When I was a young boy, my male friends and I built a clubhouse in my backyard out of pieces of lumber. Our motto: “It’s a man’s world. To drive home this point, we hung a sign on the door – “NO GIRLS ALLOWED!” And there, in our lair, we cooked up secrets and developed a conception of what the world should look like, how it should work. But our deliberations to remake the world were invariably foiled when our parents called us to dinner, then to bed, and we had to live to plot another day.
That then was, what is now. What happened? We grew up. Which brings me to the problem – one of many – that I have with extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Like my boyhood club, they’re men’s businesses (the Oath Keepers admit women, but project a male face), and they have mottoes — for the Proud Boys, “Stand Back and Stand By” (courtesy permission of Donald Trump), and “Not under our watch! for the Oathkeepers; but, unlike the club of my childhood, their members never grew up. There lingers among them a longing for an eternal childhood, an imaginary universe without a woman (or “less women”) where any chaos committed will be excused because one is not a man, but a boy.
In my clubhouse, my friends and I imagined that we were speaking a larger truth to the rest of the world, who would take us seriously and be happy to comply. (One of those more important truths was that we should be able to skip school without consequences. For some reason, our parents didn’t agree with that one.) Which brings me to the second problem that I have with far right groups – they claim to speak for me. I voted in a free and fair presidential election, and the majority of Americans would agree. But the so-called militias presumed to decide, on my behalf, that the election was not free and fair. As such, they want to overthrow a government that I and a majority of Americans have elected.
In my clubhouse, we had toy weapons of all kinds – rifles, pistols, machine guns and even a bazooka. But then, as we grew and matured, we recognized them for the toys they were. They became the first things to do before the club itself lost its appeal and each of us started preparing for life as young adults, dealing with our educations and what we wanted to be “when we will grow”. But the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers still have their shoot-’em-ups, which they cling to with all the verve I made with my toys. But I was 9 years old, for God’s sake. At the age of 12, I had given up my toys. I also learned to respect the rules of society. (The biggest problem here, of course, is that the Proud Boys’ toys are deadly.)
In my clubhouse, despite our grandiose chatter about remaking the world in our image, there was always a sense of limits, of how far we could go under the pressure of our “arguments.” I remember there was little or no shouting, no scolding of individuals, no violence and, perhaps most importantly, an agreement to abide by majority rule: a quick and easy vote has always been undisputed. I compare this to the modus operandi of extremist groups, which seem to view violence as a first resort and talk cavalierly about “civil war” with a childlike enthusiasm normally reserved for Christmas.
The upshot of all of this is that the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and the like don’t meet the standards of the 9-year-olds of my childhood, let alone men. My message to them is simple: Grow up, boys. Dinner is on the table. And then to bed.
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