Extremism-fluid: The neo-Nazi-to-trans pipeline
"Hate groups prey on people who feel like outsiders or that they don't belong."
"When people are ripe for a mass movement, they are usually ripe for any effective movement, and not solely for one with a particular doctrine or program. In pre-Hitlerian Germany it was often a toss up whether a restless youth would join the Communists or the Nazis.
… The opposite of the religious fanatic is not the fanatical atheist but the gentle cynic who cares not whether there is a God or not. The atheist is a religious person. He believes in atheism as though it were a new religion."
- Eric Hoffer
The other day, I was talking to a friend about people—men in particular—going from neo-Nazis to transgender activists and he quipped: "What is the pipeline? The neo-Nazi becomes tired of being unpopular but still wants to be in a hate group?"
It’s a thing I’ve observed online and in real life. So what might be going on here?
Let’s ask some people who’ve traveled down that pipeline themselves:
“It makes a lot of sense actually. A big part of the way hate groups recruit is by targetting [sic] people who feel like outsiders and offering them an explanation for why they are alienated that makes them feel empowered, particularly teenagers who are young and naive but just barely old enough to have their own political opinions separate from their parents.
Young trans people often tick all of the above boxes, and especially egg transfems [term referring to soon-to-be-trans-identified males who haven’t accepted their trans identities yet] who are often extremely insecure about their own masculinity. Fascist ideology preys on toxic masculinity as part of its appeal as well, so for a trans fem who doesn't fit in with the guys and doesn't know why, someone claiming their ideology holds the secret to fixing that can hold some appeal.”
“I never went so far as to be a neo-nazi, but I was kind of on my way there for a while before I snapped out of it.
A lot of people, Particularly young people who were just getting old enough to hold their own political positions around 2014-2016 were hit with a big wave of content creators taking a really bad fash turn and nazis intentionally targeting relatively small apolitical Fandoms and communities for recruitment. For young people who were looking for community, all of your community spaces quickly turning fashy can really suck you into it like a kind of social pressure thing.
At the end of the day, a lot of people fell for it when they were young and I dont think I've seen anyone who's come out of it relapse because they're very aware of what got them there and they don't want back in, so I really wouldn't worry too much.”
“Yeah, I count myself thankful that my peak online phase was ~2009-2012. The nascent fascist propaganda machine was there, but it hadn’t truly exploded into the more “respectable” parts of the internet in the way it it did in the mid 2010s - and has only continued to dramatically escalate. It really doesn’t help that the stereotypical baby trans girl in denial or just entirely unaware of the possibility is exactly the kind of person they seem to recruit.”
“It’s kind of shocking how, when I was old enough to take an interest in philosophy and politics, YouTube almost by default led me down a rabbit hole of increasingly extreme right-wing Youtubers, which made it seem as if their opinions were simple political facts.”
‘"Without a light to guide them, a poor lost soul may stray further into the dark. never give up on being the light to lead them home, but don't allow them to put out your light either" - my witchy grandma
point of it is when we are at our most vulnerable bad people will take advantage of it possibly leading you to a bad place with them, forgive those who try to come back, forgive them if they slip, but don't forgive those who refuse to try to be better.”
“I think it boils down to the age old "bully complex". Someone has some kind of insecurity or shit going in in their lives, so they look for an easy target and punch down. Literally one of the most unhealthy coping mechanisms out there, and its unfortunately common in all walks of life- from the middle school playground to the local skinhead club. Its all the same shit. Just someone who has something wrong with themselves and is taking it out on others rather than addressing the root of the problem because it's the easier thing to do. Trans folk unfortunately aren't immune to it either. In fact, for some people it continues to be their way to be a part of the 'in' group of conservatives (see Caitlin Jenner). Its absolutely disgusting and shouldn't be tollerated- but on the other hand I don't think we should be super hard on people who've gone through that and come out the other side realizing their mistake. I know someone IRL who kinda went through this and it was a combination of being roped in by online propaganda in the form of "ironic" memes, poor coping mechanisms, and an internal peoblem they didn't want to face. Luckily through a strong support network and some time to reflect due to covid, they saw it for what it was and were able to see what was happening to them and changed their ways. If you see someone going down this path, please try to be there for them- you just might be able to help nip a Nazi in the bud.”
“People who don't understand themselves and don't have many friends are much more vulnerable to indoctrination by these groups. Nobody else accepts them so these groups invite them in and treat them nicely to push their ideas.”
“People try to find themselves. It's a constant in life. The people most desperate to be found when they feel the most lost are also the most likely to try radical ideologies or cults to fit in to and belong.”
"Eggs" often feel the most desperate and the most lost, so, a correlation between pre-self-acceptance (or self-reveal) trans people and fascist ideology is unfortunate, but neither unusual nor unexpected.”
“My first comment here lol! As someone who had a “Nazi phase” I genuinely don’t understand people who can joke about it. I was a depressed little shit who could barely keep his emotions in line and, idk, I was obsessed with strong man culture shit to make myself feel better. I was an awful racist, transphobic, utterly misogynistic piece of shit. I hate reminiscing on it, and I thank the gods I got out of it. Now I make lefty shitposts and share skirts with my friends, a definite improvement”
Doesn't make it right.”
“I share my experience to let people know just how deceptive and dangerous it is. Nazis try to be your friend when no one else will and take advantage of the confusion you feel, whether it's because you've been failed by capitalism or because you have gender dysphoria and don't know what it is. That's how they prey on you. They slowly drip feed you more and more extreme stuff so you don't notice how you're changing while making them more and more miserable, only to feed them Nazi narratives as the explanation.
For me it was the YouTube algorithm. I legitimately believed that feminism was ruining society because I was never shown any other perspective, and thought failed toy lines were "Bolshevik marketing".
That same algorithm is funneling my dad down the ancient aliens AND anti SJW pipelines and I don't know how to stop it. The only thing that saved meeting actually feminists and trans people, then realizing I was trans. Don't assume good people can't be swindled into this, they can, and I'm certain many Nazis are queer and the confusion they felt was preyed upon, as it was with me.”
“I had it and got out of it about 6 months ago when I realized how stupid the ideas were (that's also when I started questioning my gender ._.)”
“Hate groups prey on people who feel like outsiders or that they don't belong. They give them a sense of belonging and community they may have never had before. It's basically the same as getting trapped into a cult. They don't just come up to you and say "Hey, so white people are just better, right?" They start out just being your friend, then they slowly test the waters and some people will agree with them either to fit in or because it's a convenient explanation to latch on to for everything they see as wrong with the world.”
When these Redditors talk about the allure of neo-Nazism, white supremacism, and the alt-right, they talk about being recruited online based on personality and life-situation factors like being young, frustrated, misfit, desperate to belong, confused, insecure, and too online. There’s a lot of insight here. They just don’t extend this insight from their dark pasts to their dark presents. In fact, now they see themselves as reformed. They believe they’ve left all that in the past.
But how did these young people come to the ‘saving’ realization that they were really trans? They were recruited. Online. Based on the very same personality and life-situation factors. Often in the same online spaces. By the same radicalizing algorithms. To participate in the same kinds of antisocial behavior and aggression.
Only the cause is different. The participants, recruitment methods, vulnerability factors, appeal, and behaviors are the same.
In other words, it sure looks like Hoffer was right when he observed what we could call the “fluidity” that so often goes along with fanaticism. It's easy for an extremist of one stripe to become an extremist of another type. The belief system on behalf of which they take an extremist stance is always secondary to the pull of extremism itself. More important that the belief system is the opportunity an extremist movement presents to vent hatred and channel self-contempt, as Hoffer observed:
Whence come these unreasonable hatreds, and why their unifying effect? They are an expression of a desperate effort to suppress an awareness of our inadequacy, worthlessness, guilt and other shortcomings of the self. Self-contempt is here transmuted into hatred of others—and there is a most determined and persistent effort to mask this switch.
Even in the case of a just grievance, our hatred comes less from a wrong done to us than from the consciousness of our helplessness, inadequacy and cowardice—in other words from self-contempt.
Self-contempt produces in man “the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.”
The real question is what young people need to break up with fanaticism and extremism altogether, not how to get them to shift from one form of extremism to another, more fashionable one.