The presidential election of 2016 is going to go down as one of the largest political upsets in history. Even into the evening, most mainstream pollsters and political rags were declaring a decisive Clinton victory, and as the states rolled in red, a sense of desperation hit the streets. Sure, Clinton was a candidate of the capitalist class, but Trump had awakened the racist id of white America. No matter what you think of the political caste, he provided a mass mobilization to the Alt Right, who lacked a connection to the mainstream before his campaign. They had grown by leaps and bounds, but what would have happened to them if Trump had actually lost?
A slight tone of mourning would have graced the Ronald Regan building as the suit and tie guests make their way through metal detectors and waves of counter-protesters. But also a feeling of victory. The sold-out conference, which sold out its discounted “Millennial” tickets weeks in advance, knows where its boost has come from. Even if Trump had lost, their numbers had increased more than any of them could have dreamed.
The National Policy Institute’s annual conference took place on November 19th, and was the largest Alt Right meeting of the year. With the steroid injection they have received from crossover figures like Milo Yianouplous and the caustic rhetoric of Trump, it was not surprising it was the biggest in their short history. The National Policy Institute is the benign name for the central institution of the diffuse Alt Right, the latest attempt at rebranding the white nationalist movement. Founded by William Regnery, the inheritor to the Regnery Publishing operation, and Sam Francis, now deceased paleoconservative and racialist author known for his work at the Washington Post, the organization was taken over several years ago by Alternative Right founder Richard Spencer. In the years since, Spencer has made it an “identitarian” think-tank, bringing together the various strains of the Alt Right into a meeting point that can try to take the movement’s ideas forward.
Their conferences have become a “who’s who” of the movement, linking up “shitlords” on Twitter with white racialists who have been in the movement for decades. In years past we have seen people like long-time white nationalist Sam Dickson, VDare founder Peter Brimelow, French New Right philosopher Alain De Benoist, and “male tribalism” advocate Jack Donovan. In 2016 they rode the wave of celebrity and even included Tila Tequila, the bi-racial reality-television celebrity who has come under fire for her virulent anti-Semitism, anti-black racism, and Holocaust Denial and “flat earth” conspiracy theories. Peter Brimelow was ported over again, as well as Dr. Kevin MacDonald, a former University of California at Long Beach professor whose work on Jews has become the central doctrine for modern anti-Semitism. Millennial Woes, F. Roger Devlin, and the people behind Red Ice Creations, all of which have become Alt Right stars in the world of Internet podcasting and streaming video, joined them. British nationalist politician Matthew Tait spoke about Brexit after his time supporing the UK Independence Party.
In an attempt to make the NPI gatherings more of a social network and fraternal community, they included nationalist neofolk and post-industrial musicians Xurious and Upward Path, as well as evening cocktails and polite banter before the main conference presentations begin the following afternoon.
For the Alt Right as a branded movement, this was the high water mark, and though the Trump victory added an element of celebration, a loss would have had much the same atmosphere. One of rebellion, race, and revolution. The cameras from The Atlantic later caught conference goers Seig Heiling as Richard Spencer yelled “Hail Trump, Hail our people, Hail victory!”
Breaking Through to the Mainstream
What is undeniable is that a Trump loss in the Presidential election would have cost the Alt Right their bridge to the GOP. As Spencer has often derided, the GOP is not explicitly in line with their political vision. Instead, the Republican focus on free markets, tax policy, foreign intervention, and other disparate “idea clusters” distracts from what they want, which is an institution dedicated to manifesting white ethnic interests. Beyond all of their guesses, the GOP then turned in their favor as Trump rode a populist-wave into the Republican nomination, and if Hillary had taken the White House that branding would not have stuck.
Instead, a Trump loss would lead the GOP to strip out all remnants of the Trump campaign, including supporters, messaging, and partnerships. For years the GOP has searched to reestablish a soul, one that was lost after the George W. Bush presidency took the country to the nadir of Neoconservative approval. It went through various stages of possible rebranding, such as the Tea Party and hard libertarianism, but all failed to galvanize the base into a real ideological force that they could ride into a new coherent identity. Trump’s civic nationalism represents another branding opportunity, and a loss would have added it to the list of losing identities.
Places like Breitbart would of moved on to the next trendy thing in conservatism, just like they did in the various incarnations it has been through since Andrew Breitbart first dreamed it up at the Huffington Post. This would have pushed the ‘Alt Lite,” the people like Milo Yianoupoulos and Gavin McGinnis who mainstream the Alt Right’s message, further away from the Alt Right’s ideological core, turning on the white nationalists and repudiating their radical base.
Since the base of Trump’s support in rural and midwestern states have yet to prove that they have a grassroots movement building strategy separate from the Trump campaign, it would have been unlikely that there would have been a mainstream “Trump Republican” movement beyond this election. This message can be drawn explicitly from the Bernie Sanders campaign, which has yet to show that it has legs to exist as something tangible past the election and piecemeal victories like influencing the Democratic Party platform.
For the Alt Right and the various strands of white nationalism, this would have effectively become the “black pill,” a tool for them to lose faith in the political system and forces them to look to other options.
No Enemies to the Right
Even before the election, the Alt Right began consolidating itself to the right. In a large part this came from the growth of the Alt Lite and the desire that many had in core Alt Right circles to define themselves ideologically. They were not just “anti-PC, “anti-SJW,” against immigration and for Trump, they were white nationalists. This meant creating strong allies within the “1488 crowd,” which means the more explicit neo-Nazi and KKK communities. This is going to help them re-enter the white nationalist subculture as access to mainstream conservatism shrinks over the coming months. This would help to slowly dissolve the cultural identity that made the Alt Right distinct from the larger white nationalist project, one that was forged out of its middle-class character and associations with high paying tech jobs. As they further meld with the larger mass of white nationalism it will further radicalize their constituency, even if people like Richard Spencer and American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor will desperately try to hold on to the moderate intellectual tone they have achieved.
“I do think that their approach, generally speaking, will be to double down and triple down on overt appeals to Ethnonationalism,” says Tim Wise, an anti-racist writer discussing their possibilities if Trump was to lose.
“There will be a threshold that they will find themselves bumping up against because there is still an aversion to their open fascism.”
This exit from the political sphere would force a “reform vs. revolution” discussion inside of the fascist right, one that has happened for years in anticipation. Even as recently as the 2015 American Renaissance conference there was as a staged debate about whether or not the “race problem” can be solved inside the American political system. Peter Brimelow and former National Review writer John Derbyshire sided with the electoral system, while Spencer and Dickson took a more revolutionary position. With their feelings confirmed, Spencer would likely have continued his call for a “meta-political identity” that can eventually take advantage of what many on the Alt Right see as the inevitable “Balkanization” of American states. They want to foment white revolution just as many neo-Nazis have suggested for years, and that notion would have crystalized after the loss. Their proposed “Ethnostate” would then become a revolutionary project; one that will require the overthrow of the U.S. government in some form, even if they believe the American project is doomed even without their revolutionary opposition.
U.S. Under Attack
The most dramatic increase in possibly violent tension from the far right would have happened in the form of the militia movement, which already poses itself as a revolutionary faction. Though Trump will only intensify this turn, it has been validated in the recent acquittal of the Bundy family and accomplices in the 2015 occupation and standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Sanctuary outside of Burns, Oregon. The recent verdict in federal court shocked many, especially as arrests and confrontations littered the largely peaceful encampment blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. The armed occupation, which damaged sacred Paiute land and cost the state millions, was the latest stage in a build up coming from Patriot groups fighting for privatizing land rights.
Though the Trump camp would likely have been unable to create a grassroots movement outside the election, it is fertile territory for a well-crafted message from militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the 3%ers. They will be able to speak to the rural angst of many of these groups, intermixing their experiences of financial instability with a reactionary white anger. As rural America sees hits on small farms, the decrease of unionized manufacturing, and the shrinking of local economies, the instability is likely to increase these feelings of isolation. The militias have used this to their advantage and have stoked a racially motivated anger out of that situation in the absence of the left.
Though the Alt Right is an outsider to these movements, they can continue to contribute rhetorically by continuing to ignite fears about immigration, non-white crime, and the perils of a “progressive government.” There may even be a material support that begins to transpire as the wealthier elements of the Alt Right attempt to hedge their bets, but either way it will means an effort to further racialized the Patriot movement and prepare them for nationalist confrontation.
A Move Towards Violence
The Alt Right, especially in its leadership, has been clear that they do not want violence. For people like Spencer and Taylor, this would change the public perception of their movement and stop them from achieving the mass groundswell they would need for a radical change in the country. They have an uphill battle since the history of white nationalism is the history of racist violence, and its one they are slowly trying to build an alternative for.
The problem for them is that this dynamic would begin to change with a swiftness as their core constituencies, who are radical white nationalists, saw that their previous efforts were partial failures and they begin to look towards possibilities with more firepower. Their rhetoric turns violent through an image of revolution where confrontation with the government, and eventually other races, is inevitable.
“Some of the people who have been brought into this Alt Right orbit, who are not the intellectuals…are going to turn to a much more reactionary approach,” says Wise.
“I fear that there will be a sort of uptick in blatantly terroristic actions, probably done in lone-wolf fashion, not necessarily organized… I think there will be certain there will be some folks in that movement that say ‘It’s time for war.’”
For years, white nationalism has seen this logic through its notion of “lone wolf” violence. This comes from the “leaderless resistance” model proposed by people like Louis Beam, who saw a failure in electoral politics after his participation in the early campaigns of David Duke. The notion was further proposed by Tom Metzger, the founder of the Nazi skinhead allied White Aryan Resistance who was sued into oblivion by the Southern Poverty Law Center after WAR affiliated skinheads murder an Ethiopian student. Lone wolf action sees spontaneous, disconnected violence and murder as a possibility, with the targeting of Jews, non-whites, and political officials as key action items. While this seems disconnected from the discourse inside the Alt Right, its further consolidation within the larger white nationalist movement and a feeling of political helplessness as conservatism abandons them after Trump’s loss could increase its likelihood. When the rhetoric is of necessity and the method is revolution, unstable individuals who feel like they “must do something” have the potential to slip into acts of seemingly random mass violence.
This turn would be self-reinforcing, as the increasingly violent rhetoric would continue to marginalize the Alt Right, which will continue to push it towards violent tendencies.
History Repeats Itself
The pattern of white nationalist failure has been seen over the last several decades as they have had similar periods of crossover. In the 1960s, as the Civil Rights movement began to set fire to the policies of the Jim Crow South, many white nationalists saw a crossover potential in the pro-segregationist movement and organizations like the White Citizen’s Councils. As they began to lose the third-era of the Ku Klux Klan began resorting to terrorist violence, including the bombing of children in churches and the murders of civil rights activists.
Through the 1980s, the failure of white nationalist politics to head into mainstream conservatism led to the creation of the revolutionary group The Order. Using support from militia groups and neo-Nazi havens like the Aryan Nations, they went on a stream of bank robberies and murder until federal agents took them down in fiery episodes of violence.
White nationalism from the Second World War onward has a pattern of attempting to find crossover movements that they can use to mainstream their messages. They are inevitably betrayed by those movements as they moderate, which sends their ideological core to become more radical. This often leads to disorganized actions of mass violence that horrifies their leadership, which were hoping that their ethnic nationalism could finally be taken seriously by the mainstream.
With this pattern in mind, it could be a mistake to dismiss the Alt Right as merely a fringe phenomenon of over-privileged white men using Anime avatars from their basement. The Alt Right has shown its ability to utilize electoral campaigns, but that is the end of its reach since it shares the same identity as the organizations posting on Stormfront, reveling in their long history of violence.
Anti-racist movements will have to tangle with this counter force for years to come, and that is only intensifying in Trump’s America. The advantages that these organizations have today is the years of education and multiracial organizing that have built a base to confront these voices, though undoing their logic of conspiracy theory, scientific racism, and manipulation is going to require an ongoing focus on anti-racist education and community empowerment. As these voices transmute and possibly become more pernicious it will mean a stronger effort in communities to see the threat that white nationalism actually presents for safety and to find solutions that both bring the community together and protect the most vulnerable.
Now that Trump has won, the question remains, what’s next? As Trump betrays his promises, capitulates to international capital, and is a failure at his primary policy points, it is likely the same direction will happen with the Alt Right. Some segments are growing, as seen with the recent Lauren Southern event, but others are shrinking as well. It seems like now that Alt Right is trying to define itself back into its radical image, and the final break with Trump could signal a return to the terrorism that white nationalism is known for.