Neckbeard Militias Are Not My Enemy
Good morning. It’s Covid Day Five for me, and I want to tell myself that this is getting better — my throat doesn’t hurt anymore, and maybe my voice is coming back, a little — but I also know from this week’s experience that there’s no predicting what any day is going to be like. I presume I have the omicron version — the one responsible for 90 percent of new infections in Louisiana — and if so, man, I gotta say, if this is the weak version, thank God I took precautions and didn’t get one of the stronger versions. This stuff is kicking my butt hard. I slept all day yesterday, which is just as well, because my area had a day-long Internet outage. Now my family members are waiting for the omicron bomb to drop on them. Let me discourage anybody from saying “it’s just a flu,” or “it’s just a bad head cold.” I have experienced nothing worse than the flu, but still, do you remember having the flu? It’s not fun. On the flip side, I’ve figured that I was going to get this super-communicable omicron variant, no matter what precautions I took, because so many vaxxed-and-boosted people I know are coming down with it. And so I did — which is a relief, in a way, because I will have acquired some natural immunity. But I also have at least two friends who have had it twice.
Xi Jinping, I will never forget you.
I want to draw your attention to this important essay in UnHerd by a writer named James Pogue. He lives in northern California, in what blue-state libs would call the Redneck Belt, and he says that the blue-state experts who are predicting an American civil war have no real understanding of the people they fault as antagonists. Here’s how it starts:
I moved recently to a remote part of Northern California, where in a couple weeks an election will decide whether or not allies of the local militia take control of the county government. It’s a fraught situation, in a part of the country that’s often described by journalists, myself included, as being on the verge of civil war.
This can be a hard thing to explain. Just before I sat down to write this, I was at a bar where a liberal guy invited a not-so-liberal guy out to the parking lot. The liberal showed off a fly rod he’d built, and the redneck showed off a not-at-all-legal belt-loaded gun that he’d built. They came back smiling. Everyone mostly gets along fine. The incidents that seem to show overt cracks in the social order are very rare — occasional spats at restaurants or threatening visits to trailers, county board meetings moved online for safety.
They’re usually non-violent, and so wrapped up in the baroque Facebook-driven personal drama that colours life the rural American West these days that any honest observer has to wrestle with questions about whether or not they portend a real breakdown. The numbers of people involved are tiny. The divides aren’t really about Trump, race, class. They aren’t really about anything that fits into mainstream America’s understanding of why civil violence feels so possible in this country, unless you count the fact that basically everybody around here has guns.
This resonates deeply with my experience here in Louisiana. Mind you, I live in the capital city, not the countryside anymore, but the cultural boundaries between city and country here in the Deep South are more porous than you might think. “They came back smiling” is a pretty accurate way to describe the outcome of ideological conflicts around here. You could go stand at the downtown intersection of my tiny Louisiana hometown, dressed in drag, flying the Pride flag, and screaming, “Black Trans Lives Matter!”, and the most people would do is laugh, and wonder who your poor mama and daddy are, having a kid who acts like that. Go to the center of any Ivy League campus and fly the MAGA flag, and see how tolerated you are. For that matter, go to Times Square and try it. Yet those who run the culture in America keep telling themselves that they are the ones in danger.
Luckily, America has an influential class of professionals who make a living explaining situations like this. These are our extremism-watchers, and I should say here that I’m one of them. Today extremism-watching is a boom industry, and I was fortunate to have got in on it early, before Trump was elected, because now the race to establish yourself in the field can look frantic. The people who manage to do it tend to have long academic or government experience. The best way for them to get attention on Twitter and spots on NPR and cable news is by offering evidence that alarms the political and media class. And that class is naturally most alarmed by evidence that confirms its already-existing fears about what is going wrong in America.
The result is that there’s a very real professional incentive not to get to know your subjects too closely, lest you discover something that muddies up the story. And so the people who make the best living by describing America’s descent towards civil violence tend to be those with almost no personal knowledge of the armed rednecks they think are leading us there.
Pogue’s contention is that the information system that tells professional extremism-watchers what is actually happening in the country is in trouble, and sending decision-makers information that confirms their biases. I’m old enough to remember the line that the G.W. Bush administration repeated ad infinitum in its successful effort to convince the American people to support its war of choice on Iraq: that even though we can’t be absolutely sure we know what WMDs Saddam has, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” My point is that the ruling class always has a reason to exaggerate threats, because that is what justifies its power, and its power grabs.
Pogue talks about a book that’s getting a lot of elite attention right now: “How Civil Wars Start: And How To Stop Them,” by Barbara Walter, an academic who studies this stuff and who advises the CIA. Unsurprisingly, Walter thinks America is on the verge of a civil war, and that it’s being caused by the Right. Pogue:
This becomes a very important bridge in the book, suggesting that if we have a civil war it will surely be an ethnic one, organised in opposition to a diversifying America. The thesis of the book becomes that the entire Right-wing radical fringe is oriented around ethnic identity, and that ethnic resentments — organised by “ethnic entrepreneurs” like Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman, who helped kick off the wars in the dissolving Yugoslavia — are the source of most civil wars since the end of the Cold War.
Ethnic resentment only partly explains many major recent civil conflicts, including the wars in Libya and Afghanistan (both of which were instigated by US military action), but it will serve for ours. She suggests that by using phrases like “shithole countries” and proposing a wall, but also by pulling out of international agreements and starting a “trade war” with China, Donald Trump “did exactly what Tudjman did,” and “what Hutu extremists did when they characterised Tutsis as cockroaches and Hutus as the chosen people.” The Republican party itself, she says later, “has become like the Serbian Radical Party in Yugoslavia.” This is a party whose longtime leader was directly involved in ethnic cleansing.
It’s probably pointless to wonder whether saying Republican politicians act “exactly” like génocidaires is a meaningful way of looking at what’s happening in this country. Because this is how the extremism micro-industry’s incentive structure works: it would have been impossible for her to get a book deal, get reviewed, go on talk shows, get paid, and build a career had the situation not been dire and, to some degree, radically simplified.
This is such an important point! Along those lines, it is the Left in power, both in government and private industry, that is moving on every possible front to make Americans more race-conscious, suspicious, and antagonistic on race matters. This is the same dynamic that I’ve characterized this way regarding LGBT:
Left: “Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Gay-gay! Gaygaygaygaygaygaygaygaygaygay! Ga-aaaaay! GAY!”
Left: “BIGOT! OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”
Substitute the word “racism” for “gay,” and you’ve got the same thing. These people have to find evidence of seething, seditious hatred everywhere, to justify their contempt for their fellow Americans, and to justify their power grabs. This is why grown-up men and women in the Cathedral (to use the neoreactionary term for the Establishment) actually believe that the MAGA yahoos of January 6 nearly overthrew the US government. You can believe, as I do, that what happened on that day was appalling and shameful without believing that OUR DEMOCRACY WAS IN THE CRUCIBLE!!!
Meanwhile, ideas and policies that in real life are making our country less democratic and less free continue to be frog-marched across the backs of the American people, by the same liberals and progressives. Did you read or hear any part of Joe Biden’s crazypants speech the other day, in which he called anyone who doesn’t agree with his voting rights plans a crypto-Klucker? Jonah Goldberg, who is on record as despising Donald Trump and all his pomps and works, really let Biden have it. Excerpt:
Biden’s speech yesterday, and this whole project, is shameful, dangerous, stupid, and profoundly hypocritical.
Because the wheels are coming off his presidency, Biden has decided to divide Americans in ways he vowed he would not. Now, I don’t have any problem per se with politicians “dividing Americans.” Democracy is about disagreement, not unity. Unity is Biden’s bag and, as I pointed out at the time, I thought Biden’s unity schtick was clichéd nonsense. I’ve spent the better part of two decades ranting about the “cult of unity.”
But I do have a problem with a president dividing Americans by casting people he disagrees with as evil racists bent on destroying democracy—particularly when it’s not true (and when Biden himself played footsie with the very segregationists he’s now associating with his political opponents). Even worse, his lies are intended to sow even more distrust in our elections purely for partisan gain.
And let me just say right now that if any readers come at me with, “But what about Trump?” their arguments will find no purchase. I’ll stack my record of criticizing Trump for spewing hateful lies against pretty much anyone. But Biden staked his entire presidency on taking the high road; on not being like Trump. He vowed in his inaugural address, “I will be a president for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” He cribs Obama’s better rhetoric about there not being red states and blue states but the United States all the time. And he threw it all away yesterday.
And for what? I could go on about how the legislation he wants would make our electoral system worse in myriad ways, but that misses a crucial point. This legislation almost surely won’t pass, and probably the only way it can pass is by getting rid of the filibuster (even then it’s unlikely). If Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi actually cared about saving democracy and thwarting the Trumpist threat from below, or the joys of unity and bipartisanship, they’d focus on reforming the Electoral Count Act or writing a bill that could attract the votes of people like Mitt Romney. Instead, they’d rather cast Romney—who, as Sarah Isgur notes, was the first senator in American history to vote to impeach a president of his own party—as a partisan hack in league with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. If he cared about letting the “will of majority” prevail in the Senate as he claims, he’d work to craft legislation that a majority of the Senate could support. Instead, he’s saying they have to swallow policies that have been on the shelf for years or be guilty of racism.
Anyway, back to Pogue. He says that the intelligence-gathering system that would alert authorities to actual extremist violence is badly broken, in such a way that allows decision-makers to have their biases confirmed. Actual far-right people are so alienated now from media and anybody else who could tell their story that they trust nobody. Pogue concedes that there really are some far-right militia-minded people, but what the authorities know about them is dangerously flawed:
The Right in the county is now almost entirely alienated from the other structures of government, and it is hard to see how this situation could change, because many of the people involved in state and county government don’t actually see their concerns or worldview as democratically valid.
This is a good illustration of how analyses like Walter’s can become self-fulfilling. The paper here has mostly stopped reporting local news, and so many experts and officials have no way of knowing what’s going on — all they have are national narratives about Trump and demographic change that don’t actually explain the particular circumstances of the county. So the reactionary alienation grows deeper, the online threats get more serious, and the FBI has been showing up frequently to trailers and houses around the county. And, as the studies show, police crackdowns can often end up sparking insurgencies.
I have no sympathy with far-right militia groups, and if any of them are planning violent action, I hope the government finds out and puts a stop to it. I believe that extremists on the Right — like many of the Jericho March folks — are pushing and participating in a dynamic that is tearing the country apart. That said, neither the Jericho Marchers nor the neckbeard militias are anywhere close to the threat that the Left poses.
Are the neckbeards hammering home, in messaging and policy, across every possible venue, that a racial class of people are wicked and responsible for all the world’s problems, and deserve to be discriminated against to atone for the sins of their ancestors? Are the neckbeards saying that people of that race should take a back seat to people of other races when it comes to medical treatment for Covid? For jobs?
Are the neckbeards hammering home, in message and in policy, the idea that gender is fluid, and that our boys might be girls, and vice versa, so school authorities need to have formal policies in place to lie to parents about what’s going on with their kid, and when possible, laws must be passed to allow minor children to begin taking hormones to change their sex, without parental consent?
Are neckbeards ginning up phony requests that the FBI treat parents who object to the ideological indoctrination of their children in public schools as “domestic terrorists”?
Are neckbeard gangs doing smash-and-grab robberies in retail centers around the country? Are neckbeards beating up Asians on the streets? Are neckbeards robbing trains in Los Angeles? Are cities becoming more dangerous places to live because of neckbeards?
Did the neckbeards lie for years about the real situation in Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of many American and Afghan lives? Did the non-neckbeards at the Pentagon who lied and lied and lied about it to support a failed policy ever have to answer for their lies? Did the neckbeards lie us into Iraq? Are neckbeards trying to get us into a war over Ukraine?
Are the neckbeards censoring information that doesn’t suit their narrative? Are the neckbeards ordering their companies not to sell books that violate the neckbeard narrative?
Are the neckbeards turning the US military into a vast DEI experiment? Are neckbeard commissars going through the ranks making armed service members who might have any slight sympathy with political, social, or religious conservatism scared of saying so? Are they driving officers and enlisted soldiers to retire, and to discourage others from signing up to the newly politicized military?
Are there neckbeards sitting in print and broadcast newsrooms on the coasts, ordering coverage that ignores at best and demonizes at worst vast numbers of Americans whose views do not accord with progressive orthodoxies?
Are neckbeard journalists and academics floating papers and articles trying to normalize pedophilia? Are neckbeard professors working behind the scenes to blackball the hiring of ideologically non-compliant professors? We know that neckbeard college students aren’t trying to punish dissident students and professors for their views, because a generation of American men are giving up on college, no doubt in part out of justified fear that the deck is stacked against them.
Are neckbeards running a political party that ostensibly looks out for their interests, but which has a poor record of defending them?
Are the neckbeards pushing the digitalization of everything, laying the groundwork for a future social credit system? Are neckbeards exploiting the Covid crisis to do so? Do neckbeards in Silicon Valley exercise disproportionate power over the information ecosystem, and use it to push their ideological convictions on the masses, and to suppress opposing opinions? When the social credit system comes to America, neckbeards will have had nothing to do with building it and executing it. In fact, they will be its first victims — but not its only ones.
You see my point.
Again, I am very far from being a militia sympathizer. But in all honesty, I am a hell of a lot less worried about those good ol’ boys than I am about my own government, and beyond the government, about the regime (media, woke capitalism, higher education, law, medicine) that rules America. Any harm that threatens my liberty and the welfare of my family is almost certainly not going to come from neckbeard militias, but from the state or other agents of the regime (e.g., woke capitalists), or from members of their favored demographics.
If the ruling class wants to diminish the incentives for normies to sympathize with neckbeard militias, it can start by realizing the extent of its epistemic closure, and repenting. In Live Not By Lies, I write about Hannah Arendt’s warning that totalitarianism comes in part through information that shuts people off from reality:
Propaganda helps change the world by creating a false impression of the way the world is. Writes Arendt, “The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda—before the movement has the power to drop the iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world—lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”
In 2019, Zach Goldberg, a political science PhD student at Georgia Tech, did a deep dive on LexisNexis, the world’s largest database of publicly available documents, including media reports. He found that over a nine-year period, the rate of news stories using progressive jargon associated with left-wing critical theory and social justice concepts shot into the stratosphere.
What does this mean? That the mainstream media is framing the general public’s understanding of news and events according to what was until very recently a radical ideology confined to left-wing intellectual elites.
It must be conceded that right-wing media, though outside the mainstream, often has a similar effect on conservatives: affirming to them that what they believe about the world is true. For all users of social media— including the nearly three quarters of US adults who use Facebook and the 22 percent who use Twitter— reinforcement of prior political beliefs is built into the system. We are being conditioned to accept as true whatever feels right to us. As Arendt wrote about the pre-totalitarian masses:
They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
Back in 2020, I wrote about how Zach Goldberg’s findings show how the elites — especially white liberals — are preparing themselves to wage civil war on their fellow Americans, by talking themselves into believing that holy war is necessary to restore America’s virtue. Look at this finding of Goldberg’s, about the frequency of appearance of certain words are in our leading media:
Did America become 300 percent more racist after 2014? Or is it more likely that liberal elites self-radicalized, and began telling themselves stories that fit their ideological priors? With regard to our elites, I would rewrite that Arendt line as follows:
What convinces America’s liberal elites are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
This is where the importance of James Pogue’s analysis lies: it explains how distortions in our information-gathering system, plus the ideological uniformity of elites, causes those same power-holders to make foolish decisions that only make conflict, including violent conflict, more likely. I don’t like one bit to read about the growth of militias, but again, these people are not even remotely close to being America’s biggest problem. They might one day be, so that’s why it’s important that the government keep watch on them. The right-wing radicalization at the fringes serves as a useful distraction from the left-wing radicalization happening at the centers of state, corporate, and cultural power. Remember, the more we talk about the idealistic MAGA nitwits of January 6, the less we think about what the globalist mob at Davos is doing.