“It’s still sinking in; we literally memed the absolute MADMAN into the White House.”
When all the votes were in, the loudest celebrations–like this comment on Reddit–might have been online. When Republicans and conservatives were faltering in their support for Donald Trump, one group stood up unwaveringly: the cyber warriors of the “alternative right.”
Trump’s online support was a complicated galaxy. Conservatives, right-wingers and conspiracy theorists all rallied round his flag. But the most vocal group, the group best versed in packaging their message and hurling it in a way irresistible to a media obsessed with the shocking and offensive, were the alt-right.
Right-wing alternative media has exploded over the course of the year as Trump encouraged his supporters to “forget the press, read the Internet.” Infowars, Drudge Report and–above all–Breitbart.com have seen their readerships skyrocket. Breitbart received a record-breaking 37 million unique visitors in September. In a nod to its influence, its executive chairman Steve Bannon will now serve as Trump’s chief strategist.
Shades of conservatism aside, the alt-right are cultural rebels and nationalists whose firmament is the Internet.
If defining them is hard, their political agenda is clearer. Liberalism is the dirtiest word, and its trappings–feminism, political correctness, multiculturalism, “social justice”–are to be resisted. The establishment is corrupt and full of political cuckolds, or “cucks,” who have failed America through their cowardice.
Below this, there bubbles a more insidious layer: white racial superiority, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim tendencies and a conspiratorial anger against the Jewish cabal that it claims runs the world.
Many of the more serious alt-right figureheads would distance themselves from some of these inflammatory ideas. But a glance through their main online playpens suggests they are a significant enough part of the group’s mindset.
Last week, their “God Emperor” ascended the throne to raucous applause from his digital supporters. “We actually elected a meme as president,” wrote one centipede on 4Chan, echoing a feeling that somehow their digital campaign had swung it for Trump. Thousands delighted in the schadenfreude, sharing images of miserable-looking Clinton supporters. Thousands others turned their eye to the future.
So what now for the alt-right? It’s clear that they are not going anywhere soon. In their minds their views have been validated, after all, and the process of “de-cucking” America can begin.
In a year that has seen the establishment take two heavy beatings in the form of Brexit and Trump’s surprise victory, the alt-right will start to look further afield. Elections in the Netherlands and France have caught their eye: It’s time to Make Europe Great Again.
Dedicated forums for far-right candidates Geert Wilders (the Netherlands), Marine Le Pen (France) and Norbert Hofer (Austria) are in overdrive. “The American Meme Soldiers are here to help liberate France!!! Man your battlestations, fellow meme warriors!” goes one Reddit post. “Centipedes! We’re fighting on two fronts now. Get in there! Even if you don’t care about France, you need to care about stopping the liberal disease!” goes another.
As Democrats wring their hands and ponder research showing how more millennial voters would have changed the electoral map (it’s very blue), they ignore the inconvenient truth that Trump’s digital covens included a host of young, digitally savvy politicos who radically redrew the way young people engage with politics.
Much of it was deplorable, of course, but it was also juvenile, idiosyncratic and perfectly suited to the channels of digital politics. The meme, when wielded by those who best understood its potency, emerged as the ultimate online weapon. The infographics, the data visualizations and the stale clips pulled from mainstream media were obliterated by the alt-right’s memes.