A political movement based on a nationalistic fervor went from the fringes of the internet to being targeted on Thursday in a major speech from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
That movement — the “alt-right” — is considered to be a subset pushing for a “white ethno-state,” as Republican strategist Rick Wilson told Business Insider, and it has tightly embraced Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“These are people who are trying to mainstream racism through cultural appropriation and manipulation,” Wilson said. “They are basically people who believe they can use the modern tools of social and alternative media to achieve a set of goals that are explicitly anti-democratic and anti-republican and fundamentally at odds with a pluralistic society. What they’re looking for is a white ethno-state and they know they can’t go and expose a public face to it.”
The alt-right movement first emerged under that title in 2008, when paleoconservative writer Paul Gottfried wrote of the “alternative right.” Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, came up with the shortened “alt-right” in 2010, describing the movement as “an ideology around identity, European identity,” in an interview with The New Yorker.
The movement is full of white nationalists, reactionaries, men’s rights activists, and GamerGaters. And the rise of Trump, who has, at times, retweeted their viral Twitter memes and accounts promoting alt-right initiatives, led to their subsequent transfer from fringe discussion to a mainstream discourse.
Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Brietbart, which caters to the alt-right movement, is one of the movements more visible leaders. He’s said that many are drawn to the ideology not out of political reasons, but because it “promises” a “challenge to social norms.”
As Rosie Grey wrote in BuzzFeed earlier this year, the alt-right is “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.”
Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator and editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, told Business Insider the “very anti-Semitic” movement is full of “‘brave’ people who say white people are the greatest.”
Shapiro quit Breitbart earlier this year, and said he started receiving hate online from pro-Trump alt-righters, particularly on Twitter, after he came out as anti-Trump following the Manhattan billionaire’s decision to not disavow former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Trump would later disavow Duke, but recently used a meme shared by Duke as a chart at a rally, although the meme was slightly altered to remove a Jewish star.
“It’s a weird mashup,” Shapiro told Business Insider. “The paleocons are pro-white nationalism like [former presidential candidate Pat] Buchanan, outwardly white nationalist like Jared Taylor [the white nationalist founder of American Renaissance], and then there are the young people who’ve bought into this because they feel like fighting political correctness is all saying things that are actually racist.”
“So a lot of the young people who’ve bought into the alt-right, I don’t think they’re doing it on the basis that they really understand Jared Taylor or what people like Pat Buchanan are actually saying,” he continued. “I think a lot of them started off in kind of the Twitter-sphere.”
He said the younger wing of the alt-right started off as a breakaway segment of GamerGate, those who protested and harassed activists online after those activists brought up issues of sexism in video game culture.
“They felt that to fight political correctness, they had to put out these memes to “trigger” the [activists],” Shapiro explained. “Stupid tactic. Point is to tell the truth, not trigger people.”
Shapiro said that many mistook blatant offensiveness for truth, and so when they heard Trump say similarly offensive things to women, Latinos, and African-Americans, they felt that he was “one of us.”
“And that escalated into ‘well, we’re going to send out Holocaust memes and racist memes’ and it became indistinguishable,” he said.
Often, anonymous alt-right Twitter accounts will create memes showing various politicians, journalists, or activists they do not like being banished to a Nazi gas chamber. Another frequent response from the alt-right is to call someone a “cuck” or a “cuckservative.” The term is the “ultimate insult to them,” Shapiro said.
“It just means you’re a white man who enjoys watching his wife have sex with black men,” he said. “I find it odd and bizarre, but for them it’s the ultimate insult. Which, again, I’d be insulted except I’m happily married and I’m not sure…I mean I think it’d be bad to watch my wife have sex with someone of any race. I’m not sure why specifically being black would be what mattered.”
“But the idea is that you’re betraying the white race,” he continued. “You’re someone who would be happy to see the white race betrayed. That’s why they use the word. It is a racist word. Because the whole concept of it is you’re not just you watching your wife have sex with another man, it’s you’re watching your wife miscegenate, and watch the white race be tainted by these black people and be happy about it. That’s sort of the implication of it. They’re awful.”
In a piece written for Breitbart by Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari earlier this year as an explainer of what the movement is, the duo listed “halting, or drastically slowing immigration” as a major priority of the movement, adding that “while eschewing bigotry on a personal level, the movement is frightened by the prospect of demographic displacement represented by immigration.”
It’s a tribalist movement, with the pair writing that alt-right intellectuals would argue that culture is “inseparable from race.”
“The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved,” they wrote. “A Mosque next to an English street full of houses bearing the flag of St. George, according to alt-righters, is neither an English street nor a Muslim street — separation is necessary for distinctiveness.”
Wilson said such intellectuals or “guys at the top” of the movement don’t have any “power or say” in political discourse, even as Trump has championed some platforms of their cause, such as the massive border wall along the US/Mexico border and, at times, an indefinite ban on Muslim immigration into the United States.
He added that Trump “understand who they are on a sort of gut level” but that the alt-righters are “absolutely dependent on Trump.”
“There is no forward-facing alt-right racist candidate without Trump,” he said. “They could try but it’d be like David Duke, marginal, insignificant, hated by everyone, and not able to win a single thing.”
“The virus found a host this year in Donald Trump, but most movements that are political, they have a public-facing element. Their public-facing element is irrelevant. They can’t have a real public-facing element because it’s loathsome to society. Not just mainstream liberal society but all society.”
“It’s loathsome to conservative values to say we’re going to have a white ethno-state. Because if you believe in America and you believe in this country and you believe in our constitution, you should believe that the gift of being an American is not racially determined. They don’t believe that. They’re fundamentally un-American.”
“Which is why basically, I think that they’re doomed to fail in the long haul. And if they want to live in communes in Idaho and breed like rabbits, god bless ’em. Go do. But until then, they’re going to be a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a tiny fraction of a minority hiding behind frog memes and horses— Twitter accounts.”
“Without Trump, the alt-right is just David Duke with Pepe the frog memes.”
Shapiro went slightly harder than Wilson in detaching Trump from the alt-right movement, saying he doesn’t have a real grasp of the ideology because Shapiro doesn’t think the real estate magnate “is capable of doing simple mathematic problems.”
“I think he is very much in line with the Pat Buchannan philosophy on politics,” he continued. “I think he’s basically a paleocon that embraces a certain amount of alt-right thinking in terms of European populations being obscured. I don’t think that he’s an alt-right guy.”
As Clinton homes in to target Trump’s alt-right support, he is in the midst of a minority outreach effort, campaigning to convince African-American and Hispanic voters that they should vote for him because, to him, their conditions are currently deplorable.
Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York told Business Insider in a conference call that Trump’s campaign, which brought to light the ideals of the alt-right, will further engage African-American and Hispanic communities in the political process. And it will be against him.
“Because we have been the brunt of the disrespect oftentimes the violent interactions that the alt-right espouses,” she said. “And clearly we recognise that this is a strain within the American family that has never been in our best interest. That drives the black community to the polls.”