Hate, Division, and Racism: The Rise of the Alt-Right in The U.S.

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

By Seamus Bozeman

Graphic via VofZ Designer Ava Jones

A summer evening settles on the campus of a college in Charlottesville, Virginia; the date is August 11th, 2017, white-nationalists march, piercing the night with their incendiary words and fiery torches that were fueled by hate, anger, and racism. The Alt-Right has emerged, led by Richard Spencer, a Neo-Nazi, antisemite, and conspiracy theorist.

The next day was even more chaotic; skirmishes and uncontrollable melees were widespread. By the end of the day, one woman, Heather Heyer, had been murdered and hundreds injured at the ‘Unite The Right’ rally organized to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. It allowed white supremacists to crawl out of the woodwork to showcase their blistering hate. Many fascist groups, extremist white nationalists, and the KKK were met by counter-protesters in one of the first significant explosions of violence under the Trump presidency, and only the beginning of what was to come. The counter-protesters were made up of priests from local churches, Cornel West, a famous social justice activist, Black Lives Matter, and the unorganized movement of ANTIFA, Charlottesville-based anti-racism and anti-hate group. Charlottesville brought the alt-right a modicum of media ‘stardom’, allowing for their movement to gain traction, and gain popularity via the mouthpiece that Donald Trump has become for them.

The History of the Alt-Right

The alt-right has a complex and disturbing history, originating before the term was made popular by Richard Spencer in 2008, basing it off of a new form of conservatism in the face of a changing country, where they claimed it was changing in the wrong way. It was a so-called “liberation from a left-wing dialectic” where the U.S. was becoming more accepting of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and the equal treatment of all humans. The alt-right felt that was an infringement of their disturbing idea of white dominance here in the U.S. The history of white supremacy in the U.S. is old and deep, and the alt-right was also part of a ‘culture of Lynching’ of Black people, where it was treated as prizes of achievement, to commit a crime against humanity. The ideology of the alt-right is rooted in early American history, from the days of the post-civil war and the confederacy, the KKK, and the film Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffiths leading to a more radicalized form of intense ideological differences. It is heavily influenced by the idea of “American Identitarianism'' based on a French anti-immigration movement. Their development has also been worsened by the polarization that has taken hold in the U.S. making our society more divided and separated than ever before. Through the increased alt-right/white supremacist public events i.e. pro-trump rallies, private closed-door gatherings with high-level officials, they have entrenched them within the framework of the modern American system.

Qanon and Alt-Right Conspiracies

Qanon gained traction following the Pizzagate conspiracy and the rise of the alt-right, made stronger by the election of Trump and his unlikely rise to power. Qanon views Trump as a messiah sent by God to clean up the 'elite-leftist-evil-pedophiles'. Qanon has given followers through absurd conspiracies the solace of knowing what is “really going on” and how Trump will save them in a time of deep-rooted polarization, and worldwide chaos. Though with the need to spread what is “right,” Qanon has pumped every facet of the internet with dangerous falsehoods and lies. The most notable is the Democratic pedophile ring, the criminalization of ANTIFA, and the ‘radical left’ supporting the wild and unfounded theories which have given heavily loyal supporters of president Trump reason to become more violent, hateful, and ultimately stronger.

Conspiracy has long been used to fill the gaps in unexplained events, but it has taken a more sinister turn with wild theories of ANTIFA arming and training with ISIS in Syria, all of which have been photoshopped and continually debunked. Qanon’s target audiences have changed from decent human beings to become terrified of ANTIFA -- a post-election civil war -- so much that they have been radicalized enough to start becoming a driving force for skyrocketing gun sales in the U.S, according to people I know who are actively on Qanon, and a part of the unorganized group.

A New Era of Nazi Youth with ‘Patriotic Education’

Having called anti-racism education ‘child abuse’, Trump is promoting patriotic education to preserve the ‘great’ history of the United States. Assailing the history as laid out by academics like Howard Zinn and the New York Times 1619 project, which (unmasks suppressed history with truth) paints the realities that European colonizers trampled on the lives of the natives, heavily oppressing their cultures, destroying their natural habitats for capitalist gains overseas and traditions. Patriotic education instead teaches a revisionist version which incorrectly portrays the white man as the savior and ruler of all and the promoter of constitutional rights. Advertised as the “1776 commission” it was likely a proposal to restore faith in the statues that had been toppled this past summer in a time of historical reckoning on racial injustice in the U.S., as Trump condemned the destruction of what he called the ‘proud history of America’. It was also a rebuttal to the peaceful protests that have been happening throughout the nation, acting as a condemnation of the ‘left-wing radical education of our youth’ which he claimed fueled the anarchic violence that supposedly swept the nation. This new program will not only bring a dangerous form of patriotism but might even deepen the nationalist cult among the children of the alt-right, creating a generation of North Korea allegiance to their ‘savior’ and ‘al-mighty leader’. It also cultivates a new wave of fascism, in Trump’s last vying effort amidst his dying gasps for power, and his vision of nationalist allegiance.

Infiltration of Law Enforcement and the Military

Both the police and military were founded on systems of oppression, racism, and unchecked power. These supposed agencies of safety are in place to uphold Democracy, but instead, they have fueled societal violence and bolstered and protected far-right radicalization. The police were founded on the basis of keeping control of enslaved peoples and making sure they didn’t escape the horrendous conditions of slavery - a deeply racist past they seem to have kept a grasp on as they continue to oppress, and murder people of color at a significantly higher rate than white people. The military has not exactly promoted democracy when abroad, but the concern here is less of their international involvement, and more with their recent deployments on the streets of the U.S., and service members and veterans who are active members of white supremacist groups. One of the most disturbing developments in recent years is that the military removed the requirement of disclosing whether an enlistee was a part of a hate group for them to be qualified for military service. This worsens the threat that more people involved in hate groups are trained in combat, which makes them more dangerous, and better able to infiltrate high-level positions within the government. The police force has also struggled with large numbers of officers being tracked as members of known hate groups. During recent protests, their responses were often supporting the white supremacists, with brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests. In the aftermath of the unjust police shooting of Jacob Blake on August 24th, 2020, intense, but peaceful protests across the country were reignited, though especially in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Blake’s hometown. A few nights into the nightly protests, some of which had devolved into chaos, the city responded by ordering a curfew for 8 pm. Later that same night there were many ‘paramilitants’ protecting businesses and supporting Trump’s calls for “law and order”, but one person stood out. By the end of the night, this person had crossed state lines, from Illinois, and killed two and critically injured a third. This person was pro-Trump, was part of many pro-police, blue-lives-matter organizations, and was planning to become a police officer. His actions were completely despicable and should be charged as a hate-crime, but the police that were brutally cracking down on protesters, let him leave the scene, walking straight past the police line and travel 30 miles back to his hometown, across state lines, before turning himself in.

Scope of White Nationalist Groups

White nationalist groups have long been a dark splotch on American History, from the KKK in the confederacy, and the current rise of gun-toting paramilitary groups. The fear that has been spread about the rise of ANTIFA, an unorganized group of “antifascists'' some of whom are violent anarchists, have increased the expansion of groups like the Boogaloo, and the Proud Boys which support Donald Trump’s view of law and order. With the increased terror from the Alt-right wings of violence, it will perpetuate and deepen the ideological divide, driving the United States closer to all-out civil conflict. Each group has different motives, but what is common throughout, is that every single group loves their guns, their freedoms, and their white superiority. Taking the opportunity in 2015 to rise, with the media’s help, these groups quickly accelerated and gained popularity with the help of social media, news organizations, and disinformation campaigns. Many of these white nationalist groups proliferated under the single idea that the white ethnostate they envisioned was threatened by Middle-Eastern terror, immigration, and a perceived deterioration of their first and second amendment rights. The most notable of all these groups is the Proud Boys, which got mainstream coverage, that they relished in, and are continuing to build their movement stronger. The statement by Trump in the first debate when he couldn’t denounce white supremacy, “stand back and stand by'' became the Proud Boys’ new slogan and could set up for a violent uprising if Trump contests a democratic win in the upcoming election. White supremacist groups have also been linked to attempted kidnappings of Governers they see as ‘leftist and perpetrators of unconstitutional lockdowns’ during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Boogaloo groups and others have also been linked back to multiple sabotage events and agitation in the protests that swept the nation over the summer, which the alt-right blamed on the ‘ANTIFA thugs, and BLM’.

In the United States, and as of 2019, there are over 685 white supremacist groups, neo-nazi groups, and an assortment of other anti-human rights groups, though this number has likely increased in recent months leading up to the election. Another disturbing trend is that since 2018 almost every terror-related death was traced back to an alt-right domestic terror according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League’s center on Extremism, and this number will likely increase due to continued instability in the U.S. Among the flames of the third precinct police station, in Minneapolis, Minnesota on the night of May 27th, 2020, thousands angrily protested in the streets following the brutal murder of George Floyd the day before. White-supremacist groups mixed in with the peaceful crowds, causing violence, inciting chaos, and starting riots. On this particular night, ‘Boogaloo Bois’ had inserted themselves among those who had set the police station alight. There were reports of gunshots from an AK-47 inside the building and over the ruckus, chants of “Justice for Floyd”. One of the persons who fled the scene, was later identified as a Boogaloo Boi member from Texas and was arrested by the FBI under charges of “conspiracy to commit arson, and aiding a foreign terrorist.” This is just one of many instances of the media and others accusing the ‘anarchist left’ of inciting chaos and destroying property, but often was later found that right-wing extremists were behind the violence.

The Limits of Free Speech and the Second Amendment

The first and second amendments of the United States constitution paved the way for many of the freedoms that the U.S. is celebrated for, but at times their true meanings are left for the people to interpret. This inadvertently leaves the door open for hate speech and unlawful guns throughout the gun-loving and freedom-loving white American culture, and vast lobbying and funding campaigns by the