The lost boys of the alt-right could define American politics for a generation

Can Owens, or anyone else, bring these young men into the political mainstream? To the unhappy forum dwellers who identified themselves as “beta males” and neets (“not in education, employment, or training”), what the alt-right offered was a revalorized masculinity, a sense of purpose, and a collective identity. Identity has become the coin of the realm in American culture, but one that’s not accessible to the heirs of white male hegemony. While everyone else was telling these young men to check their privilege, the alt-right was speaking powerfully to their Millennial woes—their diminished place in society, their dwindling economic prospects, their growing alienation. Asked recently what had attracted him to the far right, Frank Meeink, a former neo-Nazi, responded: “Just the belonging. Feeling like I was part of something.”

It is often said that the left won the culture war and the right won the economic war. From the point of view of angry young white men, however, neither side has scored any victories. A generation ago, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher championed the individual and the market, while liberals abandoned institutions like religion, national pride, even the nuclear family in favor of individual freedom. Together, right and left created a world in which a young person could invent his own identity and curate his own personal brand online, but also had dimmed hopes for enjoying what used to be considered the most basic elements of a decent life—marriage, a job, a house, a community. (Liberalism claimed that a village could raise a child, but never got around to building the village.)

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