On the evening of August 11, white supremacists, nationalists, neo-Nazis and racist demonstrators marched through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many carried burning tiki torches while chanting “white lives matter,” “you will not replace us,” and the Nazi-associated phrase “blood and soil.”
The vast majority of the demonstrators were from out of town, having traveled from all over the country to protest the removal of a statue depicting Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who once said he never wanted a monument erected in his name. And yet Charlottesville philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire commissioned a statue in Lee’s likeness in 1917 and later dedicated the memorial in the whites-only Lee Park.
The commemoration took place when Ku Klux Klan membership was at its peak, and McIntire invited the Confederate Veterans, Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy to participate in the statue’s unveiling. A century later, on Saturday, August 12, 2017, members of once isolated and separated fringe hate groups rallied together under the “Unite the Right” banner, perhaps for the first time in public, to protest the statue’s removal.
They now collectively call themselves the alternative right — shortened to “alt-right” — and you have probably heard the media and news commentators refer to them as such. They are white supremacists, racists and nationalists who seek to unite under a term that doesn’t sound so, well, hateful.
The term has become a catch-all for many types of hate groups and is evocative more of an edgy alternative rock band than the KKK. The phrase “alt right” itself is credited to Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, and famous for celebrating Trump’s presidential victory with a Nazi salute, in an attempt to soften their image in the public eye.
Even so, the torch-filled scene of August 11 evoked images of hooded Klansmen in white sheets, except now they wore white polos and did not bother to conceal their faces and identities. And yet some of these protesters were surprised to find themselves compared to and persecuted as hateful racists.
Peter Cvjetanovic, Hazel Bryan
University of Nevada history and politics student Peter Cvjetanovic, 20, attended the nighttime march as a member of Identity Evropa, a white supremacy group. A photo was taken of him, bathed in torchlight and wearing a polo with Identity Evropa’s embroidered logo, giving his full voice to the protest, and this photo spread through social media like wildfire. Soon, many were comparing and forever associating Cvjetanovic with the infamous Hazel Bryan, who screamed obscenities at black students during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Despite this, Cvjetanovic told a local news station, “I’m not the angry racist they see in that photo.”
The Unite the Right rally protesters clashed with counter-protesters, and in the wake of the violence and death that ensued the following day, both the media and the public were quick to generalize those deemed responsible. The discrepant protesters from various hate groups, now self-branded by the all-encompassing label of alt-right, were backed into a corner, identified and exposed on social media, and persecuted upon return to their homes.
Radicalized and clumped together in the trenches, besieged by an America they do not want, one that is otherwise inclusive and diverse culturally and ethnically, members of the alt-right recognize in each other a common struggle and a common enemy. This makes them stronger. With the public’s allowance of their singular identity through the term “alt-right,” it is possible their hate has been even more unified.
And perhaps that is what they wanted all along.
Solidarity Found in Victimhood
In the hours and days following, the white nationalist protestors perpetrated a narrative of self-defense. They were the true victims, thrust into a violent, angry mob and forced to defend themselves. But perhaps their victimhood was premeditated by those who organized the Unite the Right rally. While many protesters arrived that Saturday morning armed and ready for a fight, others were just as vigilant with their phones and cameras, ready to capture proof of what they perceive as injustice.
Collectively, the alt-right is not a fringe and small population. Yet while Breitbart News, considered the most popular source of information for the alt-right, is ranked the 56th most visited site in the nation with 45 million unique visitors per month, it pales in comparison to CNN’s monthly traffic of 100 million. In order to create a stronger bond of solidarity, alt-right commentators and writers are using a David vs. Goliath narrative that capitalizes on their readership’s mistrust and fear that politicians and the mainstream media seek to take power and rights away from whites.
While there are over 900 separate and distinct hate groups currently operating in the United States - including Ku Klux Klan chapters, Neo-confederates, Neo-nazis, racist skinhead, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-LGBT, and white nationalists - a growing “us versus them” mentality is bringing them together. Even Donald Trump refers to the hate groups as on “one side,” and describes their behavior as displays of “hatred, bigotry, and violence.”
The alt-right as a whole has been put on the offensive in the courtroom as well. To foster the equivalent of school pride, the alt-right adopted cartoonist Matt Furie’s popular internet meme Pepe the Frog as their mascot and hate symbol. In a fight to regain control, Furie is suing the alt-right, has sent cease and desist orders to Richard Spencer and Mike Cernovich, as well as DMCA takedown notices to Reddit and Amazon to remove unauthorized uses of Pepe’s image in websites and consumer products.
Furie also sent cease and desist orders to the moderators of Reddit subforum “The_Donald.” Reddit is an internet-based social news aggregator and community message board website, and the alt-right is using the site to further develop a cohesive group identity and unity on a linguistic level.
The_Donald, Online Breeding Ground for Alt-Right Language
Beyond the adoption of the alt-right identity as a catch-all word for any and all white supremacists, racists and nationalists - including the likes of Richard Spencer, online troll provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and the protestors in Charlottesville - there are far more people gravitating toward its allure in the privacy of online anonymity.
Researcher Tim Squirrell at the Alt-Right Open Intelligence Initiative recognizes that the alt-right is not one group with a coherent identity, at least not yet. Instead, they are a loose menagerie of people from very different backgrounds who in real life might never meet. In addition to white nationalists and neo-Nazis, the alt-right counts among its numbers “bored teenagers, gamers, men’s rights activists, and conspiracy theorists,” writes Squirrell.
Many of them have found community on Reddit, specifically in the The_Donald subforum, which boasts over 450,000 subscribers - nearly half a million. In fact, as a breeding ground for alt-right followers, The_Donald is President Donald Trump’s “most rabid online following,” and Reddit claims it is the fourth most visited site, after Facebook, Google and YouTube. Here, they are both developing and appropriating a new vernacular that unifies these disparate hate groups into one far larger. Squirrell writes:
“The_Donald and other alt-right spaces are acting as meeting places for disaffected white men from all walks of life to share a communal hatred. They start out in different corners of the internet with different interests and different lexicons.”
At the University of the Amsterdam, Squirrell and the Alt-Right Open Intelligence Initiative have been studying the language of the alt-right, analyzing the comments of Reddit members within The_Donald community. His conclusion thus far is that the alt-right is indeed not one voice, yet they share a common, developing language of hateful rhetoric, dividing into a handful of distinct subgroups. He calls it a “taxonomy of trolls.”
This is what they are saying.
The Many Voices of Hate
Squirrell classifies his taxonomy of trolls into five distinct groups that participate in active discourse in The_Donald community, identified by their rhetoric and vocabulary.
- 4chan Shitposters
They are almost exclusively boys and men who don’t take their own rhetoric seriously, yet are deliberately offensive provocateurs, using the most extreme racist and sexist slurs. They like to talk about Pepe the Frog, the “Kekistan” meme, and the “normies” they despise.
Their most common words on The_Donald include “kek,” “Pepe,” “deus vult,” “tendies” and “God Emperor Trump.”
This group was radicalized during the GamerGate hate movement. They love playing video games, that is, when the games are targeted to them, and they hate “social justice warriors” (SJW), LGBTs and feminists for the sole reason that they feel the game studios pander to these communities. They also don’t believe transgender identities are legitimate, adamant that there are only two genders.
Their most common words include “SJW,” “snowflake,” “pandering,” “tumblr,” “feminist,” “triggering,” “GamerGate” and “virtue signalling.”
Men’s Rights Activists
These anti-feminists and misogynists campaign for men’s rights, while blaming women for their failures as sexual partners. Referring to women as “females” and men they perceive as weak as “cucks,” these activists believe they can only find true liberation from a female-dominated world by refusing to interact with women completely.
Their most common words include “females,” “cuck,” “bitch,” “Chad,” “alpha,” “beta,” and “omega.”
These members of the anti-globalization movement, which is critical of economic globalization, are the listeners of Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity. They hinge their ears on every conspiracy theory, looking for news about the crimes and tragedies perpetrated by minorities and left-wing people.
Their most common words include “globalist scum,” “the establishment,” “puppets,” “elites,” “masters,” “George Soros,” and “cultural Marxist.”
Because explicit racism is banned on Reddit, white supremacists on the website use implicit and coded racist language to avoid censorship, and identify their islamophobic statements as criticisms of Islam - a religion they do not believe is compatible with western culture. They populate sites like Stormfront and the now-defunct The Daily Stormer.
Their most common words include “Islam,” “creeping Sharia,” “deus vult,” “western culture,” and various racial slurs.
How Many Haters Are Becoming One Nation Under Trump
Squirrell warns that though they are separated in real life by geography and demographics, the more time these different hate groups spend in The_Donald chat rooms the more their vernaculars and pernicious views combine: “They are forming a coherent group identity, represented in the language they have begun to speak, which coalesces around their common hatred of liberalism and their love of Donald Trump.”
If you have wondered how the youth of 1930s Germany could be an army of Nazis, we need look no further than the discussions and ideas exchanged on The_Donald. “Bored teenagers and gamers are becoming indoctrinated into hard-line anti-globalism, conspiracy theories, and Islamophobia, and it’s happening right before our eyes, on a publicly accessible forum,” warns Squirrell.
A new amalgamated vocabulary is emerging from the merging of the different groups, including “MAGA” for make America great again, “based,” and “centipede,” to name a few. “But the keystone of this vernacular is ‘cuck,’” writes Squirrell. “A shortening of ‘cuckold,’ an old word used to refer to men who allow their partners to sleep with other men (and often find sexual gratification in the humiliation of it), its use has become the sine qua non of alt-right group membership.”
Another aspect to consider is that the different groups do not all hate other ethnicities, nationalities, sexualities and the female gender to the same degree and extent as their fellow groups. White Supremacists do not take umbrage at women and feminism nearly as much as the Gamers and Men’s Rights Activists do. And the Gamers are not as xenophobic as the Anti-Globalist ilk of Alex Jones and Steve Bannon.
Yet the Gamers and the provocative Shitposters will play along and sing the anti-immigrant tunes of the White Supremacists for the sake of their newly found and unified identity. Cvjetanovic did not see himself as a racist on the same level as the KKK, but aligned himself with those who do. We’ve seen this tolerant behavior of persecution before, specifically in 1930s and 1940s Germany.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, not everyone in Nazi Germany supported the Nazi regime equally. Only a small minority shared anti-semitic views when Hitler took power, to the extent that they saw Jews as enemies of the people and a threat to Germany’s survival.
Instead, the majority of Germans, while okay with “abstract” measures taken against Jews, were appalled to witness physical harm against their neighbors - they only later became more tolerant of Nazi anti-semitic persecution during the years of economic improvement. Historians Gerald Feldman and Wolfgang Seibel view the Holocaust as a form of organized mass crime, much like a mob mentality where the many, and young and impressionable, are willing to adopt the more extreme prejudices of the few to belong.
Urgent Call to End the “Alt-Right”
For this reason and others, many are urgently calling for the public and the media to stop using the term “alt-right.” Freelance journalist Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is one of those voices, warning that the American public’s adoption of the seemingly-benign label gives the hate groups legitimacy, while glossing over their hatred. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, she writes:
“After watching the chaotic violence this weekend, it’s clear: It doesn’t matter if perpetrators call themselves neo-Nazi, or white separatist, or European “Identitarian” [...] It matters that we call racism and white supremacy by the terms best understood by our readers and our history. These groups may take up different names and pretend that they are new, novel, or special—but they all unapologetically stoke racial violence and promote white supremacy.”
Stanford professor Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and former National Security Council special assistant to President Obama, pleaded on Twitter for the media to not use the hate groups’ chosen euphemism, arguing it was meant to disguise who they really are: “Pundits, please stop dignifying racists, fascists & white supremacists by calling them what they want to be called -- ‘alt-right.’”
Mohajer, McFaul and others urge a fight against the normalization of extreme hatred and white supremacist-owned rebranding. Instead, they call us to identify the many hate groups individually, dividing them, and calling them by their true names: white supremacists, white nationalists, extremists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis, terrorists, and so on.
The alternative is to accept their new inclusive identity, granting them the power and strength that comes with unification. By naming them the alt-right, we are fostering and supporting our own enemy, allowing them further courage to move out of the darkness of anonymity and into the light of public solidarity. In other words, there could be more incidents like Charlottesville in the months and years to come.
Tim Squirrell gives us a glimpse of what that future might look like:
“We’re witnessing the radicalization of young white men through the medium of frog memes. In order to see it, all you need to do is look at the words coming out of their mouths. The alt-right isn’t yet united, but it soon will be.”
You can read Tim’s full analysis of The_Donald HERE.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images