Op-Ed: What’s the Alt-Right?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump and his advisers for embracing an 'alt-right' political philosophy.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump and his advisers for embracing an ‘alt-right’ political philosophy.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump on Thursday for his cozy relationship with a new political movement, the Alternative Right, or Alt-Right. The Alt-Right rejects American democracy as did the American communists of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s. The main challenge to our way of life today now comes not from the radical left, but the Alt-Right.

Starting in the 1960s, anti-Semites, overt racists, and John Birch Society adherents were cast out of the political mainstream. These outcasts lay low for a while, but they didn’t just disappear. Now their ideological descendants are trying to take over the Republican Party (as well as the country).

The Alt-Right supports the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants and protectionist trade policies. It opposes feminism, diversity, gay rights, globalism, gun control and civil rights.


But it is the underlying ideology of the Alt-Right, rather than its controversial policy positions, that is truly sinister. Alt-Right thought is based on white nationalism and anti-Americanism. The Alt-Right holds, in essence, that all men are not created equal, and that as racial equality has displaced white dominance, America has declined and no longer merits the allegiance of its white citizens.

Alt-Right leaders, unlike Neo-Nazis or KKK supporters, are intellectually and rhetorically sophisticated. Jared Taylor, editor of the American Renaissance website, holds degrees from Yale and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. On his site, Taylor published “An Open Letter to Cuckservatives” — the Alt-Right’s insulting term for moderate conservatives — laying out his beliefs.

In the letter, Taylor denies the notion that “the things you love about America…are rooted in certain principles.” Rather, “they are rooted in certain people.” That is, white people: “Germans, Swedes, Irishmen, and Hungarians could come and contribute to the America you love,” Taylor says. “Do you really believe that a future Afro-Hispanic-Caribbean-Asiatic America will be anything like the America your ancestors built?” White nationalism is more important than inalienable rights because “Even when they violate your principles, white people build good societies. Even when they abide by your principles, non-whites usually don’t.”

Richard B. Spencer of the National Policy Institute, who went to the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, is openly anti-American. In an interview last July with the New York Times he said: “America as it is currently constituted — and I don’t just mean the government; I mean America as constituted spiritually and ideologically — is the fundamental problem…I don’t support and agree with much of anything America is doing in the world.” He despises “cuckservatives” because “we’ve recognized the bankruptcy of this ideology, based on ‘free markets,’ ‘values,’ and ‘American exceptionalism.’”

In short, this new strain of reactionary thought goes beyond the garden-variety racial prejudice of yore — which certainly was bad enough — to a root-and-branch rejection of American 21st century values. The Alt-Right represents the first new philosophical competitor to liberalism, broadly defined, since the fall of Communism.


Is anyone listening to the Alt-Right? Yes: Key Alt-Right websites the American Renaissance and VDARE — named after Virginia Dare, “the first white child of English parentage born in America” — both received more web visits last November than Dissent and Ms. The National Policy Institute and its Radix Journal together had many more visits than the neoconservative policy journal National Affairs.

So the Alt-Right has an audience — and in Trump, it has a candidate. Trump’s rants about Mexican rapists charging across the southern border, his attacks on an American-born judge of Mexican descent, and his calls to ban Muslims from entering the country, are all in line with Alt-Right ideology. Accordingly, Alt-Right organizations made robocalls for Trump in the Iowa, New Hampshire and Utah primaries.

VDARE declared in July: “We are all Donald Trump Now.” And the website’s editor, Peter Brimelow, wrote on Wednesday: “Trump is the best presidential candidate on immigration that we’ve ever had. That’s not saying a lot, goodness knows — but it’s a YUGE advance.”

But VDARE isn’t the Alt-Right flavored publication most closely associated with Trump. That distinction goes to Breitbart News, whose former chair, Stephen K. Bannon, is now the Trump campaign CEO. Bannon has described Breitbart as a “platform for the Alt-Right.” The site even published a helpful “Guide to the Alt-Right” which explained that “young rebels” are drawn to the cause “for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.” Those norms apparently include tolerance and the concept of racial equality.

The Alt-Right is the first explicitly anti-American political movement to attach itself to a major-party presidential candidate since 1948, when Communists supported the Progressive, former Vice President Henry Wallace. All schools of American political thought — and especially mainstream conservatives — must reject this dangerous ideology.

Thomas J. Main is Professor at the School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, CUNY. He is writing a book on the Alt-Right and American politics.


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