What is The Alt-Right?

By: | April 1, 2017

The term ‘Alt-Right” has come into limelight ever since Donald Trump was named president-elect and has found even more prominence with the appointment of Steve Bannon, CEO of far-right online media outlet Breitbart News, as White House Strategist. The term is a shortened form the “alternative right.” Different definitions exist for this term Alt-Right, but a widely recognized one would be that used by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. It describes the Alt-Right as:

A set of far-right ideologies, groups, and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization”.

Richard Spencer, an American white nationalist leader and president of the National Policy Institute coined the name Alt-Right in 2008. Spencer is a supporter of the idea of an ethnocentric nation and wants to make the United States of America an all-white nation.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Spencer said that he sees himself as an “identitarian” or “white nationalist” but doesn’t consider himself a “white supremacist.” The newspaper stated, “He envisions a white ethnostate utopia, devoid of black people, Muslims, Jews, Asians or anyone else without a single European heritage and culture.” “Look, I care about my people more than I care about others,” Spencer said. “It’s very simple. What form that takes, I don’t know. But I don’t believe in equality. I don’t care about everyone. I don’t care about the world. I want to fight for my people first.” According to Spencer, he intended the term “Alt-Right” to describe a diverse, heterodox group whose members were “deeply alienated, intellectually, even spiritually and emotionally, from American conservatism.”

The historical moorings of alt-right are traced to the time of the Bush presidency till 2009. Fed up at the end of Bush’s tenure with Republican policies on war and immigration, Spencer and others sought to transform the conservative movement with their writing on sites like alternativeright.com and Taki magazine, which was edited by Spencer. This writing focused on establishing alt-right into a more specific ideology with hardline ideas about identity and race.

An online movement

Alt-right has so far mainly been an online movement, which unlike other movements, has no ideology or centralized organization. In spite of being involved in brief street protests, it has gained currency as an online movement. The online movement is known for the relentless nature of its online persecution of those who stand by progressive ideas related to gender, race, immigration and sexuality. An example of this was the anti-Semitic abuse heaped on journalist Julia Loffe who profiled Melanie Trump, wife of Donald Trump, for GQ magazine. Alt-righters are active on message boards like 4chan and 8chan, websites like the Right Stuff and American Renaissance and Twitter where they are known to taunt.

However, the mostly anonymous identity of the posters has raised questions about the level of seriousness that can be attributed to them as evinced by Benjamin Wallace – Wells in his article for New Yorker titled ‘Is the Alt-Right for Real? He sees Alt-Right “not as a movement but as a collective experiment in identity, in the same way, that many people use anonymity on the Internet to test more extreme versions of themselves.” Spencer says that the term is still flexible, but affiliation has some minimum requirements. “Someone who is Alt-Right recognizes the reality of race, and the fact that race matters and that race is an essential component of identity.”

Association & Criticism

According to the Washington Post, the notable figures associated with the alt-right movement include far-right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, the earlier mentioned Stephen Bannon and former KKK grand wizard David Duke. The alt-right movement has its fair share of critics too with some denouncing it as nothing more than a rebranding of neo-Nazi racism. Leon H Wolf says, “I am not much for the term ‘Alt-Right’ because it implies that neo-Nazis somehow become new, different, exciting and edgy when they get a Twitter account. In reality, it’s the same tired old neo-Nazi crap, complete with the cowardly, anonymous intimidation that White Supremacists have been practicing for decades.” The Guardian’s Giles Fraser described Alt-Right as “old racism for the tech-savvy generation.,”