Portrait of an Alt-Right Fan

A peek into the world of American extremism

I only know one person who claims affiliation with the alt-right. I never even heard the term before she said it to me back in November:

<Me> Since the election, five of my friends have already been attacked by people chanting “Trump! Trump! Trump!” or wearing his campaign gear.

<Dave> Those of us who follow alt-news are watching the violence with hearts full of pain, because we don’t yet know if it is tied into a possible scheme by the elites to stir up planned civil unrest by attacking minorities (as we were warned on 4chan by an anonymous FBI agent, most of whose predictions thus far have come true), or if it is actually Trump supporters committing the violence.

<Me> … your source is an anonymous FBI agent on 4chan?

<Dave> I knew I ought to have clarified that.

Don’t bother, dude. No amount of clarification is going to twist 4chan’s secret agent into a reputable news source.

All that aside, you may have wondered… why am I calling her Dave? Let’s back up a bit. This happened in the middle of a discussion about post-election protests:

<Dave> I know that as a mostly-straight white woman, I don’t have a ton of room to talk about how minorities feel and whether or not anyone should be upset.

Wait, what? You’re a straight woman? Last time I saw you, you were a proudly masculine trans guy in a long-term relationship with a hottie genderqueer girl. The two of you showed up to social events with matching beards and rainbow suspenders. You gushed about how you wanted to be just like The Godfather. You bitched about how your hyper-libertarian parents were impeding your individual agency by refusing to recognize your manhood. You were proud of your leg hair and your ability to pull coins out of your girlfriend’s cleavage with your teeth. You went to my parties and sang the national anthem stone-cold sober at 3am in my living room with a Red Bull in one hand and a plastic swashbuckling sword in the other.

But now you’re a normal straight girl-next-door? Now you’re posting about Trump’s creepy fascist Gettysburg speech and how it was inspiring and reassuring? Now you’re posting RT articles every few hours and a daily photo of Putin with inspirational quotes? And you’re still using a male name?

I’ll respect your choices and name and pronoun without blinking an eye. You’re Dave, and you’re a girl again. Okay. As someone who is so queer I’m practically an alien, I can dig that. But I have to wonder… What happened to you, dude?

Anyway, back to the show.

<Dave> It’s not my place to tell anyone what to feel. But it’s definitely my place to share all of the information I have in hopes that it might make people feel better. And it’s my responsibility to share, because misinformation is incredibly dangerous.

About that. I agree, misinformation is dangerous, particularly when we have real and important issues to work on. Misinformation distracts people from what they should be focusing on. So, what is Dave doing to combat misinformation?

* Dave shared The Free Thought Project’s photo.
<Dave> So, where is Eric Braverman, and where is his Wikipedia page? He dropped a bomb in October and hasn’t been seen or heard from for over two months.

<Bob> Not posting on social media for 2 months ≠ dead, kidnapped, or hiding. Weak sauce conspiracy theory is weak. 2 out of 10. [link to Yale’s class schedule with Braverman’s upcoming classes]

<Dave> Did you go to Braverman’s classes at Yale? Have you seen him? Eric Braverman is missing, and until he turns up, we’ll keep looking for him.

<Bob> Look for him?! He isn’t missing!

<Dave> So… if you’re so convinced he’s fine, why are you bothering to comment? That’s what I don’t understand: the level of irritation caused by one little old person questioning the mainstream narrative is way out of proportion.

<Charlie> [link to Snopes disproving rumors about Braverman]

<Dave> It’s gonna take a lot more than Snopes to convince me. They are no longer legitimate, as they are taking money from the same people who are suppressing legitimate dissent and the exposition of corruption.

<Me> All this is probably going to be pretty embarrassing when he comes back from holiday… The holiday season happens every year, and one of the perks of working at a school is a long holiday break. After a crazy year like 2016, I think just about everyone needed some time off.

<Dave> I’d love to be embarrassed, tbh, because it would mean that the powers that be are not as pervasive and dangerous as I think they are.

<Dave’s Friend> Check Fort Marcy Park…….. That’s where the Clintons usually dump a body……

At this point, I broke into a bit of a rant. Apologies in advance.

So, a general rule of sound logic. Reality is that which, after you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

If you encounter a belief and want to find out if it’s worthwhile, test it. Try to disprove it. If it is easily debunked, or if there are simpler likely explanations, get rid of it. But if it withstands attempts to destroy it, then it might be worth holding onto.

Granted, this approach does restrict “free thought” quite a bit, so I can understand why The Free Thought Project would dislike it. It forbids one from believing things which lack strong evidence or which lack predictive power. It forbids one from holding onto beliefs which make no observable difference in the universe.

For example, Ken Ham’s creationism theory. It can explain literally everything. Regardless of whether it’s true or false, it makes no difference in terms of what we can observe. Maybe the dinosaur bones are millions of years old, maybe they were fabricated in-place 6000 years ago to fool us. No conceivable observation could tell the difference. The theory is completely unfalsifiable, completely immune to the concept of truth or false-ness. So it cannot be considered true in the usual sense. Instead it’s just … irrelevant. Meaningless.

Take the theory that Eric went into hiding over the holidays to avoid some sort of harmful actions from the Clintons. Can this theory be falsified? I mean, is there any possible observation which could be made which would conclusively disprove the theory? Let’s say he tweets about his vacation. Would that convince you, or would you assume his account was hacked? Let’s say he shows up for class when the semester starts, claiming he had a great holiday and nothing weird is going on. Would that disprove the theory, or would one just believe even harder and assume he’s covering something up? Is this a Ken Ham moment?

I won’t deny that “free thought” allows one to believe things which are false or meaningless. But if one spends their time engaging in politically-motivated unsupported beliefs, does that really make one a free thinker or does it sound more like a gullible sheep? What’s a more important quality for thought — being unrestricted or being sound?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the burden of proof typically rests on the prosecution. Normally, pointing out that no extraordinary evidence was presented should be enough to end the discussion. It’s not anyone’s job to prove that nothing unusual happened, as that is the default state of things… Instead, it’s the conspiracy theorist’s job to prove something is amiss.

Phrasing an accusation as a question doesn’t relieve one of the duty to provide evidence. And accusing without evidence can be, in itself, a malicious act. “Just asking a question” can have real and harmful consequences, and anyone who has had to deal with FUD before tends to have a low tolerance for it.

Does this help explain why posts like this upset people? Friends don’t let friends spread FUD.


Time passed. She posted other things, such as:

<Dave> Friends, Romans, countrypersons: lend me your ears.
<Dave> I have a single, simple question for you. What would it take for you to see that you’re being lied to, in the most incessant and deleterious way possible?

Several people tried to explain to her how to build trust, and how evidence works. How to evaluate and cite sources. What you can or cannot conclude from various types of data. How people already assume they’re being lied to but disagree about what those lies are. The inadequacy of social media for serious in-depth complex discussions. It didn’t go well. Then more news came out about the Braverman thing.

<Me> BTW, Eric Braverman came back from holiday and announced that he’s starting a new position as president of the philanthropic arm of the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Foundation. Apparently he had a good vacation.

<Dave> Sure. Whatever you like. This isn’t enough to embarrass me.
<Dave> Here’s someone’s video about the current situation — “Eric Braverman Found?”. He says (and I agree) that when Eric Braverman does an interview, he will remove the question mark.

<Me> So… you still think he’s missing? I mean, “missing?”? Maybe that someone hacked his account to make it look like he’s okay?

<Dave> I’ll just say I’m not convinced.

Now she’s back to business as usual, posting pro-Russia and pro-Trump stuff, mind-poison from Milo The Troll (about which she says “sorry not sorry”), videos of random people rambling with no citations to “prove” various conspiracy theories, and the second “day twelve” in a row of “Putin meme for peace”.

I tried. I failed. I’m going back to something productive instead of wasting more time on a lost cause.

Update: I guess I forgot to disconnect, because I got a notification today that Dave wrote an essay defending Pizzagate. Apparently that’s still a thing. I couldn’t make much sense of it though; something about cannibals and babysitting and a jelly tycoon.

Personally, I’m not interested in bizarre conspiracy theories — they’re distractions from real and important issues. I’m far more concerned that my roommate’s dentist just sent her home without doing the semi-urgent operation she needs because Trump blocked her coverage, and it can’t be resolved until it’s too late. Less than a week into the new regime and we’re already personally affected by the fallout.