What is the alternative right?

Introduction

In the press and broadcast media, the term “alt-right” has been used to describe everything from hardcore nazis and Holocaust deniers through to mainstream Republicans in the US and European right-wing populists. 

It has been fetishised as a radically new phenomenon and simultaneously derided as nothing more than a rebranding of fascism. 

Within the movement itself there is a fierce battle over who is and who isn’t deserving of the name. Some vociferously reject the title yet comfortably fit within most definitions of it, while others desperately claim it yet do not. 

All of this begs the question: What is the alt-right?

What is the Alternative Right?

Given the complexities and confusions over the term “alt-right”, HOPE not hate chooses instead to refer to this movement as the “Alternative Right”.

Broadly speaking the international Alternative Right is an international set of groups and individuals, operating primarily online though with offline outlets whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack from pro-multicultural and liberal elites and so-called “social justice warriors” (SJW) who allegedly use “political correctness” to undermine Western civilisation and the rights of white males.

Put simply, the Alternative Right is a far right, anti-globalist grouping that offers a radical “alternative” to traditional/establishment conservatism.

The eclectic and disparate nature of its constituent parts make for large areas of disagreement yet, together, they are united around a core belief.

All reject what they believe to be left-wing, liberal democratic, cultural hegemony in Western society and the rights derived from it.

They reject what leading alt-right figure Jared Taylor has called the “dangerous myth” of equality which, in practice, means opposition to, inter alia, the rights of women, LGBT+ and ethnic minorities or, if not these rights, at the very least the movements themselves that seek to advance those rights such as feminism.

It is an amorphous and mainly online political movement composed of a vast array of blogs, vlogs, websites and podcasts with only a few offline organisations of note.

Tracing the birth of the International Alternative Right is no easy task. With no founding ideologue, text or even organisation from which the movement sprang, it has no single traceable start point.

It is an amorphous and mainly online political movement composed of a vast array of blogs, vlogs, websites and podcasts with only a few offline organisations of note. As such the movement has no single leader or even a dominant organisation but, instead, resembles a many-headed hydra made up of a collection of figures and groups, none of which fully control the movement’s direction.

Being a relatively new movement means that no consensual definition has yet emerged. However, this endeavour is not aided by mistakes being made in existing attempts to understand the phenomenon.

In particular, most analysis is overly Americacentric and ignores the crucial role of European ideas and movements in its development. Likewise, many in Europe have sought to find their own country’s version of the movement, again misunderstanding that it is genuinely transnational.

For these reasons we have decided to call this phenomenon the International Alternative Right.

Another widespread error, sometimes made by the press, is a failure to distinguish between the different strands within this movement. Broadly speaking the movement can be split into two distinct branches: the alt-right and the alt-light.

While both reject left/liberal democratic hegemony and the rights, freedoms and/or affiliated movements associated with it – including LGBT+, women’s and minority rights – and both are concerned with the same set of issues – the left, globalisation, gender, the west, equality, and so on – they view these issues through fundamentally different lenses.

The key dividing line is one of race versus culture, with the former the core concern of the alt-right and the latter that of the alt-light. All too often, people talk of the influence of the alt-right on the mainstream when they actually mean the alt-light.

Using a more international approach, this report reconfigures what the so-called alt-right is, how it works and its internal variations.

Main constituent parts of the international alternative right

The International Alternative Right is best understood as a conglomeration of a number of pre-existing social and political movements.

It is, at its core, a convergence of three broad groups: the European New Right and Identitarian movement, the American Alternative Right and Online Antagonistic Communities.

Each of these movements has its own history, structures, groups and ideas and can – and in some cases, does – continue to operate quite independently of the Alternative Right. However, when the three overlap and interact they produce what has come to be known as the Alternative Right.

THE EUROPEAN NEW RIGHT, is broadly speaking, a current of thought derived from the ideas of people like the French far right philosopher Alain de Benoist and his GRECE movement (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne) [Research and Study Group for European Civilization] that was founded in France in 1968, along with subsequent strains of thought/activism such Guillaume Faye’s Archeofuturism, Aleksandr Dugin’s Eurasianism and the European Identitarian movement.

The European New Right movement sits comfortably within the far right and its ideas are best understood as a quest for the recovery of mythical “European Identity”.

They fundamentally reject the ideals of the Enlightenment and of Christianity and fight back against “materialist” and modern ideologies from liberalism to socialism and, instead, posit a pan-European nationalism and a world of ethnically homogeneous communities.

THE AMERICAN ALTERNATIVE RIGHT is a broad term that includes a multitude of radical or non-conservative right wing and far right traditions.

What they share is an offer of a right wing “alternative” to mainstream contemporary conservative Republicanism. Included here are elements of the American far right, nazi and white supremacist movements.

ONLINE ANTAGONISTIC COMMUNITIES are reactionary online communities built around various interests but who all engage in exclusionary, antagonistic behaviour (be it through trolling, creating offensive symbolism or just espousing and voicing hatred and contempt).

These are found on all sides of the political spectrum or can be non-political but where they converge with the Alternative Right is when their antagonism is directed at what they perceive as the left/liberal political and social hegemony. This includes the “Manosphere”, the right-wing alternative media and the “Neoreactionary” movement, as well as the more disparate racist and misogynist trolling subculture found within the broader culture of trolling (the act of being deliberately offensive or provocative online with the aim provoking a hostile, negative, outraged reaction).

Trolling dates as far back as the late 1980s though it has increasingly been instrumentalised by political movements in the last decade and this right-wing strain has been especially prevalent within communities on websites like 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, Voat, and Gab that share the various political leanings found within the alt-right.

Affiliated movements within the international alternative right

In addition to these three main constituents is a plethora of smaller movements, cultures and communities, elements of which have contributed to in varying degrees or have been subsumed into the Alternative Right.

Though many of them exist beyond and separately to the Alternative Right as broader ideological movements, they maintain large areas of crossover in terms of ideas and cooperation. For this reason, these elements have also, for some, acted as gateways into the Alternative Right.

Identitarian movement

This movement started in Europe in 2003 when a youth movement associated with the anti-immigrant Bloc Identitaire, calling itself Génération Identitaire, was launched in France.

The movement has since expanded with similar groups springing up across Europe and beyond. They advocate a return to traditional values and for the preservation of distinct national identities.

The term “Identitarians” is, as explained by the French New Rightist Guillaume Faye, drawn from their belief that characteristic of humanity is:

the diversity and singularity of its many people and cultures. Every form of its homogenisation is synonymous with death, as well as sclerosis and entropy.

While the movement started out independently of the alt-right, there has long been a transatlantic symbiotic relationship with ideas and activists flowing both ways. Many of America’s leading alt-right figures class themselves as Identitarians while some European identitarian groups have begun to adopt the “alt-right” title.


White supremacism and Nazism

There is significant crossover between the traditional far right and the international alternative-right. Elements of the nazi and white supremacist scene on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to adopt, not just the tag of “alt-right” but also the online tactics and iconography of the movement.

Elements of the nazi and white supremacist scene on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to adopt, not just the tag of “alt-right” but also the online tactics and iconography of the movement.

Undoubtedly some within these traditional far right circles see the name alt-right as a useful rebranding and an opportunity to detoxify their ideas and image.


Manosphere

The manosphere is a loose collection of websites, forums, blogs and vlogs concerned with men’s issues and masculinity and, while sometimes claiming to be a male equivalent to feminism, generally stands in opposition to it. Within the manosphere are numerous sub-divisions, many of which interact with the alt-right due to their similar anti-feminist and anti- progressive views.

This network includes: 

  • Men's rights activists: Activists who dispute that men are privileged relative to women. Some feel all genders experience sexism equally while others feel women are comparatively privileged. 
  • Seduction Community (Pick-up artists): A primarily online community of men who seek to seduce women by using psychology and a supposed understanding of female/male dynamics. The movement has been rightly criticised for widespread sexism and misogyny. 
  • Anti-feminists: Activists, primarily men but not always, who oppose feminism and often deny the existence of patriarchy or the oppression of women.
  • Incels: A group of males, describing themselves as “involuntarily celibates”, that converses together on online forums on this theme. They usually blame their own failure to develop sexual relationships on the women who refuse them and on forces like feminism and “liberal” values that, they feel, stand in their way.
  • Androphiles: In the context of the manosphere, this is a term used by Jack Donovan of the male tribalist group Wolves of Vinland to describe men who are sexually attracted to other men but who reject the supposed feminist and effeminate influence of LGBT+
  • movements. It is important to note, however, that this term is also used in other contexts that have nothing to do with the alt-right or the manosphere.
  • Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOWs): This is a section of the men’s rights movement that have decided to reject female interaction completely. Unlike “incels”, their celibacy is supposedly voluntary.
  • Paleomasculinists: This group call for a return to what they understand as a historical, pre-feminist conception of manhood, and argue that male domination is completely natural as is the submission of women due to differences between the sexes.

Paleoconservativism

This American movement claims to represent a more authentic conservatism as opposed to that of neo-conservatism. The term paleo derives from the Greek root meaning “ancient” and the movement calls for tradition, decentralisation, restrictions on immigration and an end to multiculturalism. The term “Alternative Right” was first coined by the paleoconservative Paul Gottfried in 2008 and there is significant overlap between the two movements’ traditionalist views.


Right-libertarianism (paleoliberarians, 'cultural libertarians')

Though many right-wing libertarians do not overlap with the alt-right, the convergence arises for those whose social beliefs are largely motivated by their rejection of what they see as a dangerous left-wing political and cultural hegemony in Western society. For paleolibertarians, this comes from a commitment to conservative values that they see as under threat from this supposed hegemony.

As one of its founders, chairman of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Llewellyn Rockwell, argued in a 1990 article entitled “The Case for Paleo-Libertarianism” in Liberty magazine, the left has a “Hatred of Western Culture” and considers it “worthy more of extinction than defense”. A more recent strain of libertarian thought, dubbed “Cultural Libertarianism” by Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari and ex-Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, shifts the focus away from traditional conservative values to a more general belief that right-wing perspectives are under threat from an “authoritarian left” from whom culture must be “liberate[d]”.


Right-wing alternative media

This is a collection of websites, blogs, radio shows, podcasts and video producers who create politicised right- wing content that offers an alternative to supposedly biased and liberal mainstream media. Though some elements merely provide news from a particular political persuasion, others jettison all objectivity and instead create biased or even completely fake news, often based on conspiracies, in the interest of advancing their political agenda.


Neoreactionary/dark enlightenment/technolibertarianism

This is an esoteric community, primarily based online, that rejects the core principles of the Enlightenment, namely egalitarianism and democracy. Adherents generally hold socially conservative views on issues such as sexuality, gender roles and race relations.

The community has close ties to Silicon Valley, advocating anti-Enlightenment politics in combination with pro-individualism and anti-collectivism.

Central also is a belief in the emancipatory power of technological advances. While no longer a prominent constituent part of the Alternative Right, it was a school of thought from which the Alternative Right developed.


Right-wing/national anarchism

These ideas, derived from the British long-time far right activist Troy Southgate, calls for a decentralised post-capitalist system of separate tribal communities based on racial groups. It draws on European New Right ideas about the need for racial separatism as a means to preserve biocultural diversity. It is around these ideas that the movement overlaps with the alt-right and several National Anarchists have become involved with the alt-right movement.


Survivalists

This is a primarily American movement that prepares for emergencies, nuclear war and crises brought about by a breakdown of the social order. Their preparations generally include the stockpiling of medical equipment, food and resources as well the building of shelters and armed compounds. The movement usually involves elements of paramilitary activity involving firearms. Survivalism has gone through waves of wider interest and elements of the movement have become active in the alt-right, in particular, due to shared beliefs about coming crises resulting from globalisation.

A brief history of the alt-right and alt-light

While the two distinct branches of the broad Alternative Right – the alt-right and alt-light – diverge in attitudes towards race, their shared opposition to left-liberal positions has enabled them to unite in the face of common enemies.

Though the label “alt-right” was first adopted by white nationalist Richard Spencer and his allies, it was bought to mainstream attention by Western chauvinists like Milo Yiannopoulos, Mike Cernovich and Paul Joseph Watson who also adopted the label but used it in reference to a broader online, new, anti-establishment right-wing.

Whether done in ignorance or not, by standing under the same banner with racists these figures have greatly increased the reach of white nationalist influence without adopting its racist core.

Alex Jones and Paul Joseph Watson of InfoWars
White nationalist Matthew Heimbach

This relationship was not to last, however, and, as Spencer entered the limelight and scandals befell more moderate figures, both sides attempted to disentangle themselves from the other.

The likes of Watson and Cernovich have distanced themselves or rejected the term and surrounding associations, sometimes now referring to themselves as being “New Right” (not to be confused with the European New Right, or Nouvelle Droite, which is an ideological inspiration of the alt-right). These figures have come to be regarded with great hostility by the white nationalist alt-right, who coined the label “alt-light” or “alt-lite” to disavow the group.

Several key moments have defined the complicated relationship between the two distinct groups.

Gamergate

The first rallying point of the Alternative Right was so-called Gamergate, ostensibly an effort to protect the male safe space of gaming from the perceived encroachment of feminist values.

Triggered in August 2014 after a spurned boyfriend posted an incoherent rant alleging that his ex-girlfriend – a female game developer – had been unfaithful, denizens of the manosphere and the message boards 4chan and 8chan (which have long harboured far right elements) unleashed a barrage of abuse, including rape and death threats, against female game developers and critics.

For many, Gamergate became symbolic of a broader fightback against “political correctness” and the left more generally. By reporting favourably on the movement, figures like Yiannopoulos were able to greatly increase their own profiles in the ensuing scandal.

The experience of engaging in coordinated online campaigning against their supposed antagonists encouraged the emerging Alternative Right as a whole.

The Trump Train

It was the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, launched in June 2015, that provided the momentum that held the broad Alternative Right together. Trump had outsider status, a haphazard and unorthodox approach, extreme immigration stances and – most importantly – was wildly politically incorrect.

Moreover, he was running against Hillary Clinton, who was viewed to embody the liberal, “feminist” establishment. All this made Trump a magnet for both the alt-light and alt-right, both of which saw him as a means of disrupting the Republican establishment and liberal consensus.

The difference was that while the alt-light may have held a genuine belief that Trump’s anti-immigration, anti-Muslim stances closely allied with its own politics, the alt-right regarded him more as a means to shift the “Overton window” (boundaries of acceptable debate) far to the right with the ultimate goal of normalising eugenics.

"Don't punch right"

Through Trump, the white nationalist alt-right entered a symbiotic relationship with figures on the more moderate online right wing, with commentators  such as Watson and Yiannopoulos using many of the same inflammatory, mocking insults and images as to attack the left and establishment right as racist hubs such as The Right Stuff (the insult #cuckservative was an early success).

Breitbart News Network, known for its vitriolic attacks on liberal groups, immigrants and mainstream conservatives alike, became the engine room for far right pro-Trump propaganda.

In March 2016, Breitbart published An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right by Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari which, whilst disavowing openly nazi elements, also downplayed much of the movement’s racism as mere trolling in pursuit of “fun”.

In July 2016, Steve Bannon told Mother Jones that Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right”. The oft- repeated philosophy “don’t punch right” – i.e. do not attack more extreme elements with whom you share a common purpose – gave the racist alt-right cover.

With the obvious exception of the nazi alt-right site, the Daily Stormer, which was generally deeply antagonistic to alt-light figures, while it remained expedient, the racists largely tolerated these moderate figures despite obvious ideological differences (Yiannopoulos, for example, is an openly gay man of claimed partly Jewish heritage). Spencer told the Daily Beast in August 2016 that Breitbart acted as a “gateway to  alt-right ideas and writers”.

NPI audience enthusiastically throw Nazi salutes

Hailgate

"Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”

Following Trump’s victory, confrontation emerged between the alt-light and alt-right on 21 November 2016, when Spencer’s National Policy Institute (NPI) staged its annual conference, featuring Jared Taylor, Kevin MacDonald and Peter Brimelow – the “elder statesmen” of the racist alt-right – as speakers.

Footage was released by The Atlantic showing Spencer delivering a speech laden with antisemitism and ending histrionically with the words "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”, leading several members of the audience to enthusiastically throw Nazi salutes.

This sparked worldwide negative press attention and moderate figures quickly distanced themselves. Cernovich called Spencer “controlled opposition”, and Watson began calling Spencer’s ilk “far right versions of social justice warriors”. Trump supporters who found themselves uncomfortable staring the white nationalist core of the alt-right in the face began abandoning the term en masse.

DeploraBall

These splits were accelerated by the DeploraBall party, held the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration on 19 January, organised by MAGA3X, the network of pro-Trump online influencers built by Cernovich and Jeff Giesea.

The party featured speeches from major alt-light figures, including Jack Posobiec, Gavin McInnes, Lucian Wintrich and Mike Cernovich. Newly keen to disassociate themselves from racism, co-organiser Tim Gionet (aka Baked Alaska) was barred from the event following a series of antisemitic tweets.

Spencer alongside several other alt-right figures was explicitly banned from attending, as were Nazi salutes and images of Pepe the frog.

This sparked a row within the broad Alternative Right and, since DeploraBall, white nationalist alt-right commentators have produced countless articles and videos carefully and pedantically laying out their differences with the nationalist Western chauvinists they now called the “alt-light”.

The general consensus is that Yiannopoulos and his cohorts are insincere fame and attention seekers, sell- outs and intellectual lightweights. “A movement needs a good purge”, Spencer told the Washington Post.

Richard Spencer speaking at his "Freedom of Speech Rally" in Washington DC in June 2017

Different sides of the same street

The split between the sides was neatly demonstrated in June 2017 when Spencer was booked to speak at a “Freedom of Speech Rally” in Washington DC, causing the alt-light aligned Posobiec to drop out of the event and announce his own, the “Rally Against Political Violence”, to be held the same day in the same city.

Posobiec’s rally was to be addressed by alt-lightists such as Lucian Wintrich and Cernovich while the original “Freedom of Speech Rally” took in the hard alt-right, speakers including Spencer, Nathan Damigo of Identity Evropa, Tim Gionet and Mike Peinovich (aka Mike Enoch) of The Right Stuff, who used the stage to denounce the “systematic elimination of white people”.

Death in Charlottesville

12 August 2017, the alt-right “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which Spencer was lined up to speak, was marred by political violence and ended in the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer. This event, preceded by a torchlight rally around the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee the evening before, gained worldwide press coverage and reveals something about the relationship between the alt-right and alt-light.

Many on the alt-light condemned the violence of the rally and were keen to disassociate themselves with the alt-right. This was especially true after The Daily Stormer called Heyer a “fat, childless, 32 year-old slut” and site administrator Andrew Auernheimer (aka weev) announced he was seeking to “get people on the ground” at her funeral, which appalled many commentators.

However, the collective hand washing of responsibility rings hollow. Gavin McInnes, for example, distanced himself in advance of the demonstration.

However, he has a long track record of encouraging violence against counter-protesters and Jason Kessler – the prime organiser of the rally – had previously aligned himself with McInnes’ Proud Boys group. Watson, while rejecting the “racial identity politics” of the alt-right, tweeted on the morning of 12 August: “Some white supremacists had a largely peaceful protest. The end. It’s hardly Kristallnacht…”, essentially whitewashing the violence that occurred at the torchlight march the evening before.  

Following Charlottesville, Cernovich claimed he was “wrong” in his assessment of the alt-right, and decried “nazi boys” within the movement. However, he has also provided the alt-right with excuses, tweeting ahead of the march: “Silencing free speech caused #Charlottesville. Once people stop talking they get violent, human nature.”

While the alt-light and alt-right are now publicly divided, they continue to feed into each other and share joint responsibility for creating the noxious atmosphere and chain of events that has now resulted in deaths.