I like to think there’s a method to my madness. In recent weeks, we’ve been revisiting our archives to better understand where we are now and uncover clues that point to what lies ahead in the future. We’ve already been reviewing Cliven Bundy’s 2014 “Range War” to see how it connects to the “Web of Hate” fueling the fascist militia violence in America. Today, we’ll look into another series of events from 2014 to catch a glimpse into how and why seemingly “normal” people are radicalized into hate-fueled extremist movements.
First, a quick primer on Gamergate (and why this matters)
Shortly after Cliven Bundy and his sons led an army of fascist militia groups against federal agents and succeeded in scaring them away from his illegal grazing activities in Bunkerville, another far-right insurrection shocked the nation. But instead of militia-men pointing guns at federal agents near I-15, we all witnessed journalists and video game enthusiasts experience doxxing and death threats as a growing clique of (overwhelmingly white and male) gamers tried to rebrand their violent threats as a “protest demanding ethics in gaming journalism”.
In reality, however, we can trace the origin of Gamergate back to May 2012, when feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian stared down threats of physical assault, rape, and murder over her Kickstarter campaign to expand her Tropes vs. Women investigative series on misogyny in the video gaming world. Rather than succumb to this ever escalating cyberbullying, Sarkessian continued her work, called out her online attackers, then accepted an award at the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
In 2013, independent video game developer Zoe Quinn released Depression Quest, an autobiographical and stripped down text game meant to illuminate the experience of struggling with one’s mental health. About a year later, her abusive ex-boyfriend not only denied her story of surviving physical and psychological abuse at his hands, but falsely accused her of cheating on him and exchanging sex for positive reviews of her game(s).
In August 2014, Sarkeesian’s and Quinn’s stories suddenly converged when Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted his (false) accusations of Quinn, released identifying information that made it easier for trolls to cyberstalk her, then incited an online mob who pieced together the (baseless) charges against Quinn and Sarkeesian and conflated them into some kind of grand conspiracy to take down the millions of young, white men who love video games and can’t find women to love them.
Next, we’re reviewing another series of mass shooting attacks, from Santa Barbara to Toronto
In May 2014, just about two weeks before a couple who had spent time with Cliven Bundy at the “Range War” decided to bring that war to Las Vegas by assassinating two Metro Police officers and one civilian, another gunman opened fire in Isla Vista, near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. He killed six people and injured 14 others before killing himself.
In the days and weeks following his mass shooting attack, investigators paid closer attention to the gunman’s online paper trail and honed in on his many screeds against women and identification with what we would eventually come to know as the “incel” community. Almost four years after the Isla Vista Shooting, another man who was active in this online “incel” network cited the Isla Vista gunman as he launched his own “Incel Rebellion” by plowing his van into a crowded Toronto sidewalk, killing ten and injuring another 14 people in April 2018.
“Incel” stands for “involuntary celibate”, or the concept that certain men are somehow being hurt by women who choose not to have sex with them, a concept in academia that has since been cited by “men’s right’s activists” as justification for violent attacks against the women (and sometimes, other men who have had more successful relationships with women) they claim have wronged them. In addition to Isla Vista and Toronto, additional acts of “incel” terrorism struck Roseburg, Oregon, in October 2015 (killing nine and injuring eight before the shooter killed himself) and Tallahassee, Florida, in November 2018 (killing two and injuring five).
Here’s where the “red pill” comes in
In the 1999 sci-fi thriller The Matrix, Lawrence Fishburne’s character offers Keanu Reeves’ character the ultimate choice: Take the blue pill and wake up to peace in an artificial reality, or take the red pill and uncover the ugly truth. Reeves’ character chose the red pill, and he subsequently uncovered a massive conspiracy of an artificial intelligence (AI) run world where humans were being deluded into believing an existence that was never real or their own.
In the 20 years since The Matrix’s release, online fascist networks have interpreted “red pill” to mean the conversion of “normies” into extremists by way of infiltrating mainstream communities and indoctrinating susceptible individuals with propaganda disguised as “mind-blowing truth”. In “The Gateway”, we explored how fascists used the popularity of formerly fringe media personalities, such as Alex Jones, to attract more mainstream allies in the media landscape, such as Joe Rogan, and develop connections to spread their doctrine of hate of a much wider audience.
While there may be different dynamics between Gamergate and the “Incel” world, there are also a whole lot of common threads. Both are rooted in misogyny, yet both also cloak themselves in “populist” garb where these “outsider” young (and typically very white) men are pitted against the “establishment” of the “professional elite” who are all conspiring to hold them down. But again, in reality, we’re likely talking about women, LGBTQ+ people, and communities of color, some of whom have somehow offended these men by turning down their sexual advances and/or giving their favorite video games negative reviews.
So how does red-pilling work, and where it does lead to?
There may be even deeper reasons for some of these men’s resentment. Nonetheless, fascist groups prey upon this resentment and base their initial appeals on a toxic mix of sympathy, rage, blame, and humor. As conflict journalist and expert on fascist extremism Robert Evans documented for Bellingcat in October 2018, these fascists have targeted everywhere from World of Warcraft fan groups to Alex Jones conspiracy threads, and from (surprise, surprise) Donald Trump fan clubs to “incel” forums.
They might start with an argument that seems like standard Fox News or Breitbart banter, such as, “Those SJW’s have gone too far,” or “All this ‘PC culture’ is proof that liberalism is a mental disorder.” From there, they encourage their new recruits to assign blame for all their woes onto the feminists, the immigrants, the queers, the blacks, the Muslims, the Jews, and the other “others” (as in, not “Aryan”). And while fascist groups appreciate such alt-right gateways as vital recruiting grounds, their ultimate goal is to shift their red-pilled recruits from the “alt-light” (a pejorative term more radicalized fascists use for the alt-right, akin to “RINO” for Republicans) all the way into neo-Nazi territory.
One of the various white nationalist destinations for these red-pilled recruits is Atomwaffen. This neo-Nazi death squad has already been linked to multiple murders, including the targeted murder of Blaze Bernstein in January 2018 in my native Orange County, California, for being gay, Jewish, and a “SJW”. And more recently, the defendant who was arrested earlier this month for planning attacks on a bar serving LGBTQ+ patrons, a synagogue, and a Jewish civil rights organization here in Las Vegas apparently also has ties to Atomwaffen.
Atomwaffen may be a relatively new neo-Nazi terrorist network, but its ideology is rooted in nothing new. In fact, the hate at the root of Atomwaffen and other white nationalist terrorist networks even predates Adolf Hitler. While Hitler and his army of “OG Nazis” strongly influence the neo-Nazis of today, fascism has been lurking in the dark corners of American history long before the Weimar Republic collapsed. In future installments of “Web of Hate”, we’ll go beyond the creation myths that fascists want us to believe and explore the true origin story of the hate that plagues us here and now.