How Wokeness Made Her Son Neo-Nazi
A reader sends in this piece from Washingtonian magazine, from back in May: an anonymous essay by a liberal Jewish mom in the DC area who writes about how her 13-year-old son was sucked into the alt-right. Here’s how the kid’s radicalization started:
The problems had started when Sam was 13, barely a month into eighth grade. In the taxonomy of our local public school, his close group of friends was tagged edgy and liberal: One of them came out as gay during a class presentation; another identified as trans for a while. Their group-text chain pulsed 24-7 with observations about alternative music and the robotic conformity of other classmates. Standard stuff for sensitive middle-schoolers.
One morning during first period, a male friend of Sam’s mentioned a meme whose suggestive name was an inside joke between the two of them. Sam laughed. A girl at the table overheard their private conversation, misconstrued it as a sexual reference, and reported it as sexual harassment. Sam’s guidance counselor pulled him out of his next class and accused him of “breaking the law.” Before long, he was in the office of a male administrator who informed him that the exchange was “illegal,” hinted that the police were coming, and delivered him into the custody of the school’s resource officer. At the administrator’s instruction, that man ushered Sam into an empty room, handed him a blank sheet of paper, and instructed him to write a “statement of guilt.”
No one called me as this unfolded, even though Sam cried for about six hours straight as staff members parked him in vacant offices to keep him away from other students. When he stepped off the bus that afternoon and I asked why his eyes were so swollen, he informed me that he would probably be suspended, but possibly also expelled and arrested.
If Kafka were a middle-schooler today, this is the nightmare novel he would have written.
At a meeting two days later with my husband, Sam, and me, the administrator piled more accusations on top of the harassment charge—even implying, with undisguised hostility, that Sam and his friend were gay. He waved in front of us a statement from the girl at the table and insisted that Sam would need to defend himself against her claims if he wanted to prove his innocence. But the administrator refused to reveal the particulars of the complaint (he had also blacked out identifying details, FBI-style) and then hid the paperwork under a book. He declared that it was his primary duty, as a school official and as a father of daughters, to believe and to protect the girls under his care.
The mom writes about how the matter was resolved, but then:
Sam’s sweet earnestness, his teenage overconfidence, even his tremulous determination in the face of unjust authority drained away, replaced by . . . nothing. He lost all affect. He stopped eating and sleeping, complained of headaches, and regressed in disturbing ways. He couldn’t concentrate, turned in no homework, and didn’t even pick up a pen when it was time to take a test. One of his extracurricular instructors—a woman who had recently lost a student to suicide—overheard him talking to friends and called me to express concern. He didn’t say much to us, but it seemed obvious enough that he felt betrayed by the adults he’d trusted.
Sam started a new school … and, online, found his way into the alt-right via 4chan and Reddit. Overnight he became a different person. More:
I did try to clear my own mind enough to understand some situations as he did, such as his belief that the men’s-rights movement restored justice to the world. Sam pledged fealty to the idea of men’s rights because, as he said, his former administrator had privileged girls’ words and experiences over boys’, and that’s how all of his troubles had started in the first place. I’d never in my life backed the “masculinist” cause or imagined that men needed protecting—yet I couldn’t help but agree with Sam’s analysis.
These moments where Sam and I found common ground became increasingly rare, though. Although he had legitimate reasons to feel aggrieved, it was impossible for him to make sense of his situation or to trust that time would heal the hurt. The chasm between us grew. Head down, eyes averted, he trudged straight to his room after school, responded that he wasn’t hungry when I called him down for dinner, and went to bed without saying goodnight.
The narrative has a happy ending, but it gets a lot worse before it gets better. As I was reading, I kept thinking, “Stop being such liberal parents! Cut off his access to the Internet!”
This case is a good example of what I keep talking about here: that militant Wokeness drives otherwise decent young men right into the arms of racist neo-Nazi militants. As this anonymous mom documents, her young son was railroaded and traumatized by woke school administrators. She should have been on top of his online activity, and her parenting was ridiculously permissive. She and her husband play a role in the radicalization of their son. The greatest role, obviously, belongs to the online neo-Nazis. This is not in dispute.
Still, if we want to stop the growing problem of white radicalization, we have to look at the whole picture. Here’s the mom’s recollection of her conversation with her son “Sam” after he had broken with the alt-right. She asked him why he was ever attracted to them in the first place:
“I liked them because they were adults and they thought I was an adult. I was one of them,” he said. “I was participating in a conversation. They took me seriously. No one ever took me seriously—not you, not my teachers, no one. If I expressed an opinion, you thought I was just a dumbass kid trying to find my voice. I already had my voice.”
I had no idea he’d felt that way. I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“All I wanted was for people to take me seriously,” he repeated matter-of-factly. “They treated me like a rational human being, and they never laughed at me. I saw the way you and Dad looked at each other and tried not to smile when I said something. I could hear you both in your room at night, laughing at me.”
I struggled for a moment because I wanted to tell him that wasn’t true. But I couldn’t deny his accusation. Behind closed doors, when my husband and I thought our children were asleep, we had often vented to each other about Sam’s off-the-wall proclamations and the bizarre situation we found ourselves in.
So I told Sam simply that I was sorry for making him feel bad.
I still think about his words a lot, especially when alt-right figures headline the news. But mostly, I wonder how I could have tried so hard to parent Sam through this crisis and yet tripped up on something as basic as not making my own kid feel small.
In my reading this summer on the roots of totalitarianism, the most basic thing that comes through is that radicalism of this sort appeals most of all to people who feel small and alone.
Woke ideology, as manifested in institutions like Sam’s school (as you can read in the story) holds that males are in the wrong, and that women are in the right. That victims must always be believed — and “victims” includes members of certified victim classes. The woke bureaucracy at that school steamrollered this kid. And there was the alt-right, online, prepared to give him recognition and validation, and to provide malicious theories for why he had been treated so badly.
This is what happens when we substitute identity politics for procedural norms that, however flawed, offer the best chance we can have in this imperfect world of getting to the truth.
Left-wing identity politics call up the same demons on the right. This essay by a liberal suburban mother reveals how it happens.
UPDATE: A reader who posts as The Noble Pagan writes, in part:
The ideologies of the parties are rotten. The churches have nothing to offer but platitudes. The “opposition” from leftists is a totalitarian farce. And then, you hear from manospherians and right-wingers what is obvious, that no one else will say: that this system is obviously falling apart, and that we need new principles to organize this nation.
Rod, I read your blog because you share this premise with both me and the alt-Right, and because I want your Christianity to be true. But I do not believe the Benedict option will work, simply because I do not believe that young people will be able to build the relationship skills to form families. This seems like an abrupt pivot, but it’s very related. The alt-right is fundamentally a movement created by rootless, lonely people who have nothing to believe in and are looking for roots. In some, the desire for community is strong, so they gravitate towards white identity politics. In others, the desire for love is stronger, so they go towards inceldom, PUA, and the manosphere. Both they and the Tumblr Trannies are symptoms of isolation, as you’ve said before. Moreover, this is directly connected with the replacing of procedural norms with identity politics: lonely people without narratives in which to frame their lives will try to force everyone into their frame. This is totalitarianism.
UPDATE.2: Another reader e-mails the following, which I post with his permission, though I’m withholding his name for obvious reasons:
Mr. Dreher, I’d like to share my own experience in the Internet’s toxic alt-right subcultures with you.
In the 2015 to 2017 period, the height of the Trump moment, I (a 30ish Buchananite with no hope for this country’s future) got sucked into the alt-right through other ex-libertarian friends of mine. I was drawn into it because it wasn’t ashamed of our identity and wasn’t afraid to fight for our interests. It took literal tearful confrontations from my wife to get me to leave. I’d hidden my involvement from her for awhile, but it didn’t take long for her to figure it out, as women always find out what their men are hiding.
Because of the nature of the Internet, these subcultures are difficult to categorize. Most of the time, the media class just lumps them all together, which is maddening to those of us who understand the differences between them.
For some groups, the offensive humor – racial/sexual slurs, Holocaust jokes, etc. – is sarcastic, satirical, and just for shock value. These are the anonymous trolls with Nazi-babe anime avatars on 4chan and Twitter. Although I was never much of a combatant in the so-called “meme war,” I did participate as a spectator. I relished seeing pundits and politicians whom I hated get harassed online.
Other groups are more true to the “alt-right” name: An intellectual alternative to both “conservatism” (i.e. David Frenchism) and “white nationalism” (i.e. David Dukeism). Unfortunately, instead of producing the Sohrab Ahmaris, these groups ended up producing the next generation of…David Dukes. I considered myself a part of this group.
Some combine the irreverent meme culture of the former with the intelligent political discussion of the latter. I considered myself a part of these groups as well, too. Looking back, I’m ashamed at a lot of what made me laugh. My heart and mind were given over to fear, anger, and hatred.
Last, but not least, of course, are the militant — paranoid, prejudiced, and psychopathic individuals whom the authorities should be infiltrating and undermining as they did the KKK. These are the Bowerses, the Tarrants, and the Crusiuses, as well as the anons on 8chan and Gab who cheered them on. I never had anything to do with this group, but I was uncomfortable that it often overlapped with groups to which I did belong. At Charlottesville, where the alt-right was marching with literal Klansmen and neo-Nazis — people we’d always told ourselves that we were nothing like! — I realized that the overlapping lines were beginning to blur.
In retrospect, the Internet was both a blessing and a curse for the alt-right. On the one hand, a dissident movement like the alt-right never could’ve formed amid such mass-atomization without a social network like the Internet. On the other hand, the anonymous nature of a social network like Internet enabled and even encouraged the abusive behavior that made the alt-right abhorrent to everyone except other young white men steeped in meme culture and fed up with political correctness. The alt-right was “viral” in more ways than one.
For over two years, I listened to podcasts like “The Daily Shoah” and read websites like “The Daily Stormer” on a daily basis. Fortunately for me, I never put my real name out there or showed my face anywhere, so I think that my personal identity is safe. I never did anything to make me worth “doxxing” anyway.