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The radicalization of the young right

Many young conservatives admire the influential white nationalist Nick Fuentes.

By Michelle Goldberg

In December 2021, the podcast “Know Your Enemy” — billed as a leftist’s guide to the conservative movement — welcomed Nate Hochman, a young man whom host Sam Adler-Bell described as “the boy wonder of the new right.” At the time, Hochman was a 23-year-old National Review writer who’d already cycled through several of the prestigious fellowships available to aspiring young conservative intellectuals. (He’d later contribute to The New York Times.) Matthew Sitman, Adler-Bell’s co-host and a former conservative himself, considered Hochman a friend, and on the podcast, Hochman mostly came across as thoughtful and reasonable, eager to find the places where left- and right-leaning critics of liberalism agree.

When Sitman condemned the right’s cruelty toward trans people, Hochman conceded some of his points. “Do I love the way that some people on the right talk about sensitive culture issues surrounding stuff like transgenderism always? No,” said Hochman. “Could we use more empathy and humility in the way that we approach these questions? Absolutely.”

In March, Hochman went to work for Ron DeSantis, who at the time still looked like the most viable standard-bearer for a post-Trump Republican Party. But last week, Hochman was fired from DeSantis’ ailing presidential campaign after tweeting out a video ending with the candidate’s face superimposed over a sonnenrad, a Nazi symbol. It soon emerged that Hochman hadn’t simply shared the spot, which mixed message-board memes and media headlines like “Florida City Cancels LGBTQ+ Pride Parade as Ron DeSantis Prepares to Sign Anti-Drag Bill.” As Axios reported, he’d secretly created it.

Although the video’s imagery is clearly fascist — the sonnenrad, or sunwheel, is flanked by two rows of marching soldiers — Hochman has said that he didn’t know what the symbol meant. Given that he is Jewish, I’m inclined to believe that rather than being a covert Nazi, Hochman is simply a callow young man immersed in a milieu in which fascist idioms are so commonplace they can be picked up inadvertently. But whatever his motives, his trajectory from conservative intellectual wunderkind to disgraced troll tells us quite a bit about the culture of the young right.

As Hochman clearly recognized, these days, young reactionaries find their inspiration not in the adolescent superman fantasies of Ayn Rand but in the nihilistic Joker energy of 4chan. His own politics, as he described them on “Know Your Enemy,” were forged almost entirely in reaction to “wokeness,” and, as he told The New Republic, he sees contemporary America as so far gone that there’s little worth conserving. The sort of right-wing sentiment he’s tapped into, with its histrionic loathing of bourgeois liberalism and deep cultural pessimism, has in the past been a precursor to fascism. There’s a reason scholar Fritz Stern titled his 1961 study of the intellectual currents that gave rise to Nazism “The Politics of Cultural Despair.”

The “conservative revolutionaries” that Stern wrote about “thought that this world had been destroyed by evil hands; consequently, they firmly believed in a conspiratorial view of history and society.” Their villain, wrote Stern, “usually was the Jew, who more and more frequently came to be depicted as the very incarnation of modernity.”

Several examples from just the past two months show a similar sort of thinking percolating among some of today’s young conservative revolutionaries. Last week, Media Matters for America reported that Matteo Cina, a Fox News staff member and former writer for Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, wrote on TikTok that it’s “hard to talk about the Holocaust and rising antisemitism without discussing Jewish presence in banking.”

Both Breitbart and, on Monday, the right-wing Washington Free Beacon have reported on the unabashed antisemitism of high-profile pro-DeSantis influencer Pedro Gonzalez. In private chats, Gonzalez described his growing radicalization against “subversive” Jews and his admiration for white nationalist Nick Fuentes, who is perhaps best known for shepherding Kanye West into his pro-Hitler era. (Gonzalez has since renounced his former “performative bigotry,” and blamed the internecine feud between Trump loyalists and DeSantis supporters for the Breitbart story.)

Two weeks ago, a 26-year-old anti-feminist TikTok star named Hannah Pearl Davis released an acoustic song titled, “Why Can’t We Talk About the Jews?” (She deleted it after a backlash.) College Republicans United, a hard-right college Republican faction, was scheduled to have Fuentes headline its national convention last weekend, though Fuentes pulled out because of security concerns.

On Monday, Aaron Sibarium, a Free Beacon reporter, tweeted that when giving career advice to young conservatives, “I tell them to avoid group chats that use the N-word or otherwise blur the line between edgelording and earnest bigotry,” lest they become public. That young conservatives need this advice tells you a lot about the world Hochman was operating in.

Revisiting the episode of “Know Your Enemy” with Hochman, I couldn’t help wondering if, as the son of Portland, Oregon, liberals, he’s simply mastered a kind of ideological code-switching. The same month he went on the left-wing podcast, Hochman appeared on a Twitter Spaces chat with Fuentes and some other young right-wing figures. Once again, Hochman seemed to be trying to find common ground.

At one point he chastised Fuentes for saying “super edgy things,” such as, presumably, denying the Holocaust. But Hochman’s objections were pragmatic, not substantive: Fuentes’ rhetoric, he said, would prevent him from ever running for office. Although he argued that white identity politics aren’t a winning message, Hochman described Fuentes as a better influence on young conservatives than Ben Shapiro, a Jewish right-wing multimedia star and one of Fuentes’ nemeses. “You’ve gotten a lot of kids based and we respect that for sure,” said Hochman, using a term that’s basically the inverse of “woke.”

At a certain point, Hochman’s personal beliefs are irrelevant. Spend enough time in any subculture, and eventually you’ll pick up the lingo.

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