The factions and personalities behind the so-called alt-right, associated both with a white nationalist resurgence and Donald Trump.
BBC senior broadcast journalist Wendling has experience in investigating political extremism, which familiarized him with the unpleasant online “trolling” culture that seemed central to alt-right politics. He finds the alt-right fascinating due to its amorphous nature, terming it “an incredibly loose set of ideologies held together by what they oppose: feminism, Islam, the Black Lives Matter movement, political correctness, a fuzzy idea they call ‘globalism,’ and establishment politics of both the left and the right.” The author distinguishes between “the so-called ‘alt-light’ and a harder core,” lumping cynical provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos in the former group and the latter, “people who are devoted to the idea of ethno-nationalism.” For both factions, “the heady days between Trump’s victory and his inauguration were the high-water mark for the popularity and cohesiveness of the alt-right.” Wendling narrates the improbable journey of Trump and his acolytes in chapters focused on a particular subgrouping of the alt-right—e.g. “Ordinary Guys,” “Conspiracy Theorists,” “The Violent Fringe.” He first looks at the far-right intellectuals who, disheartened by Barack Obama’s election, termed themselves “paleoconservatives” opposed to multiculturalism and immigration, inspiring white supremacist Richard Spencer to develop “a raw online communications strategy.” A consensus developed among users of the anything-goes message board 4chan and angry mens’ rights activists, pickup artists, and video game fans, evident in the Gamergate movement, which targeted women in gaming for abuse. Meanwhile, media figures like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones normalized conspiracy theories while attacking progressives. All these ugly threads came together in the 2016 election via “a technical and philosophical alliance between the alt-right and pro-Putin activists online.” Wendling writes clearly, bolstering his argument with the words and activities of fringe figures, yet in concluding the alt-right movement has evoked its own obsolescence, he underestimates the violent potential of white supremacy’s mainstreaming.
A thoughtful distillation of research that is sadly relevant to our current political moment.