and therefore the most promising source of potential recruits and in part because there is a rich seam of racism in American Christianity (see also here). White supremacy also draws on the deep vein of eschatological thinking and millennialism in American evangelicalism, and fits right in with the history of antipathy towards Jews in Catholic and Christian dogma (Blood Libel and QAnon may not be the same thing, but they rhyme). This twisted fusion has a long and violent history – the Christchurch massacre, the Christian imagery weaponised in the KKK, Charlottesville and many of those who took part in the assault on the Capitol for a start.
There are also ideological reasons to link white supremacy with Christianity. In order to believe in white supremacy, you have to believe that “the white race” is in fact, superior and history, or pseudo-history, and religion are a key part of constructing that belief system. An imagined white, Christian Middle Ages where Christian heroes waged holy war against the dark forces of evil, where chivalric knights wooed virginal maidens and faith was ubiquitous is quite attractive from that perspective.
And hey, it’s not just the Christians, isn’t that fun. Consistent with a certain strand of Nazi ideology and white nationalism, paganism has also emerged as a theme in the alt-right. In one telling, Christianity, with all of its “the meek shall inherit the earth” nonsense, is just another Jewish plot to emasculate white men. Various forms of Paganism, but particularly the worship of the Norse gods (Odin, Thor etc), are then conceived of as an authentically and originally white religion linked to masculinity, violence, heroism, the consumption of a great deal of mead and Viking stereotypes more broadly. Asatru and Odinism, for example, have been linked to anti-Semitism and alt-right ideology.
Some of this is deeply silly, a misbegotten fusion of cosplay and militia membership, but as should now be very clear, there is a point where this kind of fucked up LARPing becomes extremely sinister.