Jeff Blehar had no idea he was about to become a conduit for a virulent political awakening. It was July 2015, and the conservative writer and outspoken critic of freshly minted presidential candidate Donald Trump was being pummeled on Twitter with a profane-sounding political dis: “cuckservative.” The term, which had recently begun appearing on fringe internet forums, was meant to denigrate mainstream Republicans as impotent traitors, in part by evoking a genre of porn that features white men watching their wives have sex with black men.
“I want to congratulate [the] guy who keeps calling me a ‘cuckservative’—you win, dude,” Blehar tweeted sarcastically. “You’re right, and I’m deleting my account out of shame.”
Conservative pundit and Trump critic Erick Erickson soon weighed in, tweeting that he had read about cuckservatism in the white nationalist Radix Journal. Now it was game on for the trolls. A user named “dindu refugee” called Erickson “a cuckservative if I’ve ever seen one.” Paul Kersey, creator of the racist blog Stuff That Black People Don’t Like, taunted Erickson about previously living in Macon, Georgia: “Now it’s a black hellhole which you won’t dare mention. #Cuckservative.”
Explainers soon appeared in The New Republic, BuzzFeed, and the Washington Post, ushering the insult into the broader political lexicon. National Review‘s David French complained of being brutally trolled with “cuckservative” taunts for having adopted a child from Ethiopia. Glenn Beck lamented, “It is everywhere now.”
The attacks may have seemed like just a fleeting, perverse twist on RINO (“Republican in name only”), but in fact they were something far more ominous—the stirrings of a loosely knit extremist movement soon more widely known as the “alt-right.” Thanks to Trump’s demagogic campaign—throughout which he would circulate bigoted memes to his millions of Twitter followers—the alt-right now had an opportunity to inject racism, misogyny, and xenophobia into mainstream American politics. Provocative but obscure online rhetoric was quickly morphing into something more serious and powerful: the normalization of the politics of hate.
It never would have happened without Trump acting as troll in chief. Already admired by extremists for his ongoing birther crusade against President Barack Obama, Trump riveted their attention when he announced his White House run and vowed to build a border wall to keep out Mexican criminals and “rapists.” That soon earned him praise from a who’s who of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and militia supporters.
“I urge all readers of this site to do whatever they can to make Donald Trump President,” wrote Andrew Anglin, publisher of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer.
“Stunning,” raved Peter Brimelow, editor of the anti-immigrant site VDare.com.
Trump “may be the last hope for a president who would be good for white people,” remarked Jared Taylor, who runs a “race realist” site called American Renaissance and once founded a think tank that became notorious for declaring that blacks are “more dangerous” than whites.
Normally a candidate for the US presidency would denounce such figures. Instead, Trump retweeted bigoted accounts and memes, including an image of himself as Pepe the Frog, a cartoon character the alt-right commandeered as its mascot. These “gaffes” by Trump, as they were often characterized in media coverage—including his retweets of user @WhiteGenocideTM, phony statistics on black crime, and an anti-Semitic image featuring a Star of David and a pile of cash used to smear Hillary Clinton—were seen by the fringe right as an invitation to push deeper into the mainstream. With the exception of Ku Klux Klan figurehead David Duke and a white nationalist super-PAC, Trump did not personally disavow any among the horde of extremists who thrilled to him. On CNN, he even sympathized with white nationalists: “They’re angry at the border, they’re angry at the crime.” In effect, he sprinkled his path to the presidency with a kind of far-right rhetoric that for decades had been unthinkable in national politics.
The media engine of this phenomenon is Breitbart News, which chairman Stephen Bannon—now Trump’s chief White House strategist—famously described to Mother Jones as “the platform for the alt-right.” After Bannon took over Breitbart in 2012, traffic swelled, reaching 19 million monthly visitors at the height of the presidential election, according to data from comScore. Content from even more extreme sites such as The Right Stuff and the Daily Stormer has also found greater purchase: One study showed that the number of followers of white nationalist Twitter accounts has grown by 600 percent over the past four years. Among 10,000 Trump supporters sampled by an analytics firm in October, more than a third followed at least one white nationalist Twitter account.
Some far-right figures see a burgeoning online presence as key to moving the “Overton window”—changing the range of acceptable rhetoric and behavior by pushing its edges out to greater extremes. It’s a fancy way of saying that what was once aberrant is now considered normal. “If you want to radically shift the Overton window, you need that far-right flank,” says white nationalist Richard Spencer, who is widely credited with helping launch the alt-right. “Trump has been declared a deplorable racist, and [yet] he won,” Spencer says. “So the whole PC game of ‘we can call you the R-word [Racist] and you will vaporize,’ that game has been shattered.”
After Trump’s surprising win, Spencer pounced. On Saturday, at a gathering hosted by his “identitarian” National Policy Institute in Washington, DC, he gave a speech steeped in anti-Semitism: “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” he proclaimed, after telling the roughly 200 attendees that America is “a white country designed for ourselves…and it belongs to us.” He was met with enthusiastic cheers and Nazi salutes. At one point in the speech, captured by a videographer for The Atlantic, Spencer went off on the mainstream media—”or perhaps we should refer to them in the original German: Lugenpresse,” he said with a smile, using the term the Nazis deployed against their media critics. “It’s not just that they are leftists and cucks, it’s not just that many are genuinely stupid. Indeed, one wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem.”
How extremists who champion Trump may interact with his administration remains an open question. (On Monday, a spokesman for Trump’s transition team did not specifically comment about the uproar over Spencer’s event but said that Trump “has continued to denounce racism of any kind” and “will be a leader for every American.”) Trump’s inner circle, however, includes people who have courted extremists. In less than four months, Bannon went from Breitbart executive to Trump’s campaign CEO and then his chief strategist, effectively giving the bigots of the alt-right direct access to the Oval Office. Trump’s transition team and early Cabinet appointments included Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, a hardliner on civil rights who is Trump’s choice for US attorney general; Lt. General Michael Flynn, a vocal Islamophobe tapped to be Trump’s national security adviser; and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is best known as the co-author of a notorious anti-immigration law.*
Although Trump occasionally rejected bigotry in general terms during the campaign, white nationalists and other alt-right figures now see themselves as lodestars for Trumpian nationalism. “We are going to be powerful—not as a cheerleading section, but as a vanguard,” Spencer says, “and as a critical force that is pushing him in the right direction.”
For years, America’s far right admired Europe’s ethno-nationalists, who have capitalized on economic anxiety and xenophobia to win electoral support. Now the alt-right in America appears to have “won the brass ring,” says Lawrence Rosenthal, chair of the University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies. “Trump not only won the support of these people, but he kind of institutionalized them.”
Racism as a tactic is nothing new to the modern Republican Party, dating back to Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy, which appealed to white voters embittered by the civil rights movement. Yet mainstream conservatism mostly kept bigotry in the shadows until 2009, when the inauguration of the nation’s first black president prompted the tea partiers to paint Obama as un-American. But it was Trump who opened the floodgates and rode the ugly tide all the way to the White House.
“When you’ve got a guy like Bannon who runs a website with a big section called ‘Black Crime,’ you’ve got to ask yourself, is this a guy who is going to be giving advice?” says veteran GOP strategist Rick Wilson, a fierce Trump critic. “As my grandmother used to say, ‘When you’ve got a turd in the punch bowl, you don’t have punch anymore—you’ve got water with a turd in it.'” President-elect Trump, he adds, “has never sufficiently and consistently come out and said, ‘Not only do I not accept the premise of the alt-right, but I believe they are more dangerous to this country than any Muslim terrorist.'”
The outpouring of hate following Trump’s victory began before he’d even finished his speech on election night, when someone in the audience yelled, “Hang Obama!” Reports of racist attacks and graffiti spread across the country in the following days, including assaults on hijab-wearing women, bullying of immigrant children, and accounts of Trump supporters on high school and college campuses yelling “white power” or spitting at people of color.
With Bannon’s White House appointment, Trump’s connection to the far right finally got a burst of mainstream media coverage. But there still has been very little exploration of how broad-based the so-called alt-right is, what it aims for, and where it’s headed. What follows is a look at the main elements of this disparate but ascendant movement.
If Breitbart News is the platform for the alt-right, as Bannon says, until recently it fulfilled that role mostly on the sly. Essentially, the outlet occupies a space to the right of Fox News while being careful not to cross the line into overt hate speech.
“There are racists in the alt-right, but the movement is much bigger than just them,” wrote Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart‘s tech editor. (The same line is also toed by Bannon, who has described the alt-right as “nationalist” but not “white nationalist.”) An openly gay, thirtysomething Brit who sports aviator sunglasses and bleached hair, Yiannopoulos has emerged as the movement’s flashiest ambassador. In TV appearances, his “Dangerous Faggot” college tour, and his own writings, he has sought to cast far-right extremism as a natural backlash against political correctness. He describes white males as victims of reverse discrimination and talks euphemistically of defending “Western values.” (Spencer, a self-described “racialist” who advocates a white ethno-state, dubs the Breitbart crew “alt-light.”)
“At the moment, we have identity politics for everyone except white men,” Yiannopoulos wrote this fall, reiterating a speech he gave at the University of Houston. “If you advocate for men’s issues, The Guardian will call you a misogynist and a sexist. If you advocate for whites, The Guardian and National Review and everyone else will call you a racist. Meanwhile, other groups—women, gays, blacks, Muslims—are not only allowed to advocate for their group’s interests, but allowed to be openly racist and sexist towards white men.”
Still, Breitbart is no stranger to using racist and sexist signals, like when it featured a picture of Harambe the gorilla to illustrate a story about Obama and birtherism. Headlines on the site have included “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” which ran shortly after white supremacist Dylann Roof massacred black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.
Breitbart‘s embrace of bigotry has drawn rebuke from insiders. “Andrew Breitbart despised racism,” declared former editor-at-large Ben Shapiro, who broke with the site last March. “He insisted that racial stories be treated with special care to avoid even the whiff of racism,” Shapiro claimed. “With Bannon embracing Trump, all that changed.”
In a sense, the president-elect now has an in-house media mogul. “Bannon has really developed the art of the interface between the alt-right and the mainstream media,” says UC-Berkeley’s Rosenthal. “There’s a direct line between these things you find being discussed on the alt-right—they get picked up by Breitbart, they get picked up by Drudge; they leap from there to Fox, and from there to, ‘Well, I guess we have to discuss this now in the mainstream media.'”
Rick Wilson wonders how a Trump administration might handle a crisis like Ferguson with an alt-right torchbearer like Bannon at Trump’s side. “You might end up with [a situation] that could be very consequential for race relations,” says the GOP strategist. “There has been a tone set and a culture encouraged by these people, and without aggressive presidential leadership in the other direction it could really haunt us as a country.”
When Clinton declared in a campaign speech that “the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right” had “effectively taken over the Republican Party,” Richard Spencer could hardly believe his good fortune. Suddenly his inbox was flooded with interview requests from political reporters seeking out the movement’s leading ideologue; in a hasty Skype call with Michelle Goldberg of Slate—a Jew, he figured, but “it’s hard not to be” in the media—he confidently asserted that he’d “made it.”
A Duke Ph.D. dropout with a “fashy” (as in “fascism”) haircut—long on top, buzzed on the sides—Spencer tries to give overt racism a veneer of radical chic. You could call him the alt-right’s outlaw version of William F. Buckley, if Buckley had been into shitlords (an honorific) and dank memes. Like an older generation of “academic racists”—or “racialists,” as he prefers to put it—Spencer seeks to professionalize a movement long associated with Nazis and the KKK. He generally eschews racial slurs and threats of violence in favor of collegial discussions about genetics and multiculturalism. Spencer ultimately hopes America’s nonwhites can be made to agree that returning to the lands of their ancestors would be best for everyone: “It’s like presenting to an African that this hasn’t worked out,” he told me when I visited him this fall at his home in Whitefish, Montana. “We haven’t made each other happier. We are going to have to take part in this paradigmatic shift together.”
Soon after the Clinton speech, Spencer shared a celebratory dinner in Washington, DC, with far-right figures including Jared Taylor, dubbed a “coat-and-tie racist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Peter Brimelow, the founder of the anti-immigration website VDare. Amid the many rounds of toasts, someone recalled a scene from the movie Captain Phillips in which a Somali pirate wielding an assault rifle barges onto the bridge of Tom Hanks’ cargo ship. “Look at me! Look at me!” says the wild-eyed pirate. “I’m the captain now!”
Spencer and his companions started riffing: “Look at me! Look at me! I’m the GOP now! I’m conservatism now! I’m establishment now!”
By the time Trump secured the presidency, Spencer was already thinking about how his movement would use the victory to supplant traditional conservatism. “We’re in a very similar position to the left, the academic or far left that was a vanguard to the Barack Obama movement,” he told me on the night of the election. “The right has the conservative movement, and they are a bunch of losers and dorks…They have chosen the wrong side, and the alt-right has chosen the right side. And the alt-right can legitimately say we are the vanguard of Trumpian populism.”
Racism with an intellectual veneer has been stirring at colleges and universities. Most professors who teach classes about race and identity “haven’t done their homework,” says Nathan Damigo, a 30-year-old ex-Marine and social-science major at California State University-Stanislaus who recently founded a campus group called Identity Evropa. Damigo—whose bookshelf contains titles such as Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America—says the majority of his group’s members are recent college graduates who discovered “identitarian” ideas on their own and now aim to mentor younger students while “waging a cultural war” on the ivory tower. “We want to normalize our ideas,” he told me, “and get to the point where we can push faculty into incorporating this literature into the lectures and into the educational program.”
For an Identity Evropa event in May, Spencer, Damigo, and other members set up a “safe space” on UC-Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza to discuss “how race affects people of European heritage.” Damigo claims that interfacing with other university groups such as Students for Trump and the College Republicans has netted Identity Evropa new members at other campuses, as has recruiting around Yiannopoulos’ talks. Yiannopoulos “is bringing in people who are very sympathetic…but haven’t fully intellectually come over to us,” Damigo says. “I think in the following year or two they will.”
“I am not a troll, but I kind of get them,” says Spencer. “They are real and in some ways they have advanced the movement more than I have.”
On anonymous internet forums such as Reddit and 4chan’s “/pol/” board (short for “politically incorrect”) that came to life in the early 2000s, racist jokes and memes have long circulated among disaffected young men. Someone might post a photoshopped image of Adolf Hitler smoking a joint on 4/20, a riff on the pot smokers’ holiday and Hitler’s birthday. “There is a continuum of people for whom [a Hitler reference] is completely a joke” and others for whom it is not, the San Francisco-based entrepreneur and alt-right blogger Curtis Yarvin explains. A swastika might be deployed as a rebuke, an insult, or a provocation, or simply to attract eyeballs—the internet’s most basic unit of social status.
Trump’s brazen political style thrilled the trolls—and he showed them, by engaging them throughout his campaign, that they could have political currency. The Pepe the Frog meme circulated for many months on 4chan and 8chan before the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer put Trump Pepe on its banner. The trolls ran with it on Twitter, making Pepe an alt-right mascot and prompting the Anti-Defamation League to designate the frog image as a hate symbol.
The alt-right has elevated fringe trolling into a virulent form of propaganda that Spencer and others dub “meme magic.” Trolls push hateful memes such as the Jewish “Happy Merchant” and the black “dindu nuffin” (a slur meant to echo “I didn’t do nothin'”) without fear of censure, thanks to the anonymity of Twitter and other platforms. Some journalists have speculated that the spread of this content is in part the work of Russian troll farms, though the extent of foreign involvement is unknown.
In any case, social-media attacks have been weaponized around the globe. “We saw it in the Arab Spring, we’ve seen it with ISIS, and now we’re seeing it with white nationalists,” says J.M. Berger, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Richard Dawkins, who coined the word “meme” in 1976 to describe cultural transmissions that “leap from brain to brain,” told The New Yorker that he never imagined their full potential: “Now, however ridiculous what you’re saying is…something really bad can spread through the culture.”
Breitbart‘s Yiannopoulos, who has described himself as a “virtuous troll” doing “God’s work” of fighting political correctness, was permanently suspended from Twitter in July after he called Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones “barely literate” and “yet another black dude.” A move to shut down other popular, often pseudonymous alt-right accounts has engendered a racist code language, with “skypes” and “googles” substituting for “kikes” and “niggers,” for example. Twitter’s anemic efforts to beat back the trolls have drawn denunciations on alt-right sites, in turn leading to milquetoast debates in mainstream outlets over the limits of speech. (Shortly after the election, Twitter suspended the accounts of some alt-right figures including Spencer.)
Likewise, provocateurs have increasingly sought to subvert journalism—facilitated by Facebook’s feckless response to fake news stories flooding its platform during the height of the 2016 presidential race. A phony tale about the death of an FBI agent involved in the Clinton email investigation was shared far and wide just days before the vote.** Sites like Mike Cernovich’s Danger and Play and Chuck Johnson’s Got News spread other internet rumors, packaging them into viral clickbait. Even though later debunked (by Snopes and others in Cernovich’s case, and by Mother Jones and others in Johnson’s), such content sometimes gets picked up by larger outlets. (Cernovich said his blog is factually accurate. Johnson vehemently rejected the premise, threatening to sue Mother Jones. Mark Zuckerberg called the concern that fake news affected the election a “pretty crazy idea,” but later said Facebook would take measures to address it.)
Andrew Auernheimer, a.k.a. Weev, a notorious troll who moved to Ukraine to elude US authorities, claims he is ready to take alt-right trolling to the next level. Trump “is going to come in with a mandate,” says Weev, who now helps run the Daily Stormer, “and if Congress doesn’t give him what he wants, then it gets really fun for us. The battle gets really enjoyable and mean.” He talks of hitting his enemy’s “primary assets” by “visiting people’s homes and slipping Pepe [images] under the door or following people on subways and coming up to them and whispering ‘Pepe’ in their ears.”
“They aren’t invulnerable anymore,” he says of the alt-right’s targets. “They are becoming very aware of their own mortality.”
“In a startup, you can have one founder or two founders, but you can’t have 17 founders or 1,700 founders,” proclaims Yarvin, who runs a San Francisco cloud computing company funded in part by a venture capital firm in which Peter Thiel is a partner. This applies equally to governments, Yarvin argues: “Whenever in history we go from a nondemocracy to a democracy, things tend to go to shit.”
In what began in 2007 as a series of blog posts now sometimes cited by the alt-right, Yarvin laid out a political philosophy known as neoreaction or the “Dark Enlightenment.” Combining a technocratic sensibility with reactionary political thought, neoreaction rejects Enlightenment concepts such as democracy and equality and instead advocates something much closer to authoritarianism. One of Yarvin’s favorite political leaders is Napoleon, whom he considers to be “kind of the Steve Jobs of France.”
Yarvin’s ideas might seem quixotic, but they have attracted a following in Silicon Valley, where meetups are organized by the Hestia Society, named for the Greek goddess of the family and the state. Neoreactionaries delight in discussing protofascist thinkers and obscure pre-Enlightenment texts—a kind of highbrow version of the proudly offensive geek culture of 4chan. A strong whiff of neoreaction emerged in a 2013 speech in which venture capitalist Balaji Srinivasan called for Silicon Valley to “exit” from the United States (either physically or digitally) and reconstitute itself as a government-free society.
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Thiel, who reportedly donated more than $1 million to Trump’s campaign and was named to his transition team in November, has circled neoreactionary ideas. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” he wrote on the Cato Institute’s blog in 2009, adding that women and “welfare beneficiaries” have through their voting habits “rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.” (Yarvin says he and Thiel have never discussed neoreaction; Thiel could not be reached for comment.)
Neoreactionaries dismiss the concept of equality between sexes and races. They focus on so-called “human biodiversity,” the pseudoscientific idea that races exhibit different average IQs and other cognitive gaps. Yarvin argues that most African countries were better off under colonialism and believes that ethnic groups in the United States should exist as “self-governing communities,” as religious minorities did in the early Ottoman Empire.
Yarvin finds Trump lacking, a “hilariously pathetic” Hitler or Mussolini. “It’s like watching the magician’s 12-year-old son try to play with his father’s spellbook,” he says. Yet Yarvin values Trump’s “ability to present himself as the candidate of ‘No.'” By effectively hijacking the Republican Party and subverting political norms, Trump may hasten the downfall of the American political system, in Yarvin’s view. “Credibility is just breaking down all over the place,” he enthuses. “You know that scene in Inception, where all of the buildings are collapsing?”
The Libertarian Fringe
The former Libertarian congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul has been a hero to some on the alt-right. Newsletters published under Paul’s name in the early 1990s referred positively to David Duke and Jared Taylor and cited concerns about America’s “disappearing white majority.” Though Paul now distances himself from that kind of rhetoric, Trump won significant support from an old-school crowd of libertarians, some of whom hold such controversial views about race.
In March, Loyola University economics professor Walter Block announced on LewRockwell.com that he was forming a group known as Libertarians for Trump. Discussing the subject of slavery in a 2013 blog post, Block wrote: “The slaves could not quit. They were forced to ‘associate’ with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn’t so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc.” Block is a senior fellow at the paleolibertarian Mises Institute, which has published attacks on “compulsory integration” and apologia for Confederate leaders.
Though Block’s main argument for supporting Trump centered on the president-elect’s isolationist foreign policy, he also praised Trump for fighting back against political correctness. “I teach at a university and we have trigger warnings, safe spaces, and inclusiveness,” Block said in a November debate about Trump with Nick Gillespie of the libertarian magazine Reason. “‘Whites are evil. Oh, by the way, you people check your white privilege at the door. You are all, since you’re white, you are disgusting.’ This is what they tell you at universities.”
Accusations of racism have long dogged even more mainstream libertarians because of their reluctance to legislate against discrimination. White supremacists threw their support behind the 2008 Ron Paul campaign; in 2007, Paul had declined to return a $500 donation from the white supremacist Don Black. His son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, told Rachel Maddow in 2010 that he might have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for overregulating private businesses, though he later backed off the position.
“I’d say at least 50 percent of the alt-right is coming from libertarianism and the Ron Paul movement in some way,” says Spencer, who supported Paul in 2008. That year, Spencer and right-wing intellectual Paul Gottfried formed the H.L. Mencken Club, named after the libertarian essayist who opposed US involvement in World War II and was accused of being anti-Semitic. (Gottfried, who is Jewish, said those accusations were overblown.) Gottfried gave a talk titled “The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right,” describing a younger, hipper version of Pat Buchanan’s anti-war, anti-immigration, anti-free-trade paradigm. Spencer went on to popularize the nickname “alt-right” and give it a more overtly racial focus as the editor of Taki’s Magazine and then AlternativeRight.com.
Nonwhite voters’ rejection of libertarianism has stoked extremism among some frustrated libertarians, according to the Daily Stormer‘s Weev. He described for me what he saw as the thinking among libertarians who join the cause: “First it’s just, ‘Leave me alone, don’t legislate shit about me, let me have what I work for,'” said Weev, who does tech support for a variety of alt-right websites. “And then you figure out they”—i.e., the nonwhite voters—”aren’t going to let you have what’s yours. They are going to come for you unless you fight back…And now you are with us.”
In August 2014, Eron Gjoni, a 24-year-old computer scientist, published a blog post accusing his ex-girlfriend, the video game developer Zoë Quinn, of entering into a romantic relationship with a journalist. Trolls from the male-centric gaming world pounced, describing the alleged relationship as a ploy by Quinn to get positive reviews. Within a few days, 4chan users organized an elaborate harassment campaign against Quinn that became known as Gamergate and soon expanded to include an avalanche of rape and death threats against other women in the gaming field—a prototype for the vicious trolling of the 2016 election. They found a champion in Yiannopoulos, Breitbart‘s tech editor, who argued that the true victims were the men whose gaming culture was being destroyed by “feminist bullies” and the “achingly politically correct” tech press.
Gamergate and the broader anti-feminist crusade known as the men’s rights movement have percolated throughout the alt-right. Yiannopoulos often denounces feminists and Black Lives Matter in the same breath. Cernovich, who made a name for himself as a Gamergate instigator, is a staunch defender of white-male identity politics: Political correctness prevents discussion of obvious truths, in his view, whether it’s the innate “neuroticism” of women or the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.
The coexistence of racism and sexism in the so-called manosphere dates back to the dawn of the internet. One early men’s rights site, Fathers’ Manifesto, interspersed references to Warren Farrell’s book The Myth of Male Power with calls to exile blacks from America.
Spencer readily admits that women make up a small portion of the alt-right, but he has also said that most women secretly crave alt-right boyfriends because they want “alpha genes” and “alpha sperm.” He also believes women are unsuited to some roles in government: “Women should never be allowed to make foreign policy,” he tweeted during the first presidential debate. “It’s not that they’re ‘weak.’ To the contrary, their vindictiveness knows no bounds.”
Revelations of Trump’s sexist comments and his bragging about grabbing women’s genitals only helped forge stronger ties between the racist and sexist wings of the alt-right. After the bombshell revelation of the Access Hollywood tape, Spencer said it was “ridiculous” and “puritanical” to call Trump’s behavior sexual assault, adding, “At some part of every woman’s soul, they want to be taken by a strong man.” Far-right blogger RamZPaul responded to the Trump tape by saying, “Girls really don’t mind guys that like pussies, they just hate guys who are pussies.”
“Violence is not the extreme in Islam anymore: it’s the norm,” Yiannopoulos wrote in June, hours after gunman Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. “A lot of people laughed at Donald Trump when he suggested a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. No doubt they thought he was further harming his chances in the general election. No one is laughing now.”
His rant doubled down on months of demagoguery by anti-Muslim extremists on Breitbart and on Bannon’s daily SiriusXM radio show. In one of multiple interviews with Bannon, Pamela Geller, the co-founder of Stop Islamization of America, recalled the post-9/11 speech in which George W. Bush declared “Islam is peace”; she told Bannon it was a moment that “we all deplore.”
In lockstep with the Trump campaign, Breitbart helped portray Europe’s Syrian refugee crisis as a dangerous tsunami headed across the Atlantic. Trump surrogate Roger Stone warned Bannon’s radio listeners of immigration policies that would turn America into Europe, “where hordes of Islamic madmen are raping, killing, pillaging, defecating in public fountains, harassing private citizens, elderly people; that’s what’s coming. That wave is coming this way. Only one guy can stop it.”
White nationalists have seized upon the Syrian refugee crisis to promote their notions of biological racism. Some cite a widely panned book by former New York Times journalist Nicholas Wade, which argues there may be a genetic basis for the “tribal behavior” exhibited in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan that prevents them from operating “like modern states.” White nationalists also blame the practice of “inbreeding” in Islamic societies for the “low intelligence and mental and physical disorders” of Muslims, as described in the racist Occidental Observer in a piece that concluded, “The consequences for Western societies are obvious.”
Ultimately, Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again” wasn’t just an assault on establishment elites and global free trade that leveraged working-class economic anxiety. Trump also exploited a deepening sense of identity crisis among white voters. In 1970, 12 percent of Americans were nonwhite. Now that figure has nearly doubled, with nonwhites, especially immigrants, increasingly settling in historically white rural areas. “Our changing demographics has been a factor that has led to the increase in hate groups over the last 15 years,” says Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups. “The country is having growing pains—there’s a backlash to it. I think Trump has capitalized on that tremendously.”
Since the civil rights era, the language of white identity has been taboo in mainstream American culture and politics. But now, Trump has opened up a new political space for aggrieved whites, in part by playing up the killing of a white woman by an undocumented Mexican immigrant, and by harping on the “disaster” in America’s inner cities. White working-class people “feel the government has let them down, and they are hearing ‘Black Lives Matter,'” Cohen points out. “For [BLM supporters] there is justice in that call, but for so many people, that is saying their lives don’t [matter].”
Recognizing that resentment, Trump not only appealed to voters’ worst impulses but also legitimized them—shifting the Overton window. He has also made common cause with extremist figures in Europe: He met with UK politician and Brexit champion Nigel Farage four days after the election, and France’s ascendant far-right leader Marine Le Pen credited Trump with a “victory of the people against the elites.”
The success of Trump’s tactics has profound implications, says Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina. “It’s one thing to represent people and give a voice to their fears. It is quite another to amplify those fears—that is surely the worst possible kind of leadership,” Inglis says. “It’s demagoguery. The real sadness for me is that we knew it, and yet we voted for it. In a very real sense, the whole country has lost this election.”
Republican campaign consultant Liz Mair says she’s “not convinced” that Trump is responsible for increasing racism in America, “but I think he has made people with honest-to-God racist views feel that it’s okay to share their points of view openly in a way that they did not prior to his ascent.”
Faced with fervent protests and now the daunting task of governing, Trump may be compelled toward pragmatism. He could end up treating the extremists of the so-called alt-right like mainstream conservatives treated the hardcore religious right in recent years: paying them lip service but not much in the way of serious political capital.
For now, though, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States against a backdrop marred by the politics of hate.
UPDATE: A few hours after this article was published, Donald Trump rejected his support from the alt-right. “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group,” he said during a meeting with reporters at the New York Times. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
Reporting contributed by Sarah Posner and David Neiwert of the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
*Correction: This sentence has been revised to reflect Sessions’ role in the transition.
**Correction: This sentence has been revised to more accurately reflect the false article’s claims.