In July, the New York Times posted a job announcement seeking a reporter-cum-anthropologist to cover an important new beat: infiltrating the “online communities and influential personalities making up the right-wing media ecosystem” and “shedding light on their motivations” for the benefit of Times readers. Establishing this “critical listening post” would not be a role for the faint of heart. The daring candidate would have to be specifically “prepared to inhabit corners of the internet” where “far-right” ideas were discussed, all for the higher goal of determining “where and why these ideas take shape.”
You could be forgiven for questioning why the paper needed yet another reporter to shape the narrative about the political Right, given its constant focus on Donald Trump and the populist MAGA movement since 2016. But the timing of the announcement seemed to suggest that the Times had something else in mind. It arrived amid an explosion of media interest in understanding a strange new tribe, discovered suddenly not in the wilds of Kansas but right under their noses.
Back in April, an article by James Pogue in Vanity Fair revealed the emergence of a collection of “podcasters, bro-ish anonymous Twitter posters, online philosophers, artists, and amorphous scenesters”—sometimes called “‘dissidents,’ ‘neo-reactionaries,’ ‘post-leftists,’ or the ‘heterodox’ fringe . . . all often grouped for convenience under the heading of America’s New Right”—who represented the “seam of a much larger and stranger political ferment, burbling up mainly within America’s young and well-educated elite.” That last bit about the demographics of this so-called New Right may have been what got the Times’s attention. But Pogue had even more striking news: these dissidents, he wrote, had established “a position that has become quietly edgy and cool in new tech outposts like Miami and Austin, and in downtown Manhattan, where New Right–ish politics are in, and signifiers like a demure cross necklace have become markers of a transgressive chic.” This may have been the most alarming news of all for the paper of record: somehow, traditionalist right-wing conservatism had perhaps become cool.