Being Catfished by The “Alt Right” & The Importance of Escaping The White Liberal Echo Chamber

Brianne LaPelusa
Nov 18, 2016 · 7 min read

This week, I got a friend request from someone I didn’t recognize. The picture in the profile was a selfie of young woman, blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail and a bubbly smile on her face. It’s not unusual for me to receive requests from strangers, and given the person’s innocent appearance — and the fact that she was female — I accepted. She immediately began liking and commenting on dozens of my posts at once, so I sent a message: hii, do I know you?

They responded:

Hi. No, you liked a comment of mine.

You want to destroy someone tonight? (8 purple faced devil emojis)

Pleeeze let’s fuck a white boy up

(I should note, the girl in the picture was white, as am I)

The invitation was esoteric and slightly alarming, but Catfish is one of my favorite TV shows. Not only for the stories’ humor and intrigue, but because it reveals humanity and empathy in a unique way. Nev had wizened me, and I wanted to see what was causing this young girl to have so much rage, to possibly give her an outlet to release it and spare any future victims. But, the conversation quickly turned in a terrifying way I hadn’t expected.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll spare most of the disturbing details, but ultimately the person revealed themselves to be a white man, 35 years old, seeking revenge in a plot to weed out “racists” spreading “deadly hate against white people.” The refrain of “white males,” within social justice advocates and critics has resounded and, in his words, caused everyone to hate white men. He began firing off terror-filled rhetoric, intimating towards inciting physical violence:

I’m a very intelligent person

That’s an understatement

I’m going to defeat ISIS myself

Ok?

Don’t worry, it’s not you.

Is it?

From there it became increasingly disturbing. I became fearful for my safety, if the person knew me, and freaked out by how much of my personal information they had gained access to within the span of time since I accepted their request. They knew where I live, where I work, who my friends and family are, even my social activities — they could see that I’ve attended protests for Black Lives Matter, and against Trump’s win in the election only days prior.

I blocked and reported the person, updated my privacy settings, and even called the police, who told me there was “nothing you can do about it.” I asked if they received calls like these frequently. They paused, “uhmmm — sometimes, sometimes.”

I wrote a vague facebook status urging people to stay secure online, and began messaging an acquaintance who commented on it. I shared screenshots of the interaction. Their reaction surprised me, they were unfazed:

Oh, this is some classic alt right shit.

They’re just trolling. These guys join feminist groups and try to get women to say hateful things against white men. Everything’s a big joke. I hope you can put it out of your mind, honestly it’s probably nothing serious.
I’ve been researching it for a while.

I can share some resources on the alt right if you want.

He sent a link from The Daily Stormer, a popular racist blog and influential voice of what has been termed the “alt right movement” whose slogan reads “America’s #1 Most Trusted Republican News Source: First in Facts — First in Integrity!” Though I’m using it here to articulate my discoverings, I want to urge people to resist adopting the title of alt right, because it makes it seem less dangerous than it is. This movement is clear cut, white supremacist neo Nazism. The article, written by key figure Andrew Anglin, was titled “A Normies Guide to the Alt Right,” with an image of Pepe The Frog accompanying the link.

I read the whole thing, which is insanely long, and I encourage all liberals who are only vaguely familiar with the phenomenon to do so as well — or rather, all white liberals.

The article is filled with proudly proclaimed anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, and white supremacy. It repeatedly admonishes the liberal “Jew media,” and explains in meticulous detail the genesis of the white radicalism that has developed in opposition to it. In Anglin’s words:

Roughly four years ago, a new type of White nationalist movement began to form on the internet. This was mostly made-up of young people who were formulating ideas with minimal influence from prior White nationalist movements.

It was a situation of different online subcultures (some of which were influenced by older offline movements) coming together. These groups collided, based on their having reached common conclusions, and the result is what is now called the Alt-Right.

From there he proceeds to lay out the various factions of the movement. The first on the list: Troll culture. Essentially, I learned that the anonymity of the internet is what fostered the uprising. I was surprised by the intellectual tone of the writing, which uses words like “virulent” and “apotheosis.” The graphics on the site are sleekly designed — everything about it was the work of college-educated millennials. This brand of racism was in stark disconnect from the image we have of bumbling hillbillies, of what the media often portrays as an ideology of the uneducated and poor working class, isolated from the current culture. Although I’d recognized the systemic stronghold of white supremacy within our country, I admittedly had not fully pieced together the reality that the people keeping it in place aren’t those who fit the image of shirtless, methed-out confederate flag-wavers, skinhead baby boomers Gen X-ers. They are people like the bloger Andrew Anglin, the descendants of older white nationalists like Steve Bannon and recently seated Donald Trump, whose face adorns the homepage of The Daily Stormer website.

They are the new generation neo-Nazis: skinheads playing white power punk anthems have been replaced by tech geeks making “RetroWave” and “Synthwave” white identity-oriented music on Ableton Live, and creating Chrome extensions which identify people of Jewish descent — and yes, these are real things.

Though their image is different the white supremacist, anti-Semetic ideology is the same and perhaps even more empowered than it’s previously been. The reach of the internet has extended it outwards, and its anonymity has spawned its widespread recruitment. From Anglin:

The Alt-Right certainly believes in these principles [of Nazism], but also uses it ironically — it is a bit of self-depreciating humor, comparing ourselves to previous incarnations of the White Nationalist movement which are potentially viewed as low-brow.

All throughout, the language used in the article echoes the same pseudo-intellectualism as many familiar facebook posts from the “neo-progressives” attempting to undo racist rhetoric.

We must seek out the sources that are antithetical to our beliefs in order to begin to truly undo the damage of white supremacy, instead of continuing to shout into the echo chamber of likewise progressively minded people and garner affirmation by collecting our own likes and reposts.

Throughout the very stressful time leading up to the election, the only people who vocalized predictions that Trump would win within my own social circle were people of color, specifically Black Americans. The recent SNL skit with Dave Chapelle that began last week’s episode was all too real in depicting the dynamic of surprise between many left-leaning black and white Americans to Trump’s nomination.

When I began voicing my revelations to one of the friends who had predicted his win, they responded bluntly, “Welcome to reality. Now you have the burden of knowledge.”

White liberals and educated whites must stop condemning everyone but our selves for the results of this election. This stuff is on us. No matter how active, how adamant, or how “woke” have believed ourselves to be, we still haven’t woken up — and what’s most terrifying is that none of this has been a dream. We need to fix us. In September, I attended a lecture by the poet and author of Citizen, a majorly important, poignant book about race in America Claudia Rankine. During the Q&A, an audience member asked the question “What can I do to be a better ally?” The question made me cringe, I was embarrassed by it but also leaning in closely for her answer. She responded, in summary, “Stop worrying about what you need to do for me, I’m going to be fine — worry about what you need to do for you. Figure out where this white rage comes from, and how to stop it,” she said, “the main gesture in America has been towards amnesia.”

We have to remember.

We have to stop trying to impress one another, or the people we are “allied” with. Ease up on the competition of semantics, the preoccupation with saying the right thing and correcting others. We have to educate ourselves, to see and hear — not sympathize with — but see this very real and prominent hatred, what has been largely concealed from us for years. We’re now dealing with the repercussions and very real danger of this suppression, and it’s imperative that we do not propel it any further forward. To do this, we have to un-other ourselves from the people capable of these hateful beliefs. So, you now have the burden of knowledge — what will you do with it?

Brianne LaPelusa

Written by

Twitter: @BriLaPelusa. Writer of nonfiction, MFA student, and teacher, Chicago, IL.