The Alt-Right and Atheism: Overlap and Divide

A small but growing conservative movement is popping up in the US, fueled in part by well-known atheist Youtubers and bloggers. The movement is referred to as the Alt-Right—or alternative right—movement by some. And some atheist are quick to endorse Alt-Right positions and complain about social phenomena regarding race issues, nationalism, reactionary politics, and Trump-entusialist beliefs. Often these Youtube videos or blog posts espouse a special criticism of social justice warriors, or SJW for short, often citing the First Amendment and “free speech.” And to be honest, I agree with a lot of what critics like the Amazing Atheist and Sargon of Akkad say… except, of course, where I don’t.

I’m not going to go down the exhaustive list of usual Alt-Right positions. Rather I’m going to say what I agree with and what I don’t—from the position of a person who watches these videos and read these blog posts. Specifically I will address race issues, free speech, feminism, and immigration policy.

Race Issues

From what I’ve seen and read, many Alt-Righters and Youtube atheists are incredibly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. This criticism is definitely warranted in some areas. For example, the oft-cited BLM belief that you can’t be racist against white people is only true if we develop a brand new definition of racism and jettison the standard definition. This new definition is often forced upon society in order to win the argument by technical knock out. If you change a definition so that your opponent cannot defend him/herself, then winning the argument is not very victorious. And it’s not very honest. It’s actually quite meaningless (unless you’re Kim Jong Un).

BLM activists also live in a world where an acceptable method of submitting its beliefs into the global market of ideas is to obstruct the lives of everyday citizens. Blocking traffic and annoying people just trying to live their lives is not the ideal way to win over converts.

But the BLM movement also exists in a world where perception is key. Whether or not BLM has good ideas, I think we can acknowledge that they have perceptions about the state of the world. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the activists to submit their beliefs to the global market of ideas. And while it’s difficult to test these ideas (for example, police departments will probably not confess to racist practices), we can at least study the factors that lead to such perceptions. I’d be willing to bet many statisticians and social scientists already are.

Free Speech 

Alt-Righters nail free speech. When a university professor physically assaults a student and asks for “muscle” to remove a student reporter from a “safe space,” this is entirely unacceptable. Free speech does not include physical intimidation. From my perspective safe spaces should be forums for open dialog, without fear of personal attack. Spaces that exclude based on race, gender, or sexuality are only safe so long as you a good at covering your ears and shouting “la la la I don’t hear you” for the rest of your life. At some point though you are going to have to reconcile your beliefs with the real world.

But while free speech is usually the domain of the state—and, for example, Sargon of Akkad knows this very well—it doesn’t help their cause when people with Alt-Right beliefs build caricatures of their opponents in 40 minute Youtube videos just to make the finishing blow during the last 30 seconds. The video debate between Thunderf00t and Sargon over Brexit exemplifies the strengths of Sargon’s beliefs when he isn’t able to build straw men (to be fair, this is despite whether or not Sargon makes a compelling point—to me it’s lost in the bias).

Feminism

From an academic perspective feminism has some really great ideas. I recommend Cynthia Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics for a good discussion of where feminist theory can make some good contributions to society. From a scholarly position I welcome Enloe’s and J. Ann Tickner’s brand of feminism.

But I agree with the Alt-Right and many atheist thinkers that feminism as a social, economic, or political theory is fine and dandy, but feminism as lens for viewing everything as racist and sexist is a cancer to the global market of ideas. But there’s also some problems.

Is there a pay gap? Absolutely. Is it the product of career choice? Not completely, but yeah, to an extent. Regardless of how we answer those questions (and these are merely my best guesses), I again have to take the more conservative route. Should the system prejudice men in order to close the gap? I don’t think that’s a very good solution, and it smacks in the face of David Hume’s Guillotine. If the pay gap exists in the way feminists believe, how do we logically get to: women should succeed at the expense of men? I don’t think we can do that.

In other words, I agree with Sargon and the Amazing Atheist with this one, with one minor deviation.

Immigration

This is where I almost completely part ways with the heavy hitting atheist vloggers and bloggers. I think a Facebook post I made in September 2015 sums up my positions pretty well:

One of the things that strikes me most about the migrant crisis in Europe is that many of these people are coming from Afghanistan, meaning they are willing to travel—sometimes on foot—through ISIS controlled territories in Iraq and Syria, facing assault, rape, or death every step of the way, for the mere possibility of a better life in Europe, Turkey, or elsewhere. To us this should say something about their hopelessness and yet resolve; instead we’re focusing on whether or not we can share.

There seems to be a massive reactionary force happening. The fear of Islamic terror in Europe and the US decapitates us from the humanity we slowly strive to achieve[1]. When I lived in Lebanon during the fledgling months of the Syrian Civil War—before the Islamic State rode into Syria—I was often asked my position as a political scientist on Assad and the Free Syrian Army. My answer was always the same:

“I am against all sides because people are fucking dying.” (You can get away with using English profanity in Lebanon—just don’t use Arabic profanity).

My position has not changed with the arrival of the Islamic State. Rather, it has become more pronounced. I am against all sides, including American and European nationalists, because 1) people are dying, and 2) we are actively striving to prevent their salvation from death.

And perhaps the most important point: A refugee denied basic humanity, a refugee denied salvation from Jihadist terror is a potential Jihadist terrorist in the making.

Look, people with different beliefs as ours do not live in a vacuum, and neither do we. And when they cry out for help, if we treat them as unequals because of their beliefs—if we treat them as sub human[2]—we cannot expect refugees from terror to choose between going home and face death, or going home and mitigating death by joining the group trying to kill them. A refugee denied is a terrorist made.

Final thoughts

I’m not sure how the switch came around. Atheism does not naturally lead to a political stance. And, for example, the Amazing Atheist even shifted from supporting Bernie Sanders to (weakly) supporting Donald Trump. This is a remarkable shift (even if TJ says he’s not voting for anyone). And I think it could be an overreaction to the Atheism+ movement (that seems to believe if you’re not a bleeding heart liberal, you’re the literal devil). But these shifts do not necessarily reflect a growing trend in atheist thought towards nationalist and reactionary policy. This post merely stands to discuss a phenomenon I’ve noticed in user-based media.

Are the Amazing Atheist and Sargon of Akkad Alt-Righters? I honestly don’t know. And this post does not claim they are (even if I have used strong language). I don’t think they’ve ever claimed to follow the movement, but it’s forgivable to say there’s some overlap—at least—with their political views and the Alt-Right movement.

And finally, I’m not so hesitant to accept alternate viewpoints and seeing if we can find some common ground for the purposes of debate—as long as the debate is a free and open debate, and not one where I cannot win by default (or skin color). And I’m not afraid of the encroachment of Islam to the point where I will turn my country inward.

[1] For a fantastic article on this process utopian, see Booth, Ken. “Security and Emancipation.” Review of International Studies 17, no. 4 (1991): 313-26.

[2] This is a well-understood method for creating war-driven societies: Campbell, David. Writing Security United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Rev. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political and social activist.
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2 Responses to The Alt-Right and Atheism: Overlap and Divide

  1. I’ve been noticing this trend as well, mostly from the criticisms leveled against TJ (The Amazing Atheist) by Martin Hughes over at his Patheos blog. I’m kind of curious if this is just a natural fracturing of a larger atheist community. That is, with the population of admitted atheists on the rise in the U.S., maybe members of that community no longer feel like they need to espouse certain views to keep the group whole.

  2. Love this post and I agree with most of it, especially the immigration part. I also agree with much of what you had to say as about the social issues. I don’t think they’re alt-righters though. I think they’re frustrated liberals who see (or think they see) liberalism being dragged through the muck and beginning to resemble the far right. By this I mean they smear their opponents and try to shame them into silence. They often try to redefine words and shut down communication so they can exist in an echo chamber.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed your post.

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