While the “alt-right” has most likely forever been hijacked by egotistical white supremacists, the broader and more moderate force that elected President Donald Trump has a chance to move on, survive, and thrive under a new name.
For the first time since the election of Donald Trump, the name “alt-right” has arisen once again as a major topic of discussion in the political sphere. Some say it is simply a movement to defend Western Civilization and its flagship, the United States. Others say it is simply white supremacists who seek an authoritarian ethno-state. Others say it is a sort of modified PaleoConservatism. Some names thrown around are Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos, Jared Taylor, Paul Joseph Watson, Baked Alaska, Mike Cernovich, and on and on. But most people simply don’t have a clue.
And the truth is, it’s not any one of these things in particular. Dismissing the alt-right as just a fringe movement, a freak occurrence that will go away soon, is foolish. Trying to tie it to any one or more well-known names floating around, from the genuine white supremacists to the more legitimate thinkers, is useless. Attempting to explain it using most of the conventionally-used facts you may hear in the media is almost impossible.
But what if it’s a little bit of everything I just said? What if I said that there are genuinely good and useful thinkers in the alt-right, just as much as there are white supremacists? What if I told you that the origins of the alt-right are not what you will hear from its supporters or its critics? What if I told you that, for a while, the alt-right actually had huge potential to be a positive force for change in American politics? And what if I told you that the broader, more moderate movement behind Trump’s election can still successfully shun the white supremacists and survive through a simple re-branding?
Now before you start calling me a white supremacist or Nazi sympathizer (of which I am neither), just hear me out.
Paul Gottfried and the True Origins of the Alternative Right
First, to even begin to understand any movement, you must always go back to the very beginning of it all; in this case, the moment the name “alternative right” was born. Contrary to the widely-spread belief, it was NOT the white nationalist Richard Spencer who coined the term; it was a Jewish columnist, historian, and former college professor named Paul Edward Gottfried.
The term was first used in a speech that Gottfried gave in 2008 to the H.L. Mencken club, of which he is the president. In the speech, he called for a new “alternative right” to arise in order to combat the dominance of NeoConservatives among the Second New Right, which succeeded the First New Right – founded in the mid-1950’s and which died with Barry Goldwater’s campaign – and thus had been in power since the mid-1960’s. While the First New Right was built upon “Fusionism” – a blend of laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and anti-Communism – the Second New Right shifted the focus away from the economy and anti-Communism to a broader support for American involvement overseas, and a stronger focus on social issues, in order to appeal to the religious right through a sort of Christian Populism.
As a contemporary of men such as Richard Nixon and Pat Buchanan, Gottfried rejects NeoConservatism and identifies as a PaleoConservative (another term that he coined); thus, he was one of many right-leaning thinkers who were effectively “purged” from the New Right, which arose under founding thinkers such as William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and eventually President Reagan. This led to a widespread sense of disillusion among these purged right-wingers, and Gottfried in particular was perpetually frustrated by what he perceived as the NeoCons’ failure to combat the rising welfare state, which gave even more power to not just the government, but especially the bureaucracies.
It is in this vein that Gottfried holds a handful of beliefs, and articulates certain language, that can be seen as a dog whistle for white supremacists. Gottfried denies notions of equality between all human beings, claiming that certain groups are inherently different – from genders, to religions, to nationalities. He believes that any government efforts to force equality – via the welfare state or other means – are fundamentally flawed, and only serve to increase the government’s power while perpetuating a grand lie of ultimate equality one day becoming achievable.
Despite this, Gottfried has unequivocally denounced white supremacists; as a Jewish man whose family escaped the Nazis in Hungary in the 1930’s, he has stated that he never wants to be aligned with white supremacists, and he does not envision them as members of the alternative right. He did have a past affiliation with Richard Spencer, and is understood by both men to be Spencer’s mentor of sorts. While he has given some praise in the past for Spencer’s ability to combat the left, and its concepts of social justice and political correctness, he has since disavowed Spencer over his white supremacist viewpoints.
But while Gottfried proves that white supremacy was not at the heart of the alternative right’s foundation, it was his ambiguity that allowed them to rise in the movement. Gottfried here essentially committed an act of what I like to call “Marxian Ambiguity:” Like Marx, he did not lay out a specific plan for eventually creating his grand new movement; he did not state any specific philosophy or set of ideas that would define the alternative right, and thus left it as an open-ended question. But the fundamental purpose of this hypothetical new movement – whatever it would later define itself as – was to eventually replace the dominant ideology of the American Right at the time, NeoConservatism, just as Marx’s undefined vision of Communism was to eventually displace Capitalism. He essentially laid out the concept of the movement not by exact tenets, beliefs, or stances, but rather, by what it would eventually accomplish. As the Jewish magazine “Tablet” summarizes: “There is a shearing, centrifugal force to Gottfried’s intellect. It splits the center and flings ideas out; they land where they will.”
Thus, this “first come, first served” vacuum was simply waiting for the most powerful idea to jump in and define the new “alternative right,” though it would take an opportunistic individual to do so. Enter Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who, in the style of most white nationalists being obscenely self-righteous and having delusions of grandeur, believed that his brand of white nationalism was the wave of the future that would replace mainstream conservatism. As Gottfried’s intellectual pupil at the time, he quickly jumped on the phrase “alternative right” and created the first website to use the name – “AlternativeRight.com” – in the year 2010, with which he would espouse his white nationalist and racialist views. Shortly after, Spencer made his miniscule contribution to the semantics of this new movement, when he shortened the original phrase to its now-infamous version: Alt-right. From this point on, in the most consistent trait of his massive ego, Spencer has repeatedly – and falsely – declared that he created the term “alternative right.”
But naturally, as an open white supremacist, Spencer was not even dismissed at the time – he wasn’t famous enough to be, for he was simply a nobody with no chance of ever gaining any sizeable influence in American politics.
While the First New Right was built upon “Fusionism” – a blend of laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and anti-Communism – the Second New Right shifted the focus away from the economy and anti-Communism to a broader support for American involvement overseas, and a stronger focus on social issues, in order to appeal to the religious right through a sort of Christian Populism.
The Alternative Right in 2016
Thus, Gottfried’s envisioned alternative right would remain dormant for several more years. Although some movements arose that may have come close to satisfying Gottfried’s dream of displacing the NeoCon power structure, it never came to pass. The closest was undoubtedly the Tea Party movement, which shifted the focus primarily to economics and opposition to big government, and ultimately led two of the largest Congressional landslides in history in 2010 and 2014. But this movement was not capable of garnering the support needed to win on the national level, as evident by Mitt Romney’s loss.
Then Donald Trump came onto the scene. As has widely been noted, Trump defied all conventional political wisdom – both in the Republican Party and in general – to earn the ire of both parties before winning the presidency in a historic victory. As I noted in a previous piece, Trumpism is a unique blend of the very same PaleoConservatism that defined men such as Gottfried and Buchanan, with a handful of libertarian stances in regards to social issues. Like a PaleoCon, Trump maintains a hardline stance on immigration and a largely non-interventionist foreign policy, though not completely isolationist like libertarians. At the same time, while still honoring conservative social stances such as being pro-Free Speech, pro-Second Amendment, and pro-life, Trump also moderated the party’s hardline social conservatism back to the center on such issues as the Drug War and gay marriage, among others. He also brought the issue of immigration to the forefront with his hardline stance, as well as his support of economic protectionism in opposition to free trade, something that had once been supported by the likes of Lincoln, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt, but had fallen out of favor with the rise of the New Right.
His subsequent rise in popularity, even before he won the nomination or the general election, emboldened a new wave of followers that would share his views, led by a handful of previously-unknown independent commentators. This ultimately led to the alternative right at its peak, as it was most widely understood in 2016. Not white supremacists, but instead a number of individuals who would meet most of the following criteria:
- Opposed to mainstream conservatism, believing it had failed to recruit youth, effectively win elections, and win the culture war;
- PaleoConservative on the major issues of immigration and trade, favoring stronger border security and protectionist policies in the name of national sovereignty, preservation of culture, and economic nationalism;
- Libertarian on social issues, while still maintaining more conservative stances on such matters as guns, religious liberty, freedom of speech, and abortion;
- Firmly in the middle on foreign policy, asserting American dominance and rejecting isolationism, while also rejecting the NeoCons’ hawkish approach to such areas as the Middle East;
- Political incorrectness, for the purpose of most effectively and simply conveying their viewpoints while also attacking the rabid language policing of the left;
- Extreme American patriotism and nationalism, sometimes in conjunction with a similar pride in Western Civilization and its core values as a whole;
- Populist rhetoric that involves railing against the current establishment, consisting mostly of media elites and the political class;
- And an affinity for alternative media, from social media such as Twitter and YouTube to start-up websites, in order to counter the influence of the mainstream media and spread their message, particularly to the youth via the rising influence of the Internet.
This brand of the alternative right included the more famous names that still remain in the mainstream to some degree: Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Stefan Molyneux, Mike Cernovich, Gavin McInnes, and Lauren Southern, among others. These individuals perpetuated what was promising to be the fulfillment of Gottfried’s vision of the alternative right, and thus, it was only a natural result that this new movement would eventually find itself picking up the mantra of the alternative right. But in this modern era of social media and shorter, sweeter messages with their 140-character limits, the name “alt-right” stuck better than the full version, perhaps also due to its possible interpretation as a double-entendre; not only did “alt” represent a shortened version of “alternative,” but it could also allude to the computer key “alt,” thus referencing the strong influence of the Internet in the rise of this new movement.
Thus, the “alt-right” was now defined by these individuals and this general set of ideas. This is what Steve Bannon was talking about when he described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right.” These individuals took the political world by storm and galvanized young voters in particular, emphasizing the importance of how American culture itself was at stake in the election. From Breitbart, to Yiannopoulos’ college speeches energizing an increasingly politically-incorrect young base, to Cernovich’s campaign efforts with the “get-out-the-vote” organization MAGA3X, these individuals undoubtedly played a key role in shaping this new alternative right. They ensured it would have a sizeable voice in the political sphere even when the media would not allow them to, set up an effective blockade against the onward march of the cultural Marxists, and ultimately helped Donald Trump win the presidency.
And best of all, these policy positions and common traits were, all around, acceptable and non-controversial. This alternative right was NOT defined by white supremacists or any form of racism. It was a legitimate political movement that provided enough tweaks to most other dominant forms of right-wing thought to call itself an original movement, and thus had enormous potential to become an influential force in modern American politics.
The “Alt-Right:” Hijacked by White Supremacists
In the briefest of twilight periods, immediately after Trump’s election on November 8, Gottfried’s vision had been fulfilled. A new alternative right, based primarily in PaleoConservatism and Libertarianism, and thus fundamentally different from the dominant ideology of the NeoCons, had finally replaced them and taken over the Republican Party and the American Right as a whole. Coincidentally enough, this new alt-right did share many of Gottfried’s original PaleoConservative stances, with some modifications. Gottfried himself even singled out Yiannopoulos as his favorite alt-right figure, effectively designating him as the new intellectual leader of the alt-right. In the bigger picture, the alt-right had just elected a political newcomer, defeated one of the most famous names in American politics, and was on track to finally roll back the influence of both the left and the establishment right.
At the heart of this major victory was the media. After decades of an unchallenged monopoly over public influence, and an increasingly left-wing bias all the while, the media’s power was finally facing an existential threat of the highest order. The media’s favorite candidate had lost, and their views were declining, both in the face of their obvious biases and the rise of alt-media. Those in the media-industrial complex knew that they had to fight back against this new movement while it was still in its infancy, and either kill it completely or discredit it and render it untouchable. The former was impossible, so they had to go for the second option.
This is where Richard Spencer and his ilk come back into the picture. Besides Spencer himself, there are others such as Jared Taylor, David Duke, and Anthime Gionet (better known as “Baked Alaska”), among others. While some such as Taylor and Duke had been established white supremacists for years prior to 2016, these individuals were mostly off the political radar prior to Trump’s election. This is largely due to the fact that none of these individuals played a role in getting Trump elected, certainly not to the same degree as men like Yiannopoulos and Cernovich. Baked Alaska in particular, like Spencer, got his fame by piggybacking off of someone else’s success: He first rose to prominence as a member of Yiannopoulos’s original entourage touring college campuses in 2016, before his anti-Semitism created a rift between them. Then he tried to take credit for Cernovich’s efforts as one of the earliest members of MAGA3X, which – just like Spencer – he now claims that he created, before he was removed from that organization as well due to his anti-Semitic views.
Gottfried himself even singled out Yiannopoulos as his favorite alt-right figure, effectively designating him as the new intellectual leader of the alt-right.
But Spencer, having been disavowed by Gottfried and effectively replaced by the likes of Yiannopoulos, felt that he had the most to lose. He was determined to perpetuate his lie that he created the alt-right, and also determined to become famous by any means necessary. His previous tactic, of simply letting his small base of followers troll the larger figures on social media with fabricated claims of seniority – “We were the original alt-right! You didn’t create it!” – was obviously not doing enough. He needed the mainstream media’s attention.
And this led to a deadly combination that killed an entire movement. The first ingredient: A white supremacist who is not afraid to admit to his own racism, as he doesn’t consider it a bad thing. The second ingredient: A desire for fame at any cost, which is commonplace among egomaniacs with delusions of grandeur. The third ingredient: A lie spouted out like a broken record, a false claim of seniority and originality that he will never stop repeating out of his own arrogance. The fourth ingredient: A hysterical and hyper-sensationalized media that is facing death, and determined to escape this death by demonizing its attacker, while still fulfilling its long-standing goal of painting all right-wingers as racist.
This concoction led to Spencer’s now-infamous rally on November 20, when he directly alluded to the Nazis with such language as “Hail Trump,” and led the crowd in rendering the seig heil Nazi salute. With The Atlantic covering the event, it quickly went viral and the media had its fodder. With everyone rushing to cover this up-and-coming white supremacist who happened to support Trump, Spencer had his platform with which to spread his lie that he created the alt-right, and that the alt-right was all about white supremacy. This led to a chain reaction of his colleagues, from Taylor to Baked Alaska, also becoming the faces of the alt-right. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet for the media.
And what truly permitted Spencer to rise to such particular prominence – besides the hysterical media coverage – where other white supremacists had failed was the reactionary nature of the white supremacist wing of the alt-right. The 2016 election was the culmination of the cultural left’s onward march in the name of “multiculturalism;” this included rabid indoctrination on college campuses about such myths as “white privilege,” with very hostile and anti-white undertones, as well as increasingly racialized mainstream movements such as Black Lives Matter. This movement, highlighted by Spencer as well as moderates like Yiannopoulos, led to a rise in recruitment for the genuine white supremacists, appealing to the notion that the white race in America was in danger of being reduced to irrelevance: First through political delegitimization via identity politics and college indoctrination, and then literally replaced by a rise in immigration from third-world countries. This, more than anything else, resulted in the rise of more white supremacists than ever before as a reactionary movement, causing the ideology to rise to its most popular level in modern history despite the negative historical stigma: Right-wing identity politics to combat left-wing identity politics. This solidified Spencer’s base of support, particularly on the Internet, to magnify the perception that this was an increasingly large and influential wing of the movement.
This divide in the movement – Spencer, Taylor, Duke, Baked Alaska, and the other white supremacists vs. Yiannopoulos, Watson, Cernovich, Molyneux, McInnes, Southern, and the other legitimate thinkers – was further exacerbated by Cernovich’s event “DeploraBall,” which took place on the eve of President Trump’s inauguration. Cernovich banned the most radical members from the event, including Spencer, and later Baked Alaska when he repeatedly Tweeted out anti-Semitic comments. This led to a clear divide in the movement, and the two camps became firmly established: The actual racists on one side, calling themselves the “real” alt-right, and the moderates on the other side trying to save the brand. With this, Cernovich declared that the “the lines [were] drawn, and the fracture is more or less complete.”
Thus, the damage was done. The media permanently painted the movement with these lethal colors, and the other more famous names soon found themselves with no choice but to disavow the name “alt-right.” The followers of the white supremacists, emboldened by the new-found national fame, doubled down on their juvenile tactics and “we were here first!” rhetoric by slapping a new derogatory label on the more famous individuals: “Alt-lite.” With this name, they portrayed the more mainstream figures as a diluted, lighter version of what they called the “real” alt-right, further perpetuating the lie of Richard Spencer. Rightfully so, the more famous individuals were determined to reject this label so that they would not be defined in opposition to something else. Cernovich and Watson in particular eventually settled on calling themselves the New Right, even though – as this article has already pointed out – that name is, ironically, anything but new.
And all the while, the name of the man who started all of this – Paul Edward Gottfried – never came up.
Spencer, having been disavowed by Gottfried and effectively replaced by the likes of Yiannopoulos, felt that he had the most to lose.
Where it Stands Now, and Where it Can Go From Here
The split is irreversible now. Through the media’s desperate flailings in what were nearly its dying throes (it has merely prolonged its inevitable collapse now, perhaps by no more than a couple years), it successfully brought down the name of this new movement; “alt-right” is now forever tarnished by white supremacists. And through all of this, the original meaning of the term “alternative right,” as created by Paul Gottfried, has been completely forgotten.
But therein lies the hope for the moderates, the legitimate thinkers, and the genuine patriots who support the President and this new movement, without the stench of racism. Gottfried’s vision has still been fulfilled, since the “alternative right” was simply to describe whatever would topple NeoConservatism. That happened on November 8, 2016. As described earlier, this movement consists of a blend of PaleoConservatism, Libertarianism, populism, and other traits scattered about from a wide variety of different ideologies and schools of thought. This movement even has global implications, as seen in the parallel rises of populist figures in Europe and around the world – from Nigel Farage and Brexit in the United Kingdom, to Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, to Narendra Modi in India – a movement that I like to call “National Populism,” or “NatPop” for short.
In the United States alone, this movement was capable of an upset electoral victory that few thought possible, where Trump not only won the biggest Republican victory since 1988, but did so by flipping three previously deep-blue states, with his appeal to Democratic voters on such issues as trade and infrastructure. This movement nearly toppled the mainstream media, and launched a whole new industry of alternative media with a unique and long-reaching influence among young voters in particular. It is this blend of ideas, and this group of supporters in alternative media, that promise to carry on this new movement into 2018 and 2020, without the mantra of the “alt-right,” and certainly without the idiots, egomaniacs, and compulsive liars that are the white supremacists.
The question now, of course, becomes: What to call it?
There are many names that are thrown around. Some of them are already established for other, smaller movements, such as PaleoLibertarianism (Hans Herman Hoppe, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell) and Conservatarianism (Rand Paul, Austin Petersen, and Charles C.W. Cooke).
Other, newer names include Trumpism – which speaks for itself – although this name would be a mistake; not only is it unoriginal to name an ideology after a particular person, but it limits itself to a certain mortality since it ties the entire movement to one man, who will eventually leave the office one day. As mentioned, some have suggested simply calling this new movement the Third New Right, although this name is easily the weakest in terms of originality and impact. It is also a fundamental oxymoron, seeing as how this movement arose as a replacement for the Second New Right – to take the same name as the movement you just replaced is obviously a questionable move.
I myself have tried to coin a new term for this movement. I first thought of NeoPaleoConservative, although this term is obviously rather redundant, unoriginal, and quite a mouthful – even the shortened version, “NeoPaleoCon,” just doesn’t have the same effect as just “PaleoCon” (or “NeoCon,” for that matter).
What finally occurred to me was instead a mixture of trying to replace the New Right, and the popular recurrence of “Neo” in the names of many political movements (from NeoCon to NeoPaleoCon, among many other uses such as NeoLiberal).
Thus, I hereby propose that we instead call this new movement: The Neo-Right. It conveys both being new and being modern, replacing the New Right without fully adopting its name word-for-word. It combines tenets of a wide variety of sects from the American Right that ultimately created a very promising coalition, with an effective strategy for distribution and growth. And most importantly of all, it sheds the stigma of the “Alt-right” rather than wasting time fighting over control of that name. Let the white supremacists have “Alt-right.” We have a chance to start over and carry on to greater victory, and its name is the “Neo-Right.”