The Alt Right: Barbarians At The Gates Or Political Hyperbole?

The alt right movement is an insurgent, racially tinged one that seeks to dismantle traditional conservative institutions to provide a political voice to an array of exiles on the far right.
08/25/2016 05:25 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2017
Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes the stage during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississi
Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes the stage during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., August 24, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The Alt Right's Emergence
As campaign rhetoric intensifies with each side calling the other bigoted, an amorphous little known ideological umbrella movement, the alt right has emerged into mainstream political lexicon. The alt right movement is an insurgent, racially tinged one that seeks to dismantle traditional conservative institutions to provide a political voice to an array of exiles on the far right. These include, but are not limited to, a unified array of influential hard-core racists and conspiracists, who oppose contemporary political processes, institutions, and both political parties as threatening not only national security, but the Euro-centric traditions of the nation as well with "white genocide."

With respect to its anti-immigration, anti-globalization and diversity doctrines the movement has analogues in England, France, Belgium, Hungary, Germany and the Netherlands. Today in Reno, NV., Secretary Clinton criticized U.K. Independence Party leader and "Brexit" promoter Nigel Farage's address to a Trump rally in Mississippi the previous evening, citing his hardened position against immigrants and calls for their disparate treatment.

The alt right regard mainstream conservatives as impotent, even corrupt, "cuckservatives," whose stances for compromise and lack of firm opposition to multiculturalism as traitorous. The term alt right is often credited to an ardent Trump supporter, Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, who runs the D.C. based National Policy Institute.

Criticism May Be Predictable, But Also Probative
Today, Mr. Trump preemptively criticized labeling him and his supporters as racists as a "tired disgusting argument" that is a totally predictable "play in the democratic playbook." He does, however, have near unanimous support among leading racist extremists -- something not seen in decades. Other alt right Trump supporters include the Nazi Daily Stormer's Andrew Anglin, anti-Semite Kevin MacDonald, Stormfront website founder and former Klansman Don Black, the American Renaissance's Jared Taylor and the racist leader of Traditionalist Youth Network Matt Heimbach.

Heimbach, one of a noticeable set of younger and Internet savvy movement leaders, achieved notoriety for his role in manhandling an African-American female protestor at a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year. His group also engaged in a violent street battle with armed militant leftists in June in Sacramento. Trump, as Clinton pointed out, also has support from other racist leaders from the new Klan, as well as former Klan leader David Duke, and William Johnson. The latter's authorship of a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting citizenship to whites, caused him to lose his status as a Trump delegate this Spring.

In today's Reno address, Democratic nominee Clinton criticized Donald Trump's "embrace of the disturbing alt-right political philosophy" as giving a "national megaphone" to hate groups. As she stated last night in an interview broadcast on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360: "He is taking a hate movement mainstream. He's brought it into his campaign."

From a political standpoint, the more Secretary Clinton can align Mr. Trump, with a racially anchored movement, the better she can potentially checkmate his fledgling outreach to African-American and Latino voters, who are key voting blocks in crucial battleground states.

However, Mr. Trump's recitation of problems facing some segments of the African-American community in a Michigan address last week to a largely white audience has been criticized by Ms. Clinton and others. To those in the alt right universe, it read not so much a prescription for change, but a damning indictment, similar to those found on the narratives of hate websites that look at unemployment and crime as being "censored" indicators of racial inferiority. Ms. Clinton criticized Mr. Trump's address in Michigan today as "reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his supporters."

A Celebrity For The Apprentices
To what degree Mr. Trump's initial, and sometimes shifting, invocation of the movement's more strident goals, is a mere political dalliance, or real adherence to its principles may be less relevant than his long term effect on the alt right's emergence as a political force.

Ms. Clinton accurately pointed out that Mr. Trump has emerged as the alt right's most lauded and charismatic political messenger of racially oriented, anti-globalist, false conspiracies and iconoclastic doctrines. However, that umbrella encompasses not only hardened overt racists, but some libertarians, and ultra-conservatives; who believe they have an uncensored voice with an alt right megaphone that mainstream conservatives and the rest of the Republican party deny to them. All these disenfranchised voices have now been provided with someone they lacked for decades-a mainstream popular leader with significant and sustained media access to plant their positions.

A Political Lottery Windfall
For the hardened bigoted core of this movement, the Trump candidacy, whether it pivots or not, has been a political lottery win. The overt racist hard core of it sees both overt support and a "wink and a nod" of its positions. Trump's rhetoric of racial and religious exclusion as a means of protecting society, whether they be retweets of false racial crime data, use of symbols taken from hate sites, or his proclamation that Islam hates us are lauded for their authenticity. Writing this Spring I observed:

As American Renaissance's [and alt right leader] Jared Taylor wrote last year: "Donald Trump may be the last hope for a president who would be good for white people." Trump is the first candidate he has ever endorsed and he's not alone. As the New York Times observed, "Mr. Trump's failure to distance himself more sharply from white-power adherents has been minutely observed in online discussion forums."

The exact parameters of this new alt right movement are subject to debate, as in its most mainstream manifestation it includes firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos (dismissed by the Nazis in the movement) and Ann Coulter; as well as the anti-establishment and often incendiary Breitbart political news website. Breitbart was run until earlier this month by new Trump campaign co-leader Steve Bannon, a theme that Ms. Clinton vigorously seized on today in her address. Breitbart presents a broad range of topics through a prism that attracts disenfranchised and alienated conservatives with sometimes controversial headlines like "Black Guns Matter", "'Climate expert: Marxist, global warming extremists control Vatican" and "Big gay hate machine closes Christian pizza parlor."

The Alt Right Is Somewhat Diverse
The alt right to be sure has aspects that lean far more to anti-establishment principles and countering "politically correct" hypocrisy, than to the most hard core hate. At its worst, however, the alternate right movement is much darker, even Hitlerian, including neo-Nazi and white separatists and other hardened overt racial separatists, who believe they steward the movement. Both the overt hard-core racists and the disenfranchised agree on key issues that the traditional white American way of life is under attack by growing diversity, globalization, socialism and the corruption of the political process. Andrew Anglin, 28, publisher of the alt right Neo-Nazi webzine Daily Stormer stated:

The Alt-Right is at its core a reactionary movement. Its ideology has been formed as a reaction, not as a continuation of an established school of thought. Obviously, influences and understandings have been drawn from previous movements, though a lot more has been drawn from Hitler than Buchanan.

At some point the movement itself will define its own parameters, and its likely that the more hardened bigots will cleave away from those who are more incendiary, than they are overtly bigoted. However, Paul Gottfried's 2008 hope of a tangible movement has materialized, and the damage may have already occurred as bigotry became an indelible element of it:

We are part of an attempt to put together an independent intellectual Right, one that exists without movement establishment funding and one that our opponents would be delighted not to have to deal with. Our group is also full of young thinkers and activists, and if there is to be an independent Right, our group will have to become its leaders.

Impact Beyond One Election
Among Secretary Clinton's strongest points today was distinguishing the contemporary alt right from some of the leaders, past and present of the proud Republican party, who are now met with disdain as self serving toxic apparatchiks by those on the fringes. Euro-nationalism and all the horrendous bigotry that is tied to it has not just emerged as an unwelcome visitor at the door of a major political party, but rather an occupant of its household. For Democratic partisans trying to defeat Republicans this point may be an effective political weapon.

However, to those in the party of Lincoln who value equal opportunity, civility, international engagement, and facts as currency, it is the assent of a new manifestation of previously excluded hardened bigots to their political stage, rather than one anti-establishment media firebrand to a campaign, that might produce the most sustained damage to not only the party, but our political process as well.