The new wave of avowed White nationalists who have been energized by Donald Trump—most prominently the Alt Right—have held demonstrations across the United States, most famously in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. Progressive activists have struggled to conceptualize and oppose the movement, and there have been a variety of different responses to it. However, some of these responses show a deep misunderstanding by progressives of what the Alt Right and other White nationalists believe. To misunderstand the multifaceted politics of fascism—and in particular, to ignore antisemitism—is to fail to comprehend the motivations and actions of the Alt Right and other White nationalists. It can also create a situation in which those who are targeted are left to fend off their would-be oppressors without solidarity.
The Alt Right can be understood as a Far Right style and approach, rather than having a single ideological position. It does have two wings, however: one is the so-called Alt Lite, which includes the open participation of people of color, Jews, and gay men, including in leadership roles. This includes figures like Jack Prosobiec, Laura Loomer, Baked Alaska, and Kyle Chapman (“Based Stickman”). They support Donald Trump and espouse a Patriotic ultra-nationalism, oppose immigration, demonize Muslims, and are hostile to the left. The other wing is the explicit White nationalists, who are driven by fascist ideology; they include Richard Spencer, Mike Enoch, and Andrew Anglin. They are like their Alt Lite relations, but also are open proponents of White nationalism. It is this fascist wing—who organized the 2017 demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, and Pikeville and Shelbyville, Kentucky in April and October respectively—that will be addressed when the Alt Right is referred to here. (All of this is not to deny that there is a reciprocal interchange between these wings, particularly with Alt Lite figures frequently adopting White nationalist slogans and positions.)
There are three main themes the Alt Right organizes around: White nationalism, antisemitism, and misogyny, with lesser concentrations on Islamophobia, and opposition to LGBTQ people, and “Communists.” This range of targets should be no surprise; the German Nazi Party was no different in the 1930s and ‘40s. One of their first actions upon taking power was to smash the Communist and Socialist parties, as well as the trade unions; the organizations were banned and the leaders imprisoned. In addition to Jews, the Nazis murdered people who were disabled, Sinti and Roma, queer, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and certain prisoners of war. Slavs, Black folks, and others also faced repression and death to varying degrees.
White nationalists live in a topsy-turvy world where they conceive of White people as being not only oppressed but as victims of a “genocide” that is in motion. For some of them, movements like Black Lives Matter—rather than being attempts at equality—are actually attempts to establish outright Black supremacy. In their view, it will elevate what they see as an already privileged group to an even higher level.
White nationalists assert that race is the central element in society that gives us our identity and a sense of belonging. But White nationalists go much further in their claims and political goals than the mainstream supporters of White supremacy as it exists today. Those in the mainstream deny the differences between how White people and people of color—especially Black folks—are treated in access to housing, equal police treatment, education, income, etc; and often support comparatively subtle techniques, such as voter suppression or removing funding for civil rights enforcement.
White nationalists in the U.S. have been advocating for pure White racial areas since the 1970s. This is where the rhetoric of “White separatism” arises, which differs from earlier forms of U.S. racism from the pre-Civil Rights era. For example, instead of slavery or Jim Crow segregation—where White people would remain in contact with Black people but exploit them economically and remain on a higher social level—the emphasis has shifted to having racially homogenous White communities, without contact with racial others. With the failure to uphold segregation, and coming under the influence of German Nazism, U.S. White nationalists came to see breaking up racial homogeneity as damaging to their interests.
This is why many White nationalists, including those in the Alt Right, want a White ethnostate, and not just a maintenance of the White supremacist status quo as it exists. This is, in fact, the “alternative” that the “Alt” Right seeks—it is opposed to the neoliberal conservatives who want to either maintain the racial status quo, or slowly make it worse for people of color through comparatively subtle techniques of political disempowerment. It is this goal of a White ethnostate that makes the Alt Right not just different than mainstream White supremacists—not just are their politics more aggressive, but they have a fundamentally different vision of the future.
The Alt Right’s opposition to immigration and, to a lesser extent, Islamophobia can be understood as subsets of these White nationalist views. The Alt Right does not oppose European immigration, even when illegal; and Islamophobia’s ostensible emphasis on religion is a way to avoid naming race, while clearly speaking about it.
A second, and too-often-overlooked, pillar of White nationalism is its reliance on antisemitic conspiracy theories, which frequently act as its central “theory.” These are constantly mutating, although they contain the same basic premises. Jews are seen as a cabal-like group who control the media, banks, and various international institutions. They use this fantastical power to undermine what White nationalists see as their racial interests. (Almost all White nationalists see Jews as non-White, regardless of whether they have European ancestry.) Kevin Macdonald, a former professor at California State University, Long Beach, is the main intellectual influence on the Alt Right in this aspect, and he has given an intellectual gloss to the more crude antisemitic theories.
The Jewish conspiracy is the explanatory mechanism for how Black Americans and Latinos in particular are defeating White nationalists, who see them as lazy and stupid. If they are inferior, how can they be winning? It is the Jewish conspiracy that is claimed to be working to destroy the White race through promoting immigration, civil rights for racial minorities, and globalization. Antisemitic conspiracy theories hold Jews responsible for creating and guiding the Civil Rights Movement for example. A newer permutation of this kind of antisemitic conspiracy theory is that “Cultural Marxism” is to blame for “political correctness” and movements for racial equality.
The Charlottesville rally itself had a strong antisemitic slant to it. Before the event, one of the schedule speakers, Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach, said a Jewish conspiracy was behind the removal of the Confederate memorials. He opined that, “they want to be able to destroy knowledge of the past so they, the Jewish Power Structure, can try and control the future.”
At the infamous torch-lit rally on, August 11, the eve before the planned rally, marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us!” The next day, one very visible sign said, “The Jewish media is going down.” Calls had been made to burn a local synagogue down. The Washington Post said that White nationalist leader David Duke made an impromptu speech at the end of the gathering, saying:
“The truth is the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.” Addressing another group, Richard Spencer mocked Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer. “Little Mayor Signer—‘See-ner’—how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” Spencer asked. The crowd responded by chanting, “Jew, Jew, Jew.”
The antisemitism at the Charlottesville rally was discussed in the mainstream media—but, tellingly, not nearly as widely on the Left. Articles appeared, for example, in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and the New Republic about the role of antisemitism—but in almost no more left-leaning publications. This, in turn, reflects a longstanding failure of the Left to recognize and confront issues of antisemitism.
The organized White supremacist movement has always been entangled with misogyny. Its vision of a racial hierarchy is intimately tied up with other social hierarchies.
This isn’t just one of a laundry list of social ills that White nationalists embrace, however; for the Alt Right, it is central. This is even more so than for past iterations of white supremacists; as Matthew Lyons points out in “Alt-right: More Misogynistic Than Many Neonazis,” the last generation of U.S. neonazis embraced a semi-feminism that “rejects the idea of male-female equality yet encourages women to become activists and leaders as well as wives and mothers.” But the Alt Right was energized when the Gamergate crowd (including Milo Yiannopoulos, then an editor at Breitbart) affixed itself to the more intellectual elements around Richard Spencer, Counter-Currents, and Arktos Press.
Lyons describes the Alt Right’s views in his Political Research Associates report Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The Origins and Ideology of the Alternative Right:
Going beyond traditionalist claims about the sanctity of the family and natural gender roles, Alt Rightists have embraced an intensely misogynistic ideology, portraying women as irrational, vindictive creatures who need and want men to rule over them and who should be stripped of any political role. The Traditionalist Youth Network claims that “women’s biological drives are contrary to the best interests of civilization and… the past century or so of women’s enfranchisement and liberation has been detrimental to societal stability.” But the group frames this position as relatively moderate because, unlike some rightists, they don’t believe “that women are central to the destruction of Western Civilization”—they are simply being manipulated by the Jews. The Daily Stormer has banned female contributors and called for limiting women’s roles in the movement, sparking criticism from women on the more old school White nationalist discussion site Stormfront. Far-right blogger Matt Forney asserts that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the Alt Right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”
Prior to Charlottesville, there was a discussion in Alt Right circles about if women could attend. (It was finally decided that they could, although they were encouraged to be in support positions, and only a small minority were in the crowd.) A number of attendees espoused the idea of “White sharia”—controversial in their own circles—which holds that in a future White ethnostate, men will be able to control women a super-restrictive manner. One video promoting the concept says:
Under ‘white sharia,’ our women will no longer be permitted to live their lives as sluts…. And you won’t have any career women invading your workplace either. Nope. Under ‘white sharia,’ our women won’t even be able to leave the home without being escorted by a male family member. And they definitely won’t be voting for liberal politicians anymore.
Anglin adds an antisemitic element, saying that, “Basically, your only choice in this matter is whether you will choose WHITE SHARIA or Islamic Sharia. Because the Jews are obsessed with destroying the white race, they have weakened us internally to the point of collapse while emboldening and propping up the Islamic hordes.” At Charlottesville, the fascist crowd chanted “White sharia now.”
A Constellation of Other Toxic Views
Circling around their triadic emphasis on White nationalism, antisemitism, and misogyny are plenty of other noxious views held by the Alt Right and other White nationalists.
Islamophobia has been popular favorite, which has the added element of uniting a broad group of right-wing actors. It is a popular political issue for the Alt Right, which they use to mobilize their base and for publicity. However, underneath the surface, it lacks the theoretical centrality that antisemitism has—they are not using their Islamophobia to think through or guide their politics.
Islamophobia also creates some complex political interactions here that don’t lead to long-term collaboration in the right. Many core Islamophobic organizers claim Zionism, feminism, and pro-LGBTQ positions as part of their politics, conflicting with the views of many more traditional White nationalists.
Homophobia and Transphobia
Homophobic and transphobic sentiments are the norm rather than the exception on the fascist end of the Alt Right. At Charlottesville, fascists chanted repeatedly at anti-racist protestors, “Fuck you faggots!” (The reply chanted back was, “We’re here / we’re gay / we fucked the KKK.”)
This also has some complications. Fascism Today author Shane Burley said in an email, “The hardcore homophobia is actually kind of new for the Alt Right, it wasn’t an area of importance for quite a while. It essentially returned when the less academic voices in the Alt Right came back and the queer voices receded, like Jack Donovan.” For example at the 2016 National Policy Institute (then run by Richard Spencer) conference, the most pro-GLBTQ strain was on display. Donovan spoke, Heimbach was banned from attending due to his aggressive homophobic approach, and longtime White nationalist lawyer Sam Dickson made the amazing statement that “gay people” will be allowed in the new White ethnostate.
In addition to these views, to a lesser extent, the Alt Right has a fixation on anti-Communist conspiracy theories. These are classic conspiracy theories in which “Communists” are the agent of the global conspiracy. They have been revived as of late, with “antifa” often taking the place of the Soviet Union or Western Marxist parties as the agent of the conspiracy. As with other questions however, some Alt Right leaders have a more favorable view of Communist nations as they have existed in reality (which tended to be strongly nationalist) rather than how they portrayed themselves in the abstract. For example, Heimbach, among others, praises North Korea as an ethnostate that practices a national socialism.
Theoretical Challenges to Conceptualizing Progressive Resistance
These questions of how the Alt Right thinks—and who it targets—should be kept in mind when shaping resistance strategies. And it is of particular importance to progressive activists who believe that people of certain identities have obligations to oppose oppressive politics aimed at those who have different identities than their own.
First, the kind of White supremacy that the Alt Right and other White nationalists advocate is substantially different—and potentially far more dangerous—than the current daily grind of racism in U.S. society. White nationalists see the status quo as a problem, and desire a far more aggressive form—a program of genocide and expulsions—to be implemented. It creates new arguments, slogans, images, and conceptualizations that, even when out of power, seep into the mainstream. The Alt Right’s ability to influence the Trump administration is a shining example of this, with Trump adopting the style and positions of Alt Right groups, even though their actual members are not in positions of direct contact with him.
Second, fascists and other White nationalists are best countered by a unified opposition of people from different identities. The Civil Rights Movement involved both Black and White people. In this way, it practiced a unity of means and ends in what it sought to create in society—integration. This is in part, alongside sophisticated organizing and bold tactics, what made it inspiring and successful. The anti-racist counter-protestors at Charlottesville attempted to do the same; one chant was, “Strong, united, interracial crew / We have replaced you.” Countering the White nationalist vision of a racially monolithic society with an opposition that intentionally replicates its racial exclusivity seems bound to fail.
Third, as has been shown, most White nationalists seek to oppress not just people of color as such, but also Jews, Muslims, feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people, leftists, and anti-racists of all racial identities. If the Alt Right is reduced singularly to the issue of race, this leaves all of these other targeted groups out in the cold. But for those who follow a politics guided by doing political work for people of identities different than their own, is it not the obligation of heterosexuals, non-Jews, and non-Muslims to stand up for Jews, Muslims, and queer people? Or do they have to stand up for themselves without solidarity?
Fascism targets a whole range of identities: it is a politics of full-spectrum oppression. This political movement should not be opposed just because of the future of genocide which it seeks, the violence of the movement as it exists now, and its ability to drive moderate conservatives even further to the right. It deserves an intersectional resistance because our actions should be bound up in a principled and consistent opposition to the many different forms of hierarchy that fascism promotes.