Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, will be remembered as the day the alt-right had its coming out party in the United States.
Or it’ll be something of an interesting footnote in what has been a monumentally insane presidential election. Really, it depends on what happens from here.
Hillary Clinton introduced the country to the alt-right on Thursday in a speech delivered from Reno, Nevada, and designed to tie rival Donald Trump to racism forever and for always.
Now that the alt-right is here, let’s talk about it.
What is the alt-right?
You’re on the internet right now, so you may have come across the term.
The alt-right is a vague confederacy of organizations and people submerged in internet and meme culture, as Buzzfeed and other outlets have reported. They are all about ethno-nationalism, and are therefore starkly anti-immigration and huge fans of Trump’s proposed plan to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country (more on that later).
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which keeps tabs on hate groups and extremists, describes the alt-right as “groups and individuals whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack by multicultural forces using ‘political correctness’ and ‘social justice’ to undermine white people and ‘their’ civilization.”
The looseness of the movement makes it hard to pin down the beginning of the alt-right. But it’s fair to say that it has grown up on the internet over the past several years, and has become more mainstream via websites such as Breitbart News.
And while alt-righters don’t associate with traditional American conservatism — and many within the GOP are loathe to be associated with them — their political growth has happened under the umbrella of the Republican Party.
What is the internet connection?
Like anything with a heavy web-influence, some aspects of the alt-right are murky and, as The Washington Post said earlier, “impenetrable.”
But here we go.
Richard Spencer, who leads a white nationalist think tank called National Policy Institute, came up with the term “alternative right” back in 2008. He started a blog by that name in 2010, and often wrote about the pillars of the movement.
Others have since sprouted their own publications to discuss and propagate alt-right ideas, but the SPLC ascribes the movement’s growth in large part to social media.
“Legions of anonymous Twitter users have used the hashtag #AltRight to proliferate their ideas, sometimes successfully pushing them into the political mainstream,” the SPLC writes. “The general population of the Alt-Right is composed, by and large, of anonymous youths who were exposed to the movement’s ideas through online message boards like 4chan and 8chan’s /pol/ and Internet platforms like Reddit and Twitter.”
What’s the Donald Trump connection?
Many within the alt-right movement support Trump because he often stokes the flames of nationalism and white-identity.
Trump, as Clinton pointed out in her speech, began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants, “rapists.” And before Trump was trying to be commander in chief, he was taking every opportunity to question whether President Barack Obama was really born in the U.S.
Trump has flirted with white nationalists by not immediately disavowing the support of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. And recently, he delivered speech after speech claiming Obama had founded the Islamic State, a tale not remotely true.
Truth, however, might not be the point. While Trump’s “Obama founded ISIS” garbage may sound like a bizarre foreign policy argument, the takeaway for many racists and white-nationalists is that Trump is associating the nation’s first black president with a group of predominantly non-white extremists with whom America is, in many ways, at war.
Of course, despite their fanhood, prominent members of the alt-right movement take pains to make sure Trump isn’t automatically folded into their brand.
“We do not claim that Donald Trump is part of the Alt Right or that he is an advocate for white people,” wrote Chris Roberts of The American Renaissance, an alt-right publication that describes itself as “America’s premier source for race-realist thought.”
“It is clearly unfair to make him responsible for our views.”
Making it official
Trump has courted the alt-right vote since he began his campaign. As Clinton pointed out in the speech, he once retweeted a Twitter user whose background photo reads, “Get the fuck out of my country.”
But that courtship became official last week when Trump chose Breitbart Chairman Stephen Bannon to take over the reins of his campaign.
Breitbart is, essentially, a nationalist “news” website that, in Bannon’s words, provides a “platform for the alt-right.”
So what’s next?
This is an interesting time for the alt-right. As Buzzfeed pointed out earlier in the day, the movement’s coming-out party happened right after Trump backed off his plan to deport all of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Trump often changes his policy ideas on a daily basis, and many prominent people within the alt-right movement — such as American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor — are more than willing to believe their candidate is just throwing a few bones to people outside his base in hopes of racking up a few more votes.
But if Trump gives a major immigration speech in which he states he’s having real second thoughts about his deportation plan, the alt-right corners of the internet may set themselves ablaze. Just look at some of conservative commentator and Trump evangelist Ann Coulter’s recent tweets.
Well, if it’s “hard,” then nevermind. Trump: “… to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years ….It’s a very, very hard thing.”
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 25, 2016
Trump: “they have to pay taxes, there’s no amnesty” [Pro Tip: “Back taxes” means we pay illegals $30k apiece in EITC.}
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 25, 2016
What happens from there, who knows. No matter whether Trump goes back to embracing deportation, his candidacy has been a boon for the alt-right, and movements don’t have a habit of simply vanishing.