Trump normalizes racism

“Alt-Right” and New Media: To normalize right-wing populist propaganda

The history of the 10s will still have to be written, but looking back at the political culture of the past decade, one term will be inevitable: It was the decade of the "alt-right." Shortly before the beginning of the decade, it was used as a counter-slogan against existing “neo-” and “paleoconservative” currents in the USA, and in the course of the following years the word caught fire and caused wildfires, especially in the network. Attacks on women were known as the “alt-right” gamer, the mobilization of the “manosphere” against any form of feminism or “meme wars” against the supposed “cultural Marxism” in appropriate internet forums. Over the course of the decade, entire networks of new-right “alternative influencers” emerged, who took a sharper stance in American “culture wars”.

“Proud Boys” founder Gavin McInnes, 2017; Source: nbcnews.com

New identitary groups such as the “Proud Boys” or “Identity Evropa” (today “American Identity Movement”) and the various European forms of the génération identitaire. Terrorists in Texas, California and New Zealand identified themselves with the circulating ideologues of the "alt-right", and the same ideological set pieces mobilized supporters in Charlottesville in May 2017 under the slogan "Unite the Right" for a public demonstration - with a fatal outcome. Yes, ultimately the election victory of a Donald Trump also falls under the seal of the "alt-right."

At this point in time at the latest, however, around the middle of the decade, the question would have arisen as to what was actually still "old" - that is, alternative - about the "alt-right", since with the election victory the march through the Internet zones seemed "from." 4chan to the White House ”came to an end and the populist right had reached the center of power. The “alt-right” had become the new right, the difference between “right” and “alt-right” seems to have been blurred. The significant decline in Google search queries to “alt-right” could not be explained as a slowdown in the movement, but as its successful occupation of the political mainstream.

The concept of "alternative" rights

There are some good reasons to stick to the term “alt-right”. So this still describes a political differentiation above all from the former right-wing mainstream - in the USA above all from traditional, conservative Republicans, but also from the economically liberal "neocons" from Reagan to G.W. Bush - against whom the term “alt-right” was coined in 2008 by Richard Spencer. The "alt-right" also deviates from the traditional right-wing spectrum, which is by no means free from racist tendencies, in its undisguised ethnocentrism, which is why Alexandra Stern, for example, adheres to the term "alt-right" in her new book on the subject. In addition, there is the transatlantic, even transnational connectivity to other “alternatives”, whether “for Germany”, “for Sverige”, or elsewhere. Above all, however, the “alt-right” imprint still connotes a political structure that would be inconceivable without the Internet and social media: In the decade of the “alt-right”, these media structures and possibilities formed the breeding ground for their decentralized ones Could shape networks. Anonymous message boards like 4-chan and 8-chan, platforms like YouTube, whose algorithms favor political radicalization for economic reasons, easily manipulable forums like Facebook and Twitter, to which Jessie Daniels has demonstrated a structural affinity for “white supremacy”: They all do it Biotope in which “alternative” forms to the traditional right could indeed develop.

New keywords and new contours

Nevertheless, the term "alt-right" seems to have lost both binding and explosive power lately. After the death of the counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, some prominent representatives of the US “alt-right” attempted to distance themselves from the term (even if not from the ideological positions it denoted) and, as Stern noted, to decentralized forms of political ones Return organization in the network. In the meantime, other catchphrases are being introduced here under which the political project is to be continued and to gain new contours - be it as “identitarians”, as blunt “nationalists” or (more precisely) as “ethnonationalists”, as “affirmative right” or even as "dissident right."

It is no coincidence that the latter term, which is favored among other things in the right-wing intellectual environment of Greg Johnson's publication platform Counter-Currents, is reminiscent of formerly left-wing positions. Explicitly and strategically, the new right endeavors to hijack and inherit precisely those political forms which the new social movements had developed since the 1960s (an informative handbook on European "identities" describes this with the terms "mimicry" and der "Retorsion"): Many identitarians' strategies differ from the APO happenings of the late 1960s such as pudding attacks, the blowing up of lectures or the affixing of banners in public spaces only in terms of the new reinforcing effect of social media.

Reinterpretation of basic democratic terms

Much more perfidious, however, is the reinterpretation of basic democratic terms from left-wing to right-wing alternative slogans, which, under the guise of semantic borrowings, replace the formerly progressive, democratic contents with racist ones. This tendency has its forerunners in the integration of socialist elements, especially in German fascism, or in Henning Eichberg's coining of a term such as Ethnopluralism in the 1970s, which was then taken up and used by the Nouvelle Droite around Alain de Benoist. This quasi-casual specification of pluralism under ethnic signs has now been adopted by the "alt-right".

William Lind and Donald Trump; Source: theamericanconservative.com

In the name of diversity, racist forms of social exclusion and demarcation are propagated - including those in relevant science fiction novels by William Pierce’s "alt-right" Turner Diaries to William Lind’s Victoria be played through.

Their fantasies of violence expose the supposedly anti-hierarchical vision of a pluralistic coexistence of ethnic groups as well as the social Darwinism of the envisaged demographic experiments. These are then expanded biologically with a rhetorical wink, for example when the "alt-right" refers to the protection of themselves with the talk of "human biodiversity" Biodiversity refers (but means the protection of a white “race” from the supposedly imminent “grand replacement”). Like the widespread and belittling slogan "It's OK to be white", these empty phrases are intended to credibly deny the unmistakable fascist content (race, living space, hierarchy, anti-democracy) by referring to apparently harmless, even democracy-friendly terms of plurality and diversity.

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In view of these rhetorical borrowings and strategic overlaps with regard to progressive democratic positions, it is hardly surprising that some new right-wing intellectuals prefer a polemic “dissident” to the more descriptive prefix “old” - which at the same time is intended to prevent their appropriation by any political establishment. Against this tendency, in line with the history of the left, especially in the European context, there is a process that reminds of the long march of the formerly extra-parliamentary opposition through the institutions of the 1960s - the AfD, the British UKIP or the French Rassemblement National relevant examples of the success of this strategy from the right.

Enforcement

At first glance, the “alt-right” plays a subordinate role for right-wing populist parties in Europe (a second look would be worthwhile, however). But if the impression is correct that on the other side of the Atlantic not only the search queries but also the use of the term "alt-right" are declining, we should not be satisfied with the self-statements of those who have a strategic interest in it have to reconsider the political semantics. If such attempts at redefinition - whether as ethno-nationalistic or dissident - suggest the admission of political errors, especially after Charlottesville, the opposite seems to me to be the case. The trend towards declining use of “alt-right” to denote right-wing populist energies is an index of their implementation.

The spaces occupied by the “alt-right” on the internet and in social media have material dynamics of their own: the media possibilities are primarily technological, the underlying interests economic. The struggle there is political. More precisely: It is, as representatives of the "alt-right" like to put it, "metapolitical." It is, as the "alt-right" frankly admits and the Saxon AfD posters, about the conquest of discourse sovereignty.

Andrew Breitbart; Source: washingtonpost.com

Andrew Breitbart, the mastermind of the "alt-right" and founder of one of their most important mouthpieces, coined the phrase "politics is downstream from culture" for this struggle - whoever exerts an influence on culture upstream determines the political mainstream. So, in order to change the world, it is important to first interpret it differently. Loosely based on Antonio Gramsci, whom the "alt-right" appropriated like de Benoist from the Nouvelle Droite in the 1970s and 80s in the same breath in which they demonized him as a "cultural Marxist", it is about occupying hegemonic positions in trench warfare for cultural power.

Normalization

From this perspective, the 10s can be read in retrospect as a discourse-political success story of the “alt-right”. To the same extent that their leading figures, from Richard Spencer to Milo Yiannopoulos to Steve Bannon, lost their personal influence (if only to rebuild it, like Bannon, on the European side of the Atlantic), their provocations in the normalized media discourse. In the language of the right, the “overton window” of what can be said has meanwhile shifted to such an extent that terms and opinions previously tabooed as extremist - such as “ethnonationalism”, “invasion” through migration, “WQ” (women question) or even on the “JQ” (Jewish question) - have entered media usage. In Germany, with the AfD, parts of the population are politically represented by prominent MPs such as Alice Weidel, who uninhibitedly spread “alt-right” conspiracy theories about a now Germanized “cultural Marxism”. Discourses that were initially fueled on 4chan and 8chan have now jumped over to the so-called “mainstream media”.

The role of the media

The prime example of this is undoubtedly Fox News, still the leading news operator in cable television, which in the Trump era can hardly be described as anything other than state television. The station has not only given up any distance from government organs, let alone Trump's twitter feed, but has also given up any demarcation from the Internet discourse of the “alt-right” on 4-chan and YouTube. For example, the confused manifestos that the assassins in Christchurch, Poway, El Paso and elsewhere published on 4chan and Facebook are hardly disentangled in news broadcasts on Fox - on the contrary, the station has long since changed the language of the assassins.

Tucker Carlson, Fox News; Source: mediamatters.com

Laura Ingraham on Fox News, 2019; Source: mediamatters.org

In the monologues with which they begin their massively popular shows every evening, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham use the same terms and phrases as the assassins and promote their conspiracy theories: The USA is exposed to a Latin American "invasion" on the Mexican border; White US Americans are therefore directly facing the demographic abyss of “cultural and ethnic replacement” - an ideologue that was shaped in France by the conspiracy theorist Renaud Camus and then chanted in Charlottesville with fatal consequences.

But the mainstreaming successes of the “alt-right” are also becoming apparent in social media, for example when Twitter is now unable to curb white suprematism. It is true that, as Twitter's action against IS on the Internet shows, algorithms can be developed that curb the spread of hatred and agitation.But the attempt to develop such algorithms for ethno-nationalist, right-wing extremist terrorism failed because too many Twitter accounts in the republican mainstream, including those of MPs of the party, would have been caught in the safety nets: every conceivable algorithm for detecting and removing corresponding tweets, employees at Twitter discovered that would inevitably have led to an automatic exclusion of Republican party members - which would also not be in the business interests of a media company whose economic power is based on the accumulation of accounts, clicks and retweets.

Trump as a symptom

Trump-retweet, 2015; Source: bbc.com

Trump's election victory is therefore also a success of the "alt-right," as their racism has now become capable of governing. The anti-Muslim push against entry from Islamic countries was only an early harbinger of this, and Trump's retweets of British right-wing extremist videos and images of leading politicians with defamatory intent are mere symptoms of the structural anchoring of white suprematism in the US government and its media strategies . A president whose twitter feed is permanently networked in the conspiracy-theoretical milieu cannot have any political interest in addressing right-wing extremist terrorism or in pursuing it consistently. Because that would require distancing oneself from the racism of the "alt-right", which, however, expressly has no interest ("[white supremacism] is not something this administration is comfortable speaking out against" - a former employee of the Trump administration explains tried why the Department of Homeland Security is reluctant to make domestic terrorism a strategic priority).

With such statements, with the seamless feedback between Fox News and Trump's Twitter networks, and thanks to the political inability to stop their spread on the Internet, the "alt-right" has reached the mainstream. As I said, the story will still have to be written, but it should not be guided by the semantic confusion of the "alt-right", let alone be duped, as by the ostensible waning of the term under which the new rights are, especially in the English-speaking world - and thus also in the global network - at the beginning of the decade. In view of the decentralized forms of political organization on the Internet, the term "alt-right" coined for it loses its weight to the extent that its content becomes socially accepted.

The past decade began with the free choice of “no alternative” to the unword of the year; it ends with the sustained success of a new right (not only) in the network that is connoted as “alternative”. One of the most urgent political tasks for the 1920s will be to ensure that there is no alternative to this.