The Atlantic’s December 2017 Issue

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The Atlantic's Future of Work Summit in Atlanta


Washington, D.C. (November 14, 2017)—Andrew Anglin’s website, The Daily Stormer, has been called the leading hate site on the internet—and Anglin himself is the alt-right’s most effective propagandist and most vicious troll. But who is Anglin, and how did he develop such a following? The cover story of The Atlantic’s December issue, “The Making of an American Nazi,” takes a riveting and deeply disturbing look into the world of Anglin and the alt-right one year after the election of Donald Trump. Reporter Luke O’Brien spent nearly a year uncovering previously unknown details of Anglin’s past, charting his strange evolution from an antiracist vegan teen in Columbus, Ohio, to a neo-Nazi—including a bizarre foray into a remote jungle in the Philippines. In a companion piece, author Angela Nagle explores the evolution of the alt-right in “Brotherhood of Losers,” asking what drives young men to radicalize in this way, and whether the backlash against the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, will fracture the movement.

Also in this month’s issue: The Atlantic’s Science, Technology, and Health editor, Ross Andersen, journeys to China, where the government has built the world’s largest radio dish for the purpose of detecting extraterrestrial communications; tech writer Alexis Madrigal questions whether we should let children build emotional bonds with robots; and author Leslie Jamison visits the virtual realm of Second Life.

The Atlantic’s December 2017 issue is online in full today and on newsstands this week. A selection of pieces from the issue are linked and summarized below.

COVER & FEATURES

The Making of an American Nazi, by Luke O’Brien

Andrew Anglin’s website, The Daily Stormer, has been called the leading hate site on the internet, and Anglin himself is the alt-right’s most effective propagandist and most vicious troll. He “doxes” minorities, women, politicians, members of the LGBTQ community, journalists—publishing their addresses, phone numbers, and emails, and pictures of their spouses and young children—so that the underbelly of the internet can wreak havoc on their lives. And he’s done more than anyone to organize and radicalize a new generation of white supremacists, sometimes with tragic consequences: Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina, was a Daily Stormer reader. Luke O’Brien comes closer than any other journalist in charting Anglin’s bizarre and delusional evolution. Anglin’s story shows that, like many members of the alt-right, he was drawn to white supremacy more for a sense of belonging and status than as a result of any deep ideological conviction. The Atlantic’s cover story is a haunting profile of a violent, deeply disturbed, paradoxical, and at times drug-abusing individual—one who has been emboldened by the election of President Trump. O’Brien writes that during the election, “Suddenly it was okay to talk about banning Muslims or to cast Mexican immigrants as criminals and parasites—which meant Anglin’s even-more-extreme views weren’t as far outside the mainstream as they once had been.” When candidate Trump was asked by CNN about the death threats and harassment leveled by Anglin’s army, Trump’s response was: “I don’t have a message to the fans.”  

Brotherhood of Losers, by Angela Nagle

The alt-right has offered angry, unmoored men a sense of belonging. But it wasn’t until the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August that it leapt from private forums and online chat rooms into a form that most Americans could finally grasp as a real, and unambiguous, political movement. Charlottesville revealed the new movement’s true ugliness, leaving many of its adherents horrified, and once again adrift. Where did the alt-right come from, and what’s next for its fractious ranks? Angela Nagle, who has been observing the evolution of rightist groups for eight years, details the chilling inner workings of this resurgent facet of society, attributing its antiestablishment, antifeminist appeal to a desire for belonging and even trolling for the fun of it.

What Happens If China Makes First Contact?, by Ross Andersen

As America has turned away from searching for extraterrestrial life, China has built the world’s largest radio dish for precisely that purpose. And so, if another civilization’s faint radio whispers were to come down in the next decade, China may very well be the first to hear them. The Atlantic’s Science, Technology, and Health editor, Ross Andersen, travels to China to see for himself the enormous dish—which is the size of five football fields and large enough to hold two bowls of rice for every human on Earth—and to ask what the consequences would be were a signal from a distant intelligence to reach our planet. Would China go public with the signal? Would the government respond? Or would China withhold the signal’s origin, even keep it a state secret? Andersen also meets with Liu Cixin, China’s foremost science-fiction writer, with whom the Chinese government consulted on the project. He asks Liu to imagine the Chinese Academy of Sciences calling to tell him that it had found a signal. Liu cautioned against sharing with extraterrestrial life a too-detailed account of human history: “It’s very dark. It might make us appear more threatening.” But, writes Andersen, “I reminded Liu that distant civilizations might be able to detect atomic-bomb flashes in the atmospheres of distant planets, provided they engage in long-term monitoring of life-friendly habitats as any advanced civilization surely would. The decision about whether to reveal our history might not be ours to make.”

The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, by Leslie Jamison

Second Life was supposed to be the future of the internet, but then Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram came along. Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013, only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform. What happened? In a new report, Leslie Jamison explores the evolution and current state of the world of Second Life (and its future) in an era when social media reign supreme. She observes: “If Second Life promised a future in which people would spend hours each day inhabiting their online identity, haven’t we found ourselves inside it? Only it’s come to pass on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter instead. As I learned more about Second Life, and spent more time exploring it, it started to seem less like an obsolete relic and more like a distorted mirror reflecting the world many of us live in.”

The stories of the people who escape into Second Life, and the world they’ve built, illuminate the promise and limitations of online life. Jamison joins the inhabitants of Second Life, and the more she explores, the more questions the online realm raises “about where unfettered fantasy leads, as well as about how we navigate the boundary between the virtual and the real. As virtual-reality technology grows more advanced, it promises to deliver a more fully realized version of what many believed Second Life would offer: total immersion in another world. And as our actual world keeps delivering weekly horrors … the appeal of that alternate world keeps deepening, along with our doubts about what it means to find ourselves drawn to it.”

DISPATCHES:

My Son’s First Robot, by Alexis Madrigal

The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal, who covers tech from its epicenter, in Northern California, wrestled with the decision of whether to buy his son a toy robot for his fourth birthday. Would he know what to make of it? Would his little sister destroy it? What are the consequences of inviting into the house a(nother) “smart” thing? The robot, Cozmo, produced by the company Anki, must be fed, repaired, and played with, and can use the full breadth of its animated repertoire to summon particular feelings in its owner and foster emotional bonds. Sure enough, when Cozmo lost a few rounds of a game, it showed frustration, prompting Madrigal’s son to say: “Don’t beat him! You’re making him sad.”

“If you neglect him, you feel the pain of that,” says Anki’s CEO. Madrigal writes: “When he told me this, I felt a flash of not-quite-anger. It seemed almost cruel to design a robot that could play on a young kid’s emotions. And I had never considered that, in the coming human–robot conflagration, robots might take over simply by expertly manipulating us into letting them win.” But this technology is happening. It’s here. Now it becomes a matter of understanding it and its interplay with our world. This leads Madrigal to conclude: “I feel about [robots] as my parents did about computers: It will be necessary to understand these machines to comprehend the world. So now we have our first robot.”

Big In … Turkey: Plaid Jackets

Ever since then–Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan voted for himself in a presidential election in 2014 wearing a garish, oversize blue plaid suit jacket, the piece has become a staple of Erdoğan’s wardrobe—and a spreading trend. As Erdoğan has consolidated power, members of his government have begun following not just his political lead but also his fashion cues. Photos of the leader flanked by subordinates, all matching, have gone viral.

Can Unions Stop the Far Right, by Vauhini Vara

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union  held strong in the recent elections against its far-right opponents in the Alternative for Germany party—and it was Germany’s working-class voters who may have stopped a full hard-right turn. According to Vauhini Vara, a combination of market forces and a strong social-safety net has kept most people feeling satisfied with their government. Because Germany’s economy is driven by manufacturing exports, a high percentage of citizens work in that sector, and they have become a powerful political constituency anchored by strong unions. German workers’ sense of security and belonging mitigates the fears that have fed right-wing populism elsewhere. Can—and should—the United States learn from Germany’s example?

Conservatism Without Bigotry, by Peter Beinart

Is American conservatism inherently bigoted? While the debate over conservatism and bigotry is not new, the argument has become particularly fierce in the age of Donald Trump. As Peter Beinart observes, Trump’s denigrating comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and his equivocal condemnations of white supremacists, have sparked outrage at perceived conservative bigotry, which now animates American liberalism more than it did in preceding administrations. Beinart argues that in order to move forward, Republicans must now reckon with their policies’ racial effects, but liberals also must stop carelessly crying racist. He writes: “Halting the downward spiral will require other politicians to take risks as well. And it will require scores of commentators, activists, and voters to support them when they do. Liberals and conservatives each know the other side is capable of hatred and scorn. They both need to demonstrate that they are capable of empathy and courage, too.”

From the Culture File:

Shark Tank Nation, by Caitlin Flanagan: The genre of capitalist reality television began with our president, who realized years ago that TV contests based on people’s ability to sing, dance, or get along with a houseful of losers on the CBS lot were small-time. According to Caitlin Flanagan, The Apprentice was about winning where it counts: in business. Since then, shows such as the long-running Shark Tank, and the newer and more offbeat The Toy Box and Steve Harvey’s Funderdome, show a mesmerizingly shallow view of American entrepreneurship. Of ABC’s The Toy Box, where a panel of children decide the fate of an inventor’s financial future, Flanagan writes: “There is something exquisitely cruel about watching adults who have literally bet their house on an invention be dismissed by bored kids. She looks creepy!, one little monster said about a doll whose creator—a black woman who had wanted a doll that looked like her own daughter—had spent 30 years and more than $300,000 trying to bring it to market.”

Books: The Rise and Fall of Rolling Stone, by Rich Cohen: Jann Wenner, the longtime editor of Rolling Stone, traded the hippie dream for pop-star friends and luxury. One witness to the early days of the magazine, as they devolved into out-of-control excess, was Rich Cohen, who was supposed to have written Wenner’s autobiography on three separate occasions—. Cohen has praise for Sticky Fingers, the biography of Wenner by New York magazine’s Joe Hagan, even if he feels Wenner’s charm and spirit are lost in this definitive telling. He writes: “It’s the book I could never have written. I know too little and sympathize too much. I like Wenner, and Hagan is remorseless … A funny thing happens when a part of your life becomes official history. No matter how good that history is, the writer can’t help getting a crucial aspect wrong. All the facts might be correct, but the spirit is lost. The effect is like a body without a soul.”

Books: Inventing John Wayne, by Stephen Metcalf: In the new book Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero, Nancy Schoenberger argues that “the masculine ideal, as championed by Ford and embodied by Wayne, is still salvageable, honorable even.” But this is not the whole story, writes Stephen Metcalf in his review of the book. “Schoenberger has hidden a provocative thesis inside a Christmas present for Dad. She asks us to remember the beauty of masculine self-mastery as Ford presented it in his very best films. And yet, from the bulk of the evidence here, masculinity (like the Western) is a by-product of nostalgia, a maudlin elegy for something that never existed—or worse, a masquerade that allows no man, not even John Wayne, to be comfortable in his own skin.” Metcalf continues: “Schoenberger makes the case that we are confused about masculinity because we cannot accept men like Wayne as heroes. In flight from machismo, we have largely given up on adult male self-mastery. But isn’t it also true that, allowed at last to be confused about masculinity, we no longer accept men like Wayne as heroes?”

With the holiday season quickly approaching, the December issue’s Big Question asks: “What was the most significant event to happen on a holiday?” The 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I, the Yom Kippur War, and Alexander Graham Bell filing his patent application for the telephone on Valentine’s Day in 1876 are a few of the most historic happenings—as told by historians, authors, and Atlantic readers.

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