On December 7, 2017, a 21-year-old white male posing as a student entered Aztec High School in rural New Mexico and killed two students before taking his own life. At the time, the shooting went largely unnoticed by national media outlets. But the online activity of the alleged killer, William Edward Atchison, bore all the hallmarks of what is now an infamous subculture and political movement consisting of vicious trolls, racist activists, and bitter misogynists—the “alt-right.”
Atchison wasn’t nearly the first to fit the profile of the alt-right killer—that distinction belongs to Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who killed six in Isla Vista, California in 2014 after uploading a manifesto filled with hatred toward young women and interracial couples. Atchison admired Rodger and even used his name as an online alias, using the persona to laud the “supreme gentleman,” a twisted, paternalist, misogynist archetype Rodger had written about and a title he had bestowed upon himself, and which has since become a meme among the alt-right community.
Including Rodger’s murderous rampage, there have been at least 13 alt-right related fatal episodes, leaving a total of 43 dead and more than 60 injured. Nine of the 12 incidents occurred in 2017 alone, making last year the most violent year for the movement.
This week, The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report entitled “The Alt-Right is Killing People,” which examines the deadliness of the alt-right—a movement that enjoys continued and increasing access to the mainstream public sphere where it reaches young recruits like white supremacist killer Dylann Roof, and others.
The report reveals some key statistics:
· More than 100 people killed or injured in at least 13 fatal episodes related to the alt-right;
· 2017 was the most violent year of the alt-right movement;
· The perpetrators were all male and all are American with the exception of one Canadian;
· The average age of these alt-right killers is 26 with the youngest being 17. All but three were under the age of 30 at the time they are alleged to have killed;
· While some certainly displayed signs of mental illness, all share a history of consuming and/or participating in the type of far-right ecosystem that defines the alt-right.
According to the report, two formative moments helped to breed this young generation of far-right activists who were raised on the Internet: the murder of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin and “Gamergate,” a controversy in which female game developers and journalists were systematically threatened with rape and death by young male gamers. These events magnified the belief that white identity is under attack by multiculturalism and political correctness.
The “alternative right” was coined in part by white nationalist leader Richard Bertrand Spencer in 2008, but the movement as it’s known today can largely be traced back to 2012 and 2013 when two major events occurred: the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin and the so-called Gamergate controversy where female game developers and journalists were systematically threatened with rape and death. Both were formative moments for a young generation of far-right activists raised on the internet and who found community on chaotic forums like 4chan and Reddit where the classic tenets of white nationalism — most notably the belief that white identity is under attack by multiculturalism and political correctness — flourish under dizzying layers of toxic irony.
Significantly, Gamergate also launched the career of Milo Yiannopolous who later used his perch at Breitbart News to whitewash the movement and push it further into the mainstream (former senior adviser to President Donald Trump and Breitbart executive editor Stephen Bannon infamously called the site “the platform for the alt-right.”).
Today, the audience available to alt-right propaganda remains “phenomenally larger” than that available to ISIS-type recruiters, according to MoonshotCVE, a London-based group that counters online radicalization. This accessibility makes it easy for gradual indoctrination, particularly on social media platforms where tech companies long ignored the warning signs that their platforms were contributing to the radicalization of far-right extremists. That so much violence has taken on the shades of a specific subculture like the alt-right quickly shows just how critical these wide-open platforms have been to the growth of the movement.
Read more here.