The alt-right has recently splashed into mainstream view like a surprise tidal wave, only expanding after Hillary Clinton made criticisms of it a key part of her campaign against Trump. Based in intellectual-sounding right-wing rhetoric, a "fashy" (fascistic) rewriting of science and history and a palatable white anger, it is a subculture that has been defined by Internet trolling and online argumentation about everything from the "problems of feminism" to the "invading hordes" of Syrian refugees. At the core of the alt-right is a white nationalism that advocates for white ethnic homelands, traditional gender roles and the repression of Black people.
The alt-right has differentiated itself from other right-wing groups through its distinctly middle-class and intellectual character. Hoping to shed the stigma associated with white nationalism, the alt-right espouses philosophies that sound more fitting for university halls than for Klan rallies. But while the alt-right may be seeking to leave behind the baggage of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads, in reality it is part of the same tradition. Indeed, many of the same people both identify as neo-Nazis and occupy alt-right Twitter handles, today.
The alt-right cannot remove itself from other white supremacists' patterns of violence and terrorism because it is part of the same neo-fascist lineage, tracing its key ideas and philosophers to the interwar European period and through the white supremacist street battles that have ensued in the decades since.
A Movement for Those Abandoned by Conservatism
The alt-right originated several years ago when former assistant editor at the American Conservative, Richard Spencer, took a job at Taki's Magazine, a controversial web publication closely associated with the edge of paleoconservatism (a conservative movement that reclaimed "Old Right" isolationism intermixed with libertarian economics and racial dog-whistle policies). Scott McConnell, the founding editor of the American Conservative, invited Spencer to join the magazine's editorial staff after reading an article that Spencer had written in defense of the Lacrosse players at Duke University who were accused of sexually assaulting a Black student from North Carolina Central University. As Spencer himself drifted to the right, he began meeting "dissidents" from the Conservative Movement. This included libertarians on the social right, "race realists," "ethnic" (white supremacist) pagans, "radical traditionalist" (anti-Semitic) Catholics, white nationalists, and a host of others that seemed to be both on the "right" and an "alternative" to the neoconservatism of the Conservative Movement associated with the commentator William F. Buckley Jr. Inside of the far-right H.L. Menken Club, which has hosted everyone from Pat Buchanan to VDare founder Peter Brimelow, a term for this dissident strain was brewing.
It was in this atmosphere that Spencer built up the website Alternative Right, a "big tent" for these different, intersecting views. Within the first few weeks of its publication it honed in on racial issues, with Spencer voicing the idea that "innate inequality" was central to the emerging alt-right ideology. It quickly drew in many of those who had been rejected by mainstream publications like National Review for their racist views, publishing people like former Heritage Foundation staffer Jason Richwine (whose dissertation sought to show that undocumented Latino immigrants have lower IQs than white people), and "race realist" authors like John Derbyshire and Steve Sailer, who were both removed from the conservative movement when their ideas about racial differences in intelligence and crime were made known. It eventually moved even further to the right, opening up with explicitly racial nationalist politics and including a myriad of fringe viewpoints from occultists to monarchists to self-described fascists.
Spencer went on to take over the National Policy Institute, a think tank that was started by William Regnery of the conservative Regnery Publishing House, to center on the works of Samuel Francis. A former writer for the Washington Post, Francis was well known in white nationalist circles as a person who had crossed over from Beltway conservatism to open white racialism. After he died, the organization floundered until Spencer took the reins, creating the Radix Journal as a voice for the alt-right and shifting Washington Summit Publishers to focus on issues like race and IQ, eugenics and "white identity."
As the movement continued and a larger constellation of blogs and podcasts took similar perspectives on race and politics, the term alt-right continued to be a "catch all."
"The term alt-right has taken on a life of its own," Spencer told me, looking at what the alt-right has become in the years since his coining of the term.
"It's a movement that has a lot of different people in it. A lot of different ideas, some conflicting ideas, and a lot of people adding to it.... If I was really going to describe my own philosophy it would be Identitarianism and European identity."
A Reactionary Tradition
Within this world of reactionary racial politics and counter-establishment right-wing ideas there has always existed a crossover into the more violent world of white supremacist terrorists. Sam Francis, whom Spencer and most of the alt-right consider a visionary, was the editor for the Citizen Informer, the publication of the Council of Conservative Citizens. Gordon Lee Baum created the casually named organization in the 1980s using the original membership lists from the White Citizens Councils that fought integration in the 1960s South. While hosting some of the biggest names in conservative politics, from Trent Lott to Mike Huckabee, the organization always endorsed racial segregation and nationalism as "God's chosen order." Their meetings and publications stressed erroneous and marginal views on race and intelligence, focused in on what they called a Black propensity for crime, and attempted to revise contemporary views on slavery and the Confederacy.
These ideas were behind the murderous attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Dylan Roof killed nine people in a flurry of automatic gunfire. His manifesto cited racial differences and an "awakening" he had from reading material from the Council of Conservative Citizens.
With its Southern focus, the Council of Conservative Citizens shared members with a number of Southern Nationalist organizations like the League of the South and Sons of Confederate Veterans, and Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and neo-Nazi skinheads were often in attendance. Jared Taylor, one of the most well known members of the alt-right and the founder of the white nationalist American Renaissance organization, was one of their spokespeople, and went on television programs after the shooting to defend the organization. James Edwards, another prominent alt-right commentator and host of the syndicated radio show The Political Cesspool, is a board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, and his show has become a "who's who" of Holocaust Deniers and white supremacists.
While the Council of Conservative Citizens has cemented its notoriety for acting as a crossover point of respectability for the racist right, the movement Stormfront has been the key meeting ground for less "respectable" groups. Formed by KKK leader Don Black in 1995, it was the first and largest specifically white nationalist message board on the Internet. With tens of thousands of accounts, it has become one of the key organizing tools for the fringes of the racist movement around the world, and is often a marker for the hard edge of the racist movement that the alt-right prefers to shy away from. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist organizations in the US, almost 100 racially motivated murders can be tracked to registered Stormfront users -- from shootings at Jewish community centers to street attacks on interracial couples. They include groups like Aryan Nations -- a "Christian Identity" church that says Black people do not have souls and Jews are agents of the Devil.
Every year, Stormfront hosts the Smoky Mountain Summit, an organizing conference that brings together some of the biggest members of the white nationalist movement to speak about racial brotherhood and fighting the forces of diversity. They recently hosted well-known speakers like former University of California at Long Beach psychology professor Kevin MacDonald, who has become a central figure for the alt-right. In an attempt to create a grand theory for anti-Semitism, MacDonald's work proposes that Judaism is a "group evolutionary strategy" that Jews developed to out compete non-Jews for resources and to better act as "parasites" on "host countries."
MacDonald is the editor of the alt-right publication The Occidental Observer and speaks at National Policy Institute conferences regularly. His work has become the central philosophical underpinning for the ideas at places like The Right Stuff and The Daily Stormer, and is key to the "((echo))" meme that has been used to harass Jewish writers on Twitter.
He was joined at the summit by Matthew Heimbach, former organizer with Youth for Western Civilization and the founder of the Traditionalist Youth Network. Also coming from the alt-right and having appeared on Spencer's podcast, Heimbach spoke before Stormfront's audience about making a break from an allegiance to America. Heimbach has traveled the country making connections with racialist organizations from the Aryan Terror Brigade to the National Socialist Movement. While contributing regularly to alt-right publications like Counter-Currents, he continues to dig into skinhead and KKK organizations to build the ranks of his street activism.
In June he held a rally in conjunction with two notorious skinhead street gangs in Sacramento, California. The white nationalists and skinheads clashed with counter-protesters and six counter-protesters were sent to the hospital after being brutally stabbed. The Traditionalist Worker Party, the political party spinoff from the Traditionalist Youth Network, has been successful in bringing in alt-right youth along with a more hardcore contingent from gangs like the Golden State Skinheads.
This is not the first attempt by neo-Nazi skinheads to create an aboveground political movement. In 2009, California skinhead gangs were instrumental in forming the American Third Position Party, later renamed the American Freedom Party. Built around an openly white nationalist message using American populist rhetoric, the party promised to halt immigration, restore law and order, and be a voice for "white Americans." While largely run by people like Stormfront Webmaster Jamie Kelso, the organization has also been made up of better-known alt-right figures. James Edwards and Kevin MacDonald both sit on its board, Richard Spencer has joined Jamie Kelso on its podcasts, and Matthew Heimbach has been brought in as an "expert speaker" at its conferences. Its president, William Johnson, was best known for writing the proposed "Pace Amendment," an attempt to restructure the Constitution to deport all non-whites from the US. Johnson was later selected to be a delegate for Trump in California, a move so on the nose it had to be reversed by the campaign after the media pounced.
As the alt-right has grown in the last several years, so have the conferences and organizations that make up its foundations. American Renaissance began in 1990 in an attempt to popularize many of the pseudo-scientific racist ideas promoted by a few contemporary rogue scientists. The American Renaissance conference has become a meeting point for white nationalists of all stripes, and besides the National Policy Institute, has been the central hub for those trying to build bridges to the alt-right. Its speakers include Jack Donovan, a writer on male tribalism who has been popular among those attempting to reclaim a "primal masculinity."
The alt-right likes to distinguish itself from other far right groups in part through embracing cultural elements that are associated with the left. For example, paganism has become central to many in the fascist right, who argue that the Nordic pre-Christian religions are the original religions of the peoples of Northern Europe and therefore central to the development of a European racial identity.
Donovan has led this charge by joining a controversial group called the Wolves of Vinland, whose members describe themselves as an "Odinic wolf cult" and train in combat and undergo brutal fitness regimens. Maurice Michaely, a Wolves of Vinland member, recently attempted to burn down a historic Black church, which was not surprising since the organization espouses violence against "the modern world" and calls for the reclaiming of white spaces.
Another member of the Wolves of Vinland is Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a frequent Radix Journal contributor and former faculty member at the conservative Leadership institute. Donovan himself has become one of the most popular alt-right commentators, being interviewed at places like Breitbart and chumming up with competitive martial arts and fitness gurus around the country.
American Renaissance's most enduring speaker, besides Jared Taylor, has been Sam Dickson, a man who often joins the podium at the National Policy Institute as well. Though seemingly mild mannered and with a penchant for soft storytelling, he has a history of white nationalist involvement in KKK terrorism in the South. As an attorney, he has provided free legal council to KKK members under indictment for racial violence.
The most recent American Renaissance conference was its largest yet, boasting over 300 participants, most of whom are young, new and self-identify as part of the alt-right. The crowd also included former members of Aryan Nations and the National Alliance, as well as an array of other openly Nazi-affiliated projects.
Though these may seem like incidental cases, this is endemic to the way that the alt-right has functioned. Identity Europa, a popular new alt-right fraternal group popping up on college campuses, has been bolstered by support from the National Policy Institute, The Right Stuff and Red Ice Radio. The founder, Nathan Damigo, served almost seven years in prison for a brutal attack on a Muslim man.
Counter-Currents Publishing, which has become an intellectual center of the alt-right by publishing works by people like neo-Nazi occultist Savitri Devi Mukherji (née Maximiani Portas) and German authoritarian philosopher Oswald Spengler, has been explicit about the alt-right's grounding in the fascism of the past. Along with people like Donovan and Spencer, it publishes interviews with Harold Covington, a man implicated in the Greensboro Massacre in which members of the American Nazi Party and KKK organizations murdered five anti-racist activists and injured 10 others. Covington left the US and helped to form Combat 18, one of the most vicious Nazi street gangs in Britain that helped run security for British National Party meetings.
Even if the alt-right were to shed its extremist ties, its ideas would still continue to be centered on a culture of violence toward marginalized groups. This comes largely because its ideological roots are based in a philosophy of dehumanization of "the other."
The ideological core of the alt-right is the idea that people are not created equal: Members of the alt-right believe that the white aristocratic class is endowed with superior intellect and authority and should control our society by expunging democracy and instituting strict authoritarianism. If members of the alt-right were to take power now, they would likely institute policies of ethnic cleansing and social control just as they openly say they would. (Their veneration of Pinochet's authoritarian violence is a more blatant example of this).
Their movement is not just a reaction to the white American caste losing a bit of its social privilege; it is a self-conscious reactionary fascist movement attempting to rewrite contemporary values. The achievement of their vision would necessitate systemic violence on a massive scale, even if they tempered their ideas.
The Alt-Right vs. the Alt Lite
Neo-fascists of all stripes are always seeking bridges into mainstream culture to develop a broader base for their own particular brand of racism.
For example, "race realists," many of whom have adopted the term Human Biological Diversity to describe their scientific racism, are using language common to controversial areas of evolutionary psychology and neo-eugenics blogs to reignite long discredited ideas about race and intellectual capacity.
The alt-right has found entry points into mainstream culture in what many are calling the "Alt Lite": The racism and anti-feminism of Breitbart, the dog whistle language of Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, and the off-the-cuff speech of the Donald Trump campaign. Through these platforms, the alt-right has been able to mainstream its most concerted talking points without having to expose its ideological roots and long-standing history of violent extremism.
Those looking at the alt-right need to see that its roots are not in the party of William F. Buckley Jr. and its allegiance to Chicago School economics. Rather, the alt-right is the new name under which the forces of fascism and white supremacy are gathering.