Where the Alt-Right Came From

A coalition of white nationalists, anti-Semites, 4chan users, academics of ill repute, and extremely bored young men has congealed into a movement called the alt-right.

The group, which bills itself as an alternative right-of-center movement, is a subset of the anti-establishment crowd with a bizarre genealogy. A large part of it comes out of the 4chan message board community, a collection of young, mostly college-educated men who delight in offense. Their ethos is ironic, irreverent, and often anti-social. One is seldom sure when they’re only joking.

They do entertain a serious dislike of political correctness, to which their response has been to go as far in the opposite direction as possible. This is the attitude they brought to the alt-right.

They’ve come into contact with a handful of websites and writers who have long been on the fringe of the conservative movement, and who run the gamut from merely tasteless to outright white supremacist. This is a significantly older group of men who lean far to the traditionalist side, seemingly incompatible with 4chan readers’ more libertarian bent but united to them by a vehement dislike of progressive politics and a possibly more vehement dislike of the establishment right.

Unlike the 4chan users, this older group has a more extensive pedigree within the conservative movement. They remember their intra-movement battles going back to the 1960s, and frequently rehash them on websites like VDARE and Takimag, writing for a small but loyal audience of cantankerous paleoconservatives and young contrarians.

Their candidate of choice is, unsurprisingly, Donald Trump, a candidate who has united old white men with young white men in a festival of ethnic grievance.

If Google searches are any indication—which in the case of a movement that dwells largely online, they certainly are—interest in the alt-right exploded towards the end of March.

Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart and a kind of poster boy for the alt-right’s younger wing, published a defense of the alt-right on March 29 that provoked a series of responses from the right’s more mainstream publications—National Review, the Federalist, and Reason.

Milo presents a good case study on the alt-right outlook. He became an icon of the 4chan wing because of his reporting on Gamergate, a scandal in the videogame world that boiled down to the coordinated harassment of women journalists because of 

the perception that they politicized videogaming. Needless to say, there were no winners in that battle, aside from Milo’s career.

He imparts a sensation of invulnerability to his followers because of the extravagant gay lifestyle he leads and publicizes on social media. They regard him as a kind of amulet against accusations of prejudice. He’s embarked on a speaking tour at U.S. colleges titled, “The Dangerous Faggot,” which gives you some idea of how the alt-right approaches sexuality and political correctness.

On April 4, the Federalist published an article titled “Yes, the Alt-Right Are Just a Bunch of Racists” by Robert Tracinski. He identified the driving force behind the alt-right: white identity politics.

“Hey, lefties,” Tracinski writes, “we finally found your racists for you.” Funnily enough, their politics look a lot like the sectarian identity politics that the left has been peddling for years now.

Milo’s apologia admits outright that the alt-right are cultural segregationists in the same vein as those on the academic left who whine about cultural appropriation. “The alt-right’s intellectuals would also argue that culture is inseparable from race,” Milo writes. “The alt-right believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved.”

In other words, the alt-right followed progressive academia down the rabbit hole of identity politics and arrived at the same illiberal, intolerant, and sectarian arguments. As Tracinski wrote in the Federalist, two wrongs don’t make a right.

We’ve searched hard for the causes of radical politics this year. Economic conditions may in part explain support for Donald Trump, but they don't explain the alt-right. They style themselves as intellectuals, and admittedly they are very different from the non-college-educated, working class supporters of Trump.

They’re responding not to economic conditions, but to the stifling intellectual conditions of America as a whole, and of the universities in particular. That their grievances are legitimate doesn’t excuse their prescribed solutions.