The Specter of the ‘Alt-Right’

Pepe TrumpI’m feeling a bit slimed as I type this post. Assuming you’ve come here in innocence, I hope you can finish the next few paragraphs without the slime’s smearing onto you.

It began, as many instances of sliming do, with curiosity, following Hillary Clinton’s August 25 speech denouncing Donald Trump’s ties to the so-called alt-right movement. Living as I do in a bubble, I had never heard the term alt-right before. In fact, my acquaintance with alt as a prefix was more or less limited to the Alt key on my keyboard, which I never understood in the first place and which has now been replaced by the Option key on my Mac. (I use it for diacritics, though I’m sure it’s useful in other ways.) I had at least understood alt as an abbreviation of alternate or alternative, which made sense in terms of keyboard functioning and also worked for alt-rock, which was a movement seeking independence from mainstream rock ’n’ roll in the 1990s.

But alt-right, Clinton made clear, presents not so much an alternative as an extreme. When I found Slate’s explanation of the movement, I could not believe the sources to which they sent me were truly propounding the views attributed to them. I was wrong.

First, Taki’s Magazine, to which the Slate article sent me to find the origin of the term alternative right (it was used in a headline over the text of the philosopher Paul Gottfried’s address to the H.L. Mencken Club in 2008), seems to expound nativist, misogynist, racist ideology to a fare-thee-well, including headlines like “Feminist Witch Hunts Are Rape” and “L.A.’s Dirty Little Brown Secret” (a doozy that gives a thumbs-up to ethnic cleansing). I got even more curious when I spotted a strange, froglike creature next to the headline “Getting the Alt-Right Wrong.” Since the article itself didn’t explain the green cartoon guy, I had to read further to learn that he was Pepe, originally a mascot on the trolling website 4chan and since co-opted by extreme conservatives as an avatar of their movement. (At the point in Clinton’s speech where she first used the term alt-right, someone shouted out “Pepe!”) That the green Donald Trump image I’ve now picked to accompany this post looks completely creepy to me but is celebrated by some of his ardent supporters should have told me that researching this topic further was not going to make me feel any better.

But I couldn’t help myself. I traveled through the vortex into the even more extreme Radix Journal, where “Hannibal Bateman” (a merging, I assume, of Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman), sitting on a leather couch backgrounded by a gray stone wall that brings man cave to mind, refers to the “emphasis on freedom” in Western democracies as “a negative ideal.” Bateman — er, Richard Spencer, who seems to use Bateman as an alter ego — appears again in an even more alarming video explaining the innocuously titled National Policy Institute. Touting “the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States,” this video reminded me of the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” scene in Cabaret.

To top off my research, on another site to which Slate referred me, I read a lead article titled “Is Black Genocide Right?” Here, I felt certain, I would find satire of the sort proffered by Jonathan Swift in “A Modest Proposal.” Surely, I said to myself as I began reading, like many of Swift’s original readers, the journalist at Slate had mistaken a sendup for a horrifyingly sincere proposal.

But no. Apparently the answer to the question in the headline is “Maybe. In fact, probably. Yeah. Probably, black genocide is practically, morally, ethically right.”

I warned you. Slimed.

There are other terms, many as seemingly innocuous as alternative, associated with the alt-right movement. Triple parentheses, for example. You might think those are just keyboard-gone-wild punctuation, the way quadruple exclamation points have taken over the texting world. You’d be wrong. The alt-right uses those “cute-hug” parentheses to visually represent the cartoonish “echo” assigned to Jewish surnames on a podcast called The Daily Shoah. To distance yourself from Jewishness and establish your alt-right credentials, you can reverse the parentheses, as in )))Lana Lokteff(((, one of whose tweets claimed there were “zero gassings” during the Holocaust.

It’s all stupid, right? All slime, like the secret handshakes and gross mascots adopted by those creepy neighborhood gangs made up of insecure boys who bolstered their egos by ganging up on the kid with the eye patch. Yes, some of those boys have major funding now, and megaphones for their dog whistles. But they are not an alternative, and if we keep at it, we can ghostbust their slime. Maybe even put it to use. Like that other stuff, you know, that you use for fertilizer.



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