When you’re dealing with political radicalization, your perception of reality completely warps into the presentation of the narrative that you’re following. You look for boogeymen in every corner and always find others to blame for your shortcomings. You’re left with just anger, unable to see happiness or the good in things that don’t fit your narrative. You end up living and breathing this anger, and you seek it out in all aspects of life. Anger becomes your best friend; the worst mistake of my life was allowing it to radicalize me.
When I was 21 years old, I was swept into the political shitstorm that was 2016. Although I grew up in a Democratic household, I began taking a liking to Donald Trump’s personality during the first Republican debate in 2015. I grew up really disliking the Bush’s as a kid, so when I heard Trump ridicule Jeb Bush during the first Republican debate, I became fired up and started paying lots of attention to Trump and Republican politics in general. I eventually started following different conservative commentators like Gavin McInnes, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Ben Shapiro. I began taking a liking to their humor and political takes, and when I heard that Milo Yiannopoulos was going to be giving a speech in New York City, I became ecstatic at the idea of seeing him in person and made plans to attend the event.
Milo Yiannopoulos led the protest against Linda Sarsour in New York City. It was a rainy day, and I remember listening to Milo speak in the rain in the middle of a street. When the event ended, many of the attendees went to a bar to continue talking politics and enjoy a drink. Fired up after seeing Milo speak, I was excited at the opportunity to have a few drinks and talk politics with other fellow Milo fans. After a couple rounds of drinks and a few smiles, I joined the Proud Boys, and I felt safe with them that night. To initiate me into the group, members stood around me and began punching me while I named cereal brands. At this moment, I had become a Proud Boy. The ones I met told me they were an organization looking to defend western values, and I jumped at the opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself. I was 22 years old and felt very isolated in my local community. I found a sense of comfort and belonging in that bar with people who also supported Trump and Milo, just as I had. Although I never showed up to a single meeting after, and left the organization entirely a few months later, I began writing for a blog with people who had shared many of my far-right beliefs.
I saw Democrats as enemies of America and their supporters as blind followers aiding in the destruction of the United States with false promises of welfare programs, open borders, lawlessness, and anti-American sentiment. I was unable to see the good in others that didn’t agree with my narrative; I saw them only as either guilty or as blind followers of the villains trying to destroy America. The tunnel vision you get when you go down this path fills your head with anger and depression, leaving you unable to see the good in anything. You find yourself thinking about others in black and white terms, theorizing that they can only be an ally or against you. I began to feel as if my life was a lie because I felt unable to honestly talk with those who didn’t share my views. I became unable to appreciate the kindness and goodwill of others until I finally decided to take a step back from this worldview. I stopped writing for the blog, unfollowed all the commentators I had been following, stopped watching YouTube videos about politics, and became much more involved in my community; this change opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t seen since my radicalization. I saw a kind, compassionate, and caring world through the actions of others around me.
My previous beliefs don’t reflect whatsoever on who I am now, but it is a dark shadow in my history that I will never forget and must live with. I am reminded of it to this day by various forms of harassment from those I used to agree with who are upset with my choice to walk away. This harassment doesn’t scare me; it only reinforces my belief that walking away from it was the best decision I have made. The worldview offered by those in these types of groups has nothing to offer its followers but misery, anger, hate, and suffering. My journey through radical far-right politics ended with me in an entirely different mindset from where I began. I went from being a pro-police, pro-border wall, and pro-drug war Trump supporter to an anti-Trump, pro-justice, pro-migrant, and pro-legalization Libertarian. I also came to identify as a feminist, have supported events for women’s rights, and became a vocal supporter of defending women’s right to bodily autonomy. Although it was a long journey, I feel proud of my convictions.
Radicalization is dangerous for its followers and everyone around them. It creates a false reality and a hostile world that doesn’t reflect in the slightest the one we live in. If you are a radical and feel yourself questioning why, know that it is never too late to walk away. In fact, walking away from it is the best thing you can do.