Buried deep in a recent story about Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters is a particularly revealing comment from one of Masters’ supporters, posted on an exclusive Discord chat: “How can one man be so based?”
The uninitiated reader might be forgiven for asking: “Based on what?” The word, a slang term with origins in hip-hop culture, has been adopted in recent years by the extremely online far right to basically mean “anything that owns the libs” — the more openly racist, misogynistic or politically incorrect the better. (The commenter was responding to a podcast appearance in which Masters attributed America’s gun violence problem to “Black people, frankly.”)
The right has been pursuing new and exotic methods by which to rhetorically offend liberals since before the Internet existed. But Masters embodies a particularly modern, novel version of this phenomenon more than any other politician — and it’s made him the darling of the extremely-online right that embraced Donald Trump early and enthusiastically, with their masculinity-obsessed, reflexively anti-institutional, will-to-power view of politics.
The key difference between the two: Trump, a septuagenarian reality TV star with an endless arsenal of meme-able personal tics and a total unwillingness (or inability) to experience shame, was a source of fun and an ironic avatar for those young voters. Masters, a millennial message-board addict with an awkward personal affect that sharply contrasts with his macho posturing, is those voters.
The New York Times reported last month on his long track record of message board posting, including a brand of incoherent, quasi-libertarian edgelord-ism (conspiracies about the Rothschilds, anyone?) that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent even a modest amount of time in the forum trenches. His campaign materials feature the new-right’s trademark aesthetic mash-up of garish neon retro-futurism and moody, backward-looking pastoral imagery. He and his mentor, Peter Thiel, are fixated on the far-right pet project of “dismantling the administrative state,” and his website adds some variety to the usual menu of promises to end “wokeness” and abortion with a pro-Bitcoin plank, which asserts “Bitcoin is the hardest money around — and hard money keeps government honest.” It’s all part of the year-zero, root-and-branch upheaval of American civic life that excites serious proponents of the movement and terrifies wary liberals.
Keeping tabs on the websites that were ground zero for Trump’s embrace by this crowd, like 4chan — which is ephemeral by design, with posts deleted automatically to make room for new content — is a challenge, but even a cursory search finds plenty of evidence that Masters is “their guy.” “God I hope Masters wins,” reads one post, sitting placidly in a stream of racial slurs and debates over abortion. “I’m a huge fan of Blake Masters too. I wish my cucked state had candidates like them,” reads another. One comment, laced with slurs, describes having attended a Masters event and being surprised at its lack of security, with a not-exactly-veiled suggestion that violence at a similar Democratic event would be easy to perpetrate.
4chan is an anonymous message board, so there’s no guarantee that its posters fit neatly into the Gen-Z/millennial right, demographic-wise. And of course, no politician is responsible for the most extreme things their supporters say about them. But the fact remains: Just as Trump was in 2016, so is Masters the most appealing candidate to the kind of nihilistic, racist, woman-hating far-right-winger that characterizes the website’s politics subforum.
It’s been seven years since Trump announced his presidential campaign, and in that span of time an entire generation has politically come of age. If you were 15 in 2015, posting Trump memes on 4chan as a transgressive protest to perceived liberal hegemony in your own life, you’re 22 now — maybe a recent college graduate, with a nascent but meaningful ideological worldview. Just as the Trump presidency inspired the creation of a loose network of foundations, think tanks and media outlets that would add structural ballast to its political project, it also inspired a new generation of disaffected young voters to think differently about the Republican political project and the role it might play in their lives. Whether or not he makes it to the Senate, the Masters campaign represents the aspirations of a new generation of the young right that looks decidedly different from what came before.
It doesn’t take a sociologist to note that Masters’ background, broadly outlined, is fairly similar to the kind of person who would spend a lot of time talking politics online: an otherwise average suburban white man from a comfortable background who experiences an ideological awakening in high school or college. Masters’ Svengali was not some inchoate shit-posting hivemind, however, but Peter Thiel, who adopted Masters as his protégé. They even co-wrote a book together, based on Masters’ notes from Thiel’s Stanford class.
Thiel’s politics are well-documented. Having once notoriously noted that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel is “libertarian” in name only, his particular blend of corporatism, nationalism and a belief in technology as a tool of social control earning him the most credible accusations of fascism this side of George Lincoln Rockwell.
Fascism, of course, is very based. Over the past decade a cottage industry in media has popped up with the goal of chronicling online, meme-friendly fascist speech and action — from the most puerile Hitler photoshops and Holocaust “jokes” that might be posted by unsupervised 13-year-olds to the very real, deadly violence perpetrated by groups like Atomwaffen Division. Aside from hostility toward anyone who isn’t a white male, what could possibly tie this sprawling, messy ecosystem together, much less in support of a mainstream U.S. Senate candidate?
The answer, coincidentally, lies in a viral 4chan post: “I literally just hate liberals. I don’t have any other politics.” (Top comment on the Reddit post preserving the remark: “Based.”) Yes, the online fever swamps are marked by racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry, but it’s not quite right to say that bigotry is the force that unites all of these disparate elements (after all, dominated by white men as these spaces might be, they do include women and people of color). Rather, it’s a pure resentment of the cultural expressions of liberalism, and a dissatisfaction with the world it’s built.
If liberalism is the political framework that allows liberals to build and operate institutions that the based don’t believe have been sufficiently beneficial to their lives — or if it’s what simply enables them to be so annoying — then to hell with it. This is not, of course, to say that there categorically cannot be a valid or productive debate over or critique of liberalism as a mode of governance, or that the New Right movement is based solely on ressentiment. But in the based mindset, the time for such academic hand-wringing is over and the time for decisive action is now.
This is how a figure like Masters — who needless to say would denounce an outright neo-Nazi like Nick Fuentes should the need arise (as it did with fellow based Congressional candidate Joe Kent) — can unite the fascist-sympathetic, extremely-online far right without openly courting them. Unsurprisingly for a Thiel protégé, Masters’ illiberal sympathies are numerous. His campaign website asserts that “if we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today”; he warns, Michael Anton-style, of the need for “someone with their hand on the tiller” to take control before America enters the “Dark Ages”; he likes to boast on the campaign trail about his aspiration to fire the entire federal bureaucracy, presumably to be replaced by New-Right- (or Masters-)friendly cronies.
All this talk of raging against the liberal machine invites a classic thought experiment, which is inadvertently revealing of Masters’ and the based constituency’s role in reactionary politics: What would a wholesale overthrow of American liberalism actually look like? Fortunately for rhetorical purposes (and unfortunately for the health of American democracy), there’s an obvious recent example in the Jan. 6 riots, an overt attempt to prevent the will of the people as expressed through the mechanism of our constitutional republic from being enacted.
And who, pray tell, were those rioters? With a few high-profile exceptions like that of the notorious online troll “Baked Alaska,” they were … decidedly non-“based,” or at the very least, not part of the bleeding-edge intellectual and aesthetic project Masters represents. As a pair of University of Chicago researchers pointed out last year, they were largely, as the extremely-online say, “normies”: tool-and-die operators, hot tub parts salespeople, middle-aged, divorced dads. If they were part of an explicitly ideological group it was far more likely to be a grizzled, old-school militia like the Oath Keepers or Three Percenters.
Not to be reductive, but it’s difficult to imagine those thuggish, Harley-riding, patronage-loving would-be foot soldiers of fascist takeover existing day-to-day in political harmony with the likes of Masters, a moneyed Stanford graduate, or much less Thiel, a married gay man and an immigrant to boot. In a cringeworthy blog post, the “neo-reactionary” high priest (and Masters pal) Curtis Yarvin compared this dynamic to that between “hobbits,” or the non-ideological who simply want to “grill and raise kids” but are hectored by oppressive liberalism, and the “dark elves” who might use their status and power as a “hidden cadre” within the elite “who can emerge to rule the future.”
This is ultimately the promise of “based” politics. All ye dissatisfied with liberalism — bikers, coders, shitposters, alienated intellectuals — huddle underneath my cloak and I will cast the spell that will free you to grill once more, without fear of interracial same-sex couples in dish soap commercials. Trump, with his single-minded devotion to the culture war, paved the way for such a barely concealed illiberal promise. More than a half-decade after his rise, politicians like Masters and money-men like Thiel are building the tools, ideological framework and constituency to follow through on it. As niche as it might be, the movement providing their cultural spark could become a permanent feature of American political life.
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