Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The update added anti-Semitism to the original definition. It now reads:
‘A political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism; a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.’
Both the original and updated AP definitions resemble early attempts to explain fascism in the decades following the second world war. Like the style guide versions, early writers focused attention on regime or movement attributes. This approach, often employing lists of various sizes, proved either too inclusive, or not inclusive enough.
Subsequent attempts to define fascism can be divided into two rough camps. One, now associated with Robert O. Paxton, explained fascism in terms of its ascent to social and, eventually, political power. The other, generally attributed to Roger Griffin, explained fascism as having a minimal ideological essence.
Both approaches can be useful now, to look beyond haphazard attempts to keep up with the various hatreds and styles of the alt-right (ideological sexism and transphobia could be added to the above definition, for example) to distill the ideological commitment around which the alt-right centers: namely, eugenics.
By now, the genesis of the term ‘alt-right’ is well known: it originated around 2008, when either Paul Gottfried or Richard Spencer employed the term to describe the wide array of right-wingers who saw themselves as outside of, and marginalised by, the conservative mainstream. That same year, Spencer, Colin Liddell, and Andy Nowicki received $5,000 from hate site VDARE to start a blog.
When ‘alternative-right.blogspot.com’ launched in 2010, the groundwork had already been laid to constitute the alt-right into a cohesive, if not coherent, movement. In the early 2000s, the paleoconservatives – with whom Spencer cut his teeth – had ushered libertarians towards their platform against free trade and immigration. At the same time, white nationalists – whom Spencer eventually joined in their call for a white ethnostate – were signing the New Orleans Protocol, a pact between previously bickering factions to never punch right and to maintain a polite and non-violent decorum.
By 2010, a vast infrastructure of blogs, think-tanks, and civic organizations had been built up. This network facilitated a coordinated far-right response to the building of an Islamic Center six blocks from the former World Trade Center site, which included sustained anti-mosque protests and Qur’an burnings across the United States.
The viciously sexist ‘manosphere’ began establishing its own web presence, through The Spearhead, A Voice for Men, and Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) among others. Meanwhile, the Tea Party was vociferously protesting taxes and defending the for-profit healthcare system, while sharing artistic Hitlerisations of Obama and shouting racial slurs at congresspeople.
In 2012, a year after Spencer was appointed head of the National Policy Institute, a 17-year old boy named Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a known racist and self-appointed armed Neighborhood Watch patrolman. Right-wing and tabloid media sought out photos of Martin in macho poses, described his demeanor as ‘thuggish’, and implied that the hoodie he was wearing on the night of his murder made him look suspicious, demonising the teen with racist dog-whistles. When Zimmerman was acquitted a year later, protests reignited around the country.
By 2013, the relentless murders of Black people by police carried momentum from Trayvon Martin rallies into the Black Lives Matter movement. As the protests escalated to highway blockades and property damage, opponents called for – and committed – vigilante violence.
As the Council of Conservative Citizens and American Renaissance churned out stories and statistics of Black criminality, many on the right, including Dylann Roof and Chris Cantwell, were radicalised into white nationalism.
Having built up a white nationalist and paleoconservative milieu around the sleeker contraction ‘alt-right’, Spencer and others sought to harness the masculine internet rage of Gamergate. A Silicon Valley-based movement called Neoreaction, which extended the logic of libertarianism to argue that a single corporation ought to run a racial slave state, bridged the ideological gap between Gamergate and the alt-right. Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel and former Business Insider chief technology officer Pax Dickinson are just two high-profile figures associated with Neoreaction.
In 2015, after the intentionally offensive ‘Draw Mohammed’ contest in Texas was disrupted by armed men claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, various independent militia members organised another wave of anti-mosque protests – this time with rifles and white nationalists.
Then, one day after Donald Trump announced his intention to run for president, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine Black parishioners. While most recoiled in horror in response to Roof’s crimes, a far-right conservative movement was galvanised against subsequent calls to remove the Confederate flag from public spaces. The combined messages of ‘free speech’, heritage, and racial bigotry created just the platform for the increasingly broad alt-right to catapult themselves into the centre of conservative discourse.The ever-changing list of bigotries espoused by the alt-right are not its defining characteristic. Each emerges from the core commitment to eugenics
By Halloween 2015, the National Policy Institute had a record attendance at its increasingly frequent conference, selling out of discounted tickets for attendees under 30.
After Hillary Clinton delivered a speech denouncing the alt-right as a ‘basket of deplorables’ in August 2016, Google search trends for ‘alt-right’ increased exponentially. They peaked again when Spencer delivered a speech in Washington DC, shouting Hitler’s invocation ‘hail victory’ in response to Trump’s election win, as his audience gave Nazi salutes.
As this potted history reveals, the alt-right, fractious as it may be, was the result of numerous fragile alliances and unlikely coalitions. While white nationalists ultimately united the alt-right, that work did not necessarily translate into support for white nationalism, as internal denunciations of its origins reveal. The alt-right is, however, united in its commitment to eugenics.
Eugenics, the infamous Nazi-supported pseudo-science, is a belief that data proves biological or cultural explanations for differential social outcomes. The term is only explicitly embraced by the alt-right’s racist core, which publishes ‘academic’ books through a variety of financially-connected publishing houses (including the National Policy Institute’s own Washington Summit Publishers). The historical eugenics, however, also extended to theories of gender and economic status, which have been embraced by the other segments of the alt-right. Eugenics theory posits that race, gender, and class determine intelligence and that any attempt to balance social outcomes – for example, through affirmative action – upends the meritocracy of ‘natural selection’.
These three axes, race, gender and class, can be seen in the alt-right’s three major segments: the white nationalist-fascist nexus, the manosphere-tribalism nexus, and the libertarian-neoreactionary nexus. Although these movements are ideologically distinct, they converge when taken to their conclusion: domination through triumph.
Until the massacre in Charlottesville, the alt-right had managed to put aside its glaring differences in the conception of political praxis because of this shared faith in eugenics. In theory, fascists, tribalists, and libertarians should not get along. Fascists detest the chaos of the market and love futuristic technology. Tribalists detest social contracts of any sort and reliance on anyone, much less the government. Libertarians detest any sort of government planning and acquisitive violence.
Yet despite different theories of ideal governance circulating within the alt-right, each of the overlapping factions believes that its preferred social configuration can ensure a eugenic society: fascists through state intervention, tribalists through physical struggle, and libertarians through market forces. That the alt-right was ever able to manage to get these disparate factions to support each other (and further blend together) is an incredible feat.
The constant flux among these groups within the alt-right is something definitions like the AP’s style guide fail to capture or anticipate. The ever-changing list of bigotries espoused by the alt-right are not its defining characteristic. Each emerges from the core commitment to eugenics, which operates as the basis of its recruiting strategy.
The framework of eugenics allows a shifting of focus from particulars about governance or bigotry to innate ability and natural hierarchy in the abstract. The danger in merely listing what the alt-right has been is losing sight of where it’s going next.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright