It’s this angst over a more black and brown America, coupled with a widespread frustration with the political system, that is the driving force behind the juggernaut of Donald Trump–the motor fuel that propelled him from reality television to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Unencumbered by tired conservative talking points about cutting taxes and restoring family values, Trump has declared to this disaffected segment of the white population that he is here to “Make America Great Again”–or rather, to “Make America White Again.” And the sentiment has clearly resonated with the Republican electorate.
Since Trump came on the scene, though, many of the right-wing groups focused on the preservation of white status in America have congealed into a broad new movement, collectively known as the “alternative right.”
“Donald Trump has been able to communicate and reach average white people who are facing a very difficult future,” said Richard Spencer, one of the alt-right’s most prominent voices, who leads the National Policy Institute, a white separatist think tank.
“The alt-right was developing on it’s own,” he said in a recent interview with VICE. “We had our own discussions and disputes and ideas and terms. But because of the Trump movement, we’ve been brought to a new level. I never would’ve predicted that we would’ve been able to ride this wave. I’m used to despising most politicians, particularly Republicans. But with Trump, it’s really been different, and that’s an amazing thing.”
Spencer is credited with actually coining the term “alternative right” in 2008, and says that the “alt” part signifies a “break away from the constraints of mainstream conservatism.” He calls the movement “the intellectual force [behind] Trump,” explaining that when mainstream conservatives initially mocked Trump’s 2016 candidacy as a joke, it left an opening for the alt-right to fill the void. Although Trump has at least tepidly rejected the kind of overt white nationalism embraced by the movement, he has brought what Spencer described as a kind of “existential quality to politics,” particularly around the idea of white identity in a country that is becoming less and less white.
To Spencer and others on the alt-right, it’s not just that Trump has emboldened the movement to come out of the shadows; it’s that, with his overtly xenophobic message, he’s made more and more mainstream conservatives open to their way of thinking–a process that’s referred to by alt-right youth on internet forums and social media as getting “red pilled.” A nod to The Matrix the “red pill” can signify anything from feeling angst over GamerGate to stumbling on a men’s rights forum to finally recognizing the “cuckservatives” in the Republican Establishment who refuse to embrace their white identity.
“Essentially, you choose the red pill of truth as opposed to the blue pill of delusion,” Spencer said. “That is, the truth about race, the truth about America, the truth about the Jewish influence, the truth about women . . . These are hard truths, and these are truths that go against the grain of liberal ideology and wishful thinking.”
For those who’ve embraced these questionable “truths,” the solution is usually clear, involving the establishment of what Spencer calls an “ethno-state” for whites, absent the diversity that the alt-right believes has dragged the country down economically, socially, and culturally. Why you’d want to live in a place with bland food and shitty music is beyond me–but among the slew of different groups under the alt-right umbrella, from the red-pilled libertarians and men’s righters to internet trolls, the idea is a unifying theme, a sort of campaign promise used to proselytize and bring new followers into the fold.
In that sense, the alt-right and Trump are sort of symbiotic. Trump provides a populist gateway into the ethno-politics of the alt-right, and the movement provides a pseudo-intellectual pathway for ideologically experimental young conservatives to embrace Trump.
This back-and-forth has given the alt-right a cultural profile and awareness that has eluded white-identity politics for decades. Today, the movement is a powerful, if controversial, force in conservative politics, championed by right-wing provocateurs, like Ann Coulter and the writers at Breitbart, and reviled by other Republican commentators for sowing discord in the party. Even publications like the New Yorker and Time have given the alt-right some ink.
“I am delighted that Trump has ridden this wave of instinctive feelings that white Americans have about their country slipping through their fingers,” said Jared Taylor, founder of American Renaissance, a think tank that promotes scientific racism, or what Taylor likes to call “race realism.” Taylor’s been hosting conferences and publishing studies about the genetic differences between races since the early 1990s, helping lay the foundation for the white separatist ideology of the alt-right today.
Although not an outright Trump supporter like Spencer, Taylor thinks the real-estate mogul is the only presidential candidate who might share his views on race in the US. “I think Donald Trump, like most Americans, is annoyed to have to press one for English when he is on hold or to go into a convenience store and be the only white person there–the only person speaking English,” he said. “Most whites do not want to have grown up in the United States and end their days in an outpost of Guatemala or Haiti.”
“Why should whites want to become a minority?” Taylor added. “Donald Trump has never [asked this question], but, of all of the candidates, he is the only one that I can even imagine saying such a thing.”
“Conservatism has been a kind of white-identity politics that dare not speak its name,” Spencer said. “The vast majority of people who vote for Republicans are white. Yet if you mention that to most conservatives, they would blush or deny that and say, ‘Oh, it’s not really about identity or race.'”
“A medium-term goal that we really can achieve, one that I think I’m going to see in my lifetime,” he continued, “is the formation of an identity politics, an ethno-politics, for white people in the United States.”
This desire to “be left alone,” which gets its ultimate expression in Spencer’s idea of the ethno-state, is driven by the idea that race is more than just a social construct. Instead, the alt-right sees race as being rooted in genetics, creating populations that are inherently unequal in everything from IQ to propensity for violence; according to alt-right theories, these genetically based racial differences play a far greater role in determining individual behaviors and outcomes than things like socioeconomic status, education, or institutional oppression. And so the alt-right see the growth in minority populations in the US as a sort of existential threat to American prosperity, because those black and brown individuals are perceived as genetically–and therefore irrevocably–inferior to the whites that they are fast outnumbering.
“Sorry Mr. Trump, but you can’t make America great with a third-world population–we are going to be stuck with what our population is capable of,” Taylor said. “If this continues, maybe fifty years from now, there could be a real catastrophic breakdown. However, if the United States had maintained the ninety percent white population it had in the 1960s, we would not be facing any of this. We would be living in a much happier, more egalitarian, richer, and much more peaceful society in which people felt like they belonged.”