The American alt-right means different things to different people. To some, it’s a harmless online coalition of meme-ing trolls. To others, it’s a dismissible fringe movement led by white supremacist Richard Spencer. To some, it’s an umbrella term for people with right-leaning politics who don’t conform to the Republican Party. To others, the alt-right is the sworn enemy of anti-fascists, known online as anti-fa. To many, the alt-right is just ridiculous.
And they would each be correct if the alt-right was harmless, dismissible, or out of the mainstream. But they aren’t. White nationalism is the glue that binds this nuanced and provocative movement, and their goal is to become more conventional with time, and exert real influence in the United States and beyond. The alt-right is a re-branding of white supremacy that is larger than you’d think, and violence is helping them proliferate their fascist ideology deeply embedded in antiquated racist philosophy and identity politics.
After the Nazi salutes and the punch heard around the world, many people have become aware of Richard Spencer, the man who claims to have coined the term “alt-right.” He founded the blog Alternative Right and aims to unite his coalition of internet trolling racists to work towards “reviving the Roman Empire,” a white ethno-state in America, and putting forth a 50-year ban on all non-white immigration for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
The movement radiates from Spencer’s de-facto leadership and extends all the way to his fellow Duke University alumnus and Senior Trump Advisor Stephen Miller—who Spencer claims to know, though Miller has denied the connection—and racist xenophobe White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, a man who called Breitbart, the news site he formerly ran, “the platform for the alt-right.”
The people who associate with the alt-right aren’t just re-tweeting memes and pissing people off on the internet, they’re organizing to fight for their fascist future. Violence has not only emboldened them to take up similar means of political combat, it has strengthened their cause by making them sympathetic—and therefore appealing—to young people who slip down the slope of racist ideology.
Nowadays, instead of using the terms we’re used to like “white nationalist,” “white supremacist” and “Neo-Nazi,” racist ideologues are using the term “alt-right.” They are also using “identitarianism,” a philosophy based on emphasizing national identity, implementing segregation, and preaching a reformed modern version of eugenics. Xenophobic political thinkers have always masked their prejudices with palatable phrases, terms, and slogans—this is merely the latest incarnation of biased hate—and it helps them mobilize more effectively behind the veil.
In addition to Spencer’s National Policy Institute (NPI), a far-right white identity politics think tank based out of Virginia, there is Identity Evropa. Founded at Cal State Stanislaus by Nathan Damigo, an apparent lifelong bigot who turned blatant hate into racist ideology, and spent time in prison for robbing a cab driver he thought was an Iraqi Muslim. The group is dedicated to spreading the ideas of identitarian activism. In addition to using historic violence as a source of pride, the members of the group seem to rely on physical strength and dressing well as a way to prove white supremacy. Identity Evropa has been posting fliers around college campuses telling students of white European descent to “become who you are” while depicting ancient Roman statues and other symbols of white empire.
Diverting the focus from open hatred to white pride, culture, and violent achievements has historically been a way to justify the racism behind more politically exportable slogans and phrases. We saw it in British author Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden, in the way the U.S. and the Philippine Islands urged the US to take on “the burden” of imperialism in Southeast Asia “to reap his old reward.”, and we saw it in the 1890 article by L. Frank Baum condoning the expansion of colonialism over Native American land.
“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.”
Focusing on the greatness of, in Spencer’s words, the “conquerors” and “explorers” of past white European societies built atop discrimination and hate is just another way of condoning the imperialism, racial oppression, and genocide perpetrated by those societies.
While the United States succeeded in the genocide of indigenous tribes in North America, the same sentiment could be argued for the country’s 20th century conquest of Latin America. Still, over and over again, Spencer and his followers use these examples as beacons of pride by saying that though history is ugly, they claim whites are “crusaders” and “conquerors” and point to these atrocities as white European achievements nonetheless.
To this point, I have managed to avoid the Nazi comparison for the good old-fashioned American racism, empire, and genocide, but now I can safely use the tired yet prevalent example of National Socialism. In addition to emphasizing stolen symbols and appropriated pride from the Vikings and Romans, the Nazis also hid their racism behind politically exportable terms and phrases. One example is “blood and soil,” which was used to popularize racism in the Third Reich. Although semi-ambiguous sounding, the phrase means that the Aryan master race has superior blood and is inextricably tied to the agrarian lifestyle and territory of the Germanic people. At the KKK-reminiscent alt-right rally where Spencer and his followers, torches in hand, protested the removal of the statue of the Confederate leader Robert E. Lee and chanted “blood and soil.”
Matthew Heimbach also uses the phrase in online articles and appearances on podcasts. Though the leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party and Traditionalist Youth Network is much more upfront with his hate, bigotry, and neo-Nazism, Heimbach has befriended alt-right figures like Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo and has spoken on neo-Nazi radio station Stormfront and at alt-right rallies.
Other neo-Nazis and racist extremists are also joining the ranks of the alt-right. The National Socialist Movement recently announced their plans to join the “Unite the Right” rally this weekend in which Spencer and Heimbach plan to speak. The site The Daily Stormer, a name referencing the Nazi political militia, is now the most visited hate site in America, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Nazi news source run by fascist worshiper Andrew Anglin recently changed its homepage slogan from “the world’s most visited alt-right website” to “Americas #1 most-trusted Republican news source.” For those still dismissing these things as trivial or not a real threat to our communities, white power mobilization has tangible consequences. One of the people mobilized by the Stormer was Dylann Roof, the young murderer of nine black church-goers in South Carolina.
Blind hatred is not exclusive to men. Though the alt-right is also entrenched in sexism and traditional gender roles, there are a few prominent women allied with them and “Defend Europe,” a popular phrase used by identitarians such as the European group of its namesake as well as Generation Identity.
One alt-right woman is Lana Lokteff. She believes in the myth of white genocide—a conspiracy theory in which immigration is used as a long-term way to kill off white people. Lokteff was interviewed by fellow alt-righter Jared Taylor, a Japan-born white supremacist who is known for bringing intellectualism into racist political mongering. Taylor has pushed for the end of anti-semitism in the white nationalist movement and believes East Asians are superior to whites in organizing a society despite the overt racism he allows on his platform American Renaissance. This is where Lokteff can spout opinions about white genocide being the secret strategy of “cultural Marxists” who plan on exterminating white people through open borders and immigration. She described this future as host of the online TV show Red Ice. She said the “white picket fence has been traded in for a tiny, carbon-neutral apartment in a diverse neighborhood swarmed with immigrants.”
Another woman fighting to keep white European identity pure is Lauren Southern. The writer and alt-right activist has allied herself with the group Defend Europe and other identitarian organizers to literally ensure refugees coming from impoverished, war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa don’t make it onto European soil. In a live Twitter video recently, Southern and others obstructed a boat of refugees from entering European territory, even though she isn’t European. She is Canadian.
The response to this hatred, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia from anarchists, communists, and other leftists known as the anti-fa has been to shut it down by any means necessary. This has been their very well-documented goal and tactic. It goes without saying that their frustration is valid and tangible, but the problem is that violence never effectively puts a halt to a political movement. On the contrary, it emboldens that movement to use the same tactics and gain sympathy from new supporters.
In addition to the many organizations of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who advocate violence as defense of their ideals and people, the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK) formed after the infamous clash between anti-fascist counter-protesters and pro-Trump alt-right demonstrators in Berkeley with the goal of defending alt-right hate speech by engaging in street violence.
The FOAK is affiliated with the self-proclaimed “Western chauvinist” group “The Proud Boys,” led by former Vice founder and racist Gavin McInnes. Both fraternities aim to promote their pro-Western, pro-Trump message through violence. The last step to joining the four-stage fraternity is to engage in a fight and, in McInnes’ words, “kick the crap out of some antifa.” Although they claim that people of color are welcome, for the FOAK and the Proud Boys, “the West is best.”
Even after anti-fa has taken violence to the alt-right at demonstrations, they are larger, stronger, and more equipped to organize than ever before. Violence will not beat them. Only through understanding the alt-right philosophy, and ideologically combatting it through fierce grassroots organizing, can the movement be overcome.
Though people who identify with the alt-right’s ideology are in the White House, we have not yet taken a fully fascist shift. But with the alt-right’s President in office, in order to ensure that this movement doesn’t become the full-blown fascist uprising many liberals fear, we need to stomp this out not with our boots, but with the weight of our impervious words and fearless organizing. Because, to quote many an anti-fascist, “ideas are bulletproof.”
Ryan Beitler is a journalist, fiction writer, poet, musician, and travel blogger. He has written for Paste Magazine, Addiction Now, OC Weekly, and his blog Our Little Blue Rock. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org