A few weeks back, Richard Spencer and his alt-right think-tank (National Policy Institute) hosted their “coming out” event in Washington DC in the wake of Trump’s victory. In a now widely circulated video, audience members gave Roman salutes as Spencer exclaimed “Hail Trump!” to boisterous applause.
1. The alt-right went from being a small cliché of activists in 2014, to a troll army in 2015 to being Trump’s loudest advocates in 2016. In a short period of time, they have gone from bit players in the political debate to ones recognized well outside the realm of fringe politics. Having said that, this is still a small group of individuals that rarely act in the daylight. That isn’t to say a small vanguard of individuals cannot influence the direction of a nation’s politics, but it is important to remember that these fascist groups represent a very small portion of Trump’s electorate.
2.The alt-right and this NPI event has been an incredible gift to Donald Trump in the weeks following the election. I can think of no better cover for Trump and his right wing, authoritarian policies than Spencer and the alt-right. Trump can show himself to be a moderate when compared to a bunch of men with Hitler Youth haircuts hurling up Nazi gestures.
3.In what was to be a celebration of the alt-right and its recent success, it was staggering to see how quickly those on the right condemned Spencer and his group. RamZPaul, a prominent alt-right Youtube activist and previous NPI conference speaker, quickly distanced himself from Spencer and his movement. Academic Paul Gottfried, a mentor to Spencer, also tried to put space between himself and the overt white nationalism on display in DC. Taki Magazine, a right wing website that was once edited by Richard Spencer, also came out against the direction of his movement. The alt-right “coming out” ended up splintering the already small faction.
4. Spencer and his allies on Twitter were quick to claim that all the Nazi imagery was just real-world trolling and not to be taken seriously. Even if we were to take those claims at face value, one has to ask why a group of people looking to influence the mainstream would go about alienating just about everyone in such a public manner? If everything can be excused away as immaterial trolling, what does anyone on the alt-right actually believe? Why should we take a group seriously that can’t stay on message even at their own conference? I am inclined to believe that the alt-right means exactly what it says about race and totalitarian politics, even when doing so with a wink and a smile, and should be assessed accordingly.
5. As terrible as the alt-right has shown itself to be this year, I am not in favor of no-platforming. The trend towards shutting down one’s opponents has not helped the left make inroads with communities beyond their urban strongholds. The power of our ideas must be what prevails, not a shuttering of the public debate.When these groups are given the opportunity to speak, they provide a fitting refutation against their own arguments. Letting the alt-right act as free-speech victims only helps their cause.Having said that, conservatives, liberals and socialists must combat the rise of the right in America and Europe. A defense of liberal, pluralistic democracy is needed more than ever.