ARTICLE BY JONATHAN HASKIN
First, a clarification: The Alt-Right has not yet won.
November 8th’s election results have shocked the world, caused immense fear in America’s immigrant, minority, and LGBT communities, and cast a grim shadow over America’s future. Whether or not he ever intended to, President-Elect Donald J. Trump has become a figure who has aided in the radicalization of white Americans into the explicitly racist, if ill-defined, social movement of the Alt-Right, while presenting a legitimate public face for directionless and previously taboo prejudices. In this reactionary age, it is tempting to say that the Alt-Right and the radical white identity politics it represents have claimed victory.
This is not so. Alt-Right commentators continue largely to hide behind pseudonyms and avatars online, terrified of public scrutiny; Trump and his transition team respond to accusations of bigotry with deflection, silence, and conspiracy theories, but never acknowledgement; protests and solidarity demonstrations sweep the country. Trump has awakened the sleeping giant of the American Left by providing a clear and present right-wing threat to be opposed, and set the wheels turning for a new era of progressive grassroots activism. Triumphalist Trump supporters increasingly resemble the overconfident liberals they mocked during the campaign in their poor understanding of Trump’s small and fragile electoral mandate. Nevertheless, the reality of Trump’s ascension means his administration will bring a new wave of far-right appointments to America’s federal agencies, while tempting Alt-Right-affiliated pseudo-intellectuals to build a larger and more legitimate public presence while silently approving new physical and verbal attacks.
For that reason, it is necessary to offer predictions of what America’s new radical right could look like during the next four years in order to best anticipate the threat posed by its toxic racial politics. Americans no longer have the luxury of relegating the racist right to the status of fringe ideology, and therefore the racist right no longer has the luxury of an underground echo chamber.
Last month, I noted that Alt-Right YouTube star Walt Bismarck was not an individual miscreant but rather a white nationalist who consciously made an effort to popularize the intellectual wing of the white separatist movement. Perhaps no video made this more apparent than his video “We Didn’t Start the Movement,” a riff on Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” created to be played as an intro at American Renaissance, a far-right white identity conference hosted annually in Tennessee.
The star of the video, and of American Renaissance itself, is a genteel Yale grad with Old South affectations named Jared Taylor. Since 1990, Taylor has worked as a revivalist of scientific racist ideas long since dismissed in peer-reviewed academia by publishing them in his American Renaissance journal, and by building a small but resilient network of white nationalist commentators who focus on what they claim are the dangers of immigration and racial difference. Taylor’s conference effectively functioned as a far-right networking event, where traditional racists- such as representatives of Ku Klux Klan and Nazi groups- and figures from the fringes of mainstream conservativism could rub shoulders. (Bismarck’s video lists many of them in his Billy Joel parody, alongside the names of far-right European leaders like Marine Le Pen.) For instance, Taylor’s conferences featured Peter Brimelow, a former editor and columnist for Forbes, the Financial Post, and the National Review who left those publications after a controversial series of anti-immigrant articles. He has since formed VDARE, a journal that calls for the shutdown of all immigration into the United States. Brimelow is himself a British immigrant to the U.S., who claims that white and non-white immigration are functionally different.
Taylor labored largely as a fringe figure until 2015, when the campaign of Donald Trump abruptly threw many of the extreme anti-immigrant ideas espoused by American Renaissance attendees into the mainstream. While American Renaissance has a pretense of intellectualism, its writers often espouse extremely simple ideas and make elementary mistakes. One article warns about the dangers of extensive racially-mixed child birth by pointing to Brazil’s lower rate of human development compared to western European countries, but makes extensive and easily falsifiable historical mistakes, such as claiming absurdly that the Portuguese word for “work” is the same for torture device; another is a Malthusian fever dream fearing population growth in Africa that simultaneously criticizes Africans for being too rich and too poor.
Trump’s populist anti-immigrant message attracted many on message boards and media sites with largely white, largely male user bases such as 4Chan and Reddit where white nationalists could spread their message anonymously, but many soon began to ask how to justify their racist beliefs as more than mere prejudice. Despite, or rather because of, sketchy historiography and overt prejudice, Taylor’s network of racist writers received a sudden spike in traffic pro-Trump internet discussions. His career then took a more public stage.
Despite being marked as extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Taylor and Brimelow have become spokesmen for the Alt-Right. After Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was ejected from a Trump rally for criticizing Trump’s immigration policies, he soon filmed a documentary about the rise in hate group membership since the beginning of the Trump campaign which featured a tense interview with Taylor. Taylor’s rise in notoriety attracted the attention of Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank in Arlington, Virginia. A media savvy white supremacist with a better knowledge of recent internet trends than Taylor, the two formed an alliance with the goal of using the emerging Alt-Right movement as an explicitly white nationalist platform. Spencer, Brimelow, and Taylor began co-hosting speaking events together and creating logos for iconography for their movement that would be recognizable outside of the often byzantine spaces of anonymous Internet discussion.
At the center of this initiative was an attempt to rebrand white nationalism not as an expression of white supremacism, but as a reasonable form of cultural self-preservation. While Trump focuses specifically on the threats posed by specific groups of immigrants (Muslims, Hispanics) while railing more generally against political correctness, Taylor and Spencer sought to build Pan-European identity and create an affinity among otherwise-unconnected white cultural groups. In a recent incident reported on by Shaun King of the New York Daily News, an unnamed source distributed flyers bearing the Spencer and Taylor Alt-Right logo at Ohio State University.
Now that Trump has won the presidency and the Alt-Right feels empowered, Spencer and Taylor are likely to attract further white nationalists to the Washington D.C. area in order to influence policy and spread a message of white separatism. At the heart of the Alt-Right’s politics is the notion that whites, not minority groups, are the rightful residents of the United States and the ones in need of an identity movement. As both racist attacks and protests rise across the country, figures like Taylor and Spencer will likely seek to capitalize on white alienation and group identity to continue to grow their movement.