The Specter of the ‘Alt-Right’

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

It began, as many instances of sliming do, with curiosity, following Hillary Clinton’s August 25 speech denouncing Donald Trump’s ties to the so-called alt-right movement. Living as I do in a bubble, I had never heard the term alt-right before. In fact, my acquaintance with alt as a prefix was more or less limited to the Alt key on my keyboard, which I never understood in the first place and which has now been replaced by the Option key on my Mac. (I use it for diacritics, though I’m sure it’s useful in other ways.) I had at least understood alt as an abbreviation of alternate or alternative, which made sense in terms of keyboard functioning and also worked for alt-rock, which was a movement seeking independence from mainstream rock ’n’ roll in the 1990s.

But alt-right, Clinton made clear, presents not so much an alternative as an extreme. When I found Slate’s explanation of the movement, I could not believe the sources to which they sent me were truly propounding the views attributed to them. I was wrong.

First, Taki’s Magazine, to which the Slate article sent me to find the origin of the term alternative right (it was used in a headline over the text of the philosopher Paul Gottfried’s address to the H.L. Mencken Club in 2008), seems to expound nativist, misogynist, racist ideology to a fare-thee-well, including headlines like “Feminist Witch Hunts Are Rape” and “L.A.’s Dirty Little Brown Secret” (a doozy that gives a thumbs-up to ethnic cleansing). I got even more curious when I spotted a strange, froglike creature next to the headline “Getting the Alt-Right Wrong.” Since the article itself didn’t explain the green cartoon guy, I had to read further to learn that he was Pepe, originally a mascot on the trolling website 4chan and since co-opted by extreme conservatives as an avatar of their movement. (At the point in Clinton’s speech where she first used the term alt-right, someone shouted out “Pepe!”) That the green Donald Trump image I’ve now picked to accompany this post looks completely creepy to me but is celebrated by some of his ardent supporters should have told me that researching this topic further was not going to make me feel any better.

But I couldn’t help myself. I traveled through the vortex into the even more extreme Radix Journal, where “Hannibal Bateman” (a merging, I assume, of Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman), sitting on a leather couch backgrounded by a gray stone wall that brings man cave to mind, refers to the “emphasis on freedom” in Western democracies as “a negative ideal.” Bateman — er, Richard Spencer, who seems to use Bateman as an alter ego — appears again in an even more alarming video explaining the innocuously titled National Policy Institute. Touting “the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States,” this video reminded me of the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” scene in Cabaret.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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