Inquiring minds want to know: What exactly is the "alt-right," and how large is the audience for the movement?
The essence of the alt-right can be distilled to this catchphrase: All people are not created equal. That's even more extreme than it may sound. Prominent alt-right thinkers don't only believe that some are naturally taller, stronger or smarter than others, but also that some groups are more deserving of political status than others. They reject the concept of equality before the law.
Andrew Anglin is editor of the most popular alt-right web magazine, the Daily Stormer. He has written that "The Alt-Right does not accept the pseudo-scientific claims that 'all races are equal.'" He also supports repatriation of American blacks to Africa or "autonomous territory" within the U.S.
Not all alt-right thinkers are so radical in their aims, but they all believe in some form of race-based political inegalitarianism. The unequal brigade includes in its ranks editors of and regular contributors to many alt-right web magazines, including Richard Spencer of Radix Journal, Mike Enoch of the Right Stuff, Brad Griffin (also known as Hunter Wallace) of Occidental Dissent, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance and James Kirkpatrick of VDARE (named after Virginia Dare, the first British child born in America).
The exact size of the alt-right is perhaps not of the utmost importance. As an ideological movement, the alt-right seeks not immediate policy or electoral victories, but longer-term influence on how others think about politics. Still, it's possible to get a sense of the scope of this netherworld through web traffic.
From September 2016 to May 2017, I analyzed visits and unique visitors to scores of political web magazines of various political orientations. (One person accessing a site five times in a month represents five visits but only one unique visitor). Through interviews and using the site Media Bias / Fact Check, I identified nine alt-right sites, 53 sites associated with the mainstream right, and 63 with the mainstream left. I excluded left- or right-leaning general-interest publications, such as BuzzFeed, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Data were obtained from SimilarWeb, a well-known provider of web-marketing information. All audience figures given here are monthly averages for the nine-month period I studied.
The total audience for alt-right political sites is much smaller than the audiences for mainstream left and right sites. The nine alt-right sites combined received nearly 3 million visits and 839,000 unique visitors, compared with 236 million visits and 102 million unique visitors for the mainstream left, and 264 million visits and 111 million unique visitors for the mainstream right.
But these numbers are less comforting than they may seem.
The coarsely racist Daily Stormer received 997,000 visits and 284,000 unique visitors. In so doing, it drew a larger audience than the sites for such longstanding mainstream magazines as the Washington Monthly (766,000 visits, 259 thousand unique visitors) and Commentary (594,000 visits, 268,000 unique visitors).
American Renaissance (497,000 visits, 158,000 unique visitors) and VDARE (427,000 visits, 132,000 unique visitors) both had larger audiences than the sites of the familiar leftist magazines Dissent (193,000 visits, 82,000 unique visitors monthly) and the Progressive (142,000 visits, 64,000 unique visitors).
Of course, traditional intellectual elites have not been overthrown. The audiences for the Nation (4.3 million visits, 2.4 million unique visitors), the New Republic (3.8 million visits, 2.2 million unique visitors), and National Review (nearly 10 million visits, 4.2 million unique visitors), all well-established magazines, were far larger than that of the combined alt-right.
The picture changes substantially, however, if we stretch the definition of an alt-right site to include Breitbart News. My sources did not classify it as such and the site does not explicitly reject political equality as the alt-right does. But former Breitbart editor Stephen K. Bannon once declared that his publication was "the platform for the alt-right" and its incendiary populism is very much in the movement's style. At 85.4 million visits and 24 million unique visitors, it operates in a different league not only from the Daily Stormer, but from most tradition left- and right-wing political publications.
The anti-democratic alt-right has arrived and established a toe hold in our political discourse. That is the real matter of concern.
Thomas J. Main is a professor at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs of Baruch College, City University of New York. His book "The Rise of the Alt-Right" will be published in the spring of 2018.