4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump
Dale Beran

I agree with much of what is said here and the extent to which it explains a certain online salient of what has become neo-fascism. And I also agree with HeatherN below: “Of course there are people who are marginalized along multiple axes who respond to it with wounded pride and a ‘let the world burn’ mentality.”

I would just offer a few things to leaven the picture a bit:

  1. In point of fact, there are elements of 4chan and related subcultures who aren’t inexperienced with IRL romance as such, or living in their parents’ basements, but who are externally quite independent, sociable, employable, well-heeled and “successful;” these rather are just people who “failed” or felt frustrated at putting together a stable married-with-kids existence. I’ve known such a person, a friend of many years who went down the rabbit hole despite having an enviable amount of job security and financial stability. The sense of frustration is always relative to falling short of a perceived standard, which of course is something you touch on but I just want people to remember that actually relatively little of this may be about material poverty and real shortcomings in privilege, so much as it’s often about people losing touch with realistic standards of life and conduct, measuring themselves against unattainable standards and being unable to think rationally about what and who has really made those standards either unattainable and why.
  2. The posture of nihilism was in many cases not the final graveyard of their expectations, though the nihilism underlying affected appreciation of Pepe the Frog and Trump is very much real. I think your point about the Gamergaters having mistakenly believed the world would respond to their actions the way a video game did is actually very good; and what it highlights is that *they did hope for the world to respond,* for something actually positive (as their warped agenda defined it) to come out of their action. I think many of them really are lashing out in an attempt to restore the misremembered idyll they’ve supposedly turned their backs on, and really do expect Trump (or the people around Trump) to eventually prove to be competent at certain things.
  3. The bad news is that the nihilistic posturing has soured into real radicalism whose pretense at being “for the lulz” gets thinner every day, and that what they’re *actually* expecting Trump to deliver is just inimical to liberal society and democracy, and is represented by people like Bannon and Spencer rather than Trump himself. Which is to say that the expectations have come to line up with traditional white supremacist fantasies about “race war” (old-timey coded language for pogrom, imperialism and genocide), the reassertion of sexism and “traditional gender roles,” and contempt for the democratic order and admiration of dictators like Putin. These obsessions were in place when GamerGate was happening, and indeed part of the reason that the hard core of GamerGate was so over-the-top: because in their minds they were battling “cultural Bolshevism” and “white genocide.” On these metrics Trump has been only temporarily checked and, depending on his administration’s survival, may yet in fact deliver what they’re really yearning for as GamerGate did not.
  4. As it becomes clearer just what rough beast has slouched forth, some people who previously felt at home in edgelord culture are increasingly divining its deterioration into old-timey chauvinistic white male supremacism and outright neo-fascism, and its in-practice hostility to people outside a certain mold. Gamergate was a turning point for some of these — many but not all of whom were themselves from otherwise marginalized backgrounds — who started out cheering its war on “SJWs” but as it wore on began to question the whole edifice, not least due to the sheer extent of nonsense, malice and insanity involved. Exactly how many this is true of I can’t know; the examples I’m familiar with were all people who were exposed to a relatively liberal online environment where people helped them by unflinchingly forcing them to reason things through and explain the inexplicable, treatment some others retreated from. But basically it’s worth pointing out that reason *does* get through to some people and that while accounting and having alternate strategies for backfire effect and cognitive dissonance is necessary, it’s important *not* to underrate reason and argument and facts, which do indeed get through to some people.
  5. It’s also worth noting that Gamergate’s ultimate mostly-failure exposed a key weakness of the Alt Reich, which is the same as every other form of white supremacism: it is fundamentally born of and structured by irrationality, and when faced with failure it has little to no basis of rational argument, dispute and determination of the truth to fall back on. The Gamergate “movement” may have added a few names here and there to a small core of Alt Reich activists who went on to other things, but it also crashed from its height of mobilization and involvement in a firestorm of competing conspiracy theories, delusions and infighting in which nobody knew whom to trust and nobody had any actual metric for distinguishing fact from lie from fantasy, which alienated many of the more casual fellow-travellers. This is the right wing’s eternal Achilles’ heel even as irrationality, chauvinism and superstition are its eternal sources of strength. (It is also why the twentieth-century fascist movements’ militarism and totalitarianism helped stabilize them; those traits were able, for a time, to compensate for this internal irrationality with the brute power of party organization and the unquestioned word of the Leader.)
  6. Finally it’s worth noting that this element of modern culture is a tactically important, to an extent, but numerically small portion of “millenials.” The millenial electoral map of America 2016 was almost entirely blue. So their influence as part of the up and coming geeration should neither be ignored nor overstated.

Thanks for the great article.