THE BIG TALK:
An occasional interview series with Americans who are challenging the status quo.
Brandon Straka has inverted the modern liberal political approach. Instead of goading people to march toward some glorious, never quite obtainable dream, he urges them to walk in the opposite direction.
In two years, more than a half million people have joined his #WalkAway movement, an idea Mr. Straka said celebrates individuality and opposes the lockstep and increasingly jackbooted march of today’s liberals.
“Our core mission is to expose the truth of the political left,” he said. “And I’m obsessed with this job. When I wake up, I roll over and pick up my phone and start scrolling and dialing. And then it stops when I pass out in bed at night.”
While Mr. Straka envisioned a big public stage for himself, he never would have predicted what has happened since he introduced his #WalkAway philosophy in a short video posted on Facebook in May 2018.
Mr. Straka said he never left the principles of liberalism but liberals left him.
“Even before I posted that video, I had started to feel pushed away, alienated by the ideology of liberalism,” he said.
Mr. Straka had always considered himself a liberal. Growing up in rural Nebraska in the 1980s, Mr. Straka knew he was gay, and his sexual orientation aligned him with the left by default.
He recalled thinking that if Madonna was liberal, then he was liberal.
When President Trump beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in November 2016, Mr. Straka was crushed. But seeds of doubt were germinating. They were sown by a general unease with the gay rights movement to which he always subscribed.
“Suddenly, everything became ‘queer’ and had to be called ‘queer,’” he said, noting that the HuffPost changed its gay voices section to queer voices. “And I thought, ‘I don’t want to be queer. That’s never had a good association in my mind. In fact, it was often what I heard just before a punch landed on me. Who’s making these decisions?’”
Mr. Straka said he was put off by the ceaseless drumbeat of identity politics even before the nation’s obsession with race turned violent this year.
“White privilege, male privilege, oppression, they are constantly pointing out race and talking about how oppressed Black people are,” he said. “And I felt like I wasn’t allowed to talk or have an opinion, that many people weren’t allowed to talk or have an opinion, and that seemed wrong to me.”
Hence, the #WalkAway campaign, which stands at 490,000 members on Facebook alone.
“Once upon a time, I was a liberal,” he declared in his original Facebook post. “But I will no longer be a part of an ideology or political party that contradicts everything about my values of unity, equal opportunity, personal empowerment, and passion and love. So I am walking away.”
To be sure, Mr. Straka’s move wasn’t prompted only by the zeitgeist. Specific examples of absurd and hate-fueled actions also repulsed him.
“Did I see the massive scale of lies and manipulation from the liberal press outlets that I see now every day? No, I didn’t,” he said of his gradually shifting politics.
He cited the former Evergreen Community College in Washington, where professor Bret Weinstein was eventually forced to leave for asking whether Whites should be unofficially banned from campus for a weekend.
“Evergreen was hugely transformative to me,” said Mr. Straka, citing a conservative friend who had been telling him for some time “how toxic this is becoming.”
Mr. Straka was also nonplussed by the way some liberals reacted to the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage as if it somehow was insufficient. By constantly expanding the definition of oppressed groups, the modern liberal community keeps alive seething anger and “donations rolling in,” he said.
“They know we’ve basically achieved the equality we always wanted,” he said.
Such rage stands in sharp contrast with the testimonials of #WalkAway members. The group asks new members whether they are leaving the modern liberal community — #WalkAway — or have always been uneasy with it — #WalkWith. Either way, those posting their experiences on Facebook, which the group considers its official home, seem joyous.
Mr. Straka takes great pride in that. #WalkAway’s core should be happiness and freedom.
“This is about hope, optimism,” he said.
The group’s composition today is more #WalkAway than #WalkWith, Mr. Straka said, and certain events seem to create a surge in membership. The circuslike hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination, after allegations of decades-old sexual harassment that were raised at the last minute, prompted membership among “older” people, which Mr. Straka roughly defines as himself, at 43, and up.
A younger cohort, on the other hand, was attracted to #WalkAway this year after months of violence in several U.S. cities.
Regardless of age or prior inclination, #WalkAway doesn’t urge members to vote for any specific candidate, which Mr. Straka said is an important element of his movement and required for the #WalkAway Foundation’s nonprofit status.
#WalkAway is about explicitly rejecting one mode of thinking, not embracing another.
Mr. Straka now supports President Trump, who he says he believes has signaled support for the gay community, raised the issue of how gay people are treated internationally and appointed gay people to serious jobs.
That stance, predictably, earned him the furious condemnation of many Twitter users and Broadway stars. Mr. Straka viewed the backlash as a rueful example that proves his point about the behavior of the mob on the left.
Mr. Straka and the #WalkAway Foundation have headquarters in New York City but hold events across the country, including a “walk” this month in the District of Columbia.
The movement has forged ahead with little help from the media, he said.
“The right-wing media, too, are either impotent or not very good at their job,” he said, noting erroneous reporting on the event in the District.
“They said it was some spontaneous pro-Trump rally to support him in the hospital, and it wasn’t that at all,” he said. “We are not a ‘pro-Trump’ organization. All we ask is that you think for yourself.”