After the 2017 “Unite the Right” gathering in Charlottesville, Va., during which counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed by a rally attendee, a lot of pundits predicted the demise of the alt-right movement. And for a while, it seemed as if they might be right.
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, alt-right websites spewing white nationalist, misogynist and anti-Semitic diatribes were banned from standard internet service providers, and the de-platforming took a toll. A month before Charlottesville, the movement’s flagship website the Daily Stormer was getting about 1.9 million visits. After it was dropped by the web-hosting company GoDaddy, traffic dropped dramatically, and in November 2017 the site had only 13,000 visitors. The leftist Truthout declared the alt-right movement confined “only to the back alleys of the internet,” while the Guardian concluded “the alt-right is in decline.”
But the reversal didn’t last. In an era where the U.S. president has offered support for alt-right thinking and new communications technologies have expanded the reach of fringe ideas, the movement quickly sprang back. The alt-right’s web audience is now significantly larger than it was before its supposed Waterloo at Charlottesville, and the Daily Stormer and other publications have found new web platforms from which to broadcast their hate-filled messages.
Some examples: On July 22, after Trump’s excoriation of four nonwhite congresswomen, Andrew Anglin, editor of the Daily Stormer, wrote, “Jews should be apologizing to America right along with the anti-white Hate Squad and then we should send them all back. … I am really, really tired of the Jews, and I think they need to pay the ultimate price.” The Daily Stormer now refers to itself as “the most censored publication in history.”
The editor of Occidental Dissent, Hunter Wallace, is a neo-Confederate who rejects the present-day, multi-racial America. On June 22, he argued that “the culture we have now is in an advanced state of degeneration and that the root cause of it is the liberal order. … We will be much stronger after reorienting the Right around the authoritarian axis. … The Confederates realized this in the 1860s and their solution was to decouple their constitutional republic from the leveling abstract ideology of liberal democracy.”
Gregory Hood, once a contributor to Counter-Currents Publishing and now to American Renaissance, celebrates a lily-white America. On July 10, 2018, he wrote: “The Declaration of Independence really was by whites and for whites, as was the nation it created. ... America [is] increasingly being filled with people who have no connection to the historic American nation. … It may be time to become ‘separate and equal’ in a society that is ours alone.”
Before Charlottesville, I had gathered data on visits to 10 “leading” alt-right web magazines, using the digital analytics firm SimilarWeb. From October 2015 to July 2017, the average number of visits per month to all 10 sites combined rose from about 1.6 million to 4.5 million visits. In recent months, between March and May of this year, the average number of visits to the sites was 6.6 million. That means visits to these sites are up by about 47% since just before Charlottesville. If you add in the full array of Nazi, white nationalist, anti-Semitic and other hate-spewing sites, the number rises sharply to a monthly average of about 45.3 million visits. By comparison, the grand old platform of mainstream conservativism, National Review, gets about 10.4 million visits per month.
And web magazines are not the only online outlets for illiberal ideas and hate. The infamous message board where the El Paso shooter posted his alt-right screed, 8chan, had an average of 15.4 million visits between April and June of this year.
More alarming still is the penetration into mainstream discourse of alt-right ideology, including ideas of an immigrant “invasion” and the notion that white people are being “replaced” by nonwhite people. These themes are prominent not only in the El Paso shooter’s manifesto but also in the writings of Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, all of whom appear regularly in the alt-right web magazine VDARE. Tucker Carlson of Fox News is viewed by Daily Stormer editor Anglin as “literally our greatest ally.” Anglin describes Carlson’s program as “basically ‘Daily Stormer: The Show.’” And then, of course, there is the nation’s most prominent mainstream proponent of alt-right themes: President Trump.
Without intervention, the alt-right will continue to endure and grow, with predictable violent results. Rebutting the rising tide of illiberalism requires not simply a technological fix, but an intellectual and political response. Certainly, cesspools of hate such as 8chan must be shut down — for good, this time. But we also need, in the short term, sharp but civil rebuttal of alt-right ideologies from influential Americans. Longer-term, and more importantly, we need much better civic education and a government that can effectively address the economic and social issues that underlie alt-right support.
Thomas J. Main is the author of “The Rise of the Alt-Right” and a professor at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York.