Posted on March 16, 2016

The Rise of the #Regressiveleft Hashtag

Joseph Bernstein, BuzzFeed, March 15, 2016

Wade into the thickets of the pro-Trump, anti-SJW internet jungle, past the #Cuckservative vines and around #TheTriggering tree, and you’ll notice a new species, one that’s spread everywhere and seems to have blossomed overnight:


The tag, which plays on the “Progressive Left” of Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter, has become wildly popular among the alt-right. Although it only started popping up on Twitter three months or so ago, now it’s being tweeted hundreds of times a day. {snip}


The phrase “Regressive Left” was originally coined by the British commentator Maajid Nawaz in 2012 to refer to liberals whose cultural relativism aligns them with repressive Islamic theocracies. Though the term is four years old, its rise on the internet is very recent. {snip}


A Google Trends search shows that interest in the term shot up in the fall of 2015, around the time of Dawkins’ tweet, dropped slightly last month, and is at an all-time high right now. (There are memes!) {snip}

Very, very quickly, the term spread to encompass much more than stories of cultural tolerance gone too far, to the point that it’s rarely applied to Islam at all. #Regressiveleft can now append tweets about the perceived repression of free speech for left causes in general (e.g., the infamous former Missouri lecturer Melissa Click); about the “Ivy League lynch mobs” rushing to hang Dr. Luke; about Bernie Sanders’ claim that white people don’t know what it’s like to live in a ghetto; about the harm done by a BuzzFeed writer’s tweets about the new all-female Ghostbusters movie; about the “scam” of climate change; and, of course, about ethics in games journalism. It’s become a catchall for any element of the dominant new media culture that the anti-SJW internet doesn’t like.


But that’s what’s so fascinating about the spread of #Regressiveleft. Unlike #Cuckservative, it doesn’t come from an alt-right message board. Instead, it comes from people, like Maher and Dawkins and Nawaz, who, controversial as they may be on the internet, would almost certainly identify as big-L Liberal. Indeed, it reveals the wiring by which the kind of cable news–appropriate Western values–traditionalism practiced by Bill Maher and Sam Harris can flow through the substations of the alt-right internet–Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, 4chan–to emerge overnight as a power source for cutting-edge internet rhetorical warfare. In other words, it’s a sign that the sentiments behind the alt-right may not be as far out of the American mainstream as some of us would like to think.