After the election I didn’t want to write. I wrote anyway because I don’t have another way to understand the world, but I didn’t share a single word. I felt small and insignificant. My words did, too.
Plenty of people voiced plenty of reasons to be afraid after the election. My friends were talking about practical things: the possibility of family members being deported, whether they would still have access to healthcare. I am lucky and so my concerns were different.
What scared me the most was the realization that my confidence in my mental abilities was delusional.
I have staked–I am staking–my life on my mind. Not a career, a spouse, or children, or money, but the belief that words are important and powerful and need caretakers. Until last month my mind had never failed me. There had never been a problem so big I couldn’t make sense of it or a question so complex I couldn’t answer it. Then there was an election and protests and I realized I had perhaps reached the limits of my ability to comprehend, to empathize, to reason my way out.
People have been talking a lot about echo chambers and bubbles. Their warnings reminded me of some conversations I had this summer with a white nationalist (he prefers this term to alt right because it is more specific, but he is technically also a member of that group). I began reaching out to white nationalist leaders because I was curious. I did not understand. What I learned shocked and rattled me, but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
I began messaging @MrPatriarch this summer after stumbling upon his account while attempting to figure out what on earth people meant when they talked about “white genocide.” I was surprised by his openness and willingness to share his beliefs patiently with someone who so clearly did not understand (or agree with) them at all. These are not traits I have encountered (or offered) often in real life.
When we started messaging the description on his Twitter bio read “Head of the Patriarchy, Highly skilled in the art of oppressing & discriminating. Extremely privileged + trigger happy.”
One of my first questions was if he seriously considered himself a member of the patriarchy and an oppressor or if he had a sense of humor. The answer was both.
Mr. Patriarch prefers to keep his real identity anonymous, but told me he works a normal job while attending school, doesn’t discuss his beliefs much with his parents, and was dating another prominent white nationalist voice. He set up his Twitter account in order to spread his message and connect with other people who shared similar beliefs.
His beliefs are a combination of reactionary rage to inconsistent liberal logic and pure racism. He believes the mainstream media (MSM as it is called in his circles) is lying to the American people to perpetuate an agenda against western civilization.
If you’re like me, then this is the moment when you’re conspiracy theorist warning bells start chiming, but try and stay with me.
“We have been brainwashed to believe we’re all the same,” he said. “I believe everybody is equal, but never confuse that with sameness.”
What he means by this is that while he believes all people are equal, he does not think all people are the same, a reality he believes is ignored by the media and progressive movements as part of a conspiracy to villainize white males.
“They don’t care about ‘rape culture’ they care about ‘white male rape culture,’” he says. “They attack a fake western rape culture while importing and creating a real one.”
The real one he’s referring to is the one he believes is an unavoidable consequence of Islam. He is frustrated by liberal condemnation for, say, Christians who refuse to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, but vigorously defend of the rights of Muslims, whose religion also believes homosexuality is a sin.
He concludes, “the media don’t say a word unless they can blame white people.”
The root of all of these problems in Mr. Patriarch’s view is multiculturalism.
“Diversity and multiculturalism will never, and has never, worked. Along with its main goal [of] acceptance and promotion of multiple cultures and religions in one society,” he says, “it also brings with it a complete disdain and hatred of western culture.”
I think our tendency as people who would probably like to think of ourselves as moral beings is to write Mr. Patriarch off. He’s racist, sexist and full of conspiracy theories, and for many even talking with him about these beliefs is tantamount to endorsing them. We’d prefer to ignore him completely.
What good this does is unclear. The only moral purpose it serves is maintaining our carefully constructed images of ourselves as people of justice, progress, tolerance and acceptance.
When I told my editor at Literally, Darling I wanted to write a story about conversations I’d been having with a white nationalist, she told me she thought it would be a good idea, but wanted to be careful that we didn’t “normalize” him. I understood this to mean she wanted to make it clear nobody at Literally, Darling supported or condoned Mr. Patriarch’s views (we don’t).
But I’m not really sure what we mean when we use the term “normalize.” By acknowledging the existence of beliefs that we find abhorrent, do we normalize them? Does ignoring their existence make them any less normal? Any less real or prevalent?
Like it or not, Mr. Patriarch is a human being. Like you. Like me. And whether we acknowledge his existence or not, he still lives in our country. Ignoring the beliefs we deem offensive and wrong doesn’t make them go away. It just makes us ignorant.
What surprised me the most about Mr. Patriarch’s views is how easy it was for me to follow his logic. He used carefully selected evidence to support his claims–which is the same thing I attempt to do when forming my own worldview.
I don’t think that the way to change Mr. Patriarch’s mind, then, is to assume he is unintelligent, ignore his existence or call him names. I think it’s to respond in kind and present a worldview built on facts and evidence that reaches a radically different conclusion. The evidence he has used to reach these conclusions is not untrue, but it is incomplete and doesn’t take into account all factors.
His beliefs can be boiled down to the idea that “we are not supposed to mix.” Right now the message I’m hearing from all sides sounds a lot like that. Shun, separate, ignore. Do not associate with those whose existence is inconvenient for your moral values.
“If someone is curious about my views I’ll happily tell them,” Mr. Patriarch said.
He said he doesn’t often have the chance to share his views with people who disagree with them because they are unable to answer the questions he has and adequately engage with him.
One thing that struck me during my conversations with Mr. Patriarch–conversations where I asked a lot of questions and he supplied thorough answers–is that I didn’t feel the freedom to do that with my friends who call themselves liberal. In those circles, it is assumed that everyone is on the same page. There are words you don’t say, questions you don’t ask, things that are supposed to be understood.
Before the election, Mr. Patriarch said he thought we were about to see a huge change.
“White people are [being] pushed to the absolute brink,” he said. “White people will…stop caring about being called ‘racist’ or ‘nazis.’ They’ll see those words for what they really are…just words.”
I checked in with him after the election and found him tweeting as @MrPatriarch2 because his original account had been suspended. He was surprised that Clinton lost and was cautiously optimistic about Trump’s presidency. He also had some thoughts on how to unite the country.
“I think the best way to bridge a gap is making sure free speech gets the respect it deserves, stop censoring everything that is deemed offensive. Stop making feelings more important than facts & evidence. Let people come to their own conclusions.”
Again, he’s not wrong. Coming to conclusions based on facts and evidence, not feelings or personal associations is difficult and worthy work. My conversations with Mr. Patriarch only convinced me of how important it is to keep seeking understanding. We should not condone ignorance in others, but more importantly we should not condone it in ourselves. I cannot control Mr. Patriarch’s thoughts and worldview, but in attempting to understand them, I sharpen my own perspective so that hopefully, the next time I encounter someone like him I will have answers to his questions.