Three Pillars of the Alt Right: White Nationalism, Antisemitism, and Misogyny

Photo credit: Karla Cote, August 11, 2017, Charlottesville, VA https://flic.kr/p/XuUyHe

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 Nationalism

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.

Antisemitism

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.

Misogyny

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

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.

Anti-Communism

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.

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.

Disunite the Right: The Growing Divides in the Pepe Coalition

White nationalist “Alt Right” demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial on June 25, 2017. Photo: Susan Melkisethian via Flickr.

By the time Richard Spencer, the man responsible for coining and popularizing the term Alt Right, made his way to the front of the crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and took the microphone, anger was already brimming among his supporters. While barely 100 Alt Right acolytes amassed for this June 25 “free speech” rally in Washington, D.C., they represented the hardcore adherents of a movement demanding a White “ethnostate”—a nation for Whites only. Standing in front of banners for White nationalist organizations like Vanguard America, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and Identity Evropa, Spencer issued the sort of romantic call for struggle that had once made him a leader:

We are fundamentally fighting to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves. We are fighting to be part of a family together. We are fighting to be strong again. To be beautiful again. We are fighting to be powerful again in a sea of weakness and hopelessness. That is our battle. Our greatest enemies will tell us that there is nothing to fight for, that it is all over. All you have to do is go to the voting booth or go purchase some cute new product or watch some cute new video. We are going to fight for meaning. We are going to make history all over again.1

Spencer’s passionate appeal came after a falling out with Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer, who had denounced Spencer’s presence at the rally and opted to hold their own competing event across town.2 As Spencer became the focal point of broader divisions, the Far Right was sent into a tailspin, with Spencer leading his explicitly White nationalist faction of the Alt Right against the more moderate “Alt Light.”

“We need to attack the Alt Light in the most ruthless manner possible,” Spencer declared in a rant on the podcast “Alt Right Politics” on the eve of what were now two rallies. “They are objectively the immediate enemy, they must be destroyed.”3

Spencer was declaring war against the Alt Light—a group peripheral to the core Alt Right, which Spencer appeared to see as his access point to mainstream conservatism.

What might have appeared to outsiders as simple subcultural rivalry had more definitive consequences: Spencer was declaring war against the Alt Light—a group peripheral to the core Alt Right, which Spencer appeared to see as his access point to mainstream conservatism. As the man who developed staple Alt Right institutions such as the National Policy Institute, the Radix Journal, and AltRight.com, Spencer has spent approximately the last two years scrambling to capitalize on the increased exposure the Trump campaign brought to his rebranded White nationalist movement. The Alt Light, which served as the next ring around Spencer’s core movement organs, weren’t committed to the harder-edged ideology of the Alt Right, but as a collective of right-wing provocateurs, they had helped popularize Spencer’s talking points.

Now, Spencer’s “Free Speech” rally became purer but far smaller: a parade of White nationalist celebrities, who came at the cost of the rally’s potential to influence more mainstream conservatives.

A Fragile Coalition

Richard Spencer. Photo: v@s/ Wikkimedia commons.

In 2008, the Alternative Right was born, as a concept that triggered a movement, after Richard Spencer’s time working among paleoconservatives led him into the “dissident right”: those who reject liberal values of human equality and multiculturalism. The Alternative Right, and the eponymous web journal Spencer would launch in 2010, brought together a range of Rightists loosely defined by racial identitarianism and their belief in human inequality. While the GOP still rhetorically rejects racism and inequality, the Alternative Right embraced these ideas, redefining fascism for a 21st Century U.S. context. When their nascent movement collided with internet troll culture, their name was shortened to Alt Right and their flag-bearers adopted the racially abusive personality we know today.

The Alt Light came later—an outer layer of supporters mobilized largely around the celebrity of former Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, and also including former Rebel Media star Lauren Southern, online “manosphere” leader Mike Cernovich, and Infowars conspiracy baron Alex Jones. Though their agendas weren’t identical, they served a purpose for the Alt Right. Fascists who have difficulty entering the public stage have always required crossover figures and institutions that can help pave the way for more ideologically pure leaders to come—a “stopover” point on the road to authoritarianism. In earlier generations this included figures like Pat Buchanan and the paleoconservative movement, but as public trust in party politics has waned, that role has fallen to online cultural leaders who sway social networks. In the age of the Alt Right, it was the less radical representatives who loaned the movement broader popular appeal.

To the Alt Right, compromise on core principles threatens the ideological purity they were founded to uphold.

But the relationship between the Alt Right and the Alt Light, as well as “patriot” organizations like the Oath Keepers, has often been more pragmatic than comfortable. And maintaining this coalition has not been easy, requiring compromises on language, targets, and allies. To the Alt Right, compromise on core principles threatens the ideological purity they were founded to uphold.4 The Alt Right already constituted a coalition, linking together the “race realist” pseudoscientists, racial pagans, European New Rightists, male tribalists, classic White nationalists, paleoconservatives, and others who defined themselves by essentialized identity and inequality. This point of agreement was enough to initially bring them together, but disagreements over issues like Ukrainian independence, Brexit, and culture led to splits, which were papered over when Trump ran, demonstrating to them again that they could be stronger if they suppressed their differences and rode the wave.

It was the need to find a more palatable vessel for their politics that led the Alt Right to embrace the Alt Light in the first place, although both camps had different intentions from the start. To Alt Light figures hoping to parlay movement celebrity into lasting careers, the Alt Right’s overt White nationalism threatened to become a toxic association. In both camps, strong personalities combined with murky ideological boundaries became a recipe for explosive fractures, undermining the potential of a unified front. That disintegration provides insights into the organizing process of the Alt Right, and how the Left can challenge their growth before it becomes a populist wave.

Free Speech Light

A 19-year-old student named Colton Merwin began planning the June 25 “free speech” rally in Washington, D.C., weeks in advance. It was the latest in a series of rallies, hosted by Alt Right and Alt Light figures alike, in response to public clashes between the Far Right and anti-racist organizers that had started in December 2016 and escalated in early February 2017, after an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley was canceled amid mass protests. The later cancellation of Ann Coulter at Berkeley prompted Lauren Southern to host the inaugural “free speech” rally in the city of Berkeley in April.5

While Yiannopoulos and Southern were both Alt Lightists, Southern opened her rally to Alt Right speakers as well, inviting Brittany Pettibone, a contributor to websites like AltRight.com and Red Ice Creations. After Southern’s Berkeley event descended into violent attacks on counter-protesters—a media spectacle that played heavily in the news cycle, leading to greatly increased media exposure for both the Alt Light and Alt Right—“free speech” protests spread across the country. The rallies became popular enough that Spencer and the Alt Right had the opportunity to use them as recruitment opportunities.

Spencer and the Alt Right saw the free speech rallies as recruitment opportunities.

Later in the spring, the movement continued to make headlines, as Alt Light leaders Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer gained notoriety for derailing multiple Shakespeare in the Park performances in New York City. Colton Merwin invited both as speakers, alongside Mike Cernovich, author of The MAGA Mindset.

But when Richard Spencer’s name was floated as a fellow speaker, Posobiec and Loomer declared that they wouldn’t share a stage with him, instead announcing a simultaneous rally across town, targeting the “political violence” of the shooting attack on a congressional baseball team that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in critical condition. (This rally focused on blaming the broad Left, suggesting that the shooter’s brief support of Bernie Sanders was evidence that the shooting amounted to political terrorism.6)

After the Alt Light abandoned the Lincoln Memorial rally—splitting the crowd and depriving Spencer of the big platform he sought—Alt Right trolls swarmed, with one prominent commentator, Baked Alaska, harassing Loomer with violent antisemitic images. While Spencer had long sought to present an above-the-fray tone for his new brand of White nationalism, he quickly joined in, tweeting, “The Alt Light is a collection of outright liars (Posobiec and Cerno), perverts (Milo, Wintrich), and Zionist fanatics (Loomer).”7

Tensions had been growing for months. The Alt Right had bristled at Milo Yiannopoulos’ refusal to fully adapt to the Alt Right through his rejection of “identity politics”8; at Trump’s Syrian intervention, which struck the Alt Right as capitulation to GOP “globalism”9; and Spencer’s earlier ostracism from Alt Light events like the Deploraball.10 But after D.C., it appeared that the face of the Alt Right had tired of his moderate counterparts.

Alt Identities

While the break in Washington stemmed from particular complaints—denying the Alt Right a recruitment platform at crossover events—the underlying issues were deeper conflicts over rhetoric and ideology. The Alt Right is an “identitarian” movement that can accurately be described as fascist and White nationalist: they seek to create a “traditionalist” society in the form of a pan-European ethnostate. That is specific and concrete. The Alt Light, on the other hand, seeks to create a bigger tent, including a range of “Independent Trumpists” who generally ally themselves with a looser type of nationalism—“American” or “Civic Nationalism,” which tempers its ideas about race yet still utilizes national chauvinism, protectionism, and isolationism. (To be sure, in effect Civic Nationalism manifests many of the same bigotries as its more explicit counterpart.)

Similar movements outside the U.S., like Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Brexit vote, are in vein with this Civic Nationalism, as is Donald Trump’s brand of populism. Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart alumnus and former Trump’s chief strategist, has defined his role in Trump’s campaign and administration as an expression of Civic Nationalism, viewing Trump’s “us-versus-them” language as a means to overturn establishment politics.11 (Unlike leftist expressions of populism, Civic Nationalism seeks to reestablish a mythic version of a stable and hierarchical America.)

The Alt Right has often identified Trump and the Alt Light, as well as older figures like Pat Buchanan, as Civic Nationalists. As “free speech” events proliferated, and organizations like the Proud Boys—a “Western chauvinist” group associated with the Alt Light—rose to prominence within them, some coalition members broke with the Alt Right in favor of vocal expressions of Civic Nationalism. At a June 4 rally in Portland, Oregon, Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, a movement celebrity allied with the Proud Boys, did just that. Although Chapman had become famous within the Alt Right for attacking anti-racist protesters with a large wooden rod, he distanced himself from the Alt Right’s racial politics, noting his Asian-American girlfriend and biracial child. Speaking to a line of news cameras, he declared himself a patriot, not a racist:

I consider myself an American nationalist… It’s a type of nationalism specifically applied to America, where we come together under Americana, 1776, the embrace of our beautiful country…Western Civilization. Regardless of race, regardless of sexual identity, we all come together to embrace America, American values, and put Americans first in all the dealings of this country.12

Chapman had already been condemned by Nathan Damigo, who recently resigned as head of the White nationalist group Identity Evropa, for his social media posts “denouncing racism” and suggesting that the “founding fathers” had created the U.S. as a country centered on ideals rather than ethnicity.13 But what appeared as Damigo and the Alt Right’s larger complaint was that Chapman had legitimized the accusations of racism in the first place, by calling “for a rejection of white interests”14 and, effectively, denouncing White nationalism. The Alt Light’s separate rally later that month in Washington, D.C., reinforced this rejection: that the Alt Right’s “White identitarianism” was so toxic that they had to hold their own nationalist rally somewhere else.

The Alt Right’s “White identitarianism” was so toxic that the Alt Light had to hold their own nationalist rally somewhere else.

The Alt Light wasn’t motivated by conscience alone; there were financial considerations at stake. Mike Cernovich has made a career on his books and videos, and with the growth of crowdfunding websites and donation appeals, Alt Light organizing against the Left has become a money-making prospect for many movement leaders. Kyle Chapman, for example, has parlayed his “Based Stick Man” persona into a clothing line alluding to the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, using incendiary language to promote his brand and create a financial base for himself. (Chapman, who has served 10 years in prison for a litany of crimes including grand theft, was able to make a reported $87,000 for his legal defense and $40,000 for a graphic novel that he is pitching at Comic Con through crowd source websites.) Websites like WeSearchr are also cashing in, raising money through crowd-sourcing to deliver “bounties” for different right-wing causes, like paying money to people who successfully doxxed anti-fascists.

But while edgy language and fighting postures have helped bring Alt Light leaders some acclaim, they seem to rightly suspect that open White nationalism is still a bridge too far for anyone seeking to build a lucrative career. Leading Alt Light website The Rebel has raised over a $1 million in its three years, almost entirely in crowd-sourced small donations. And while sites like GoFundMe are often off-limits to the Alt Right, since openly racist appeals violate their Terms of Service, the coded language of the Alt Light—using Civic Nationalist rather than “identitarian” talking points—can and does pass the bar. 15

The Alt Right has also taken hits when it comes to movement branding. In the heyday of the big Alt Right tent in 2015 and 2016, Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich told The New Yorker, the movement name “was adopted by libertarians, anti-globalists, classical conservatives, and pretty much everyone else who was sick of what had become of establishment conservatism.” But after “Richard Spencer came along, throwing up Nazi salutes and claiming that he was the leader of the alt-right,” Wintrich continued, “He effectively made the term toxic…We all abandoned using it in droves.”16 Wintrich’s summary was ahistorical: the broader use of the term Alt Right during the long election season was ideologically inconsistent with how it had been used for years by Spencer and his crew of “identitarians,” and Spencer’s efforts to reclaim the term, as explicitly signifying White nationalism, were really what the Alt Right had always been about. But the larger point remained—the bigger coalition Spencer had sought was falling apart.

There was further splintering within the Alt Light. Lauren Southern released a video message, “The Alt-Lite vs Free Speech,” arguing that blocking Spencer’s participation was capitulation to Leftist suppression of free speech. But despite this show of support for Spencer and the Alt Right, other Alt Right figures criticized her. In a long post at AltRight.com in late June, writer Michael Driscoll took Southern to task for what he saw as her lackluster opposition to immigration, arguing that “Something more is needed. That something is identity.”17

While further alienating their depleting number of allies may be a tactical misstep for the Alt Right, many, like Driscoll, see the popularity of more moderate voices like Southern as an impediment to the Alt Right’s goal of mobilizing anti-immigrant sentiment into support for open White identitarianism. As Driscoll wrote:

Southern is the focal point between the “Alt-Lite” and the Alt-Right and is one of the few new media figures aware that “classical liberalism” is not synonymous with Western Civilization, nor is it sufficient to defend that civilization’s existence. For that reason, where she goes from here is important.18

Taking the Oath

The tensions arose on other fronts as well, sometimes spilling over into violent confrontations between Alt Right White nationalists and Alt Light “Patriot” groups. On June 10, far-right groups including the Oath Keepers, a prominent Patriot movement organization, protested the removal of a Houston statue depicting former Texas President Sam Houston. The Oath Keepers, seeking to disassociate themselves from the White nationalist element of the Alt coalition, openly tried to keep the Alt Right from attending. But they came anyway, including an associate of the neonazi website the Daily Stormer, who arrived bearing a Nordic “Black Sun” flag and shouting antisemitic slogans. After event organizers asked protesters affiliated with the Daily Stormer and Vanguard America to leave, a scuffle broke out. When the man brandishing the flag was confronted, he began to repeat a line that would have seemed nonsensical before 2016—“What about the memes?”—until a rally attendant placed him in a chokehold. It was an absurdist image of a movement disconnected from most people’s political experiences, but within the fractious Alt coalition, it signaled another marked break.

A Patriot movement member stands guard during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation in Oregon in January. Photo: Shawn Records.

The various Patriot militia organizations, headed primarily by the Oath Keepers and the more decentralized 3%ers, can mobilize a large base for public events like the “free speech” rallies. While much of the Alt Right, and even the Alt Light, have little experience with public protest, the militia movement has frequently relied on displays of community pressure and intimidation. Starting with the first Bundy siege in 2014 and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Oregon in January 2016, Patriot groups’ visible presence has led to an increase in membership numbers not seen since their 2008 surge in response to the election of President Obama.19 But while often lumped together with other players on the Far Right, Patriot groups’ stated ideology often excludes open White nationalism. Instead, they could easily be seen as the hard edge of the Republican Party, mixing extreme libertarian economics with anti-federal conspiracy theories, opposition to environmentalism, and a disbelief in the reality of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.

Due to their experience and numbers, Patriot groups have assumed a deciding role in strategizing some “free speech” events, as at the June 4 rally in Portland, Oregon, where militia organizations planned the entire security and structure of the event, outlining their efforts with local police and the Department of Homeland Security.20 But Patriot groups also represent the most consistent right-wing voice against the ideological platform of the Alt Right. While the Alt Right attempts to destigmatize “White racial consciousness,” the militias hope to avoid accusations of racism entirely. During the Portland rally, Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson appealed to attendees “to make this day positive, with no hate and no violence,”21 and the speaker lineup included a trans woman and a security team member with Pacific Island heritage who performed a traditional “warrior dance.”

These gestures towards diversity may seem surprising. Patriot groups’ rhetoric is well known for racialist dog whistles, decrying everything from communism to “illegals,” but the image the organizers of the Portland rally sought to create was of a united Right unburdened by “identity politics.”

While major racialist groups like Identity Evropa have participated in the “free speech” rallies, there has been increasing pressure for the militia movement to take a stand against their presence. In June, Oath Keepers founder and president, Stewart Rhodes, distanced his organization, saying:

We’re not white nationalists. We’re not racists of any kind. And if they show up [at our rally], I am going to personally, physically remove them. Because they are trying to co-opt what we’re trying to do.22

The subsequent Alt Right backlash to Stewart trended the hashtag #OathCuckers, recalling the popular Alt Right #Cuckservative hashtag used to denigrate Republicans perceived as weak on immigration during the 2016 campaign season. When the Oath Keepers then condemned the Alt Right organizations that came to the Houston rally, seemingly hoping to exploit conservative anger over the destruction of Confederate monuments to drum up recruits, the divide deepened.

AltRight.com immediately ran a story that the Oath Keepers “showed their true colors.” The Daily Stormer published a series of articles denouncing them that focused heavily on the age of their membership and the fact that they allow non-White members, and suggesting that the attack on the flagbearing “Nazi” was an affront to free speech.23 Robert Ray, an Alt Right attendee at the Houston rally who goes by the handle “Azzmador,” scolded the Oath Keepers for their treatment of the flagbearer and their “color blind” politics; he would later appear on the White nationalist podcast The Daily Shoah, using antisemitic slurs as he said, “I had been predicting before we went to this thing that Antifa was not going to be our main problem there, it was going to be these ‘Cucks.’”24

Unite the Right?

In August, some of these divisions appeared to begin healing, as the various factions of the Alt Right coalesced around planning for an August 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, “Unite the Right,” sought to bring together all organizations to the right of the Alt Light in protest of the planned removal of Confederate monuments. Organizer Jason Kessler saw the rally as a formal break with movement moderates and an effort to start harvesting the energy of the last two years. Among the invited groups were the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party and other street-level organizations associated with skinheads or explicit neonazism that Spencer had avoided in the past.25 It was a decisive move for the Alt Right: associating with openly violent Nazi and KKK organizations, but not with those who cite Civic Nationalism and acknowledge the concept of racism. They anticipated high attendance—anywhere from 400 to more than 1,000 protesters—since the annual American Renaissance conference in Tennessee had sold out just two weeks before. And while counter-protests at American Renaissance were larger than in years past, the event went on largely uninterrupted, demonstrating that even at an explicitly White nationalist event the Alt Right could draw a crowd without the aid of the Alt Light or Patriot groups.26

It was a decisive move for the Alt Right: associating with openly violent Nazi and KKK organizations, but not with those who cite Civic Nationalism and acknowledge the concept of racism.

The movement converged on Charlottesville on the evening of August 11. Alt Right protesters, including figures like Christopher Cantwell and Richard Spencer, marched from the University of Virginia to surround a church hosting Union Theological Seminary professor Dr. Cornel West, kicking off a two-day frenzy of violence. When the Alt Right came upon people chanting and holding signs with Black Lives Matter slogans, they started punching the counter-protestors, spraying mace, and hitting them with torches in full view of the press.27 The next day, a Black counter-protester, Deandre Harris, was beaten with metal poles in a parking garage,28 and dozens of others were pepper sprayed or beaten.29 Just after 1:00 pm,30 a man who had been seen protesting alongside Vanguard America, and carrying a shield bearing its logo, drove a Dodge Challenger into the counter-protesters, killing one woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 more.31

Across the political spectrum, the melee was roundly repudiated, along with the movement itself32 (though not by President Trump, who refused for two days to condemn White nationalism by name, and suggested that “many sides” shared blame for the violence33). At a subsequent press conference intended to “disavow” the violence, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler was chased off by protesters.34 And while The Daily Stormer published a ghoulish celebration of Heather Heyer’s death,35 many other Rightists, such as Alt Light leader Laura Loomer spent the weekend tweeting about the Alt Right’s connection to neonazis.

Aside from constituting a national tragedy, the moment could mark a decisive turn in the Alt Right’s position: granting them credibility with the further reaches of the Nazi Right, but also severing any access they had to the more moderate Trumpian Right, and likely other militia and Alt Light organizations.

What Next?

There have been massive social shifts on the Right following Trump’s election, including a mainstreaming of nativism. And yet, despite this cultural change, the social toxicity of open White supremacy has prevented the Alt Right from finding mainstream support for explicit White nationalism.

To overcome this, the Alt Right would need to find critical wedge issues—problems that appear insurmountable to those feeling them—that provide communities in crises with systemic answers. That has been, until recently, the Alt Right’s remaining avenue for growth: to present themselves as the answer to “problems” like crime, immigration, terrorism, and a range of perceived social ills like political correctness. But to gain access to those crowds they need more accepted factions of the Right to give them access to a stage (that they will use for their own reasons). The Civic Nationalists of the Alt Light seemed to offer this opportunity, but to keep this coalition intact, it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship, offering something that the Alt Light doesn’t already have.

This task is even harder in the wake of Charlottesville. In the days immediately following the Charlottesville riot, a number of Alt Right participants had their identities made public, and were subsequently arrested, fired or denounced by embarrassed family members. The Daily Stormer’s web hosts at GoDaddy cancelled their contract and forced the website offline (although they soon reemerged on a website only available through the Tor web browser).36 They, along with multiple other Alt Right accounts, have been banned on Twitter, and PayPal is cleaning out many profiles used by White nationalist projects, denying AltRight.com a major funding channel.37 Within days of the tragedy in Charlottesville, two of Richard Spencer’s planned events—a “White lives matter” rally at Texas A&M University38 and a speaking engagement at the University of Florida—were unceremoniously canceled.39

AltRight.com has claimed that the showdown in Charlottesville will prove to be the “beginning of the White Civil Rights movement.” But facing nearly universal condemnation by the public, it’s likely that the existing divisions between the Alt Right and the Alt Light will only grow.

While the Trumpist moment was too advantageous for them to ignore, the avenue for growth it offered also exposed a key disconnect between the Alt Right’s ambitions and its reason for being—that is, its radicalism, and its reduction of politics to identity. The rest of conservatism, including Civic Nationalists, argues for ideological principles, semi-universal policy positions that outline a worldview. The Alt Right’s principles, by contrast, all form downstream from identity—a politics that are ordered entirely around their perceived “White interests.” While they’ve battled over tone and optics, the divide between the Alt Right and Alt Light is not just a disagreement about intensity, but about their core understanding of the world. And while they may find these partners useful in attacking the Left or targeting mass immigration, when it comes time for the Alt Right to define its perspective, it must finally alienate its crossover supporters, who simply will not agree on the fundamentals.

While the rest of conservatism argues for semi-universal policy positions that outline a worldview, the Alt Right’s principles all form downstream from White identity.

Trump’s populist banner gave the Alt Right access to the broader culture, but they’ve reached the end of their ability to compromise to grow. The increased violence at events like Unite the Right further widen the divide, as their radicalism is shown to have bloody consequences, and it will force even the revolutionary side of their movement to take sides. In a post-Charlottesville world, they may be too toxic for the Alt Light to touch, making the benefits of their earlier coalition moot.

For anti-racist organizations looking to stem the rise of the Alt Right, these divides offer an opportunity to pressure the crossover organizations, from Rebel Media to the Oath Keepers, to draw a line between themselves and open White nationalists. The Alt Right needs some hold on mainstream cultural institutions if they are ever to see critical mass that can result in effective, self-sustaining organizing. Ensuring further breaks in the coalition they seek can help put a break in their momentum.

Endnotes

 

1 Richard Spencer, “The Alt-Right Triumphant,” AltRight.com, June 30, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/30/the-alt-right-triumphant/.

2 Andrew Marantz, “The Alt-Right Branding War Has Torn the Movement in Two,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-alt-right-branding-war-has-torn-the-movement-in-two.

3 Richard Spencer, “Alt-Right Politics – June 24, 2017 – This Means War!,” AltRight.com, June 24, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/24/alt-right-politics-june-24-2017-this-means-war/.

4 While the Alt Right is a “big tent” in its own right, the coalition has defined values of inequality and ethnic identity. Richard Spencer, “What is the Alt Right?” NPI/Radix, YouTube, December 17, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBHck8mIylo.

5 Bradford Richardson, “Trump supporters headline free speech rally at University of California, Berkeley,” The Washington Times, April 27, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/27/gavin-mcinnes-lauren-southern-headline-free-speech/.

6 David Neiwart, “Competing Alt-Right ‘Free-Speech’ Rallies Reveals Infighting Over White Nationalism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 21, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/06/21/competing-alt-right-free-speech-rallies-reveal-infighting-over-white-nationalism.

7 Richard Spencer (RichardBSpencer) “The Alt Light is a collection of outright liars (Posobiec and Cerno), perverts (Milo, Wintrich), and Zionist fanatics (Loomer).” June 16, 2017, 11:11 PM, Tweet.

8 Richard Spencer, “Milo and His Enemies,” AltRight.com, March 2, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/03/02/milo-and-his-enemies/.

9 Shane Burley, “As the alt-right breaks with Trump, so goes its moment in the sun,” Waging Nonviolence, April 17, 2017, https://wagingnonviolence.org/2017/04/alt-right-trump-break/.

10 Brakkton Booker, “Alt-Right Infighting Simmers Around Inaugeral ‘DeploraBall,” NPR, January 1, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/01/507395282/alt-right-infighting-simmers-around-inaugural-deploraball.

11 Joshua Green, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (New York: Penguin Press, 2017): 5-6.

12 Kyle Chapman, Interview With Author, June 4, 2017.

13 Nathan Damigo, “Is Based Stick Man Not So Based?” AltRight.com, March 28, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/03/28/is-based-stick-man-not-so-based/.

14 Ibid.

15 Josh Harkinson, “Cashing in on the Rise of the Alt-Right,” Mother Jones, June 16, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/06/kyle-chapman-based-stickman-alt-right/.

16 Lucian Wintrich as quoted by Andrew Maratz, “The Alt-Right Branding War Has Torn the Movement in Two,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-alt-right-branding-war-has-torn-the-movement-in-two.

17 Michael Driscoll, “Lauren Southern, Generation Identity, and the Quest for Meaning,” AltRight.com, June 29, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/29/lauren-southern-generation-identity-and-the-quest-for-meaning/.

18 Michael Driscoll, “Lauren Southern, Generation Identity, and the Quest for Meaning,” AltRight.com, June 29, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/29/lauren-southern-generation-identity-and-the-quest-for-meaning/.

19 “Antigovernment militia groups grew by more than one-third in last year,” Southern Poverty Law Center, January 4, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/news/2016/01/04/antigovernment-militia-groups-grew-more-one-third-last-year.

20 Arun Gupta, “Playing Cops: Militia Member Aids Police in Arresting Protester at Portland Alt-Right Rally,” The Intercept, June 8, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/06/08/portland-alt-right-milita-police-dhs-arrest-protester/.

21 Joey Gibson, “Speech at ‘Free Speech’ Rally,” Speech, Patriot Prayer “Free Speech” Rally, Portland, Oregon, June 4, 2017.
22 Steward Rhodes, “Oath Keepers say IDENTITY EVROPA is not Welcome: ‘If they come in today we going to whoop their ass,’” Very Fake News, YouTube, April 29, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14J1dCwXh5w.
23 In mid-August, The Daily Stormer was denied domain registration from Google and GoDaddy and these webpages were no longer live.

24 Azzmador, Mike Enoch, and Seventh Son, “The Daily Shoah 164: Vanned in the UK,” The Right Stuff, June 20, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0lU2WtUKxc.

25 Sarah Viets, “Neo-Nazi Misfits Join Unite the Right,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 26, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/07/26/neo-nazi-misfits-join-unite-right.

26 Jason Wilson, “’Young white guys are hopping mad’: confidence grows at far-right gathering,” The Guardian, July 31, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/31/american-renaissance-conference-white-identity.

27 Jason Wilson, “Charlottesville: far-right crowd with torches encircles counter-protester group,” The Guardian, August 12, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/12/charlottesville-far-right-crowd-with-torches-encircles-counter-protest-group.

28 Yesha Callahan, “White Supremacists Beat Black Man With Poles in Charlottesville, Va., Parking Garage, The Root, August 12, 2017, http://www.theroot.com/white-supremacists-beat-black-man-with-poles-in-charlot-1797790092?rev=1502591812341.

29 Brendan King, “Protesters pepper spray, beat each other during Charlottesville rally,” WTVR, August 12, 2017, http://wtvr.com/2017/08/12/protesters-pepper-spray-beat-each-other-during-charlottesville-unit-the-right-rally/.

30 Joe Heim, “Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death,” The Washington Post, August 14, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/local/charlottesville-timeline/?utm_term=.1225c1019e5c.

31 “Alleged Charlottesville Driver Who Killed One Rallied With Alt-Right Vanguard America,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 12, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/12/alleged-charlottesville-driver-who-killed-one-rallied-alt-right-vanguard-america-group.

32 Jeniffer Calfas, “Virginia Governor Delivers Defiant Speech Against White Supremacists ‘We Are Stronger Than Them,’” TIME, August 13, 2017, http://time.com/4898560/virginia-governor-terry-mcauliffe-church-speech-transcript/.

33 Glenn Thrush and Rebecca R. Ruiz, “White House Acts to Stem Fallout From Trump’s First Charlottesville Remarks,” The New York Times, August 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-protests-white-nationalists-trump.html.

34 “USA: Unite the Right organiser shutdown after blaming Charlottesville chaos on ‘anti-white hate,’” Ruptly TV, Youtube, August 13, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X4qeu5zLVI.

35 “After praising Trump’s statement on Charlottesville, a neo-Nazi website celebrates murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer,” Media Matters for America, August 13, 2017, https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2017/08/13/after-praising-trumps-statement-charlottesville-neo-nazi-website-celebrates-murder-counterprotester/217610.

36 Justin Ling, “Neo-nazi site The Daily Stormer moves to the Darkweb, but promises a comeback,” Vice News, August 15, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paypal-suspends-dozens-of-racist-groups-sites-altright-com/.

37 Jonathan Berr, “PayPal cuts off payments to right-wing extremists,” CBS News, August 16, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paypal-suspends-dozens-of-racist-groups-sites-altright-com/.

38 Doug Criss, “Texas A&M cancels white nationalist rally set for 9/11,” CNN, August 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/14/us/texas-white-nationalist-protest-trnd/index.html.

39 Colin Dwyer, “University of Florida Denies Richard Spencer Event, Citing ‘Likelihood of Violence,” NPR, August 16, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/08/16/543874400/university-of-florida-denies-richard-spencer-event-citing-likelihood-of-violence.