Amer­ica’s home­grown rad­i­cals: the alt-right

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Geysar Gur­banov Geysar Gur­banov is a hu­man rights ad­vo­cate and alum­nus of the Ro­tary In­ter­na­tional World Peace pro­gram at the Duke-UNC Chapel Hill Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Peace and Con­flict Res­o­lu­tion. Twit­ter: @geysar.

Re­cently, while do­ing re­search for a book on Is­lam in the U.S., I stum­bled upon a YouTube chan­nel by a user who is known as “Black Pi­geon Speaks.” With about 121,000 sub­scribers and more than 8 mil­lion views, the chan­nel uses its on­line plat­form to rail against im­mi­gra­tion, Is­lam, fem­i­nism and lib­er­al­ism. Its tar­get au­di­ence is pri­mar­ily made up of right-wing con­ser­va­tives in the U.S.

I fo­cused on the chan­nel’s view­ers and their com­ments; I wanted to know what this on­line crowd thought and be­lieved. By the time I was fin­ished read­ing, I was gravely dis­turbed.

Avideo about Ge­orge Soros, an Amer­i­can Jewish bil­lion­aire and phi­lan­thropist, blamed him for the Euro­pean mi­grant cri­sis and framed him as the enemy of Amer­ica. The racist tirade started with a com­ment by some­one iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as Peter Kapeel, who said he had “never been so in fa­vor of an as­sas­si­na­tion” since watch­ing the video. “I feel like this guy has to die,” he wrote.

“Brian the Brain” re­sponded with a res­i­den­tial ad­dress and wrote: “Here’s where he lives. Do what needs to be done.” Com­menter “John Clark,” said he was “down with it,” ap­par­ently vol­un­teer­ing to do the deed. An­other user sug­gested that Jews should be rounded up and sent to Is­rael, which should then be turned into “a sheet of glass” — a ref­er­ence to the glassy residue left on the desert sur­face af­ter a nu­clear bomb test in 1945 near Alam­ogordo, N.M.

There were many more hate­ful, racist, and vi­o­lence-pro­vok­ing com­ments, so dis­turbingly shock­ing that they would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for any au­di­ence. If the con­ver­sa­tion on YouTube was in Ara­bic or had sub­scribers with pre­dom­i­nantly Mid­dle Eastern names, I would have mis­taken the whole dis­cus­sion as one among rad­i­cal Mus­lims plot­ting vi­o­lence against the so-called in­fi­dels: Jews, Chris­tians and mod­er­ate Mus­lims such as me.

I am a Mus­lim im­mi­grant who has ex­pe­ri­enced and stud­ied war. I know how rad­i­cal­ism be­gins and how far it can go. You prob­a­bly know it, too. You watch it daily on tele­vi­sion. It is called ISIS. We wit­ness its mem­bers chant­ing vi­o­lent and hate­ful slo­gans against the rest of the world.

Nev­er­the­less, the com­ments that I read were not posted by rad­i­cal Mus­lims. They were writ­ten in English, by Amer­i­cans. And the racist lan­guage was not posted on some un­pop­u­lar and con­tro­ver­sial web­site in the dark cor­ner of the In­ter­net. It was ex­pressed on YouTube, a site owned by Google that at­tracts more than 1 bil­lion peo­ple.

The users en­ter­tain­ing the idea of mur­der­ing Mr. Soros ap­pear to be mem­bers of the alt-right, a move­ment of rad­i­cal con­ser­va­tives largely uni­fied by their sup­port for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump, whose po­lit­i­cal cam­paign is man­aged by Stephen Ban­non, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the alt-right Bre­it­bart News.

The mem­bers of the alt-right at­tempt to clean the con­ser­va­tive camp of mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans — just like rad­i­cal Is­lamists fight against the mod­er­ates among their own re­li­gion. And the group is an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar do­main for xeno­pho­bic and racist white su­prem­a­cists who op­pose mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, fem­i­nism and im­mi­gra­tion. The rhetoric of the alt-right is so alarm­ingly dan­ger­ous that some Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing House Speaker Paul Ryan, voiced fears of ex­trem­ism.

Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism and the alt-right have much in com­mon. The two are, pri­mar­ily, male-dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal move­ments that are nos­tal­gic about re­viv­ing an out­dated and ex­treme so­ciopo­lit­i­cal or­der. Both groups cap­i­tal­ize on the re­li­gious and eth­nic “oth­er­ing.” And the worst fea­ture they share is the fact that they are grow­ing in their pop­u­lar­ity.

So far, the harm­ful rhetoric of the alt-right, home­grown rad­i­cals does not go be­yond words. They are not vi­o­lent — not yet. It’s un­clear what they’ll do should Mr. Trump lose the elec­tion on Nov. 8. That should worry you al­most as much as the idea of Mr. Trump win­ning.

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