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To answer this question—and to comprehend the powerful and unexpected effect Charlottesville is having on the alt-right itself—we need to understand what the movement is, and what it is not. Unlike old-fashioned, monolithic political movements, the alt-right is a fractious, fluid coalition comprising bloggers and vloggers, gamers, social-media personalities, and charismatic ringleaders like Spencer, who share an antiestablishment, anti-left politics and an enthusiasm for the political career of Donald Trump. Older theorists who predate the 2016 election—men such as Jared Taylor of the “white advocacy” organization American Renaissance and the neoreactionary Curtis Yarvin, who writes under the name Mencius Moldbug—exert influence. But what is new, and unusual, about today’s far right is the large number of young people, most of them men, who have been drawn into its orbit—or, as they would put it, “red pilled.” The metaphor comes from The Matrix, the dystopian science-fiction movie in which the protagonist, Neo, is offered a red pill that allows him to see through society’s illusions and view the world in its true, ugly reality.

For eight years, I have been closely observing an array of rightist forums as they have followed a strange and marked evolution. Initially, at least, taking the red pill was more closely associated with antifeminist and men’s-rights forums like Reddit’s /r/TheRedPill, which launched in 2012, than with the nativist or racist corners of the online right. TheRedPill was infamous for its mix of virulent misogyny and retrograde dating advice. The young men who frequented it obsessed over the male pecking order, evolutionary sexual psychology, and the decline of Western men, who had become too meek to stand up to their women. It also played a significant role in popularizing terms now associated with the racial politics of the alt-right, including cuck, a derivative of cuckold first used to describe an emasculated man and later adapted to brand conservatives who were seen as weak on immigration, or just weak.

Stefan Glerum

Over time, this online “manosphere” would embrace an increasingly hard-line antifeminism, one that began to shade into broader critiques of a fraying social order. Daryush Valizadeh, known as “Roosh V,” launched his writing career with the Bang series of books, many of them essentially travel guides for pick-up artists. His site, Return of Kings, was at first dedicated to crude misogyny and pick-up advice. But by 2015, he was ranging further afield in his search for the source of male woe, writing pieces like “The Damaging Effects of Jewish Intellectualism and Activism on Western Culture,” a positive review of an anti-Semitic conspiracy text popular among the alt-right. The Proud Boys, a group founded by the former Vice impresario Gavin McInnes to fight the forces of emasculation (in part through a renunciation of masturbation), also blended sexism and creeping nativism. While some adherents were attracted by the campaign against self-abuse, or the fraternity-like initiation rituals, membership also entailed support for closed borders and what McInnes called, in a clever stroke of euphemism, “western chauvinism.”

Stefan Glerum

The anonymous forum 4chan provided another portal into the nascent movement. Some of the young geeks who populated the site were interested in transgression for transgression’s sake—the fun of trolling what they saw as an increasingly politically correct culture. One running joke, captured by the phrase the current year, mocked Baby Boomer liberalism for constantly undermining those who refused to keep pace with its progressive pieties, its cries of “You can’t still think that—it’s 2017!”, Forum discussion and sharing News from home and abroad. Starting from the ideological, political, economic, social and cultural.

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