What is the Alt Right?

‘Alt Right’ is a term that sprang out of the murky depths of the internet during the 2016 election cycle. Used to describe an especially mysterious portion of then Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s supporter base, they are often cited as one of the reasons we are in the midst of a Trump presidency. Post-election this perception of Trump riding to victory on a wave of ‘Alt Right’ support was enough to draw them out of the internet backwaters of their birth and into the public spotlight. ‘Alt Right’ became a term used with increasing frequency in our political discourse but more as a deliberate smear or inadvertent misnomer than anything else. Yet this widespread fixation hasn’t induced any popular inquiry into the group’s nature or beliefs. Nearly three years post-election we remain ignorant of what exactly we accuse people of when we declare them a proponent of ‘Alt Right’ ideas. The answer invariably depends on who you ask.

To many news sources, especially those in the mainstream, unfamiliar with the esoteric internet culture that birthed it, Alt Right is used as an umbrella term for the opposition found online to left-wing politics. It seems that as the Alt-Right are both staunchly opposed to the modern ‘social justice’ and reside largely online that such are the perceived conditions for membership. But these criteria are intellectually lazy and their application has resulted in the overextension of the Alt-Right label to those in mere spatial proximity to the movement online. Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson and stand up comedian Joe Rogan, two men vocal in their opposition to ‘social justice’, both with substantial online followings have fallen prey to this trigger-happy attitude with some regularity. This is despite both men sharing nothing ideologically with the ‘Alt Right’. Rogan for one as primarily a comedian and martial arts commentator isn’t even largely involved in the political sphere. Nonetheless, for the accuser, there is utility in this mischaracterization. The movement’s entanglement with Donald Trump, combined with the cryptic online culture from which it arose makes for an enigmatic combination. ‘Alt Right’ became the ultimate political club. Effective on one count because it by association tarred the victim as a purveyor of bigoted Trumpian rhetoric and on the another because nobody really knew what it meant, allowing its generous application to go unchecked.

What then is the Alt-Right? This is still a difficult question to answer. It is unclear if the Alt-Right themselves are even sure as to what constitutes their core beliefs, especially with regard to specific policy prescriptions. They remain, despite the widespread hysteria, a movement in their infancy retaining only a single guiding conviction. A desire to form a white ethnostate. Richard Spencer the man responsible for coining the term ‘Alt Right’ expressed this inclination during an interview with VICE in 2013. Describing a “new society” that would act as a “gathering point for all Europeans”. To those such as Spencer ethnonationalism is a basic necessity due to the reality of what he would describe as ‘race realism’. ‘Race realism’ forms the Alt-Right retort to the common belief that race is a social construct. Such a term might sound alarm bells in your head, with good reason. As deployed by Spencer ‘race realism’ is merely a euphemism for the perceived superiority of whites. It can in more diplomatic terms be described as the belief that the races are different with each possessing varied qualities. However, Jared Taylor founder of Alt Right website American Renaissance sums up its practical application more acutely when he states:

“Blacks and whites are different. When blacks are left entirely to their own devices, Western civilization — any kind of civilization — disappears.”  

Tie all of this together and the result is as follows. The Alt Right is a movement that believes ‘civilisation’ is a uniquely white faculty. Because of this, they oppose large-scale immigration from majority non-white nations as this necessitates the destruction of western culture. The remedy for this, in their view, is to establish the source of our cultural intuitions – ‘whiteness’ as our point of collective organisation in the form of ethnonationalism. These ideas are no joke and the mainstream attitude towards the Alt-Right remains perplexing. Their unwillingness to use the Alt-Right label seriously suggests an unearned complacency given the record of history but their perceived ubiquity remains a masterful act of self-deception. Current attitudes serve only to artificially expand the movement’s influence. To speak of them as if their existence is a mere banality gifts credibility and a foothold in common discourse. We gain nothing from using ‘Alt Right’ as a smear or by misdiagnosing people with their ideas. Discussion of them should reflect what they really are, a tiny fringe.

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