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On Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, and the Question of “Does Gamergate Have Anything to Do With Trump?”

steven-bannon-of-breitbart

We don’t make a habit of mentioning a publication called Breitbart around here at The Mary Sue. Even writing the word “Breitbart,” let alone the word “Gamergate,” can be enough to bring on belittling and disgusting comments. And here I am, putting both of those words in a headline! How dare I!

Apparently, we have to do that now, because this is the path that the United States has chosen to take. Or, more accurately, this is the path that the GOP forced the country to take, thanks to their voter suppression efforts, among other things—but I digress. We have to talk about Breitbart, and specifically, we have to talk about Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart, because President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Bannon to be his chief strategist.

Just in case any of the people who are going to leave a “stop being such a sore loser” comment on this story are still reading this, which I doubt, let’s talk statistics. It is definitely true that systemic racism, and other forms of bigotry, are baked into American culture in a variety of ways that led to Trump’s win. But let’s also not forget that the majority of the country did not elect him. 19% of the country voted for him. That’s it.

Specifically, 60,530,867 people voted for him (via CNN), out of a total United States population of 324,118,787. That population includes people who are under 18 and therefore cannot vote legally, but I remember how angry I felt in high school when I watched George W. Bush get elected, so I’m happy to include Americans under the age of 18 in the count of people who didn’t vote for Trump. Because, well, they didn’t—and his policies will affect their lives, too!

Anyway, if you divide those numbers, you’ll find that 18.6% of Americans voted for Trump, or 19%, if we want to round up. Meanwhile, 18.9% of Americans voted for Clinton. 62.4% of the American population did not vote for either one of them, either because they were under 18, or because they voted for somebody else (which represents about 7%, according to Heavy), or they didn’t vote at all… or couldn’t vote, again thanks to voter suppression.

It’s important to remember that Trump voters don’t necessarily represent the majority. They instead represent an increasingly powerful minority of extremist bigoted people in our country. There are indeed Trump voters who claim to not be bigots, and who will argue that they don’t support bigotry, and that we should “give Trump a chance,” and that they voted for Trump because he’s an “outsider” and they wanted an “anti-establishment” candidate. But those particularly Trump voters are going to have an increasingly difficult time justifying their stance going forward, because Trump’s choices for his transition team have already reflected the same bigoted promises he made on the campaign trail.

Any Trump voter who scoffs that Trump was merely “exaggerating” in those campaign promises need only look to staff appointments like Stephen Bannon. If I wanted to stick to euphemistic language today, I would say that the Breitbart News Network is an example of an “extremist conservative” website, or perhaps that it is an example of the “alt-right,” which is a phrase that you’ve probably heard a lot in the past few years. Let’s define it more explicitly, shall we?

The “alt-right” is all about racism. The Anti-Defamation League defines the “alt-right” as follows: “This vague term actually encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy.”

Luckily, some White House staffers do know about Bannon’s bigoted views. The Guardian reports that US House minority leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Trump tapping Bannon: “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump administration.”

Meanwhile, Good has a round-up of quotes from Bannon about white nationalism and anti-semitism, including a quote where he admits that the “alt-right” attracts people with those views and does not condemn or exclude those views. In Bannon’s words: “Are there racist people involved in the alt-right? Absolutely. Look, are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the alt-right? Maybe. Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe. Right?” …… Right.

As for how Breitbart can manage to be both anti-Semitic while also being staunchly pro-Israel, Naomi Zeveloff of Forward has a lengthy article today explaining how those two ideologies often work in tandem. The story quotes Todd Gitlin, the Columbia University sociologist, who put it this way: “Anti-Semitism and right-wing Zionism are varieties of ultra nationalism, or, to put it more pejoratively (as it deserves to be put) tribalism. They both presume that the embattled righteous ones need to bristle at, wall off, and punish the damned outsiders. They hate and fear cosmopolitan mixtures. They make a fetish of purity. They have the same soul. They rhyme.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has pointed out that Breitbart’s news coverage makes use of “racist,” “anti-Muslim” and “anti-immigrant ideas.” Breitbart also appears on this list of “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical ‘News’ Sources” compiled by Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of Communication at Merrimack College, who created the list as a resource for her communications students. Yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke out against Bannon’s appointment in further detail, citing further evidence of his history with bigotry and white nationalism.

Around here at The Mary Sue, we are all unfortunately familiar with “alt-right” ideologies like these, and we’re also familiar with Breitbart. Again, Trump voters only represent 19% of America, and the extremist and proudly racist contingent of Trump voters is part of that 19%—a vocal and dangerous minority that now has power, and whose dangerous viewpoints will steer White House policy. The signs were there, though, because we have seen this flagrant bigotry in the most vile pockets of the internet, and now, those pockets feel safe airing those bigoted views in full light of day.

That is, unfortunately, why it did not seem so surprising for me to see that even young white people voted for Trump—not just older white people:

I’ve been speaking out against bigotry on the internet for a while now, and I’m very familiar with the response I’ve gotten. I’ve been personally attacked, by name, by Breitbart. You can Google that if you really want to, but be prepared to also see a whole lot of other MRAs and other “alt right” websites as well in the list of my detractors. These folks are very familiar with my work, and they super duper hate my writing and me, personally. They’re probably reading this right now. Hi, guys! Thanks for the pageview.

Bizarrely, the main reason why I’m so familiar with these “alt right” bigots is because I’ve spent a lot of my career writing about—wait for it—video games. Of all things. Here’s something fun to know about video games: they have continued to be a haven for white male power fantasies for decades. Some military shooters have been directly funded by the US military, and of course, the US military has also used Call of Duty 4 to entice today’s youth to enlist. There are plenty of super-popular, super-successful games that don’t necessarily have direct ties to the military, but which nonetheless embrace and enforce the tenets of neoconservatism and imperialism.

Those ideas are part of American culture, and they have been for… well, ever since our country was founded. But the extremist version of these views have reared up as a backlash to perceived gains in recent years, and that backlash has been reflected in video games, along with other media. Video games didn’t “cause” the rise of Trump and “alt-right” ideologies in America, but the media that we create and consume does say something about us and where we’re at as a culture … and the fantasies that we can’t seem to leave behind. What’s more, the defensiveness surrounding these games is just one of many, many symptoms that has indicated the larger problem, and the growing backlash.

So, there’s Gamergate, obviously. But there were a lot of other canaries that sputtered out in this deep, dark coal mine. I’ve written a lot about online harassment these past few years, which has been going on since the internet began (check out Sarah Jeong’s The Internet of Garbage for more on that lengthy history). But a lot of people didn’t seem to realize that online harassment was actually, y’know, a problem until 2014.

In August of 2014, the Ferguson protests began, and also, the beginnings of Gamergate began. Even though the media began to cover the rise and mobilization of online hate groups and “alt-right” groups during that time period, many journalists still had no idea what 4chan or 8chan even were, let alone how to cover them. The “alt-right” racist pockets of these types of sites, and the extremists who reared their ugliness on Twitter time and time again with no sign of stopping, were just more canaries in the coal mine of American culture. And sites like Breitbart legitimized and normalized those views, providing a place where Americans could read stories with white nationalist viewpoints and feel like they were justified in their beliefs.

Many people shrugged, baffled, at the rise and eventual legitimacy of these hate groups, with no realization that these extremist pockets could ever gain a stronghold in the White House. It seemed unimaginable then, particularly for people who don’t regularly see their Twitter mentions fill up with hatred and flagrant bigotry. Those are the people who, I assume, are “shocked” by the appeal of Trump, a candidate who is essentially a mega-rich Twitter troll. Is it any wonder that he’s their hero?

As I said at the start of this story, there are a whole lot of other factors—different symptoms, if you will—that eventually led to Trump becoming the President-elect. And, again, the majority of our country did not vote for him. The majority of our country does not support white supremacy, or Stephen Bannon, or Trump for that matter. But, over time, those racist ideologies have become increasingly normalized online, in pockets of the internet that none of us wanted to acknowledge. The parts of the internet that we all wanted to ignore, to forget, and to disregard as a “vocal minority” that doesn’t represent our country have entered the White House.

It may not feel “shocking” to me, anymore, but it does feel surreal. It’s a very Cassandra moment. Everyone who told me to just log off Twitter and that the hate speech there didn’t matter and would never affect “real life” … well, first of all, hate speech in any context does affect people’s “real lives.” But now, it’s also going to affect actual political policy here in the US. This is the worst possible way to be vindicated on that point.

If you live in the States, we recommend that you call your local representative to protest Bannon’s appointment. Click this link to figure out who to call. Maybe this time, our voices will be heard.

(Image via Karl Heubaum on Flickr)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).

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