The other day, Paul Ramsey had an amusing take on Gavin McInnes dramatically quitting his fan club, the Proud Boys. Everyone is assuming this was in response to the FBI using the word “extremist” when describing the McInnes fan club in a bulletin they issued to the Portland Oregon police department. The assumption is that the FBI is now going to treat Proud Boys as a criminal organization or a terrorist group. McInnes is disavowing them in order to avoid legal guilt by association or any financial culpability stemming from lawsuits.
Maybe that’s what motivated McInnes, but the more likely answer is something I pointed out a year ago with him and other edgytarians. For right-wing edgytarians, the game is always to keep an eye on where the Left is drawing the line. To be edgy on the Right means always staying just inside that line. When the line moves, make sure you move with it, maybe do so reluctantly, while lecturing those to your Right about the need to play nice or be civil. A good discourse on principles and “who we are” always helps.
It is a tough life and many trip up and fall into the void. That’s what’s happening with McInnes and his fan club. Let’s not kid ourselves about the Proud Boys. It was never intended to be anything but a fan club for McInnes. He got the idea from hanging out with alt-right people in the run-up to the presidential election. He saw that guys like Mike Enoch and Richard Spencer had built an audience around a personal brand, so McInnes created what he thought was a mom-safe version for himself. Proud Boys is alt-right-lite.
Now, the assumption that the FBI is about to RICO the Proud Boys is way off base. The use of the term “extremist group” is meaningless. There is no such formal designation in the law or with the FBI. It is as meaningful as saying the Proud Boys are a drinking club or they like wearing polo shirts. The FBI is a corrupt and broken organization, but they are not about to RICO a TV clown’s fan club. The dramatic reading of his resignation was about getting inside that line again, so McInnes can keep his career alive.
It’s why it is always wise to think about the motivation of popular figures who dabble in dissident politics. A guy like McInnes is primarily a performer. He has spent his life feeling around for a vehicle that will get him a big audience. He’s tried edgy magazine writer, edgy polemicist, TV clown, YouTube clown, jokey political analyst, cheeky ad-man and now he is the hipster gadfly. His instincts, with regards to politics, are conventional white guy politics, but they have always been a a decoration for his performing career.
Another example is Stefan Molyneux, who built his career being a dramatic, somewhat edgy, anarcho-libertarian YouTube performer. His edginess was to flirt with things like biological realism, by posting available data on things like race, sex and IQ. Molyneux is a trained stage actor, who has developed an act that works well on YouTube. As soon as he got some heat from the Left, he has quickly retreated into generic libertarianism, which is completely safe, because it is completely harmless. The show must go on.
On the surface, the right-edgytarian feels like a good thing, because through humor (McInnes) and dramatic presentation (Molyneux) they can help normalize and popularize heretical ideas. Lots of alt-right people love Moly, because his videos are useful in making clever social media memes. The trouble is these guys can just as quickly vilify dissident ideas, when they are sprinting to catch up with the new line Lefty has drawn. Effectively what McInnes is doing is throwing his own fans into the gaping maw of Lefty outrage.
The trouble, of course, is that in an age of extreme intolerance, like we see today, the ideological enforcers are less tolerant of edgy clowns like McInnes than the serious dissidents. They see the edgy clowns as mocking their identity and that can never be tolerated, so they go after these otherwise harmless performers. It’s why a relatively safe performer like Molyneux gets mass reported and protested. The ideological enforcers know they are defending a dead and brittle orthodoxy, so there is no room for tolerance.
It’s why edgy guy is doomed, at least for now. As I pointed out a year ago, in an ideological age, you pick one side and only one side. There’s no bridging the gap or performing on both sides of the street. The edgytarians, if they are to exist at all, will have to operate on this side of the great divide. That requires a new type of performer with a grounding in dissident ideas. None of the edgy guys today have that, so they will eventually end up on the other side, singing to an audience of true believers.