In the midst of the US presidential election campaign, as well as protests against racism and white privilege triggered by the murder of George Floyd — a 46-year-old black man — at the hands of a white cop, the dangers of the so-called alt-right movement have come back into focus and are currently being debated, not only in the United States, but also Europe, Brazil, Russia, India and Japan.
Political leaders in these countries seem to be driven by a mixture of nationalist and reactionary ideologies and the book, The International Alt-Right: Fascism for the 21st Century?, offers a timely and thorough study of this complex political galaxy. The authors’ choice to give a global perspective on this growing phenomenon is appropriate, as ideologies ascribed to the alt-right expand beyond Western countries and affect other regions as well. For instance, it is no coincidence that in 2019 a major Indian think tank, The Observer Research Foundation, devoted its flagship conference on violent extremism to “Implementing the Christchurch Call”, after a far-right attack carried out in New Zealand by a white supremacist killed dozens of Muslim worshippers.
The book was written by four researchers from the advocacy group Hope not Hate, based in the United Kingdom, which was founded in 2004 to fight racism and fascism. Over the past decade, the group has published several reports and research papers, not only about jihadist extremism, but also on the far right, focusing mainly on nationalists in Britain and Northern Ireland. Capitalizing on his Swedish looks, Patrick Hermansson went undercover for a year, successfully infiltrating the alt-right scene in both the UK and Charlottesville, US. Hermansson’s experience culminated in the 2018 documentary “Undercover in the Alt-Right”. On his part, Joe Mulhall runs the anti-Muslim monitoring unit at Hope not Hate and has a PhD in post-war fascism. The other researchers, David Lawrence and Simon Murdoch, have authored reports on far-right online activism and Identitarian movements, among others. Even though the book is written in a meticulous scientific manner, it is able to resonate with a broader audience to include activists or really anyone interested in the subject.
The authors begin by defining the Alternative Right as “an international set of groups and individuals, operating primarily online, though with offline outlets, whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack from pro-multicultural and liberal elites and so-called ‘social justice warriors’ (SJWs) who allegedly use ‘political correctness’ to undermine Western civilization and the rights of white males”. While this definition might be challenged in certain respects, it provides a starting point to explain the multifaceted universe of different alt-right factions who are not always on the same page.
The Emergence and Evolution of the Alt-Right
According to the authors, the Alternative Right is the product of three merging phenomena: the European New Right (Nouvelle Droite theorized in France since 1968) and the Identitarian movement, the American Alternative Right and the Online Antagonistic Communities. As the authors later elaborate though, it is more complex than that. The European New Right (ENR) is a current of thought derived from the ideas of French far-right philosopher Alain de Benoist and his GRECE movement. The authors argue that the ideological core of the Alternative Right emerged when elements of ENR thought were adopted by the American far right. A central figure in the American alt-right movement is Richard Spencer, who wrote his admissions essay for the prestigious private Duke University on the Nazi German philosopher Carl Schmitt. Spencer, a neo-Nazi, went on to establish the white supremacist think tank National Policy Institute in 2005, which officially endorsed Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign.
The common thread that connects the European Identitarian movement to the American Alternative Right is nativism. Of course, when alt-right Americans talk about nativism in the US they oddly mean the right of white people over American land. Ethnopluralism is advocated as a response to a belief that ethnic Europeans are being replaced by non-European people, broadly understood as non-white and Muslim.
Alt-Right vs. Alt-Lite
The authors then divide the alternative right into two distinct branches: the “alt-right” and the “alt-lite”. The former’s core concern is the threat to the existence of white people. These activists advocate for the protection of their “race” by establishing ethnostates or separate societies. The alt-lite champion Western chauvinist nationalism because they believe that liberal ideas threaten their traditional culture. The alt-right openly speaks about racial superiority, while the alt-lite focuses on cultural differences and the need for social separation.
The authors also explore the alt-right’s views on a several political issues such as race and IQ, globalization, ethnic replacement, antisemitism, gender and sexuality, but also information warfare and memes, propaganda and fake news, the gaming community, the use of cryptocurrencies and the alternative social networks that offer a safe haven for alt-right discourse. As Twitter and Facebook adopted a tougher stance on hate speech and violent extremism, far-right militants established parallel networks through websites such as Gab and 4Chan.
Online Vs Offline Initiatives
The book also clarifies one important element to understand the alt-right’s strategy. Metapolitics is way more important than actual politics. The movement focuses on cultural struggles rather than politics and elections. One ideologue explains: “Metapolitics, at its best, reduces parliamentarism to a question of mere formalities”. This strategy can be easily pursued online, where alt-right trolls and activists achieved a certain level of success in recruiting new followers and sparking outrage, which is part of their plan.
On the other hand, the movement has struggled and ultimately failed in achieving offline initiatives. For example, Idenitarian Generation activists unsuccessfully tried to disrupt the work of NGOs saving migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, during its 2017 “Defend Europe” campaign. While the election of Donald Trump galvanized international far-right groups into action, it also fragmented the group. For example, the murder of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, divided group members.
The book offers a comprehensive overview of several subcultures labeled “alt-right”. For example, it delves into the manosphere, a collection of websites, forums, and vlogs concerned with men’s issues and masculinity, oriented around an opposition to feminism. It also tackles the role of the “Incel” (involuntary celibates) community, following mass murders committed by self-described incels Elliot Rodger in 2014 and Alek Minassian in 2018 and how it differs with the “Men Going Their Own Way” subculture, a gender separatist ideology that reject interactions with women. Other subcultures include the neo-reactionary and right-libertarian movements, paleoconservatism, survivalism and right-wing anarchism. Some of these ideologies and groups garnered significant support from white people, while others remain limited to few radicalized individuals — mostly online.
In conclusion, the book offers important insight into the Alternative Right movement and helps contribute to the academic debate surrounding it.
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