Remembering the Horde

If you’re not familiar with The Horde, Ta-Nehisi’s community of commenters, this short history by Eva Holland will give you an excellent idea. It begins:

Ta-Nehisi Coates started blogging for The Atlantic on August 4, 2008. His first post was titled “Sullivan… McArdle… Fallows… Coates???” and it laid down his terms from the start: “My only rule, really, is simple,” he wrote. “Don’t be a jerk to people you disagree with.”

The first recorded comment came from “8th Level Barbarian”:

Welcome!

For genius commentary on the D&D lifestyle, search for “Fear of Girls” on YouTube. The original is classic, but the sequel is pretty awesome, too.

One of the most prolific commenters became Jim Elliott, better known to The Horde as “Erik Vanderhoff.” Last month, just before Notes launched, I was emailing with Jim about how the new bloggy section will try to rekindle some of the lost magic of The Horde. Over the past few years, as traffic to Ta-Nehisi’s posts grew and grew, his ability to moderate a civil atmosphere among his readers became nearly impossible. Finally, about a month ago, all of his posts were automatically closed to comments, joining Fallows and Goldberg.

Jim mentioned that he had been writing a retrospective of The Horde, so I offered to post it as a clarion call to other members of The Horde within Notes. Given today’s news of Ta-Nehisi garnering a MacArthur grant, prompting this poignant appreciation from Yoni (known to The Horde as “Cynic”), now seems like the perfect time to post. So here’s Erik Vanderhoff:

Mere happenstance brought me to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ virtual door: A quoted paragraph at Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish arrested my eye. Was there a link to follow? Why, yes there was! And follow it I did, to The Atlantic’s collection of bloggers, and I never turned back.

Since that day in 2008, rarely a day went by that I didn’t navigate back to Coates’s page, enamored as I was—and largely still am—with the wordplay of the man I consider the finest prose writer working in the American tongue. Coates has the ability to string words together to form passages that make other lovers of language throw their hands up in despair.

A mild despair—and, if I’m honest, something of a fanboy-ish obsession—were born, and I demanded constant sustenance in the form of blog posts or articles. Other than his Twitter stream, I think it’s fair to say I haven’t missed something Coates has written since. His openness and inquisitiveness attracted me, and dozens more like me. Comment threads were opened and a torrent commenced. Discussing the topics he raised, from the continued salience of Spider-Man to the foofaraw of Ron Paul to the immensity of the first black president, a community formed. I still remember many of those avatars with great fondness: Emily L. Hauser, Sandy Young (Corkingiron), Baiskeli, petefrombaltimore, exitr, JBColo, Craig, and on and on.

The commenters—dubbed the Horde by our host and Khan—were special to me, distinct online personalities that I came to know and enjoy, all the more so because the Khan did not hold himself aloof or apart from his people. No, he waded into the muck and wrestled and laughed and cried with us. (I’ll never forget the day he opened an Open Thread at Noon just to commiserate over the fact that my dog had died the night before.) Coates mustered a digital army, and his unwillingness to hold himself as a leader to that community made us love it, and him, all the more.

And that, I think, ultimately gave us the opportunity to become our own undoing.