A ragtag but consistently repulsive movement

The Economist looks at Trump and Pepe and the alt-right. It doesn’t usually like to advertise such visitors from the sewer, but this isn’t usually.

Unfortunately, and somewhat astonishingly, the Alt-Right—the misleading name for a ragtag but consistently repulsive movement that hitherto has flourished only on the internet—has insinuated itself, unignorably, into American politics. That grim achievement points to the reverse sway now held by the margins, of both ideology and the media, over the mainstream. It also reflects the indiscriminate cynicism of Donald Trump’s campaign.

Or it reflects Trump’s actual tastes. I see no reason to think they’re too finicky to enjoy a consistently repulsive movement such as the alt-right.

Much of the Alt-Right’s output will seem indecipherably weird to those unfamiliar with the darker penumbras of popular culture. It has its own iconography and vernacular, derived from message boards, video games and pornography. Its signature insult is “cuckservative”, directed at Republicans supposedly emasculated by liberalism and money. Its favourite avatar is Pepe the frog, a cartoon-strip creature co-opted into offensive scenarios; one Pepe image was reposted this week by Donald Trump junior and Roger Stone, a leading Trumpista, the latest example of the candidate’s supporters, and the man himself, circulating the Alt-Right’s memes and hoax statistics. Its contribution to typography is the triple parentheses, placed around names to identify them as Jewish.

Its star is Laurie Penny’s BFF Milo Yiannopoulos.

One of the Alt-Right’s pastimes is to intimidate adversaries with photoshopped pictures of concentration camps; a popular Alt-Right podcast is called “The Daily Shoah”. To their defenders, such outrages are either justified by their shock value or valiantly transgressive pranks. Jokes about ovens, lampshades and gas chambers: what larks!

It’s both, really – the shock value and the valiantly transgressive quality. You should be shocked and you should also love the joke.

[F]rom the quack ideologues to the out-and-proud neo-Nazis, some Alt-Right tenets are clear and constant. It repudiates feminism with misogynistic gusto. It embraces isolationism and protectionism. Above all, it champions white nationalism, or a neo-segregationist “race realism”, giving apocalyptic warning of an impending “white genocide”. Which, of course, is really just old-fashioned white supremacism in skimpy camouflage.

Their numbers are hard to gauge, since they mostly operate online and, as with most internet bullies, anonymously: like dissidents in the Soviet Union they must, Mr Taylor insists, for fear of punishment. As with pornographers, though, the web has let them forge like-minded communities and propagate their ideas, as well as harass critics and opponents (particularly those thought to be Jewish). Online, they have achieved sufficient density to warrant wider attention. There, too, they and Mr Trump found each other.

Harassment is their form of activism.

The true relationship may be more a correlation than causal: Mr Trump’s rise and the Alt-Right were both cultivated by the kamikaze anti-elitism of the Tea Party, rampant conspiracy theories and demographic shifts that disconcert some white Americans.

Unquestionably, however, Mr Trump has bestowed on this excrescence a scarcely dreamed-of prominence. As Hillary Clinton recently lamented, no previous major-party nominee has given America’s paranoid fringe a “national megaphone”. Many on the Alt-Right loved that speech: “it was great,” says Mr Griffin. “She positioned us as the real opposition.” Because of Mr Trump, the Alt-Right thinks it is on the verge of entering American politics as an equal-terms participant. “He is a bulldozer who is destroying our traditional enemy,” says Mr Griffin. Mr Trump may not be Alt-Right himself, but “he doesn’t have to be to advance our cause.”

Who knows, by 2020 maybe they’ll have a party and a candidate and a win.

H/t Helen Dale

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