The Allure of Counter-Culture: Understanding the Fascination with Fascism Among Young White Men

A Growing Concern

Have you ever wondered why some young white men are drawn to far-right ideologies like fascism?

[CREDIT: Midjourney – a minimalist representation of young white men’s fascination with fascism in shades of gray –ar 16:9–]

In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the rise of these ideologies, particularly among this demographic. In 2021, The Guardian opined that America had entered “fascism’s legal phase.” Fascism, with its strong emphasis on nationalism, authoritarianism, and traditionalism, has found a new foothold. One possible explanation for this trend is that fascism represents a counter-culture movement that appeals to those who already benefit from existing social structures. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the fascination with fascism among young white men and how it functions as a counter-culture for them, using hypothetical examples to illustrate each main point.

The Appeal of Counter-Culture: Seeking Identity and Rebellion

[CREDIT: Midjourney – “a group of angry young white men participating in a counter-culture protest on a busy street filled with tear gas smoke, Hyperrealistic Photography (wide-angle lens 35mm), shot at a distance –ar 16:9 -]

Counter-culture movements have long attracted individuals who feel alienated or disillusioned with mainstream society. These movements often provide a sense of belonging and identity to those who feel marginalized or disconnected. 

For example, imagine a young white man named Jack who enjoys a comfortable middle-class life. Jack might feel bored and restless with the status quo, seeking out counter-culture movements as a way to assert his individuality and differentiate himself from the mainstream.

For young white men like Jack, embracing fascism can be seen as a rebellious act against the dominant liberal and progressive values that permeate contemporary Western societies. Fascism offers an alternative worldview, one that prioritizes strength, order, and traditional gender roles.

If Jack feels he has been denied his place in the economic order, fascism tells him it is because the weak people have stolen it from him.

If Jack wonders who the weak people are, fascism will tell him that it is everyone who is not like him.

In this sense, it serves as a counter-culture that provides an attractive alternative to the perceived weaknesses and chaos of a more modern, inclusive society where Jack is no longer provided an advantageous position by virtue of his gender and skin color. Jack might find the fascist ideology appealing because it allows him to challenge mainstream values and feel a sense of power and control.

The Danger Inherent in Rising Fascist Movements

[CREDIT: Midjourney – “a minimalist representation of “a young white man rejects liberalism and embraces fascism” in blue, gray, and red –ar 16:9″]

In 2018, The Center for Strategic and International Studies released a report noting a troubling increase in successful recruitment among a wide range of far-right organizations. The report clearly noted that “right-wing extremism in the United States appears to be growing.” Despite warnings which followed the release of the report, the US Federal government under the Trump administration took no real action to stem the tide.

In the wake of the January 6th Insurrection in Washington, DC, the United States was forced to reckon with the real consequences of allowing the unfettered growth of nascent fascist movements.

In an analysis of the events of the day for the UCLA Luskin School for History and Policy, David Myers made the case that that the behavior of the participants, including military veterans and law enforcement officers, as well as the tactics used, such as vilifying political enemies and using violence to achieve political goals, are reminiscent of fascist and totalitarian movements.

“This kind of rage-filled violence, at once directed at and yet instigated by the political establishment, calls to mind a different historical setting at a remove from American shores.  In the aftermath of the First World War, there was an explosive clash between forces of revolutionary, messianic hope and reactionary nationalist despair in the nascent Weimar Republic.” 

David Myers, UCLA Luskin School for History and Policy

The Role of Social Media and Online Communities: Amplifying Ideologies

[CREDIT: Midjourney – a minimalist representation of the spread of extremist ideologies on social media in orange, black, and turquoise –ar 16:9]

The internet, particularly social media, has played a significant role in spreading fascist ideology among young white men. Online forums and social media platforms provide a space for like-minded individuals like Jack to connect and share their beliefs, creating echo chambers that reinforce and amplify their ideas. These platforms also provide a sense of anonymity, allowing young white men to explore and embrace extremist ideologies without fear of social repercussions. In Jack’s case, he may stumble upon a far-right forum where he finds camaraderie and validation for his beliefs, further entrenching him in the ideology.

Luke Munn explores the nature of the phenomenon in “Alt-Right Pipeline: Individual Journeys to Extremism Online.” In his research, he arrives at the conclusion that the alt-right pipeline is a process by which individuals gradually become radicalized by exposure to alt-right content on platforms like YouTube. This process involves a series of micro-nudges, each more extreme than the last, which ultimately shift a person’s beliefs from centrist to far-right. The pipeline is fueled by algorithmic recommendation systems that privilege certain content, and users are steered towards increasingly extremist content over time. This process is not limited to YouTube, but can bridge multiple sites and platforms to create a dense ecosystem of online environments that contribute to a person’s radicalization.

The Desire for Identity and Belonging: Seeking Stability in a Changing World

[CREDIT: Midjourney – “a minimalist representation of a teenager playing video games in orange, black, and turquoise –ar 16:9”]

Another factor contributing to the appeal of fascism among young white men is the desire for a strong sense of identity and belonging. In a world where traditional roles and identities are increasingly blurred, the clear-cut hierarchies and structures offered by fascist ideologies can provide a sense of stability and certainty.

For instance, Jack may feel lost and unsure of his place in society as gender roles and expectations evolve. The fascist ideology’s emphasis on traditional gender roles and hierarchies could give him stability and purpose. Furthermore, the us-versus-them mentality fostered by fascist beliefs can create a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose among its adherents, like Jack and his online friends.

In a February 2023 interview with Sunday Paper’s Meghann Rabbitt, Brookings Institute Scholar Richard Reeves talked about the crisis of spirit among American men of all ages.

In the interview, he states very clearly that “During the last few decades—a time when women have made major strides when it comes to gender equality—boys and men have struggled.” He goes on to suggest that the solution to this is to redefine the cultural model of what masculinity looks like and to understand that “Men are sensitive to the environment, and more in need of clearly articulated roles than women at this moment in time.”

Addressing the Root Causes and Fostering a Harmonious Future

[CREDIT: Midjourney – a minimalist representation of people from diverse backgrounds coming together in a spirit of unity and understanding in orange, black, and turquoise –ar 16:9]

The fascination with fascism among young white men can be attributed to several factors, including the allure of counter-culture movements, the role of social media in spreading extremist ideologies, and the desire for identity and belonging, as illustrated through the hypothetical example of Jack. It is essential to recognize and understand these motivations to effectively address the spread of far-right ideologies and promote a more inclusive and tolerant society.

To counteract this trend, creating safe spaces for dialogue and understanding is crucial, providing alternative sources of identity and belonging and promoting critical thinking and media literacy among young people. By addressing the root causes of this fascination with fascism, society can work towards fostering a more inclusive and harmonious future.

In summary, understanding the reasons behind the fascination with fascism among young white men and addressing the underlying causes can help society work towards a more inclusive and harmonious future. Through education, dialogue, and fostering a sense of identity and belonging that transcends extremist ideologies, we can create a world where all people can live in peace and mutual respect.

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