In recent years it’s been difficult to keep track of all the pundits or policy wonks on the American right who turn out to have secret—and often not-so-secret—lives as white supremacist provocateurs. This was certainly true during the Trump administrations, which had a weakness for appointing racist figures such as Sebastian Gorka and Darren Beattie. This was also true of nearly a dozen staffers associated with Tucker Carlson and his former show at Fox News. And it now applies to staffers and influencers in the circles around the presidential campaigns of both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. These stories sometimes—although not invariably—end with the racist staffer being fired.
Richard Hanania, a policy entrepreneur who runs the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology and has a large social media footprint, recently joined the ever-expanding ranks of exposed racists. But he’s likely to continue to flourish, for reasons that illuminate the true sponsors of bigotry. Last Friday, Christopher Mathias published a superbly researched exposé in HuffPost documenting that between roughly 2008 and 2011 Hanania published, under a pseudonym, racist and misogynist comments barely distinguishable from Nazism. These included praise for eugenics and for the neo-Nazi agitator William Pierce (author of The Turner Diaries, an open call for race war). At the time, Hanania was between 23 and 28 years old.
More recently, Hanania has established a name for himself as a rising voice on the right, publishing in mainstream venues such as The Washington Post and The New York Times while being invited to speak at elite institutions like Yale and Stanford. Ohio Senator J.D. Vance has described Hanania as a “friend” and a “really interesting thinker.” The centrist pundit Matthew Yglesias wrote of Hanania, “He’s clearly quite racist! But I also think he’s written some good pieces and it’s important to read conservatives.”
The bigotry Hanania voiced earlier hasn’t disappeared; indeed, it is still explicit (although more politely expressed) in his writing. Mathias’s most important contribution—building on the earlier research of journalist Jonathan Katz—is to establish that Hanania’s rising prominence has been supported by the advocacy (and sometimes the financial support) of a raft of plutocrats (usually with Silicon Valley roots), including Andrew Conru, Charles Koch, Marc Andreessen, David Sacks, Peter Thiel, and Vivek Ramaswamy. The last three have all blurbed Hanania’s forthcoming book The Origins of Woke, to be published by HarperCollins in September. According to Thiel, “Hanania shows we need the sticks and stones of government violence to exorcize the diversity demon.”
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Because of Hanania’s wealthy patrons and supporters, he’s unlikely to be canceled. Very powerful people have invested too much in his career to pull the plug, especially since they give all evidence of sharing his worldview.
Hanania’s past bigotry was rooted in scientific racism. In 2010 he wrote, “We’ve known for a while through neuroscience and cross-adoption studies…that individuals differ in their inherent capabilities. The races do, too, with whites and Asians on the top and blacks at the bottom.” In 2009, he made the strange claim: “While an increasing Muslim underclass might not inspire as much bad art, the IQ and genetic differences between them and native Europeans are real, and assimilation is impossible.”
The assumption here seems to be that Islam is an ethnicity—a distinct genetic make-up—rather than a religion. Since Hanania is of Palestinian Christian descent, he should know better. In 2011, he argued for a “law that forcibly sterilized everybody with an IQ under 90.” In 2010, he wrote that Hispanics “don’t have the requisite IQ to be a productive part of a first world nation.” For that reason, “the ultimate goal should be to get all the post-1965 non-White migrants from Latin America to leave.”
On his Substack, Hanania angrily insisted that Mathias’s report was a hatchet job. Hanania’s apologia is titled, “Why I Used to Suck, and (Hopefully) No Longer Do”—evidence that boasting of a high IQ is compatible with puerility.
Hanania acknowledged that he did once hold the racist views ascribed to him as a young man, but that he has reformed and now accepts “small-l liberalism.” This claim is a lie. There is a direct continuity between the racism Hanania articulated in his mid-20s and the views he holds now (as the journalist Parker Molloy has documented).
In 2009, Hanania/Hoste wrote about his inability to work in fast-food restaurants:
What is interesting to me is whether there are a lot of high IQ people who simply CAN’T do manual labor. As a teenager I tried working at a pizza place and MacDonalds [sic]. I was the worst employee there. I actually felt sympathy for low IQ kids, knowing that this is what they must’ve felt like in school. Blacks and Mexicans shook their heads at me.… It was really traumatic.
In his response to the HuffPost piece, Hanania writes, “Bryan Caplan and Alex Nowrasteh have convincingly argued that even if groups differ in skills or cognitive abilities, we can all still benefit from the division of labor.” There is a stylistic difference between Hanania/Hoste then and Hanania now. The younger writer is more callow and explicit, the current one adept at using the jargon of economics. But the essential idea being expressed is the same: The smart “groups” (whites and almost-whites like Hanania) should do intellectual work, while “Blacks and Mexicans” can be relegated to low-wage and low-status service jobs.
In challenging HuffPost, Hanania rejects the charge that he believes that Blacks are “inherently more prone to crime”: “I [believe] no such thing, and ultimately believe that what the sources of such disparities are doesn’t matter.”
Again, this is demonstrably a lie. On May 13, 2023, Hanania tweeted,
I don’t have much hope that we’ll solve crime in any meaningful way. It would require a revolution in our culture or form of government. We need more policing, incarceration, and surveillance of black people. Blacks won’t appreciate it, whites don’t have the stomach for it.
Also in May, responding to the killing of a homeless Black man on the New York subway system, Hanania wrote, “These people are animals, whether they’re harassing people in subways or walking around in suits.” In July, Hanania wrote that African American studies programs were staffed by “street hustlers and illiterates.”
A remarkable array of conservatives has risen to Hanania’s defense. George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan tweeted, “In his early 20s, @RichardHanania anonymously said some bad things about me. I won him over, met him in real life, and he is now my good friend. And I stand by my friends.” Caplan is a research fellow at the Koch-funded Mercatus Center, which has given money to the think tank Hanania runs.
Former George Bush speech writer David Frum tweeted, “Is redemption real? Only God knows for certain. But we mortals can judge by acts and words. We should affirm: there can be a road back from extremism to normality.”
It’s true that forgiveness is a virtue—and that we need to offer bigots a path to giving up their past prejudices. But forgiveness requires contrition. There are genuine cases of this happening, notably the writer Derek Black, who grew up in the white nationalist movement but rejected his patrimony. There’s zero evidence that Hanania has given up his core past beliefs. In his response to HuffPost, he reaffirms his commitment to scientific racism as the fundamental ordering structure of society. Libertarian writer Julian Sanchez, formerly of the Cato Institute, has a surer grasp of this point than Frum or Caplan. On Twitter, Sanchez noted, “I’m generally in favor of forgiving people awful stuff they said at age 20, but maybe not when they’re expressing essentially the same ideas in their late 30s in a very slightly more circumspect way.”
To date, only one institution has disavowed Hanania: the non-accredited University of Austin, ironically set up as an alternative to the supposed dominance of cancel culture in mainstream academia.
Given his wealthy benefactors and elite conservative defenders, Hanania is likely to rise in prominence, with his alleged cancellation only giving him greater visibility and influence. He’s useful on a number of grounds. As a former overt racist who now calls himself a supporter of “enlightened centrism,” he offers a message that can reunite the fractured right. Hanania’s core appeal is his claim that racists don’t need to be fringe radicals, since they can achieve all their policy goals by working with mainstream conservatives. To those conservatives, he demonstrates that racists can become more polite and clubbable; to racists, his career proves that racism can flourish under mainstream conservative patronage. It’s a powerful message.
Hanania also benefits from a perverse form of right-wing affirmative action. As he wrote in his apologia, “I know I’m not ‘white’ by most people’s definition.” He’s a person of color who supports the racial status quo—always a winning combination on the right, as can be seen from the success of figures like Clarence Thomas and Dinesh D’Souza.
Right-wingers have finally found a Palestinian they can like. It’s too bad he’s a Nazi.