Gamergate is substantively about nothing; ask a hundred of its angry, anonymous backers what it's fighting for, and you'll get a hundred different, zany answers. But a few internet opportunists are using the chaos to make themselves celebrities.
Over the weekend, California attorney Mike Cernovich challenged me to a charity boxing match. I'd never heard of Cernovich before, but after seizing onto some joking tweets I'd made, he positioned himself as a populist hero, a defender of the bullied, and a sort of 4chan Batman. So he wanted to punch me. It was superficially about raising money for charity, but more about making the metaphorical us against them of Gamergate into a literal fistfight.
The stunt made him an instant idol among Gamergate's adolescent swarm—he was praised on Twitter like a Roman general and became the subject of fan art. It also fit perfectly with Gamergate's disingenuous moralizing. To build on the stunt, Cernovich tried to get an endorsement from Anil Dash—who has nothing to do with video games, or Gawker Media, or bullying—in exchange for which Cernovich said he'd donate more money to charity.
Dash declined to participate in the shakedown, which led to Cernovich leading the Twitter hordes against him, an incident nicely explicated and Storified here. If you point out how stupid it would be to hold a charity boxing match to "raise awareness" against violence, well, what are you, some sort of bully?
Meanwhile, people decided to read some of the ideas Cernovich had expressed before his hero turn this weekend. Turns out he's a pretty disgusting specimen: an unabashed "Men's Rights Activist," a woman-hating bigot, and—dare I say it—kind of a bully. Twitter personality Matt Binder, who specializes in neatly retweeting hypocrisy, assembled a trove of the best; the people's champ had quickly gone to this:
From a lot of this:
Two months ago, this was how the hero of the gamer movement felt about gamers and their concerns about media:
And on, and on, and on. Cernovich's own website is a repository of the dullest, lamest forms of male chauvinism and pickup artistry—posts like How To Approach Hot Chicks, How to Make a Woman Feel Desired and Owned, and How to Choke a Woman During Sex.
This was the raging video game crew's anti-bullying hero: a video game-disdaining bully, who'd seen a way to parlay a lot of confused anger into sales for his self-motivational books and juicing business.
And Cernovich isn't the only marginal right-winger exploiting a mass of aggrieved geeks.
Christina Hoff Sommers, the American Enterprise Institute's resident feminism skeptic, previously penned an entire book that's essentially an attempt to debunk the "myth" of male adolescent bullying. That her facts about an oversensitive, male-hostile world may be untrue hasn't harmed her work in the least—she's made her career not by changing minds but by giving people an excuse not to change theirs.
Spying the first potential new market for her shtick in decades, she's sided with Gamergate. It's a perfect match: The movement is unworldly enough to take Sommers' self-identification as a Democrat as evidence that liberal feminists support their cause. The followers now literally address her as "mom."
Actor-turned-Tea Partier Adam Baldwin, whose last notable film role was the guy in Independence Day who shoots the alien in Area 51, is another conservative extra with a very sudden interest in "video game journalism ethics."
And then there's Milo Yiannopoulos, a middling internet entrepreneur and conservative columnist who's gone from misoygnist provocation (an essay on gender diversity in tech called "Put a Sock In It, You Dickless Wonders") to Breitbart. He has no history of caring about any of Gamergate's superficial, ostensible values, but has become one of its personality cult leaders. And yet.
Already, Gamergaters are trying to distance themselves from Cernovich, but distance would require some focal point to begin with. A "movement" with no actual goals is not a movement at all—there's no velocity. It's how these two tweets can co-exist in the same space:
These people have nothing in common except their prior irrelevance, obscurity, and a dogged hatred of anything resembling progressive values. But to even call the clown kings of Gamergate "conservatives" is to give them more credit than they're due; this isn't political, it's personal and deeply cynical.
Atop a blob of angry, naive, and alienated youths is this handful of self-promoters who recognize an opportunity to self-promote. The kids of Gamergate think they've found heroes and allies, a group of adults who will finally include and respect them. But they're being made fools of all over again.