Why we must reject the Alt-Right

By Jonathon Van Maren

It may be one of the most frequently asked questions in conservative circles in this 2016 election cycle: Who is the alt-right? Who are these more-or-less previously unheard of Internet firebrands who skitter from Twitter to Internet comment sections throwing rhetorical Molotov cocktails, generating memes celebrating the orange Donald Trump as some sort of white savior, and accusing all traditional conservatives of being “cuckservatives”?

My friend J.J. McCullough described them in a column titled “All the angry young white men” as “folks who reject virtually every standard of conservative propriety and dwell on free-for-all message boards like 4chan and an archipelago of pseudonymous blogs,” and noted their obsession with racial differences. The alt-right’s online news microphone, Breitbart, published a long column explaining the intellectual origins of the alt-right and described them as politically incorrect pranksters who delight in trolling those with “respectable views” while offending everyone they can simply for the sake of doing so. From their perspective, the alt-righters are simply radical free speech activists who couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks.

If that was simply the case—that the alt-right was made up of jovial young men who enjoyed skewering the orthodoxies of both left and right while advocating for unfettered freedom of speech—there would really wouldn’t be much to discuss. The left is always collapsing onto the swooning couch at some recently-invented heresy, and stuffy conservatives should be able to take stinging jokes and harsh criticism, too. But there is a side to the alt-right that is dark and distinctly unfunny. For starters, their vicious anti-Semitism, which ranges from targeting Jewish commentators on Twitter to greeting the birth of Jewish conservative Ben Shapiro’s second child with comments like “Into the gas chamber with all 4 of you” and suggesting that the Shapiro family should be turned into lampshades. Yeah. You read that right.

Considering that his family had just been wished dead, Shapiro responded to all this with a critique of the alt-right that was extraordinarily calm:

As someone who despises political correctness with the fiery hatred of a thousand suns, I find this problematic. Here’s why: I believe there’s a difference between political incorrectness and bigotry, or political incorrectness and vulgarity. I have this problem with Trump, and I have this same problem with the alt right that simplistically embraces Trump because they mesh being a jackass with being politically incorrect. They’re not the same thing. It is politically incorrect to point out that black Americans commit a wildly disproportionate share of crime, or that Jews comprise an outsized percentage of successful media moguls, doctors, and lawyers. It is also politically incorrect to point out that cultural stereotypes are sometimes rooted in reality – Milo [Yiannopolous is] right about that. It is racist, however, to tweet the word “n*****” at a black person, and it is anti-Semitic to tweet a meme of a stereotypical hook-nosed Jew controlling the world or greedily collecting shekels. There is a difference between the two.

You’d think this was obvious, right? The sheer glee that alt-right trolls seem to derive from spreading hurt and pain on social media—not hurt feelings resulting from disagreement, mind you, but hurt resulting from adolescent name-calling and Twitter mobs—is disturbing. Breitbart might think these trolls are merry iconoclastic pranksters, but the simple fact is that racism isn’t funny. Anti-Semitism isn’t funny. Being a hateful jackass isn’t funny, either. There’s just something sad and ugly about people who enjoy causing other people pain just because they can. Yes, the alt-righters have the right to express themselves. Yes, free speech absolutely encompasses their right to spread the sort of bile they seem to find so hilarious. But that doesn’t change the fact that their views and actions should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Some in the increasingly fractured conservative movement seem to find these folks amusing. Some even see a measure of value in their so-called advocacy of free speech. This defence of the so-called alt-right confuses me. Alt-righters and the secular progressives with which conservatives have been doing battle for decades have something enormous in common: they both reject the traditional moral order.

The argument between secular progressives and conservatives has never been whether or not we should eliminate all standards that delineate what is good and right. It was an argument about where to draw those lines. Progressives have been taking terrifying strides towards creating a new moral order, one constructed around the central tenets of the Sexual Revolution and specifically against Christianity. What those who defend the alt-right don’t seem to understand is that the trolls only assist the progressives in that task. They do a magnificent job of ensuring that the traditional progressive caricature of conservatives—racist, bigoted, and all the rest—is front and centre across social media.

What alt-righters actually do is inadvertently make the case that secular progressives have been making all along: that speech codes are necessary. By being so distasteful and vicious, it is actually ordinary, decent people who are shocked and appalled, rather than the tiny group of cosmopolitan elites who hit the swooning couches when someone uses the wrong pan-gender pronoun. Rather than exposing the fundamental frivolousness and transparent stupidity of the constantly evolving progressive speech codes, the alt-right is actually creating a radical duality in which one side is spouting repulsive, cruel and often racially-charged language across social media and the other is loudly attempting to enforce ridiculous and draconian speech codes that attempt to force biological realities into gender ideologies. Ordinary people would prefer to reject both, but most are more likely to be appalled by Holocaust jokes than they are by transgender pronouns. Perhaps some might find it shocking, but most people are going to find Caitlin Jenner’s gender-bending insistence on being referred to as a “her” less offensive than suggesting that a Jewish commentator’s children be thrust into an oven.

Now to be fair, I’m told by several watchers of the alt-right that the legions of trolls don’t actually believe what they’re saying, that they’re not actually racist, that they’re not actually attempting to invoke anti-Semitic Internet mobs by “outing” Jewish commentators and pundits, and that they are only using Holocaust jokes and other such vile trash-throwing to expose the ridiculousness of those who find these things to be vile in the first place. Who knows, maybe that’s true. I don’t find that a compelling defence. To say that we should not do these people the discourtesy of taking them seriously is simply to affirm that they should be condemned and ignored rather than engaged. If two groups of people are discussing how to renovate a building while a third group is simply trying its very best to burn it down, it seems like an exercise in futility to engage in a conversation with the arsonists.

The alt-right may contain many members who do not engage in the racist and anti-Semitic trolling that currently defines their public image. The alt-right intellectuals that Breitbart highlights may actually exist. If that’s the case, these folks should be out front and centre saying really obvious things like, “No. It is not acceptable or funny to suggest a Jewish family be turned into lampshades.” That wouldn’t be so hard, would it? And by the way, nothing I am saying should be misinterpreted as an attack on the freedom of speech that the alt-righters are exercising. Frankly, if there are people out there who think that it’s hilarious to suggest a newborn baby be put into a gas chamber, I’d like them to speak up so we all know who they are. As the conservative movement works to rebuild after Trump completes his implosion, it will be handy to know who these particular basement-dwellers are in order to ensure that their vitriol doesn’t poison more than their own Twitter accounts.

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13 thoughts on “Why we must reject the Alt-Right

  1. Ovenmench says:

    Nah bro, the racism and counter-semitism is serious, it wouldn’t be fun otherwise. Also what is with the hateful bigotry against cute little lampshades?

    • John says:

      Undermench, I think you rather proved Jonathan’s point, didn’t you? I prefer the rather old-fashioned term, “Nazi”, to alt-right for your kind, but then again, I suspect you’d take that as a compliment.

      • John says:

        Jonathon, I think you’re going to have to face the truth here: you’re out of your depth intellectually, trying to battle these lovely people! No, seriously, I have noticed this phenomenon too and it is deeply disturbing. As Christians, these people need our serious prayers. Keep up the good work!

        • Matt says:

          I remember when I was naive and tried to call for common sense among these people when they were screaming racist obscenities because of a stupid muppet. Yes, a muppet.

          I said something along the lines that those of us claiming to be Christians on that page were certainly not acting as such. I think they wanted to burn me at the stake.

          I was called an ISIS supporter, fake Christian, social justice warrior, etc.

  2. Marie Atwood says:

    Thank you for your amazing article. I had come across the term alt-right but had no idea what it referred to. I fear for your generation unless something is found to halt these pampered, wild, ignorant kids. As long as they are allowed to do as they like things are going to get worse, and someone will step in as a leader, and if you read history you know what that will turn into.

  3. Chad says:

    You assume that by always trying really, really hard to prove you’re not racist, by being meek in the face of the constant fire hose of baseless accusations, that you will somehow prove progressives wrong. How’s that worked so far? The truth is that progressives have used RACIST!!! as a rhetorical H-bomb since Reagan left office, and they’ve done so because vanilla Republicans react to it exactly as if the Russians had lobbed a missile over the north pole. It’s a weapon that works every time it’s used, so they use it every time, fairly or not.

    The alt-right uses two tactics often called agree and amplify and ZFG (zero ‘effs given). By not running for cover when the accusations come flying in, by laughing at them, by mocking them, by doing the things we’ve seen the alt-right do, you disarm the power of that H-bomb

    “You’re a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe!” they cry.

    “I’m for equality” we answer with a sly smile. “We hate everyone about the same.” Insert Pepe meme here. Foam at the mouth rage ensues.

    By agreeing and amplifying their argument with mocking humor you neutralize the power of their one and only attack. Even better, you turn them into a laughing stock. In politics you can survive anything but being laughed at. The vanilla Republican playbook has won nothing, ever. The Republican party hated Reagan almost as much as Trump at the time he ran. They only look fondly back on him now because of him winning. Traditional conservatives haven’t conserved so much as a wedding cake. If your playbook gives you noting but loses for 4 straight decades, maybe, just maybe, you want to try a different one. Be noble losers with your precious dignity and decorum in tact if you want. I want to win.

    • Gideon says:

      Yes, you neutralize an internet debate, but you do not win the political debate of the future. Reagan was hated, but he did not troll people and he was not nearly as ignorant of foreign affairs as Donald Trump. Reagan was, in fact, a politician. He was the governor of California. That said, he failed to overturn Roe v. Wade thanks to his nomination of Moderate Sandra Day O’Connor and his spending sent the national debt skyrocketing. But still, he was slow to insult people and he did not use hyperbolic mocking to deflect false criticism.

      Trump didn’t win this campaign because of the legions of trolls or their “dank memes;” Trump won because he faced the most corrupt Democratic candidate in decades. And Hillary Clinton not only insulted and upset the young, populist base of her party, she also neglected the rust belt states that proved the difference in the election. Unless Trump can win re-election, this may very well be a Pyrrhic victory of epic proportions.

  4. Larry Lehmbecker says:

    Thanks. Refreshing to see a conservative willing to acknowledge that overt racism exists and is indefensible. Your point that alt-right intellectuals who did not hold racist views would speak up to distance themselves from the clearly racist rhetoric is well taken, and one of the most troubling aspects about Mr. Trump. Time and again when the opportunity arose to distance himself, to simply say “these people are despicable and I want nothing to do with them” he has flubbed it. By this, and by brining the chief architect and promoter of the alt-right into his inner circle, he gives cause to those who fear that at his core he sympathizes with the worst sentiments of racism and antisemitism emanating from that group.

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