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How the alt-Right got stuck in The Matrix To better understand the extremists, you need to look at their cultural references

November 22, 2018   6 mins

For the first time since the Second World War, a variant of fascism has a substantial and growing following in the West. Too disparate to call itself a movement in the traditional sense, the so-called alt-Right is nevertheless a potent online presence.

As its influence spreads, so too does its vocabulary. You can see it all over social media. There are Alphas, Betas, Cucks; there are those who have been “Red-Pilled”, as well as those who live in a state of blissful ignorance, asleep to the civilisational threats the alt-Right is fixated on.

The terms aren’t their own. They’ve been borrowed from popular culture, from films or books that have  struck a chord with converts to the cause. There’s something about these works that speaks to those who wish to upend liberal democracy, who feel shut out of the mainstream. Their concepts empower and embolden those on the political fringes. I think if we can understand that attraction, we can better guard against it. Here are their top three primary sources.


Brave New World

At first glance, Aldous Huxley’s 1931 dystopia is the average alt-Righter’s worst nightmare. Dystopias are unpleasant – that’s sort of the point – but Brave New World, in particular, encapsulates some of the alt-Right deepest fears. Inhabitants of Huxley’s futuristic world state – the very concept a rejoinder to nationalism – enjoy a level of sexual freedom at odds with the moralising traditionalist doctrines of the alt-Right. There is even erotic play between children – encouraged by the state – that would disturb the sensibilities of the far-Right, which, even more than your average man on the street, has historically been obsessed with unearthing paedophiles.

The docility of the populace in Huxley’s World State is maintained through a diet of consumerism and regular doses of Soma, an anti-anxiety, hallucinogenic drug of which “one cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments”. The drug is said to contain “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol” but with “none of the defects”. It is the opium of the people in a literal sense.

A blissed-out population too dull and stupid to see what is being done in its name is a recurring theme on the political extremes. Even George Orwell, the supposed champion of the ‘common man’, had his ‘proles’ purring away in stupid contentment to the ditties turned out by the Stalinist ruling class in Nineteen Eighty-Four. “He really did believe that capitalism controls the ‘proles’… not by physical oppression, but by bread and circuses,” wrote Orwell’s biographer Bernard Crick.

But at the same time Brave New World embodies several favoured alt-Right dictums. For a start, the World State’s motto is the distinctly fascistic Community, Identity, Stability. There is no impetus toward equality – something the alt-Right views as anathema to the “hierarchy of competence”, as Canadian professor Jordon Peterson calls it – but instead there is a rigid caste system, in which citizens are hatched in a “social predestination room” in order to fill specific social roles. People are trained not only to accept their inescapable social destiny, but to rejoice in it. There are those at the top of the food chain, and there are those languishing at the bottom. Each is indoctrinated to accept his or her allotted role.

Through its depiction of strict social hierarchies (though in the book class gradients originate in the laboratory rather than from nature) Brave New World is where the alt-Right takes some of its favourite terms. This includes its labels for men who are said to be naturally superior – “alpha males” – and those who are subservient to them – “betas”. In other words, the world is divided along rigid hierarchical lines to the extent that fixed hierarchies exist within fixed hierarchies. Richard Spencer, an alt-Right figurehead who hopes to turn the United States into a white ‘ethno-state’, told Rolling Stone last year that women gravitated to the alt-Right in order to find partners with “alpha genes” and “alpha sperm”.

Key terms: Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, Epsilons, Soma, World State.


The Matrix

“The Matrix is a system… That system is our enemy… You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

The Matrix features lots of pseudo-profound monologues like this. The inhabitants of The Matrix are not ready to be ‘unplugged’, just as the inhabitants of Huxley’s World State are not ready to be weaned off the drug Soma. The populace is asleep, and it is the job of a band of revolutionaries – or counter-revolutionaries in the case of the alt-Right – to wake them up to what is really going on.

Neo, The Matrix’s nerdy protagonist, is offered a Red Pill as a gateway out of The Matrix by rebel leader Morpheus. If he takes the pill, he can escape the computer simulation in which most of humanity lives, but in the process he must confront a truth that is much harsher than the comforting illusion most people take for granted. On swallowing the Red Pill, Neo can never return to his prior state of ignorance. In other words, he can never un-learn the things he is about to see.

The Alt-Right love to use the Blue Pill/ Red Pill metaphors – the Blue Pill is the existing state of blissful ignorance – to describe when a person converts to their nationalist worldview.

It’s a favourite trope, too, for anti-feminists, INCELs and PUAs. For them all, to be ‘red-pilled’ is to be suddenly awakened to a vast conspiracy propagated by women, minorities and ‘cultural Marxists’ against white men.

Alt-right misanthropy also emphasises the way the masses are trained to enjoy the bondage of the simulated world they inhabit, in the manner of consumerism. “Ignorance is bliss,” says a character named Cypher as he relishes a juicy steak that he knows is not real.

This, for the extremists, is a metaphor for humanity’s plight under consumer capitalism. We pump ourselves full of synthetic food and we passively imbibe a diet of ‘info-tainment’ and ‘fake news’ from the hated ‘MSM’ (mainstream media). Yet because ignorance is bliss, most of us are unwilling to snap out of this walking daze.

Key terms: Red pill, blue pill.


The Lord of the Rings

J R RTolkien is one of the alt-Right’s favourite authors. Poor Tolkien; he spoke out against the fascism of his day. However, his antipathy to 20th-century totalitarianism – he called Hitler a “ruddy little ignoramus” – was a rejection not only of fascism’s barbarism but also of its peculiar modernity. The central tenets of Tolkien’s stories are hierarchy, tradition, loyalty, agrarianism and clan loyalty. Thus Tolkien’s work captures several ultra-traditionalist themes that find favour on the alt-Right.

In the Lord of the Rings, an ultra-conservative and bucolic social order is threatened by Orcs, who reside in squalor and poverty. More broadly, the story hinges on worship of the past. A rigid social structure was once presided over by kings, wizards and an elite of Elves. However this social structure is constantly threatened by hordes of foreign and grotesque invaders from the lower orders. The story is one of degeneration, but also of violent cleansing and potential rebirth through the restoration of lost ideals (sound familiar?).

Steve Bannon, ideological foot soldier of the alt-Right, is fond of making references to the Lord of the Rings. “The Hobbits are going door to door in the shire, and they’re getting everybody out,” Bannon said of the campaign last year to elect Roy Moore as the Alabama Senatorial candidate. In a similar vein, NRA spokesperson and conservative radio host Dana Loesch said that Moore had “pushed back against the forces of secularism and he said, just like in Lord of the Rings, ‘You shall not pass’”. She also called Moore the “Gandalf of Alabama”.

Stories which posit a lost golden age are highly attractive to the adherents of extreme and millenarian ideologies. For the Nazis there was the Volk, an imagined community in which German landowners and peasants had supposedly lived in an organic ‘people’s community’. For the Bolsheviks, before capitalism and feudalism men and women had lived under ‘primitive communism’. In the Lord of the Rings, the plot hinges on the restoration of a feudal structure where authority is worshipped and an absolute ruler wields that authority on the basis of blood-line. No wonder, then, that LotR finds favour on the alt-Right.

Key terms: Middle Earth, the Shire, Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Wizards, Orcs, Gandalf the White.



There are certain universal truths contained in these three stories. Ones which you might accept regardless of where you are on the political spectrum. Consumerism can occasionally act as an unhealthy substitute for a life of meaning. As a society we often reach for drugs and medication (Soma) instead of dealing with the root causes of our alienation. Societies also tend to perpetuate convenient myths for the sake of social harmony (the blue pill), even when the premises on which these myths are built are suspect.

But swallowing such themes tout court is the mark of a conspiracy theorist. We do not live a vast computer simulation ala The Matrix. Nor are human beings rendered entirely passive by a diet of consumerism as they are with Soma in Brave New World. But something close to these beliefs do exist on the alt-Right, where reality itself is an imposition, behind which stands a sinister and powerful cast of manipulators and puppeteers. Tear away the illusions, the alt-Right tell us, and you will finally grasp the awful truth.

It is a seductive idea, but one that is closer to fiction than hard reality. On a moral level, we ought to deplore those who decide to join the alt-Right, a racist and misogynist movement that wishes to burn pluralism and tolerance to the ground. On a practical level, we should ask ourselves why so many young men are in a place where they are attracted to literal interpretations of dystopian fiction over liberal democracy.

James Bloodworth is a journalist and author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain, which was longlisted for the Orwell Prize 2019.


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