Alt-right

Last updated on 29 May 2017

The alt-right, or alternative right, is a loose group of people with far-right ideologies who reject mainstream conservatism, principally in the United States, but also to a lesser degree in Canada and Europe. Paul Gottfried is the first person to use the term "alternative right", when referring specifically to developments within American right-wing politics, in 2008. The term has since gained wide currency with the rise of the so-called "alt-right". White supremacist Richard Spencer appropriated the term in 2010 to define a movement centered on white nationalism, and has been accused by some media publications of doing so to whitewash overt racism, white supremacism, and neo-Nazism. The term drew considerable media attention and controversy during and after the 2016 presidential election.

Alt-right beliefs have been described as white supremacist, frequently overlapping with antisemitism and Neo-Nazism, nativism and Islamophobia, antifeminism and homophobia, white nationalism, right-wing populism, and the neoreactionary movement. The concept has further been associated with multiple groups from American nationalists, neo-monarchists, men's rights advocates, and the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

The alt-right has its roots on Internet websites such as 4chan and 8chan, where anonymous members create and use Internet memes to express themselves. It is difficult to tell how much of what people write in these venues is serious and how much is intended to provoke outrage. Members of the alt-right use websites like AltRight.com, Alternative Right, Twitter, Breitbart, and InfoWars to convey their message. Alt-right postings generally support Donald Trump and oppose immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness.

The alt-right has also had a significant influence on conservative thought in the United States, such as the Sailer Strategy for winning political support, along with having close ties to the Trump administration. It has been listed as a key reason for Trump's win in the 2016 election. The Trump administration includes several figures who are associated with the alt-right, such as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. In 2016, Bannon described Breitbart as "the platform for the alt-right," with the goal of promoting the ideology.

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An alt-right Trump supporter at the March 4 Trump in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Etymology

In November 2008, self-described paleoconservative philosopher Paul Gottfried addressed the H. L. Mencken Club about what he called "the alternative right". This was republished in December of that year under the title "The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right" in the conservative Taki's Magazine, making this the earliest published usage of the phrase in its current context according to Slate. In 2009, two more posts at Taki's Magazine, by Patrick J. Ford and Jack Hunter, further discussed the alternative right. The term, however, is most commonly attributed to Richard B. Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute and founder of Alternative Right.

Beliefs

The Associated Press stated that the

'alt-right' or 'alternative right' is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order. The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism ... criticizes "multiculturalism" and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.

There is no formal organization and it is not clear if the alt-right can be considered as a movement; according to a 2016 description in the Columbia Journalism Review: "Because of the nebulous nature of anonymous online communities, nobody's entirely sure who the alt-righters are and what motivates them. It's also unclear which among them are true believers and which are smart-ass troublemakers trying to ruffle feathers."  Many of its own proponents often claim they are joking or seeking to provoke an outraged response. Andrew Marantz of The New Yorker describes it as "a label, like 'snob' or 'hipster,' that is often disavowed by people who exemplify it".

It has been said to include elements of white nationalism, white supremacism, antisemitism, right-wing populism, nativism, and the neoreactionary movement. Andrew Marantz includes "neo-monarchists, masculinists, conspiracists, belligerent nihilists". Newsday columnist Cathy Young noted the alt-right's strong opposition to both legal and illegal immigration and its hard-line stance on the European migrant crisis.  Robert Tracinski of The Federalist has written that the alt-right opposes miscegenation and advocates collectivism as well as tribalism. Nicole Hemmer stated on NPR that political correctness is seen by the alt-right as "the greatest threat to their liberty".

Commonalities among the loosely-defined alt-right include a disdain for mainstream politics as well as support for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

While the label of white nationalism is disputed by some political commentators including Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, prominent alt-right figures such as Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer and Jazzhands McFeels of Fash the Nation have embraced the term as the core philosophy their movement is based on. In response to a Washington Post article that portrayed the movement as "offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness", Anglin said "No it isn't. The goal is to ethnically cleanse White nations of non-Whites and establish an authoritarian government. Many people also believe that the Jews should be exterminated."

Milo Yiannopoulos claims that some "young rebels" are drawn to the alt-right not for deeply political reasons but "because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms".  According to The New Yorker, "testing the strength of the speech taboos that revolve around conventional politics-of what can be said, and how directly", is a major component of alt-right identity.  The beliefs that make the alt-right perceptible as a movement "are in their essence not matters of substance but of style", and the alt-right's tone may just be concealing "a more familiar politics".

History

According to economist Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education, the alt-right "inherits a long and dreary tradition of thought from Friedrich Hegel to Thomas Carlyle to Oswald Spengler to Madison Grant to Othmar Spann to Giovanni Gentile to Trump's speeches". He states that alt-right proponents "look back to what they imagine to be a golden age when elites ruled and peons obeyed", and believe that "identity is everything and the loss of identity is the greatest crime against self anyone can imagine".

In March 2016, Breitbart News writers Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos published a piece on the alt-right, which CNN described as being similar to a manifesto. In that article, they described the alt-right as being derived from the Old Right of the United States as well from various New Right movements of Europe, citing the movement has been influenced by Oswald Spengler, Henry Louis Mencken, Julius Evola and modern influences such as paleoconservatives Patrick J. Buchanan and Samuel T. Francis. Jeet Heer of The New Republic likewise identifies the alt-right as having ideological origins among paleoconservatives, particularly with respect to its positions restricting immigration and supporting an openly nationalistic foreign policy.

An analysis by The Guardian described the ethno-nationalism of the New Right as the alt-right's progenitor. Matthew Sheffield, writing in the Washington Post, said the alt-right has also been influenced by anarcho-capitalist and paleolibertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, specifically in regards to his theorizing on race and democracy, and had previously rallied behind Ron Paul in 2008. Tucker, an anarcho-capitalist, has said the alt-right is opposed to libertarianism because the alt-right focuses on group identity and tribalism instead of individual liberty. The alt-right lineage can be traced back to "South Park Republican". American professor and scholar Benjamin R. Teitelbaum compares the alt-right in the United States to identitarianism in Europe and notes that both were influenced by thinkers in the French New Right, or Nouvelle Droite.

The term drew considerable media attention and controversy during the 2016 presidential election, particularly after Trump appointed Breitbart News chair Steven Bannon CEO of the Trump campaign in August. Steve Bannon referred to Breitbart News as "the platform for the alt-right". Media attention grew after the election, particularly during a post-election celebratory meeting near the White House hosted by Richard Spencer. Spencer used several Nazi propaganda terms during a meeting, and closed with "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory". In response, supporters of Spencer gave the Nazi salute and chanted in a similar fashion to the Sieg Heil chant used at the Nuremberg rallies. Spencer defended the conduct, stating that the Nazi salute was given in a spirit of "irony and exuberance". Following the episode, the Associated Press described the "alt-right" label as "currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists" that "may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters' actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience". The AP said that it has previously called such beliefs "racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist".

Notable current promoters of alt-right ideology include Vox Day, Steve Sailer, Richard B. Spencer, and Brittany Pettibone.

Reactions

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Jared Taylor is a figure in the alt-right community, and is a white nationalist

Although some conservatives have welcomed the alt-right, others on the mainstream right and left have criticized it as racist or hateful, particularly given its hostility towards mainstream liberalism and conservatism.

David A. French, writing for National Review, called alt-right proponents "wanna-be fascists" and bemoaned their entry into the national political conversation. Benjamin Welton, writing for The Weekly Standard, described the alt-right as a "highly heterogeneous force" that "turns the left's moralism on its head and makes it a badge of honor to be called 'racist,' 'homophobic,' and 'sexist.'"

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, writing for The New Yorker, described it as a "loosely assembled far-right movement", but said that its differences from the conventional right-wing in American politics are more a matter of style than of substance: "One way to understand the alt-right is not as a movement but as a collective experiment in identity, in the same way that many people use anonymity on the Internet to test more extreme versions of themselves."

Professor George Hawley of the University of Alabama suggested that the alt-right may pose a greater threat to progressivism than the mainstream conservative movement.

In an interview with The New York Times on November 22, 2016, President-elect Donald Trump disavowed and condemned the alt-right, to the dismay of many of his alt-right supporters.

In December 2016, artist Arrington de Dionyso, whose murals are frequently displayed at the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, described the alt-right's on-line campaign of harassment against him in detail, and averred of the attacks in general that "I think it's a very deliberate assault, which will eventually be a coordinated assault on all forms of free expression." The Pizzagate conspiracy theory has drawn comparisons with the Gamergate controversy. A wave of threats against Jewish Community Centers starting in 2017 were blamed on the alt-right in a January 2017 article by Slate's Elissa Strauss, who said members of the alt-right viewed them as "a practical joke".

The activist group Stop Normalizing, which opposes the normalization of terms like alt-right, developed the "Stop Normalizing Alt Right" Chrome extension. The extension went viral shortly after the release of Stop Normalizing's website. The extension changes the term "alt-right" on webpages to "white supremacy". The extension and group were founded by a New York-based advertising and media professional under the pseudonym George Zola.

Reddit banned in 2017 the r/altright subreddit for violating its anti-doxxing policy.

Commentary

In National Review in April 2016, Ian Tuttle wrote,

The Alt-Right has evangelized over the last several months primarily via a racist and antisemitic online presence. But for Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right consists of fun-loving provocateurs, valiant defenders of Western civilization, daring intellectuals—and a handful of neo-Nazis keen on a Final Solution 2.0, but there are only a few of them, and nobody likes them anyways.

Bokhari and Yiannopoulos describe Jared Taylor, founder of American Renaissance, and Richard B. Spencer, founder of Alternative Right, as representative of intellectuals in the alt-right. Cathy Young, writing in The Federalist, stated that the website Radix Journal had replaced the Alternative Right website, and describes a Radix Journal article on abortion which proclaimed that the pro-life position is "'dysgenic,' since it encourages breeding by 'the least intelligent and responsible' women". Kevin B. MacDonald is also mentioned as an alt-right thinker.

In Newsday, Young called the alt-right "a nest of anti-Semitism" inhabited by "white supremacists" who regularly use "repulsive bigotry". Chris Hayes on All In with Chris Hayes described alt-right as a euphemistic term for "essentially modern-day white supremacy". BuzzFeed reporter Rosie Gray described the alt-right as "white supremacy perfectly tailored for our times," saying that it uses "aggressive rhetoric and outright racial and anti-Semitic slurs" and that it has "more in common with European far-right movements than American ones". Yishai Schwartz, writing for Haaretz, described the alt-right as "vitriolically anti-Semitic", saying that "The 'alternative' that the alt-right presents is, in large part, an alternative to acceptance of Jews", and warned that it must be taken seriously as a threat. Chemi Shalev, also writing for Haaretz, has observed that alt-right supporters of Trump "despise Jewish liberals with same venom that Israeli right detests Jewish leftists".

Breitbart News has become a popular outlet for alt-right views.

On August 25, 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a speech accusing Republican candidate Donald Trump of "helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party". She identified this radical fringe with the alt-right, and noted that Trump's campaign chief executive Steve Bannon has described his Breitbart News Network as "the platform for the alt-right".  Some members of the group were delighted; they described Clinton's speech as "free publicity", noted that Google searches peaked afterward, and suggested that millions of people were hearing of the movement "for the very first time".

On September 9, 2016, several figures of the alt-right community held a press conference, described by one reporter as the "coming-out party" of the little-known movement, to explain their goals. They proclaimed racialist beliefs, stating "Race is real, race matters, and race is the foundation of identity." Speakers called for a "White Homeland" and expounded on racial differences in intelligence. They also confirmed their support of Trump, saying "This is what a leader looks like."

Use of memes

The alt-right's use of Internet memes to express and advance its beliefs, often on websites such as 4chan, 8chan and The Daily Stormer, has been widely reported. Adherents of the ideology have, for instance, been credited for originating the following terms:

  • cuckservative, a portmanteau of "cuckold" and "conservative".
  • triple parentheses or "echoes" to identify and target Jews online, which originated on the blog The Right Stuff.
  • Variations of the Pepe the Frog and "Emperor Trump" memes popular in alt-right circles, leading to references of "Nazi Frogs" in the media. These variants of the Pepe the Frog meme attracted significant media attention after the meme was criticized in an article published on Hillary Clinton's campaign website.
  • Ironic worship of the Ancient Egyptian deity Kek has become associated with alt-right politics, as well as ironic nationalism of the nonexistant nation of "Kekistan".
  • "remove kebab" is a euphemism for calls to kill or ethnically cleanse Muslims.

The prevalence of memes in alt-right circles has led some commentators to question whether the alt-right is a serious movement rather than just an alternative way to express traditionally conservative beliefs, with Chava Gourarie of the Columbia Journalism Review stating that provoking a media reaction to these memes is for some creators an end in itself. Marc Hetherington, professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, sees these memes as an effort to legitimize racist views.

See also

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