Earlier this month, an assortment of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying Swastika flags and Tiki Torches, and allegedly chanted “Blood and Soil”, and “Jews will not replace us”. Heather D Heyer, a 32-year old paralegal, was murdered for opposing fascism.
What kind of response should this march provoke? Unqualified condemnation. Praise for those brave enough to risk their safety to oppose it. Legal repercussions for anyone who broke the law. Serious thinking about the reasons that people who despise other races feel that the environment is ripe for them to hold this kind of rally. Questions about the response of the President. All of these things are necessary and important.
But there was another response to this public demonstration of fascism, and one that has become a weirdly common weapon in the Twitterverse’s arsenal against anyone who is disapproved of. Instead of expressing horror at the racism and violence, some people jumped online to give their armchair psychoanalysis: these guys say and think horrible things because they are sweaty losers who are either virgins or can’t satisfy their partners. LBC presenter Stig Abell tweeted, referring to the marchers, “not one of these men is in a mutually satisfying sexual relationship.”
Other, similar tweets received hundreds of thousands of retweets. Similarly, in the Presidential election campaign last year, statues popped up in Manhattan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Seattle, depicting a naked Donald Trump with a tiny penis.
Most of the tweets in the aftermath of the rally were from the left, but ironically, this is a tactic straight from the playbook of the right (and alt-right), both in America and Britain. After the attack earlier this year in Manchester, President Trump branded the attackers as ‘evil losers’. Boris Johnson claimed that men who go off to fight for the Islamic State are “literally w**kers”, who turn to extremism when they are “rejected by women”, and are “obsessed with porn.”
There are a few reasons that this kind of response to fascism or terrorism is an undesirable one. When the immediate response to hearing about Neo-Nazi marches or the killing of innocent people is to construct a humiliating caricature of those involved, we undermine the actual faults of these people and the downplay the horror of their actions. Islamic terrorists aren’t worthy of our condemnation because they watch porn, they’re worthy of our condemnation because they murder children at a pop concert. Nazis aren’t odious because they’re not having sex, they’re odious because they hate people who aren’t white.
There’s another reason that the ‘loser narrative’ is undesirable: it’s baseless. There is, understandably, a tendency for people to find every way in which people they don’t approve of are unlike themselves. We take solace in the idea that we could never have these abhorrent views because we have friends and satisfying relationships, and we don’t sit in a dark room, face lit only by the screen of a laptop, and say horrible things about people who we’ve never met. But it’s not really true: fascists and the rest of the alt-right have families and friends. And to caricature them as losers makes it easier to fall down the rabbit hole. By being aware of the fact that there are people on the far-right who aren’t so different from ourselves, we can be more vigilant when we encounter far-right rhetoric and propaganda.
The most serious problem with the ‘loser narrative’ is that it increases the appeal of radical ideologies to people who are feeling alienated. On online alt-right message boards, people with normal social lives and satisfying relationships are resentfully known as ‘normies’. By calling these people losers, we play into their narrative, and advance the view that people who are isolated and unhappy will inevitably be the advocates of extremist positions. We make it easier for the alt-right to target people who are feeling despondent and frustrated, and those feelings are channelled into hatred and violence.
We have plenty of things we can say about those who marched in Charlottesville. Their views are vile and hateful. They are opposed by all compassionate and rational people. They, and their views, will be defeated, as they have been before. They may or may not be losers, but they are certainly racists, so why not say so?