No End in Sight: The Unstoppable Alt-Right
By ANDREW COX | June 28, 2017
In February, protests against a scheduled event featuring self proclaimed Alt-Right provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, quite literally engulfed the University of California Berkeley campus in flames, with the detonation of a firebomb and weaponization of fireworks prompting university officials to cancel the event. Yiannopoulos, who was scheduled to speak as part of his nationwide college campus tour, condemned the cancellation as an infringement of his right to free speech.
Only two months later, the scene was set all too familiar when the California university, citing security concerns, preemptively decided to reschedule a speech by notable conservative Lauren Southern. During the days that followed, it is estimated that over 1000 protesters and counter-protesters gathered at the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.
As was the case following the Yiannopolous event, violence quickly erupted when fireworks were launched and rocks thrown between protestors. At one point, a large dumpster bin was used as a battering ram. Members of both sides of the protest were arrested for assault, including one Bay Area college professor who used a U-shaped bike lock to attack three people during the rally.
No less than a week later did violence emerge yet again, following the postponement of a speaking event that was to be held by Ann Coulter, a conservative political commentator. Fortunately, finals week kept the violence to a minimum throughout the Berkeley campus as agitators refocused their efforts on academic work.
The term “Alt-Right” was first used in 2008 by Paul Gottfried to describe an “alternative Right” wing of conservatism that distanced itself from the actions of the highly established GOP, in favor of a more fundamentalist approach. The Alt-Right has no governing body or parent organization, so there is no unified platform that one can ascribe to the movement. Rather, the group supports broad themes of overt nationalism, isolationism, economic protectionism, deregulation and restrained government. Critics of the movement describe the manifestation of these ideas as racist, homophobic, antisemitic, antifeminist and even neo-nazi in nature.
For better or worse, the Alt-Right has established itself as a dynamic and powerful coalition and is a force to be reckoned with. Despite continued efforts of both the left and mainstream conservatives to combat the Alt-Right, if anything, the Alt-Right has become stronger. Due to the nebulous nature of the Alt-Right, the mainstream media seldom accurately covers related material, leading to misinformation about the movement.
Alt-Right culture revolves heavily around the concept of “trolling”, agitating one or more individuals for one’s personal amusement. The Alt-Right has trolled online through the dissemination of inflammatory memes as well as in the real world. Recently the movement found success in convincing a number of mainstream media reporters that the traditional 'o.k.' hand gesture had been adopted by white supremacists as a secret symbol, leading to great media hysteria. Considered by some to be harmless pranks, others claim that the actions are of great societal detriment, straining an already tense national climate. The nature of trolling itself makes it unclear whether or not many of the statements espoused by Alt-Right members are genuine beliefs or merely dark humor.
The left is clear in its condemnation of the Alt-Right. During a speech in Reno, then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton described the actions of the Alt-Right as “race-baiting, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-woman”. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump expressed his disapproval towards the movement in an interview with the New York Times. Unlike other political movements, the Alt-Right weathers each controversy unscathed, and is galvanized by allegations of misconduct.
When met with violence, the Alt-Right has been consistent in refusing to retreat, leading to the creation of a subgroup known as the “Alt-Knights”, led by Battle of Berkeley veteran, Jordan “Based Stickman” Chapman. As anger towards the musings of the Alt-Right intensifies, physical violence between the Alt-Right and opponents has spread across the country.
Many moderates and mainstream conservatives are fearful of the continued rise of the Alt-Right, as the associations with white supremacy and nationalism are often misappropriated. In many college campuses where conservative students are outnumbered many times over, these associations can be especially damaging.
Fundamentally, if the left and mainstream right are to succeed in disassembling the Alt-Right, a better understanding of why it exists is crucial. Disaffection towards the country’s direction, a sentiment shared by many non-Alt-Right voters, is a driving force. Whether justified or not, eight years of progressive policy from the Obama administration created a sentiment of victimization, leaving many feeling that the country had strayed too far from whatever they deem to be 'true America'. The lack of condemnation by mainstream Democrats of the left’s more violent Alt-Right equivalent, “Antifa”, leaves many believing that the Alt-Right’s cause is a necessary one. It’s a classic case of two children refusing to back down because the other started it. Ultimately, if the post election tension ever clears, it will be through mutual concession and unified condemnation of all forms of extremism, otherwise there will be a Fourth and Fifth Battle of Berkeley.