Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2017
The election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many and to Leftists in particular who were certain that Trump had no possible chance of winning. Since November those on the Left who were once so sure of their perspective have been forced to reevaluate their understanding of American politics. Many theories have arisen to explain “what went wrong” ranging from pathetic evidence-free conspiracies about Russia to more soul-seeking posits that the Democratic Party has failed to appease voters.
Yet even the most earnest explainers tend to avoid looking deeply into what it really happening, that political divisions are realigning, moving away from previously conceived understandings of Right and Left in America and toward a conflict between nationalism and globalism.
The establishment has taken the side of the globalists; rather they have been bought by the globalists with many shekels. Donald Trump was first and foremost an anti-establishment candidate. For the first time in decades we heard a presidential candidate appealing explicitly to nationalist sensibilities. Although probably most Trump voters would hate to admit it, race is a concept that is central to nationalism. Thus it is not surprising during this election cycle, in which the national question was at the heart of the every issue, that the Alt Right would be raised into the public consciousness as a major point of discussion.
These days it is not uncommon to see the Alt Right regularly mentioned by major media commentators, both Left and Right. Yet virtually all portrayals of this “movement” by the media are off base if not outright false, and typically strewn with the same old slurs of “racist,” “white supremacist,” “nazi,” etc. So when a new book comes along attempting to give a more carefully studied perspective about the Alt Right, it is worth considering even if that perspective comes from the Left. The book is Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to the Trump and the Alt-Right by Irish writer Angela Nagle, whose work has appeared in The Baffler and Jacobin magazine.
Kill All Normies is really more about 4chan and internet culture in general than it is about the Alt Right in particular. Her introduction provides her stated purpose.
This book is an attempt to map the online culture wars that formed the political sensibilities of a generation, to understand and to keep an account of the online battles that may otherwise be forgotten but have nevertheless shaped culture and ideas in a profound way from tiny obscure subcultural beginnings to mainstream public and political life in recent years. It will place contemporary culture wars in some historical context and attempt to untangle the real from the performance, the material from the abstract and the ironic from the faux-ironic, if such a thing is any longer possible.
There is nothing about the Alt Right in this paragraph, but as the subtitle suggests, Nagle wishes to tie the Alt Right directly to chan culture and to define their relationship in her own terms. While there is certainly a dynamic connection between the two, her book muddies the water a bit to conflate the distinction. Perhaps this is a dishonest approach, or perhaps it’s merely wishful thinking on her part not wanting to delve seriously into the ideas posed by the Alt Right proper. Nevertheless she avoids many of the tropes so often used to denounce the Alt Right and her tone is far less inflammatory than most news coverage and political commentary found in the mainstream.
One noteworthy testament to Nagle’s attention to detail is that she accurately distinguishes the difference between the Alt Right and the so-called “alt lite,” the latter term used exclusively used by members of the Alt Right. Prior to the last election cycle, the Alt Right was mainly understood to be a loosely defined coalition of anti-egalitarian ideologues with a particular emphasis placed upon identitarian and White Nationalist viewpoints. But when a Hillary Clinton speech famously referenced the Alt Right in order to denounce it, the question of what exactly constituted this designation appeared to be up for grabs with many factions of conservatism attempting to co-opt the Alt Right brand. (Because, who wouldn’t want to be denounced by the criminally corrupt Hillary Clinton?)
We all remember when there was some concern about the Alt Right being linked to edgy classical liberals who proclaim “Dems are the Real Racists because look at all my ‘based’ black friends!” But in fact, the true definition of Alt Right was sorted out rather quickly after the NPI conference in November, when images of conference attendees making “Nazi salutes” were leaked to the public. At that point the term Alt Right became solidified. All the classical liberals on the Right rushed to dissociate themselves from it, and conservatives knew exactly what was meant when they used the term.
Perhaps the distinction is less clear for those on the Left who tend to view all Republicans as racist, so Nagle makes sure to point out that there is such a thing as the “alt light” [sic] defined as “the broadest orbit” of what is more commonly known as the Alt Right. Within this broad orbit is found a “collection of lots of separate tendencies that grew semi-independently but were joined under the banner of a bursting forth of anti-PC cultural politics through the culture wars of recent years.”
At the center of this squishy, ill-defined, anti-PC mishmash — like the pit of a plum — is what she calls the “hard Alt-Right,” which snuck into the mainstream discourse as if within a Trojan horse.
Before the overtly racist Alt-Right were widely known, the more mainstream alt-light largely flattered it, gave it glowing write-ups in Breitbart and elsewhere, had its spokespeople on their YouTube shows and promoted it on social media. Nevertheless, when Milo’s sudden career implosion happened later they didn’t return the favor, which I think may be setting a precedent for a future in which the playfully transgressive alt-light play useful idiots for those with much more serious political aims. If this dark, anti-Semitic race segregationist ideology grows in the coming years, with their vision of the future that would necessitate violence, those who made the Right attractive will have to take responsibility for having played their role.
In this somewhat paranoid and alarmist account, Nagle sets up a model in which the alt lite and perhaps chan culture are merely nets used to catch hapless provocateurs who just want to have some fun with memes. But by-the-by these edgy trolls could find themselves in the heart of darkest political discourse, the place where racial identity matters and the disproportionate influence of Jews on society is viewed with suspicion. The horror!
First, we can dismiss the supposed threat that our vision of the future will somehow “necessitate violence” as fear-mongering and emotional manipulation. Violence is inevitable in a multicultural society. The question White Nationalists pose to whites is, “How bad do you want the violence to get before you actually do something about it?” If we could implement a program of policy-based racial separation today, the violence required to secure the existence of our people would be minimal. The longer we wait the worse it will be. Yet her entire counterargument to the “hard” Alt Right is that there might be potential violence. It’s a boring and tired complaint.
The more interesting aspect of Nagle’s analysis is found in her description of the alt lite as “transgressive” and this is one of her major themes. She points out that the transgressive stylistic response to culture is typically associated with the Left, emerging most distinctly in the culture wars of the 1960s as a way to criticize the establishment at that time. As Leftist revolutionaries marched their way through the institutions, they used transgressive irreverence to deconstruct the symbols and norms of the dominant culture, appealing to the rebellious spirit of youth and an emerging libertine sense of independence. But now that the establishment is in their hands and new taboos have been put into place, the Left finds itself on the defensive against this same rebellious spirit of youth and libertine sense of independence, both of which have only grown stronger and more chaotic.
4chan, and chan culture more generally, epitomize the transgressive spirit in its purest and most powerful form emerging on a platform where practically any view can be expressed anonymously. To the great surprise of many internet visionaries, the chans have adopted symbols of the Right. As Nagle puts it:
Just a few years ago the left-cyberutopians claimed that “the disgust had become a network” and that establishment old media could no longer control politics, that the new public sphere was going to be based on leaderless user-generated social media. This network has indeed arrived, but it has helped to take the Right, not the Left, to power. Those on the Left who fetishized the spontaneous leaderless Internet-centric network, declaring all other forms of doing politics old hat failed to realize that the leaderless form actually told us little about the philosophical, moral or conceptual content of the movements involved. Into the vacuum of ‘leaderlessness’ almost anything could appear.
The schadenfreude is delicious; watching the Left still trying to pretend that they are fighting the establishment and that they are opposing oppression, when in fact they have become the oppressors and all of the evil corporations they claim to despise are being run by their own people! They have failed to realize that the democratization of technology would place the tools to bring about their own destruction into the hands of their enemies.
But what exactly does it mean that the Right has adopted a transgressive stance? Nagle correctly points out that there seems to be an internal contradiction between chan sensibilities and the values traditionally associated with conservatism. The example she looks at most closely is a comparison between Milo Yiannopoulos and Patrick Buchanan. She points out that Milo “regularly reiterated that he loved ‘Daddy’ (Donald Trump), because he was ‘the first truly cultural candidate since Pat Buchanan.’“ Patrick Buchanan’s conservatism developed in reaction to culture wars of the 1960s, which he continued to wage through the 1990s. Now Milo claims to have taken up the mantle of present-day culture warrior for the Right.
There is chapter dedicated to the comparison between Pat and Milo. Clearly Pat would never have voluntarily allied with a drug-using, race-mixing, pedophile-apologizing, homosexual attention whore. Pat’s perspective was born out of opposition to the same transgressive tactics that gave birth to Milo’s career. Additionally, one of Pat’s signature issues is his criticism of the neocon agenda, whereas Milo is himself a Jewish neocon. Nagle’s purpose here is to point out that the respectable conservatism of the past is dead and has been replaced by a vapid and shallow trickster cult primarily driven by a desire to be offensive towards their enemies.
Of course the primary enemies of the chan right and the alt lite are the enforcers of political correctness, those bastions of hypersensitivity we refer to as social justice warriors. Perhaps Nagle is most honest when she is criticizing the Left for going too far with political correctness. She describes this absurd faction of the Left as an internet subcultural counterpart to the transgressive Right of chan culture.
The main preoccupation of this new culture (the Right named them SJWs and snowflakes, let’s call it Tumblr-liberalism) was genderfluidity and providing a safe space to explore other concerns like mental illness, physical disability, race, cultural identity and ‘intersectionality’—now the standard academic term for recognition of multiple varieties of intersecting marginalization and oppression.
The key figure behind the development of this ideology was feminist Judith Butler who “argued that the coherence of the categories of sex, gender and sexuality were entirely culturally constructed through the repetition of styled and cultivated bodily acts, which created the appearance of an essential ontological ‘core’ gender.” Based on this understanding, “gender” becomes a word that is basically interchangeable with identity, but is somehow not rooted in any form of biological reality. Nagle provides a list of “genders” that some use to identify themselves. For instance there is “Cadensgender—A gender that is easily influenced by music” or “Levigender—A lightweight, superficial gender you don’t feel very much” or “Polygenderflux—Having more than one gender, which intensely fluctuates.” Not surprisingly, the same people who take this view of genders seriously also claim to be suffering from various mental illnesses.
Presumably it is somehow liberating for these ill people to indulge themselves in genderfluidity nonsense, but the conflict for the Left is when the underlying theories proposed by Judith Butler are used to rationalize strict rules the rest of society must adhere to in order to accommodate these clearly unwell individuals. Any attempt to establish an objective understanding of the truth is pushed to the wayside in favor of the subjective truth of self-proclaimed marginalized and oppressed people. The general public cannot countenance such absurdity and so they have abandoned the liberal Left in droves. However, Nagle points out that many remain on the materialist Left. She uses the conflict between Bernie Bros and diehard Hillary Clinton supporters to exemplify the division between the materialist Left and the liberal Left.
This emerging rift on the Left between liberals and materialists is only an underlying issue in Nagle’s book. One wonders if it is similar to the rift within the Right between conservatives who embody Classical Liberalism and the Alt Right who harken to an older sense of the Right as preservers of hierarchical and aristocratic societies. That is to say, do both disputes play out as globalist versus nationalist? This does not seem to be the case. The concept of nationalism appears to be totally anathema on all sides of the Leftist spectrum. Both the materialist Left and the liberal Left are too anti-white to consider nationalism a viable solution to the alienation of global capitalism. This stance will continue to drive typically Left-leaning whites rightward to the point where White Nationalism may no longer be thought of as strictly a rightwing movement.
Nagle’s analogy is that Tumblr-liberalism is to the Left what chan culture is to the Right. Both are subcultures that have devised an internal set of rules and behaviors which result in constant infighting and create a hierarchical pecking order. Both have given rise to bad actors whose alleged terrible actions have been used to discredit their more mainstream counterparts. The most observable difference between these subcultures is that the Tumblrista ideology is one of ultra-sensitivity, whereas chan ideology, if it can be called that, is ultra-offensive, or transgressive.
Another difference between Tumblr-liberalism and chan culture is that the former is embraced by the establishment. As Nagle pointed out in the quote above, the concept of intersectionality developed in this subculture is now standard academic terminology, whereas with chan culture, transgressive reaction will continue to be an anti-establishment force. If the Alt Right were to somehow come into power the goal would be to make healthy and wholesome sensibilities the established norm. The ultra-offensive wouldn’t have a place in such a program. No doubt, the liberals of today would deem a healthy understanding of racial and sexual difference as offensive, but that’s because liberals glorify the sickest and most marginalized as inherently morally superior.
The area where Nagle is most incorrect is in her understanding of how chan culture relates to the Alt Right. Nagle wants to portray chan transgression as the id of the Alt Right, with mean-spirited trolling representing the manifestation of the Alt Right’s deepest self. All the talk of tradition on the Right is merely post-facto rationalization for base and abhorrent behavior that society condemns.
A frustrating contradiction and hypocrisy you find in many of these online spaces and subcultures is that they want the benefits of tradition without its necessary restraints and duties. They simultaneously want the best of the sexual revolution (sexual success with pornified women, perpetually dolled up, waxed and willing to do anything) without the attendant insecurities of a society in which women have sexual choice.
This statement eludes the other central theme of Kill All Normies, one that Nagle spends far too much time developing but is hopelessly wrong about, the idea that the Alt Right is primarily driven by sexual frustration. From early on in the book this idea is introduced by recounting the story of #gamergate, the first successful campaign to push back against the intrusion of SJWs into a mainstream cultural milieu. Those involved with #gamergate are portrayed anti-female rather than anti-feminist. Some particularly lurid accounts from supposed victims of #gamergate are showcased as evidence of depths to which these women-hating trolls will sink.
Even though the ideas behind ethics in video game journalism are fundamentally different than the nationalism and racial identity at the heart of the Alt Right, Nagle uses this fight against feminism to build a case that the Alt Right is fundamentally comprised of men who are bitter about their dating prospects. She discusses Roosh V’s exploitation of women. She looks at the contradiction between Gavin McInnes’ rhetoric about marriage and tradition versus his prurient actions and fraternization with porn stars. She delves into the writings of bona fide White Nationalist F. Roger Devlin, which demonstrate the true destructiveness of feminism, but she perceives Devlin’s arguments as further confirmation of the sexual frustration premise. For good measure, since it had an impact on 4chan, she even utilizes the killing spree perpetrated by half-Asian Elliot Rodger to bolster her thesis, which also has nothing to do with the Alt Right.
Nagle provides numerous cringe-worthy examples of anti-female rhetoric found in chan culture and the alt lite. She does not specifically link these examples to the Alt Right, but rather frames the Alt Right as the ultimate evil at the center of this orbit of hateful and ugly thought. To be fair, this book must have gone to print before the White Sharia meme became popularized, which also seems to perfectly exemplify her sexual frustration accusation. Even so, in spite of the Alt Right’s problematic memes there are more complex ideas surrounding sexuality that the movement contends with, which Nagle strategically avoids.
The question of whether people are generally more sexually unfulfilled these days in spite of all the sexual liberation that has occurred is a valid one. The fact that the Alt Right is critical of the state of sexual relations today does not mean that sexual frustration is the primary driving force behind its existence. In a larger sense the Alt Right is a strong reaction against the Leftist establishment’s attack on the family from the most basic Western model of the nuclear family to the largest and most complex form of the family known as the nation. Globalists seek to break apart the family into its smallest and largest forms because familial loyalty often conflicts with globalist aims.
When a nation is viewed, not as a political state or an economic region, but as an expression of the family it takes on a biological and spiritual life that is unique to its members who share a history and a destiny together. The survival of the nation becomes an important factor in the identity of the individual which plays into the choices they make and duties they see as their responsibility. In this context sexual choices are guided by the expectations of the community. These guidelines have been all but destroyed in Western Culture thanks to liberalism.
It is perfectly understandable that those who want to live in healthy communities might become angered and frustrated by the fact that so many around them make self-serving and self-destructive sexual choices without a care in the world about the destiny of their people. It is naturally upsetting when the political establishment, academia, and mainstream popular culture (all greatly influenced by a tiny Judaic minority) promote unhealthy sexual choices and condemn attempts to reestablish our people’s traditional understanding of male and female relationships. It is downright infuriating when calls to create a separate polity free from the oppressive state-sponsored decadence of the establishment are denounced as hateful, and evil, and dismissed because it might “necessitate violence.”
Healthy sexual relations are just a part of a much larger vision of how society should be ordered. Nagle seems to want to diminish the grandness of this vision by casting the holders of this vision as merely sexually frustrated. She uses many pages of Kill All Normies attempting to support this premise. Her failure to deal with the real issues behind nationalism as it relates to individual identity is not surprising, but still disappointing. Mainly it betrays her fear of delving into concepts that have real appeal to most people. Her apparent desire to reduce the motivation of her enemies to something as petty as regular orgasms with a woman speaks volumes about her own insecurities.
Nevertheless, Nagle’s portrayal of chan culture as a transgressive reaction to the establishment similar to how the Left operated in 1960s is astute. She correctly identifies that there is a contradiction between the transgressive chan culture and the traditionalism espoused by the Right, and the Alt Right in particular, but she sees this as a weakness on the part of the Right. In actually, chan culture is not a fundamental part of the Alt Right, but rather one possible gateway. There are many ways to take the proverbial red pill and spending a lot of time in chan culture could lead to this result. But becoming redpilled is about understanding the false narratives that we are conditioned to believe.
Problems are made apparent with the red pill, but solutions are not immediately clear and newly redpilled individuals may respond in very different ways. White Nationalists see this as an opportunity to help these individuals reject unhealthy options and seek to build truly sustainable and edifying communities. We want to fight back against those who would deny us a shared destiny. Our underlying id is not a destructive impulse as Nagle suggests, but the desire for a nation and a home for our people.
Kill All Normies depicts the Alt Right as a movement whose only power is found in wielding the transgressive style developed by the Left. The idea that there might be some truth pointed to in all the irreverence of the trolls is unthinkable to Leftists like Nagle, which is why they must resort to cheap psychoanalysis in a poor attempt to counter their opponents’ arguments. But none of this will change the fact that racial and sexual differences are real and that these differences have serious implications. Nor will it change the fact that humans have deeper communal needs, which cannot be adequately provided for by a globalist system. These needs can only be satisfied through subservience to a greater purpose.
The history of liberalism has instead brought humanity to a sense of nihilism and meaninglessness. We were led here by the Left, but they do not have any more answers. Nagle’s response to the state of things today seems to be to close them off from reality. Toward the end of the book she writes:
The pop culture cliché of the American High School movie, which adapted old archetypes, depicted a social world in which the worst sexists were always the all brawn no brains sports jock. But now that the online world has given us a glimpse into the inner lives of others, one of the surprising revelations is that it is the nerdish self-identifying nice guy who could never get the girl who has been exposed as the much more hate-filled, racist, misogynist who is insanely jealous of the happiness of others. Similarly, the idea of the inherent value of aesthetic qualities that have dominated in Western pop culture since the 60s, like transgression, subversion and counterculture, have turned out to be the defining features of an online far right that finds itself full of old bigotries of the far right but liberated from any Christian moral constraints by its Nietzschean anti-moralism. It feels full of righteous contempt for anything mainstream, conformist, basic. Instead of pathetically trying to speak the language of this new right by trying to ‘troll the trolls’ or to mimic its online culture, we should take the opportunity to reject something much deeper that it is revealing to us. The alt-right often talk about the mind prison of liberalism and express their quest for that which is truly radical, transgressive and ‘edgy’. Half a century after the Rolling Stones, after Siouxsie Sioux and Joy Division flirted with fascist aesthetics, after Piss Christ, after Fight Club, when everyone from the President’s fanboys to McDonalds are flogging the dead horse of ‘edginess’, it may be time to lay the very recent and very modern aesthetic values of counterculture and the entire paradigm to rest and create something new.
In a way, Nagle appears to be conceding defeat here. She acknowledges that transgression as a countercultural tactic was a Pandora’s box, which unleashed a force upon the world that could not be controlled by any one side of the culture war. This insincere method of cultural deconstruction has laid waste to the traditions of the West, of white people, and now in the rubble of our once great culture it continues to attack any weakness in new attempts to establish a dominant culture.
However, transgression also reveals “something much deeper” about human nature. There are certain truths that cannot be deconstructed. Sadly, Nagle calls her readers to reject these truths. She calls for the Left to disengage from old transgressive tactics, to no longer speak this language, and to attempt to create something new. But what new thing can the Left possibly create when their entire political program has only ever been about destruction? What can they build when they close themselves off from truths they despise and start with false premises as their foundations?
Only we, who are called the Right, know the way to a new beginning. We are the only ones who can close the Pandora’s box of transgression by providing a sincere vision that is more satisfying and inspiring than anything liberalism has to offer. At this point we are still in an early stage of awakening. New people are joining all the time and we have barely yet begun to build. Unlike the Left, we will not march through dead and tired institutions and seize control. We will build new ones impervious to subversion. We are just starting now and it is still possible for naysayers like Nagle to reduce our ideas to a few edgy memes, but this was only one phase in our battle for self-determination, as the world will soon discover.