Hate, Division, and Racism: The Rise of the Alt-Right in The U.S.
Updated: Nov 3, 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 National Rifle Association. The first amendment was written in a way that is open to vastly different interpretations, which has taken a hard turn to the right, as hate speech and crimes are becoming increasingly common here in the U.S. The second amendment, like many parts of the constitution, was written when things were very different. Guns could not shoot one-hundred rounds per minute, at most the muskets of 1776 could fire one shot in that same amount of time. The alt-right has used the interpretive nature of the constitution to their benefit, though none of it should be accepted in a world that should now be free of hate, and into an ethical and moral acceptance of all.
Nationalism and Patriotism
Patriotism and nationalism are sometimes indistinguishable as the Alt-right has blended their meanings into one, rooted in white supremacist ideas. With further radicalization, relying on skewed interpretations of the constitution, they feed the beasts of division and democratic collapse. As new converts quickly take on a fascist mindset, with heightened nationalizing under Trump, his support from an increasingly loyal base, make some believe that we are heading towards a second civil war. This is most likely due to the increase in media reporting on the topics, and common coverage on prime-time news as every single moment of voter intimidation, fraudulent ballot boxes, and every rally that white supremacists hold is highlighted. While it is important to out their hateful and criminal behavior, it has given them airtime and attention, which has shown to continually backfire, increase membership, and unwarranted credibility.
Role of Social Media and the News in the Rise of the Alt-Right
Facebook, for many years, and especially during 2016, was at center stage for pushing and widening the scope of the Russian disinformation campaign, which was also a large part of bringing the Atl-Right to the surface and into the National spotlight. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Discord are the four main social media outlets that the Alt-right has co-opted for their gain and attention-grabbing hate, but smaller and sometimes more dangerous, is YouTube, Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan. Powered by algorithms and bots, social media platforms have been the petri dish of rapid growth, with the help of disinformation campaigns, by Russia and China. People who once had moderate views were slowly ideologically changed to being more radicalized. The news has also been feeding into the cultivation and growth of the alt-right by giving airtime, and articles to groups that are lesser-known. In the long run, while outing the alt-right is a good thing, groups have used it to their advantage, and have become more blatant, and more vocal. One of the biggest ways the alt-right has used social media is the chosen anonymity that is given to users, which allows them to spread their dangerous ideology without the consequences that may come with hate-related content.
The extreme right has also been increasing their presence in the world of newspapers, journals, magazines, talk shows, and podcasts, which has also added fuel to their movement where unchecked propaganda is constantly spewed out of their mouths. The two most notable, and that have been popularized by copious amounts of foreign misinformation, is the New York Post, and the Epoch Times. Both have used Facebook through click-bate viral videos, multiple pseudo accounts, and major advertising campaigns and throughout social media outlets to drive both to become major proponents of misinformation. In recent weeks social media sites have cracked down on extremist ideological posts, and groups leading up to the elections in an attempt to prevent floods of disinformation and international intervention.
The Stability of The U.S. is at Stake
The future of the Alt-right will continue to be fueled by Qanon's conspiracies, social media, news. brazen attacks on protesters, increases in social tensions, and further civil unrest, which poses the question; could this the beginning of a second civil war that could bring the U.S. to its knees? Some argue that point has been met, with a mix of foreign actors, internal groups, and our own government, all contributing to widespread instability. Worsening the effects of flash points of violence like Portland, could one day boil over into clashes that devolve into a perpetual civil war that eventually engulfs multiple cities. Another danger is the use of intimidation by Trump loyalists with their guns, and the threats of violence to possibly tip the elections, which has already been employed by Iran, and Russia in recent email intimidation attacks in swing states. It was also used in a campaign ad by Donald Trump Jr. where he called for paramilitary members to enlist in ‘an army to protect our ballot’ likely encouraging many who own weapons to intimidate voters at the polls come election day. It was also noted that republicans despise high voter turnout, as is already apparent in this election cycle.
With so much working against the stability of the United States, the future is uncertain, and looks quite grim, because no matter who wins the election, the alt-right is now a growing mainstream movement, and if confusion and division continue to engulf society, more and more people will join, as they continue to grow with more intense propaganda and rhetoric which can encourage further involvement and hate-related discourse. As the U.S. and the world continue to face the dangerous rise in white hate groups, the next few years are extremely important to address ways in which to educate and undo the dark legacy of white supremacy. Hundreds of people who were once part of hate groups have successfully turned into people with compassion, love, and acceptance of basic human rights. One organization that has made a large impact on society is Life After Hate, commonly helping change those who need help once they left their hate group or a history of religiously charged violence.
Another thing that should be a glimmer of hope should be the thousands of people who are actively working for a better society, free of white-supremacy, inequalities, and other oppressions against people of color, and how we as a society can end it in one generation, here in the United States.
Written by writer Seamus Bozeman