Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy
There is the promise of Talia Lavin’s Culture Warlords and the reality of Culture Warlords. That is, the book is marketed as an investigative dive into the online world of white supremacy, infiltrating a wide variety of far-right groups and misogynistic collectives. As each chapter ended, however, I was left with only more questions. For a general audience, who is unfamiliar with online subcultures, the alt-right, and the white power movement more broadly, Culture Warlords may be just the acerbic text to further propel the reader to continue pulling back the layers of the white, patriarchal society that still pervades America today.
To those who study white power groups, white supremacists, and /or misogynistic trolls, the revelations revealed in Culture Warlords do not break any new ground, other than what has already been treaded on recently by other academics and journalists in much greater depth, such as Phillips (2015), Tenold (2018), Woods and Hahner (2019), Marantz (2020), and Vysotsky (2020). Furthermore, the Culture Warlords description suggests that the book will focus on the “dark web” of white supremacy; however, many of the virtual Aryan free spaces that Lavin visits are within the conventional search engines of the World Wide Web. Additionally, the chapters in Culture Warlords documenting Lavin’s physically attending the Minds IRL Conference and confronting far-right YouTubers, her participation with Antifa, and her infiltration into Reddit’s Incel communities, while being characteristically related to white supremacy, and buzzy in the news media, are tangential to the book’s premise, investigating white supremacy online — thus making the book feel disjointed and nebulous.
Notably absent from the book is any mention of the methodology employed by Lavin when infiltrating the various online forums, chat groups, social media platforms, and dating sites. As such, it makes it challenging to thoroughly evaluate the process that she employed in her data collection. Given the visceral toxicity of such “alt-tech” platforms (e.g., 4chan, 8kun, Telegram, Gab, etc.) many of the comments and examples included in Culture Warlords could be observed over a long weekend. Researching anonymous online communities are challenging to begin with, let alone when the subjects are shit-posters, trolls, and/or racists making it even more difficult knowing which posts and discussions are authentic and which are just posturing. It would have been extremely beneficial for Lavin to have discussed the process she employed so that future scholars and journalists who are interested in such endeavors would have some guidance on how to implement such an investigation.
All that said, Culture Warlords does provide a “sliver” of just how toxic anonymous online culture has become just within the last few years, with the vitriol, conspiracy theories, and misogyny pouring into mainstream society. Overall, Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy gives a cursory view into the white power movement’s ubiquitous presence online, and its rapid permeation into mainstream society.
Marantz, Andrew. Antisocial: Online extremists, techno-utopians, and the hijacking of the American conversation. Penguin Books, 2020.
Phillips, Whitney. This is why we can’t have nice things: Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. MIT Press, 2015.
Tenold, Vegas. Everything you love will burn: Inside the rebirth of white nationalism in America. Hachette, 2018.
Vysotsky, Stanislav. American Antifa: The tactics, culture, and practice of militant antifascism. Routledge, 2020.
Woods, Heather Suzanne, and Leslie Ann Hahner. Make America meme again: The rhetoric of the Alt-right. Peter Lang Publishing, Incorporated, 2019.
Matthew Valasik, Associate Professor of Sociology, Louisiana State University