In an article posted on Mic.com yesterday, conservative comic creators Brett R. Smith and Mike Baron revealed they are taking part in an effort to craft a comic book series based on the “exploits” of true-life alt-right figure Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. Does this mean that the alt-right movement is about to get their own version of Captain America in the form of Chapman’s alter-ego?
For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Chapman, he rose to prominence in alt-right, white nationalist circles in early March when he was caught on video at an pro-Trump rally in Berkeley hitting an anti-fascist protestor over the head with a wooden rod. Chapman was arrested for assault later that day, but the video went viral, and he soon became known as “Based Stickman, the Alt-Knight.”
If you are unfamiliar with the term “Based,” it stems originally from the rapper Lil B, who coined the phrase in 2007, saying, “Based means being yourself. Not being scared of what people think about you. Not being afraid to do what you wanna do. Being positive.” But the term has since been co-opted by the alt-right to describe a person who speaks or acts in a manner that completely disregards political correctness or niceties, often code for someone who is cool spouting racist or nationalist ideals.
Chapman’s targets are most frequently anti-fascist protestors (known as “Antifas” in white nationalist circles), those he tags as communists, and Muslims. He has denied being racist himself, citing that he is married to a woman of Asian decent, with whom he has a son. He doesn’t even consider himself a member of the alt-right, though he does admit to being something called an “American Nationalist.”
Chapman has founded a group called the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, which is a curious name for a guy who says he doesn’t consider himself part of the alt-right movement. Chapman describes his group this way, “The Alt-Knights is a group of guys who are willing to stand up for American values. I want people of all colors to come together under 1776 Americana and fight these globalist commies, these self-hating whites that want to destroy western civilization, and basically destroy themselves.”
Since that original incident, Chapman has parlayed his viral celebrity into his own brand, becoming a popular figure among white nationalist and alt-right circles. He’s been arrested at least once more in Berkeley after getting into a physical altercation in early April. He was later filmed participating in another fight at another rally just a few days later. He has openly advocated violence more than once, tweeting before a Portland rally at which he was speaking that this followers should attend and “smash on sight,” though the tweet was later deleted. Chapman told Mother Jones that the tweet had been sent by a surrogate, but then was quoted as saying, “It’s not such a bad idea, is it?” At a rally in Portland this June, where Chapman was invited to speak, he asked the crowd, “Did anybody get to bash a commie yet?” He followed up this comment with, “Well, let me know when the time is right because I’m not going to miss out on any fun.”
Chapman’s followers have already proven that they are willing to put their money where their mouths are, contributing nearly $90,000 for his legal defence fund, buying merchandise from his online site, and contributing $40,000 to his crowdfunded effort to produce the aforementioned Based Stickman graphic novel.
Which brings us to Smith and Baron. Smith is a former colorist on DC and Marvel books who has gotten some press recently after he and fellow conservative creator Chuck Dixon adapted Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash” into a graphic novel. Smith claims that the Clinton project was the brainchild of future Trump strategist Steve Bannon. Meanwhile, Chapman was eagerly pursuing producing a comic based on his life. He saw Based Stickman as a direct reaction to the new diverse range of characters the big two publishers were showcasing in their titles, a diversity Chapman saw as unwanted by fans. In the Mother Jones piece, Chapman says, “Marvel, DC have really let their readership down because they’ve moved so far to the left. They’ve gone and changed white characters to black characters. They’ve taken straight characters and made ’em gay. It’s not what people wanted. They want superheroes.”
Chapman was pushing the project at the recent San Diego Comic Con, and it’s out of that effort that the Mic piece sprang from. Smith is taking on the project with writer Mike Baron, and both of the creators seem to echo Chapman’s views on diverse representation in comics. Baron says in the Mic piece, “Americans are sick of having everything politicized. They don’t like being told all the time that they’re racist, sexist, homophobes, because they’re not… Your job as a comic book writer is to entertain. If you don’t entertain, you’re not going to get readers.” For his part, Smith says, “This is not only a culture war, this is war. The highest form of warfare is to subvert the culture because you don’t have to raise a standing army. We’re never going to change the culture from Washington. We’re going to do it from comics, from movies.”
But do Smith and Baron have the right hero as inspiration? The Mic piece comes less than a week after Marvel announced that creators Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are taking over Captain America, steering the character back to his classical heroic routes after a controversial tenure by writer Nick Spencer that saw the character revealed to be a very alt-right-esque figure, leading the terrorist hate-group HYDRA. Though the point of the run was to expose the moral bankruptcy of that movement, casting Cap very much as the villain, the concern was the ambiguity of the storytelling could lead to Marvel inadvertently providing hate groups with their own superhero around which to rally.
Chapman’s Based Stickman may aspire to actually become that poster boy, but Smith and Baron have their work cut out for them, given the source material. Beyond his current controversial activities, Chapman has a felony criminal record and has spent a combined 10 years behind bars. He was convicted of felony robbery after demanding money from two victims at the point of a pellet gun which Chapman claimed to be a .44 Magnum. After serving his time, he was next convicted of grand theft after stealing over $400 in merchandise from Macy’s. After being released once again, he twice violated parole and was later arrested after providing a shotgun and assault rifle to an illegal underground gun store operating out of a tattoo shop. While free on bond for that charge, he jumped bail, living on the streets as a homeless fugitive for a month before surrendering to federal marshals. Chapman was convicted once again, and served five years in prison, being released in 2014. When that filmed rally in Berkeley which shot him to fame occurred in 2017, Chapman’s probation had only ended two months earlier.
Look, I’m not a person who believes that ex-cons, even repeat felons, don’t deserve a second chance to turn their lives around. Chapman had many years of addiction problems in his past, and drug addiction has contributed to many otherwise law-abiding people committing horrible crimes. But it’s important to recognize that the whole reason Chapman rose to prominence was an act of violence. It wasn’t powerful oratory, or the communication of an ideal. It was through the act of breaking a wooden stick over a fellow citizen’s head. And based on the comments and actions of Chapman since that initial video, it’s fair to wonder if he’s really committed to larger conservative ideas, or if he’s little more than a jackbooted thug who enjoys cracking skulls.
Chapman, Smith and Baron want to position Based Stickman as a hero, but it’s not at all clear that what Chapman is fighting for is anything more than tribalism, intolerance and the thrill of the truncheon mashing flesh and breaking bones.
When creators craft a fictional character like this, it can be an opportunity to examine the darker motivations that drive hatred and intolerance in the world. But this is an attempt to elevate a real person into a mythic hero, and in that case what he stands for matters; it is not academic. And above all, what Chapman symbolizes more than anything, is the rule of the nightstick.