The “alt-right” explained

Joe Mulhall - 20 09 17

With the rise of Donald Trump, the world’s news media turned its gaze towards a new far-right movement calling itself the alt-right.

Despite having roots that stretch back decades, over the past ten years, researchers of the far right had watched a loose movement grow from the realm of ideas and handful of marginal websites, to a movement with significant online visibility, violent offline demonstrations and worldwide infamy. 

Despite this, there is still significant journalistic confusion over what exactly this new movement is. 

What is the Alternative Right?

Due to the confusion and complexities over the term alt-right, HOPE not hate chooses instead to refer to this broad movement as the “Alternative Right”. Within the Alternative Right are two distinct wings: the alt-right and alt-light (see below).

In broad terms, the International Alternative Right is an international set of groups and individuals. It operates primarily online (though with offline outlets) and shares a core belief that “white identity” is under attack from pro-multicultural and liberal elites and so-called “social justice warriors” who aim to undermine Western civilisation and the rights of white males.

Put simply, the Alternative Right is a far right, anti-globalist grouping that offers a radical “alternative” to traditional/establishment conservativism. 

The movement operates as an amorphous and mainly online political movement composed of a vast array of blogs, vlogs, websites and podcasts. Such a movement has no single leader or even a dominant organisation but, instead, resembles a many-headed hydra made up of a collection of figures and groups, none of which fully control the movement’s direction.


The broad movement is best understood as a conglomeration of a number of pre-existing social and political movements, especially: 

The European New Right – a current of thought dating back to late 1960s France and thinkers such as Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye. 

The ideas of this movement are best understood as a quest for the recovery of a mythical “European identity”. They fundamentally reject the ideals of the Enlightenment and of Christianity and fight back against “materialist” and modern ideologies from liberalism to socialism and, instead, posit a pan-European nationalism and a world of ethnically homogenous communities. 

The American Alternative Right – a broad term that includes a multitude of radical or non-conservative right wing and far right traditions. 

What they share is an offer of a right wing “alternative” to mainstream contemporary conservative Republicanism. Included here are elements of the American far right, nazi and white supremacist movements.

Online Antagonistic Communities – reactionary online communities built around various interest but who all engage in exclusionary, antagonistic behaviour (be it through trolling, creating offensive symbolism or just espousing and voicing hatred and contempt). 

In particular the such as popular message boards 4chan (especially its /pol/ board) and 8chan, have been highly influential on the Alternative Right, and are where the movement derives many of its most recognisable symbols and antagonistic energy.

The alt-right and alt-light


The Alternative Right has two distinct branches, the alt-right and alt-light. Both reject left-liberal democratic hegemony and the rights, freedoms and/or affiliated movements associated with it. This commonality has enabled the two branches to unite at times to oppose shared enemies and, especially, campaign for Donald Trump.

However, the alt-right and alt-light view issues through fundamentally different lenses. The dividing line is one of race versus culture. 

The alt-right is racist at its core, and many of its adherents envisage a world comprised of racially pure ethno-states. Antisemitism, homophobia and extreme misogyny are also rife within the alt-right. Amongst its most well-known activists are Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute, Jared Taylor of American Renaissance and Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer. 

The alt-light, however, rejects racial nationalism, advocating instead for Western chauvinist positions. Though the alt-light lacks an easily articulated ideology, in occupying a political space between the mainstream centre-right and the alt-right it has the potential to normalise far right ideas and, for some, to act as a gateway to the alt-right’s extreme viewpoints. Amongst its most well-known figures are Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Stefan Molyneux.

Journalistic confusion between the two wings stems from the fact that whilst the label alt-right was first adopted by white nationalist Richard Spencer, it was bought to mainstream attention by more moderate figures such as Yiannopoulos, Watson and Mike Cernovich who used it in reference to a broader online, new, anti-establishment right wing. 

The presidential campaign of Donald Trump, launched in June 2015, was to provide the momentum that held the broad Alternative Right together, which saw him as a means to disrupt the Republican establishment and liberal consensus. Whether done in ignorance or not, in standing under the same banner with racists, figures such as Yiannopoulos have greatly increased the reach of white nationalist influence without adopting its racist core. 

The relationship was not to last, however, and as Spencer’s noxious ideology became impossible to ignore and scandals befell more moderate figures, both sides have attempted to disentangle themselves from the other. 



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