Gee, somebody puts poor little Pepe in a “Nazi” uniform and all of sudden, the name calling begins. This time from Australia:
The alt-right is on the march. Formerly confined to the unpalatable extremes of political discourse, a new generation of racists and xenophobes is celebrating what many of its members believe is the tide of history turning their way.
Richard Spencer, the man who coined the term “alternative right”, can hardly believe how quickly things have changed. “We were on the fringes for so long,” he says. “But people are listening now. They’re paying attention.”
Spencer, the alt-right’s standout figure in the US, says he is planning to establish a permanent presence in Washington and to create “a real professional movement that is affecting policy, society and culture”.
Energised by Donald Trump, he wants the alt-right, a movement based on white nationalism that veers into misogyny and anti-Semitism, to develop “a footprint around the world”.
After a fearful and divisive US election that exposed dangerously unresolved racial tensions, and with Europe still in turmoil over Brexit and immigration, the democratic world is watching Spencer and his ilk. How seriously should we take this new tide of belligerent nationalism?
“Hail Trump!” Spencer shouted last month to the crowd at a Washington conference hosted by the National Policy Institute, the innocuous-sounding group he leads. “Hail our people. Hail victory.” The crowd roared back its approval, with several members raising arms in Nazi-style salutes.
“It’s really a new world and it’s very exciting,” Spencer says in an interview. “I’ve been at so many conferences where it’s just a bunch of 50-year-old guys complaining at the world. Now the majority of our attendees are under 40. Many under 30.”
Spencer is more than your average right-wing thug. He has a so-called “fashy” (fascist) haircut but wears tailored suits. He completed a master’s in humanities at Chicago University before working in conservative journalism. There are other claims to the phrase alt-right — and some who identify with it are anti-globalisation or anti-elitist rather than racist — but Spencer gets most credit. He founded the website alternativeright.com in 2010.
At the Washington event, Spencer joked that instead of “partying like it’s 1933” (the year Hitler was appointed German chancellor), the alt-right should “party like it’s 2016”. He believes this year represents a tipping point: the “white European nation” finally rejected the multi-ethnic society foisted upon it by immigrants and liberals. “The alt-right and Donald Trump are riding this same wave,” he says.
Spencer doesn’t like the label neo-Nazi. He refuses to condemn the Nazi salutes, claiming they were done in a “spirit of exuberant irony”. “A lot of people don’t get that about the alt-right: there is a cheekiness. It’s fun to be good and cheeky,” he says.
He says some among the alt-right are fed up with being labelled Nazis. “People hear that so often they want to throw it back in the faces of the people that say it. To be blunt, it was like a ‘f..k you’.
“I will agree that we can’t be trapped in the past. A neo-Nazi movement is a non-starter. We obviously cannot go down that road. It’s great to have this exuberance … we need that energy. But we can’t be limited by that. We can’t just be a movement of trolls.”
There doesn’t appear to have been any particular incident that drove Spencer into developing a racist ideology. He just believes that races are best off separated, and that the US should be an ethnically homogenous white state. “I don’t want Europeans to lose their identity,” he says. “I just don’t buy this globalist dream of oneness for all humans. The ethno-state would be a safe space for Europeans. It would be ours.”
For him, the white race is “superior in my heart and mind”.
Members of the internet-savvy alt-right cloak much of what they say in irony and hashtags. They reject the labels of the pre-digital era. They’ve grown as a loose online network, through blogs and conferences and on news websites such as Breitbart. They’ve turned parts of social media into a vitriolic swamp, hurling abuse at liberal, female and Jewish journalists on Twitter. At heart, though, many of their views rely on tired racist tropes and ideologies.
Take gender relations. Spencer says the furore over Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remark was overblown, because “women like to be taken by a strong man”.
“Power is an aphrodisiac,” he says. “Women do often melt in front of a star, or a tough guy. That’s human nature.”
Human nature, says Spencer, flourishes best in an environment of racial purity, of traditional gender roles and freed from the shackles of political correctness.
Spencer has read his Nietzsche and his Heidegger and interpreted them to suit his world view. He’s historically literate. In some ways he reminds me of David Irving, who was regarded as a brilliant researcher of the Nazi period until his revisionist histories of the Holocaust caused outrage. Like Irving, Spencer has the capacity to promote a depraved vision of the world in a seemingly erudite manner; presentably, eloquently, insidiously. And like Irving, you don’t have to look far past the suit and tie to sense a Nazi influence.
During his speech last month, Spencer referred to the “lugenpresse” or “lying press”, a favourite Nazi phrase. He questioned whether liberal journalists were people or just “soulless golems”, a reference to a creature from Jewish mythology.
So how does Spencer view the president-elect? “I view the Trump populist movement as a body without a head,” he says. “Trump reached many, many people, emotionally rather than intellectually. His actual policies are quite half-baked. My idea is for the alt-right to be an intellectual vanguard for Trump.”
Yet last week Trump disavowed the alt-right. Spencer doubts Trump will back his “utopian vision” of creating a white nationalist America. But he says the president-elect’s vision of the nation is “white” and “European”.
Spencer views Trump’s choice of men such as Jeff Sessions to be attorney-general and Steve Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart, to be White House chief strategist as “very fine”.
The confidence of Spencer and his movement is scaring people. Does he think people who hate his views should fear him?
“Yes. They should be afraid,” he says. “They should be worried that there is real opposition to them finally arising.”
This is a pretty fair treatment of Spencer except for the headline at The Australian. Usually stories about the alt-right are filled with quotes from the SPLC and other liberals about the movement.
These kinds of stories would be much better if the reporters actually talked to real alt-right people rather than a few designated leaders like Spencer.