Trump is a Figurehead for Alt-Right
by Ned Sheehan on Friday, September 30th, 2016
The alt-right is a rising force in American Politics. Just two years ago, it was a tiny fringe on far-right internet forums, and now its favorite candidate, Donald Trump, stands just a few thousand intransigent Jill Stein voters away from the presidency. Its ascendency is also the greatest existential threat to our democracy since Huey Long’s frightening rise was stopped by a bullet from a disgruntled minor bureaucrat in 1935. Worse still, unlike authoritarian movements of the past, the alt-right can conceal its inherently racist, borderline-fascist overtones, from the unsuspecting public. So, with this column, I’ll endeavor to take you behind the curtain of the alt-right.
First, the alt-right isn’t “conservative” in any conventional sense of the word. The alt-right isn’t concerned with free markets or free trade — in fact, it is opposed to free trade deals like the TPP and NAFTA. Andrew Breitbart, the late founder of Breitbart, the alt-right’s most sympathetic mainstream platform, even said that he didn’t understand, or particularly care about, Obamacare. It is also usually opposed to neocon-style interventionism. Even on social issues, the Religious Right’s main priorities — opposition to gay marriage, abortion, pornography, and stem cell research — take a definite back seat. The alt-right’s main concern has always been the white identity.
The term “alt-right” was coined in 2008 by Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute. Both Spencer and the NPI are classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “white nationalist[s].” The alt-right, for its first five years of existence, was mostly the domain of web think-tanks like Radix Journal and American Renaissance, both of which can best be described as highbrow racist.
It seemed likely that the alt-right would stay in shadowy corners of the internet, tossing around dense jargon like “human biodiversity” (translation: different races are biologically different) and “neoreaction” (translation: a return to the age of monarchy). But in 2014, the movement received a big boost: not in midterm elections but in the fracas of an online debate over video games.
During the “Gamergate” controversy of 2014, in which a profoundly venomous online war over feminism in video games was waged, Milo Yiannopoulos, British alt-right sympathizer and columnist for Breitbart, sided with the anti-feminist side of the issue. Becoming something of a hero to them, he then began a speaking tour on campuses across the United States. He criticized campuses’ “political correctness” and attracted protest from Black Lives Matter, among other groups. He, along with other alt-right Breitbart writers, supported Trump’s race-baiting campaign from day one. This relationship seemed one-sided (although Trump did retweet a few alt-righters) until Trump hired Steve Bannon, editor of Breitbart, as campaign manager. After that decision, it should be clear where his loyalties lie.
There have been threats to our republic before; Huey Long, George Wallace, and Aaron Burr all come to mind. But the difference is that they were just individual men. Burr was discredited and spent his later life hatching half-baked plans to conquer Florida or Mexico. Long was shot by the son of a disgruntled political rival. Wallace was paralyzed by an assassination attempt and saw the Democratic party slowly drift away from him.
Unlike these three men, Donald Trump isn’t just one man. He’s got a movement behind him, an organized and existent one that won’t simply scatter to the winds when he goes away. And don’t think that cynical Republican politicians don’t recognize this. I’ll bet that Chris Christie is already planning a 2020 campaign in Trump’s mold. Other solid bets for Trump’s successor include Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) (who just tweeted a picture of himself with German and Dutch far right leaders, claiming “forced immigration is cultural suicide”), and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
Stopping the alt-right doesn’t mean stopping just Trump. It means rejecting every politician who cynically mimics Trump to advance his or her own career. And we need to do this soon before the alt-right becomes as normalized in our political landscape as the Religious Right became in the 80’s. It will take a lot of effort, but there has never been such a racist, anti-democratic group in history. The Religious Right set our nation back decades on the road to a better future. The alt-right, if it comes to power, will likely set us back centuries. If we want to save our republic, the alt-right must be defeated.
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