The alt-right’s sad decline documented in White Noise

The new documentary released by The Atlantic shows there's nothing but emptiness under all the racist rhetoric

I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed by the new documentary White Noise, which was recently released by The Atlantic. I first learned of the doc from an article in the same publication titled “Why the Alt-Right’s Most Famous Woman Disappeared” by Daniel Lombroso, which profiled a young woman named Lauren Southern. Despite following news and politics pretty closely, it was the first time I had come across her name. What surprised me, though, is she hails from Surrey, British Columbia, which is part of Greater Vancouver. She grew up in the same environment I did.

The article is focused on Southern’s story, from high school in BC to her stint with Rebel Media (think a Canadian-style Breitbart), then down to the United States where she networked and appeared with other luminaries of the alt-right like fellow Canadian and Vice-founder Gavin McInnes. McInnes, it should also be known, is a founder of the violent group Proud Boys that was mentioned by US President Donald Trump during the first debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The election of Trump in 2016 was such a shock to the established media and political class that reporters began heading to the middle of the country to find out how ordinary Americans felt and why they supported Trump. I’ve been quite critical over the years, because during this time there was a flurry of coverage of alt-right hate groups and other white supremacists, inadvertently raising their profiles and amplifying their messages (which the kids call “platforming”).

Southern’s rise was timed almost perfectly. Interest in conservative and alt-right views was growing at the same time Southern launched her YouTube channel. In her profile, Lombroso concludes that a pretty face with a knack for social media and willingness to spout crazy opinions can make it big, giving them far-reaching influence that young people, such as Southern, may not know how to wield responsibly yet.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the alt-right has lost much of its momentum and begun to splinter. The documentary also looks at Richard Spencer, one of the organizers of the deadly Charlottesville protest in 2017, and Mike Cernovich, who is basically a troll (he was described by others in the doc as a “grifter”). Cernovich, to his credit, broke away from the movement following the ‘Heil Trump’ Nazi salutes in Washington DC in 2016.

Lauren Southern 2

The documentary fell short, to me, because so much of the material was so heavily covered following the election of Trump. VICE, in fact, had even done a documentary on Charlottesville that was much better than White Noise. It feels, amid a pandemic and two weeks before an election that is expected to evict Trump from the White House (though I have my doubts about the reliability of polls), that discussion of the alt-right is somewhat passé.  People know what these hate groups stand for and aren’t interested in listening to any more of it.

Southern, though, was new, and quite possibly the most compelling character in the documentary. She’s the youngest, most naive, and yet arguably is the most effective. Ultimately, though, if you scratch just a bit, you won’t mind much there for any of the three key characters.  Spencer, Cernovich, and Southern are fighting their own personal battles and unhappy in their own unique ways. Knowing this de-fangs them, discredits them in a way, and almost makes them objects of pity.

So you can skip White Noise. But the profile of Southern is valuable because it demonstrates how easy it is for dangerous, hateful content to get in front of millions of people. Southern, and the other two, have never taken accountability for the messages they’ve sent. Regarding Southern, Lombroso concludes:

There was never going to be a reckoning. No accountability, only retreat. It’s chilling how much damage one young person with a knack for social media can do.

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Cam Macmurchy

Hi! My name is Cam MacMurchy. I was born and raised in Canada and worked as a journalist before moving to China in 2004.

Today I work in Hong Kong as the Vice President of Corporate Communications of a listed company. I write about marketing, communications, and journalism, as well as technology and productivity, and anything else on my mind! I also occasionally contribute to 9to5Mac, one of the top Apple websites in the world, and run Executive Productivity. Contact me anytime.