The influencers like Peterson and Shapiro show there are some lighter or inadvertent versions of what the alt-right represents, though the blending of their audiences with the more radical side adds another layer, the deeper end of the ideology was brought to mainstream attention by Richard Spencer who is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“Richard Spencer’s clean-cut appearance conceals a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethnostate in North America. His writings and speeches portray this as a reasonable defense of Caucasians and Eurocentric culture. In Spencer’s myopic worldview, white people have been “dispossessed” by a combination of rising minority birth rates, immigration, and government policies he abhors” (SPLC n.d.).
Richard Spencer was indicated as one of the big instigators of the Charlottesville rally and has faced large amounts of scrutiny and backlash, he is no longer able to upload his content onto some platforms or faces restrictions on others, and since 2014 has been barred from entering some countries in the European Union for trying to organize a conference for white supremacists.
Regardless to say, Barrouquere (2020), the tide of Spencer’s movement has died down and gone quiet, appearing to be in a fractured state.
Richard Spencer seems to be Louis Beams’s theory in practice, adapting the message of white supremacy to the times, by referring to it as white nationalism and presenting his ideas in a rational manner that appeals to an audience that might not get behind more blatant white identity politics. This seems to have been the case with another infamous figure that appeared with the rise of the political Donald Trump, Milo Yiannopoulos, who, for a time, was a face of the far-right news network, Breitbart, along with Steve Banon, the chairman of Breitbart News, who became President Trump’s chief strategist. With all three getting mainstream attention for their views on issues such as immigration, white identity, feminism, and identity politics, controversial figures but were lifted by the tide of Trump’s rise to power and the proliferation of their message online. The nature to court controversy and egg on their haters also seems to have served them well as they utilized memes and mustered support from more anonymous platforms such as Reddit, 4chan, and twitter, in amplifying, and even decontextualizing, their message and responses to criticism.
Although their influence fell due to a combination of personal controversies as well as inciting hate and violence the more heavy-handed white supremacist messages were pushed out of social media sites like youtube and Facebook since they have been trying to crack down on or ban accounts that promote violence or hatred. Though as of the completion of this post, there have been reports of Facebook actually giving right-wing pages like Breitbart preferential treatment, showing that the alt-right still has a presence and influence that can fly under the radar.
These are only a handful of mainstream examples of the alt-right pipeline and these figures, alongside Trump, stand as demagogues within the movement. A concept that was looked at by Allport (1955), who noted that bigotry can be a big business on the part of “the prophets of deceit.”
In referring to the “prophets of deceit”, Allport is summarizing the work of Lowenthal & Guterman (1949), who explains the concept of the “agitator”, as a figure that presents themselves as a beacon of change that will take on the threat to social turmoil that he claims underlies many of society’s ills at the moment, from immigrants stealing jobs to the undermining of patriarchal values the agitator will rally those willing to his side while not necessarily bringing any change and instead regurgitates traditional scripts or social norms that the agitator and their audience themselves benefit off of, despite the harm that privilege might bring and has brought onto others.
The agitator is essentially a demagogue and these figures meet much of the criteria put forth. From Jordan Peterson, with one of his more famous slogans, “clean your room” mirroring the agitator outlined in the Prophets of Deceit, Lowenthal & Guterman (1949)
By comparing his rebellion with an act of elementary hygiene, he suggests that essentially everything is alright and that all we need is some more “order” or “orderliness.”
The idea of a “housecleaning” seems to have a reassuring effect on both listeners and potential backers: nothing too extreme is contemplated. At the same time it serves as a substitute for genuine political activity (p.102).
Both Peterson, Shapiro, Yiannopoulos, Banon, and Spencer have made quite lucrative careers from their shallow arguments without really addressing the larger structural problems that maintain inequality and injustices and often throw out labels of insanity or totalitarianism at the progressive movements they stand against. Another part of the play of the agitator whereby, Lowenthal & Guterman (1949),
By diagnosing the enemy in terms of a syndrome of hysteria, perversion, and insatiable hatred, the agitator stigmatizes him with the disease he is encouraging among his followers.
As well, with Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos, and those on the fringe of right-wing politics, whose methods are not new and were similar tactics were elaborated on nearly a century ago by Bernays (1928)
When an Imperial Wizard, sensing what is perhaps hunger for an ideal, offers a picture of a nation all Nordic and nationalistic, the common man of the older American stock, feeling himself elbowed out of his rightful position and prosperity by the newer immigrant stocks, grasps the picture which fits in so neatly with his prejudices, and makes it his own. He buys the sheet and pillow-case costume, and bands with his fellows by the thousand into a huge group powerful enough to swing state elections and to throw a ponderous monkey wrench into a national convention (p.25-26).
The messages coming from these figures, for maintaining “tradition” in one form or another, overlap and intertwine towards a certain goal, maintaining the status quo. Despite promises of a glorious return to greatness that never was, the sadistic undertones of the vision can be seen if you pay attention to what they mean and question how their ideas would need to be implemented for success, the answer isn’t one with all of humanity in mind. Though it has resonated with an out of touch boomer population and misguided youth.
The internet aspect of the group next time.
Allport, G. W. (1955). The Nature of Prejudice. Cambridge, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
Barrouquere, B. (2020, January 10). Once a Political Force, Richard Spencer and National Policy Institute Go Quiet. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2020/01/10/once-political-force-richard-spencer-and-national-policy-institute-go-quiet Retrieved July 30, 2020.
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. New York, NY: Horace Liveright.
Lowenthal, L., & Guterman, N. (1949). Prophets of Deceit. New York: Harper
Southern Poverty Law center (n.d.). Richard Bertrand Spencer. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/richard-bertrand-spencer-0 Retrieved July 30, 2020.