What is it these white boys are so angry about?
You don’t go to a protest because you’re happy. You go to a protest because you are mad about something or, in my case, because it is your job. I suppose I have been to something close to a hundred of them over the years.
I have also been the target of a couple. The idiot children of Yale protested a conference on freedom of speech at which I was speaking in 2015, part of a larger kerfuffle about Halloween costumes: A professor had criticized the university’s advice to avoid “cultural appropriation” as part of a larger trend toward transforming campuses into “places of censure and prohibition.” She was censured and, eventually, prohibited — pressured into resigning her job. The Yale kids were spitting mad, or at least a few of them were. I talked to a few future investment bankers after the conference, and, while they did not have any obvious sympathy for my political views, they were embarrassed by their fellow students. They rightly understood the protest to be a form of play-acting, a game of make-believe for young adults who should have grown out of it.
I was also the target of a years-long picket by Philadelphia Teamsters, who were displeased that I had been involved in starting a business in the city without their permission. We owned no vehicles and employed no drivers, but the Teamsters insisted that they were entitled to a generous contract nonetheless. But Teamsters are expensive — so expensive even the Teamsters can’t afford to use them, which is why the protest line outside my office was staffed by one lonely picket captain and a bunch of guys hired (at something less than union wages, I expect) from the local homeless shelter. I’d bring the Teamster boss coffee sometimes, and give him grief: “You know what’s nice about being protested by Teamsters?” I asked. “I know you’re going home at 4:15.” For a while, the Teamster picket ran up against a PETA picket targeting the Benetton across the street. PETA employed a much classier rent-a-mob.
Some protests are memorable: Occupy Wall Street, the New Delhi march of one of India’s several Communist parties that was said to have drawn something on the order of 1 million red partisans, Johnny Rotten greeting Republican National Convention protesters: “Hello, poor people.” But mostly they are tedious, instantly forgettable affairs. Often, about half of those attending look a little bit embarrassed to be there. That’s the smart half.
The other half . . .
It makes a little more sense if you know what the protesters want. A necessary precondition of that is their knowing what they want. I could have told you, to the dollar, what the Philadelphia Teamsters wanted from me. The Indian Communists publish their party manifestos to tell us what they want, PETA wants us to pretend that 40 pounds of beef is morally equal to 40 pounds of toddler, Yale kids want to scalp any white girl not named Elizabeth Warren who dresses up as Pocahontas for Halloween, Black Lives Matter wants less aggressive police procedures, the Libertarian party wants weed and porn and low taxes, the Puerto Rican independence movement wants Puerto Rico to move to independence.
What do these angry white boys in Virginia want?
There is some value in taking them at their word, or the 14 of them that make up the basic creed of the white-nationalist movement: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Well, all right. I suppose there are a few campus radicals who oppose the existence of white people, though so far as I can tell this is mainly rhetoric rather than a plan of action. The angry white boys talk about “white genocide,” a concept that is as conveniently vague and amorphous as “white privilege,” of which “white genocide” of course is only the rhetorical obverse. If they are outlandish in generality, they are muddy in specificity. They complain that white men are blamed for all of society’s troubles, that racial and ethnic pride is permitted to everyone except whites (no one has informed the Irish Americans of this), and that they are being “displaced” by immigrants.
A Charlottesville protester named Nicholas J. Fuentes, raging against the “rootless transnational elite,” vows: “You will not replace us.” I have reviewed the passenger manifest of the Mayflower, and there is not a single “Fuentes” to be found. Indeed, the rowdier white-power element in Texas, where I live, would very much like to see every man bearing the name “Fuentes” set down on the southerly side of a muddy little river that runs through Laredo. Peter Cvjetanovic, the 20-year-old rage-monkey bellowing in one of the now-famous photos of the tiki-Nazi procession in Virginia, complains: “I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.” One hopes not: “Cvjetanović” is a Croat name. Not a whole lot of Slavs on the Mayflower, either, and the originators of that swastika flag the angry white boys in Virginia like to fly would have put every Cvjetanović they could lay hands on in a camp, eventually. Benito Mussolini reported that he himself had been impressed by a protest against “Jugo-Slav” immigrants in Italy.
Fuentes? Cvjetanović? As Rachel Dolezal knows, white people just ain’t what they used to be.
What does an angry white boy really want?
“A girlfriend,” comes the mocking answer, and there’s probably more to that than mockery. The proprietor of one of the nation’s premier websites for neo-Nazi knuckleheads advised his colleagues in Charlottesville that, after the protest — which included a murder — “random girls will want to have sex with you.” I ran this proposition past a few random girls, and I suspect that the apfelstrudelführers are going to go home disappointed. There are many shades of white, and Mom’s-basement white is the least popular crayon in the box.
Of course we should mock them, criticize them, lament them, and, in the case of James Alex Fields Jr., the trust-funder from Ohio charged in the death of Heather Heyer, prosecute them. What does James Alex Fields Jr. want? A transcript of a 911 call from his mother describes him beating her after she told him to stop playing a particular video game. She is disabled and uses a wheelchair. That wasn’t the only 911 call she made in fear of her son.
The angry white boys do not have a serious political agenda.
The angry white boys do not have a serious political agenda. They don’t have any straightforward demands like the Teamsters or PETA do, and they do not have a well-developed ideological position like the Communists do, though it would be inaccurate to say that they lack an ideology entirely. Their agenda is their anger, an anger that is difficult to understand. Middle-class white men in the United States of America in anno Domini 2017 have their problems, to be sure. Life is full of little disappointments. But their motive is not to be found in their exterior circumstances, which are pretty good.
Maybe too good: A great many of these young men have an interest in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary sociology — they like to think of themselves as “alpha males,” as though they were living in a chimpanzee troop — but it never occurs to them to consider their own status as rejects and failed men in that context. Online fantasy lives notwithstanding, random girls do not want to have sex with them. How do we know this? Because they are carrying tiki torches in a giant dork parade in Charlottesville. There’s no prom queen waiting at home. If we credit their own sociobiological model, they are the superfluous males who would have been discarded, along with their genetic material, by the pitiless state of nature. The fantasy of proving that they are something else is why they dream of violence and confrontation. They are the products of the soft liberal-democratic society they hold in contempt — and upon which they depend, utterly. James Alex Fields Jr. is angry at the world, and angry at his mother, probably for the same reason.
What does an angry white boy want? The fact that they get together to play dress-up — to engage in a large and sometimes murderous game of cowboys and Indians — may give us our answer. They want to be someone other than who they are. That’s the great irony of identity politics: They seek identity in the tribe because they are failed individuals. They are a chain composed exclusively of weak links. What they are engaged in isn’t politics, but theater: play-acting in the hopes of achieving catharsis. Their online personas — knights, Vikings, reincarnations of Charles Martel — will be familiar enough to anybody with a Dungeons and Dragons nerd in his life. But sometimes, role-playing around a card table isn’t enough: Sometimes, you need a stage and an audience. In the theater, actors and audience both can forget ourselves for an hour or two. Under the soft glow of the tiki torches, these angry white boys can be something else — for a night.
In the morning, they wake up with the same faces. And there is something in the faces. James Alex Fields Jr. has more than a little whiff of Dylann Roof about him, and we know what Dylann Roof wanted: to murder black people. Sometimes, it is worth taking angry white boys at their word.
Two Blocks from the Culture War
— Kevin D. Williamson is the roving correspondent for National Review.