Cul­ture War­lords: My Jour­ney Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy

  • Review
By – March 22, 2021

Talia Lavin begins her mas­ter­ful exam­i­na­tion of white suprema­cist cul­ture with a ref­er­ence to a famous New York­er car­toon of a dog sit­ting in an arm­chair by a com­put­er brag­ging: On the inter­net, no one knows you are a dog.” Through­out Cul­ture War­lords: My Jour­ney Into the Dark Web of White Suprema­cy, Lavin goes under­cov­er in an effort to bet­ter under­stand and expose the misog­y­ny, racism, and anti­semitism of the dark web. Lavin is suc­cess­ful in her endeav­our because the same anonymi­ty that allows hatred to spread on the inter­net means that she — a self-described curly-haired Jew­ish girl from Brook­lyn — can be any­one she wants when she enters a chat room.

Lavin assumes many iden­ti­ties through­out the book. In one chap­ter she is Ash­lynn, a a slen­der, petite blond huntress who’d grown up on a white-nation­al­ist com­pound in Iowa.” In anoth­er, she pos­es as Tom­my O’Hara, part of a cel­bate sect known as incels who believe that women have plot­ted against them in an effort to keep them vir­gins. Through these dif­fer­ent per­sonas, Lavin is able to endear her­self to a wide range of white supremic­st com­mu­ni­ties, earn­ing their trust and giv­ing them space to say the kind of things that only come out when they believe the out­side world is not listening.

The book is at once chill­ing and laugh-out-loud fun­ny. Lavin has an acer­bic wit and a mat­ter-of-fact writ­ing style; she doesn’t pull punch­es. As she enters into the dark cor­ners of the web, she reports what she sees, be it crude, grotesque, or just pain gross. How­ev­er, she doesn’t just report — she also ana­lyzes. Lavin is a care­ful com­men­ta­tor on the ide­olo­gies and trends of white suprema­cy. In one chap­ter, she turns a humor­ous anec­dote about a grudge match between groups of pagan and Chris­t­ian white suprem­cisits into an exam­i­na­tion of the themes that ani­mate their dis­pute: the rewrit­ing of his­to­ry, the rejec­tion of West­ern cul­ture, the embrace of folk­lore, and the desire to cre­ate cohort narratives.

Per­haps the great­est les­son one takes from Cul­ture War­lords is an under­scor­ing of Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s adage Injus­tice any­where is a threat to jus­tice every­where.” Though each of her chap­ters con­cen­trates on a dis­crete ele­ment of white suprem­cist cul­ture — anti­semitism, antipa­thy toward women, anti-immi­grant sen­ti­ment — the book as a whole con­veys a nuanced view of how each brand of hatred informs the oth­ers. While it can be fright­en­ing to read about how many peo­ple are tar­get­ed by white suprema­cist dis­cours­es, the book is hope­ful nonethe­less: Lavin demon­strates that tar­get­ed groups have the abil­i­ty to unite into a force that over­whelms their antagonists.

The book’s only real weak­ness is that after art­ful­ly diag­nos­ing the prob­lem, it does not offer many tan­gi­ble approach­es for how to deal with White suprema­cy. Lavin ends with two chap­ters on Antifa — a worth­while exam­i­na­tion and defense of the move­ment that nev­er­the­less leaves the read­er won­der­ing what oth­er tools exist that might be employed in the fight against hatred. Though not overt, Lavin does sub­tly mod­el for her read­ers one oth­er spe­cif­ic approach. She acknowl­edges that a key tool used by antifas­cists is dox­ing”: reveal­ing the names, loca­tions, and occu­pa­tions of known white suprema­cists. Cul­ture War­lords is filled with a myr­i­ad of names and descrip­tions, both of the per­pe­tra­tors of hatred and of the web plat­forms they use. By includ­ing these specifics, Lavin shows her read­ers that when we expose the peo­ple hid­ing behind the screen, they stop being sym­bols. We can then under­stand them as the flawed human beings they are, and quick­ly they become less dan­ger­ous and sig­nif­i­cant­ly less scary.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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