You might have noticed that last night Hillary Clinton gave a strange and somewhat confusing speech. Her target? The “alt right,” short for “alternative right.”
Her speech was strange and confusing precisely because the alt right is a niche political subculture few have heard much about until now. Indeed, all Mrs. Clinton seems to have done is provide the alt right with the best free advertising they’ve ever had.
So what the hell is the alt right and why did Clinton feel the need to put it on blast? Learn all you need to know in this little primer…
If you wanted to summarize the alt right in a single sentence, you could do worse than “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are not created equal.”
What the hell is the alt right?
Defining the alt right is like defining alt rock. You know it when you see it, but coming up with a grand unifying theory for the whole thing is difficult. It’s not a unified movement. It’s like autism—a spectrum. A broad tent, the alt right includes everyone from out and out neofascists to libertarians who like making progressives mad.
Wait, so they’re fascists?
Eh. Not really. Some of them are. Most aren’t. A lot of them are familiar with fascist theory and symbolism. Some deploy the symbolism and language for cheap shock value, others actually mean it. Still, call an alt righter a fascist and they’ll probably just roll their eyes before making a joke at your expense that will go over your head.
Part of the problem is that the left has become the boy who cried wolf. Everyone from boring old Bob Dole to living Ken Doll Mitt Romney has been called a racist fascist evil bad man. The words “racist” and “fascist” don’t have much impact on the alt right. Some of them embrace racism and fascism, others just don’t care if you call them those things for the 10,001st time.
How is the alt right different from the regular right?
Again, there are so many different tendencies in the alt right that this is a hard question to answer. There’s generally a universal opposition to interventionist wars, like the one in Iraq, a more critical posture toward Wall Street and unfettered capitalism and cozier feelings toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Some are Christians, some are not, but they’re generally skeptical of the religious right. Almost all of them love Donald Trump.
Underlying all of the above are what can possibly be said to be the two unifying principles of the alt right: A rejection of Western liberal democracy and a rejection of egalitarianism. If you wanted to summarize the alt right in a single sentence, you could do worse than “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are not created equal.”
You can hate their beliefs all you want, but it’s impossible to deny that they’re smart and edgy. Given that Hillary Clinton just slammed them and nothing is cooler than the nation’s uncool grandma not liking you, look for their numbers to swell.
Is the alt right running the Trump campaign?
Running? No. Influencing? Maybe. Clinton called out former Breitbart big shot and current Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon, but he’s definitely not alt right. Alt right friendly, maybe, but not alt right. It’s sort of a doorway to the alt right, straddling the line between conservatism proper and the outer darkness of the alt right. There’s been some speculation that Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. know more about the alt right than they let on, but there’s no hard evidence. The love affair is largely a one-way deal. The alt right loves Trump, but whether or not he even knows they exist is anyone’s guess.
Part of the issue is that Trump runs such a lean campaign, with few staffers, that there’s not much opportunity for alt right folks to jump on board. They’re arguably the most energetic supporters of Trump. Volumes of pro-Trump writing and friendly criticisms have been written at alt right websites like TheRightStuff.biz and Radix. But they’re not running his campaign anymore than Trump is Putin’s Manchurian candidate. The more likely answer is just that the alt right has a more radical take on the same Trump issues that have struck a chord with millions of voters.
Are they serious?
Sometimes. There’s a very heavy current of irony, joking and jackassery that runs through the alt right. They love their memes, a bunch of them have anime avatars and there’s definitely an element that pushes the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope. To outsiders, it can be very difficult to determine where the funning ends and the seriousness begins. Even friendly profiles like the one Milo Yiannopoulos wrote for Breitbart can miss the mark on how much is serious and how much is an elaborate inside joke.
The best thing to do is to just shut your mouth and watch them for a while. You can hate their beliefs all you want, but it’s impossible to deny that they’re smart and edgy. They also skew young, so they’re here to stay. Given that Hillary Clinton just slammed them and nothing is cooler than the nation’s uncool grandma not liking you, look for their numbers to swell.
Why did Hillary Clinton feel the need to denounce the alt right?
This is the $64,000 question: Why? Most people who watched her speech fell into one of two categories: First, people who have no idea what the alt right is. I can imagine she seemed a bit loony to these people, talking about Sandy Hook shooting deniers and Putin’s control of an American political candidate. Second, people who knew what she was talking about, but most of them were going to vote for her anyway.
The main target of her speech seemed to be Bush-era conservatives. She led in by touting her small business bona fides, before making a prolonged attack on the alt right as “not conservative.” If the alt right and conservatives—who by the way, are bitter enemies—agree on one thing, it’s that the alt right is something other than conservative. The conservatives, at least the ones who get paid to be conservatives, are pretty ticked off that a bunch of guys with anime and Taylor Swift avatars have hijacked the GOP. Clinton was basically saying, “I’m the conservative candidate.”
So what’s up with all the anime avatars?
If anyone gets an answer to this, please let me know.