4 Dec 2016

'Alt-right' - White nationalism in the White House?

From Sunday Morning, 9:40 am on 4 December 2016

The so-called 'alt-right' has shot to prominence in recent weeks with the election of Donald Trump. It has gone from being an obscure, largely online, subculture to a player at the centre of US politics. But what is it?

The White House, Washington DC

The White House. Photo: 123RF

Westfield State University criminal justice professor George J Michael has studied the movement for a number of years.

He told Sunday Morning the alt-right has been around for some time and has its roots in the white nationalist movement in the US. Richard Spenser, who founded the website Alternative Right in 2010, popularised the term. 

"It was he who presided over the NPI [white-supremacist organisation the National Policy Institute] conference that gained notoriety a couple of weeks ago. At the end of his speech he said something to the effect of 'heil Tump, heil to our people, heil victory', and ... a few members in the audience gave the ... Nazi salute.”

"That was really a public relations disaster."

He says while many equate the alt-right with white nationalists, the KKK or neo-Nazis, others such as libertarians and cultural conservatives are also part of the group.

Many of its leaders are highly educated and are trying to move its public image away from old-school, low-brow neo-Nazism.

"They believe that it was really people of European ancestry who founded the American nation, who created the institutions; democratic government, governmental accountability," Professor Michael says.

"They argue that there is something unique to ... European man that only those people can create the institutions that we associate with the governments of Western Europe and the United States."

They claim, he says, that they do not believe European culture is superior. Rather, they have the right to preserve their culture, and to live, as a race, separate from other races.

"But in order to create their separate ethno-nationalist state that would really presuppose ethnic cleansing on a massive scale."  

Trump was forced to distance himself from the alt-right following the Nazi-salute controversy, but people like Stephen Bannon - Trump's chief strategist and the chief executive officer of far-right media organisation Breitbart News - will now have the ear of the Commander-in-Chief.

"It is really remarkable that we have someone who is going to be President that seems to have been influenced by a lot of these populist ideologues," Professor Michael says.