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By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

How the Millennials of both sides are fueling violence and division online

Sept. 29, 2023

This morning, I saw on the local television newscast that a middle school nearby was evacuated and closed due to a credible threat of violence.

What happened over the last three days was too predictable: First, a few videos of (seemingly staged or premeditated) school fights leaked out to social media; second, a well-known far-right influencer reposted the videos along with unverified rumors (she insinuated, without any evidence or credible source, that they were videos of a "trans-identifying male" [sic] attacking girls unprovoked); then the videos went viral and the right-wing talking heads and "news" sites quickly picked up the story; then a nonstop inundation of nasty phone calls to the school and the school district office began, followed by several threats of violence, at least one of which was deemed credible enough for the school officials to shut the school for the day.

Stochastic terrorism and online incitement of hatred and violence by the Republicans and other conservatives have been on the rise since 2020. Once considered a near-exclusive domain of the leftist fringe such as the Black Blocs and the Antifa, uncivil behaviors such as rioting, bomb threats, vandalism, doxxing, and online trolling have become standard tactics for the MAGA crowd, of which the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has been the most egregious.

I was a left-wing political activist during the first two decades of this century. I became very active in the local activist scene, especially during the days of the Occupy movement. Back then, I was increasingly getting tired of the far-left extremism that festered within the movement and the organizing space. The "radicals" wanted to go "protest" every night and vandalize local small businesses. They wanted to protest for the sake of protesting, without offering any practical ideas to make our society a better place. They opposed and rejected electoral politics. They were extremely obsessed with identity politics and with labeling who are the "privileged" "oppressors" and who are the "oppressed." They explicitly wanted to divide and Balkanize society along racial, sexual, and class lines, supposedly for the sake of liberation and solidarity with the oppressed.

I was disillusioned by those Social Justice Warriors -- now called "Woke" -- who were never interested in finding common grounds that unite us as people and work towards common good for all. After all, I was a product of the 1980s and the 90s. There were certain things that were non-negotiable then, regardless of one's political or partisan tendencies. We generally held roughly similar ideals about freedom, human rights, peace, equality, and justice, even though there were diverging ideas about how to attain them. Although there were heated disagreements between the Democrats and the Republicans, they never called the President of the United States "illegitimate" or "a fascist" until 2000. We were concerned about what "the other party" was doing, but we did not fear them as though their victory meant an existential crisis. For the most part, the Republicans and the Democrats used to agree on practically everything 9 out of 10 times, even though some details differed.

Lately, I am amazed by how all this has been mirrored by the far right. Some of them even openly admit that they stole the far-left organizing and activist tactics, even crediting Saul Alinsky. Even a generation ago, this was simply considered unacceptable by most Republicans, as they valued traditional civility and discourse, and the sort of antics exhibited by today's far-right would be considered beneath the dignity of Conservatism.

But come to think of it, the demographic that is now dominating the online far-right spaces (think of Charlie Kirk, Matt Walsh, Michael Knowles, Chaya Raichik, Allie Beth Stuckey) are largely Millennials. They are digital natives who grew up with the same Web 2.0 as the Progressives of their age. And many of the angry Moms for Liberty types are without doubt in their late 20s and 30s today, very likely exposed to the Social Justice Warrior-type activism in their youth (and many of them probably were part of it, before they were disillusioned with the SJWs).

And yet, they also rose to the current state of popularity thanks to a constellation of opportunities they could conveniently exploit: COVID-related government policies and the emerging coronafascism and religion-like adherence to masks and vaccines among the liberals, public school teaching of critical race theory and transgender activism, and seemingly endless Black Lives Matter riots in major cities that lasted for at least a month. Looking back three and a half years ago, they seemed irrational and excessive even to me, and for several months, even I supported conservative groups that tried to help small businesses reopen and churches exercise what they saw as inalienable freedom of religion.

And the forced isolation and dependence on the Internet during those days only made the situation worse. While online platforms made record profits during the lockdown, their algorithms amplified hate speech and polarizing extremist content. The nation is more divided than ever before, even though Donald Trump no longer has the world's greatest megaphone. No one wants to make compromises these days. Older generations understood that politics is an art of compromise, and in a democratic society, no one gets everything they want.

America is in a spiritual crisis, more than it is in a mere political crisis. I used to think there may be a simple political solution to this, but not anymore. It requires a fundamental and population-level shift in spiritual consciousness, or as I might call it as a former Baptist and a former Pentecostal, a Revival -- a divine intervention and a mass transformation of souls. By this, I do not mean Christian Nationalism, theocracy, or Dominionism -- all of which are human political ideologies disguised as Christian theology; I mean something far more fundamental, at the level of the spirit, soul, and mind. Nothing less will break us free from this toxic spiral of division, mutual resentment and suspicions, enmity, and hatred.


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