2015 was the year the Black Lives Matter movement went viral, seeing its aims discussed in cities and universities across the nation. Liberal media outlets trumpeted its objectives and prominent politicians threw support (at lest rhetorically) behind its calls for racial and legal justice.
But BLM was not the only peripheral political movement to make inroads into the mainstream of society. The alt-right, a loosely connected persuasion of rightwing radicals, found itself gaining ideological footing in ways that weren’t imaginable ten years ago. While the movement had been developing for years, the rise of Donald Trump helped cement a tone and approach befitting this multifarious cluster of militants. It seemed like everyone was talking about the alt-right, something that surely brought joy to its activists and transmitters.
This all culminated in Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed penning a piece about the movement. In it, she writes:
“The movement probably doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before. The alt right is loosely connected, and mostly online. The white nationalists of the alt right share more in common with European far-right movements than American ones. This is a movement that draws upon relatively obscure political theories like neoreaction or the “Dark Enlightenment,” which reject the premises on which modernity is built, like democracy and egalitarianism. But it’s not all so high-minded as that. Take a glance at the #altright hashtag on Twitter or at The Right Stuff, an online hub of the movement, and you’ll find a penchant for aggressive rhetoric and outright racial and anti-Semitic slurs, often delivered in the arch, ironic tones common to modern internet discourse. Trump is a hero on the alt right and the subject of many adoring memes and tweets.
In short, it’s white supremacy perfectly tailored for our times: 4chan-esque racist rhetoric combined with a tinge of Silicon Valley–flavored philosophizing, all riding on the coattails of the Trump boom.”
When I first got interested in studying the alt-right, what grabbed my attention was its dissimilar ontological starting point that separated them from mainstream American conservatives. There was no reference to William F. Buckley or Ronald Reagan, rather Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Evola. Websites and publishers like Counter-Currents and Arktos seemed interested in intellectual conversations on the right that were completely absent from those held with conservative allies of mine. Even when I didn’t agree with their positions, they were far more entertaining to read and engage with on a cerebral level than the Fox News crowd I was accustomed to. The racism, anti-Semitism and conspiratorial mindset were apparent, but there was also an effort made by the movement’s purveyors to paint their undertaking as distinct from “the right” that came before. The alt-right was a “big tent” they claimed, with a slew of different perspectives not bound to any movement from the past. I appreciated exploring the overt paganism of Collin Cleary, or the right-wing homosexuality of Jack Donovan. These works were a world away from the conservative mainstream, and coming from the left, I found investigating these ideas recompensing intellectually, even if their ultimate conclusions were incorrect and effectively violent totalitarianism.
They wanted to create a legitimate, radical movement on the right that did not carry the historical baggage (and social scorn) of its predecessors. Yet, it’s the same old drivel that has become a rallying cry and badge of honor for those on the alt-right.
While Gray’s Buzzfeed piece does gloss over the persuasion’s philosophical roots for its online meme-generating, this focus is not without warrant. Websites like The Right Stuff have grown in influence and popularity by playing to the same, tired stereotypes connected to the far right. It is at The Right Stuff that any pretense of this movement being an alternative to the old right is extinguished. They publish a podcast called the Daily Shoah, which plays out exactly as it sounds. Any (and all) racist terms at the tip of one’s id are used in abundance; the Right Stuff gang sees other ethnic groups with derision and disparagement. There really is not much “alternative” in the right perpetrated by the website and its many followers; it’s just the same old stuff you hated the first time you heard it.
Even Cleary and Donovan did very little to hide their overt totalitarianism.
I have long since outgrown any attempts to banish or expel heretics from a political movement. I still spend personal time with radicals that carry pictures of Mao and Lenin or speak glowingly about the Bolshevik revolution that murdered millions, so I am in no place to criticize the company one keeps. In fact, the older I get the more I feel a need to engage with radical ideas beyond the mainstream, even if their ultimate aims are not ones I share. Nor am I a member of the alt-right, so it matters little to me who leads the movement and captures its energy. But as its members celebrate a year of influence, its leaders must know that frolicking about so overtly with a bunch of Stormfront followers with 4chan accounts will hinder their movement’s ability to spread throughout society in any meaningful manner. Or perhaps, just maybe, racist trolling is all the alt-right is and its academic veneer is nothing more than a veiled mask.
Being an Internet troll can be fun; having spent years working alongside humorless individuals on the left, I gather it can be rather enjoyable getting under the skin of high-and-mighty types online. But trolling is not a political movement: it’s just the kind of activity that helps lazy journalists write handwringing bits based on Twitter exchanges, or perhaps, even a Buzzfeed feature.
(Image: Fascist symbol – WikiCommons)