The disturbing truth about Trump and the alt-right: Why white nationalism is here to stay
Donald Trump has decried the proliferation of political correctness in his meteoric rise to the Republican nomination, saying America's problems need a leader willing to unabashedly discuss what ails the nation before anything can be fixed.
That call to defy the norms of political correctness has contributed to the rise of the "alt-right" — a group that bills itself as the alternative to mainstream conservatism by embracing white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views that have historically manifested in hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
While the sentiments of the alt-right have been around for years in dark pockets of the internet, the group has gained legitimacy in 2016 by latching on to Trump himself, whose hard-line views on immigration and trade, as well as his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the United States, align with their own.
The movement has grown prominent enough that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will denounce Trump's ties to alt-right thought during a speech on Thursday.
Their rise has left mainstream conservatives, who say the group threatens to consume the GOP from the inside out, searching for a way to expel the alt-right group from the party.
And GOP operatives say that can happen by exposing them for who they are: white supremacists.
"They're enthno-fascists. The set of values that they espouse are repugnant to conservatism," said Rick Wilson, a Florida Republican strategist and anti-Trump crusader who argues Trump has emboldened the alt-right. "You have to strip them of their anonymity, you have to bust them out, expose them, place them in the spotlight of public shame — because none of them can survive it."
What is the alt-right? It's unclear when exactly the term alt-right, short for "alternative right," was coined.
But conservative pundits say the alt-right as an organized group began to grow in 2008, when "birther" conspiracies about Barack Obama's citizenship and religion cropped up online during Obama's first presidential campaign.
Members of the movement are largely white and male, and believe white culture and Western civilization are at risk of being overtaken and pushed aside by minorities and religions such as Islam and Judaism.
In many respects, it's hard to divorce the alt-right movement from the white supremacist movement, given the strong overlap in the ideas they espouse about the white race and the superiority of European culture.
"Calling them the 'alt-right' does obscure the fact to the general public that they are white supremacists, mostly," Marilyn Mayo, a research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, said in an interview. "And getting rid of that term, 'alt-right,' may clarify things for the general public."
Still, the alt-right is more than just white supremacism.
The group also uses misogynistic language, labels white men who they believe have "sold out" their own race with the epithet "cuckservatives," and rallies around isolationist anti-trade and anti-immigration policies.
"It's defined by immigration, trade and vulgarity," said Amanda Carpenter, a prominent conservative pundit and former staffer to Sen. Ted Cruz who has publicly railed against the alt-right.
Still, Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos — two Breitbart reporters and self-proclaimed members of the alt-right — said in a March piece describing the alt-right that the biggest difference between their movement and "racist skinheads" of the white supremacist movement is "intelligence."
"There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads, to whom they are often idiotically compared, but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence," Bokhari and Yiannopoulos wrote in their piece. "Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They're dangerously bright."
How do Republicans hell-bent on eradicating the alt-right defeat it? Republicans who fear the alt-right will cannibalize the GOP, were dealt a blow last week when Trump brought on Steve Bannon to serve as the CEO of his campaign.
Bannon was the chairman of Breitbart, a breeding ground for the alt-right that helped push Trump's candidacy during the crowded Republican primary.
Some conservative pundits say the best way to push the alt-right out of the GOP is to stop calling it the alt-right — which they say makes it seem as if the group's views are at all in line with the right and conservatism as a whole.
"I am not much for the term 'alt-right" because it implies that neo-Nazis somehow become new, different, interesting and edgy when they get a Twitter account and express their support for Donald Trump," Leon H. Wolf, managing editor of the conservative blog RedState, wrote in a post published Sunday. "In reality, it's the same tired old neo-Nazi crap, complete with the cowardly, anonymous intimidation that White Supremacists have been practicing for decades."
And there's precedent for branding campaigns helping Republicans purge racist ideology from their party.
In the 1960s, William F. Buckley Jr., through National Review magazine, helped expel the far-right John Birch Society from mainstream conservatism by branding it as anti-conservative.
Republicans hope a Trump defeat in November will also help drive out the alt-right from their party.
"Without a Cheeto Jesus to lead them, they're lost in the digital wilderness," Wilson said.
But experts say that even if Trump is defeated in November, the alt-right won't fade quietly into the night.
Unlike the 1960s, there is no singular figure who broadly unites conservatives. Instead, the GOP is a fractured party where the so-called "establishment" fights against the self-styled "outsiders."
Similarly, the Internet has led to the rise of new media and a fractured media landscape, which has allowed sites like Breitbart to rise and speak directly to groups like the alt-right that the Republican Party would love to purge.
"Donald Trump has opened up a Pandora's box," Mark Potok, an expert on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in an interview. "These things are not always so easy to get back into the cage. I don't think that this is all leading to a race war, or some kind of conflagration like that, as many people in the Klan would hope. But I do think that these ideas have been re-legitimized, where there are millions of white Americans who are perfectly willing to say and promote inescapably racist ideas."