Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Matthew Lyons on Donald Trump and the Alt Right

This report is excerpted from Matthew N. Lyons’s forthcoming book, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, to be published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb Publishing. This report is also featured in Ctrl-Alt-Delete: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right….

Maybe you first heard about them in the summer of 2015, when they promoted the insult “cuckservative” to attack Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries.1 Maybe it was in August 2016, when Hillary Clinton denounced them as “a fringe element” that had “effectively taken over the Republican party.”2 Or maybe it was a couple of weeks after Trump’s surprise defeat of Clinton, when a group of them were caught on camera giving the fascist salute in response to a speaker shouting “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”3
The Alt Right helped Donald Trump get elected president, and Trump’s campaign put the Alt Right in the news. But the movement was active well before Trump announced his candidacy, and its relationship with Trump has been more complex and more qualified than many critics realize. The Alt Right is just one of multiple dangerous forces associated with Trump, but it’s the one that has attracted the greatest notoriety. However, it’s not accurate to argue, as many critics have, that “Alt Right” is just a deceptive code-phrase meant to hide the movement’s White supremacist or neonazi politics. This is a movement with its own story, and for those concerned about the seemingly sudden resurgence of far-right politics in the United States, it is a story worth exploring.
The Alt Right, short for “alternative right,” is a loosely organized far-right movement that shares a contempt for both liberal multiculturalism and mainstream conservatism; a belief that some people are inherently superior to others; a strong internet presence and embrace of specific elements of online culture; and a self-presentation as being new, hip, and irreverent.4 Based primarily in the United States, Alt Right ideology combines White nationalism, misogyny, antisemitism, and authoritarianism in various forms and in political styles ranging from intellectual argument to violent invective. White nationalism constitutes the movement’s center of gravity, but some Alt Rightists are more focused on reasserting male dominance or other forms of elitism rather than race. The Alt Right has little in the way of formal organization, but has used internet memes effectively to gain visibility, rally supporters, and target opponents. Most Alt Rightists have rallied behind Trump’s presidential bid, yet as a rule Alt Rightists regard the existing political system as hopeless and call for replacing the United States with one or more racially defined homelands.
This report offers an overview of the Alt Right’s history, beliefs, and relationship with other political forces. Part 1 traces the movement’s ideological origins in paleoconservatism and the European New Right, and its development since Richard Spencer launched the original AlternativeRight.com website in 2010. Part 2 surveys the major political currents that comprise or overlap with the Alt Right, which include in their ranks White nationalists, members of the antifeminist “manosphere,” male tribalists, right-wing anarchists, and neoreactionaries. Part 3 focuses on the Alt Right’s relationship with the Trump presidential campaign, including movement debates about political strategy, online political tactics, and its relationship to a network of conservative supporters and popularizers known as the “Alt Lite.” A concluding section offers preliminary thoughts on the Alt Right’s prospects and the potential challenges it will face under the incoming Trump administration.
Two intellectual currents played key roles in shaping the early Alternative Right: paleoconservatism and the European New Right.

Paleoconservatives can trace their lineage back to the “Old Right” of the 1930s, which opposed New Deal liberalism, and to the America First movement of the early 1940s, which opposed U.S. entry into World War II. To varying degrees, many of the America Firsters were sympathetic to fascism and fascist claims of a sinister Jewish-British conspiracy. In the early 1950s, this current supported Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunting crusade, which extended red-baiting to target representatives of the centrist Eastern Establishment. After McCarthy, the America First/anti-New Deal Right was largely submerged in a broader “fusionist” conservative movement, in which Cold War anticommunism served as the glue holding different rightist currents together. But when the Soviet bloc collapsed between 1989 and 1991, this anticommunist alliance unraveled, and old debates reemerged.5

In the 1980s, devotees of the Old Right began calling themselves paleoconservatives as a reaction against neoconservatives, those often formerly liberal and leftist intellectuals who were then gaining influential positions in right-wing think-tanks and the Reagan administration. The first neocons were predominantly Jewish and Catholic, which put them outside the ranks of old-guard conservatism. Neocons promoted an aggressive foreign policy to spread U.S. “democracy” throughout the world and supported a close alliance with Israel, but they also favored nonrestrictive immigration policies and, to a limited extent, social welfare programs. Paleconservatives regarded the neocons as usurpers and closet leftists, and in the post-Soviet era they criticized military interventionism, free trade, immigration, globalization, and the welfare state. They also spoke out against Washington’s close alliance with Israel, often in terms that had anti-Jewish undertones. Paleoconservatives tended to be unapologetic champions of European Christian culture, and some of them gravitated toward White nationalism, advocating a society in which White people, their values, interests, and concerns would always be explicitly preeminent. To some extent they began to converge with more hardline White supremacists during this period.6

These positions attracted little elite support, and after Reagan paleocons were mostly frozen out of political power. But they attracted significant popular support. In 1992 and 1996, Patrick Buchanan won millions of votes in Republican presidential primaries by emphasizing paleocon themes. Paleocons also played key roles in building the anti-immigrant and neo-Confederate movements in the ‘90s, and influenced the Patriot movement, which exploded briefly in the mid-90s around fears that globalist elites were plotting to impose a tyrannical world government on the United States. Some self-described libertarians, such as former Congress member Ron Paul, embraced paleoconservative positions on culture and foreign policy.7 After the September 11th attacks in 2001, the resurgence of military interventionism and neoconservatives’ prominent roles in the George W. Bush administration solidified the paleocons’ position as political outsiders.8

The Alt Right’s other significant forerunner, the European New Right (ENR), developed along different lines. The ENR began in France in the late 1960s and then spread to other European countries as an initiative among far-right intellectuals to rework fascist ideology, largely by appropriating elements from other political traditions—including the Left—to mask their fundamental rejection of the principle of human equality.9 European New Rightists championed “biocultural diversity” against the homogenization supposedly brought by liberalism and globalization. They argued that true antiracism requires separating racial and ethnic groups to protect their unique cultures, and that true feminism defends natural gender differences, instead of supposedly forcing women to “divest themselves of their femininity.” ENR writers also rejected the principle of universal human rights as “a strategic weapon of Western ethnocentrism” that stifles cultural diversity.10

European New Rightists dissociated themselves from traditional fascism in various other ways as well. In the wake of France’s defeat by anticolonial forces in Algeria, they advocated anti-imperialism rather than expansionism and a federated “empire” of regionally based, ethnically homogeneous communities, rather than a big, centralized state. Instead of organizing a mass movement to seize state power, they advocated a “metapolitical” strategy that would gradually transform the political and intellectual culture as a precursor to transforming institutions and systems. In place of classical fascism’s familiar leaders and ideologues, European New Rightists championed more obscure far rightist intellectuals of the 1920s, ‘30s, and beyond, such Julius Evola of Italy, Ernst Jünger and Carl Schmitt of Germany, and Corneliu Codreanu of Romania.

ENR ideology began to get attention in the United States in the 1990s,11 resonating with paleoconservatism on various themes, notably opposition to multicultural societies, non-White immigration, and globalization. On other issues, the two movements tended to be at odds: reflecting their roots in classical fascism but in sharp contrast to paleocons, European New Rightists were hostile to liberal individualism and laissez faire capitalism, and many of them rejected Christianity in favor of paganism. Nonetheless, some kind of dialog between paleocon and ENR ideas held promise for Americans seeking to develop a White nationalist movement outside of traditional neonazi/Ku Klux Klan circles.

The term “Alternative Right” was introduced by Richard Spencer in 2008, when he was managing editor at the paleocon and libertarian Taki’s Magazine. At Taki’s Magazine the phrase was used as a catch-all for a variety of right-wing voices at odds with the conservative establishment, including paleocons, libertarians, and White nationalists.12 Two years later Spencer left to found a new publication, AlternativeRight.com, as “an online magazine of radical traditionalism.” Joining Spencer were two senior contributing editors, Peter Brimelow (whose anti-immigrant VDARE Foundation sponsored the project) and Paul Gottfried (one of paleoconservatism’s founders and one of its few Jews). AlternativeRight.com quickly became a popular forum among dissident rightist intellectuals, especially younger ones. The magazine published works of old-school “scientific” racism along with articles from or about the European New Right, Italian far right philosopher Julius Evola, and figures from Germany’s interwar Conservative Revolutionary movement. There were essays by National-Anarchist Andrew Yeoman, libertarian and Pat Buchanan supporter Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, male tribalist Jack Donovan, and Black conservative Elizabeth Wright.13
AlternativeRight.com developed ties with a number of other White nationalist intellectual publications, which eventually became associated with the term Alternative Right. Some of its main partners included VDARE.com; Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance, whose conferences attracted both antisemites and right-wing Jews; The Occidental Quarterly and its online magazine, The Occidental Observer, currently edited by prominent antisemitic intellectual Kevin MacDonald; and Counter-Currents Publishing, which was founded in 2010 to “create an intellectual movement in North America that is analogous to the European New Right” and “lay the intellectual groundwork for a white ethnostate in North America.”14

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