The rise of the alternative (“Alt”) right

The “Alt-Right” is a right-wing political movement that, until very recently, has been relegated to random forum pages, blogs and obscure literature for which one had to actively search in order to find. The recognition of the alt-right has been bubbling up in the mainstream media, particularly in response to purported alt-right activists’ fervent support of Donald Trump via social media platforms, the creation of “memes” and active online dialogue. When interviewed on MSNBC about Trump’s public support, Republican strategist Rick Wilson claimed that Trump’s alt-right supporters “[have] Hitler iconography in their Twitter icons… Most of them are childless single men who masturbate to anime. They’re not real political players. These are not people who matter in the overall course of humanity.”

As a burgeoning grassroots political movement, the alt-right doesn’t appear to be so easily categorized politically. The alt-right isn’t exactly a political movement, as it is generally understood, in so much as it is a coalition of many diverse far right-wing political theorists and identitarians as well as angsty teenagers who just enjoy the act of online “trolling”. Some of the various different groups that compose the alt-right include nationalists, anti-egalitarians, monarchists, nativists, “race-realists”, neo-pagans and countless others. What brings all of these people together?

There is a propensity to simply label the majority of the various sub-groups of the alt-right as pseudo-fascists – yet, even if this label is appropriate, it does not account for the radical diversity of ideologies found in the alt-right. Generally, even different types of fascists can’t stand one another and sometimes fascists have conflict within their own ranks. For example, Nazi Germany had numerous purges within the National Socialist Party (e.g. “Night of Long Knives”). It could be argued that the various elements of the alt-right are only allied with one another as a means of convenience, which some of the sub-groups would and will openly admit. But let us take the movement at its word and see if there are some core elements that allow for them to work in accord with one another.

The group’s fervent support of Trump is indicative of the movement’s apparent lack of a coherent ideology and can show what has bound together this wild amalgamation of different ideologies. Trump’s lack of a clear-cut policy platform is, in a way, attractive to the many elements composing the alt-right. Within the many alt-right websites, blogs and forums there is always some discussion of the notion of “metapolitics”. CEO of Swedish mining company Wiking Mineral and popular alt-right political theorist Daniel Friberg describes the notion of metapolitics on a alt-right European website in the following way:

“Metapolitics is a war of social transformation, at the level of worldview, thought and culture. Any parliamentary struggle must be preceded, legitimized and supported by a metapolitical struggle. Metapolitics, at its best, reduces parliamentarism to a question of mere formalities… Metapolitics considers culture, economy, history and both foreign and domestic policy – not simply state, party, or nation. We must understand society as a whole, as an organism… fought on the level of worldview, thought, and culture.”

Essentially, alt-righters believe that the more important political struggle is on the social and cultural level. They are not as worried about the fine details of policy as much as they are interested in electing or supporting officials who share the same, however vague, cultural impulse – and the road to political success is to aggressively push for cultural and social change via any means necessary. Of course, this purported “metapolitical” strategy may be seen as being indicative of laziness and the lack of a capacity to develop a coherent political platform or strategy – and there is no denying that numerous alt-righters just use this concept as an excuse to vent their rage without having to come up with any cohesive political strategy. Either way, this notion of emphasizing social and cultural change over political change serves to better clarify what brings the various wings of the alt-right together.

Trump is more of a symbolic or cultural figurehead for his supporters. He’s not an evangelical or even consistently capitalist – he’s just a proud loud-mouth who wants to “make America great again”. However, the few policies that Trump has not seemed to flip-flop on are reflective of how he plans to “make America great” and why the alt-right supports him. Trump has consistently advocated economic protectionism, building a wall along the Mexican border and deporting illegal immigrants, and has routinely suggested that Muslim immigration should be stopped altogether and, in his most frightening moments, suggested that there should be special identification policies for Muslim Americans. These policy positions and his campaign’s over-the-top (almost comical at times) sense of Jingoism is attractive to the alt-right for a particular reason: it is indicative of an obsession with identity – the desire to retain or carve out the American identity in contradistinction to that which it is not.

The alt-right may easily be conceived of as the political right taking up left-wing identity politics and turning it on its head. The alt-right and many Trump supporters don’t want to be part of what they consider to be an amorphous cosmopolitan blob of various identity groups – in which they feel that their own cohesive cultural identity is under siege. In a way, the alt-right is a reaction to left wing identitarian groups that want to carve out a unique identity and community for themselves, that they believe should not be “culturally appropriated” by those who not part of these groups or communities. The alt-right and Trump supporters too want their own unique identity or cultural sphere in the same way that these marginalized groups do – of course what this identity entails and how it is achieved is by no means necessarily the same.

Many elements of the Alt-Right glorify Trump’s candidacy/

Many elements of the Alt-Right glorify Trump’s candidacy/

In the act of displaying their unique identity and their pride in their “heritage”, alt-righters routinely come into conflict with both left-wing as well as many right-wing activists. The alt-right has utter disdain for “social justice warriors” whom they see, in their campaign for social justice and safe-spaces, as limiting free speech. On the other hand, many see what the alt-right considers to be a free expression of opinion and pride as transgressing into pure hate speech and racism. Many on the alt-right claim that pride in heritage, whether European, Christian or a general pride in being white, is not racist or fascist – although there are many within the movement who proudly admit their racist or fascistic beliefs. Many in the alt-right do have a propensity to express their cultural pride through displaying their purported supremacy and by mocking other social groups. And the connection between the alt-right and neo-nazi as well as other white supremacist groups is open knowledge.

This is why the movement has attached itself to Trump, whom many alt-righters see as a beacon of free speech. Trump’s gregariousness in how he presents himself and lack of a “filter” is attractive to a movement that believes the political left is actively sacrificing free speech in favor of “comfort”. A Newsday article articulates the position of some moderate Republicans on this issue who believe the contemporary political left is to blame for the rise of the alt-right and Donald Trump:

“Trump’s rise has been made possible by the ‘politically correct’ left. When people can be attacked as racist merely for opposing affirmative action, or discussing risks caused by an influx of refugees from regions in the grip of terror groups, or suggesting that a police shooting may have been justified, a candidate who scorns ‘political correctness’ and prides himself on being blunt will have a strong appeal. It doesn’t matter if ‘blunt’ is a synonym for ‘offensive.’”

The alt-right sees the increasing prevalence of political correctness, which may take the form of anti-hate speech laws or university “safe-spaces”, as hindering liberty and engendering a culture in which new injustices are actively searched for. Rather, the alt-right believes that people should learn to psychologically overcome that which they find offensive as the alt-right sees the need for the restriction of any kind of speech as a sign of insecurity or weakness that is only strengthened by providing increased security. This connects to another important element that is found throughout all the alt-right but especially in the Trump campaign.

On the subject of how he would handle ISIS if elected president, Trump said, “I’d bomb the shit of ‘em!”. This kind of overt bravado and rhetoric is extremely important to the alt-right as strength and “virility” are one of the core elements among almost all of the various groups that compose the alt-right. Whether it is the white supremacists, the nativists or neo-pagans, these groups are generally traditionalists or cultural revivalists in some sense. This means that, for the most part, the alt-right actively supports (or at least disapproves of what they see as left-wing attacks on) traditional social binaries. Of particular concern to these many groups is what they consider the erosion of manly virtue. This hyper-obsession with virility manifests itself as support for a strong military defense, criminal law, disdain for feminism and political correctness, and a love of all things that celebrate masculinity. A National Review article on the movement points out that this obsession with the virile seemingly borders on the homoerotic at times. Strangely enough, many alt-righters openly acknowledge and celebrate the intersection of the virile and homoerotic.

All of the various elements of the alt-right discussed above seem to be common elements of old school fascist and nationalist regimes: the importance of cultural and social identity (and homogeneity), critique of political correctness, a high valuation of traditional social roles and reverence for masculinity. Yet, it is a little too early to simply pass these groups off as mere new age internet racists, although many of them undoubtedly are. The alt-right is more like a collective impulse towards new or revived forms of political thought that are generally considered socially undesirable. They are, for the most part, aligned as a matter of convenience. There are numerous political ideologies and activists associated with the alt-right who openly disagree with the more fascistic wings of the movement or are only fascistic in certain respects. For instance, though some elements of the alt-right express homophobic sentiments, British journalist, entrepreneur and technology editor for Breitbart News Milo Yiannopoulos, who is openly gay, is considered a prominent media figure within the alt-right who has brought the movement more mainstream attention. Also, French political theorist, Alain de Benoist, who is considered one of the pre-eminent intellectual champions of the alt-right, and a self-proclaimed cultural and ethnopluralist, has written three books arguing against racism claiming that:

“Racism is a theory that postulates, either that qualitative inequalities exist among the races such that one can distinguish generally ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races, or that the value of an individual is defined entirely by his or her racial belonging, or again that race constitutes the central determining factor in human history. These three postulates may be held together or separately. All three of them are false”

There is no doubt that the alt-right political movement is rife with white supremacists, fascists and nationalists. Even so, these traits are not shared throughout the entire movement.

The alt-right has become increasingly prominent, particularly within Europe but also increasingly so in the US and even Canada. Yet, though the many groups composing this political union tend to share some common traits, their political rise is more indicative of general public disenfranchisement than an overarching political vision. In all likelihood, if the alt-right continues to grow it will likely come to splinter, as its various subgroups are increasingly able to stand on their own – it is hard to believe, for instance, that fascist neo-pagans and white supremacist Christians would be able to work together indefinitely. Though the ultimate fate of the alt-right, as well as its concrete identity, is unknown, its rise and increasing prominence should be recognized by the mainstream media.

Robert Smith

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