With considerable recent press coverage, the alt-right has been on the rise, but as Matthew Hanrahan discovers, defining the movement is a difficult task.
OVER the past number of weeks, the perception of the alternative-right political movement (or “alt-right”) has changed. It has gone from being perceived as keyboard warriors with limited impact on the real world, to being considered a real political force. Hillary Clinton made the alt-right the focal point of a speech that deemed the movement a racist, sexist and anti-immigrant ideology. A former lecturer of the Clinton Institute of American Studies, Dr. Jack Thompson, echoes this view of the movement. Expressing a similar sentiment he explains:
“It is more complex than simply a collection of white nationalists but white nationalism is a key aspect of the worldview of many in the alt-right, along with hostility to multiculturalism and gender equality.” The party also falls outside the political mainstream and traditional conservative movement. Former Chair of Republicans Abroad Ireland, Tom Plank says they are “anti-establishment and also very anti Republican Party”.
In recent weeks former Breitbart News CEO, Stephen Bannon has been appointed manager of the Trump campaign. With Breitbart News regarded as sympathetic to the alt-right, it was a significant victory for the movement. Plank views the movement as one that is temporary rather than a new fixture of American politics. “The alt-right movement rises and falls with Donald Trump,” he stated.
“They certainly adopt a brand of oppositional politics that they have copied from the left”
A version of the movement also exists beyond what might be considered the typical political sphere, on college campuses. There, it is seen as a movement that rejects a politically correct culture. According to Plank “they certainly adopt a brand of oppositional politics that they have copied from the left, particularly leftist advocates of the 1960s, and they would certainly have a point that the Republicans ceded the battlefield in the public space of what norms are accepted.”
Milo Yiannopoulos, who is often associated with the alt-right, visited the UCD Economics Society and the UCD Philosophy Society last year. Yiannopoulos considers himself a provocateur and a champion of free speech. At the same time he, like the alt-right movement itself, has been called sexist, racist, and so on. The event with Yiannopoulos was well attended, but also attracted protest from the UCD Feminist book club for providing an uncontested platform.
Former Economics Society auditor, Conor McCabe, says that the appeal for a figure like Yiannopoulos comes from his views on politically correct culture. “We’ve gotten to a point where it’s socially untenable to hold certain opinions on campus. If you don’t support marriage equality you’re a homophobe; if you don’t support repealing the 8th you’re a misogynist; if you don’t agree with a liberal immigration policy you’re a racist or an Islamophobe.”
“Milo’s attraction for a lot of students was just an extension of the much discussed ‘lad culture’ on campus”
Feminist Book Club member, Niamh Ní Chormac, questions how the ideas of the alt-right are utilised. “Mental health statistics and men’s suicide rate statistics are used to shut down conversations that the black community are trying to have or the feminist community are trying to have. I think that comes from their anger and frustration at their own struggles that they have, but the point is that they don’t stem specifically from being white or being straight or being male but their channelling their frustration at being attacked for being those things.”
On the issue of whether more radical elements of the alt-right interest students, McCabe says, “from my experiences I really don’t think there’s any widespread appetite for the radical elements of the alt-right at all. I’d imagine that Milo’s attraction for a lot of students was just an extension of the much discussed ‘lad culture’ on campus and not symptomatic of some sort of burgeoning neo-fascist movement.”
Ní Chormac, however, says that the distinctions in the rhetoric of the alt-right movement are not all that clear. “Any arguments by the alternative right movement that I have heard or that I have interacted with have had undertones of racism and sexism and homophobia – ironically, because Milo is gay.”
“Any arguments that I have heard have had undertones of racism, sexism and homophobia”
The debate surrounding politically correct culture on campus and free speech is a core issue for the alt-right movement. However, the support for the movement in UCD seemingly stops short of a discussion surrounding white identity and white nationalism, which represent the more extreme elements of the alt-right. Dr Thompson warns against these particular elements of the alt-right movement being entertained. “Of course they are careful to adjust their message to the audience when visiting a college campus. However, many of the ideas that the alt-right is promoting are deeply antithetical to liberal democratic values. I would urge anyone who is attracted to the alt-right to do a bit of research.”