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Departures Podcast with Talia Lavin

While the Internet has given us a lot of good things, from comprehensive consumer choices to powerful movements to hold the powerful accountable, it also has its darker corners where hatred is thriving, where acts of terrible violence in the real world are inspired.

As a Jewish writer who had often been targeted by anti-Semitic and misogynistic attacks online, Talia Lavin decided to go undercover and dive deep into these strange online worlds, where she finds deeply vulnerable, alienated, and dangerous individuals who pose a considerable threat to society. Her latest book, “Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy,” presents a number of real stories of people she encountered during these investigations which helps us understand how extremists find themselves pulled toward white nationalism online.

Lavin argues that it is wrong for us to consider white nationalist terror attacks such as the Charleston Church shooting, the attack on the Christchurch mosque, or the Tree of Life Synogogue shooting in Pittsburg as “lone wolf” attacks. Instead, these attacks are being carried out by individuals who are specifically radicalized.

“It doesn’t take that many people influenced by an extremely heightened level of violent rhetoric by a continual saturation in dehumanization to create tremendous amounts of fear and to rip communities apart with grief,” Lavin says. “I would say that I’m still pretty scared of these guys. Sometimes their fragility means that they’re ripe for mockery. Other times, it means they’re ripe to snap.”

Lavin and host Robert Amsterdam discuss a brief history of anti-Semitism in the United States, and how it came to represent an intellectual keystone for US white supremacists, and how, in its international expression, anti-Semitism is often trans-partisan, a rhetorical force mobilized on the right and the left.

“The real rhetorical function of the Jew, the reason why Jews are such a persistent target, is that they have more or less assimilated into whiteness,” Lavin says. “So they get portrayed by the white power movement in the US as a cunning kind of fifth column subverting whiteness from within. (…) So the primary function that the Jews serve is this idea of a kind of omnipotent, infinitely resourceful, infinitely cunning enemy that is hell bent on your destruction.”

And in doing so, Lavin agues, the men hiding in these darkest corners of the Internet come to believe that they are the most oppressed members of society, that it is they who have a duty to right the wrongs – often by violent means.