Last month, mainstream media discovered the alternative right (usually referred to as the “alt-right”). The alt-right is an emerging political movement whose exact definition is difficult to pin down. It has gained mainstream visibility in recent weeks due to its connections with the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Donald Trump. Though the movement had been covered sparingly in the past, it was thrust into the public eye on August 25th, when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released a new video and gave a speech in Reno, Nevada both criticizing Trump for his connections with the movement.
Media Curiosity of the Alt-Right Grows
The same day as the Clinton speech, ABC News, The Washington Post, Mic, and CNN, among others, published articles and videos explaining the movement. This is not a terribly easy task, however; as CNN pointed out, “The alt-right is not a traditional, hierarchical political movement. It is not rooted in a single organization, founding alliance or ideology.”
The Washington Post’s definition, laid out in a video published that day, is fairly broad – a “largely online movement of right-wing ideologies that presents itself as an alternative to mainstream conservatives.” ABC News turned to the Southern Poverty Law Center for their definition: “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.”
The Economist called it “something else altogether.”
Beyond varying definitions among media outlets, many have focused on the alt-right’s strongest connection with Mr. Trump, which comes in the form of Stephen Bannon. Earlier in August, Bannon was hired to be the CEO of Mr. Trump’s campaign. He was also the executive chairman of the parent company of Breitbart, a conservative online media outlet.
Bannon’s connection with the alt-right is twofold. In July, Bannon gave an interview to Mother Jones, a left-leaning nonprofit news organization, in which he stated that Breitbart had become “the platform for the alt-right.” Additionally, Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s tech editor and one of its most controversial writers, has had various run-ins with the movement.
Yiannopoulos, along with his deputy editor Allum Bokhari, wrote an article for Breitbart in March titled “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” The article is often referenced in the mainstream media as a sort of “manifesto” for the alt-right. This is, perhaps, due to its largely positive treatment of the movement (praising it as “young, creative, and eager to commit secular heresies”) – highly unusual commentary for any non-alt-right media.
Bannon and Yiannopoulos aside, this mainstream discovery has opened up a significant opportunity for the alt-right. Not only do they have the chance to argue their case to the mainstream, it’s very likely that whoever argues the case the best will become the new leaders of this historically leaderless movement. Indeed, two leaders have emerged – Richard Spencer and Jared Taylor
The Origins of the Alt-Right
Richard Spencer is often credited with having coined the term “alt-right,” though there is some dispute on this fact. Spencer doubtlessly popularized the term through his now-defunct website, AlternativeRight.com. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white nationalist think tank that leads the intellectual end of the alt-right, and he is also the president of Washington Summit Publishers (NPI’s sister company). He is also the founder and editor of Radix Journal (an alt-right media platform) and the host of the weekly Radix Journal podcast.
Jared Taylor has been a stolid supporter of white nationalist efforts for over 25 years. A self-proclaimed “race realist,” he is best known as the founder and editor of American Renaissance, an alt-right online news outlet he founded in 1991 (initially as a print magazine that migrated to the internet). He has been called the “intellectual godfather” of the alt-right, having authored six books, five of which appear to discuss alt-right/white nationalist ideals.
Taylor has taken full advantage of the mainstream discovery of the alt-right. Since August 25th, his website has published four articles and a video, all titled “What Is the Alt-Right?” and all attempting to argue the case of white nationalism to a more-than-skeptical public. According to American Renaissance’s “Interviews and Appearances” page, Taylor made 10 media appearances in the month of August alone – almost as many as he’s made in the rest of 2016, including NPR, the Guardian, and the Washington Post.
On September 9th, the duo hosted a press conference along with Peter Brimelow, editor of the anti-immigration website VDARE.com. The press conference featured Spencer saying, “Race is a foundation of identity” and Taylor saying, “Why is Africa poor? Why is, on the other hand, Haiti equally poor? […] This is because they’re populated by the same people.”
Though Spencer and Taylor are the professional faces of the alt-right, they do not encompass the whole movement. The beliefs of Spencer and Taylor are shocking to many in the mainstream, but they represent a mere professionalist facade over a movement that runs much deeper and darker. There are even more extremist elements of the alt-right, like Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer, which claims to be “The World’s #1 Alt-Right Site.”
Anglin diverges slightly in belief and majorly in tone from Spencer and Taylor. In an alt-right explainer article titled “A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” Anglin specifies anti-Semitism, not general white identity, as the core belief of the alt-right. “The defining value of the movement and the foundation of its ideology is that the Jews are fundamentally opposed to the White race and Western civilization and so must be confronted and ultimately removed from White societies completely,” Anglin writes.
Racism and fervent anti-Semitism are thriving through the alt-right movement, and have seeped into our mainstream political discourse. Now that this presidential campaign has brought this movement out from the shadows, the alt-right has no desire to return to the anonymous shadows of its recent collective past.
This post has been updated.