I confess that I missed this angle

I wrote an article that described the pathway from (or through) atheism to the alt-right in Canada. I thought I was being pretty detailed, and thorough. But it seems I missed a very important aspect of it.

To recap the path I described in the article, my claim was that the Canadian (as opposed to the American) alt-right is primarily built under an anti-Islam banner, rather than under a more explicitly racist “white ethnostate” banner as down south. (I don’t claim credit for this insight; it was suggested to me by journalist Evan Balgord.) The steps are as follows:

  1. You start with frustration at religious privilege in Canadian society, concern about human rights violations in the name of religion, and desire for secular, evidence-based governance. This is a perfectly reasonable position to have, and legitimate activists spend their entire careers here.

  2. Then you add extra frustration at the idea that minority religions – and particularly Islam – are subjected to significantly less criticism, both in quantity and quality, than Christianity. You can either come to this notion from your own (uninformed and fundamentally racist) observations, or you can be inspired by the commentary of a number of popular atheist or skeptic personalities, or both.

    This is still a somewhat reasonable thing to believe, because Canadian media is demonstrably horrible at how it covers minority religions (and yes, Islam in particular).

  3. The split between reasonable people and bigots-to-be starts here. Most people will realize that there are several perfectly sensible reasons for why minority religions get less and poorer coverage. The bigots-to-be, however, start sinking into conspiracy theories. Minority religions get less and lower quality criticism because multiculturalism pushes political correctness too far, to the point where people don’t even dare criticize minority faiths for fear of being labelled “racist”… or “islamophobic”.

From that point on, the path I outlined is basically the path of all conspiracy theorists. “Multiculturalism” (or rather, their straw-manned version of it), “political correctness”, “the left”, etc. become the boogeymen conspiring to “protect” Islam (yes, particularly Islam these days) from criticism, and only the “brave heroes” who fight against multiculturalism are daring to speak the truth. Everything associated with “lefty ideas” – not just multiculturalism – gets vilified and becomes “the enemy”. Particularly feminism. (This can lead to some truly daft ideas, like that feminism supports fundamentalist Islam, or at the very least their goals are the same in some vague way. Even Richard Dawkins has tweeted his support of that ludicrous notion.)

I haven’t changed my mind. I still believe that the conspiracy theory angle describes the path toward the Canadian flavour of the far right. Canadian far-righters are essentially conspiracy theorists sold on the (demonstrably false) idea that Islam represents a dire existential threat to Canada.

However, I seem to have missed a key angle. A Twitter thread by a user who goes by the handle “Mister Happy Die Happy‏” (@MrHappyDieHappy) created a Twitter thread describing his own experience being courted by alt-right recruiters. He claims the online depression community has been infiltrated by alt-right recruiters deliberately preying on the vulnerable, and he goes into great detail describing the tactics used by the recruiters, and the pathway recruits take.

What strikes me is that the pathway Mister Happy Die Happy describes is exactly the same in substance as the one I described. MHDH is attributing it to a cult-like grooming of vulnerable men (yes, specifically men), while I am viewing it through the lens of conspiracy theorists, but like the old proverb of the blind people touching the elephant, I think we’re both describing the same phenomenon.

I strongly recommend reading Mister Happy Die Happy’s thread all the way through. He describes not only the recruiting process itself, he even describes the internal discussions where the recruitment and grooming process is consciously designed.

As MHDH notes in his conclusion – and I agree – the more you know about the process and tactics used in recruitment to the far right, the better you’ll be at spotting when they’re using their tricks in practice. This is not just about inoculating yourself against your bullshit, it’s also about identifying people who are being sucked in. Before it’s too late, hopefully.

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