A rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia this month ended in violence and domestic terrorism, as white nationalist groups clashed with counter-protestors. The Unite the Right rally was intended, as co-promoter Matthew Heimbach explains, to unite the alt-right around the “14 words”: “We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children’—as our primary motivating factor.”
The objectives of the alt-right movement are antithetical to the mission, values, and principles of the Acton Institute and other like-minded groups. Yet the movement is often associated with traditional forms of conservatism and libertarianism even though its supporters frequently rejects issues such as economic freedom and the dignity of all people that we consider foundational.* For this reason, you should know what the alt-right believes and the agenda they work to promote.
Here are five facts you should know about the alt-right:
1. The alt-right—short for “alternative right”—is an umbrella term for a host of disparate nationalist and populist groups associated with the white identity cause/movement. The term brings together white supremacists (e.g., neo-Nazis), religious racialists (e.g., Kinists), neo-pagans (e.g., Heathenry), internet trolls (e.g., 4chan’s /pol/), and others enamored with white identity and racialism. These groups seek to provide an “alternative” to mainstream American conservatism, which they believe is insufficiently concerned about the objectives of white identity, the defining concept that unites the alt-right. “Racial Identity,” said Arthur Kemp in March of the Titans: A History of the White Race, “can be defined as the conscious recognition that one belongs to a specific race, ethnicity, and culture and with that comes certain obligations toward their own welfare.” And the alt-right leader Jared Taylor of American Renaissance defines “white identity” as “a recognition by whites that they have interests in common that must be defended. All other racial groups take this for granted, that it’s necessary to band together along racial lines to work together for common interests.” In this video, Taylor answers the question, “What Is the Alt-Right?”
2. This association of the term alt-right with white identity politics first appeared in December 2008 when Paul Gottfried wrote an article for Taki’s Magazine titled, “The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right.” (The article itself does not use the phrase “alternative right,” and the editor of the magazine at that time, Richard Spencer—the current leading figure in the alt-right—claims to have added the title.) At the time, the “alternative right” was loosely associated with “paleoconservatives” (another term created by Gottfried).
Paleocons were self-identified conservatives who rejected the neo-conservatism of the George W. Bush-era. While the group tended to be anti-globalist and anti-war (especially opposed to the Iraq War) it was not necessarily associated with white identity politics. But in his article Gottfried identified “postpaleos” as a “growing communion “that now includes Takimag, VDARE.com, and other websites that are willing to engage sensitive, timely subjects.” The “sensitive, timely subjects” Gottfried refers to are topics that had previously been the main concern of white identity groups, issues such as non-white immigration (“being physically displaced by the entire Third World”) and “human cognitive capacities” (i.e., the belief that certain racial groups are, in general, intellectually inferior to others). In 2010, Richard Spencer launched a website, AlternativeRight.com, to promote these views. Since then, the term has been associated with the white identity movement.
3. The alt-right is a mostly secular movement that frequently embraces leftist political views (especially on economics) and rejects traditional conservatism. As George Hawley, a University of Alabama professor who has studied the movement, told The Washington Post, “the modal alt-right person is a male, white millennial; probably has a college degree or is in college; is secular and perhaps atheist and [is] not interested in the conservative movement at all.” What puts the movement on the “right” is that it shares, along with conservatism, skepticism of forced egalitarianism. But that’s generally all it shares with mainstream conservatism. In fact, many on the alt-right (such as Spencer) hold views associated with progressivism (e.g., support for abortion and opposition to free-market economics).
The confusion about the movement’s politics lies in thinking that extremist groups are on each “end” of the left-right political spectrum. It is more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.
4. While generally secular, the alt-right sometimes embraces “Christendom” (their version of a white European cultural Christianity) and some (such as Vox Day) claim that Christianity is a “foundational pillar” of the movement. But what they mean by Christianity is often a heretical form (Day rejects the Trinity and doesn’t believe the races are “spiritually” equal) a racialized version of the faith (e.g., the Kinist movement), or “religion as culture” (Spencer says he is both an atheist and a “culture Christian”). The movement is also frequently embraced by neo-pagans.
As alt-right leader Stephen McNallen has said, “I am a pagan because it is the only way I can be true to who, and what, I am. I am a pagan because the best things in our civilization come from pre-Christian Europe.” McNallen says he opposes Christianity because it “lacks any roots in blood or soil” and consequently can “claim the allegiance of all the human race.” The true religion of the alt-right is white identitarianism.
5. The alt-right embraces white identity politics and almost all of them embrace white nationalism. But not everyone on the alt-right embraces white supremacy. White supremacy is the belief that lighter-skinned or “white” racial groups are superior to all other racial groups. Modern advocates of white supremacy (such as the KKK) almost always advocate for white identity, though the reverse is not always true. As alt right leader Vox Day says, “The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.”
White supremacy is also often conflated with white nationalism, the political view that merges nationalism with white identity. White nationalists are racial separatists who believe that to preserve the white race, other racial groups must be excluded or marginalized in “white states” (i.e., countries or regions that have historically had majority-white populations). White nationalists are frequently concerned about miscegenation and non-white immigration because it contributes to what they consider to be “white genocide,” i.e., the replacement of the “white race” by other racial groups.
*Many Christian conservatives and libertarians who do not agree with white identity politics have recently begun to refer to themselves as the “alt-right.” This is a disconcerting trend.
Some who do so simply do not understand the history of the term. They assume it means something akin to “paleoconservative” or is a synonym for “Trump supporter.” They aren’t aware it was chosen several years ago specifically to provide diverse groups who embrace the “14 Words” with a label to rally around. Others have adopted “alt-right” because the media has begun to use the term as a critique of all people on the political right, and so claim it as an act of defiance to the media. A smaller number of people understand what the term means but want to reclaim it for other uses.
But no one who is not a white nationalist, white supremacist, or white identitarian should ever use the label to describe their own views. Here are three reasons why.
First, it delegitimizes conservatives who do not embrace racialism. When decent people align themselves with a label like alt-right it gives the impression such views are considered acceptable within mainstream conservatism.
Second, it legitimizes racist elements within society. If you would not associate yourself with the KKK or neo-Nazis, you should not associate with the alt-right simply because they do not all wear hoods and chant “sieg heil.” (Though they sometimes do.) Conservatives and libertarians should be distancing themselves from fascist movements, not embracing them out of solidarity against the mainstream media.
Third, we can’t take back the term. Whatever legitimate uses the term “alternative right” may have had were destroyed long ago. Eight years ago Richard Spencer—the man who coined the term alt-right—started the website “Alternative Right.” Spencer used the site to flirt with Holocaust denial, promote racist and anti-Semitic views, and to champion the cause of white nationalism. He’s owned the term longer than anyone who now wants to adopt it. Attempting to reclaim the term is about as futile and unnecessary as attempting to reclaim the swastika.
Fourth, at the core of the alt-right movement is idolatry—the idol of “whiteness.” In building their identity on shared genetic traits the alt-right divides humanity and leads people away from the only source of true identity: Jesus Christ. The alt-right is anti-gospel because to embrace white identity requires rejecting the Christian identity. No Christian who loves Jesus should associate themselves with a label that is intended to promote racial separation and hate.
Joe Carter writes for the Acton Institute.