What is the alt-right? Here's what you need to know about the new face of American racism


On Thursday afternoon, Hillary Clinton is expected to give a speech linking Donald Trump's campaign to a political movement that's been lurking in the shadows of modern American society for years, fomenting largely unchecked. It's a movement whose name is little known, but whose actions are widely felt. 

This far-right phenomenon calls itself the "alt-right" — and Trump owes its members a great deal of gratitude for his unprecedented popularity.

So what is the alt-right?

The alt-right doesn't have leaders, meetings, factions or chapters. By just about every definition, it's a group that's hardly a group at all. Rather, the "alt-right" is an umbrella term encompassing largely disparate ideologies on the former margins of the political spectrum. It's a relatively new movement captained by the erstwhile extreme-right fringe of conservative America.

Its main mission? To reshape all of American conservatism in its white supremacist, misogynist and authoritarian image.

What does the alt-right believe?

There's no alt-right manifesto, no one definitive screed buried deep in the conservative internet imploring straight white men to seize the means of production. Beyond figureheads like Donald Trump, the alt-right doesn't even have electoral leaders. 

Instead, it's bound together by common enemies: Women, minorities, immigrants and national institutions that, by their worldview, threaten the freedom of white men with the toxic sword of political correctness.

In its eyes, the straight white man is actually the victim, the ultimate oppressed class in Western society. It believes the world is actually run by women who use sex and victimhood to gain influence, minorities who live fat off the tax dollars of white people, a corrupt media that advances a poisonous progressive agenda and wealthy Jews who control everything from the shadows.

Alt-righters call waking up to this inconvenient truth "red pilling." Visiting an online hub for the alt-right and asking to be "red pilled" on some particular subject is, in essence, requesting that someone initiate you into their conspiracy theory.

But often, a red-pilling can happen to you whether you like it or not. When the alt-right wants to spread its message of hate and destroy its opponents all in one fell swoop, its members use Twitter trolling and radical, racist memes — aiming to "red pill" as many as they can before it's too late. 

How does the alt-right feel about mainstream conservatives?

Beyond conquering and deriding them, the alt-right sees no use for mainstream conservatives. It uses terms like "cuck" and "cuckservative" to deride their counterparts in the mainstream as "race traitors" and beta males. To the alt-right, mainstream conservatives are ineffective, weak, and bought out by corporate interests who are too afraid by the boogeyman of political correctness to be as racist as they need to be to keep America safe.

In the same way that many Bernie Sanders supporters and leftists believe that their politics are more centrally liberal than the Democratic Party establishments, many under the alt-right umbrella believe that they are a silent majority or hidden mainstream, waiting to be activated as a dominant ideology in American conservatism.

Isn't this just the same old KKK or skinhead logic?

Not to the alt-right. The alt-right sees one primary difference between themselves and the white supremacists of yesteryear: intellectuality.

"Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred," wrote Yiannopoulos and his coauthor in their own explainer of the alt-right. "The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the left hates them so much. They're dangerously bright."

A longer look at the history of right-wing extremist thought shows that there's a long conservative history of claiming that "white values" are at the core of American exceptionalism, and that racial superiority is a scientifically-founded principle. 

Race science, of course, is a widely discredited field of political pseudoscience.

"There is absolutely no difference between the intellectualism of the alt-right and the historical racist intellectuals like Jared Taylor and Sam Francis, who cover their hatred with ivory tower respectability," said Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Why is the alt-right happening now?

The answer has been staring all of us on the face since last summer: Donald Trump. Racists who feel as though they've been unable to speak up for decades feel newly emboldened by a candidate who can say out loud all the bigoted opinions they never felt comfortable sharing for fear of being ostracized for their political incorrectness.

But the movement is also a reaction to the last decade in progressive media, in which conversations about race and gender dominate the internet news cycle, and the digital revolution has given rise to movements like Black Lives Matter which demand economic and social equality for people who don't fit the white male paradigm.

"White people are being asked — or pushed — to take stock of their whiteness and identify with it more," David Marcus wrote for The Federalist about the unintended consequence of what he calls "anti-white" sentiment. "This is a remarkably bad idea."

Although white supremacists coined the term as early as 2008, the current strain of alt-right thought can be credited to Gamergate, an online mob movement at the venn diagram of gaming culture and misogyny. Gamergate's purpose was to expose the allegedly toxic influence of third-wave feminism on gaming media.

This anti-feminist sentiment quickly became a massive backlash against SJW's — or "social justice warriors" — who, in the eyes of the alt-right, claim to want equality for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community, but are actually an authoritarian force that threatens free speech and wants to destroy modern white men.

When columnists like Yiannopoulos realized there was a captive audience in angst-ridden white men, they expanded these ideals beyond gaming news. Yiannopoulos began touring college campuses to give rallies where he declared that "feminism is cancer" and that his audience of white men were the truly silenced victims of liberalism in the 21st century. 

Every reprisal of Yiannopoulos and his online hate mob became further evidence that there was a reactionary conspiracy to silence their movement.


But no one legitimized the playfully racist and xenophobic ethos of the alt-right more than Donald Trump. Gamergate's organizing hubs have been quickly eclipsed by Reddit's Trump forum /r/The_Donald, where the alt-right piles in by the tens of thousands each day to circulate racist memes and baseless conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton's mental capacities.

It's unclear what will happen to the alt-right movement if Trump loses the election. It will be left without both without leadership and without a political agenda. The movement could go quiet. The movement could find a new demagogue.

But if American history is any indication, its members won't just disappear. Whether or not they're making noise, or taking part in the national conversation, they're here to stay.