The term ‘alt-right’ is not as well-known as some think it is. According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll of millennials, up to 45% say they do not know enough about the movement to express an opinion of it. This 45% gave the correct answer – we don’t know enough about the alt-right movement to express an opinion of it.
The fundamental problem with the alt-right (which I mentioned briefly in my article on Donald Trump) is that it represents such a wide range of ideologies, that it should really be considered an entire political wing, rather than a political identifier.
Most on the alt-right wouldn’t give their political identity as ‘alt-right’. They would say they were white nationalists, or National Socialists, or pro-choice Republicans. Because these people, even though the difference between their views is enormous, are all members of the alt-right – that is, they reject the mainstream right in their country. While white nationalism is often considered a fundamental cornerstone of the alt-right, there are plenty of exceptions to be found. The most notable of these is Milo Yiannopoulos, editor at Breitbart and self-proclaimed ‘chronicler‘ for the alt-right. Yiannopoulos, a gay Jew who likes to brag about exclusively dating black men (the seriousness of this statement does not negate the attitude behind it), is unsurprisingly unwilling to lend himself to white nationalism.
For the rest of this article, I will use the term alt-right to refer to the more radical, white nationalist sector of the movement – in other words, the true alt-right.
So what is considered a marker of the true alt-right? Nazi frogs. The alt-right and it’s associated communities gather almost exclusively online, and have developed a distinctive online culture, mainly based around internet memes and overtly crude language and behaviour. There is no Alt-Right Political Action Committee, no Alt-Right Party. All of their activism, campaigning and scheming is done online.
The thing about being online is that nobody knows who you are. Hundreds of years ago, subversive writers took great risks of being caught and subjected to punishment for their ideological misdeeds, but today, anyone can go on 4chan’s /pol/ board and post a racist rant anonymously with no fear of repercussions.
You don’t know who I am. I could be anyone. You might have even passed me in the street, and you wouldn’t know it. And more importantly, how many people know you read this blog, much less agree with the content in it?
The answer is probably nobody, or at least very few. The ideas expressed here – racial differences, white nationalism, etc. – are complete anathema to the general population, and as such the alt-right is a largely anonymous, faceless movement.
This anonymity leads to the inevitable rise of mob rule, where the loudest opinions are often the most heard, and become the official stance of the alt-right. After all, the alt-right is not a hivemind. It is highly factionalized. Expressions such as neo-Nazism or Holocaust denial have therefore become staples of the movement, regardless of the number of those who consider themselves alt-right who actually support these sentiments.
Andrew Anglin is a white supremacist who runs the online neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer. The site is filled with childish overuse of racial and other slurs, accompanied by abhorrent journalistic standards that would leave you blameless for thinking the entire site was a ploy to discredit the alt-right.
But because the site is so repugnant and over-the-top, it has achieved widespread attention and fame (or infamy), and is often seen as a leading alt-right website. The website achieved particular fame in 2014, when Anglin directed his ‘Troll Army’ – his online lynch mob – to harass Jewish MP Luciana Berger, sending her antisemitic messages following the arrest of a man who had sent her abusive messages by over Twitter, all under the title of, and I quote, ‘Operation Filthy Jew Bitch’. Anglin provided advice on how to limit traceability and create throwaway emails for the purpose of harassing Berger.
The campaign, which resulted in Berger receiving hundreds of abusive messages, attracted enough media attention to receive multiple responses from Jewish members of government, and all of it lead straight to The Daily Stormer, who are loud and proud proponents of the alt-right.
Of course, the alt-right movement had nothing to do with the harassment of Berger. But this is not the way outsiders will see it, nor is it the way the left will spin it. They will link the mainstream alt-right movement with the actions of Anglin and his supporters, and use this connection to trash the entire movement.
The alt-right is not in a state of total anarchy, however. The movement self-governs itself according to an unoffical mantra:
Don’t ever ‘punch rightward’, meaning criticize those further right than you, and don’t give leftists political or moral authority.
The problem with the first idea is that it sets no internal standards, and creates an almost Darwinian system in which dominance is held by those furthest on the right. If you tolerate no internal criticism, you will create an echo chamber where the strength of your argument decays over time, meaning when those on the left attempt to attack your argument, they will find it much easier.
This rule was doubtless born of the need to organize a collection of ideologies that conflict with one another on multiple points. Some may justify this rule as necessary to keep the peace in the movement, but the truth is that this rule is nothing more than a declaration of open season on anyone holding more moderate views than you. Over time, this will shift the movement so far right that it will become impossible to distinguish between true alt-right sentiments and statements made for pure shock value. This phenomenon is popularly known as Poe’s Law.
Slightly more vague is the phrase ‘don’t give leftists moral or political authority’. In general, it means don’t accept leftist views towards social issues, and don’t vote or support any leftist organisations or individuals. In this context, leftist (or marxist, or even ‘cultural marxist’) means supporting equality of outcome, for all people. Since this disregards the very real differences between different groups of people, such ideologies require the dispossession of some groups with superior qualities, while giving other groups a hand up. In other words, total opposition to affirmative action policies, a sentiment easily agreed with.
The history of the alt-right is a little obscure. The term was first coined by Paul Gottfried in 2008, following Barack Obama’s electoral victory in the 2008 presidential election, where he stressed the need for an ‘alternative right’ to defeat ‘the neoconservative-controlled conservative establishment’. Gottfried, a Jewish paleoconservative (meaning a conservative who stresses tradition, small government and the perseverance of western identity, some of which are ideas incorporated by alt-right factions) has not been involved in the alt-right movement since, and there is no evidence that his appeal had any significant impact on the rise of the alt-right movement, other than it’s name.
Gottfried’s vision of a new right rising to slay the neoconservative beast and bring paleoconservatism back to America came to fruition with the recent election of Donald Trump. While he himself has never identified with the alt-right, he has won their rabid support. The name of the movement was catapulted into global prominence when Hillary Clinton gave a speech denouncing the movement and Donald Trump’s connections to it.
The movements predecessors are numerous and widely disputed. It would appear to be the coalescence of right-wing ideologies from all over the web. Of these, however, a few stand out, such as the Men’s Rights/MGTOW movement to the Gamergate controversy, both of which have made immense contributions to the alt-right subculture. One of the most prominent is the neoreactionary movement, known more grandiosely as the ‘Dark Enlightenment’, a movement that opposed modernity and promoted a return to traditional values, often meaning a rejection of democracy in favour of monarchism and political authoritarianism, as well as ethnic nationalism and opposition to ‘The Cathedral’, a religion of democracy, feminism and other progressive ideals that has supplanted western culture.
In many ways, the alt-right should be considered the less intellectual (and less pompous) cousin of the neoreactionary movement. Their rejection of obnoxious self-aggrandizing blogging in favour of the more confrontative, reckless world of ‘chan culture’ has been an enormous success. In truth, the neoreactionary movement was doomed to obscurity for this very reason. Most of its activity was based around long-winded blog posts, written in an almost poetic style, which lacks the hook needed to draw in people and get them to listen – nobody wants to read tens of thousands of words worth of prose when the same experience and information is offered in a far more accessible format elsewhere.
The genius behind the alt-right is that it hits a perfect blend of entertainment and politics, which is conducive to its success. Appeal to the widest bases of society, or populism, is a tried and tested way to quickly seize attention and power, and the alt-right couldn’t be more populist if it tried.
What the alt-right lacks is unity and a clear, defined set of goals, leaving it open to internal agitation, both from outsiders and insiders. There is no universally recognized leader of the movement – but perhaps there shouldn’t be. After all, having a leader means recognizing an ultimate authority, which is antithetical to the core principles of the alt-right.
The alt-right is a powerful tool for white nationalism, and is a key step in shifting western nations back towards the right of the spectrum. When the movement fizzles out and becomes obsolete, it will be because it’s supporters have stepped out from behind the monitor, and back into the political ring.