Last month, an academic-looking paper titled “The Silicon Ideology” was uploaded to the Internet Archive. It is only 20 pages long, and has the generous margins of an academic journal, but it manages to fit one of the best histories of the neoreactionaries and the alt-right ever written into those pages.
For the uninitiated, the alt-right is a loose coalition of self-described racists, Dark Enlightenment adherents, and ardent social conservatives. They’re a broadly regressive group of angry far-right ideologues who are active largely on, but also off, the internet. You have almost certainly run into them in comments sections.
The essay, which takes its name from “The Californian Ideology,” a 1995 critique of the 90s Silicon Valley culture, starts off with a fine but pretty skippable exegesis of various theories of fascism from the 20th century before diving into a cogent analysis of the rise of the alt-right online. While others have mistakenly cited the movement’s birthplace as the Gamergate movement, this essay traces it back to privatization-friendly changes in hacker communities in the 70s and 80s, as well as cultural influences of the 90s and 2000s, such as the Matrix, with its message that one needs to take a red pill to see the world as it really is. For the members of the alt-right, their community is the red pill.
The author of the essay is Josephine Armistead. Armistead has been impossible to get in touch with. She has virtually no internet presence. This is because the name is a pseudonym. As far as I can tell the only person who’s had some sort of contact with Armistead is Sam Keeper, a blogger who posted a download link for the piece on Tumblr on May 18.
“I was sent this by a blogger who shall remain pseudonymous (because let’s be real these are some nasty people to tangle with),” Keeper wrote. Keeper has not responded to multiple emails.
Keeper praises her for realizing that starting with Gamergate is “too recent to really be a historical account of the roots of Neoreaction.” That’s absolutely right, and something many journalistic accounts (including my own) have probably done a poor job of getting across. Gamergate was a major emergence point for neoreactionary groups, but it wasn’t when they were created.
Armistead calls the neoreactionary movement a neo-fascist movement. She suggests that the political and ideological battles of the 80s and 90s over welfare reform and a resurgence of pseudoscientific works such as The Bell Curve set the stage for a resentful, neo-fascist movement that spread and grew online. She links the largely pseudonymous and anonymous alt-right with the presidential candidate Donald Trump (whom they love) as well as tech moguls like Peter Thiel, when it comes to issues like democracy (it’s bad) and money (it’s good).
Of course, the online alt-right receives its own section. The Silicon Ideology quickly and deftly lays out how 4chan, with its low moderation ways, allowed for white supremacists who were already active on the internet to take over, and how Gamergate galvanized these groups into doxxing, harassment, and other action.
The article, which is a piece of well-researched polemic dressed up as academic writing, closes with suggestions for action. Armistead suggests outing anonymous alt-right actors and spreading information about them online. If this sounds distasteful, it’s worth pointing out she’s talking about revealing the names of people who carry out racist and sexist harassment campaigns. And to her credit, this has worked with online trolls in the past.
Of course, what bugs me about all this is that we still don’t know much of anything about Armistead! Is she legit? Is this really how she feels? Is this a way to try and troll journalists like me? (I hope not.) It’s hard to say, since we can’t get a full feel for her argument until we know more about her and her motivations.
But in the meantime, it’s worth reading as an apparently thoughtful primer, and because it’s important to talk more about how online movements that share ideological ground with major politicians and tech luminaries are sometimes openly fascistic.
And if you’re Josephine Armistead and happen to be reading this, please do get in touch.