There appears to be no level of unambiguous racism spewed by a right-wing “intellectual” that won’t be offered the benefit of the doubt by certain willfully oblivious contrarian pundits.
Case in point, Huffpost journalist Christopher Mathias last week published a lengthy report outing Richard Hanania—an up-and-coming darling of the libertarian right and occasional contributor to The New York Times and The Washington Post—as the former “Richard Hoste.”
Under his nom de plume, from 2008 until at least 2011, Hanania established himself as a frequent contributor to alt-right and white supremacist websites, arguing that Black people have “low intelligence and impulse control,” lamenting the pervasiveness of “miscegenation” and proposing anyone “with an IQ under 90”—a populace he believes is overwhelmingly Black—should be “forcibly sterilized.”
In the mid-2010s, Hanania ditched his alter ego, began writing under his real name, and quickly became a well-regarded figure in “anti-woke” punditry.
Certainly, Huffpost’s exposé of Hanania—with its meticulously compiled receipts—was necessary. But the first tipoff that Richard Hanania had been a vocal proponent of noxious white supremacist bile in the past was the fact that he is very much a proponent of noxious white supremacist bile at present.
In just the last three months, Hanania has called Black people “animals.” He helpfully specified—lest anyone is inclined to recite the tired trope that the real issue is class struggle, not race—that his opinion holds “whether they’re harassing people in subways or walking around in suits”; suggested the “future of medicine is dark” because too many Black and Hispanic students have been admitted to medical schools; and advocated for “more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people.” These tidbits followed a February Substack piece in which Hanania blithely declared that “Asian and white men” are “simply better than everyone else.”
After the reveal of his pseudonymous career as an even more cretinous racist, Hanania drafted an apology filled with so much race science it could’ve been mistaken for ham-fisted anti-racist satire in any other context.
As it was, Hanania unironically whined about being unfairly targeted for recognizing the “undeniable facts” of innate “statistical differences between races”—and for not once being credited for his newfound belief that, “even if groups differ in skills or cognitive abilities, we can all still benefit from the division of labor.”
WHAT, EXACTLY, IS UNCLEAR ABOUT THIS?
With the exception of his own declarations, there’s no evidence Hanania is anything but the alt-right sewer-dweller he’s always been. In fact, every available exhibit suggests the only difference between “Hoste” and “Hanania” is that the latter’s time in academia has helped him swaddle his racism in more genteel prose.
And yet, several prominent figures—all white, male, and apparently of the belief that pushing the same scientific racism that justified slavery is no reason to derail a blooming career—treated the open-letter “apology” like a map to Hanania’s redemption arc.
“An honest post on a difficult subject,” Chris Best, co-founder of Substack, tweeted, “and the kind of genuine self-critique that is necessary to move past bad ideas.”
“Is redemption real? Only God knows for certain,” former Bush speechwriter and longtime Atlantic staff writer David Frum asked in a post seemingly written to be scored by swelling strings. “But we mortals can judge by acts and words. We should affirm: there can be a road back from extremism to normality; that people who veer to the margins are not doomed to stay there forever if they want to come home.”
Bryan Caplan of the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center, which helps bankroll Hanania’s work, volunteered that even though Hanania had once “said some bad things about me,” he had eventually “won him over, met him in real life, and he is now my good friend. And I stand by my friends.”
Independent journalist Michael Tracey questioned why he might be expected to “denounce crude racial stuff on comment threads 15 years ago,” when so many “pro-war freaks” in media and punditry aren’t living in exile?
But it was Glenn Greenwald, the anti-establishment journalist turned MAGA-friendly contrarian commentator, who went all-in for Hanania over multiple tweets. “Richard Hanania spends much of his time praising neoliberal institutions and leaders. He likes Biden, corporate media, CIA/FBI. He despises Trump. Including these facts about his ambiguous partisan loyalties would be journalism, confusing the narrative, so HuffPost excluded it,” Greenwald wrote. “If you read the HuffPost piece, you’d think he’s some Trumpist, which is exactly what activists would imply,” he added.
The next day, Greenwald fired another round of tweets that sure seemed related, but when pressed he claimed not to be “talking about him”—meaning Hanania.
“Politics is fun and easy when you start by announcing that all your political adversaries are Nazis, racists and fascists and then work backward from that premise,” Greenwald wrote. While conceding that he regards “the old passages of [Hanania’s] writings that were unearthed to be obviously racist,” Greenwald claimed not to “follow him [on social media, etc.] anywhere near closely enough to characterize his views now or if they’re different.” (Though Greenwald is never at a loss for opinion or fact-checking others, he seems to have missed the HuffPost article in question, which includes plenty of super-racist recent quotes from Hanania.)
In the end, Greenwald suggested it didn’t matter anyway: “How many Americans do you think know Richard Hanania?” he asked rhetorically. “Only a tiny segment of Twitter-fixated political/media figures and, even there, only vaguely. Liberals love stories where they find out someone is genuinely racist because it vindicates how they say everyone but them is.”
Not to put too fine of a point on it, but anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Hanania’s writing who claims they oppose anti-Black racism—and who also claims not to have recognized Hanania’s racism—is lying, to themselves or to everyone else.
I don’t care how much intellectualized blather and pseudoscientific “human biodiversity” justifications Hanania couches his opinions in, the anti-black racism is always right there.
If you have ever had his aggressively racist takes randomly show up in your timeline, as I have, and didn’t see it for what it was, you either view online racism as harmless lib-baiting trollishness, rhetorical speed bumps on the road to the anti-woke stuff you really came for, or your brain simply doesn’t register his reprehensible views—because like-minds rarely glitch at shared opinions, however conscious or unconsciously held. (I’m being unreasonably gracious with that last sentence’s closing.)
You could only view Hanania as having completed a hero’s journey if you don’t give a shit about what he’s said, and continues to say—a collective that includes many members.
“After the reveal of his pseudonymous career as an even more cretinous racist, Hanania drafted an apology filled with so much race science it could’ve been mistaken for ham-fisted anti-racist satire in any other context.”
People who believe spewing long-debunked race science is ultimately no biggie, and who shrug off garbage-yet-platformed anti-Blackness as some kind of legitimate thought experiment. People who think the “anti-woke” and the center-right charade of “just asking questions”—about, say, whether certain groups might be subhuman—present an opportunity for debate, and not a way of mainstreaming the questioner’s old-timey, pseudoscientific racism.
In the case of Greenwald, the rapid shift from “he isn’t racist” to “maybe he is racist, but not enough people read him for it to matter,” attests to the indifference Hanana’s defenders have about the way dehumanizing attitudes—which, given Hanania’s reach—lead to dehumanizing treatment.
Hanania’s platforming by The New York Times and The Washington Post implicates far more than just right-wingers and “anti-wokes” in perpetuating racist nonsense.
MEDIOCRE WHITE MAN FOR WHITE SUPREMACY
Obviously, the rush to defend Hanania isn’t happening because he is an incomparably brilliant critical thinker breaking new thought ground.
In his apology-fail, Hanania attributed his most overtly racist writings to having “few friends or romantic successes” (the comment made me recall a tweet in which he cited Black men’s “attractiveness to women” as outranking that of other men, a fact that no doubt left him seething for years).
He joked that his alienation led to the “only logical conclusion, which was that I was naturally superior to everyone else”—a cutesy way of admitting that he weaponized his self-loathing, seething resentments, and insecurities into grievances he and others could bond over.
I’d argue nearly all of his commentary remains animated by that same desperate effort. No wonder he clings to the idea that it’s written indelibly in his DNA.
Hanania posted this week that he has received all manner of job offers and donation offers since being exposed. It’s hard to know when a bullshitter’s bullshitting, but I wouldn’t doubt he’s telling the truth. His supporters will continue to bolster him, while suggesting the rest of us should extend him greater grace and hear him out.
Hanania has already made it plain how he thinks. Those making appeals on his behalf are wittingly telling us the same about themselves.