Extremism-fluid: The neo-Nazi-to-trans pipeline
"Hate groups prey on people who feel like outsiders or that they don't belong."
The other day, I was talking to a friend about people—men in particular—going from neo-Nazis to transgender activists and he quipped: "What is the pipeline? The neo-Nazi becomes tired of being unpopular but still wants to be in a hate group?"
It’s a thing I’ve observed online and in real life. So what might be going on here?
When these Redditors talk about the allure of neo-Nazism, white supremacism, and the alt-right, they talk about being recruited online based on personality and life-situation factors like being young, frustrated, misfit, desperate to belong, confused, insecure, and too online. There’s a lot of insight here. They just don’t extend this insight from their dark pasts to their dark presents. In fact, now they see themselves as reformed. They believe they’ve left all that in the past.
But how did these young people come to the ‘saving’ realization that they were really trans? They were recruited. Online. Based on the very same personality and life-situation factors. Often in the same online spaces. By the same radicalizing algorithms. To participate in the same kinds of antisocial behavior and aggression.
Only the cause is different. The participants, recruitment methods, vulnerability factors, appeal, and behaviors are the same.
In other words, it sure looks like Hoffer was right when he observed what we could call the “fluidity” that so often goes along with fanaticism. It's easy for an extremist of one stripe to become an extremist of another type. The belief system on behalf of which they take an extremist stance is always secondary to the pull of extremism itself. More important that the belief system is the opportunity an extremist movement presents to vent hatred and channel self-contempt, as Hoffer observed:
The real question is what young people need to break up with fanaticism and extremism altogether, not how to get them to shift from one form of extremism to another, more fashionable one.