What is the alt-right?
It’s an interesting question and a question without an easy answer. This is because no one can really agree on just what the alt-right is. We know it exists, we know it’s out there, but beyond that, we’re having a tough time coming up with a solid definition. I don’t claim to be an expert or an informed political pundit, but I have been keeping an eye on the term and the movement(s) over the course of the past year. These are just some observations of the alt-right from the blinkered perspective of a college conservative.
The alt-right as defined by the left
It’s perhaps easiest to start with those who have the simplest and cleanest definition of alt-right. These people are typically the liberals, progressives and leftists — chiefly people who hold values fundamentally opposed to adherents to an alt-right ideology. In this sphere of discussion, alt-right is a very broad and sweeping label, which is thrown around in reference to just about near anyone who isn’t a leftist. Alt-right has become synonymous with ‘fascist’, ‘(neo-) Nazi’ and ‘white supremacist’ — all of which are terms being used more and more frequently in reference to a wider and wider right wing demographic. However, leftists in this instance have somewhat of a leg to stand on, inasmuch that the term ‘alt-right’ was coined by Richard Spencer, who is at the very least a white nationalist. We could label him a white supremacist, and there is certainly a strong case for that, but to do so without actually going through the evidence and — god forbid — listening to what he has to say, we end up back at the root issue here. That is to say, we can’t and shouldn’t label anyone we don’t like, or anyone that doesn’t have mainstream ideas as racist or as a Nazi or as a white supremacist, because then we end up in the whole Orwellian, double-think society, where there is only one correct view and if you disagree with that view then you’re an inhuman monster. I’m not here to be an apologist for Richard Spencer and I’m not defending or supporting any of his views. I have listened to some of what he had to say, I didn’t personally like it, but I also wouldn’t come out and say that he’s a white supremacist in the same vein as the KKK. Perhaps there’s further evidence out there I’ve yet to see that puts him more squarely in the white supremacist camp (some of his business affiliations and endorsements are certainly shady in this regard), but for now I’m happy to call him a white nationalist based on what I’ve read of and by him.
The problem is, to return slowly to the point, are white nationalism and white supremacy the same thing? Sensible critics would maybe say so, inasmuch that white nationalism could be a legitimate ‘safe’ front for some supremacists to reach a wider audience and disseminate similar ideas. I wouldn’t deny that’s a possibility and I would condemn those who did act in such a way. Is Richard Spencer one of these people? I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was true either. But what about the not so sensible critics? In other words, people who would simply say there is no fundamental difference between white nationalism and white supremacy? That’s when we start going down a slippery slope and when we eventually arrive at the conclusion that ‘alt-right’ is the same as white supremacy or Nazism or fascism. And, of course, when we get to where all of the right wing is white supremacist, fascist and Nazi. In essence, if you’re going to blur these definitions, where does it end?
However, the point is Richard Spencer is at the very least a white nationalist; he coined the term ‘alt-right’ and he has both been made and has made himself the central spokesperson of the ideology. So in that sense, it’s understandable that leftists will label the alt-right as a white nationalist ideology, because those of the views of its so-called leader. And that at least makes sense. But the alt-right also isn’t a political party, where people who subscribe to these ideas all sign up and register together. It’s an international movement and a very broad ideology that isn’t limited to just Richard Spencer. I expect many people who identify — and definitely many who have been (erroneously) identified — as alt-right have never even heard of the man or his views. So that is a tough one. You could maybe blame these people for being ignorant or maybe you could accept the movement may be bigger than the man. I would guess I fall into the latter camp.
So, what is the alt-right in the eyes of the leftist? Well, in theory it essentially becomes a far-right ideology that espouses white nationalism. However, what we see in practice however is the definition of white nationalism being stretched to become synonymous with white supremacy or, more commonly fascism and Nazism. So we almost come full-circle, where the left takes the white nationalism part of the alt-right, declares it to be immoral and heinous, then draws a comparison with fascism and Nazism, only then to abandon the ethnic part and use the far right and ultra-nationalist parts of these other ideologies as a stick to beat other people with. In other words, because alt-right — by this definition — contains white nationalism, it has similarities to fascism, so then we can use the term alt-right as synonymous with fascist, and label people as alt-right when they express fascist (although not necessarily white nationalist) views. However, because the term ‘fascist’ itself has also been misconstrued by the left, we end up with a lot of people being called alt-right (and fascist) when these people aren’t really espousing any of the same ideas at all. In essence then, that is how we arrive as the leftist definition of alt-right as simply ‘anyone who disagrees with me’. I certainly don’t consider myself alt-right, but I accept I have views that run contrary to prevailing socio-cultural trends, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I was called alt-right.
The crux of the issue however is that the alt-right is very broad, although the left has a somewhat expanded definition of alt-right that encompasses a wider spectrum that what we generally think of here on the right. For example, the model and TV star Tila Tequila is listed as alt-right on Wikipedia. This is a woman who photoshopped a photo of herself clad in Nazi lingerie over a photo of Auschwitz; a women who dressed up her baby daughter as Hitler; and a woman who said that Ben Shapiro (often also erroneously called ‘alt-right’ by the left) should be gassed and sent back to Israel. So Tila is an actual Neo-Nazi. She said she wanted to become the next Hitler and exterminate the Jews. It’s very difficult to parse that in any other way: that is literally called being a Nazi. But because she once met Richard Spencer, uses social media and voted for Trump, she’s alt-right. Now that’s a pretty big issue and it’s something we take quite seriously on the right, because we don’t want those kind of folks around; it’s appalling that the left think’s she alt-right, which in theory should only be a step or two along the spectrum from traditional conservatism. I don’t want her that close to me, she’s barking mad. On the right we keep the actual Nazi’s as far away as possible: they’re in their own little corner right at the very far end of the right wing spectrum and we don’t go near them with a barge pole. We certainly don’t normalise their views, call them alt-right and lump them in with people like Gavin McInnes or Milo Yiannopolous (who both, again, aren’t alt-right, but they are world’s apart from Tila in their views). We call her a Nazi, put her with the other sociopaths over in the corner and stay the hell away from her and her mad views.
So, if Mrs ‘Dress My Baby Up As The Fuhrer’ Tequila is alt-right, who else is joining her in the left’s eyes? Well, we can talk about some of those names above. It’s somewhat difficult to talk about Milo, because his own views and quite weird and also pretty fluid (and also typically anti-Islamic as opposed to strictly white nationalist), so we’ll turn to Gavin McInnes. Now, Gavin doesn’t identify as alt-right, but instead as alt-lite (but we’ll get to that when we discuss how the right defines the alt-right). However, he is still labelled as alt-right. So, what are his views? Well, he’s a self proclaimed ‘Western chauvinist’, so he believes that Western culture and society is the greatest, and that it should be upheld in the face of globalisation. However, he makes the point that ‘Western’ doesn’t equate to ‘white’, nor does it have inherent racial connotations. So, he’s not a white nationalist, so why is he labelled as alt-right? Well, there are a few potential reasons. Perhaps it is just one small step from ‘Western chauvanism’ to ‘white nationalism’ in the eyes of leftists, and ‘Western’ is another one of those terms with a fluid meaning that can cover multiple things — just as ‘alt-right’ can mean ‘Nazi’. Perhaps instead, he is just someone who challenges the general progressive narrative, so he becomes ‘alt-right’ by disagreeing with the left. You may ask, well if anyone who disagrees with the left is labelled as ‘alt-right’, what’s the difference between ‘alt-right’ and ‘right’ or other conservatives? The problem, and the rabbit hole we go down, is that there ends up being no difference at all.
So, if the Jewish Milo, the anti-Semetic Tila Braun and Gavin ‘actually my wife is indigenous’ McInnes can all be alt-right, what do we learn about the definition of ‘alt-right’? Well, not a whole lot. They’re all right wing. They all supported Trump. They attach some value to the concept of Western society or civilisation. That doesn’t leave us with a lot to go on, other than that they are all people leftists disagree with. Tila, although she supports white supremacy — in a certain twisted sense — , isn’t white and we haven’t even touched on other so-called ‘alt-right’ figures like Roosh V who also aren’t white. So that being said, I’m not a huge fan of the left’s definition.
The alt-right as defined by the right
So, do we have a better definition to offer on the right? Well, not really, but we at least do a better job of defining people like Milo, McInnes and Tila and we don’t lump them altogether as ‘alt-right’. We tend to recognise that wanting to control immigration is different to setting up concentration camps, so that pretty much pushes all three of them out of the alt-right: Milo and McInnes go to the alt-lite, whilst Tila goes into the box labelled ‘Nazi’. So, ‘alt-right’ exists somewhere between some kind of pro-Western sentiment and wanting to cleanse parts of the population based on the colour of their skin. So we typically agree that ‘alt-right’ is vaguely synonymous with white nationalism and we do a decent job at recognising the people who are making race an issue. We can also tell the white nationalists from the white supremacists from the Nazis.
That being said, even if we can say that white nationalism is a defining aspect of the alt-right, different camps across the spectrum deal with it in different ways. One issue is the alt-lite, who are in theory the more moderate members of the alt-right, who aren’t really too keen on the race rhetoric. However, they are still pro-Western culture and anti-political correctness, which are also underlying aspects of the alt-right movement.
The anti-PC nature of the alt-right and alt-lite is a curious one, but something that definitely exists (and, as I eluded to above, probably what would get me labelled as alt-right, even if I’m not concerned with race politics). However, I think whilst many of the general people subscribing to the alt-right are very anti-PC, I think the ‘big names’ and figureheads of the alt-right are more concerned with race, so that’s definitely something that confuses the issue. At the very least, these figures will conflate political correctness with racial issues, which also isn’t really what the footsoldiers of the movement are concerned with (atleast from what I’ve observed).
So it’s these shared values of being anti-PC and pro-Western that can even still lead folks on the right like Ben Shapiro into calling the alt-right and the alt-lite the same thing, and saying that Milo has the same values as Richard Spencer. In truth, they’re a bit more moderate. The alt-right also tends more towards anti-Semitism, whereas the alt-lite doesn’t care so much about that.
There are some other splits on the right concerning the alt-right, which have mainly arisen as a back-lash from the Black Lives Matter movement and the PC culture surrounding ‘white privilege’. This is where we see the distinction between ‘white nationalist’ and ‘white supremacist’ more clearly and why I put Richard Spencer in the first camp and not necessarily the latter. Basically, this has folks on the right (most notably James Allsup as of late, but probably also people like Stefan Molyneux) asking: “well, if it’s okay to be proud of being black, or proud of being Hispanic, or proud of being Asian, why isn’t it okay to be proud of being white?”. This is an interesting double standard and it becomes an attempt to take the racist element out of racial discourse — in other words, to argue that white nationalism or ‘white pride’ (not white supremacy) isn’t actually racist. So this has led to some moderate right wingers coming out in support of the alt-right for these reasons.
So on the right we’ve nailed down a few more specifics about the alt-right, and you’d think we could draw a simple conclusion there and end the discussion: the alt-right is white nationalist (with varying degrees of opinion about how racist that is), pro-Trump (although we haven’t touched upon that that much), pro-Western, anti-PC and probably a bit anti-Semetic. However, that’s only if you really look at the key figures, like Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor and so on. The issue gets complicated when you look at the ordinary alt-right folks, especially on the internet. The left, at least the ones who bother to go and learn about this, also acknowledge this, but again, they don’t really seem to understand the issue fully.
This is because of 4chan. Now, I don’t enjoy talking about 4chan. I don’t like it and I don’t like that corner of the internet. They come up with some funny stuff sometimes, but on the whole, it’s a very toxic place. Now it’s really difficult to understand 4chan and the internet’s association with the alt-right. On the right I think we’re a bit better as understanding it than the left, but on the whole, this whole part of the alt-right is the part that really prevents anyone from really defining it properly. This is because 4chan itself can’t be defined. It’s an anonymous messageboard, but if you want to get a cohensive and coherent description of it going forward past that, you will struggle. By it’s very nature it defies being defined.
4chan isn’t an alt-right website, unlike the Daily Stormer and arguably Breitbart. However, it nominally has a large alt-right sub-community, which has had a large influence on the general alt-right movement in real terms off of the internet. This is the traditional hotbed of the anti-PC elements of the alt-right, although not really the white nationalist parts. It’s where Pepe the ‘hate symbol’ comes from, as well as terms like ‘Kekistan’, which are more anti-PC and anti-leftist than pro-white — yet the left has continually argued, erroneously, that these are symbols of white supremacy. In actuality, it is just rather juvenile satire that has gotten out of hand; the more the left takes it seriously, the funnier and more ironic the joke gets. So it is a joke, and an immature one at that, but underneath it all, there are genuine political ideologies and actual meaning — this is just the average ‘alt-right’ guy’s way making a difference. It is also reactionary and contrarian, to certain degrees, which is why the alt-right is seen to be such a big challenge to social justice movements. I don’t doubt that there is real political sentiment behind the actions of the 4chan alt-right, but I also think that the 4chan alt-right has co-opted the alt-right of Richard Spencer and others (just as they have likewise co-opted the 4chan alt-right) in order to best further their own cause, which is in a nutshell opposing restrictions on individual rights and privacies. So there is an unspoken alliance of two distinct sets of people who have coalesced into what we now know as the alt-right. The values overlap in many places, but not every person in the alt-right is a white nationalist, nor is everyone an anti-feminist for example.
This all eventually means that we can’t really define what the alt-right is. It’s lots of different things, but also sometimes not really anything at all. The left seem more often than not to use it as a pejorative with which to label anyone right of center who doesn’t like political correctness, whilst the right is pretty good as defining everyone else who isn’t alt-right. When it comes to people like Richard Spencer, we kind of know what they’re about, but the troops on the ground, the warriors behind the keyboards, the men and women of Kekistan? No, we can’t define them so easily and I don’t think they really want to be defined. They seem to be okay with being called ‘alt-right’ for the time being, but what that means is still up for debate.