Academic scholarship on the Alt-Right is much smaller than journalistic prose. That said, the last several years have seen an upsurge in scholarly writing on this contemporary phenomenon. To date, academic press has published only two books on the Alt-Right. In 2017, Making Sense of the Alt-Right, examines the movement’s origins, ideology, goals and role in Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential election victory on 8 November 2016. Using exclusive interviews with leading protagonists and a dissection of the movement’s most influential texts, George Hawley explains the Alt-Right’s uniqueness; especially how it differs from traditional White nationalism and libertarianism, as well as its rejection of American Conservatism.Most recently, Alt-America – The Rise of the Radical in the Age of Trumpinvestigates the ‘remarkable’ resurgence of right-wing extremist in the US, eclipsing anything inspired by Islamist or other ideologies in the country.
However, due to the extraordinary speed of events in US politics over the last year, sections of Hawley’s excellent monograph are already passé. For example, the strong adherent of Trump, Steve Bannon, often believed to be the mastermind behind the business mogul’s election victory, left the White House in August 2017. Furthermore, the horrific events at Charlottesville that month lead to the death of one anti-fascist protester and 19 others hospitalised. The Alt-Right was at the forefront of the violence. Therefore, Hawley’s concluding assertion that, at the time of writing, the Alt-Right ‘cannot be classified as a violent movement’ is now clearly not the case. In fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the most well-respected organisations dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, released a report in February 2018, claiming that over a hundred people have been murdered or injured by adherents of the Alt-Right since 2014.
Besides the two aforementionedbooks and, a (growing) collection of scholarly writings have been appearing on the Alt-Right. One of the earliest examples is an extensive report by Matthew Lyons. Lyons rejects the notion, common amongst its critics, that ‘Alt-right’ is simply a ‘deceptive code-phrase meant to hide the movement’s White supremacist or neonazi politics’. Instead, he claims, that the movement is unique as it ‘combines White nationalism, misogyny, antisemitism, and authoritarianism in various forms and in political styles ranging from intellectual argument to violent invective. White nationalism constitutes the movement’s center of gravity, but some Alt Rightists are more focused on reasserting male dominance or other forms of elitism rather than race.’
Lyons delves deep into the world of the Alt-Right. He investigates the movement’s ideological roots, suggesting that two intellectual currents explain the shaping of the early Alt-Right: ‘paleoconservatism’ and the European New Right. Lyons argues that recent radical right literature from a variety of right-wing adherents has moulded the movement into the concept it is today. The original AlternativeRight.com magazine, for example, significantly contributed to the Alt-Rights obsession with White nationalism. Likewise, a series of columnists’ have been influential in perpetrating both men and white Caucasians as victims. The Alt-Right is determined to reverse this alleged trend. The majority of these racist commentators consider Jews to be a major cause of this ‘problem’, given their supposed influence on left-wing groups. According to Lyons, Alt Rightists continue to promote these ideas in different ways, with some taking a more moderate approach while others prefer belligerent rhetoric.
By contrast, Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily focus on activist profiling. In ‘A Psychological Profile of the Alt-Right’, Forscher and Kteily surveyed 447 Alt-Right adherents via a ‘battery of psychological measures’. They then compared these responses to those of 382 non-adherents, concluding that ‘alt-right supporters may separate into two subgroups: one more populist and anti-establishment and the other more [White] supremacist and motivated by maintaining social hierarchy’.In a similar study of Alt-Right supports, Hanna Bergman explores the attraction of white men to the movement. According to her, the Alt-Right promotes a sense of ‘male entitlement’ which, in turn, is ‘easily radicalized and connected to white nationalism and white supremacy.’ By attacking feminism and liberalism, the movement has ‘created a culture of vitriolic defensiveness among young white males, which aims to establish a common belief in white male victimhood’. This leads her to posit that the Alt-Right’s existence, in part, is due to a ‘rejection of the accomplishments of feminism’. This view unites a collective of men who ‘view the subordination of women as both part of a functional society and a stepping stone to a larger movement: one steeped in fascist ideology and willing to openly champion a politics of hate and violence.’
Considering its predominance in online activism, much scholarly attention has been unsurprisingly directed toward the Alt-Right’s web-based activities. A prominent example here is Andrew Jakubowicz’s article, which focuses on how the movement’s uncouth aggressiveness and hatred is used across social media platforms.Similarly, Savvas Zannettou et. al. have analysed an alternative online platform to Twitter called GAB – which they see as a radical right friendly network – concluding that ‘Gab is predominantly used for the dissemination and discussion of news and world events, and that it attracts alt-right users, conspiracy theorists, and other trolls’.With respect to social media, Andrew Wilson explains how “hashtag activism”, particularly that used by the Alt-Right, has explicitly drawn upon historical conspiracy theories.More specifically, Timothy Luke has examined the ‘Triumph of the Tweet’ in relation to White Power music and the Alt-Right.
Finally, Niko Heikkilä and Nancy Love’s respective articles investigate the Alt-Right’s relationship with Donald Trump. ‘Online Antagonism of the Alt-Right in the 2016 Election’ explores how the Alt-Right’s use of the internet influenced the 2016 US Presidential Election. According to Heikkilä, the movement’s visual and rhetorical efforts, such as the use of social media and Internet memes, attracted voters to Trump.‘Back to the Future: Trendy Fascism, the Trump Effect, and the Alt-Right’ suggests that Trump’s victory, aided by the Alt-Right, has reenergised the White Power music scene, with the Alt-Right “set[ting] its sights on remaking culture consolidating around and promoting a music scene it can call its own.’
A last instance, which could be taken from several different sources, is representative of the way in which many left of centre academics openly attack the Alt-Right. In her anthropological research on the movement, Luzilda Carrillo-Arciniega essentially provides a rallying cry against ‘white ethno-nationalist sentiment’. Referencing the Alt-Right, she calls on ‘scholars, educators, and diversity practitioners […] to draw a line in the sand: heteronormative whiteness is based on its supremacy and de-humanization of others, and is unacceptable.’ She argues that ‘while identity politics is a means to achieve equity and dignity, [it] is not an end-goal in-and-of-itself. Rather, we must continue to deconstruct and destroy the very real, but very socially constructed categories of race, and in the process denounce whiteness as illegitimate.’However, scholars must consider that such explicit activism runs the risk of distorting its subject matter.
Mr Rob May is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR, and Doctoral candidate at the Department of History at Sheffield Hallam University. See his profile here.
© Rob May. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).