Not 'alt-right': Call it what it is

Not 'alt-right': Call it what it is
Comment: Giving a platform to the 'alt-right' normalises bigotry and white nationalism. We have a duty to call it out, and hold it accountable as hate speech, writes Dan Arel.
8 min read
24 Jan, 2017
Why didn't we learn from the rise of the Tea Party? asks Arel [AFP]

They say history repeats itself. Watching the rise of the so-called "alt-right" in the shadow of the now minority Tea Party movement proves this point to be true.

Throughout President Obama's time in office, the Tea Party held rallies claiming he was a secret Muslim, or that he was born in Kenya and not eligible to hold office.

The media at the time never did a good job of holding the Tea Party accountable for its outright racism and instead looked at them as a far-right version of the Republican Party and referred to them as such.

As we watched Donald Trump rise to power, we witnessed the rise of a white nationalist movement, right under the nose of mainstream media outlets too afraid to call the movement what it was.

Since the election of Trump as President of the United States much has been written about how he won against almost all odds, while losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. Many pointed fingers at Clinton's hawkish attitude or her email scandals. Some blamed the Democratic Party for abandoning workers around the country.

One undeniable reason is the rise of white nationalism, coupled with anti-immigration and anti-Muslim bigotry that was harnessed not only by Trump, but by the so-called alt-right, which spent the election trying to rebrand their neo-Nazi style of politics as everyday conservatism. It claimed to care about issues such as the economy, while blaming immigrants and other minorities for the country's problems.

The biggest question remaining is just how a fringe group of outspoken white nationalists gain national notoriety, surpassing even the most far-right of Republican candidates and help elevate Trump to not only take over the Republican party but to also win the electoral college and win the presidency?

How did we not learn from the mistakes of the rise of the Tea Party, and act before we let it happen again? 

Bannon's appointment was not met with the fierce reaction from the media it should have been

The question itself is multi-faceted, but it's not hard to find a close connection to not only the media's refusal to label the alt-right as outright racist, but also the fact that the centrist liberals - from the neoliberals in the Democratic Party to the classical liberals - offer cover to the alt-right. 

As Democratic Party ideology shifted from more left-wing social welfare policies of Theodore Roosevelt to the more Wall Street friendly alliances of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the battle between the parties focused on whatever issues were popular at the time, instead of combating the growing extremism among the far-right.

  Read More: American white supremacy rears its ugly head

Hillary Clinton experimented with attacks against the alt-right when in a campaign stop during the 2016 election she referred to half of Trump's supporters as a "basket full of deplorables," but quickly apologised and focused shifted away from the radical racism of the group and focused on Clinton's comments.

Even when Clinton did directly attack the alt-right, holding them accountable for their racism and bigotry, the media again focused on her negativity and ignored the implications of her message.

'If someone calls you an anti-Semite, you go to their page and put up swastikas,' Yiannopoulos, Breitbart editor

Spokespeople for the alt-right, such as Breitbart Editor Milo Yiannopoulos and its founder, Richard Spencer, head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute (NPI), benefit from endless media coverage that skirts around the group's ideology and showcases them as just another far-right faction of the Republican Party.

Donald Trump himself even hired one of the biggest alt-right proponents Steve Bannon, former Editor-in-chief of Breitbart, to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor.

Bannon's appointment was not met with the fierce reaction from the media it should have been, and centrists failed to show any level of outrage by the appointment. Glenn Beck, one of the founders of the Tea Party conservative movement, has been one of the loudest voices of opposition to Bannon.

Beck called Bannon a "nightmare" and went as far as to compare him and his views to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. "Bannon has a clear tie to white nationalists," Beck said. "He's built Breitbart as a platform for the alt-right.

"He's on record saying that. He's on record defining the alt-right. He knows what it is. He's a guy that wants to tear this system down and wants to replace it with a new system."

While Bannon works inside the White House to rally white nationalist support, others, like Yiannopoulos will be out on the college circuit, speaking to spread the message.

Yiannopoulos is known for using his platform not just to spread his conservative message and his alt-right propaganda, but has come under fire for harassing transgender students, broadcasting their names and photos.

When students at these universities turn out en masse in protest, or a petition gains so many signatures that the university is forced to cancel the event, outrage predictably ensues from the far-right conservatives.

The same outrage, surprisingly, was also shared by the centrist liberals who defended Yiannopoulos' right to free speech. While Yiannopoulos never lost his right to free speech, he lost his platform, which was in response to his trans harassment and what many consider a fascist message.

It's the centrists who pretend that free speech and open discourse mean that we must listen to bigotry and racism

Recently, an event was canceled at University California, Davis, and even the interim chancellor, Ralph Hexter, said he was "deeply disappointed" by the protests and cancellation.

"Our community is founded on principles of respect for all views, even those that we personally find repellent," Hexter told the Los Angeles Times after the cancellation. "As I have stated repeatedly, a university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive."

What Hexter, and those like him get wrong is that this mindset normalises anti-trans bigotry and white nationalism. Yiannopoulos isn't offering opposing views or simply offending people. He is harassing marginalised communities and then encouraging his followers to do the same.

Yiannopoulos has admitted his favorite political tactic is trolling. "If someone calls you an anti-Semite, you go to their page and put up swastikas," he told Bloomberg. He said he uses this as a trap to them mock and harass the accuser. He calls this "double down, don't back down".

These outlets and commentators do the citizens of the country no favors by walking on eggshells around neo-Nazis

These are the kind of "opposing views" that centrists are defending. They do so under the guise of a free exchange of ideas, and believe it's crucial to society that we take trolls like Yiannopoulos seriously and then shame those who turn out in protest of such harassment and bigotry.

Dave Rubin, an appointed hero among the classical liberal movement with his online talk show, The Rubin Report, has been one of the driving forces behind normalising the white nationalist message: Instead of holding the alt-right accountable for their hate speech, he blames the left for standing up for social justice.

In an interview between Yiannopoulos and Rubin, Yiannopoulos said that "I've come around to believing that actually having Trump in the White House would be wonderful," and continued that, "Trump is a direct creation of the progressive left. He has been brought about, he exists, because of the people we both hate."

Rubin's reply to this claim was only that, "I'm with you there."

The irony lost on Rubin, is that Trump and the white nationalist movement behind him would not have grown if they had not been given a platform to spread their message, unquestioned.

If it walks like a Nazi and talks like a Nazi, don't call it alt-right, call it what it is

Rubin's show provides them such a platform. It's not the Left that sought to normalise this message, but the centrists who pretend that free speech and open discourse mean that we must listen to bigotry and racism and not raise our voices in opposition.

In response to the rise of white nationalism, progressive news outlet ThinkProgress officially stopped using the label "alt-right". In a note from the editors, they wrote:

"ThinkProgress will no longer treat 'alt-right' as an accurate descriptor of either a movement or its members. We will only use the name when quoting others. When appending our own description to men like Spencer and groups like NPI, we will use terms we consider more accurate, such as 'white nationalist' or 'white supremacist.'"

Yet, more mainstream news sources still use the label alt-right and simply label Yiannopoulos, Bannon, and others as conservatives. This suppresses the truth about their ideology and has normalised their voices in the political arena.

Even outside of the country the US media is normalising white nationalism. In a piece about the growing neo-Nazi movement in Austria, CNN asked if the new face of this movement, Martin Sheller, was a simply a hipster, or just part of the far-right.

Journalists and news outlets are essential to democracy, without them, politicians and parties go unchecked and have no one to be accountable to.

These outlets and commentators do the citizens of the country no favors by walking on eggshells around neo-Nazis. Instead, they need to borrow from ThinkProgress and call a spade a spade. If it walks like a Nazi and talks like a Nazi, don't call it alt-right, call it what it is. Citizens and especially voters deserve to know the truth about what is happening around them.

The media let down the American people when they allowed the Tea Party to rise, and are repeating history, as they allow racism to grow as openly white nationalists take a seat in the most powerful office in the world.

Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist and the author of The Secular Activist; and Parenting Without God. 

Follow him on Twitter: @danarel

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.