The Smoking Gun put me in an awkward position. I have profound feelings of sadness and empathy for a hero of the Alt-Right.
On Monday, legal document-focused news site TSG dumped 10 pages of court documents recounting the legal history of Kyle Chapman, AKA Based Stickman. Stripped of politics and violence, the life of Based Stick Man is a miserable and familiar story.
Chapman briefly became an alt-right meme after fighting in a March 4 clash between left-wing antifa protesters and alt-right forces in Berkeley. Clad in a hoodie, goggles and a gas mask and armed with a wooden shield and a club made from a closet rod, Chapman bashed and mace sprayed through the anti-Trump crowd.
He quickly became an alt-right sensation. Pepe types photoshopped him into pictures of the Avengers charging in Civil War. At the encouragement of alt-right media gadfly Mike Cernovich, supporters raised more than $87,000 for Chapman’s bail and a legal defense fund.
His fame shows how desperate the alt-right is for heroes. He’s a pile of gear in search of a call to action. And the gear, frankly, is mostly trash. His shield and sweatshirt would be laughed off of most middle school playgrounds. The gas mask, hoodie and goggles combo give him the look of a dollar store G.I. Joe knock-off. He’s like Boba Fett in an Ed Wood remake of Empire Strikes Back.
He was a bozo in homemade armor and I felt comfortable being superior to him. But then TSG’s document dump changed all that.
TSG didn’t want to inspire sympathy. It aims to bury stickman, not praise him. Its tone is sneering, from the headline, “Repeat Felon Is Hero Alt-Right Deserves” onward. He’s no law-abiding citizen, you see. He’s a high school dropout with a long list of arrests and a nasty habit of huffing Scotchgard fabric spray.
The article exposes Chapman as the cretin he clearly is. It was supposed to make me hate him. Still, I didn’t. When I read about the person under the homemade armor, I felt like I knew him or at least recognized his type. He’s a figure common to metal and punk crowds. He’s the shifty, loose-cannon stooge that bullying alpha types keep around for cruel entertainment. He’s the one threatening to set something on fire or otherwise take it too far. The one who hits the drugs and liquor a little too hard. The one who embraces the nihilism everyone else tolerates or ignores.
The article makes a strong case that mental illness fuels his desperate violence and anti-government beliefs. Somebody with a broken piece rattling around his head too hard to handle school or society would hate the government. All things considered, it’s a reasonable conclusion. He’s a hard guy to understand and having been misunderstood throughout his life, he ended up as a fugitive hiding from the law, living in riverbeds.
Fifty years ago, Hunter Thompson identified the natural drive for fascism of the bikers he rode with for his book Hell’s Angels. Bastards like the Angels and Chapman are driven by powerful fears. They try to become what they fear to be part of its power. Then they pass their suffering on to some vulnerable populations who make some phantom offense, like hippies or antifa protesters.
He’s a monster eager to inflict pain. But knowing how the monster was formed makes him harder to hate.
Scratch a stickman, he still bleeds. If only he could huff Scotchgard in peace.