The alt-right have cultivated a hotbed of hate online and they’re taking over the world by indoctrinating alienated young men and YOUR CHILDREN. Worst of all!? It’s working!
No one is safe, especially not men, definitely not women, and CHILDREN are worse off! Need proof? You only need to see recent events. You need to see that YouTubers like PewDiePie are brainwashing literal nine year olds. You need to see Feminist Rekt compilations on YouTube. You need to blame YouTube, because it’s literally the only content creation source where evil things have ever happened in human history. Nobody has ever been evil and hateful and cultivated an audience of fanboys and girls who will cater to their every whim. Susceptible folks will watch one seemingly innocuous video and BAM! they’re in a rabbit hole of ‘net hatred and WHAM! they’re a Pepe frog/OK hand symbol toting white supremacist capable of committing vile, hateful acts.
Except it’s not that simple.
There’s no doubt about it. The “alt-right pipeline” does exist. There is a subsection of the internet, of far-Right inclination, who aim to brainwash others into their echo chamber. There are conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and his minions, and there are various miscellaneous YouTubers and Twitch streamers who only wish you to spout hateful radical ideology. To pretend they don’t exist is to ignore a subset of the internet that have very real voices.
If only that’s what was being talked about when political outlets and popular figures speak about far-Right propaganda and brainwashing.
To understand why it’s not as simple as “watch vaguely alt-right videos=brainwashed into hateful ideology”, we have to first look at the term alt-right.
What is the alt-right?
According to Merriam-Webster:
a right-wing, primarily online political movement or grouping based in the U.S. whose members reject mainstream conservative politics and espouse extremist beliefs and policies typically centered on ideas of white nationalism
If only it were that simple. Basically, this definition says the “alt-right” are the New Far-Right. They are against the values of neoconservatism, the brand of conservatism that took over the United States during the Bush administration. They are radical members of the right who reject the right that is in vogue in the mainstream. They typically rely on the internet instead of the Fox News their predecessors enjoyed. The key part of this definition relies upon believing in “white nationalism”.
With a definition this clear, you might be surprised that any public figure who is not an outward communist can be labeled as “alt-right” or even “alt-lite” (basically defined as someone who is not a white nationalist but seemingly supports them). The problem is alt-right has been redefined to refer to anyone who is vaguely right-wing, and the term alt-lite tends to refers to left-moderates and liberals, two groups of people highly unlikely (but not impossible) to be indoctrinated into a fascist ideology. A 2018 Wired article adds to this ambiguity by labeling the alt-right as:
white supremacists, white nationalists (basically, white supremacists who think white people deserve their own country), neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, neo-reactionaries (who are anti-democracy), neo-fascists, nativists, men’s rights activists and anti-feminists, fundamentalist Christians, nativists and Islamophobes, homophobes, Holocaust deniers and other anti-Semites…the list goes on
While this may not be the technical definition of the word, this long-winded list seems to be what many people believe are the “alt-right”. It’s a long list. While the first half of the list roughly follows Merriam-Webster’s definition, the rest gets a little loose with the rules. Anti-feminists? MRAs? Islamophobes and homophobes? How can we be sure everyone under these labels identify as conservative and follow the values of white supremacy? It’s impossible to calculate, but it won’t stop people like Wired writer Emma Grey Ellis from automatically assuming these people are “alt-right”, thus making the definition of alt-right and its varying accompanying terms even more vague.
We know people like Richard Spencer, Andrew Anglin and David Duke are even further than far-Right, are open white supremacists, and can clearly be defined under the alt-right umbrella. Then we reach the far-Right, people who may or may not be white supremacists, but certainly sympathize with them, like Alex Jones, Lauren Southern, Milo Yiannopolous and Candace Owens. It’s also easy to label them as alt-right. But it’s after this things get a little murky. What about regular right-wingers/conservatives? What about moderates and centrists? What about regular left-wingers/liberals? Furthermore, we must delve deeper into the questions. Does being alt-right or -lite simply mean having one or two friends or acquaintances who are further right than you? Does it mean saying a few things commonly associated with the alt-right? Does one right-leaning belief out of fifty left-leaning beliefs make you One of Them? What is considered extremist is subjective.
If you see the alt-right as a vague amalgamation of all those who are not obviously left-leaning, then it’s easy to see the alt-right pipeline as a very real, frightening reality.
Say you’re a member of the far-Left who watches hbomberguy’s YouTube video on soy boys. Unless you’re already watching feminist rekt compilations and Sargon “I’m Definitely Not Pretending To Be A Centrist Liberal” of Akkad, your YouTube sidebar will be relatively tame: my sidebar recommends more hbomberguy, ContraPoints, NonCompete, Big Joel, and other firmly left-wing content creators. The only potentially pipeliney recommendations are PewDiePie, but that’s likely because I’m subscribed to him and YouTube knows I’ll watch his content. In other words, unless you’re already seeking out content by quote-unquote “alt-right members”, then you won’t receive them as recommendations.
The Strawman Dissenter is likely thinking, Of course these non white supremacists aren’t all alt-right. But they’re enabling them, and that’s just as bad. That’s why the alt-right pipeline is such a hot topic. To that, I say: It depends.
Let’s take a look at PewDiePie. The reason PewDiePie is considered problematic is a whole ‘nother can of worms. What should be mentioned is his channel is allegedly seen by far too many as a recruitment tool for the alt-right, and Felix Kjellberg himself is allegedly all-too-willing to enable it. Entire subreddits and YouTube videos have been dedicated to questioning whether PewDiePie is enabling the alt-right, especially in light of recent events.
If you want it put simply: He’s not alt-right. He is not recruiting innocent nine-year-olds into the alt-right.
Most (but not all) of those who criticize PewDiePie have simply not watched his content. If so, they would understand:
- The nine-year-old fan base is a meme referring to PewDiePie’s early (2010-2014) audience being comprised mostly of children who enjoyed watching a grown man screech and squeal at video games. These fans are now grown adults.
- Context. Context matters. Don’t just read about PewDiePie in a Vox article. Watch his videos—and not just the ten-second clips with the respective controversies—but the entire video. YouTubers of all political leanings have made careers of showing out-of-context screenshots to project a message. You’re better than that.
- Alt-righters may be supporting PewDiePie, but he doesn’t support them. A screenshot of twelve people he subscribed to on Twitter (out of 500) doesn’t prove anything. In a recent video, he outright stated, “Fuck anyone who’s racist and fuck anyone who’s [a] white nationalist. That’s not what I’m about”. To have a few bad eggs out of 94 million subscribers ain’t bad at all—it’s a better ratio than many countries.
Note in PewDiePie’s comments a clear lack of anti-Semitic, hateful trash. But you can just take a look and click the links and read the comments for yourself.
If someone is recruited into the alt-right by watching a video by someone like PewDiePie, they were probably already pretty far-Right to begin with. The people most primed to watch further right-wing content will already somewhat agree with the content. They will believe the radical things someone like Paul Joseph Watson or Mister Metokur are saying because they already believe those beliefs to some extent. You can’t have someone start out as a member of Antifa or even just a plain old Berniebro moderate liberal, then slowly brainwash them through fake moderates/centrists luring them into the candy van of white supremacist content.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be wary of the alt-right pipeline. As previously stated, there is a subsection of far-Righters on the internet who aim to brainwash susceptible, gullible fools into their circle, and the results can be very dangerous. But to think any old fool on the internet can be brainwashed into these pseudo-cults is to be willingly obtuse. To believe once someone has been indoctrinated—That’s it, they’re done for—then you’re allowing the power of actual white supremacists to grow.
Let’s take, for example, Sargon of Akkad. In his latest video talking about running as a MEP for South West England, Sargon identifies as a “centrist liberal”. As anyone who has watched more than ten seconds of a Sargon video can attest, that’s a blatant lie. In a video from only a few months ago, Sargon took a revised political compass test, which, perhaps more accurately, placed him as a libertarian. Why is Sargon of Akkad continuing to lie to his audience of almost a million subscribers? Why is this man with almost no left leaning beliefs continuing to identify as a centrist liberal when it’s obvious it isn’t the case?
Unlike PewDiePie, Sargon of Akkad is actively “recruiting” people into his movement. By claiming to be a centrist or moderate, Sargon of Akkad and his ilk (Bearing, The Quartering, etc) are muddying the waters around the terms, making radical left-wingers associate all centrists and moderates with the right. Alienated twenty-somethings, typically men and already with vague right-wing inclinations (or at least a deemed betrayal by the left), may be feeling disillusioned with their lives, and are looking for meaning. People like Sargon of Akkad fill that void. You’re not willing to jump straight into radical ideology, because nobody decides one day they’ll just become a white supremacist (or even a communist, for that matter). Sargon makes it easy. He has a soothing, upper-crust English accent, and he makes blanket statements and bold assertions that clearly must be right, because the English are so well-educated. He also claims to be a centrist, but spouts obviously right-wing (or at least center-right) beliefs. These disillusioned viewers may jump on this chance, and keep falling down the rabbit hole until the inevitable day they are calling to “gas the k****” like a full anti-Semitic white supremacist. Because useful idiots have made them think conservative beliefs are centrism, they’re hooked.
What alt-right critics don’t realize is this is not inevitable. One can just as easily fall down the far-Left ANTIFA rabbit hole by watching these very same videos, and be burning bins in no time at all.
Personal circumstance and life experiences make all the difference. One can just as easily watch one too many of Sargon’s “I’m totally not a right-winger in disguise” rantpieces before the light clicks and they fall out of the pipeline onto the hard earth below.
The difference is education. And not the “I don’t need to educate you. You should already know anarchocommunism is the way to go and anyone who isn’t bread or bread-adjacent should go fuck off and die” school of You Need To Be Educated. Websites like YouTube are not predisposed to make their viewers hateful fascist monsters. They are manipulated by algorithms that want you to stay on their sites. YouTube has alt-right content because it’s a content creation site, not because it’s an alt-right site. It can just as easily turn someone into a rabid intersectional feminist, an Islamic radicalist, or a money-hungry capitalist. YouTube is not the enemy. It is commonly listed by detractors—namely the old school media resentful of its success and all-too-willing for a smear campaign—as a recruiting ground for the alt-right. But it can also be used to help. Not just YouTube. If New Media is what lead to the rise of this specific monster, it can also curb the spread.
We also need to show understanding to the disillusioned people most likely to fall for the propaganda of radical ideologies that only seek to harm them. Most of these people radicalized into hateful groups (regardless of leaning) seem to be young adult men. We must show understanding, compassion, and sympathy. There are solutions that others more versed in the topic might be able to figure out. Even if the deradicalization process isn’t easy, it can be done.
To simplify this issue as “the alt-right radicalizes young men into hateful monstrous hate groups” is to further amplify the voices of actual white supremacists, who are emboldened because they believe they have more influence than they actually do.
And white supremacists definitely don’t need any more emboldening.