I remember Katie McHugh mainly as a flash-in-the-pan obnoxious anti-semitic Islamaphobe — someone who got a job in the racist hothouses of Breitbart and the Daily Caller, made a little noise with some extremely hateful tweets, like a kind of mini-Katie Hopkins, and then got fired as the alt-right strained to appear a little less thuggish (they failed). Now Rosie Gray has a thorough article on her history, and it’s a sad, dismal story all around. McHugh regrets her role in the alt-right, although I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a genuine repentance — it’s more like she regrets how she has fucked up her own life by embracing a series of bad actors.
Her journey to remorseful failure begins in college. She attended a small liberal arts college where she stood out alone as a far-right firebrand, which was sufficient to win the attention of the far-right media. I’ve seen that happen at my university. Yes, you can stand out by acting the colossal regressive on a campus full of progressive, optimistic, intelligent students, but while it may appeal to the ego in the short run, it’s going to lead to catastrophe eventually. We had a student here who made a reputation for himself writing ugly crap for the alternative newspaper (not as ugly as McHugh’s stuff, though), which led to him making connections with James O’Keefe, which led to him getting arrested in a break-in in Louisiana. It’s not a great career trajectory.
McHugh’s story is similar. She leapt from writing for the college newspaper to working with Breitbart, the Daily Caller, the usual upstart conservative rags, and making connections with major racist white nationalist figures. The pipeline from young conservative to Trumpian conservative is apparent in her history, and she also exposes the real nastiness in their beliefs that these organizations try to hide.
The alt-right was at the time all about smoothing over its public image, becoming approachable, more mainstream. “They didn’t have swastikas covering their foreheads,” as McHugh put it. The very term “alt-right” represented this effort to rebrand white nationalism. Everything in public was euphemism. The names of the main organizations were bland: National Policy Institute, American Renaissance. People could blend in, and they did. They were “polished, sophisticated,” she said. “There’s a very high culture aspect to it.” The class markers were important to someone like McHugh, who had come from the sticks. And the emphasis on genetics and IQ was appealing as well. “They see it almost as a moral value,” she said. “They think that people with high IQ confers them with some kind of super-ability and makes them leaders, natural leaders.”
The emphasis on intelligence confers the whole enterprise with a pseudo-intellectual veneer, and it also provides white supremacists with a way to elide accusations of white supremacy. According to their argument, they can’t be white supremacists because they say that Jews and people of East Asian descent have a higher average IQ. This both whitewashes their bigotry and feeds into the alt-right’s victim mentality, especially as it relates to Jews. The work of the anti-Semitic writer Kevin MacDonald is a cornerstone of the alt-right movement. His Culture of Critique series argues that Jews, using their higher intelligence, employed Judaism as a “group evolutionary strategy” to perpetuate themselves and win out over other groups. MacDonald blames Jews for the very existence of anti-Semitism, arguing that anti-Semitism is a justified response to Jews’ plot to run the world.
If they’re so smart, though, how is it that looking at the details of their groups exposes great pulsing veins of absurdity? This is almost funny.
Their differences went deeper — and stranger — than that, and allowed McHugh to see inside a truly bizarre subculture. McHugh was a Catholic, while DeAnna was a member of the Wolves of Vinland, a group based near Lynchburg that was focused around a neopagan theology based on self-improvement and feats of strength, as well as coded white nationalism. The idea was to cast off the bounds of modern Judeo-Christian society and find a way back to pre-Christian northern European culture. McHugh sometimes accompanied DeAnna on weekend trips down to the Wolves’ headquarters for what they called a “moot” — a ceremony in which the assembled Wolves would smear ash on their bodies around a fire and give what McHugh described as “dramatic speeches” about self-sufficiency and relying on the other group members. They would then sit around the fire and drink beers.
One part of McHugh’s disaffection with the movement was over such silliness. She couldn’t accept it, so she reverted to…Catholicism. More absurdity, different flavor.
McHugh recognizes now how hard she screwed herself over. She’s working as a waitress in a small town somewhere unnamed, and struggling to keep up with her medical bills (she’s diabetic). She has regrets and advice, and not much else.
At age 28, she has made herself unemployable in the career field she chose — even on its fringes. She perpetually struggles to support herself financially. It’s easy to see how someone in McHugh’s position might regret the path she took that got her here. Would she regret it if she still had friends, still had a writing job?
McHugh has a message for the people on a similar path, though, one that can be considered regardless of whether you believe she’s actually changed.
“People like me should be given a chance to recognize how bad this is and that the alt-right is not a replacement for any kind of liberal democracy whatsoever, any kind of system, they have no chance, and they’re just harmful,” McHugh said. “There is forgiveness, there is redemption. You have to own up to what you did and then forcefully reject this and explain to people, and tell your story, and say, ‘Get out while you can.’”
Well, we can hope some college students somewhere read about her and recognize that hate is loud and gets you noticed, but it doesn’t make you a better person.