Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism

As Hillary Clinton gripped the podium in Truckee Meadows Community College, she jumped from a jovial introduction into a line of rhetoric that was almost frantic in delivery. Until now she had walked a line on calling out Donald Trump’s racism, a choice that made sense since his racially motivated quips had actually propelled his rise. Instead, her focus had been to make inroads with the left populism of the Bernie Sanders camp before going after low-hanging fruit. Trump’s “dog megaphone” racial language had finally seen a tipping point, and the Clinton campaign decided to run a campaign ad and deliver a speech outlining Trump’s KKK support, the champion he has found at Breitbart and Infowars, and his Internet fandom on the Alt Right.

“Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-Immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’”

Hillary went on to discuss the Breitbart and Alex Jones connection to the Alt Right, going after the conspiratorial claims of Infowars and offensive headlines at Breitbart that were especially hateful towards women. She drew a straight line between the social media culture of the Alt Right white nationalism and the populism of Trump, making the angry racism bubbling over at his campaign appearances a key point of her counter-strategy.

For those who have been watching the growth of the Alt Right as a frightening evolution of fascist politics, her unequivocal identification of their role could be seen as vindicating. At the same time, while media outlets are scrambling to figure out how a fringe political movement threatens to sway a Presidential election, most are confused as to where the movement came from, how it relates to conservative media empires like Breitbart, and how to break down its ideology.

Dissidents to the Right

The Alt Right saw its earliest beginnings as a growing dissident movement at the end of paleoconservatism began coalescing around explicitly racial politics and the influence of European New Right philosophy. Richard Spencer, a former Assistant Editor at the American Conservative who had moved on to Taki’s Magazine, coined the term along with right-wing academic Paul Gottfried. Both had been involved in the H.L. Menken Club, a proto-white nationalist organization that attracted people like VDare founder Peter Brimelow, paleoconservative ideologue Pat Buchanan, and advocates of race and IQ arguments like Steve Sailer.

Within this world Spencer noticed a growing disaffection with conservative politics, which had become the territory of Neoconservatism and hawkish foreign policy. Instead, Spencer idolized the “Old Right” class of isolationism, the aristocratic conservatism of people like Madison Grant, and often considered himself more an acolyte of Friedrich Nietzsche than William Buckley (He used to jokingly refer to himself as a Nietzsche-con).

Inside of these circles he was meeting hardline libertarians, radical Traditionalist Catholics, Heathens returning to pre-Christian European religions, race realists, eugenics proponents, and other people who were more right wing than they were “conservative” in the American sense.

It was with this thrust that he left Taki to create Alternative Right, a webzine that would bring together these dissident forces under a “big tent” of far right wing ideas. In its first few years it gained prominence by publishing people like Jason Richwine, who lost his position at the Heritage Foundation after his Harvard dissertation surfaced where he cited “racial differences in intelligence.”

Since then the term Alt Right has gone on to signify a certain type of politic, namely a form of white nationalism that attempts to define itself as an intellectual movement with a hip internet culture. Instead of the blue-collar roots of many white nationalist movements of American history, the Alt Right had more in common with the neo-fascist intellectual and political traditions in Europe. As the movement grew and diversified, it became a catchall for an Internet focused white nationalism that more and more relied on internal jargon, key philosophers, and a few central tenants.

Race is Their Politics

It was not until places like The Right Stuff entered the foray that the Alt Right became the Twitter-force that we know it today. The Right Stuff, and its signature podcast The Daily Shoah, was birthed in message boards and private Facebook groups by men dissenting from radical libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism. Heading into a racialist mindset, they wanted to take the fun they had with “shock jock” radio shows like Opie and Anthony and give them a white nationalist groove.

With their signature podcast The Daily Shoah they wanted to mock Jewish claims that another Holocaust could be brewing, and they were dedicated to sacrificing all the sacred cows of contemporary liberalism. In doing so they took the intellectual currents that the Alternative Right had built its philosophical underpinnings on and reclaimed a casual racism along with it. Racial slurs, Holocaust Denial, genocide jokes, and trolling attacks on leftist writers would all be a part of their tools. Since they relied on anonymity and catchy memes they did not have to take part in the consequences these views often hurled on their proponents.

While the Daily Shoah helped to popularize many of the key Alt Right talking points, American Renaissance (AmRen) had been crafting that message for twenty years. Begun in 1990 by former West Coast editor for PC Magazine Jared Taylor, AmRen was founded to be a voice for the newest stage of the white nationalist movement.

Focusing on what they called “race realism,” the newsletter published studies on race and IQ by blacklisted scientists like J. Philippe Rushton and Richard Lynn. Once they founded their conference in 1994, they rode the wave of The Bell Curve into becoming a focal point for arguments about black crime, intelligence, sexual restraint, and ability to create “civilization.”

Right from the start AmRen did something that most white nationalists never dreamed of: they invited Jews. Over the years their speakers have included nationalist politicians from Europe, former beltway conservatives like John Derbyshire and Sam Francis, and have had a range of people from controversial university professors to Aryan Nations racist radicals.

It was AmRen that helped give the growing Twitter army its baseline ideas about race, crystalizing talking points that they could shoot out to “prove” the perils of diversity or the mental differences between ethnic populations. This segment of the Alt Right really developed on its own through the power of social media, mainstreaming the ideas of AmRen through the hyper-offensive language of The Daily Shoah.

The ideas, both race realist and politically nationalist, were crystalized once Richard Spencer took over the National Policy Institute. Here he created an entire “indentitarian” brand, launching the Radix Journal and using its publishing wing, Washington Summit Publishers, to give a voice to controversial philosophers. Spencer’s notion was to take many of the “meta-political” approaches that European nationalists had developed over the years, building an “intellectual movement” that could be a sort of “Frankfurt School of the radical right.” Besides AmRen, the National Policy Institute’s conference became a “whose who” of the Alt Right, mixing the snark of The Right Stuff with the prowess of European fascist academics like Alain DeBenoit.

Over the years NPI has only grown, including musicians from the edge of the neo-folk music scene, long criticized for its connection to fascist organization and “folkish” European pagan revivals. At this November’s upcoming conference they will even host Asian reality star Tila Tequila, who in recent years has become open with her anti-black racism, Holocaust Denial, and flat earth theories. Though Spencer wants to brand the Alt Right as something akin to serious political movement, even he cannot reject the appeal of celebrity.

The Essence of the Alt Right

As Alternative Right headed into its own, and its podcast Vanguard Radio became popular in the growing Alt Right scene, Spencer was pressed about what the “essence” of the Alt Right was. He was able to answer that without much trepidation: inequality. Whether it was joining National Anarchist Keith Preston on Voice of Reason Radio or speaking to the Traditionalist Britain Group, he noted that the Alt Right was built on the truth that “all men were created unequal.”

In Jared Taylor’s most recent video attempting to define the Alt Right in response to the giant wave of traffic his websites had garnered, he said that while it was a range of perspectives, “They all agree about one thing: equality is a dangerous myth.”

This focus on inequality is the broadest agreed upon position in the Alt Right, where the say that egalitarian thinking is a war on the “distinction” between peoples. People are unequal as individuals within racial groups, and racial groups themselves are unequal when compared to each other. This comes down to one of the key political precepts of the movement, agreed upon no matter if they identify as Nazis, neo-monarchists, or neoreactionaries. A society is healthier when it has strict hierarchies, castes, and stratifications.

The distinctions they cite are solidified in the racial nationalism that has become central to the Alt Right. As the confusion has grown between the traditional Alt Right and what they are calling the “Alt Lite,” which is outlets and individuals mainstreaming their message in a softer form such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Breitbart, many places like the Radix Journal, The Right Stuff, and The Daily Stormer have fought to make their more extreme ideological positions clear in the Alt Right brand. Greg Johnson, the publisher behind the Alt Right book house and website Counter Currents, published an article recently called The Alt Right is White Nationalism… Or It Is Nothing. This white nationalist perspective, the idea that white people should live in a monoracial “ethnostate,” is monolithic within the Alt Right. While they often state that they support racial nationalisms for other groups, they are clear that this is a white movement for white people.

This focus on inequality and racial nationalism comes together in the common acceptance of Human Biological Diversity, a term coined by Steve Sailer to update a movement previously known as Race Realism. This is the notion that different racial groups have had recent evolution that has given them different innate qualities. Unsurprisingly, white nationalists attempt to prove that black people have lower innate IQs, are more prone to crime and sexual violence, and do not have the genetic gifts necessary to build “Western civilization.” They are continuing to resurrect discredited theories about eugenics, the biological essentialist differences between men and women, and the belief that we need an aristocratic elite caste to rule the masses that are of a lower intellectual and spiritual level.

The racial ladder used often puts African descended folks and Australian Aborigines at the bottom, with whites towards the middle and East Asian people far above them. The top spot, however, is saved for Ashkenazi Jews, which edges at the source of the anti-Semitism that is a staple in the Alt Right. As people have seen with the (((echo))) meme and other caricatures of Jews, the conspiracy-laden rhetoric that Alt Right trolls recycle is the same that led up to Kristallnacht. Jews are seen as powerful players in government, finance, and media, using “degeneracies” and multiculturalism to undermine Western host societies. This anti-Semitism has taken a few steps further as they have centered on a few anti-Semitic tracts, specifically by former University of California at Long Beach professor Kevin MacDonald. Over the course of several books, MacDonald put out a theory that Judaism was a “group evolutionary strategy” to beat out other ethnic groups for vital resources and social standing.

A World of White National Empire

This plays largely into the Alt Right’s notion of geopolitics where global conflicts can be reduced to ethnic sectarian conflicts, manifesting both as consciously and unconsciously racial wars. MacDonald proposes that Jews use their high IQs and ethnocentric values to create ideological smokescreens that penetrate the “healthy racial consciousness” of European whites. This would be the source of capitalism, communism, Freudianism, the Frankfurt School, and, of course, mass immigration. While this may sound like the ranting from the back row of the Internet, it is central to almost all the most popular Alt Right commentators, from The Right Stuff to Millennial Woes.

In a macro sense, there is some disagreement inside of the Alt Right as to where they would like to be once the modern world has been brushed away. The neoreactionaries often glow about a time of monarchism before the French Revolution wiped away natural castes. Many of the racial pagans want to reignite the Viking warrior spirit, or return to the sacrificial steps of the Roman Empire.

While the specifics vary, it is usually a type of “traditionalism” that they argue, returning to an ethnically homogenous society where the traditional family reigns, women knew their places, and there was a clear, and enforced, hierarchy. Esoteric philosopher Julius Evola has become a favorite, as he has been in some of the most extreme movements in European nationalist terrorism. His view of the world, based on a reading of the Vedic prophecies, was that we were in the Kali Yuga, or Dark Age when proper hierarchies have been abandoned and degeneracy runs wild.

Many on the Alt Right stand with a similar assessment, wanting to return to a priestly age, a palingenetic mythic past that, historically, exists only in their minds. Their view is often that the West is a culture that is genetically linked to European descended peoples. Through this vision, which is also echoed by establishment voices like Pat Buchanan, they have resurrected far-right writers like Oswald Spengler. In his book The Decline of the West, Spengler outlined an apocalyptic vision where the uniqueness of Europe would be destroyed by non-white immigration at the hands of the Jews.

Through the Alt Right’s attempt to create an academic canon similar to left-wing intellectual traditions there has been an effort to dig even deeper into some of the more marginalized philosophical traditions. The Conservative Revolution that influenced the nationalist cauldron that formed the National Socialist movement has been key, as have the alternative vision of traditional ethnocentric living offered up by French authors like Guillaume Faye.

A Uniquely American History

While they bring their philosophical character from Europe, their growing ideological kernel started from inside of the American Conservative Movement. The National Policy Institute was originally founded around the ideas of Sam Francis, a paleoconservative author made a move to explicit white nationalism and traditionalism. Francis really made a name for himself at the Washington Times and with the National Review crowd, but his connections to American Renaissance and the Council of Conservative Citizens could no longer be ignored after making statements in his regular column condemning miscegenation. Even today his books are being put into print by Spencer and Washington Summit Publishers, a move that helps the Alt Right to carve out its own niche as a mix of different fascist ideologies with the edges of the paleoconservatism.

Though the paleoconservative movement may have hit a high water mark with the 1992 Pat Buchanan Presidential bid, there are still echoes of it in mainstream conservatism through places like the American Conservative and National Review. The hardline racialist elements dissipated into the Alt Right, leaving behind the strong libertarianism for Ron Paul and the Mises Institute.

While those most racially inclined from paleoconservatism headed into the white nationalist institutions that have evolved into the Alt Right, the same can be said for most explicitly racist organizations as well. Though appearing new, the most organized and ideological of these Alt Right institutions all trace directly through America’s racist history to moments where nationalism and nativism broke into the public mind. The White Citizens Councils, Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, the National Youth Alliance, the Liberty Lobby, and David Duke are all features that have made their way into places like American Renaissance and the National Policy Institute. Combining with a new generation of tech-savvy angry white men they have found a new voice for old bigotries.


When the ideas are put onto paper, when the principles are outlined in detail, they are indistinguishable from the KKK. In the recent slew of attention on the Alt Right, many commentators have put out videos and statements attempting to define it, especially to separate it from the more moderate “Alt Lite” phenomenon of Breitbart and Milo Yiannopoulos. Places like Counter-Currents, the Right Stuff, and the Daily Stormer agree: the Alt Right is defined by racial nationalism, the inequality of people and races, the need for traditional gender roles, the necessity of hierarchy and general anti-democracy, and anti-Semitism. When compared with screeching neo-Nazis waving Swastika banners what separates the Alt Right is its tech savvy adherent, clever memes, and upper-middle class, college educated constituencies.

In the cleanest sense it can be described as the most updated and maintained stage in an ongoing fascist movement, one started in the interwar period as the crystalized political expression of the impulse towards reactionary violence and the reinstatement of traditional power.

Most of history has treated fascism as a brief political movement defined by authoritarianism and a sort of “anti-philosophy,” but there are conscious social ideas that run at its core even if the associated populism are not as keyed into the philosophy. The Alt Right then represents those ideas becoming conscious, advocating for fascist politics in a 21st century, tech-dominated social technocratic society.

Most fascist politics, especially specific sub-topics like race realism or anti-Semitism, need crossover points into the general culture. Anti-Semites in neo-Nazi circles did this for years by gaining entry into conspiracy theorist communities with Holocaust Denial, attempting to “teach the controversy” and to exploit a general distrust in dominant narratives about state and power. Inside of Palestinian support circles they have tried to activate latent anti-Semitism by confusing Israeli state policies with its Jewish citizenry, drawing historical caricatures and theories about Jewish power into the real political issues during the siege on the Gaza Strip and the settlements in the West Bank. People like David Duke have developed an entire career trying to exploit these gray areas, taking left talking points about Israel and supplementing a political critique with an anti-Jewish narrative.

The Alt Right’s trolling has brought in many of the younger men who would be attracted to a “hip” reactionary current, one that has been developed on backchannel web boards and first made public in Men’s Rights and Pick-Up Artist sects. The space to mainstream Alt Right politics, their crossover point, has been found in the “edgeysphere” of Bretibart, Milo, Ann Coulter, and Donald Trump. This “Alt Lite” sector has provided them with enough of a political crossover to gain entry to the culture, popularizing terms like Cuckservative and anti-feminist talking points while providing a stepping-stone to their own brand of white nationalism. With this they can have a political outlet that is not burdened with their race and IQ arguments or Holocaust Denial right off the bat, but can inject their unique jargon and personality into general conservatism so that they can easily move new readers over to their more extreme corner.

The growing popularity of Alt Lite websites and commentators has been so meteoric that it has even created a problem among the actual core Alt Right sources. While the Alt Lite softens their edges, it has also allowed many to dismiss the Alt Right talking points as unserious trolling and to even allow Jewish writers to don the Alt Right label. Richard Spencer, Greg Johnson of Counter Currents publishing, and the Right Stuff are all advocating for maintaining the hardline about Alt Right politics so as to keep the white nationalism central.

Popular Anger

The Alt Right itself is seeing a moment of overwhelming attention unseen in decades of white nationalist attempts at popular attention. Using the populism of Donald Trump and the white angst of a white working class that has been abandoned, they have created a cultural force that has the ability to influence both elections and racist street violence. With the ‘Trump Republican’ phenomenon they have been provided with shock troops that can grow their ranks and make their rhetoric more than just podcast banter.

The question this inspires is what kind of longevity these movements actually have and what challenge the organized left can present. This means re-engaging the white working class, creating a strong movement to undermine systemic and individual racism, and understanding the fundamental nature of the Alt Right. As their blogs multiply and more Twitter handles are injected with raw ideology, the left needs to be able to identify their politics clearly so that a movement can build to confront its fascism in the same way that anti-racist movements have challenged these ideas historically.

What the Alt Right wants, more than anything is to get their talking points into the culture and to create new converts without challenge. Now that they are gaining more clicks and headlines the anti-racist left needs to use this peak in web traffic and public awareness to shift the conversation from one of iconoclastic right-wing politics to the threat of impending fascist revolutionaries. As Black Lives Matter and indigenous solidarity movements grow, this creates a multiracial and multicultural base to build movements that can not only confront fringe racist movements like the Alt Right, but also to continue target institutional and interpersonal racism that echoes through our culture daily.

The challenge to the Alt Right is baked into the ongoing struggle against racism, and now we have the tools to make that struggle just as conscious as the racist right has become.

Shane Burley is an organizer and writer based in Portland, Oregon.