Posted on November 30, 2016

‘Alt-right’: Why the Guardian Decided Not to Ban Use of the Term

Style Editors, The Guardian, November 30, 2016

Both before and, more so, after the election of Donald Trump as the next US president, debate in the media about the use of the term “alt-right” has been strong and forthright.

Some regard it as a “helpfully sanitising nomenclature … for a movement that is defined by an ideology of ethnic purity, and encompassing neo-Nazis, white supremacists and even the Ku Klux Klan”. To that end, the US news website ThinkProgress has decided not to use the term at all, except when quoting other people, because it “won’t do racists’ public relations work for them”.

The man who coined the term in 2008, Richard Spencer, of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist thinktank in the US, has said he intended it to describe a diverse, heterodox group whose members were “deeply alienated, intellectually, even emotionally and spiritually, from American conservatism”. While the term today remains flexible, he says, affiliation now has some minimum requirements.

“Someone who is really alt-right recognises the reality of race, and the fact that race matters, and that race is an essential component of identity.”

Like other news organisations, the Guardian has been considering how it uses the term and on Wednesday issued the following editorial guidance:


Use once, with a hyphen and in quotes, at first mention, followed by the brief but broad description of it being a far-right movement. Prefer far right (noun) or far-right (adjective) at any subsequent mention.

More specific descriptions can be used where relevant when mentioning individuals associated with the movement, but such descriptions should be evidence-based. For example, one of the de facto leaders of the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, is the white supremacist Richard Spencer, who used Nazi slogans to celebrate the election victory of Donald Trump.

By way of providing some background to this guidance, it was agreed that the use of “alt-right” should not be banned because it exists as a term that is used in the world, particularly in the US, and it is the media’s job to describe and reflect the world as it is. That said, it should describe and reflect the world – including the “alt-right” – accurately, hence the requirement for a description to be included at first mention.

To subsequently use the term far right may be regarded by some as not strong enough. However, it was considered the most accurate description given the breadth of the movement, and is consistent with the Guardian’s description of other movements, organisations and political parties around the world that share similar ideologies.

Regarding the breadth of the movement, it was decided the Guardian should avoid defining the “alt-right” simply as a white nationalist group, not because it isn’t, but because:

  1. a) That’s not all it is: it can also be anti-globalisation, anti-establishment, antisemitic, racist, misogynist etc, and,
  2. b) People within the movement are not all of those things: some would associate themselves with the group simply because they want to protect US jobs/industry; others because they have had enough of the political, media and business elite pulling the strings, and would not consider themselves to be white supremacists, racists etc.

That said, as the style guidance states, where individuals are known to support specific ideologies eg white nationalism, then it is acceptable for writers to make that link, always, preferably, with a supporting factual statement.