Acton Institute Powerblog

5 Facts about the alt-right

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A rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend ended in violence and domestic terrorism, as white nationalist groups clashed with counter-protestors. The Unite the Right rally was intended, as co-promoter Matthew Heimbach explains, to unite the alt-right around the “14 words”: “We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children’—as our primary motivating factor.”

The objectives of the alt-right movement are antithetical to the mission, values, and principles of the Acton Institute and other like-minded groups. Yet the movement is often associated with traditional forms of conservatism and libertarianism even though its supporters frequently rejects issues such as economic freedom and the dignity of all people that we consider foundational.* For this reason, you should know what the alt-right believes and the agenda they work to promote.

Here are five facts you should know about the alt-right:

1. The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism. These groups seek to provide an “alternative” to mainstream American conservatism, which they believe is insufficiently concerned about the objectives of white identity, the defining concept that unites the alt-right. “Racial Identity,” said Arthur Kemp in March of the Titans: A History of the White Race, “can be defined as the conscious recognition that one belongs to a specific race, ethnicity, and culture and with that comes certain obligations toward their own welfare.” And the alt-right leader Jared Taylor of American Renaissance defines “white identity” as “a recognition by whites that they have interests in common that must be defended. All other racial groups take this for granted, that it’s necessary to band together along racial lines to work together for common interests.” In this video, Taylor answers the question, “What Is the Alt-Right?”

2. This association of the term alt-right with white identity politics first appeared in December 2008 when Paul Gottfried wrote an article for Taki’s Magazine titled, “The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right.” (The article itself does not use the phrase “alternative right,” and the editor of the magazine at that time, Richard Spencer—the current leading figure in the alt-right—claims to have added the title.) At the time, the “alternative right” was loosely associated with “paleoconservatives” (another term created by Gottfried). Paleocons were self-identified conservatives who rejected the neo-conservatism of the George W. Bush-era. While the group tended to be anti-globalist and anti-war (especially opposed to the Iraq War) it was not necessarily associated with white identity politics. But in his article Gottfried identified “postpaleos” as a “growing communion “that now includes Takimag, VDARE.com, and other websites that are willing to engage sensitive, timely subjects.” The “sensitive, timely subjects” Gottfried refers to are topics that had previously been the main concern of white identity groups, issues such as non-white immigration (“being physically displaced by the entire Third World”) and “human cognitive capacities” (i.e., the belief that certain racial groups are, in general, intellectually inferior to others). In 2010, Richard Spencer launched a website, AlternativeRight.com, to promote these views. Since then, the term has been associated with the white identity movement.

3. The alt-right is a mostly secular movement that frequently embraces leftist political views (especially on economics) and rejects traditional conservatism. As George Hawley, a University of Alabama professor who has studied the movement, told The Washington Post, “the modal alt-right person is a male, white millennial; probably has a college degree or is in college; is secular and perhaps atheist and [is] not interested in the conservative movement at all.” What puts the movement on the “right” is that it shares, along with conservatism, skepticism of forced egalitarianism. But that’s generally all it shares with mainstream conservatism. In fact, many on the alt-right (such as Spencer) hold views associated with progressivism (e.g., support for abortion and opposition to free-market economics). The confusion about the movement’s politics lies in thinking that extremist groups are on each “end” of the left-right political spectrum. It is more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.

4. While generally secular, the alt-right sometimes embraces “Christendom” (their version of a white European cultural Christianity) and some (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity and doesn’t believe the races are “spiritually” equal) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian”). The movement is also frequently embraced by neo-pagans. As alt-right leader Stephen McNallen has said, “I am a pagan because it is the only way I can be true to who, and what, I am. I am a pagan because the best things in our civilization come from pre-Christian Europe.” McNallen says he opposes Christianity because it “lacks any roots in blood or soil” and consequently can “claim the allegiance of all the human race.” The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism.

5. The alt-right embraces white identity politics and almost all of them embrace white nationalism. But not everyone on the alt-right embraces white supremacy. White supremacy is the belief that lighter-skinned or “white” racial groups are superior to all other racial groups. Modern advocates of white supremacy (such as the KKK) almost always advocate for white identity, though the reverse is not always true. As alt right leader Vox Day says, “The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.” White supremacy is also often conflated with white nationalism, the political view that merges nationalism with white identity. White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and non-white immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide,” i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups.

 

*Many Christian conservatives and libertarians who do not agree with white identity politics have recently begun to refer to themselves as the “alt-right.” This is a disconcerting trend.

Some who do so simply do not understand the history of the term. They assume it means something akin to “paleoconservative” or is a synonym for “Trump supporter.” They aren’t aware it was chosen several years ago specifically to provide diverse groups who embrace the “14 Words” with a label to rally around. Others have adopted “alt-right” because the media has begun to use the term as a critique of all people on the political right, and so claim it as an act of defiance to the media. A smaller number of people understand what the term means but want to reclaim it for other uses.

But no one who is not a white nationalist, white supremacist, or white identitarian should ever use the label to describe their own views. Here are three reasons why.

First, it delegitimizes conservatives who do not embrace racialism. When decent people align themselves with a label like alt-right it gives the impression such views are considered acceptable within mainstream conservatism.

Second, it legitimizes racist elements within society. If you would not associate yourself with the KKK or neo-Nazis, you should not associate with the alt-right simply because they do not all wear hoods and chant “sieg heil.” (Though they sometimes do.) Conservatives and libertarians should be distancing themselves from fascist movements, not embracing them out of solidarity against the mainstream media.

Third, we can’t take back the term. Whatever legitimate uses the term “alternative right” may have had were destroyed long ago. Eight years ago Richard Spencer—the man who coined the term alt-right—started the website “Alternative Right.” Spencer used the site to flirt with Holocaust denial, promote racist and anti-Semitic views, and to champion the cause of white nationalism. He’s owned the term longer than anyone who now wants to adopt it. Attempting to reclaim the term is about as futile and unnecessary as attempting to reclaim the swastika.

Fourth, at the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ. The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. No Christian who loves Jesus should associate themselves with a label that is intended to promote racial separation and hate.

Not Tragically Colored

Not Tragically Colored

Despite a seemingly endless series of programs, discussions, and analyses—and the election of the first African-American president—the problem of race continues to bedevil American society. Could it be that our programs and discussions have failed to get at the root of the problem? Ismael Hernandez strikes at the root, even when that means plunging his axe deep into the hard soil of political correctness. A native of Puerto Rico, a former Communist, and a Catholic social worker, Hernandez brings an entirely unique perspective to questions of poverty, government welfare, liberation theology, and black culture. Drawing deeply on both his own experience and a wide array of intellectual sources, Hernandez presents his analysis with bracing honesty and stunning insight. A future free from the “reign of race-consciousness” is possible, Hernandez insists. In Not Tragically Colored, he shows the way.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

Comments

  • The idea that white supremacists are part of the political right began with the socialists’ rejection of Nazism. The left embraced Hitler and the Nazis at first because Hitler went the greatest distance in implementing the left’s program of eugenics. But Hitler invaded communist USSR and that was the unforgivable sin. So the left tagged the National Socialists as right wing. The media and historians have kept up the deception since. Racism and the left have been married since progressives invented eugenics in the 19th century. The true right, free marketeers, have always opposed racism. I blogged a history of the left’s long lingering legacy of racism at http://rdmckinney.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-lefts-long-lingering-history-of.html

    • Clark Coleman

      I believe that the Communists and the Nazis were fighting in the streets for more than a decade before Germany invaded the USSR, and Hitler explicitly spoke out against Communists and had the force of government behind attacks on Communists long before the invasion. So your explanation of the mutual animosity between Nazis and socialists/communists is ahistorical.

      • You misunderstand. I believe if the two groups were fighting each other they shared mutual animosity. The Nazis and Communists fought in Germany, but over power and not over ideology. But in the US the socialists embraced both and defended the Nazis. The US left only turned against the Nazis with the invasion of the USSR.

        • Clark Coleman

          I believe that the socialists in the U.S. only embraced the Nazis when the mutual non-aggression pact was signed, then dropped support when Germany invaded the USSR. Furthermore, the non-aggression pact was so controversial that it caused a huge division in the Left in America. Many American leftists could not maintain their allegiance to the USSR, and those who did began to criticize them. They could not be united again until the German invasion.

          • I’m pretty sure the US left embraced Nazis much earlier because it was socialist. See Mises’ “Omnipotent Government,” which is a history of Germany from the liberal days of the mid-1860s until WWII.

            Anyway, why would the US left not embrace Hitler? He preached their favorite theme – eugenics.

  • christine

    I listened to Jason Kessler, who described himself as the leader of the Unite the Right (attempted) rally in Charlottesville to preserve the monument to Robert E Lee. I haven’t heard of a Matthew Heimbach who said their goal was those 14 words. Kessler said he was not a White Nationalist or a White Supremacist. What happened there and the firestorm following is cementing the idea that white and right, and they are mixing them together, are all fascists, racists, Nazis, and haters. Many white and on the right are jumping on the bandwagon hoping they will not be called those names, denounced, shamed and run out of town.
    Are you writing a column denouncing Black Lives Matter, La Raza and all the other identity groups? In a way- whites are forced into being an identity group by default. They will either be one with no rights, or they need to fight for theirs. They are being taken away.
    What I have found out so far about what happened in Charlottesville appears to be a set-up. The car ramming the crowd was a terrible and awful thing. It cannot be excused in any way. Unnecessary and tragic.
    I will say things should have happened much differently. The left is manipulating this entire scenario to point the finger at a scapegoat and then to let the mobs destroy that scapegoat. Whites, American middle class white, white Trump voters, blue collar whites, ivory tower whites, are the scapegoats. They hate America.

    • skw

      I HEAR BLACK PEOPLE STAND UP FOR OUR PRESIDENT ALL THE TIME. HE DOES HAVE A BLACK FOLLOWING.

  • Brian

    Some shoddy editing: “…white identity politics have recently BEGUN (not “began) to refer..”

    “…But no one who is not a white nationalist, white supremacist, or white identitarian should EVER (not “every”) claim to…”

  • Elta Rahim

    I imagine that all “men, children should travel to…Africa, Europe and one more country before they open their mouth, period. Whites need to me recognized…lol…

  • Veritatis Splendor

    Why is this article under the photo of someone putting out a “Trump” sign. Do you all think Trump is “alt right” or “racist” or supremacist and so are his supporters?

  • skw

    Wrong sir, we must secure life for all children, not just white. I AM A REPUBLICAN BUT NOT A SUPPORTER OF WHAT THEY CALL “ALT RIGHT”. jUST LOOKED UP ALT RIGHT AND CERTAINLY DO NOT BELIEVE WHAT THEY BELIEVE. I AM FOR ALL PEOPLES, NOT JUST WHITE. GOD DOES NOT SEE COLOR