Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trump Trolls, the Alt-Right, Neo-Reactionaries, and Anti-Semitism

New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman tweeted out Robert Kagan's recent essay the other day, and it's like a volcano erupted with the most vile anti-Semitism you've ever seen. I mean, seriously. It was nasty.

So, actually, this nasty stuff is now a thing, the putrid effluence of the far-right fever swamp of neo-reaction and identitarianism. It remains to be seen how generally widespread is the phenomenon. Some folks speculated that a few trolls were running the whole show, opening new accounts as fast as others were suspended, and using lists of prominent conservative Jews on the "Never Trump" bandwagon. I have no idea. Whatever the case, it's nasty and besmirches all the good things Donald Trump's bringing to the political system.

In any case, there's more from Claire Berlinski, at Ricochet, "American Anti-Semitism Breaks My Heart."

And from Jamie Kirchick, at Commentary, "Trump’s Terrifying Online Brigades":
When the journalist Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump for GQ, she had reason to expect that supporters of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would be disappointed by its portrayal of Donald Trump’s third wife. “Her journey to marrying The Donald is like a fairy tale, or a too-crazy-to-believe rom-com,” Ioffe revealed. “It’s a story full of naked ambition, stunning beauty, a shockingly Trump-like dad, and even some family secrets.” What Ioffe, who is Jewish, did not expect was a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats.

On Twitter, the candidate’s anonymous backers superimposed images of Ioffe’s face over those of concentration camp inmates. On her voicemail, they left recordings of Hitler speeches. “This is not a heavily critical article. There is nothing in it that is untrue,” Ioffe told the Guardian. “If this is how Trump supporters swing into action, what happens when the press looks into corrupt dealings, for example, or is critical of his policies?”

It’s a good question. For any journalist or political figure who has been remotely critical of Donald Trump over the past year, Ioffe’s treatment came as no surprise. It was hardly news that his backers would traffic in this sort of filth—all the more so if the critic is Jewish, a woman, gay, or not white. Of course, crudity has always existed in American political life, on a bipartisan basis. But there is something new in the pervasive and relentless nastiness of Trump’s supporters, especially as they represent themselves online. While it’s certainly true that most of Trump’s supporters are neither racists nor anti-Semites, it appears to be the case that all of the racists and anti-Semites in this country (and many beyond) support Trump.

To take but one of countless examples, one of the most active pro-Trump Twitter accounts, with 27,000 followers, goes by the handle @Ricky_Vaughn99. Unlike many of his Internet brothers-in-arms, who utilize the likenesses of obscure interwar European fascists and nationalists as their avatars, this troll features the visage of actor Charlie Sheen from the film Major League. What he lacks in visible nostalgia for the Third Reich, @Ricky_Vaughn99 makes up for in his concern about “#whitegenocide,” interpreted as any sign of nonwhite racial advancement. “The Trump presidency will probably be bad for neocon jews, bad for liberal jews, but good for jews who are believers in the nation-state and American nationalism,” he told Armin Rosen, of Tablet magazine, via Twitter. Contrary to most Americans, @Ricky_Vaughn99 thrills at Trump’s every insult, derogatory comment, and affront. On his Twitter profile, he describes himself as a “free speech activist,” an identifier defiantly adopted as a mark of resistance against an alleged campaign by “SJWs” (social-justice warriors) to circumscribe the freedom of white men.

“Free speech activist” is a curiously prevalent appellation on the medium of Twitter for members of the “alt-right,” short for “alternative right,” a populist movement that has been emboldened and bolstered by the fortunes of the Trump campaign. Existing largely on the Internet, which makes the size of its following difficult to gauge, the alt-right is proudly ethno-nationalist, protectionist, isolationist, and culturally traditionalist. It takes intellectual guidance from publications and websites like American Renaissance, Radix Journal, Occidental Observer, Taki’s Magazine, and, increasingly, the popular news website Breitbart.com.

It was at Breitbart that, in March, an extensive article appeared defending the alt-right. While “establishment” conservative institutions and intellectuals have criticized the alt-right as little more than a bunch of gussied-up white supremacists, authors Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari explained that these arbiters of good conservative taste have the alt-right all wrong. Praising the “youthful energy” and “taboo-defying rhetoric” of alt-right writers and activists, the two Breitbart columnists led readers through a sort of ideological safari, applying their own taxonomy to the various types of personalities who comprise this “dangerously bright” movement.

Their “Guide to the Alt Right” is a prolix defense of juvenile racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and other assorted bigotries as much-needed “provocation” to the enervated conservative movement. One might quickly object that when so much of the alt-right’s rhetoric consists of terms like “peak negro,” “Niggertech,” and “ovenworthy” (the latter meaning “anything that would be substantially improved by immediate incineration”), it becomes difficult to know where the “taboo-defying rhetoric” and intellectual “provocation” end and where the monstrousness begins.

Lest anyone take offense at these and other memes popularized by the dregs of the Internet (such as the cartoon of a hook-nosed Jewish caricature named “Shlomo Shekelburg” who cries, “Remember the 6 trillion, goyim!”) Yiannopoulos and Bokhari reassure their readers that the alt-right is harmless, the cheek of its younger cohort no different than that of the “60’s kids” who “shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll.” Besides, the movement’s “true motivations,” they tell us, are “not racism, the restoration of monarchy or traditional gender roles, but lulz.” (“Lulz” is the Internet term to define the mocking laughter that arises from purposefully shocking someone else’s sense of decorum.)

Yiannopolous and Bokhari insist that the alt-right “is best defined by what it stands against rather than what it stands for.” This makes it the perfect intellectual base of the Trump campaign. Building walls, banning Muslims, “bombing the shit” out of people—there is nothing aspirational or positive about Trump, other than his vague and windy promise to “Make America Great Again.” In this important sense, Trump is truly an anomalous phenomenon, as he has replaced the perennially optimistic message of the American presidential campaign with something more suitable to Venezuela. Though we all have reason to be annoyed by the cultural resurgence of political correctness, the alt-right remedy is the oratorical inverse of the problem they claim they despise. Social-justice warriors needlessly shut down debate and proscribe certain words and ideas to assuage the feelings of allegedly vulnerable minority groups; the alt-right needlessly flings around racial epithets and Der Stürmer cartoons purely to transgress accepted social codes. And that’s only the most charitable explanation for their behavior, assuming as it does that they don’t “really” mean what they say.

But what about that element of the alt-right that actually does have a political agenda beyond annoying its adversaries? The primary alt-right constituency, according to Yiannopolous and Bokhari, consists of “natural conservatives,” largely white, male, middle-class Americans “who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritizes the interests of their own demographic.” These voters are “conservative” not so much in the American sense as in the European one; they show no interest whatsoever in the GOP’s traditional free-market economic agenda of trade, low taxes, and flexible labor regulations, preferring instead a strongman leader promising trade protectionism, entitlement expansion, and the assertion of white male privilege.

Illiberalism is sweeping the globe. Coming from left or right—and, as evidenced in this country by Trump and socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, often converging in that place where extremes meet—political leaders and movements across the democratic world are advocating economic and ethnic nationalism, the closing of borders, the imposition of trade barriers, the dissolution of multilateral alliances, and accommodation with dictatorships. Our politics are becoming darker, our peoples more susceptible to the promises of demagogues, and the rise of an explicitly anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian right seems more possible in America than ever before...

Note, though, that leftist anti-Semitism is far-and-away more widespread and heavily institutionalized than anything we've seen so far with the Trump trolls. The British Labour Party is currently mainstreaming anti-Semitic hatred on a scale that's shocked the United Kingdom. There's nothing remotely like this in terms of core establishment Jew-hated among folks on the so-called alt-right. Still, it's a terrible development and I expect that Trump himself is going to repudiate it forcefully as his campaign gears up for the GOP convention, especially considering major Jewish figures --- like Sheldon Adelson --- are primed to be significant sources of campaign finance for the Republican ticket, and Adelson's camp is said to be working in the background on Trump's upcoming visit to Israel. So, expect a major smackdown against the Trump trolls at the top levels of the campaign. Let the Democrats and British leftists stew in the bilge of anti-Zionist hatred. Conservatives must repudiate it root and branch.