If you live anywhere near the Internet, you might have seen the video of white nationalist Richard Spencer getting punched. At the end of the video, you can see someone pulling the assailant off Spencer. That person was me, and ever since I pursued and recorded footage of the puncher, my life and the safety of my family have been irreversibly endangered by anti-fascist activists.
For much of my adult life, I thought that war – at least the kind that involves mass, state-of-the-art physical violence – was patently obsolete. Sure, I thought, there might be small surges of regional violence in the developing world, but the Internet and globalization have radically diminished the possibility for narratives to diverge and empathy to flounder to the extent necessary for the unspeakable to occur. I even remember Facebook touting research suggesting that it was a verifiable force for peace. While I still believe this to a large extent, recent developments in political censorship on social media – and the divergent narratives such practices engender and perceptions that dialogue is futile – have greatly shaken my faith that the post-war peace will hold much longer.
Having been present during the DisruptJ20 protests in DC on January 20th, I, by dumb luck, happened across Richard Spencer, who appeared on the scene for a meet-and-greet and photo opp with journalists and news crews covering the protests. When a random Black Bloc protester barged onto the scene and sucker-punched Spencer, I reacted spontaneously as I would to any such act of senseless violence—I yanked the puncher off by the collar, flipped my camera phone on, and pursued him in hopes of not only staging a personal intervention – he seemed like he was at the end of his rope – but perhaps ever-so-gently bridging ‘the gap’ between two increasingly divergent narratives. In spite of the anger I felt toward the puncher for doing what he did, I wanted to explain to him why some are so fed up with the antiracist narrative, and why further exclusion, de-humanization and violence will only push our roiling society closer to the tipping point.
Very quickly, however, it became clear that I was trying to reach out to somebody who did not want to have the heroism of his melodramatic act called into question. He attempted to intimidate me with the same violence that he did Spencer, berating me for being a “Nazi apologist” and trying to swat my phone out of my hand.
This, however, is only the beginning of the story. Since I posted this video to YouTube, not only have I been exposed to a seemingly endless barrage of de-humanizing vitriol and death threats, but there has even been a plot to lure my sister – utterly oblivious to my political life – into what I can only presume be an attempt to kidnap her. She received a well-rehearsed call at her workplace by people claiming to work for a hospital in Washington, DC. They said that I was in the ER, incapacitated from a drug overdose, urging either her (or my younger sister—but not my father) to drop everything she was doing and drive down to meet them. I can only imagine the designs in their heads. A few days later, the Oakland-based ItsGoingDown.org published a thorough dox of me (https://itsgoingdown.org/two-alt-right-going-after-spencer-puncher/), complete with fabrications and misrepresentations, and rounded off with thinly veiled calls for violence against me and my family.
The dox’s claims that I am a Spencer fanboy and crypto-fascist are dubious at best. Since about a year ago, I have located my ideological self a mere shout away from – though firmly outside of – the alt-right’s main encampment, somewhere in the no-man’s-land between the growing white reaction and the hegemonic antiracist morality. The extent of my being alt-right is limited to a vociferous insistence that we must – all of us – begin questioning the excesses of the war on racism and identity politics, and that we must begin questioning our ongoing denial of human nature and human diversity (ask Steven Pinker!) lest the entire post-war human rights project – the cornerstone of our increasingly integrated world – all comes crashing down for having been built on loose soil. Nowhere in my online (or offline) presence have I ever advocated for anything other than dialogue such that the mainstream can come to an objective understanding of the confluence of factors fueling the emotive rise of the alt-right, a loose movement symptomatic of an ever-expanding demographic of dispossessed, marginalized white men who, unlike the elite and upwardly mobile middle classes, are not benefiting from identity politics, the rhetoric of diversity and white privilege, or the ever-expanding mission creep of the war on racism. For me, it is no surprise that the alt-right look toward fascism and eventual civil war as their only way of having their grievances addressed. Though I position myself at the doorstep of the alt-right, I do so only to wean them off of racial hatred, and coach them on how to frame their grievances within the discourse of human rights and liberal humanism. In reality, I am despised by the alt-right almost as much as I am despised by the violent enforcers of political correctness.
Sadly, the extremist “social justice warriors” – operating with the full blessings of the hegemonic antiracist morality – seem utterly intent on terrorizing and denigrating anybody who attempts to reconcile differing perspectives through dialogue and understanding, calling them Quislings and subjecting them and their families to political terror and violence. It is a function of this morality – and not the alt-right – to utterly eviscerate any hope of mutual understanding and enduring coexistence for all stripes of humanity. This refusal to separate the legitimate from the illegitimate grievances of the alt-right is to fan what is now an ember into something that can burn the whole house down.
Even as I have mustered up the courage and resolve to persist in my efforts to reach out to all stakeholders in identity politics in spite of their baseless hatred and political terror, I have encountered what for me is perhaps the even more ominous reality that social media giants systematically are barring from open discourse anybody perceived as even remotely sympathetic to the alt-right, summarily censoring and shadow banning them. The normalization of these practices, such as the targeted deletion of a MeetUp.com event I had scheduled to take place in NYC – a non-partisan open forum on the socioeconomic factors fueling the rise of the alt-right – is bringing the United States, and indeed all of Western civilization, ever closer to the reality of civil war.
While I fully admit the necessity of curtailing free speech when it amounts to calls for violence, the concepts of hate speech and the self-censorship-inducing climate of fear are rapidly expanding to encompass anything perceived as a threat to the hegemonic narrative, peddled by the ruling class and eaten hook, line, and sinker by all who harbor any aspirations whatsoever of upward mobility or whom are socioeconomically insulated from the deleterious effects of the war on racism, and therefore blind to its foibles.
So much is at stake. We can’t afford to burrow our heads like ostriches just as we can’t afford to repress and terrorize dissidents to the point that they’re forced above ground, emboldened by the conviction that they have no recourse but to the wholesale dismantling of the democratic, multicultural status quo. We can’t afford to let ‘the gap’ grow any wider than it already is through the meddling of social media to quarantine alternative narratives. Liberal humanism must be able to sway in the wind rather than come crashing down at the first rumblings of the burgeoning demographic shift.
Now, more than ever, we need to be talking to each other. When political terror and Big Social Media are actively working to stifle any hopes for cross-cultural empathy and dialogue – “Give everybody a seat at the table! – then we are turning back the clock the conditions that made old fashioned cataclysmic warfare possible.