How a 13-year-old boy was radicalized by the alt-right, then figured out they were full of it

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/07/how-a-13-year-old-boy-was-radi.html

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Read this story yesterday – it’s fantastic and ultimately a bit heartening. Wish all the cases turned out like this one.

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Dealing with malicious do-gooder school officials is difficult, not least because some see that fight as an opportunity to dismantle public education or to shield young men from consequences.

I guarantee you that the usual concern trolls will focus in on “political correctness run amok” as the key driver in this case. There is no doubt that the adminstrator acted like an arsehole, but the fact is that overzealous and incompetent authoritarian school administrators and 13-year-old boys snickering over gross sexist memes in front of a female schoolmate who feels genuinely uncomfortable can both exist in this situation simultaneously.

What really drove this were right-wing predators who knew exactly how to groom an adolescent boy by simply taking him seriously when he felt no-one else in his life would.

I’m glad this had a happy ending.

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One of the scary things about this story is how how much effort and luck it took to bring this kid back from the brink and how easily it could have gone the other way. If he was 17 instead of 13, or his parents weren’t quite so attentive, or if any number of things were slightly different this kid could have ended up being a true believer for the long run. There are a lot of people who are angry at the world, with varying degrees of justification, and getting easy answers to why they’re angry and what to do about it is a hell of a drug.

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Ding ding ding!

This has been the primary fash recruitment tactic (also effective on adult males stuck in adolescence) for decades now, and why you often see them attempting to enter counterculture groups/spaces.

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On a related note I saw this go by a few days ago:

I think it’s more a case of “I’m sorry that I’ve become unemployable,” although the article does acknowledge it’s easy to be skeptical of her.

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There are (at least) three things a parent should attempt to inculcate in their offspring:

  • a sense of wonder
  • a healthy dose of selflessness
  • a skeptical outlook

It’s that latter one which particularly needs beefing-up during these darksome times.

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Yeah, no sympathy for Katie McHugh, except as yet another victim of this country’s broken medical insurance system. There’s no doubt that the people she took money from and who mentored her were palling around with Holocaust deniers, white supremacists and other bigots. That they later threw her under the bus (her real complaint – she doesn’t disavow her views) doesn’t change the fact that she knew and accepted the vile nature of her benefactors.

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This guy recounts his journey into and out of the alt-right pipeline and I think it gives a glimpse into “these people”.

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I was about to post the same link. I personally do have some sympathy for her. Why? Because there are other cases of people who were far more virulent who came away from neo-nazi groups and even cooperated with the SPLC. While I can understand the logic of doubting her honesty, I got the impression she was always just lonely and ostracized growing up, and joining the alt-right was a quick fix that became a dark night of the soul. Only time will tell if she’s turned around but the humane me has to a least give her a chance.

From the article: “They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.”… White nationalism thrives on the loneliness of the disaffected.

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It takes a relatively mature 13 year old to get into the alt-right, then realize that they’re full of shit, and escape. Unfortunately, the majority of people in the alt-right, including Trump, have never progressed, either emotionally, or intellectually, beyond a mental age of around 11 years.

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Boo-frackin’-hoo. Plenty of people grow up that way or go to colleges surrounded by more privileged people without throwing their lots in with other bigots and bullies. It’s no more acceptable than the guys who justify becoming incels because they were lonely or bullied nerds in HS. There’s grooming and gateways to the alt-right, but when one starts taking money for promoting it or when one starts initiating violence and intimidation on its behalf one has made a choice.

McHugh didn’t go to the SPLC or the ADL. She also didn’t renounce the views she used to sell, in contrast to the boy in the article or Derek Black. She thinks her former mentors and sugar daddies are bad guys not because they’re bigots but because they tossed her aside when she as an individual was no longer useful to them.

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I’d argue that the alt-right goons are particularly good at weaponizing a faux version of just that trait under their guise of being the rational realists countering the emotional SJWs. How many instances are there of the race-realists and anti-feminists “just asking questions” to advocate for whatever pseudoscience phrenology bullshit they’re peddling at the moment?

Hell, “red pilling” is the core of the identity for a lot of these jamokes, believing that they as stunted young men are the only ones able to see reality because they’ve been smart enough to be skeptical and reject the liberal political correctness that keeps them down.

Neither of you is wrong.

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Agreed, except that sceptical outlook can lead you astray too.

In his mind, he was now an intrepid truth-teller disseminating critical information that mainstream society was invested in keeping under wraps. Challenges to this narrative were to be expected—indeed, they were built into the narrative.

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I have sympathy for her medical insurance issues now that her fascist employers have cut her loose. I have sympathy for her being treated exactly as you’d expect a woman would be treated by fascist employers.

Yes, she’s fed the reporter scoops linking a regime official and a writer to her former fascist employers and comrades, but that’s more about staying involved in the media business and hurting those who did her wrong. Until she makes her vendetta against her former fascist employers about more than a “poor me” HR complaint against individual people in management, though, she gets no second chances from me. I’ll save that for people like the boy in the article.

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One of my closest friends (and excellent stepfather of two and a front line caring worker) has fallen down the rabbit hole over the last few years.

So I am faced with a dichotomy of a person. On the one hand he has taken on the care of two boys whose mother treated them (and him) abominably, and he has done it for years only because he loves them and they need it. They are not his children, but he does the bulk of the parenting. At the same time he also works in community mental health and does a wonderful job of it.

Meanwhile, he made a mint in bitcoin, transformed into an anti-tax libertarian and routinely spouts some extremely radical ideas about money, politics, political correctness and other insanity. Not racist (his kids are mixed race), but all the rest of it.

So far engagement has been my only option. He has stopped coming around because I am always open to debate, and generally have a lot of information and facts to counter whatever wacky theory he expounds. His usual fallback is that I am ‘brainwashed’ by the government media (CBC). But he has little in the way of factual arguments, and I think I’m being edited out of his life rather than deal with cognitive dissonance.

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For kids today, that means Googling stuff.

Thanks dog for the internet, oh wait, that’s how it all started…

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Functionally, I’m not sure they’re taking advantage of people’s skepticism so much as their media illiteracy. The skepticism may be the thing that gets their foot in the door, but the reinforcement network of shitty PageRank-gaming “news” sites that present credible-looking sources for their talking points to skeptical-but-low-information Googlers are a big factor in wedging that door wide open.

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More evidence that the alt-right works like a cult. You can try to pull people who still have a shred of decency back from the edge, but if they’re resisting strongly they might eventually pull you over with them if you don’t let go at the right time.

I’d guess that losing most of his money might bring him back to reality, but outside of that happening it doesn’t look good.

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Well, yeah, that’s why I think it’s a faux version of the trait. They foster the feedback loop of being the Extra Special Boys Who Are Ever So Smart and can see through all society’s bullshit, and anyone who tries to argue against it just can be dismissed because they haven’t opened their eyes yet.

Remember how extremely clever you thought you were after you read Catcher in the Rye (or an equivalent) for the first time as an adolescent and you identified with Holden, awash in a sea of phonies who just weren’t as special and sensitive as he was? And then at some point you realized Holden is an asshole who lacks empathy? Well that second step takes a long time for some people, if it ever comes at all.

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