2016: The Year The Alt-Right Collapsed
I wrote a piece some twelve months back that claimed 2015 was The Year of the Alt-Right. What was a trivial fringe group of folks posting on a few select websites in 2014 had now become an expanding group of activists making serious inroads into mainstream politics. Many of their memes started to make their way into the larger culture and a growing awareness of the group was beginning to trickle into the conventional press.
Then came Trump. While many of us saw him as a narcissistic media personality running solely to increase his name recognition and stroke his own ego, the alt-right viewed him differently. Many prominent figures in the movement were early backers of his campaign and championed him on 4Chan, Reddit and Twitter. Trump may not have shared all of the alt-right’s views, but his tone and approach to politics seized the community’s style and capitalized on it.
I will be honest: I expected to write a piece celebrating in the crocodile tears of the alt-right when Trump was roundly defeated at the ballot box. I was going to make the argument that the racial and authoritarian politics made real in Trump could not win in a nation like the US. The alt-right would need to be banished back to the fringes of the Internet and never again be allowed a seat at the table in a major political party. We might debate some of their ideas and concepts in respectable halls of discourse like this, but their vision for the nation would never win the ear of a major political leader.
Sadly, it would be the alt-right’s troll army rejoicing in my tears on Election Day.
This group of dissidents had every reason to revel. They backed the candidate that few assumed would amount to much and helped propel him to victory over a league of capable mainstream Republicans. Even as every reckless comment Trump uttered through the years was brought to light, it failed to slow his advance. His complete impotence during the debates against Clinton failed to deter his voters from going out and selecting him to led the American people for the next four years.
Liberals, conservatives, and socialists had lost the fight. We were unable to stop a ridiculously appalling candidate, one that caressed the worst intuitions of our people, from taking the presidency. We need to undertake some soul-searching to better grasp what we stand for and why our compatriots should embrace our visions (and we stands for anyone not on the oligarch bandwagon).
While other political ideologies were left in despair, the alt-right believed it was within inches of real political power. Steve Bannon, who ran the alt-lite Breitbart website prior to advising Trump, was given a prominent role within the new administration. Folks like Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannapoulos found their brands rising as the media crowned them the voices of the new right in America.
With those notable successes under its belt, it may seem odd to pronounce 2016 the year the alt-right collapsed. Nevertheless, recent events have demonstrated the unlikelihood of this political association making any deeper inroads into American political life. It didn’t take long for the alt-right, a movement that embraced crass trolling and a rejection of decency as its core guiding principles, to let its intellectual façade down long enough to expose its ominous core.
In the now widely reported “coming out” event for the alt-right, Richard Spencer was videotaped giving a speech riddled with anti-Semitic and fascist themes; he was greeted with applause and roman salutes by many men in attendance, unironically sporting Hitler Youth haircuts.
The condemnations were swift and not just from polite society. Many prominent members of the alt-right came out against Spencer and his conference. Jared Taylor, Taki Magazine, RamZPaul and even his old mentor Paul Gottfried criticized Spencer and hoped to distance themselves from his group.
The alt-right continues to fracture. At what was to be the must-see event of the year, a whose-who of the movement were booked to attend the “Deploraball” in DC on Trump’s inauguration day. Instead, infighting and bickering has resulted in a much-publicized fight between factions of the Internet troll brigades.
The so-called alt-right movement descended into civil war on Monday after one of its largest figures was booted from an upcoming inauguration event following a series of tweets he wrote about the media being “run in majority by Jewish people.”
Tim Treadstone, an unabashedly alt-right social media personality better known as “Baked Alaska,” was disinvited from the “Deploraball” after publishing the tweets about Jewish people.
After being cut from the event, which initially featured him as a top guest, he lashed out on Twitter at fellow alt-right leaders, a sign of divide in the white nationalist, neo-Nazi, populist movement that backed President-elect Donald Trump.
Gideon Resnick at The Daily Beast adds:
These kinds of squabbles are typical of squishy revolutionaries, said [Richard] Spencer, who has earned global condemnation for his hardline racist views.
“The ‘Alt-Light’ faces a major problem,” Spencer wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “People like Mike Cernovich and Milo don’t have an ideology; they don’t even really have policies that you can point to. They are Trump fans, who are vaguely conservative and a bit neocon-ish. They don’t like feminists and SJWs (social justice warriors); in other words, they pick the low-hanging fruit.
There you have it: embrace fascism and white nationalism or be a “cuck” like Milo and Cernovich, two of the most recognizable figures of the aforementioned movement. Within a few months, the alt-right went from attacking neoconservatives and the conservative establishment to attacking each other publicly.
This is the reality of any fringe political movement; having spent my youth in far-left political groups, I can tell you with authority that these personality and ideological conflicts take up significant time and energy for those involved. But it is dazzling how quickly the alt-right went from an unknown entity to national prominence, to near universal condemnation. You couldn’t have asked for a better coming out event for a movement whose claim to fame are racist and anti-Semitic smear campaigns on Twitter.
Right wing populism is here to stay; arguably it never went away. The ease in which Trump dismantled and then reoriented the Republican Party to fit his brand of thuggish politics is terrifying. Right wing parties are surging around the globe and winning converts and elections in places once deemed implausible. That worries me.
Yet, it is clear that the alt-right and its major proponents are not going to be the future of the right. Whether they are little more than personified Internet trolls or nicely dressed neo-Nazis, the aversion they have produced even within their own ranks is telling. When Donald Trump makes an effort to distance himself from you and your movement, you know you have crossed the Rubicon.
I did not get to savor the alt-right’s tears with a Trump loss, but I am appreciating them devouring each other in a fit of self-righteous dander and ineptitude. It’s good to know that even in Trump’s America, not everything goes.