Are We Heading for a New Wave of Radicalisation?
A look at the trends
I recently made a post on Twitter asking if we may be witnessing a "second wave" of mass political awakening to the right, similar to what we saw in 2015/16. Sneako (who, ironically, I see as representative of this trend) countered that this conclusion was likely a result of my own confirmation bias. So I have decided to devote my maiden Substack to defending this thesis.
In my original Tweet I identified what I see as 6 factors helping to propel this wave:
The Tate Effect: An unexpected consequence of the increasing dominance of short-form video content has been the rise of a new “redpill community”. Andrew Tate’s social media dominance was such that he became one of the most Googled people in 2021. Inspired by his success, countless new content creators have emerged to promote the Tate brand of masculinity and anti-feminism. Shows like the Whatever Podcast get tens of millions of viral views on bite-sized content pushing back against popular feminist narratives, and giving voice to young men’s increasing discontent with the hand they’ve been dealt by the sexual revolution and online dating.
This is reminiscent of 2015, when millions of young men began to encounter “anti-SJW” content on YouTube that introduced them to right wing politics. However, in many ways this new wave of backlash is more radical than the first. While the anti-SJW community was spearheaded by classical liberals like Carl “Sargon of Akkad” Benjamin, this generation’s influencers are more willing to challenge the sacred cows of liberalism. JustPearlyThings, who at the time of writing has 1.4 million YouTube subscribers, concludes that giving women the right to vote was a mistake. While Sargon was extremely hostile to the alt-right, engaging in a series of failed debates with its figureheads, massive creators like Pearl, Sneako and Adin Ross give Nicholas J. Fuentes a platform to discuss things like race realism. While the YouTube centrists warned of the incompatibility of Islam and our classical liberal values, Tate and Sneako promote Islam as an antidote to those values.
There’s no doubt that this is having a real world effect. Researchers in the UK found that while only 1% of women aged 16-24 have a positive view of Tate, the number for men is 45%. More incredibly, they found that while only 6 in 10 boys aged 16 and 17 had heard of the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, 8 in 10 had watched Tate’s content. While Tate’s message is far from perfect, his reception among young men is a sign of how deeply alienated they feel from the liberal consensus their parents took for granted.
The Elon Effect: In December 2021 I was suspended from Twitter for “platform manipulation.” At the time, Twitter was undergoing unprecedented levels of tech censorship, as “activist investor” Paul Singer became a major shareholder and Jack Dorsey finally stepped aside. Things were looking bleak. Then something crazy happened. The richest man in the world concluded the libtards were going too far and decided to buy Twitter and save free speech.
Elon’s Twitter has been a mixed bag. His promised amnesty never materialised, and high profile figures like Nick Fuentes and Ye remain banned. But many other accounts (including myself) have been reinstated and have noticed a marked ease of censorship. Musk is also changing the business model to lean more on user subscriptions than on advertisers - presumably for better protection in the future, should activists push for boycotts over hosting controversial speech.
It’s probably still too early to draw a definitive conclusion on Elon’s contribution, but things certainly seem to be going in a more positive direction than they would be without his intervention. And there is probably no node of the internet more crucial in facilitating political dissent than a free Twitter.
The Network Effect: Alt-tech can certainly be frustrating, and often does feel like a second rate version of more popular sites; but looking back just a few years, the progress it has made is remarkable. In 2016, there wasn’t much in the way of alternatives for creators banned from YouTube. Not only do we now have websites like Bitchute and Odysee, but with Rumble there is, for the first time, a video hosting site to rival YouTube with serious backing behind it (including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel). This year Rumble has been busy signing big YouTube creators to exclusive contracts, and recently secured an agreement to host the first GOP primary debate exclusively on its platform.
Telegram, which has often been the subject of controversy for its lax censorship policies, is now one of the world’s most downloaded apps, and provides a vital hub for many creators who were relentlessly censored off big tech platforms. Substack is another unexpected success story, and another platform which built its brand on offering a voice to figures censored on other platforms. The most crippling form of deplatforming is financial. But even that has been provided with a technological solution in the form of cryptocurrency, and I expect that in the next few years we will see more accessible ways of supporting creators and activists using crypto.
Another much overlooked effect of the heavy deplatforming since 2016 is that more moderate conservatives have been forced into the same spaces as people much further to their right, and now share the same platforms (Gab being the premier example). For many influencers censorship has changed the calculation on their willingness to discuss certain issue: why tow the liberal line on something like immigration if you’re already cancelled for a dissenting opinion on COVID19?
While the censors’ response to 2016’s wave of populism was brutal, it created hormetic conditions that allowed for the creation of an online movement which is more agile and less vulnerable to the effects of deplatforming than ever.
The Mulvaney Effect: For some time now, the adult voices in the room have been sounding the alarm to liberals that forcing such a radical stance on trans issues is going to create a backlash. Last November, the New York Times published a piece critical of the use of puberty blockers on teenagers, while Bill Maher spent much of last year directing cutting monologues against the excesses of his own side on this issue.
Old heads like Maher have good reason to be concerned: a poll last year showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose allowing “trans women” to compete in womens sports. The majority say a person’s gender identity is determined by birth, a number that has actually been increasing since 2017.
The left’s radical stance on trans issues has encouraged a popular backlash from influencers like Matt Walsh and Michael Knowles, the latter of whom called for “eradicating transgenderism” at this years CPAC. While conservatives are moving left on every cultural issue (and many establishment conservatives have already caved on this one), it is still possible for people like Walsh to take a very harsh stance against trans ideology and be embraced by mainstream conservatives.
The Frankenstein’s monster of the woke left show no sign of moderating its activism on LGBT issues, and try as they might, more moderate Democrats like Maher will not be able to hold back the polarisation these issues will continue to generate.
The Obama Effect: When America sneezes, the world catches a cold, and the general state of populism in the West is much more dependent on US election outcomes than we might like to admit. The alt-right emerged after 8 years of an Obama presidency. A lot of the people involved in that wave of populism have remarked that the effect of social media is often overstated and the effect of an Obama backlash often understated. This was already bubbling up pre-MAGA movement with things like the Tea Party movement and the birther conspiracies (which undoubtedly had heavy racial undertones).
I see no reason to believe 2024 will bring anything but another Democrat Presidency, with little change in the governing philosophy. Already, Trump being out of office has had a radicalising effect on the right; the January 6th imprisonments and Trump’s indictment have shown his supporters they are unequivocally enemies of the regime, while support for Ukraine is increasingly becoming a polarised issue in a way it wouldn’t have with a Republican President.
The Scott Adams Effect: Scott Adams exasperated advice to “get the hell away from black people” seemed to capture a mood of general fatigue among conservatives over the failed promises of post-civil rights era America. Adams was responding to a poll which showed most Black Americans did not agree with the statement “it’s ok to be white”. He also noted the frequency he was encountering videos of black on white violence on social media, something which has become an increasingly common site since the death of George Floyd in 2020. Black crime more generally has also increased, with blacks making up just over 60% of known murder offenders in the US in 2021.
Had Scott Adams made these comments a decade ago, he would no doubt have been roundly condemned and cancelled. In 2023, while Adams received a predictable backlash from the mainstream media, there was little condemnation among conservatives, and his stock only seemed to grow amongst the broader online right.
This is reflective of an era in which cancellation from traditional sources of authority and prestige means less and less, and where it is increasingly acceptable for moderate conservatives to speak frankly about these issues. A freer Twitter will ensure that anti-white violence stays publicised, and the talking heads who make empty quips about “Democrat run cities” will be outflanked by those who are willing to discuss the issue with more honesty.
The main factors in the growth of the alt-right were the Trump campaign, Obama fatigue, a backlash to the excesses of the great awokening, and technological disintermediation allowing the growth of e-celebs and chan culture. In 2023, we have another round of Democrat fatigue, new forms of technological disintermediation, and accelerated “wokeism”. What is missing is a Trump-like figure who acts as a real world catalyst to the online energy, though perhaps that’s not entirely a bad thing.
Much of the energy of 2016 was dissipated by Trump’s victory and subsequent failures, internecine feuds and deplatforming. This wave of radicalism will be more decentralised, more antifragile and more eccentric. Whether it can achieve what the last wave of radicalisation couldn’t - transform into meaningful and lasting political change - is the big question. That question, though, is for another day.
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