Why is Gavin McInnes courting the alt-right?

By Jonathon Van Maren

Gavin McInnes is not a Holocaust-denier, and he is not a neo-Nazi. It’s necessary to make clarifying statements like that due to a video released a couple of days ago, which rapidly attracted the attention and approval of alt-right neo-Nazis such as David Duke and Richard Spencer, which resulted in McInnes shooting a video at Pearson Airport in which he declared, “No offence, Nazis—I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t like you. I like Jews.”

Let’s back up a bit. Gavin McInnes, as many of you will know, is a right-wing media personality who hosts both his own gig—The Gavin McInnes Show—on Compound Media, as well as delivering commentary regularly for Ezra Levant’s Canadian outfit, The Rebel. I first heard of him when he began showing up on various blogs and online commentary outlets declaring that he’d had a change of heart on abortion—something I interviewed him about at the time. Since then, he’s worked at FOX News, hosted his own show, and is now a star member of Levant’s lineup. His shtick is to be simultaneously hokey—think cheap costumes and terrible imitations of left-wingers, like a bad knock-off of Steven Crowder—and as intentionally offensive as possible. He also does not seem to be particularly well-versed in many of the subjects he expounds on, most notably Israel.

That brings us to this weekend. McInnes, Levant and a few of The Rebel stars—including social conservative Faith Goldy, resolute enemy of Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown, and Sheila Gunn Reid, a hero to many of my Albertan friends for her relentless reporting on Rachel Notley—were on a tour of Israel, producing video commentary along the way. McInnes produced his standard fare, much of it pro-Israel, some of it quite funny. Then, towards the end of the trip, he shot what appeared to be a very late-night, end-of-the-trip, stream-of-consciousness commentary for The Gavin McInnes Show. Clips of that commentary—the full show is behind a paywall—were released, and the alt-right rejoiced online that another commentator finally “got them.”

Even completely accepting Gavin McInnes’s follow-up video—which I do—the commentary was pretty disgusting. I’m not talking about the “out-of-context” bits that people are using to claim that he’s a neo-Nazi, which he obviously is not. I’m talking about what he did say, after expressing his frustration with the fact that his whole tour of Israel was “a brainwashing trip.” For example:

“The opposite is happening. I’m becoming anti-Semitic.”

He’s obviously assuming that no one will take him at his word here, although he does his best to see if they will by promptly trotting out a number of common anti-Semitic tropes. For some bizarre reason, McInnes was extremely irritated to have a tour guide at Yad Vashem express disgust for Holocaust denial (what on earth else did he expect to hear at a Holocaust museum?), and he explains that people need to remember that lots of genocides have happened, and those people don’t seem so hung up on it. He even says that the tour guide’s comments—again, remember that this is literally at a museum dedicated to commemorating the Holocaust—irritated him so much, he felt like defending neo-Nazis. I think most people can agree that instinctual contrarianism, in this context, is stupid. And it got worse:

“But there’s been a lot of genocides…[like Stalin]. But the Russians don’t talk about that. They don’t even necessarily see it as a horrible thing. Holodomor…I think it was ten million Ukrainians that were killed. That was by Jews. That was by Marxist, Stalinist, left-wing, Commie, socialist, Jeeeews. [laughs] You see what this f*****g place [Israel] is doing to me?”

Even World War II, McInnes mused—wasn’t that sort of brought about by the Treaty of Versailles, “and wasn’t that disproportionately influenced by Jewish intellectuals?” It’s not hard to see why David Duke and Richard Spencer—who quoted the Holodomor comment—were so pleased. Claiming that the Jews are responsible, in one way or another, for every historical catastrophe in recent memory is a foundational belief in alt-right and neo-Nazi circles. McInnes didn’t deny the Holocaust, but he did tell the Jews to get over it, already. Other people faced atrocities, McInnes says obliviously, and they casually chat about it rather than getting all worked up—“Hey, those were some crazy times!”—and some victims, like North Koreans, even like their dictator. To which the only reasonable response can be: Huh??

I’ve been to Yad Vashem twice, and McInnes’s reaction to the museum bewilders me. Why does a Holocaust museum give him the instinctive urge to clarify the beliefs of Holocaust deniers and tell the Jews to stop obsessing over history? McInnes seems not to realize that Holocaust denial was not something that just occurred after six million Jews were murdered—it was one of the central tools used to perpetrate the Holocaust in the first place. It was only because the so many Europeans across the continent could so steadfastly ignore the horrors taking place in their own backyards and deny to themselves and their neighbors that such things were happening that the Nazis managed to murder so many people in such a short period of time. That is why the Jews are so determined to ensure that people do not forget what happened. Denial is not a clever intellectual debate for commentators who enjoy taking on dangerous topics and offending people. Denying the Holocaust is what allows such horrors to take place again.

It’s strange that McInnes would be irritated by a national focus on the Holocaust in Israel—a nation full of Holocaust survivors and their descendants—considering that these atrocities happened within living memory. My grandparents remember the Nazi occupation. I’ve seen survivors roll up their sleeves and display the faded Auschwitz tattoos on their forearms. I’ve interviewed people who spent years in concentration camps, watching their family and friends get murdered and suffering indignities too horrifying for words. This didn’t happen hundreds of years ago. This happened, historically speaking, just yesterday. You can still speak to the last survivors. You can still visit the camps and see the claw marks on the gas chamber walls. Six million people died in agony, and those who suffered are supposed to shut up already? We can’t even wait for this to pass from memory into history? And that’s not even getting into the fact that Israel is surrounded by Jew-hating countries that have put the Arabic translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf onto the bestseller lists.

To reiterate, I don’t think Gavin McInnes is a Holocaust denier. What is true is that despite the fact that he might be pro-Israel, he is certainly willing to parrot some of the alt-right’s favorite talking points. Perhaps this is simply the commercial pressure people like McInnes are under. The alt-right is an enormous online community, and besides Richard Spencer’s website AlternativeRight.com (he served for a time as the editor of Taki’s Magazine, as well) and a few sites like Reddit and 4Chan, the alt-righters have no media home. Breitbart was one of the first large online media ventures to court them—even while fielding Jewish journalists and opening an office in Israel, they referred to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” in a headline, with former editor Steve Bannon calling his site a “platform for the alt-right.”

McInnes appears to be trying the same thing over at The Rebel. To give one example, he actually interviewed Richard Spencer. Does Gavin McInnes believe any of Spencer’s racial junk theories? Probably not. But he knows that by hosting Spencer, legions of Spencer’s alt-right followers will migrate over to his show because of his willingness to give their man a platform. Online media ventures can thus escape the criticism of being labeled alt-right, while still interviewing guests that will allow them to tap into the alt-right market.

This is dangerous for several reasons. On Twitter, I’ve had people accuse me of attempting “censorship” by suggesting that people like Richard Spencer should not be given a platform. This is nonsense. Spencer has every right to spew his anti-Semitism, but does not have the right to access the audiences organizations like Breitbart and The Rebel have built for themselves. Most of the people who make up these audiences are disenfranchised and frustrated conservatives who are furious at left-wing politicians, political correctness, and a political culture that treats their concerns with hostility and condescension. Allowing Spencer to articulate his racist theories for why things are the way they are to this audience gives him the opportunity to proselytize—and it sometimes works. In the Facebook comments beneath one of my articles criticizing the alt-right, for example, one fellow went from saying that the alt-right wasn’t all crazy, to saying that they made some good points, to admitting he now thought the Jews did run everything—in one conversation. To bring Richard Spencer from AlternativeRight.com to The Rebel gives him a bridge to the mainstream that he otherwise would not have access to.

People seem to have forgotten how poisonous anti-Semitism really is. Again, the Holocaust still lives on in the memories of survivors who experienced it. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, and is rife across the Islamic world. Ezra Levant and others have spilled gallons of ink condemning anti-Semitic incidents here in Canada. So why on earth would a neo-Nazi be considered a worthy interview? My critics inform me that we need to confront people like Spencer to debunk him. But is that really where we’re at? Are we at the point where we need to relitigate these trash racial theories, and reaffirm that anti-Semitism is a wicked ideology with a horrifying conclusion? Are there really hordes of viewers who are tempted by neo-Nazism, and need to see a calm, pleasant conversation with a Jew-hater in order to reaffirm their commitment to rejecting genocidal ideologies?

That scenario doesn’t seem likely, or even plausible to me. Flirting with the alt-right is dangerous, because anti-Semitism is dangerous. Commercial pressures faced by online conservative ventures may be enormous, but commentators like Gavin McInnes need to ask themselves what sort of audience they want to attract. McInnes, as he himself says, loves the Jews. Good. Then why throw a bone to the alt-right by articulating some of their worst blood libels? Why have pleasant chats with a neo-Nazi, as if he was the sort of respectable person who deserved a place in conservative discourse? Why create a gathering place for the sorts of people who thrive on hatred and viciousness?

Questions, I think, that deserve thoughtful answers.

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12 thoughts on “Why is Gavin McInnes courting the alt-right?

  1. Dan says:

    “Spencer has every right to spew his anti-Semitism, but does not have the right to access the audiences organizations like Breitbart and The Rebel have built for themselves.”

    So how does this work, exactly? Is there a set list of appropriate subjects, worthy of accessing those Breitbart and Rebel audiences?

    • Jonathon Van Maren says:

      Read the piece again. The way it works is that we recognize some subjects, like whether or not hating Jews is okay, are not up for debate.

      • Dan says:

        Re-read it, thanks. Your logic: Richard Spencer holds odious views, ergo he mustn’t be given a platform. And it’s totally NOT censorship, because you said so. Got it. Why am I not surprised that a fellow Canadian, no doubt raised on a steady diet of CBC-mandated PC orthodoxy, holds such a view?

        Why not let the free market decide if Spencer can have a platform? And if he does happen to get one, we can then watch him be subsequently debated and discredited. Have faith in people. See: Yiannannopolis, Milo.

        Even with the snark, thanks for the reply.

        Shabbat Shalom,

        Dan Reitman

        • Jonathon Van Maren says:

          It’s not censorship to decline to give people access to your own audience. That’s not censorship by definition, not because I say so. (BTW, I’ve watched the CBC less than a dozen times in my entire life. This comes from my research into anti-Semitism, not “PC orthodoxy.”) In terms of a neo-Nazi’s anti-Semitism–no, I don’t think we should leave Jew-hating to the free market to decide. Additionally, a lot of people are getting sucked into these ideologies. A lot. Spencer will be discredited for most people, but he will win converts. That’s extraordinarily dangerous.

          • Dan says:

            I’m glad we agree on the definition of censorship, though it contradicts what you originally wrote, and it maybe gets to the crux of the problem. Here’s you’re quote: “Spencer has every right to spew his anti-Semitism, but does not have the right to access the audiences organizations like Breitbart and The Rebel have built for themselves.”

            I’ll say it again: this is you dictating what Breitbart and Co. should be *allowed* to feature. This is paternalist and censorious.

            I am a proud Jew, Zionist, and Anti-, Anti-Semite, but I go back to what I said originally: squelching the opportunity for radical extremists of *any* stripe to be heard and then righteously laughed out of the room – and into obscurity – is toxic to our free society. Is it as toxic as the bile spewed out by those fanatical demgogues? In the long run, maybe, maybe not. I think it’s a complicated question that merit’s a longer conversation.

            Yes, of course, there’s the argument to be made that these racist firebrands will undoubtedly win over a few idiots — but then one could argue just as easily that those idiots were already of a nefarious mind.

            This is likely where we will disagree, but it is the [increasingly violent] censorship and fantaticism exhibited by so many on the Left that is repelling increasing numbers of people towards the Right — and indeed, beyond — and more effectively, I might add, than any single unhinged White Supremacist’s soapboxing.

          • Jonathon Van Maren says:

            If I had as much faith as you that such people would be laughed out of the room, I’d probably hold your position. But what I’m seeing in my social media feeds and elsewhere is people actually being swayed by Spencer’s ideas, which many of them would not have been exposed to had people like him not been platformed by media organizations. I’m not dictating what Breitbart and The Rebel should be allowed to feature, because as you rightly point out that’s not my call to make. The point in my column is that orgs like them should ask themselves what their responsibility to their audiences is, and what sort of audience they want to attract. The government, or myself, or anyone else has no right to tell a media commentator who to interview. But considering the stakes, I think they should do some real soul-searching.

    • Caleb Van Der Weide says:

      Saying that Spencer does not have the right to access a Breitbart audience is not the same as saying that Breitbart does not have the right to allow him to have the audience, it just means that Breitbart is allowing him something that he does not have a fundamental right too: so denying him their audience would not be a rights violation.

  2. Dan says:

    I see your point and I would not completely disagree. I can’t speak to your news feed, of course, but I’m sure we’ve seen many of the same things expressed, and some of them are indeed ugly.

    “Soul searching” is a good term, and I would agree Breitbart, etc. should do this. But I would lay the same charge on mainstream media. Before we go to the trouble of crucifying the Spencers of the world, let’s us – the media and chattering classes – do some soul searching of our own; consider if we are not, in fact, at least partially responsible for providing Spencer as much oxygen as he’s gotten, by disenfranchising a part of our society, a part who aren’t necessarily delirious, white supremacist mouthbreathers, but who simply do not subscribe to the fashionable, neo-liberal narrative.

    If you are one such disenfranchisee, the likes of Richard Spencer would seem appealing indeed; not necessarily because of his stance on Jews, but because his overall posture represents a strident, proud reaction to the current neoliberal, PC culture.

    TL;DR, we are all to blame for the ascendancy of Spencer and, let’s face it, Trump. So let’s all do better.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  3. Sarah says:

    Breitbart was not neccessarily wrong for originally courting the “alt-right” because it wasnt at first clear that it was a hateful movement founded by RS, it was just the anti neocon and anti marxist millenial populist movement, it seems Breitbart has distanced themselves from the RS and DD people of the world and any movement they are associated with. Also, if you read Mark Twains essay, the Jews do run everything, the negative is how they come to lead in every country they enter, what it means, and therefore how should they be treated as a result. This Gavin guy does seem to be heading into dangerous territory though, and more people should speak out specifically into his erroneous missteps.

    • Dan says:

      Sarah, what “dangerous territory”? I wonder if you’ve watched the entirety of Gavin’s Israel coverage? Have you listened to his podcast? Having done so myself, Gavin seems to be a bigger fan of Jews – and their right to self-determination – than a lot of the bewilderingly self-hating examples we have on this side of the Atlantic.

  4. Lucas Temple says:

    Just who is the “alt-right” that Gavin is courting? Meme chaos throwers from /pol? The Mike Cernovich crowd? The manosphere? What’s left of the Right Stuff crowd? Taki commentators? Vox Day and the dreaded ilk?

    Just as the radical left has many factions that aren’t AntiFa, so does much of the “Alt-Right”. Spencer may have coined the term, but he owns it as much as the New York Time’s owned the word “Progressive” when they declared Hitler a progressive liberator prior to WW2.

    I didn’t even know I was “Alt-right” until a plethora of lefties kept telling me I was. Stormfront still fights about whether Armenians (I’m half) are “white” or mongrel dogs. BlackLivesMatter tells me our genocide isn’t as high up on the victim pyramid.

    It all boils down to an identity crisis. There are plenty on the alt-right who are angry about being told to grovel in white self-loathing hatred or that any pride in who they are is wrong. The White nationalist crowd takes it further, but so many of them can’t get past a loathing of Christendom as well as the realization that Europe’s “white” enlightenment is the reason it’s floundering. (Not to mention ignoring importance of ethnicity, ex. that Serbs have nothing in common with Englishman.)

    Many other groups, especially on the left have identities – some rather shallow if you look at the LGBT and Tumblr communities. What the Alt-right is primarily “whites” and others who have their identities stripped, attacked, and destroyed over the last 50 years by what could be considered, “Cultural Marxism”. The anger is what you are seeing – some of it misplaced.

    Yes, “jews” have plenty of influence in media, banking, education, ect. Perhaps one day, many in my tent will realize that instead of hating the Jews – or even the Talmudic group of them, we should emulate their success. (I still haven’t seen any calls from the left about how Jews are overrepresented in above mentions – maybe soon depending on how much the left wants to cater to the muslim crowd.)

    I was raised in the Church and I know my history well, so I see how essential Christianity is to the success of a people – even though me and my wife don’t go very often. Yet again, perhaps some of us on the alt-right will realize this. We’ve lost the culture wars, even though it’s now the left that has to fear assault, but it keeps coming back to a sense of identity that is lacking. Some of us are very aware of it. http://www.staresattheworld.com/2017/04/fight-for-civilzation-heroic-men/

    I do like the idea of the Benedict Option, but I also am tired of laying down so to speak.

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