The influence of the alternative right

The Alternative Right and the US mainstream

The International Alternative Right is a reaction not just to the alleged liberal-left consensus but, importantly, also a reaction to mainstream conservatism.

No more so is this true than in the US. In place of establishment “cuckservatives” (a portmanteau of ‘cuckold’ and ‘conservative’ popular within the alternative right for referring to conservatives to have supposedly “sold out” to the liberal consensus, often used with racist undertones), the US Alternative Right rallied behind Donald Trump’s candidacy for President and saw his election as partly its doing and a sign of its influence on the mainstream US right.

Some commentators have engaged in hyperbole around the issue, forgetting, or perhaps unaware of, the fact that the Alternative Right has deliberately inflated its influence on Trump and his ascendancy for its own political gain.

Though, through its deliberate attempts to grab media attention, it has managed to garner tremendous coverage for a fringe political movement, research by the Pew Center in December 2016 still found that 54% of Americans had heard nothing at all about the “alt-right”.

Nonetheless, when attempting to understand the influence of the Alternative Right, it is important to see it as a two-way street. As explained elsewhere in this report, the movement is split in two. The alt-right has a core commitment to racial nationalism whereas the more moderate alt-light mobilises around concerns that the West is under threat.

The alt-right has a core commitment to racial nationalism whereas the more moderate alt-light mobilises around concerns that the West is under threat.

Conservatives may be drawn towards the extremes of the alt-right through the alt-light’s comparative proximity to mainstream conservatism while, in the opposite direction, ideas from across the Alternative Right can move into the mainstream.

To the extent that mainstream conservatives accept the racial or Western chauvinist beliefs underpinning the Alternative Right or, at least, respond to the anger towards the Republican establishment, by addressing these beliefs in a hospitable way, they will continue to allow this potential for influence by the Alternative Right.

At the same time, the influence of the Alternative Right on the US mainstream is by no means uniform but rather depends significantly on which wing of the movement one is talking about.

Exaggerating influence: Donald Trump, US Conservatism and the alt-right

At a fundamental level, the racist elements of Trump’s rhetoric and policies as well as his administration’s connections with white nationalism have undoubtedly resonated with the alt-right. Richard Spencer, a leading figure in the US alt-right and an avowed white nationalist, told interviewer David Pakman following Trump’s inauguration that despite Trump’s rejection of the alt-right, his nationalism is “irredeemably white” and that “Trump is a white nationalist, so to speak, [and] is alt-right whether he likes it or not”.

However, the influence of the hardcore race-obsessed alt-right on Trump and mainstream US conservatism remains marginal. In fact, given the openly white nationalist belief at the core of the alt-right, mainstream US conservatism has been reticent to engage at all or has been actively hostile.

When leading alt-right figure Richard Spencer tried to attend the American Conservative Union’s 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he was ejected and National Review, whose editorial approval holds strong sway over the US conservative movement, spiritedly denounced the “Racist Moral Rot at the Heart of the Alt-Right”.

Despite this, the alt-right should be understood as playing a long game, slowly making its presence and extreme views familiar to the mainstream right in the hope that this will lead to greater acceptance.

Crucial to this is media amplification of its controversial statements and claims to have played a greater role than it really did in Trump’s ascendancy.

The case of Steve Sailer, whose pseudoscientific writing on race is popular among the alt-right, demonstrates this well. Sailer began claiming as early as 2000 that the route to success for the Republican Party was to take populist and nationalist positions, such as hard lines in immigration, white identity politics and economic protectionism to appeal to working-class whites.

Various columnists have since drawn parallels with this to Trump’s electoral strategy and New York Magazine even claimed Sailer has “quietly become one of the most influential thinkers on the American right”.

However, while Sailer has moved in more mainstream conservative circles – writing for National Review from 1994 to 1998 and The American Conservative from 2003 to 2013 – he remains a fringe figure, writing at sites popular with the alt-right, such as VDare.com and Taki’s Magazine, and in the online pseudoscientific, racialist “Human Biodiversity” community.

Indeed, in the same New York Magazine article, despite the parallels, Sailer himself states he believes Trump’s politics were arrived at “out of instinct”.

It is true that Sailer and others influential on, and within, the alt-right have articulated a reactionary far right perspective that overlaps with Trump’s anti-establishment politics.

However, as the inflation of Sailer’s influence illustrates, a swerve to an alternative to the mainstream right should not be confused with an outright overhaul of the mainstream in favour of the alt-right.

Jason Jorjani, formerly of Arktos Media and the AltRight Corporation, claim to have direct connections with the Trump administration

Both Trump and the alt-right have tapped into socioeconomic conditions in a way that allows this kind of politics to thrive but the latter are not the political masterminds they would have journalists believe.

While it is right to point out that the influence of the alt-right has been exaggerated, there are still a number of deeply worrying links. As explored in My year inside the international alt-right, key alt-right figures like Jason Jorjani, formerly of Arktos Media and the AltRight Corporation, claim to have direct connections with the Trump administration and to have been the linkman with now former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.

Further claims come from within the White House itself, namely Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy advisor and chief speechwriter. While both studying at Duke University in 2007, Miller and future alt-right figure Richard Spencer fundraised and promoted an immigration policy debate alongside Duke Conservative Student Union featuring the likewise future alt-right figure and founder of anti-immigration site VDare.com, Peter Brimelow.

Spencer told Mother Jones in December 2016 that he “knew [Miller] very well” when at Duke though Miller disavowed Spencer, telling the magazine that he has “absolutely no relationship with Mr. Spencer” and that he “completely repudiate[s] his views”.

Spencer later wrote in a blog post at AltRight.com, in February 2017, that, beyond the Mother Jones reports, the media has exaggerated the connection, noting that “the last time we spoke was, I think, around 2009”.

What is clear is that while Miller may not share Spencer’s white nationalism, he does share a vision of the future of the American right which leaves open space for “hijacking by racial extremists”, as Vanity Fair’s T.A. Frank argued in February 2017 when detailing the crucial role Miller plays in understanding the nationalism Trump embodies.

Commenting on remarks made by Miller at the 2014 David Horowitz Restoration Weekend in Florida when introducing then Senator Jeff Sessions, Frank pointed out Miller’s suggestion that “One of the things that we’re missing from our political dialogue right now is the idea that the United States is a home” and that “America is a family”. Implicit in this, as Frank notes, is a contrast with understanding the USA as a “proposition nation” – the notion that US “citizenship is an act of will, a buy-in rather than something organic”.

Of course, a future for the US right which moves away from this idea and which sees community “formed instead by proximity, affection, habit, and, more often than not, blood ties” does not entail a far right hijacking, but it emboldens those who believe it can and wish to see it all the same.

Steve Bannon speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Real Influence: Donald Trump, US Conservativism, and the alt-light

Unlike the alt-right, which generally overstates its influence yet gets much of the credit in the press, the real section of the Alternative Right that influenced Trump’s election, US conservatism and continues to have worrying influence on the White House is the alt-light.

While disagreements still occur, it is clear that the US conservative movement are unable to ignore the alt-light, something shown by the invitation of central alt-light figure and then Technology Editor at Breitbart News Network, Milo Yiannopoulos, to CPAC. Though withdrawn after Yiannopoulos’ comments defending pederasty emerged, given that CPAC is the largest annual gathering of conservative activists in the US, such an invitation alone is emblematic of the mainstream right’s awareness of the importance of (if not complete ideological agreement with) the political movement he represents.

However, as well as not being ignored, there are numerous concrete and worrying examples of alt-light figures having influence in the White House and on the Trump administration.

Chuck Johnson

Trump's Transition Team

Trump’s White House transition team had clear ties to the alt-light through two figures especially.

The first is Charles Carlisle “Chuck” Johnson, a California-based independent journalist, internet troll and founder of crowdfunding site WeSearchr.com and the right-wing “news” site Gotnews.com.

Johnson wrote for the far-right fake news site Breitbart from 2010 to 2013. Steve Bannon, who would go on to become chief executive to the Trump campaign in August 2016 and White House Chief Strategist following Trump’s election, was a co-founder of the site and was executive chair of Breitbart from March 2012 (a position he returned to in August 2017).

This media influence continues, with Johnson appearing to enjoy an influence on Trump’s briefings. While his GotNews readership is small, POLITICO has reported that, in February 2017, an aide gave President Trump a printed copy of a GotNews article that accused Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh of being “the source behind a bunch of leaks” in the White House. The site even advertises itself with the tagline “President Trump reads us. You should too”. Johnson was also reported by Forbes in January 2017 to have potentially played a role in Donald Trump’s transition committee by recommending potential nominees.

Johnson, whose WeSearchr crowdfunding site has allowed the likes of the nazi Daily Stormer site to raise money for a legal defence fund in response to accusations of orchestrating an antisemitic harassment campaign, told alt-light vlogger Stefan Molyneux in December 2016 that he had been “doing a lot of vetting for the administration and the Trump transition”.

Forbes’ report claimed that Johnson attended the VIP section of Trump’s election night party, has connections to transition member Peter Thiel and began working with the transition team shortly after the election to “set up meetings between potential appointees and transition team members”.

Thiel, a serial entrepreneur with extensive ties to Silicon Valley and who donated $1.25 million in support of Trump’s candidacy via super PAC donations and funds direct to the Trump campaign, led Trump’s transition team’s search for the chairperson of the Federal Trade Commission and antitrust chief at the Department of Justice.

Thiel comes from a conservative libertarian background, having founded The Stanford Review while an undergraduate in opposition to political correctness – for example when his university restructured its “Western Civilisation” required course after criticism from a student coalition demanding greater exploration of minority concerns.

Thiel, who attended the alt-light DeploraBall Trump inauguration party, represents the connection between the fringe Alternative Right elements of Silicon Valley politics  and Trump.

As “White Morpheus”, a Berkeley, California-based computer-chip designer who posts on the nazi Daily Stormer site told Mother Jones in March 2017:

Peter Thiel coming out [for Trump] was a joy to us all, because he could show his support for the Trump train where we  could not

Worryingly, Thiel has connections with the small “Neoreactionary” (or “NRx”) community, a movement closely associated with the Alternative Right. Primarily based online, NRx rejects core principles of the Enlightenment, namely egalitarianism and democracy. 

Though Thiel does not hold the most extreme conservative positions, adherents to NRx generally hold socially conservative views on issues like sexuality, gender roles and race relations. Alongside advocating anti-Enlightenment politics, they also are strongly pro-individual and anti-collectivist and have a core belief in the emancipatory power of technological advances.

Thiel, who wrote in a Cato Unbound article in 2009 that he “no longer believe[s] that capitalism and democracy are compatible”, has funded the Seasteading Institute aimed at creating floating city-states in international waters and in a lecture to students at Stanford argued that companies should be structured akin to monarchies.

Thiel has also backed a start-up company, Urbit, created by prominent NRx blogger Mencius Moldbug aka Curtis Yarvin and another such blogger, Micheal Anissimov, was previously media director at the Machine Intelligence Research Unit funded by Thiel.

Trump's White House

Within Trump’s White House staff are perhaps the most infamous connections to the Alternative Right. Steve Bannon, a co-founder of Breitbart and its executive chair from March 2012, was appointed as chief executive to the Trump campaign in August 2016 and took on the role of White House Chief Strategist following Trump’s election. Though he has now returned to his former position at Breitbart as of August 2017, he has been central nonetheless to the mainstreaming of the Alternative Right.

Breitbart – the notorious far-right fake news network who claimed to have been the 29th most popular site in America in February 2017 – was described to Mother Jones by Bannon in 2016 as “the platform for the alt-right” and alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer told the Daily Beast in August 2016 that Breitbart acted as a “gateway to alt-right ideas and writers”.

Bannon took up the reins of the site upon founder Andrew Breitbart’s death in 2012 and radically increased its confrontational tone and attacks on immigrants and Islam. Breitbart began pumping out pro-Trump propaganda from the outset of his campaign, even prior to Bannon being hired in August 2016.

The union hugely boosted Breitbart’s profile, the outlet receiving 45 million unique visitors in the month preceding the US election. While avoiding direct endorsements of white nationalism, Breitbart has been key to extending the reach of the Alternative Right.

Lastly, it is essential to note the new White House administration’s press connections to the Alternative Right. In May 2017, Jack Posobiec, a former Trump campaigner turned Washington DC contributor for the far-right Canadian media platform Rebel Media, was another in a long list of alt-light “journalists” to be given White House Press credentials.

Posobiec attended a White House press briefing and a military appreciation event held by Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and General McMaster.

Posobiec has developed a reputation for fabricating fake news as a key promoter of the anti-Hillary Clinton “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory and is claimed to be behind the appearance of a sign saying “Rape Melania” that was brandished at an anti-Trump protest as a means to discredit the event. According to putative evidence obtained by Buzzfeed, the sign was the “culmination of a disinformation campaign by Posobiec and others."

Posobiec, who has since left Rebel Media, told The New Yorker in May: “[My aim is] to make something happen, and then cover what happens. So, activism tactics mixed with traditional journalism tactics”. 

Another alt-light social media personality to have gained access to the White House is Mike Cernovich, who attended a White House press briefing in April. He rose to prominence for his men’s rights activism, anti-feminism and promotion of misogynist pick-up artistry.

More recently, Cernovich focused on promulgating anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracies – such as the aforementioned “Pizzagate” and those surrounding her health – in the run-up to the US election.

Left: the woman pictured is not an alternative right journalist, her name is Cassandra Fairbanks

Before Cernovich came Lauren Southern, a former Rebel Media contributor and author of the book "How Baby Boomers, Immigrants & Islam Screwed my Generation", who attended a press briefing in March 2017. Southern was also key to promoting the Defend Europe mission organised by the far-right pan-European Identitarian movement to disrupt and monitor the work of search and rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea that save migrants and refugees at risk of drowning.

Prior to flying out to cover the mission in Italy and Cyprus, Southern had “reported” from aboard a dinghy in May alongside Identitarian activists, helping to prevent one such ship from leaving a Sicilian port. The first alt-light figure to gain access to a press briefing, however, was Lucian B. Wintrich of The Gateway Pundit blog in February 2017.

A profile of Wintrich and other “floaters” (those who have White House press credentials but no assigned seat at briefings) in The New Yorker revealed how the Pundit’s founder, Jim Hoft, had stated that Wintrich was “there to troll”.

However, perhaps the most worrying link between Trump and the alt-light is his long running relationship with the conspiracy “news” outlet Infowars, run by notorious far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. 

During the 2016 electoral race, Trump boosted his claims that Mexico was sending killers and rapists into the USA with an InfoWars video and had previously appeared on Jones’ show in December 2015, telling Jones “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down”. Jones has claimed he “personally talked to” Trump to give him advice during his campaign and that Trump called him to “thank” his audience after the election.

Another link came via InfoWars’ editor-at-large Paul Joseph Watson when, in April 2017, Donald Trump Jr. retweeted Watson’s comments about French celebrities who supposedly said they would move to Canada should the far right candidate Marine Le Pen win the then approaching French Presidential elections.

Trump Jr. has also favourably retweeted multiple alt-right and alt-light figures including Kevin MacDonald, editor of the alt-right site Occidental Observer, alt-light vlogger Stefan Molyneux, and social media personality Mike Cernovich, whom he stated “in a long gone time of unbiased journalism” would have “[won] the Pulitzer”.