The "Reactionary" Right

By far there is no tactic preferred by leftists and journalists than to portray everyone right-of-center as Alt-Right or some variation of that ideology. Toward this end, they’ve perfected the art form of taking statements out of context and shamelessly inventing them. If the “forced monogamy” debacle taught us anything, it’s that. But arguably, the only thing that they prefer to that dependable strategy is an old-fashioned, politically motivated pretend-study by a virtually unknown “research institute” that validates their worst fears of whatever the “right” means to them, which masks their casual smears in a cloque of “science!”

Which brings us to the incestuous merger of leftist “researchers” and journalists. That unknown research institute is Data & Society, which recently pushed out a study that “identifies and names the Alternative Influence Network”, a fairly ominous branding. To author Rebecca Lewis, this network is an “assortment of scholars, media pundits, and internet celebrities who use YouTube to promote a range of political positions, from mainstream versions of libertarianism and conservatism, all the way to overt white nationalism. Content creators in the AIN claim to provide an alternative media source for news and political commentary. They function as political influencers who adopt the techniques of brand influencers to build audiences and ‘sell’ them on far-right ideology”

Spy the laughable contradiction in this introductory summary alone. Breathlessly glossing over the daylight between the mainstreams of libertarianism and conservatism and the Alt-Right, Ms. Lewis not-so-hiddenly bridges them to white nationalism. From the outset, we can see that this study is a limp attempt to lump any and every non-leftist faction into one, convenient shorthand: the “AIN.” It’s said in the summary itself that the “function” of the “AIN” is to build audiences, much like every platform on YouTube, and “sell” them on far-right ideology. How can this summary not be implying that even mainstream libertarians and conservatives are trying to peddle far-right ideology?

It can’t because it clearly is. Naturally, anyone with a political YouTube channel is trying to sell something--which is of, course, their point of view. But Ms. Lewis hopes that nobody notices that she’s instructing her readers that that point of view is far-right, without bothering to assess it. Going back to the study’s stated mission, it does identify what it dubs the network that makes up the “ANI.” It names figures as distant from each other as Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro, gay classical liberal Dave Rubin, and white-nationalist Richard Spencer. To give it some semblance of credit, the graph doesn’t put them very near together on its visual spectrum, but the suggestion by even saying their names in the same breath is obvious.

Stuff like this is the bread and butter of left-wing media outlets, making it unsurprising to see figures from outlets like Buzzfeed seizing upon “studies” like these in order to prove their final point: that all who seem to be tangentially related to the right are secretly crypto-fascists. Case in point, Buzzfeed’s Deputy Global News Director Ryan Broderick, who had a good laugh at the expense of Joe Rogan fans--mocking them, basically, as virginal shut-ins. It’s truly a strange characterization of his audience considering the rising popularity of these points of view. Just to further highlight the absurdity of such a characterization, NBC Nightly News averaged 1.4 million a week for the last 92 weeks, while just one Joe Rogan interview with Elon Musk garnered over 10 million view on YouTube alone. This doesn’t even account for audio listeners. It’s unclear how Broaderick arrived upon his caricature, but it may be based on the fact that these sorts of journalists panders to liberal women with a sad desperation that never seems to result in anything near success.

Whether their aims are malicious or driven by ignorance is an open question, but they aren’t the first to mischaracterize Mr. Rogan or his fans. That said, there is a case to be made that they are simply ignorant: multiple studies tell us that liberals simply aren’t as good at accurately portraying opposite viewpoints as conservatives, libertarians and independents are. Rebecca Lewis herself has repeatedly insinuated that Mr. Rogan is a gateway to the far right--citing “anti-feminist” Sargon of Akkad and “Google bro” James Damore, titles which are apparently supposed to establish why “giving them a platform” is such a bad thing.

Rogan cited Barbara Walters interviewing Castro in defense of his choice to have discussions with these somehow controversial figures. Rogan’s point, of course, is that interviewing someone doesn’t mean that you endorse them, but it falls short of the more important point: that not only are the figures Ms. Lewis holds up as self-evident villains, not Castro, they aren’t villains at all (and if they were Castro, she’d likely be more sympathetic to their cause). The fact that unsavory characters like Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch use the platform doesn’t say anything about the points of view of Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson, for instance, but that’s basically what Ms. Lewis is clumsily suggesting. There may be room to argue that some figures start from a place of such poisonous strains of thought that they shouldn’t be given large platforms, not that Ms. Lewis is capable of correctly identifying who these people are. But that isn’t even the argument we’re having; instead, Rebecca Lewis is telling us that anyone vaguely right-of-center should be shuttered from public discourse, and that left-leaning people like Joe Rogan are complicit in their popularity.

Anybody unblinded by partisan rage who has listened to far too many of the people she cites for any length of time will see how baldly unfair her portrayal of them is. They’ll know at first listen that these people roundly reject defining people based on their race or sex. But for those like Rebecca Lewis, it’s not their words that matter--that’s why they so purposely misrepresent them. Misrepresenting them is a means to an end, an end they believe is so virtuous as to justify their character assassination tactics and outright false “studies.”

Ms. Lewis subscribes to a school of thought that assures us that the inevitable consequences of certain facts are so bad that they should be repressed. And because those like Dr. Peterson, James Damore, Joe Rogan, and Gavin McInnes are willing to talk about them frankly, they either endorse those possibly racist consequences or will lead to them. In reality, the study is borne from an inability to honestly tangle with the ideas that fuels the success of Rogan and those he interviews.

Somehow, though, this paranoia-fueled pursuit of tangling every center-right YouTube channel into a nefarious web received glowing coverage in the press. Even though the study didn’t do anything to ground its “findings”, the likes of Wired, Ezra Klein, and Variety praised it--for doing what, exactly? Telling us that right-of-center alternative media exists and is increasingly popular and then concluding this is because of how evil it is? Congratulations, but this is what has been said for some time by many of the same people. Data & Society’s study does nothing to shed light on what really drives its appeal, nor does it even attempt to. Their intentions are clear. These so-called research institutes publish baseless studies, their allies in the media pretend their findings should be taken seriously, and then they wait for social media conglomerates to use their “research” to rationalize more censorship.

Christian O'Brien