I think we all owe fringe groups an apology. In our mad dash to be open-minded and accepting of all cultures, communities, races and creeds, we carelessly let a few small but very loud groups slip through the cracks of our kindness. They are the extremist factions, and they are angry about being generalized, about being marginalized and just kind of about everything. No one really takes the time to understand the differences between hate groups or to see the intricate distinctions among zealots. Simply put, we are bigoted against the bigots, even in 2012.
For instance, did you know they've developed an appreciation for art?
But within each fringe group,
attention to detail is extraordinary. They know exactly who they like, who they agree with and, most importantly, who they despise. They have deliberately ignored the adage "Strength in numbers" to stick rigidly to their ideologies to the point that splinter groups fight more viciously with each other than with anyone who directly opposes their cause. So in the interest of understanding these communities and their crazy ideologies a little better, you have to first understand who they align themselves against, and in nearly every case, it's the people who share their convictions. I realize that's confusing, so let me show you what I mean.
9/11 Conspiracy Theorists
All the theorists who believe that 9/11 was an inside job have (unfairly) labeled themselves "Truthers," which puts all opposition in the uncomfortable position of being "Liars" by default. That's just how conspiracy theories work: If you disagree, then you are almost certainly an agent of the conspiracy. Not surprisingly, that makes for some confusing and hilarious arguments among conspiracy theorists when they agree that a covert plot exists but can't agree on how it's executed.
"Tell me, how did the jet fuel get hot enough to melt those beams, huh?! Idiot! Now get ready for school."
9/11 conspiracy theorists run into this problem more often than simulated planes
run into buildings on YouTube. "No Planers" believe that the travesty on September 11 was orchestrated by the U.S. government, but they also insist that the planes involved were actually holograms. That latter point has made countless other 9/11 conspiracy theorists throw up their hands and say, "Well that's just crazy." It forces everyone who believes there were planes involved into the awkward predicament of arguing against a group that fundamentally shares their beliefs. Planers and No Planers are so bitter about one another's existence that they use up all their energy trying to expose the other side as a bunch of fringe lunatics
. By the end of each day, they have no time or enthusiasm left to proselytize to the masses about their common belief or, at the very least, to look up the definition of irony.
The myth of Bigfoot gained traction in American culture around the 1950s and '60s, thanks largely in part to a plaster cast of a massive footprint and the video footage a Sasquatch casually strolling through the woods in the Pacific Northwest. That footage was shot by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, and despite the fact that it's one of the primary reasons anyone believes in Bigfoot in the first place, some cryptozoologists are doing everything in their power to debunk it.
Over 40 years after it was shot, with all the advancements in technology, special effects and gorilla suit upgrades, the footage looks objectively ridiculous. Even Bigfoot believers are forced to sheepishly admit that the footage is doing them more harm than good. Some of them are even actively trying to deconstruct the tape to prove it's fake so that they can move on to more reliable proof. In other words, the same people who probably became believers because of that footage are now trying to discredit it. And everyone seems sort of OK with that.But there's also a constituency of cryptozoologists who still adamantly believe it's the most important piece of evidence that Bigfoot exists. These two opposing factions absolutely hate one another. They each think the other is an embarrassment to the field of study, making a mockery out of the "science."
"You have no idea how easy it was to get these coats."
To see just how furious their fights get, you only have to look at the
pages and pages of forums on the subject. Friendships have ended because of this argument. They have spent hundreds of hours arguing over shaky footage and whether or not it counts as admissible evidence for an imaginary monster they both unequivocally believe exists. People who don't believe in Bigfoot at all have no idea who to attack because everyone within cryptozoology is already on the verge of a fistfight with one another.
Hidden in the darkest, skinniest recesses of the Internet are the pro-ana (pro-anorexic)
forums. They offer ideas, advice and general discussions on never eating again. Despite all the overwhelming support between users, or maybe because of it, pro-ana websites are some of the creepiest places you can find yourself on the Web. But considering that the disorder has a undercurrent of competitiveness, the pretense of support collapses pretty frequently, and forum threads devolve into arguments about who's better at starving to death.
"And then I sit like that for half an hour until my brain thinks it ate a meal."
It's nearly impossible to read through these forums without
, so instead I'll just tell you that they constantly and passive-aggressively attack one another's diets for not being rigid enough. The Cookie Diet, which is an insanely unhealthy diet allowing only 800 calories a day, will be laughed out of most of these forums for being too indulgent. The feuds aren't quite as conspicuous as they are on other forums, but they are even more vicious, because no one aligns themselves with a particular side: It's just a free-for-all attack on one another under the guise of encouragement. For such frail, non-threatening husks of people, they are extraordinarily mean.
White Power Advocates
On most issues, nearly all factions of the white power movement see eye to eye, provided that each of those eyes are blue. They can all agree that white people are the favorite kind of people and that every other race is infuriating, but just how infuriating is apparently an insurmountable point of contention between them. White separatists are willing to tolerate the fact that other races exist in the world, but they advocate the creation of an "ethnically pure" country of just white people. In other words, they want an entire nation built on the principles of a '70s country club. Supremacists, on the other hand, can't sleep knowing that there are other ethnicities out there, just
existing. Supremacists don't just want to run their own little hunk of land because they are afraid that the rest of the world will fall into ruin without their supervision. They believe that white people are inherently superior and should be the ruling race in every country. So if there is only one compliment to offer white supremacists, it's that they are at least thinking globally, regardless of how misguided and malevolent that thought may be.
But even with all the hatred they're expending on other races, both supremacists and separatists treat their bigotry like a marathon instead of a sprint, always saving a little reserve hatred that they can use on each other from time to time. The clearest example of their mutual antagonism is smeared across Stormfront.org, the biggest white pride forum on the Internet. In
one thread, a girl asks if she's still allowed to be part of the white revolution since she once dated an Asian man by mistake. The separatists get to her first, saying it's OK as long as she promises never to do it again, but pretty quickly after that, the supremacists step in and assure her that she's been tainted forever and that she's officially "off the team." Then the two sides fight for another 50 pages over what kind of interaction with other ethnicities is acceptable. It's remarkable to see so many people accusing one another of not being the right amount of racist and genuinely threatening to hang one another when the white revolution finally comes.
Ahh, now that's brotherhood.
Special thanks to David Wong for his help researching this column.