A dramatic shift in American political discourse began in 2015. This was not the emergence of white nationalism as a revolutionary political force, we have had that since the earliest “wages of whiteness.” Instead, a new form of racist popularization occurred when the Alt Right, a new branding for pseudo-intellectual American white nationalism, hit a synergy with certain points of the culture like the Trumpist populist phenomenon and the troll culture of 4Chan. The Alt Right became a buzzword for the media, an elusive movement that was bringing Millenials into “white identity” politics. After 18 months of coordinating with nativist elements in more standard American conservatism, the Alt Right’s movement culminated in their attempt to stand on their own: Unite the Right in Charlottesville.
Since their confirmation transformed into a horror film, they have been hit hard by the culture and the media infrastructure, leaving their future undecided. They have seen unprecedented growth, building on the increasing mistrust Americans have with public institutions, but questions arise about whether or not the far-right will be able to capture additional ground in 2018. Building on what we have seen over the past several years and drawing together what we know of the composition of the Alt Right and the history of insurgent fascist movements in the U.S., there are a few expectations that are clear for the Alt Right in the next year.
Difficulty Reaching the Public
What allowed the Alt Right to recruit en masse was their access to the culture through democratized web institutions. Social media and web publishing allowed them to be on the same Web 2.0 channels as major media outlets, which allowed subculture celebrity to drive their talking points. Hashtags, memes, and trolling created a style of argumentation that allowed them to Trojan Horse ethnic nationalism, all while playing to contemporary social issues and antagonism.
The openness that they have relied on is all but dead at the close of 2017. What has been termed “mass platform denial,” the banning of Alt Right figures and institutions from major web platforms, has decimated the financial and social infrastructure that Alt Right institutions like the National Policy Institute and The Right Stuff have depended on. Web hosting and archiving services, podcast hosting, financial transaction services, email design software, social media platforms, and just about every other vessel for commercial speech have been severed to them. This has forced these organizations into a corner where they are creating subpar services, like Gab or Hatreon, to sustain their stream of outreach and using pay subscription services that limits the reach of their message. While you used to find their podcasts on iTunes, popular Alt Right accounts like Ricky Vaughn on Twitter, and heavy funding coming through small donations on Patreon and PayPal, they are all but gone from the mainstream Internet. With the death of Net Neutrality and the further enforcement of Terms of Service on Twitter, they are only going to find it harder to reach out to the undecided, a problem that they share with many sectors of the left as well.
It is hard to have an Alt Right public event today. The National Policy Institute is the largest Alt Right conference in the country, taking place twice a year and often held at the publically-owned Ronald Regan building in Washington D.C. After recent clashes with antifascist protesters, Richard Spencer was booted from this location and, after being unable to find anyone else to host him, ended up hosting the conference with a fraction of his usual patrons in an unheated barn. After they figured out who Spencer was, the owners of the facility canceled the conference halfway through and banned them from the premises.
This is the world for the Alt Right now, and the only exception the have found is at public universities. Spencer has always argued for using public institutions since it is harder for them to suppress speech, and this has meant his special focus on universities. He has successfully held speeches at places like the University of Florida – Gainesville and Texas A&M, and after a successful lawsuit at Auburn University he is using the courts to force universities that deny him to allow him on campus at great cost to the student body. Spencer is currently battling with the University of Michigan to get on campus, despite mass campus walkouts and building occupations.
This level of campus focus, as well as with groups like Identity Europa who want to pull from dissident areas of college Republications, antifascist university groups like the Campus Antifascist Network have formed to do ongoing counter-organizing. This dynamic of clashes, like we saw over the last two years when figures like Spencer or Milo Yiannoupoulos appear, is almost guaranteed to continue.
Acts of Violence
There is a common dynamic to American white nationalism that is important to identify. White nationalism is unpopular on its own, so it often has to ally with slightly more moderate areas of conventional conservatism so that can mainstream its message on issues like immigration. As time goes on, the more moderate contingent of the coalition begins to turn on the radicals, blaming them for left attacks. This has happened in the past, and today this contingent is labeled the “Alt Light,” the nativist Civic Nationalists like Mike Cernovich, Lauren Southern, and Ann Coulter. The betrayals hung heavy since the election of Trump, so Unite the Right on August 12th was the Alt Right’s chance to try and stand on its own away from the more centrist counter-parts. They were defining themselves to the right, including Klansman and neo-Nazis.
When that betrayal takes place, the radicals begin acting in desperation. Their organizing isn’t working, the general public rejects their message, and the motivating issues become even more bizarre, conspiratorial, and radical their focus in on their echo chamber. It is that equation that breeds acts of “seemingly random violence,” which is acts of racial terror that could have been predicted because of the stoking of fascist thought leaders. While the leadership, including people like Richard Spencer, would decry this violence as destructive to their aims, the rhetoric and ideology itself necessitates these acts of violence. This “Lone wolf” strategy has already begun with attacks by Alt Right figures on the fringes, the most obvious of these being James Alex Fields Jr. attack on protesters that causes multiple injuries and the death of activist Heather Heyer.
Even the infighting among actual white nationalists creates further instability, a factor that is ever present in the white nationalist movement. Are Jews the prime concern? What about Muslims? What do they do with queer members? All of these create critical problems for having any unity.
There is no reason to believe that these acts of violence are in decline, and as the situation becomes more severe for the Alt Right it will likely lead to more desperate acts of cruelty. Desperation on the far-right is what motivates colossal acts of terrorism, which is both terrifyingly predictable and obvious.
The concern with predicting failures in the world of the Alt Right is that people will assume their decline and fall is assured. It is not. Instead, there is a good chance that they will be able to recover and to reap recruits and power from the ongoing racial tension and the reactionary sectors of the white working class that have been tricked to work against their own interests. Instead, we need to come back with a massive antifascist movement, one that will continue to put pressure on their public appearances and media platforms, shutting them down before they have the ability to gain power.