The Term "Alt-Right" is All Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 28, 2016 at 09:16:47 PM EST
There is a misguided effort underway to not use the term "alt-right."  The effort, currently led by the Center for American Progress, claims that using the term somehow helps provide PR cover for racists.  It would be nice, but there is rarely a one word solution for anything. That's why this campaign is a non-starter that will be ignored by almost everyone. This major report on the Alt-Right and its founder, by Sarah Posner in Rolling Stone is a good example of just how ignored this campaign will be.  Sensible discussions of the term are busting out all over.  Slate had a good discussion titled "There's No Better Term for the Alt-Right Than Alt-Right."  Another approach was outlined by scholar Matthew Lyons, (Co author with Chip Berlet of the book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, which has turned out to be an important scholarly handbook for our time). Lyons writes:

We are moving into a bleak period, when understanding the forces opposing us will be more important than ever. That means exposing supremacist ideologies in all forms and guises, but it also means developing a political vocabulary that lets us make distinctions, rather than treat all enemies as one undifferentiated mass.

In light of the controversy, the Associated Press has updated their Stylebook.  


"Our guidance on when and how to use the term "alt-right," including: avoid using it generically and without definition."

This is, of course true of all such terms. Never use them generically, and always define them so the reader can understand what the writer actually intends.  This is one of the reasons why at Talk to Action we have sought to avoid labeling and demonization.  

The AP Stylebook continues:


"alt-right" - An offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism; a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order.

    In AP stories discussing what the movement says about itself, the term "alt-right" (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the self-described "alt-right" or "so-called alt-right." Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters' actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. Depending on the specifics of the situation, such beliefs might be termed racist, white supremacist or neo-Nazi; be sure to describe the specifics. Whenever "alt-right" is used in a story, include a definition: "an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism," or, more simply, "a white nationalist movement."

    When writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization. Report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

    Some related definitions:

    racism - The broad term for asserting racial or ethnic discrimination or superiority based solely on race, ethnic or religious origins; it can be by any group against any other group.

    white nationalism - A subset of racist beliefs that calls for a separate territory and-or enhanced legal rights and protections for white people. Critics accuse white nationalists of being white supremacists in disguise.

    white separatism - A term sometimes used as a synonym for white nationalism but differs in that it advocates a form of segregation in which races would live apart but in the same general geographic area.

    white supremacism - The racist belief that whites are superior to justify political, economic and social suppression of nonwhite people and other minority groups.

    neo-Nazism - Combines racist and white supremacist beliefs with admiration for an authoritarian, totalitarian style of government such as the German Third Reich to enforce its beliefs.

Among other things, Lyons observes that the claim that,

"Steve Bannon 'and his ilk' invented the term 'alt-right' compounds the distortion. Bannon is actually a latecomer to the movement, a popularizer who -- first at Breitbart News and then as a member of Trump's team -- has offered a toned-down version of alt-right politics for mass consumption. Richard Spencer -- who introduced the term "alternative right" years ago to describe a convergence of diverse right-wing forces outside the conservative establishment -- has termed this fellow-traveler phenomenon "alt-lite."

On a deeper level, the "don't call them 'alt-right' campaign embodies the unfortunate idea that white supremacist politics are basically all the same. Supposedly, once we know that alt-rightists uphold racist ideology, the details don't really matter, and exploring them just distracts us from the central issue. But it's precisely these "details" that help us understand what has made the alt-right a significant force, its capacity to tap into popular fears and grievances, its relationship with other political forces, its internal tensions and points of weakness.

CAP is running away from reality. By the way, not to spread alt-right propaganda, but at several points during the NPI conference the alt-right people like Jared Taylor, Kevin MacDonald and Richard Spencer spelled out their own distinctions between the different current of the alt-right, which they also say is not the best term but they'll take it. It's useful to know. This video is seven hours if you've got the stomach to listen to them in their own words.

by Lee Cokorinos on Tue Nov 29, 2016 at 02:01:02 PM EST

And thanks too for the archival footage.  Good that it will be available after CAP decides that it matters after all.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Nov 29, 2016 at 11:51:14 PM EST

The definition of racism must always include power structures and how power relations are reinforced, just as the reality of "race relations" (in the last few hundred years) is always about power, access to resources, and so on.  

The definition given is a generic, even internet definition of racism.  It, however, leaves out the absolutely important aspect of power structures.

One can be racist to someone of another ethnicity who is less powerful than you, but racism by definition cannot flow the other way (a less powerful person cannot reinforce the power structure against a more powerful person - the idea doesn't even make sense).  

Discrimination (persecuting or harming another based on perceived differences, or acting on ones' beliefs about those differences in a way that is potentially harmful to the Other) or prejudice (making assumptions or holding views of superiority or inferiority based on perceived differences) can flow both ways, racism cannot.

The definition AS USED by race issue researchers includes the power structure.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Nov 28, 2016 at 11:16:56 PM EST

is the one offered by the Associated Press from their stylebook as part of a tool box of terms with which one might modify "alt-right."  

The point here is that conversations about terms and what they mean are important. What is not helpful are efforts like CAP's to shut down discussion by trying to ban a term everyone is going to use anyway.  If their campaign was successful, it would have the effect of dumbing down discourse.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Nov 29, 2016 at 12:09:10 AM EST

but I'm not surprised at the error.  AP rarely ever gets anything right about dominionism, why should they get things right about racism?  (They rarely go to the real people who research the issue, just as they generally do not go to the real experts on poverty issues and often cite people who reinforce false stereotypes.)

The "media" have long been shown to be very racist in reporting - in how they portray and characterize minorities and promote stereotypes.  I have, in my records somewhere, at least a couple of research articles researching and demonstrating this fact, even as my own work for one class demonstrated it (actually a few classes, but one in particular).  It would be good if they'd start getting things right more often!

I remember only too well the attempt to ban the term "cult" along with the connotations, and finding out (after some period of irritation at people blowing up at the use of the term - when the connotations and implications were exactly on target) later that one of the worst cult leaders at that time, "Reverend" Moon, was behind that attempt - because it accurately described the religion he formed around himself.  This is very much like that whole episode and his attempt to change discourse to cover up his evil and misdeeds and make people more vulnerable to his manipulations.  I don't agree with CAP at all, at least on this topic.

I find "Alt-right" to be an acceptable term to describe that collection of... (racist bigots).  However, I would argue that conservatives in general are more like them than not.  (A fact that I wish more people 'on the right' would think about.)  My observation is that the Alt-right has a relationship with conservatism about like the relationship between dominionism and fundamentalism... there are fundamentalists who are not dominionists, but all dominionists are fundamentalists in one way or another.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Nov 29, 2016 at 02:48:22 PM EST

... An offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism...

A major component of the online (at least) "alt-right" population comes straight out of misogyny, and continues to carry all the baggage of that history.

Trump will, have no doubt, feed such tendencies on a regular basis.

by Pierce R Butler on Sat Dec 03, 2016 at 10:24:12 PM EST


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