Opinion: The term ‘alt-right’ whitewashes racism, readers say

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer, left, at the National Policy Institute’s conference in Washington D.C. on Nov. 18.
White nationalist leader Richard Spencer, left, at the National Policy Institute’s conference in Washington D.C. on Nov. 18.
(Linda Davidson / Washington Post / Associated Press )

We haven’t seen anything like this in generations: Adherents of a heretofore fringe ideology with frightening views on race exult in the outcome of a presidential election. The self-proclaimed media mogul for this “alt-right” will serve as the next president’s top political strategist.

So how should journalists talk about the apparent mainstreaming of this movement? Reacting to an article on Sunday about a white nationalist group’s designs on Washington in the era of President Donald Trump, many readers harshly criticized The Times for not forthrightly calling the “alt-right” what they say it is: a media-savvy collection of bigots (and worse).

Here are some of their letters.

Carter Gunn of Los Angeles accuses The Times of glamorizing hate:


The Sunday piece on “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer and his National Policy Institute was such is an incredible misstep for your paper. For one, there’s the photo you used to accompany the piece online and on social media — are you sure this isn’t about HBO’s “Entourage” or Esquire magazine’s hottest bartender of 2016? 

The normalization of Spencer is not OK. I am not saying Spencer should be ignored, but how you cover him is everything.

Natalie Hill of Los Angeles takes issue with terminology:

Thank you for your detailed coverage of the post-election situation. 


I am very concerned about the use of the term “alt-right.” This term was coined to make racism and white supremacy palatable to the American public. The continued use of it whitewashes the hate and bigotry and is a slap in the face to all minorities and citizens. 

I ask you to refrain from using “alt-right” and to illuminate this movement for what it really is: racism. 

Jeanette Tebrich Smith, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who identified herself in her letter to The Times as Jewish, makes a chilling comparison:

I am a long-time subscriber to your print version. Your article on the “new think tank in town” and the picture you used online plays into this group’s desire to be part of the new normal. 

These people are Nazis. What are you doing?

Anna-Sophia Zingarelli-Sweet of Los Angeles says The Times betrayed its readers :

I am gravely troubled by this article. 

The increasing visibility and political capital afforded to white nationalism is a profound danger to our democracy. The article’s light, almost jocular tone and bizarre focus on the neo-Nazis’ appearance to the exclusion of their abhorrent beliefs contributes to the normalization of dangerous extremists. As a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — someone who is viewed by the subjects of this article as less than human — I expect my local paper to take a more serious look at those who threaten my very life.


The Times should not betray its readers with puff pieces that trivialize the real dangers we currently face.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook


Debunking more JFK revisionist history

Donald Trump isn’t ‘flip-flopping.’ He’s lying.

How Donald Trump’s election makes teachers’ job more difficult

Get our weekly Opinion newsletter