Richard Hanania’s Chilling Normality

Illustration: Alicia Tatone

Richard Hanania, an intellectual muse of the Silicon Valley right, once argued against apologies in a 2015 op-ed for the Washington Post in part because “males who show social dominance are judged more attractively as potential mates.” It was perhaps inevitable that Hanania, a writer whose forthcoming book, The Origins of Woke, has been effusively praised by Peter Thiel, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, and the entrepreneur David Sacks, would eventually be forced to apologize himself. The words I’m sorry don’t appear in his August 7 essay in Quillette, but his attempts to explain the “repugnant views” he once held, exposed days earlier in a damning HuffPost report, convey a clear sense of regret.

“I truly sucked back then,” Hanania admits, confirming that, between 2008 and 2012, he posted pseudonymously on several white-supremacist and misogynistic websites, including VDare and Richard Spencer’s Alternative Right. Hanania inveighed against miscegenation, called for the sterilization of Black people with a “low IQ,” and claimed that women “didn’t evolve to be the decision makers in society.” He confesses he “had few friends or romantic successes and no real career prospects” at the time and was projecting his “personal unhappiness onto the rest of the world.”

Hanania’s rise from dweller on racist message boards to right-wing public thinker in good stead — with bylines in the New York Times and The Atlantic, a book deal with HarperCollins, and endorsements ranging from Elon Musk to Senator J. D. Vance — has been held up as proof of the anti-woke campaign’s deeper beliefs. Bolstering this case are revelations that a staffer for Ron DeSantis, who has made the battle against “wokeness” the centerpiece of his presidential bid, had created and promoted a video depicting DeSantis inside a Nazi symbol. That racists are now crawling all over conservative politics is no surprise given that DeSantis recently extolled the supposed benefits of slavery and Ramaswamy declared that Juneteenth was a “useless” holiday — just the latest evidence of the GOP’s renewed audacity on the issue of race, which has generally been accepted as one of the monuments of a Trump-dominated landscape.

However, one of the lessons of the Hanania affair is that anti-Black concepts are entrenched within not only the GOP but also the political mainstream, a reality made evident by the anti-woke fervor that has gripped both parties in the long aftermath of the George Floyd protests. Even if Hanania were to disappear into the ranks of the canceled, even if “wokeness” were to be replaced as a rallying cry, his ideas would remain all too normal.

In fact, his trip back to the good graces of respectable discourse may be a quick one. His mea culpa in Quillette, titled “My Journey Out of Extremism,” was described as “worth reading” by The Atlantic’s David Frum, who said we should affirm that “there can be a road back from extremism to normality.” The indefatigable blogger Matthew Yglesias said that, though Hanania is “clearly quite racist,” he also had written “some good pieces.” Even the HuffPost exposé said Hanania has “moderated his words to some extent” since his days in the seediest corners of the right-wing web.

The reality is that Hanania is seen as more moderate today because he has shrouded many of his old arguments about race in the mainstream terminology of crime prevention, a subtle shift in emphasis that makes him appealing to both the transgressive right and the broad middle. “One of the most dishonest parts of the Huffington Post hit piece is the argument that I maintain ‘a creepy obsession with so-called race science’ and talk about blacks being inherently more prone to crime,” he writes in Quillette. “I do no such thing, and ultimately believe that what the sources of such disparities are doesn’t matter.”

The Old Hanania said Black people are naturally stupid and can’t control their animal impulses, leading to high crime rates in their neighborhoods. The New Hanania leaves out the first part — “the sources of such disparities” — while heaping blame on Black people for their problems and calling for aggressive action. On May 13, he tweeted, “We need more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people. Blacks won’t appreciate it, whites don’t have the stomach for it.” In a post on his popular Substack that day, he explained that Black crime has ensured that “some of the most valuable urban real estate in the country is basically uninhabitable,” ascribing the near-total absence of white people from many Black neighborhoods to bad Black behavior.

White liberals, he explained, simply pay top dollar to avoid living near Black people. “Liberals are correct that entire swaths of a major city don’t end up with zero white people by accident,” Hanania wrote. “They just attribute this to ‘racism’ rather than the desire not to be sexually assaulted or physically harmed.”

Hanania is proudly ignorant of the fact that his laboratory for proving this theory, Chicago, is a source of some of the richest scholarship available on the subject of residential segregation and its relationship to crime. The work of historians like Arnold Hirsch and Beryl Satter, along with that of sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton, details how the city’s white residents and political and financial institutions transformed formerly white neighborhoods into Black ghettos through the early-to-mid-20th century. In Chicago and elsewhere, enterprising white real-estate agents would use a socially mobile Black family to frighten away white homeowners with threats of declining home values — a veritable guarantee given that neither banks nor the federal government would insure mortgages where Black people lived. They would then divide the evacuated houses into smaller segments, converting garages and guest bedrooms to create entire housing units for poor and working-class Black families.

As the borders of these neighborhoods hardened and they became overcrowded and physically degraded, one result was a concentration of poverty’s ills, like joblessness, homelessness, addiction, and crime — effects whose ecological and intergenerational implications have been further documented by sociologists like Robert Sampson and Patrick Sharkey. White people did not flee Black neighborhoods to escape rampant criminality, as Hanania claims. They fled white neighborhoods because Black people started living there.

Contrary to Hanania’s proclamation that these areas are “uninhabitable,” people do still inhabit them, and his proposed solution to what ails them amounts to transforming much of Black America into a police state. He writes floridly about the so-called Bukele miracle, named for the crime-fighting tactics of El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, who has overseen a dramatic reduction in crime by suspending basic civil liberties and imprisoning tens of thousands of citizens. “You need more cops, more prisons, and more use of DNA databases and facial recognition technology,” Hanania writes on Substack — a mass removal “in the interests of society at large,” as the Old Hanania put it 13 years ago.

What’s striking about Hanania’s ideas about race and crime today is how conventional they are. When he holds forth about the criminal character of Black people being the cause of urban turmoil and white flight, it is with the imprimatur of Musk, the world’s richest man, who has called the idea “interesting.” When Hanania argues that focusing on basic rights for Black people — like the right not to be murdered by racist vigilantes — is absurd in the face of rampant Black-on-Black crime, he’s deploying the same dodge that Rudy Giuliani used to discredit Black Lives Matter protests. And when he proposes that the solution is to lock up Black people en masse, he is simply reiterating the dominant American criminal-justice policy of the past 50 years.

It was always apparent that even the more “moderate” version of Hanania holds racist beliefs. But the widespread acceptance of these beliefs is an indictment less of his chilling openness than of what passes for moderation.

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