International,  Stateside

Dealing with the “Alt-Right”

A few weeks back, Richard Spencer and his alt-right think-tank (National Policy Institute) hosted their “coming out” event in Washington DC in the wake of Trump’s victory. In a now widely circulated video, audience members gave Roman salutes as Spencer exclaimed “Hail Trump!” to boisterous applause.

Those on the left and the right have said much of the event, but a few other points come to mind.

1. The alt-right went from being a small cliché of activists in 2014, to a troll army in 2015 to being Trump’s loudest advocates in 2016. In a short period of time, they have gone from bit players in the political debate to ones recognized well outside the realm of fringe politics.  Having said that, this is still a small group of individuals that rarely act in the daylight. That isn’t to say a small vanguard of individuals cannot influence the direction of a nation’s politics, but it is important to remember that these fascist groups represent a very small portion of Trump’s electorate.

2.The alt-right and this NPI event has been an incredible gift to Donald Trump in the weeks following the election. I can think of no better cover for Trump and his right wing, authoritarian policies than Spencer and the alt-right. Trump can show himself to be a moderate when compared to a bunch of men with Hitler Youth haircuts hurling up Nazi gestures.

3.In what was to be a celebration of the alt-right and its recent success, it was staggering to see how quickly those on the right condemned Spencer and his group. RamZPaul, a prominent alt-right Youtube activist and previous NPI conference speaker, quickly distanced himself from Spencer and his movement. Academic Paul Gottfried, a mentor to Spencer, also tried to put space between himself and the overt white nationalism on display in DC. Taki Magazine, a right wing website that was once edited by Richard Spencer, also came out against the direction of his movement. The alt-right “coming out” ended up splintering the already small faction.

4. Spencer and his allies on Twitter were quick to claim that all the Nazi imagery was just real-world trolling and not to be taken seriously. Even if we were to take those claims at face value, one has to ask why a group of people looking to influence the mainstream would go about alienating just about everyone in such a public manner? If everything can be excused away as immaterial trolling, what does anyone on the alt-right actually believe?  Why should we take a group seriously that can’t stay on message even at their own conference? I am inclined to believe that the alt-right means exactly what it says about race and totalitarian politics, even when doing so with a wink and a smile, and should be assessed accordingly.

5. As terrible as the alt-right has shown itself to be this year, I am not in favor of no-platforming. The trend towards shutting down one’s opponents has not helped the left make inroads with communities beyond their urban strongholds. The power of our ideas must be what prevails, not a shuttering of the public debate.When these groups are given the opportunity to speak, they provide a fitting refutation against their own arguments. Letting the alt-right act as free-speech victims only helps their cause.Having said that, conservatives, liberals and socialists must combat the rise of the right in America and Europe. A defense of liberal, pluralistic democracy is needed more than ever.