A few days ago I read an article from Johnny Silvercloud over at afrosapiophile entitled “Why isn’t anyone talking about the Radicalization of whites?”, the site and the author hold certain views that I disagree with and while I feel his response to that question is an emotional one, perhaps understandably so, I do think the question is valid. I’ve long maintained that it’s important for groups to look inward and address issues that are plaguing those that they share a societal connection to. As a “CIS Gendered White Male Christian” then it’s important for me to look at the fact that a segment of my tribe, so to speak, is being radicalized and ask “Why?”. So that’s what we’re going to do.
The first thing I think is important to look at is what we know about radicalization. As it turns out our 16 years of war against terrorism has taught us a thing or two about radicalization. Here’s some things we know:
1. There is no connection between radicalization and mental or personality disorders, this isn’t an organic brain issue. They are not psychopaths.
2. Certain characteristics can make a person more vulnerable to radicalization, these include “Perceived Injustice or Humiliation” a “Need for Identity” and also a “Need for Belonging”.
3. The Internet has increased the likeliness of radicalization for a myriad of reasons but primarily ease of access to like-minded individuals.
We also know some common features of radicalized movements:
1. They’re polarized, they possess an Us vs. Them mentality as opposed to an inclusive mentality.
2. They tend to be absolutist, they cling to their idea of truth independent of facts or arguments to the contrary.
3. They focus on external threats to help create cohesion internally, they tend to project the idea that they must stick together because “They” are out to get us. It creates a siege mentality.
4. They propagate hate, they dehumanize those that they perceive as “Them” to help reduce moral objections to violence.
The second set of points is interesting, but to help us understand the how and why of “White Radicalization” , and really radicalization of any group in general, we need to look at the first set of points. Before we do that though, I want to discuss a concept that some may not be familiar with, that of the “Grey Zone”.
The word gets used a fair amount but the concept is pretty simple and explained in the below diagram.
Essentially it works like this, take any group of people in our case white men. On the far left of the spectrum are those least likely to be radicalized, those least at risk if you will, essentially people who don’t really identify with the group we’re discussing. It might sound silly to talk about white men that don’t identify with that group and that bears investigation and tells us we need to expand the profile of the target of radicalization. To do that we can look to the far right of the spectrum where the extremists are, these are the problem people, these are the people that are already radicalized and have made gender and race the central core of their identity.
In the middle are moderates, people who identify in the targeted demographic but don’t subscribe to supremacy world views. We call them the Grey Zone because it’s easiest to consider people on a spectrum and the center is “Grey”. Thus the term.
The obvious question though is why does this Matter?
Anytime we see a rise in radicalization we can also bet that we can find a rise of perceived attack and a reduction in perceived personal value. If we recognize and acknowledge that we’re witnessing an increase in white radicalization, and we want to understand why, then we need to prepare to ask the very uncomfortable question of “What perceived injustice or humiliation is the target demographic suffering?” and also “Who in particular is being targeted for Radicalization”.
To answer the first question, we need to answer the second, and to answer the second we need only look at those who have already been radicalized. Essentially we look at the far right side of our spectrum.
If we look at the stats on the examples we have (Specifically attacks carried out by non-jihadi terrorists in North America) we can begin to get a profile. They are 88% male, with an average age of 34, and 91% white, it’s difficult to say what the sexuality of these attackers are but if we take a step back and look at the organizations that exist on the extreme side of this spectrum we can make some further assumptions about the profile. Looking at organizations like “The Heritage Front” and “The Aryan Guard” and the KKK and their list of crimes we can see that as much as they are focused on racial hate they also are often found assaulting members of the LGBTQ community. To this end we can surmise that heteronormativity is another piece of the profile looked for in targets of radicalization. So to Summarize, the targets are White, CIS Gendered, Men aged between 28 and 40. It’s likely not important what their religion is, or what their income bracket is, those things likely don’t play too much of a role on the radicalization front.
Now that we know who is being targeted for radicalization we can ask the second question.
So this is where I likely lose some friends, but stay with me.
The second question now can be asked and, admittedly, sounds a little icky to even say (err…type…) aloud and that is this:
“What perceived injustice or humiliation are white middle-aged CIS Gendered men suffering from?”
I know, I know, I can hear people furiously typing away already “this demographic is the most privileged demographic that could ever be defined. Discussing the problems they might be facing is an insult to the institutional prejudice that many minorities confront every. damn. day.”
Look I hear you, I understand and I’m not even disagreeing, but we need to ask that question if we want to understand white radicalization. So there it is, and I’ll try to address it as best as I can.
There’s two things at play from my perspective, first is active recruiting efforts from the extremists, these have always been in place (Talk to any serious punk rocker from the 90’s that lived in Toronto or the GTA) but with the rise of the internet these messages have become more accessible so of course more people will find these groups. The second is an increase in attacks on the Grey Zone, moderates that fit the demographic that are bombarded by messages that drive them toward extremism. Take the below for example:
Here’s an example, let’s say you’re a moderate, you’re in the grey zone, you share the same genetic details as people in the target demographic but you saw the news and pretty easily agree that fascism sucks and you see all these “ANTIFA” signs at the protests so you go check it out. You hit the website and you see the above. How do you feel? The target recruiting demo also happens to fit police officers, fire fighters and conservatives so now you’re angry. You feel you’re being lumped into the same basket as Mussolini and you are successfully shifted slightly further right towards the extremism side. This is an attack on the grey zone.
So now let’s take the same guy, watching the news and sees the reporting on Richard Spencer (The Neo-Nazi that got punched) and sees a bunch of ANTIFA guys talking about how he deserved it. Normally a statement that our sample guy could get behind, but he knows that these same people think he’s a Fascist, and he knows he’s not a fascist so he thinks “Maybe this guy isn’t a Neo Nazi” and he checks out Richard Spencer and reads about he doesn’t like the term Nazi and how he’s not supporting “Actual Genocide” or what have you. Normally this would sound ridiculous, but the ANTIFA types already have him cast out of the same mold and so he thinks about Richard Spencer’s argument. Another step down toward extremism. This is targeting the grey zone.
Don’t take from this that I’m blaming any one group, I’m not trying to victim blame here, the extremists that are actively trying to recruit, they know this stuff works:
What I’m saying is that the Victims are the people being targeted in the grey zone, that these people are the ones that get caught up this back and forth struggle between extremists on either side. The formulae is simple, wait for someone to group the moderates in with the extremists in their rhetoric or their physical attacks, reach out to said moderate with a message that says “See? They’ll never accept you, let me dust you off and stand you back up again, if you need anything, let me know” and then they wait for it to happen again until the recruit is far enough down the line that you can make a pitch and rope them in. Then you can use his testimony to recruit more people, he goes out and says:
“I used to be like you, though they had a point, that they were just trying to fight an oppressive system but it’s not about that. They hate you for you. Come fight with us”
And the message resonates, particularly if they’re a person that doesn’t have a solid sense of self, and study after study shows that a sense of self is declining and that a lack of it can lead to extremism.
So to answer the question then…
Because in a day and age when people talk at length about “Male Privilege” and “White Privilege” and “Straight Privilege” it’s incredibly unpopular to begin a conversation about how the segment of society that benefits from all three is the victim of radicalization. Even more unpopular is implying that people that are fighting for equality right now, people without privilege, are in part responsible for the radicalization of “Whites” but unfortunately there is truth in that statement.
It’s nothing to take comfort or pride in for anyone, there should be no feeling of pity or sympathy invoked for frankly anyone from this post. It sucks. All around. However knowing what drives radicalization, and understanding how a perfectly normal, healthy, young man can be driven to extremism is critical in protecting yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to it, and perhaps more importantly, is critical in preventing us from accidentally radicalizing people we disagree with.