Book Review: Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin

Author: Talia Lavin
Publisher: Legacy Lit
Publish Date: October 13, 2020
Print Length: 288

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Official Synopsis

One reporter takes an immersive dive into white supremacy’s explosive online presence, exploring the undercurrents of propaganda, racism, misogyny, and history that led us to where we are now.

Talia Lavin is every skinhead’s worst nightmare: a loud and unapologetic Jewish woman, acerbic, smart, and profoundly antiracist, with the investigative chops to expose the tactics and ideologies of online hatemongers.

Culture Warlords is the story of how Lavin, a frequent target of extremist trolls (including those at Fox News), dove into a byzantine online culture of hate and learned the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates online. Within these pages, she reveals the extremists hiding in plain sight online: Incels. White nationalists. White supremacists. National Socialists. Proud Boys. Christian extremists. In order to showcase them in their natural habitat, Talia assumes a range of identities, going undercover as a blonde Nazi babe, a forlorn incel, and a violent Aryan femme fatale. Along the way, she discovers a whites-only dating site geared toward racists looking for love, a disturbing extremist YouTube channel run by a fourteen-year-old girl with over 800,000 followers, the everyday heroes of the antifascist movement, and much more. By combining compelling stories chock-full of catfishing and gate-crashing with her own in-depth, gut-wrenching research, she also turns the lens of anti-Semitism, racism, and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle and decimate the online hate movement from within.

Shocking, humorous, and merciless in equal measure, Culture Warlords explores some of the vilest subcultures on the Web-and shows us how we can fight back.

My Review

How do I even review a book like Culture Warlords: My Journey Into the Dark Web of White Supremacy? Though it’s not a long book, it certainly covers a topic deserving of many analytical volumes of text. I’m not easily triggered, but even I found this book unsettling. I must admit, after reading it I’m wary of even of posting my bumbling review for fear of attracting unwanted attention.

As the full title suggests outright, the topic covered is white supremacy on the dark web. The author, Talia Lavin, adopted various identities to infiltrate these hate groups and learn more about what drives these people into the arms of misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, and violence. To be frank, I expected more firsthand accounts of Lavin’s interactions with those she messaged on the dark web; at least, that’s what the full title suggested to me. I personally absorb more information when presented with examples. To be fair, Lavin does incorporate some exchanges, but most interactions are summarized allegorically and then analyzed in a scholarly way. Though the writing is superb and expressive, it’s also very high level and somewhat dense. I feel that makes this book overall less approachable to the layperson.

However, after reading Culture Warlords, would I want more primary examples of Lavin’s interactions? I’m not so sure. The summaries of recent news events, many of which flew under my radar but were a big deal on the dark web, made my lip curl in disgust and dismay. I just cannot fathom hating a group of people, namely Jews, so much that one desires their eradication.

I absolutely am not going to pretend I remember everything I read in this book. It explores and analyzes a lot of various topics under the umbrella of white supremacy. Some discussions stuck with me, though. For example, I don’t think I can look at the revival of Norse mythology in our culture, or anything related to the Crusades, through the same lens again. I was totally oblivious to the fact that these time periods/religion are romanticized as the origin story of Whiteness (religion, culture, fervor), to paraphrase broadly. That doesn’t mean every new Viking-related pop culture piece is tainted, but it’s something I’ll now keep in the back of my mind.

Because I don’t want to misrepresent Lavin’s excellent journalism, I’ll keep this review short. But this is a great book with which to engage to learn more about this topic. It is naturally evocative, but so is the nature of hate. The whole time I read this I couldn’t stop thinking about how awful Lavin must have felt working on this piece; she does, in fact, mention this in the Afterword. Fair warning that you need to be in a decent head space to read this.

Rating: 4/5
Content warnings: discussions about white supremacy, misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, gun violence
Reading format: Library hardback

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin

    1. It’s a heavy book, that’s for sure. It made me look at Medieval art and Vikings differently, but really because supremacist groups have co-opted them for their own ideals. If you read it, it’s a one chapter at a time kind of deal. It took me a while to finish it.

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