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What is “Weaponized Autism”

This is the first post talking about how the far-right thinks of autism and autistic people. This post was written to be as close to plain language as possible. Uncommon words have a number next to them. The definitions of those words are at the bottom of this post.

Weaponized autism is an ableist phrase used by the far-right. It means obsessive behaviors that benefit white nationalism (a type of fascism). But, the phrase is very complicated and has a disturbing origin. In this essay, we will talk about how the term weaponized autism was made. Then we will talk about what it meant to the alternative right (alt right) and now the far-right in general.

To start, the alt right had a small but visible autistic minority. This autistic minority is on online web forums like the chan networks (4chan, 8chan/8kun, etc.). In 2004, Christopher Poole made 4chan for people to talk about anime and manga. People who use 4chan are “channers.” Channers also used 4chan to talk about other things like memes and politics. Some people used 4chan to promote equality. But, a part of 4chan called /pol/ had a lot of white nationalists. /pol/ stands for “politically incorrect.” It was a forum for discussing politics on 4chan. A lot of those white nationalists on /pol/ joined the alt right.

When 4chan became popular there were also changes in how everyone thought of autism. That is because

  • More people got an autism diagnosis
  • There were big and controversial autism awareness campaigns
  • Simon Baron-Cohen made his controversial Extreme Male Brain Theory of Autism

Channers made up their own, bigoted definition of autism. Autism was

  • Extreme obsession with something
  • Not being in education, employment, or job training (NEET)
  • No social skills (“bad optics”)
  • Incel1 and sexually degenerate2
  • Bad at lying/hiding “power level”3

The way the alt right thinks about autism is like the stereotype of Sheldon Cooper except unemployed and likes pornography white nationalists think is wrong. Channers also used the word autism to describe individual behaviors instead of people. If someone was obsessed with something or had “bad optics4,” they would be called autistic even if they were not autistic. Think of this like how some people say they are OCD for liking cleanliness when they do not have OCD. When 4chan created part of the alt right, these bigoted attitudes about autism continued. But, in the alt right, obsession came to be seen as an important tool in promoting white nationalism.

During gamergate5, doxxing6 and swatting7 the alt right’s political opponents became commonplace. Doxxers and swatters spend dozens of hours going through public or insecure databases online. They then compile and publish personal information. Then, other people hurt or threaten those doxxing victims. Doxxing and swatting requires a lot of effort, so most alt righters won’t do it. For that reason, the alt right associated doxxing and swatting with autism. Because, to them, autism means obsession. White nationalists associate some other things, like graphic design, with autism. Because these things are useful for white nationalist organizing, they became known as “weaponized autism.” Something they do not like, autism, became a useful weapon to them.

The phrase weaponized autism tells us something about the role of autistic people in the far-right. Autistic people in the far-right are tolerated if they are “weaponized.” To white nationalist movements, autistic people are only acceptable when they can be used. Hans Asperger, a psychiatrist who collaborated with the Nazis, also had this idea. He called some autistic people “little professors” and called other autistic people “useless eaters.”

But, it is not only Nazis who think this way. The idea that autistic people are acceptable only when they are “useful” is common. This is a common idea in American culture and American disability policy. Even though this idea hurts autistic people, many of us believe it. Special education, case workers, and other people who have power over us tell us this lie. That may be one reason autistic people in white nationalist movements feel comfortable being called “weaponized autism.”

  1. Incel stands for “involuntary celibate.” They are people who a) do not have sex b) believe they deserve sex from people who do not want to have sex with them. Most incels are men.
  2. Sexual degenerate. This is someone who white nationalists believe have bad sexual thoughts or actions. LGBTQ people are called this. Other people called this might like pornography white nationalists do not like. It is a hateful term.
  3. Power level is an far-right term that comes from the anime Dragon Ball Z. In this context, it refers to how much of a Nazi someone is. To “hide your power level” is to make people not think you are a Nazi. Nazis hide their power level to spread their hateful ideology with people who do not like Nazis.
  4. “Bad optics” is usually a far-right term. It means something that might be okay to the alt right but is not okay to most people. Examples include open support for Adolf Hitler or being a “sexual degenerate.”
  5. Gamergate was a dangerous movement that hated women and people of color in video games. Gamergaters made excuses for violence by saying it was about “ethics in gaming journalism.”
  6. Doxxing refers to collecting and distributing someone’s personal information. Information can include where you live, your social security number, where you work, passwords, or your bank account number.
  7. Swatting refers to falsely accusing a political opponent of a serious crime to police. The swatter hopes the police will take them seriously and raid the victim’s home with a SWAT unit. They also hope the SWAT unit will kill their political opponent. This practice comes from the real issue of police killing people, such as Breonna Taylor, in no-knock raids

This post has been updated to reflect that the alternative right does not exist anymore. The fascists who were part of the alt right are still around but in different white nationalist movements.

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