What Is the Alt-Right?Thesis
Trying to understand far right media is already a silly undertaking, made sillier by the fact that any attempt will get sidetracked by the inevitable reality of getting bogged down in definitions. But I made my fantastically stupid choice and so, now that I’m navigating the landscape of horrible ideas presented by horrible people, I need to put some terms into context.
So what is the alt-right exactly? The term is widely used by news publications these days to refer to the re-emergence of openly racist and nationalist ideologies, driven by recent political developments. Originally coined by Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a known white supremacist and a decent enough punching bag, it is often argued that the original purpose of the term was to act as a euphemism for open racial hatred and white nationalism. This ties into the far right strategy of avoiding terms which have become unpalatable and as such unsuitable for convincing the general population – what white nationalists call ‘normies’. I will talk about this strategy as well as a few others in more detail when I’m discussing methods of manipulation.
The phrase has since gathered several new layers of meaning, making the discussion more difficult to follow and the term’s validity often disputed. It does not help that this is still the preferred wording used by the adherents of the ideologies that are generally associated with it. The Associated Press guidelines urge journalists to avoid using the term at face value so as not to fall for the very strategy I have mentioned above. Unfortunately, ‘alt-right’ is no longer a simple synonym for Spencer’s brand of white nationalism and the term has been co-opted by a number of movements which loosely align with one or more of its core beliefs. It has become particularly useful as an umbrella term when referring to the intersection of all ideologies that comprise it – from nationalism and white supremacy to antifeminism and anti-intellectualism. In other words, simply referring to the alt-right as ‘white nationalism’ means ignoring the jumble of unrelated (or marginally related) harmful ideologies surrounding it.
One definition is handily provided by the Anti Defamation League:
“Alt Right is short for “alternative right.” This vague term actually encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy.”
The ADL views the alt-right as a loosely knit movement united by the ideology of white supremacy and a disdain for traditional conservatism. The act of distancing themselves from conservatives who are not seen as being reactionary enough is important. The alt-right feels that their interests – meaning the interests of white people as a group – are not adequately represented by traditional right wing parties and are therefore riding on the wave of anti-establishment moods, rejecting the existing political structures and proposing an authoritarian system based on racial identity as an alternative. The different branches of the movement are then identified as “various strands of people connected to white supremacy”. A chunk of the alt-right have aligned themselves with the French identitarian movement, others refer to themselves as ‘neo-reactionaries’ or ‘ethno-nationalists’.
While the ADL’s definition is functional and mostly accurate, its focus on the openly racist elements of the movement overlooks a number of important points about the movement’s emergence, its presentation, and the intersectionality of white nationalism, antisemitism and anti-feminism. It also omits the role of the internet and movements such as #GamerGate. Another issue is that the ADL’s language and representation of alt-right’s ideology is constrained by the ADL presumably not being complete monsters. Their definition had to be filtered through the lens of basic human decency, with a large amount of detail and nuance being lost in translation.
This means that a more accurate and telling definition would be one coming straight out of the horse’s mouth. Like for instance ‘A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right’ published by the Daily Stormer. And no I’m not going to link to the Daily Stormer from my blog, I’m not mental.
Let’s see what this bastion of intellectual discourse has to say.
It should be noted that the Stormer openly positions itself as a neo-nazi publication, doing very little to try and look palatable. The content on the site is openly racist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic and antisemitic. The site is not necessarily more or less extreme than the rest of the movement but they are certainly one of the least cryptic with their intent. While this approach defies many of the established manipulative tactics that the rest of the alt right employs, its straight-forward single mindedness makes for a surprisingly reliable insight into the hive mind (Yes I know the term hive-mind is misleading because of how fragmented and often self-contradicting the movement is but it sounds cool so I’m keeping it). The site is very clearly not geared towards trying to convince and recruit ‘normies’ into the movement, it prefers to focus on preaching to the converted. This is evidenced by the fact that the site openly discusses the movement’s goals and ambitions without coating the subject matter in euphemism or attempting to shift the focus away from the less publicly acceptable talking points. This I believe is also the reason why the Stormer’s self-definition is more legible and detailed than definitions provided by other outlets and why minimal reading between the lines is required to see who we’re dealing with.
So who are we dealing with then?
“The core concept of the movement, upon which all else is based, is that Whites are undergoing an extermination, via mass immigration into White countries which was enabled by a corrosive liberal ideology of White self-hatred, and that the Jews are at the center of this agenda.”
The Stormer makes it very clear that the movement is split between a number of different groups and individuals with somewhat divided perspectives, though it goes on to list a few identifying features. For one, the majority of alt-right is represented by “disenfranchised, mostly anonymous, mostly young white men”. These men tend to be Donald Trump supporters and what the Stormer calls ‘white racial advocates’ – no prizes for guessing what that one means.
The movement perceives its own disorganised nature as its main strength. In the words of the Stormer, “the mob is the movement”. This is a phrase which the article repeats several times. Delusions of grandeur aside, this lack of any hierarchy coupled with the alt-right’s penchant for navigating the internet culture means that one of the most common ways in which the movement presents itself is as anonymous ‘shitlords’ (that is genuinely what they call themselves) posting faux-ironic image macros and ‘trolling’ the opposition.
As for who the movement is made of, the Stormer mentions all the usual suspects, including the groups also listed in the ADL article. added to the list are, however, individuals and organisations who, while repeating far right talking points and falling for the same argumentative traps, do not primarily push racial narratives. This includes, but is not limited to, anti-feminists and men’s rights activists, conspiracy theorists, traditionalists and others. The alt-right has also recruited a large number of supporters from the remains of #Gamergate, so I guess you can add people concerned about the impact of immigration on ethics in games journalism.
I will discuss the mindset and tactics of the alt-right in later posts. For now, I will just reiterate my reasoning for co-opting the movement’s own terminology. It would be easier to frame the movement simply as ‘fascists’ and move on with my life (and I would be right), I don’t think I can get away with it this time. The alt-right is a very specific breed of fascism, a strange amalgamate of often contradicting ideologies incorporating movements that, while not overtly fascist themselves, support the fascist narratives well enough to have a place within the movement. It is unique in its use of the internet and the meme culture and with them in the choice of tools used for manipulating its audiences. None of the terminology currently used by journalists fits because any alternative term would have resulted in a chunk of meaning being left behind.
So I guess a disclaimer is needed before I proceed with further analysis: Despite my decision to adopt the movement’s own terminology, I fully intend to employ it on my own terms. While the definition of ‘alt-right’ contains nuance and detail which sets it apart from other, more commonly used and accepted terms describing related ideologies, the phrase is still a badly concealed shorthand for racism, white supremacy and white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny and a whole lot of other beliefs at the core of which is the denial of the right to exist of other people. It should go without saying that I am strongly and unequivocally opposed to all ideas presented by the alt-right movement and all movements contained within. Does this make me biased? Yes. Yes it does. Get over it.