In a follow-up to his New York Times feature on Tony Hovater, the 29-year-old white nationalist and “Nazi sympathizer next door,” Richard Fausset confessed that “there was a hole at the heart” of his story.
Fausset said he hoped his story would answer a fundamental question: “Why did this man — intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases — gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?” By his own admission, Fausset says he never got a good answer during his reporting, during which he visited Hovater’s hometown.
Upon its publication Saturday afternoon, Fausset’s profile of Hovater — who marched in Charlottesville in August — was met with immediate and harsh criticism. Critics of the piece argued that the feature was a soft-focus profile of a modern-day Nazi, complete with details about Hovater’s wedding registry and his “Midwestern manners [that] would please anyone’s mother.”
But while there’s journalistic value in illustrating the banality of hate, the Times’ profile falls short in that it largely fails to adequately address a crucial element in the rise of the far right: the internet.
Save for a passing mention of 4chan and some description of Hovater’s more contentious Facebook posts, the Times piece does little to describe the online ecosystem that has helped white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and the alt-right organize, amplify its message, and thrive in recent years. And, simply put, any attempt to answer what exactly led Hovater to “gravitate toward the furthest…