In a year rich in disturbing political developments, one of the most troubling is the emergence of the “alt-right”* from the fringe shadows of American politics.
The “alt-right” crawled out of the dark alleys and sewers of our society promoting plutocratic policies for the benefit of the wealthy. Masquerading in the guise of “economic nationalism,” the “alt-right” explicitly rejected traditional American right-wing politicians promoting similar views, instead melding those policies with racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism. Pandering its message of hate to the vulnerable, the “alt-right” seeks the support of people who have much to lose from its program.
The “alt-right” of the United States is inspired by and aligned with similar movements in Europe as well as Putin’s Russia. While it may seem contradictory that different national movements, each promoting their own nativist, anti- immigrant chauvinism, should find inspiration in each other, it becomes clear when we recognize that their ultimate enemy, their universal targets, are an inclusive democracy and the belief that there should be a governmental responsibility to preserve and protect civil society. They all view social justice and a liberal state with contempt.
Of course we have seen this before. It is 71 years since the world emerged from the ashes of global war ignited by con men promoting the same poisons. Yet, here we are again.
We should have no illusions about the danger.
The “alt-right” uses social media and non-mainstream platforms such as Breitbart News to promote their hate and instill distrust and fear of the other. Steve Bannon, the former chief executive of Breitbart News, proudly proclaimed the site as the home of the “alt-right.” He will hold the newly created position of White House chief strategist, created by the Trump transition team. That position needs no Senate approval. Bannon will have the ear of our new president, and that brings up a crucial question — who will Bannon be listening to?
The real core of this rotting apple called the “alt-right” is represented by such figures as Richard Spencer, president of National Policy Institute, and Andrew Anglin of “The Daily Stormer,” an American neo-Nazi white supremacist news and commentary website.
Delivering the closing speech at the NPI annual conference on November 19, 2016, Spencer began: “Heil Trump, heil our people, heil our victory.” Next, characterizing the mainstream media as “the Lugenpresse” (the lying press), he continued, “one wonders whether these people are people at all, or instead soul-less golem animated by some dark power.” He went on to declare the role of those assembled in the room was to “conquer or die … that to be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and a conqueror.” To applause and Nazi salutes, he continued, “America was, until this past generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our prosperity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance and it belongs to us”. You can listen to the full speech — google for it on YouTube. (Warning: you may need an adult beverage or two to sit through the whole thing.) This was the “master race” ideology against which America’s “Greatest Generation” fought until victory in 1945.
Andrew Anglin’s opinions and ideology are best described in his own words:
“White man are you sick and tired of the Jews destroying your country through mass immigration and degeneracy? Join us in the struggle for global white supremacy at The Daily Stormer.” March 2016
“Jews, Blacks and lesbians will be leaving America if Trump gets elected — and he’s happy about it. This alone is enough reason to put your entire heart and soul into supporting this man.” April 26, 2016
And following Donald Trump’s announcement during the presidential campaign that he would deport all Muslims, Andrew Anglin wrote: ““Get all of these monkeys the hell out of our country — now! Heil Donald Trump — THE ULTIMATE SAVIOR.” (Time for another drink perhaps?)
The “alt-right” has tried, so to speak, to whitewash its image, in a concerted effort to normalize its hateful extremism and somehow get itself included as part of the American conversation, but it differs from traditional conservatism in its vicious racism, viewing native-born residents — limited to white, European Christians, (and, on occasion, only males) as America’s only legitimate citizens. While vicious racism and nativism are essential defining characteristics of the “alt-right,” in its economic views it shares the features of the narrowest perspectives of corporate self-interest at the expense of the very people who so proudly wave its flag.
Its platform proudly proclaims the elimination of all institutions and regulations that have moved our civil society into the modern era. It combines a call for the effective elimination of collective bargaining and the removal of regulatory protections with trade protectionism and tariffs, a kind of “pure capitalism” except where that would be inconvenient to entrenched corporate interests. The “alt-right” wants to “make America great again” by dragging us back to the late 19th century with the return of past economic abuses — financial trusts, high prices, false marketing, unsafe unregulated products, and the unsafe and abusive labor conditions that made the rich richer and the poor poorer. These were the practices and the horrendous conditions that led to the reforms of the Progressive era. The Progressives successfully broke up the monopolies, lowered tariffs, introduced regulatory and worker protections, and created middle class prosperity. The improvements that followed included Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act — all of which are targets of both the “alt-right” and the more conventional conservatives whom the “alt-right” disdains.
The “alt-right,” which is itself a polished moniker for neo-Nazi white supremacists, often calls itself populist, purposely choosing to make itself attractive to the weakest and angriest among us. While the politics of Trump and Bannon are not the same as that of neo-Nazis Spencer and Anglin, the Trump platform and its alignment with and favor for anti-democratic forces, its embrace of fake news to promote false ideas that enhance its position, its own exploitation of racism and misogyny, and the menacing implied threats of its mass rallies have created a dangerous confluence.
Trump and his campaign cannot be blamed for creating the “alt-right.” Neo-Nazis, skinheads, white supremacists, and racists have lived among us for generations. What the campaign can be blamed for is the first steps toward normalization of this extremist fringe.
The question remains — can this vile destructive force ever be put back into the sewer it crawled out of?
Trump may believe he was only using the “alt-right” to ensure voter support, but this demands the question—who is using whom?
* The Associated Press has issued the following guidelines for use of the term “alt-right”: “Alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.
Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.