On October 7, 2017, around 50 people from far-right organizations like Identity Evropa and the National Policy Institute returned to Charlottesville, Virginia: the site of the confrontation that brought together a thousand white supremacists from around the country and left one protester dead. As the torches again lit up the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, the appearance of white nationalist leader Richard Spencer was a stark reminder of the new status quo. After the death of activist Heather Heyer, Spencer and his ilk were even less welcome in Charlottesville than they were before, yet they returned, reveling in their status as hated outsiders.
Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” and has set its tone and image since 2010, had always tried to shuffle off the ugly image of the US’s white nationalist history. Instead, he was taking his cues from the European “identitarian” movement and spoke of building a “meta-politic”: a set of ideas that would help to manifest his vision of a traditionalist “Ethnostate” for white people.
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Since 2015, the rise of Trump and the entry of the “alt-right” into the public lexicon, Spencer has consistently brought his “elite” movement further into the gutter. While he had built the original AlternativeRight.com on disgraced European philosophers, racist paleoconservatives, fringe economists and alternative spiritual leaders, as his movement moved from the “big tent,” it began to lose the core that it had used to change the public’s perception of fascist politics. As we move into 2018, the “alt-right” has been hit on multiple fronts, as platforms reject their presence and a mass movement forms to repudiate them, and so they have headed into a period of what could rightly be termed “decadence.” Traditionally, this means a period of decline and decay, one where the essential core of their movement has been lost, and they are returning to the blatant viciousness that has defined white nationalism, as opposed to the more cloaked variety.
Reclaiming White Settler Colonialism
The defining ideas of the “alt-right” came from what is known as the European New Right (ENR). Founded by French philosopher Alain de Benoist and established through the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE) and associated journals, they wanted to use the popular New Left politics of the 1960s to reinvigorate a far-right racist, nationalist vision for Europe. Using the argumentation found in anti-imperialist and “third-worldist” circles of the time, they argued for an “Ethno-pluralist” politic that saw a “nationalism for all peoples” as the solution to the degenerating effects of globalized commodity capitalism. Instead of the internationalist and egalitarian vision of the New Left politics they appropriated, they wanted to see a deep relativism, to have cultures kept separate from cosmopolitan influence with the understanding that different peoples were too different in skills and temperament to abide by each other’s rules and customs. The founding principle here was an opposition to egalitarianism, primarily on the belief that human beings were not equal, either as individuals or as groups. The primary segment of this was racial, and by using the decolonization rhetoric, they could argue that white Europeans were facing colonization by globalism and had to join up with other liberation movements that they could reframe through ethnic nationalism.
The primary philosophical thread that the ENR came from is known as “Third Positionism,” in which fascists use leftist politics in a strange synthesis of the left and the right. Anti-capitalism, environmentalism, post-colonialism, antiwar politics and the like have all been appropriated heavily in white nationalist circles, so much so that they have seen crossover between the left and the far-right in a number of movements since the 1960s. It was from this tradition that Spencer and the “alt-right” hailed, arguing in support of movements in the Global South to reject capitalist development and in favor of non-communist forms of anti-capitalism. It was these principles they used to buck off accusations of white supremacy, saying that instead of “ruling over non-whites,” they simply want to return to their ethnic roots and live an “indigenous” form of life. This has played out in more contemporary times as the “alt-right’s” support for North Korean nationalism, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad or the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Since 2015, the dominant discourse on the “alt-right” has shifted away from that type of Third Positionist synthesis and in favor of straightforwardly angry bigotry, focusing on vicious racial jokes, slurs and harassment. The Daily Shoah — the most popular white nationalist podcast today, which receives tens of thousands of downloads a month — made a brand out of using “shock jock” rhetoric for white nationalists. In common “alt-right” fashion, their culture of one-upmanship has made the most violent racial discussions commonplace, often talking about genocide, calling Black people subhuman and proposing Jews as the enemy. The neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer took this to another level, blogging multiple times a day in rants filled with racist rage.
As this trend took over, and the trolls on sites like 4Chan and Twitter took hold of the movement, they moved steadily away from the academic veneer that Spencer had held. Any false notion that this is a movement that is “not about hate” and instead simply about identity has been dashed by their own statements.
Spencer, for his part, has joined in completely. While AlternativeRight.com and the Radix Journal — leading “alt-right” publications run by Richard Spencer — tried to keep his racial separatism “intellectual,” his new AltRight.com shot directly for the gutter. The publication now, which looks a lot more like The Daily Stormer than one of GRECE’s journals, is the modern equivalent of the White Aryan Resistance’s newspaper, which was filled with racist cartoons and accusations of conspiracy. Spencer’s public speeches, which were once toned from academic conferences and filled with well-researched dramatics, are now opportunities to simply mock the crowd, framed by laughter and cruel insults.
One of the key arguments made by the “alt-right” for years was that it was completely and totally against racial conflict; rather, they said, it was modern multicultural society that made conflict inevitable. Instead, the “alt-right” took the old-fashioned segregationist motto of “stop the hate, separate” and argued that racial separatism would be healthy for all people. Nationalism, they argued, was for all people, often coined as “Ethno-pluralism.” They tried to pretend a great deal of sympathy for First Nations people, arguing that we needed to avoid this type of racial colonialism. While that rhetoric is still formally used in many of their publications and public arguments, it is quickly disappearing from the dominant public “alt-right” discourse.
The Right Stuff, the website that hosts The Daily Shoah, recently ran a blog post arguing that the most appropriate action for white nationalists would be to kill all Black people in Africa so that they could use the continent for “living space.” “Extermination of the brown hordes in their homelands could give vast new territories to us. They are ours for the taking,” it read, arguing that racial struggle is inevitable and that, as nature predicts, often the superior species will wipe out the inferior.
The Daily Shoah has created a financial infrastructure so it can employ a few staff people regularly, including Mike Enoch, who lost his job after his identity was revealed to be a six-figure software developer in Manhattan with a Jewish wife. One of their other regular hosts, who goes by the pseudonym “Jayoh,” has referred to himself openly as an “exterminationist.” He believes nationalists would have to actively exterminate Black Africans, who, he says, would eventually enter into white nations and corrupt them.
While many on the “alt-right” would fail to go as far as openly arguing for the extermination of billions of people, they are reclaiming a colonial sense of themselves. Spencer’s rhetoric has changed from the idea of isolated tribal states to envisioning the white Ethnostate as a great empire. This fulfills what he says is white people’s “Faustian spirit,” the internal drive to explore and conquer. Spencer’s own “Alt Right Politics” podcast regularly celebrates European colonialism and expansionism, discussing colonialism as something that is a sum benefit for the colonized. He refers to Indigenous tribes as “humiliated peoples” who he does not want to become; therefore, he says, white Europeans must win this racial conflict. While previously “alt- righters” would have argued that ruling over others was an unnecessary evil and that they instead wanted “nationalism for all peoples,” the idea that non-whites need to be controlled by whites is again gaining popularity, even if many of the thought leaders would deny this when pressed.
The next move for the “alt-right” was to go from the world of internet chatter and private conferences into street activism. The “alt-right’s” ideas were not developed through active struggle; they were instead built through echo chamber dialogue. This has made their organizations generally unskilled in activism. Instead of trying to organize and agitate on issues, using public clashes as opportunities for radicalization, they do what they have discussed in their conferences: They simply want to get at white populations to shift their consciousness towards racist “in group” and “out group” thinking.
Their step into street activism has been by and large a failure, with almost every public appearance being shut down entirely. The only opportunities they had were by uniting with their slightly more moderate “crossover” figures in what has been called the “alt-light.” This is the group of “independent Trumpists” and those aligned with publications like Rebel Media and Breitbart who, while sharing their style and many of their immediate policy aims, refuse to get on board with full-tilt white nationalism. While they had some success in collaborating at the “free-speech” rallies that started in Berkeley, they were inevitably betrayed by this contingent and left on their own.
The “alt-right” helped to catalyze this split, angered over the inability of “alt-light” people like Mike Cernovich or Alex Jones to get on board with open fascism. “Alt-right” leaders thought that they had grown large enough riding on the coattails of these Trump supporters that they could still lead a large following when they broke free. That was the intent of the August 12, 2017, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which was intended to show that the “alt-right” had become a mass movement. Instead, they had to phone in hundreds of more traditional white nationalist types, including KKK organizations, skinhead gangs and the National Socialist Movement. In the end, the “alt-right” and its organizations and media outlets were just another branch of the US white nationalist movement, like Stormfront or the Aryan Nations. Their branding effort was a failure.
The primary avenue that the “alt-right” utilized was, until recently, web 2.0 platforms, where they had equal footing with major media and political figures. Anyone could post on 4Chan, and an internet celebrity could eclipse a sitting US senator in Twitter followers. Podcasts, web hosting, social media and video broadcasting had been heavily democratized, and the “alt-right” was, in a sense, the price that was paid. In that world, they were able to amplify a white nationalist message far beyond what they were capable of in times restricted to basement-printed newspapers and Xeroxed flyers.
Since the “alt right” has intensified its rhetoric and headed into violent street action, the country has further revolted against it. With poor media coverage and dog-whistle memedom, it was hard for average people to catch on to the “alt-right’s” explicit fascism, but it has now been fully revealed, and there is a collective revulsion taking place. After the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, media and web hosting companies went on a tirade of mass platform denial for the “alt-right.” Major “alt-right” publications and figures lost their websites — many permanently — as well as social media accounts, podcast hosting, email services, YouTube channels, payment systems and even dating websites. The recent Twitter “Terms of Service update” was another blow, closing dozens of far-right accounts simultaneously.
In response, they began creating their own infrastructure. Patreon, the payment platform that allowed people to pay publications or individuals monthly donations, was replaced by Hatreon, a similar service that did not ban users for neo-Nazi associations. Gab was presented as a “free-speech” alternative to Twitter, and had “alt-right” accounts flood its servers when announced. Many websites, including the white nationalist podcast The Daily Shoah and AltRight.com, began limiting their content to paid subscribers, all in the effort to create a financial infrastructure as “alt-right” figures were fired from their jobs and banned from the mainstream internet. As this all happened, their reach was further limited. Hatreon did not work as promised, no one outside of the “alt-right” ventured to Gab, and with their content behind paywalls, they lost their audience. Simply put, the “alt-right’s” alternative internet was subpar, and they are slipping from the public conversation.
The coming months will show exactly how much the “alt-right” has been limited by the web platform denial and their own infrastructural incompetence, and attacks on net neutrality will only further limit their ability to create their own media community.
Fascism in the Age of Dinosaurs
The “alt-right” was, in and of itself, an attempt to save white nationalism from the dregs of history, where it had been placed through years of vacant terrorist acts, buffoonish behavior and the mass resistance from anti-fascist organizations. The European New Right, from which it received its earliest inspiration, was an effort to bring the right back into the culture, to avoid the failures of French nationalism seen during the waning years of Algerian colonialism, and to save fascist philosophy from its disrepute. The “alt-right’s” expansion was due to its quality of quick adaptation to new technology, political climates and social mores.
We are hitting a period of heavy decline for the “alt-right,” and the second half of 2017 has been a sequence of critical hits against it. However, this is not a prediction of its irrelevance and failure. Instead, it is simply a sign of the cracks in the coalition, the points of rupture that can be exploited and widened.
Fascism has always been about reinvention, and without a dynamic opposition, it will just find a way to repackage itself to the same constituencies from which it has drawn in the past.