Much concern has been raised in the past few years about the role of social media in the iteration and spread of hateful rhetoric, and rightfully so. There is no shortage of stories of once-moderate or politically uninvolved family members getting pulled past an event horizon of paranoia and mistrust via far-right memes and conspiracy YouTube videos. More than one right-wing mass shooter has found a home and audience on 8Chan and related websites. Yet, as a new article, “Gunguy,” from writer and troller of the alt-right Nathan Bernard’s Good Morning from Maine newsletter usefully reminds us, hate has always spread freely in America, long predating any form of media or technology.
“Gunguy” focuses on Bill, the owner of Gulf of Maine Gunsmithing, a gun store on the main drag of a vacation town in rural Maine. Bill is, to the point of caricature, what you’d expect the stereotypical middle-aged white MAGA man to be. Bill hates libtards and socialists and especially college professors. He is keenly aware of the similar sounds of “Obama” and “Osama.” He is eternally fixated on the unpunished misdeeds of Hillary Clinton. Bill shares his views on all these issues via the sign for his store out by the road. Beneath the name of his business is one of those slide-in-the-letters church-style billboards that presents Bill’s take on the issues of the day in mismatched plastic lettering.
A sample of offerings: “Send all libtards to Venezeula for socialism ABC bernie style,” “Are the demarats taking bribes from the drug cartels for open borders?” “Beware the beast, Hildabeast Clinton, and its vagenda of manocide.” It’s all your basic boilerplate 2010s hate and ignorance, the kind you’d easily pick up from watching a few hours of Tucker Carlson or reading a selection of badly compressed image macros on Facebook.
But what makes Bill’s story interesting is that he does not have internet access, or even cable. Bill says he gets all the information he needs from old-fashioned print conservative outlets like the National Review and Washington Examiner. This is all the connection Bill needs to parrot the rhetoric of even the most online Trump supporter.
“Nope. Won’t ever own ‘em [phone and internet],” says Bill. “They steal your time and money.”
Just like myriad “big-name” conservative Twitter accounts, Bill claims censorship at the hands of neighbors who mostly would prefer he not say the things he does, but in reality begrudgingly tolerate his right to do so. And, as Bernard writes, despite living with no internet or even cable television in a place far isolated from frightening events described on Fox News, Bill has no problem internalizing the latest fear-mongering about immigrants and refugees.
Maine’s culture and “western civilization”, also known as “white people” are not facing a dire threat from several hundred refugees. There are 1.3 million people that live in Maine and 95% of them are white. But fear is a powerful tool, and Bill is a perfect example that you don’t need social media, Trump, or “algorithms” to believe fear mongering narratives. These stories are deeply rooted in all levels of our society, from the White House to a remote town in Maine.
Bill doesn’t need Facebook or Twitter or even the internet at all to be exposed to the latest in right-wing fear and hate, and he’s found an effective way of spreading it on to the next person, too.