It keeps happening. Since the ascendance of Donald Trump, with depressing regularity, right-wing men have been outed for using the most vile rhetoric. In private chats and sometimes in full view of the public on social media, they’ll engage in blatantly racist, sexist and homophobic speech, flirt with fascist imagery and then often disavow their words and actions the instant they’re caught.
The examples are legion, and they’re not coming from fringe outlets on the American right. For example, last month, the Ron DeSantis campaign parted ways with a young speechwriter named Nate Hochman who reportedly inserted a Nazi sonnenrad symbol into a pro-DeSantis video online. Hochman was previously under fire for telling Nick Fuentes, a notorious white supremacist, that Fuentes was “probably a better influence” than the conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro “on young men who might otherwise be conservative.”
In comments about the conversation, Hochman responded, “I said some really stupid things, which I don’t actually believe, that signaled agreement with Fuentes, even though I couldn’t disagree more with his vision of the world.” Roughly a year after that incident, according to Axios, he created the sonnenrad video.
Was Hochman fringe? Hardly. Before he joined the DeSantis campaign, he worked as a staff writer at National Review and interned at The Dispatch, where I worked as a senior editor before joining The New York Times. He even once wrote for The Times.
Hochman is not alone. In June the right-wing publication Breitbart published group chats and private messages from Pedro Gonzalez, a popular online influencer and DeSantis supporter, which included comments like “Whites are the only hope nonwhites have of living civilized lives” and “The only tactical consideration of Jews is screening them for movements,” along with a host of other comments not suitable for a family publication.
This month HuffPost reported that Richard Hanania, an influential anti-woke writer, published a series of pseudonymous posts at racist publications in the late 2000s and early 2010s. In a Substack post he rejected his old comments, but close observers of his contemporary work were hardly surprised by the revelations. Just this past May, for example, he posted in a thread on crime that America needs “more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of Black people.”
The September issue of The Atlantic contains Graeme Wood’s fascinating and disturbing profile of a man named Costin Alamariu, better known online as Bronze Age Pervert, who has a cult following among the young right. Alamariu argues, writes Wood, “that the natural and desirable condition of life is the domination of the weak and ugly by the strong and noble. He considers American cities a ‘wasteland’ run by Jews and Black people, though the words he uses to denote these groups are considerably less genteel than these.” (Alamariu has claimed to be Jewish, and Hochman was raised Jewish as well.)
Terrible stuff. And even more terrible is the realization that I could fill this entire column with other examples of right-wing bigotry, from Christian nationalists, a former Trump speechwriter, a former Daily Caller editor and one of Tucker Carlson’s former top writers. And this is hardly a complete list. The problem is so widespread that Aaron Sibarium, a rising star reporter for The Washington Free Beacon, recently posted, “Whenever I’m on a career advice panel for young conservatives, I tell them to avoid group chats that use the N-word or otherwise blur the line between edgelording and earnest bigotry.”
What is going on? Why are parts of the right — especially the young right — so infested with outright racists and bigots?
Some readers might respond to my question with a question: Why am I surprised? The right has always been infested with racists and bigots, you might argue. Yet while I freely acknowledge that there was more racism on the right than I was willing or able to see before the rise of Trump, there has been a distinct change in young right-wing culture. It is dramatically different from what it was when I was in college, in law school and starting my legal career.
As I survey the right — especially the young, so-called new right — I see a movement in the grip of some rather simple but powerful cultural forces. Hatred, combined with masculine insecurity and cowardice, is herding young right-wing men into outright bigotry and prejudice. Contrary to their self-conception, they’re not strong or tough or courageous. They’re timid sheep in wolves’ clothing, moving exactly where the loudest and most aggressive voices tell them to.
To understand the cultural dynamic, I want to introduce you to an obscure online concept, no enemies to the right. A tiny fringe adopts this mind-set as a conscious ethos, but for a much larger group, it is simply their cultural reality. In their minds, the left is so evil — and represents such an existential threat — that any accommodation of it (or any criticism of the right) undermines the forces of light in their great battle against the forces of darkness. Attack the left in the most searing terms, and you’ll enjoy the thunderous applause of your peers. Criticize the new right, and you can experience a vicious backlash. The result is a relentless pull to the extremes.
In fact, one of their prime reproofs of what they might call the zombie right, the Reagan right of their parents’ generation, is that it was simply too accommodating. As they see it, classical liberal politics, which preserve free speech and robust debate as a priority, emboldened and empowered the left. Compromise, in their view, ran only one way, and conservatism conserved nothing. The left, in their mind, is winning the culture war in a rout.
And here’s where masculine insecurity enters the equation. To the new right, their opposition to the left is so obviously correct that only moral cowardice or financial opportunism (“grifting”) can explain any compromise. To fight on the right — mainly by trolling on social media or embracing authoritarianism as the based alternative to weak-kneed classical liberalism — is seen as strong, courageous and cool. It’s a sign of a fierce and independent mind.
Thus, the troll isn’t just a troll he’s a man. He’s a warrior.
But what happens if you disagree? What happens if you ask: Wait, are we going too far? Well, then, you’re weak and small. You become the grifter. You don’t know what time it is. All of the social sanctions you inflicted on others come crashing down on you. And if the new right is good at anything, it’s good at bullying its critics. It’s a core aspect of the entire movement.
Worse still, even when one initially embraces bigotry “only” as a form of social transgression, marinating in that environment soon turns trolling into conviction. In contrite comments to The Washington Free Beacon in response to additional revelations from his private messages, Gonzalez said, “What starts off as joking can very quickly become unironically internalized as an actual belief.”
How true, especially when dissent is constantly characterized as weakness or cowardice. So in the name of strength, these young men capitulate until their minds and hearts are warped beyond recognition.
It’s difficult to break the hold of bigotry and fury on the online right, but as is so often the case, the solution to online evil can be found in offline relationships, the family and friends who keep us grounded to the real. Indeed, in his mea culpa, Gonzalez credits “fatherhood and learning to live for my kids” with pulling him back from his darkest thoughts. Time will tell whether he has truly changed or if he’s experiencing the fake sorrow of the freshly shamed, but it remains true that encountering people in full, rather than as mere online avatars for hated ideas, can indeed soften hearts and change minds.
In the meantime, these angry online sheep can still bite. They’re using their platforms to whip countless Americans into their own frenzy of fear. We should expect more bigotry and more revelations. Dark words spoken in secret will spill out into the public square. The lost boys of the American right corrupt our culture. Full of fury against their opponents and afraid of running afoul of their “friends,” they poison our politics and damage their own souls.