- 20 Jan 17
Ahead of Trump's Inauguration later today, Kyle Mulholland takes a look at a far-right movement which has been gaining traction in America in recent months.
The Irish Times recently published a puff piece under that precise heading, which just happened to omit mention of the fact that the so called alt-right are a bunch of white supremacists, who espouse a barely altered, modernised brand of Nazism. How stupid, and misguided is that?
As a kind of belated ‘welcome to the New Year’, The Irish Times published an article online entitled, ‘The Alt-Right Movement: Everything You Need to Know’. The piece was penned by Nicholas Pell, an American writer based in Wicklow, with ties to the so called alt-right movement.
The title of the piece seemed innocent enough. After all, who wouldn’t want to find out “everything you need to know?” However, it didn’t take long to realise that the article was not exactly what it said on the half-baked tin.
In fact, what Pell wrote was purportedly a glossary of terms that are associated with or used to describe the alt-right movement. The twist was that the glossary was written and presented in a tone that was entirely sympathetic to what is effectively a neo Nazi ideology.
In many ways, what was omitted from the article was far more important, and telling, than the ludicrous, lightweight froth that was published. The result? A storm of criticism online, and via social media, wherein The Irish Times was accused of resorting in a pathetic way to clickbait. So, who was right – or even alt-right – and who was wrong?
Hatred of Women
In the Irish Times article, Nicholas Pell defined the alt-right, in rather glowing terms, as “A young, energetic upstart faction of the Trump coalition heavily active on Twitter and underground forums. Characterised by nationalism, scepticism toward globalism and an irreverent sense of humour.”
This description makes alt-right protagonists sound like a bunch of fun-loving internet bad-boys. And you can argue that this is precisely the self-image that this shower have been at pains to cultivate at every opportunity. However, to cut straight to the chase, a more accurate definition for the movement would be based on the following equations: Alt = Neo, Right = Nazi.
And here’s the rub. The ‘alt-right’ isn’t really a new phenomenon at all. The presentation may have changed, but their ideology is perfectly in line with the white supremacism that was touted by the noxious likes of the Ku Klux Klan – an organisation which was involved in the systematic oppression of black peope in the United States and which organised pogroms and lynchings.
So let’s be clear, Irish Times readers. Nichols Pell failed miserably to tell you this, but race hatred is a core part of what the ‘alt-right’ is all about. It permeates every aspect of their identity: from the imagery they have developed and attempted to spread, to the crummy vernacular showcased with such crassness in the Irish Times piece. For example, the ignorantly concocted pseudo-word ‘Dindu’ is defined in the piece as: “An attempt to approximate the African-American Vernacular English pronunciation of ‘didn’t do anything’ (‘dindu nuffin’)”.
In reality, as most readers will have picked up straight away, this is an ignorant, self-serving, racist caricature. It was coined in the website 4chan’s far-right/pol/board, and popularised on the ‘Coontown’ sub on Reddit – a forum that is (surprise, surprise) dedicated to race hate against black people. And yes, you did read that right: it is called Coontown.
The alt-right’s own self-serving handle (“Oh, we are so alternative”) was also coined in underground forums like /pol/. It gained prominence, dear readers of the Irish Times, and followers, through online controversies like the GamerGate harassment campaign.
This was a deliberate and protracted trolling campaign, carried out online, that targeted female game critics and designers with what was nothing less than concerted, orchestrated abuse. Women in the gaming industry – sadly, too often a preserve of onanistic males – were subjected to crude harassment. The bottom line is that those who identify with the term ‘alt-right’ are a bunch of hopeless misogynists: in short, they believe that, like blacks, women are inferior too.
Sick, juvenile and stupid as this sort of stuff was, and is, it might have remained a localised phenomenon, stuck on relatively obscure internet fora. However, during the 2015 US presidential campaign, this shower of nasties adopted the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, as – some people might like to avert their eyes now, because this is really pathetic – their ‘God Emperor’. Why? Because they revelled in his racially charged rhetoric; they identified with his incessant, pig ignorant belligerence; and, perhaps, most of all, they hated women so much that – more than anything else – they did not want Hillary Clinton (a woman!) as President.
Sadly, the truth is that the Democratic candidate then played into their hands. Hillary Clinton made them the subject of a speech, condemning them as the ‘deplorables’; it may have happened anyway, but that speech brought the ‘alt-right’ into mainstream discourse.
And the stupid thing is that the media were sucked into it – including, ultimately, The Irish Times.
You might imagine that an article entitled ‘Everything You Need to Know About the Alt-Right’, would tell you what the fuck the people who are trying to take control of mainstream political discourse stand for. Instead Nicholas Pell’s drivel attempted to paint a flattering picture by innuendo, without saying anything about the substance of their intentions.
Nationalist. White. Misogynistic. Anti-Semitic. Confrontational. Happy to daub swastikas on whatever forum walls they can. Does it sound familiar? What The Irish Times conspicuously forgot to say was that they really are Nazis.
Interestingly, in his Irish Times piece, Pell states that the term “Cultural Marxism” was coined by ‘paleocon’, or ‘traditionalist right wing’ thinkers. This isn’t strictly true. People with a sense of history wll realise that the term is a reframing of the word
‘Kulturbolschewismus’ – a Nazi term that denounced modernist movements and blamed them for ‘undermining’ western values. The term also doubled as an anti-semitic slur. Lest there be any doubt as to its lineage, the modern version featured heavily in the manifesto of Anders Breivik, the adorably alternative and no doubt highly humorous far-right mass murderer responsible for the atrocity in Norway in 2011, in which he slaughtered 69 young people.
You wonder might I be exaggerating? Richard B. Spencer is the current ‘face’ of the alt-right. The same Richard Spencer, born in 1978, in Boston, Massachusetts, has been identified as a white supremacist thought-leader by the Anti-Defamation League. In 2014, he was banned from 26 European countries after he attempted to organise the rather grand-sounding National Policy Institute Conference, which was in fact intended as a meet-up for ‘white nationalists’.
Spencer attracted media attention, when footage from a 2015 talk he gave at an ‘alt-right’ conference in Washington DC showed him declaiming ‘Hail Trump’ to a room of alt-right supporters – who responded by throwing up straight-right-hand salutes. Unfortunately, the media coverage of Spencer has been – on occasion at least – fawning and uncritical, glamourising him as if he is smart and sexy, where twisted and ridiculous would be far more accurate.
During his address, Spencer cited Trump’s victory as a major coup for the ‘alt-right’, gloating over the failed efforts of the press, which he wryly referred to as ‘Das Luegenpresse’ – which is German for ‘Lying press’ – to challenge Trump. ‘Das Luegenpresse’ was a popular term in early Nazi propaganda.
His condemnation of the press is, of course, ironic. Without the ham-fisted coverage afforded them by the press, the ‘alt-right’ would still be a fringe phenomenon.
The Burden of Balance
The Irish Times explained why they had published Pell’s article in a piece that was headlined, with great wit, “Why We Published Nicholas Pell’s Article on the Alt-right”. Opinion editor John McManus gave the stock, cliched response that media tends to give.
“We don’t subscribe,” he said, “to the notion of denying a platform to people we don’t agree with or that will provoke strong debate, as the Nicholas Pell piece has done.”
And he adds: “The existence of the alt-right cannot be simply ignored. It was a factor in the US election and is closely associated with figures in the incoming administration.”
Of course, no one is saying that The Irish Times should ignore the ‘alt-right’. What came through loud and clear in the criticisms of their decision to publish Pell’s article is that many readers feel that The Irish Times should not, under any circumstances, provide a soapbox, onto which deeply prejudiced, racist, misogynistic thugs can climb, to achieve added prominence for their sick views.
The truth is that Pell’s piece isn’t merely written by someone with an unconventional viewpoint; it is a determined attempt to normalise Nazis. It is written in an entirely uncritical way, by a flagrant sympathiser. And The Irish Times has undeniably been tainted, as a result of its ‘yes-platforming’ of a souped-up, essentially misleading depiction of what is a fundamentally nasty and ultimately dangerous way of looking at the world.
And here’s the irony. Until the media bigged them up, in the grand scheme of things, the ‘alt-right’ mattered hardly any more than the myriad of other hate-filled fringe groups that are out there lurking in the backwaters: they just happened to have more Twitter accounts and frog memes.
I know that most of you don’t need to be told this, dear readers of The Irish Times. But there is no harm in saying it either. Giving people who peddle hate an unchallenged platform has nothing to do with balance. Nor is it about ‘informing’ people any more than asking Adolf Hitler to write an editorial piece in the Irish Times in 1937 would have been.
The bottom line is that Nazis – whether old, new, neo or any other variation – don’t deserve to be given space to proselytise. In giving them precious column inches, and allowing a proponent to be the one who tells us – allegedly – “all we need to know” about the euphemistically named ‘alt-right’, The Irish Times have acted as a tacit supporter of the ideology of white supremacy.
So, here’s what I think. The starting point for any report on the alt-right is to inform people of the toxic nature of their beliefs. Right now, they are hugely irrrelevant in Ireland. However, anyone who plays a part in allowing them to gain currency by lying about who they are and what they truly represent is guilty of collaboration.
This breed of Nazi isn’t an entertaining, wise-cracking cadre of internet trolls out to have a good time by being iconoclastic. They are hell-bent on sharpening hatred and crushing those that they don’t like. In the US, that means Muslims, African Americans and Latinos. In the UK, inclreasingly, it means not just everyone who isn’t white, but also Eastern Europeans and others from the continent.
The Brexit debate was laden with right-wing, racist rhetoric from start to finish. After Brexit, hate crimes in the UK shot up by 400%. These crimes were inspired by the fact that through the course of the Referendum, coverage in the media normalised bigotry, hatred and xenphobia.
The extreme right has yet to gain a real foothold in Ireland. Our history seems to have rendered us resistant to the poisonous cocktail of white supremacy and backward looking nationalism. However, pieces like those published in The Irish Times, that let hate speak rise unchallenged, have the potential to embolden the bigots. And, as we know only too well, in the long run they are capable of aggression and violence – and who knows what else?
If we’re not careful, the Nazis currently appearing on our Twitter feeds could start organising on our streets.
Do The Irish Times really want to have blood on their hands?