Hillary Clinton is set to deliver an entire speech on Donald Trump’s scary connections to a phenomenon known as the “alt right.”
If you paid deep attention to the news during this election cycle, you might have heard the term in passing during some CNN and MSNBC segments. When used by journalists, it basically denotes online white supremacists who love Trump.
Last week, the alt right earned its most attention yet after Trump announced Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon was joining his campaign as its new executive. Breitbart has gained a reputation among some journalists as a platform for the alt right due to the way it covers immigration, Islam, crime and its promotion of internet provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
Yiannopoulos himself wrote an extensive piece explaining the alt right to Breitbart readers — which drew a large amount of outrage over the perception it painted a sympathetic picture of an extremist group.
Which brings us to the questions: What is this thing called the alt right? And why does the nominee of the Democratic Party think it is important enough to devote a major speech to it?
The alt right is an online movement opposed to political correctness, multiculturalism, feminism and mainstream conservatism. It’s primarily comprised of young white men. While a large portion of its adherents are white nationalists, not all of the folks tweeting out the hashtag are concerned with enforcing Aryan supremacy. The alt right is an umbrella term which includes multiple ideologies — everyone from anarcho-capitalists, neo-monarchists, American nationalists, men’s rights advocates, “identitarians,” and even out-and-out neo-Nazis all claim to be apart of the alt right.
The main activity of the alt right is trolling. The Google definition of trolling is to “make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.” The alt right getting a speech from Hillary Clinton is a sign their trolling is working.
Where does the alt right come from? The term comes from “alternative right,” which was first formulated near the end of the Bush presidency to describe the anti-Bush Right. Ron Paul fans, paleoconservatives and anyone else who opposed the policies of the Bush administration — particularly the Iraq war — could be placed under this umbrella in the beginning. That was how it was described by future Rand Paul adviser Jack Hunter in a 2009 article urging for the movement to take a more libertarian turn.
Instead, it became more white nationalist. Alternative Right became the moniker of a web publication run by Richard Spencer in 2010, which emphasized the racialist elements of the burgeoning movement while shedding itself of its libertarian elements.
Spencer eventually ditched AlternativeRight.com to head up the white nationalist National Policy Institute and oversee the “identitarian” (essentially an ideology in favor of white identity politics) Radix Journal.
What eventually became the alt right as an online phenomenon brought together white nationalist publications, some of “Gamergate” (a movement centered around a very convoluted controversy in video gaming), 4chan’s /pol/, men’s rights activists and various trolls to support Trump and attack his opponents on Twitter.
Now there’s a few things to remember what the alt right is not. Contrary to CNN contributor Amanda Carpenter’s assertions, the alt right did not arise from the birther movement, which was primarily older and more connected to the fringes of conservatism. If there was any connection to a larger political phenomenon prior to Trump, it would be to Ron Paul’s recent presidential campaigns.
The alt right also does not encompass the so-called “Counter Jihad” movement, as asserted by Mother Jones. The mainstream anti-Islamists are very pro-Israel, tend to be older and are generally respectful of mainstream conservatism. The alt right, on the other hand, dabbles in anti-Semitism, veers younger and despises mainstream conservatism.
Breitbart isn’t necessarily alt right proper either, even though it has done much to popularize the movement’s ideas and memes.
With the prospect of political correctness and radical left-wing movements like Black Lives Matter only growing stronger in the near-future, backlashes against these developments become a greater possibility. These elements give the alt right a chance to live on past this election cycle.
And the single event that what will do the most to popularize its ideas and memes is Hillary’s Thursday speech. While the talk may do a little bit of damage to Trump, it would only legitimize an internet theme as a serious political force.