The so-called “alt-right” is a loose online movement made up mostly, though not entirely, of white nationalists. They’ve gotten famous recently for being some of Donald Trump’s earliest and most vocal backers, seeing him as the first presidential candidate in modern history open to their ideas about the need to protect the white race.
But there’s a crucial point missing here: Now that their hero Trump is about to be president, what do they actually want him to do come January?
Turns out they have some pretty clear ideas.
The alt-right’s priority, first and foremost, is preserving America’s status as a white-majority nation. To that end, they want Trump to follow through on the most extreme immigration ideas he’s discussed — such as deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and banning Muslim immigration. These steps, they think, will slow what they call the “dispossession” of America’s whites.
But the alt-right wants Trump to go even further. They want him to slash rates of legal immigration and defund groups that advocate for immigrants, like La Raza. Ultimately, they want Trump to push the boundaries of acceptable opinion to the point where the nakedest of naked racism becomes permissible in mainstream public discourse.
The day after the election, I called up Jared Taylor, the editor of the white nationalist website American Renaissance and a leading alt-right thinker. I asked Taylor what he wanted, in policy terms, now that a Trump presidency was no longer hypothetical.
“The policies onto which [Trump] has stumbled, in a kind of innocent, America First way, are ones that will slow the dispossession of whites,” Taylor told me. “I’m very much in favor of him implementing those policies, for whatever reasons.”
The policy that Taylor is most excited about is Trump’s idea of deporting every undocumented immigrant, all 11 million of them. This isn’t quite an official campaign policy — it’s something Trump floated repeatedly in TV interviews but that his campaign has attempted to downplay. Official policy is that they’ll start by deporting the roughly 2 to 3 million with criminal records and then will see how things stand with the rest.
Taylor doesn’t believe Trump will follow through on the full deportation plan, though he says, “If he actually did those things, I’d very much applaud.” Nonetheless, he believes a few high-profile deportation raids on innocent families could go a long way.
Even if Trump doesn’t go for mass deportations of families, Taylor thinks there’s a lot to like about Trump’s proposed agenda. A few of the Trump policies Taylor has praised include:
- Tripling the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents
- Ending federal payments to “sanctuary cities,” cities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation
- Banning immigration from “terror-prone” (read: heavily Muslim) countries
- Cutting off federal benefits, like food stamps, for undocumented immigrants
These aren’t pipe dreams. They’re all policies you can find on Trump’s campaign website or in his speeches. Taylor and other alt-righters are attracted to them because, for them, the first priority is the numbers game: Make sure that whites remain a majority in America for as long as possible. Trump’s policies would both slow the rate of nonwhite immigration and actually make nonwhites leave the country. From the alt-right point of view, this is just what the doctor ordered.
In Taylor’s ideal world, Trump’s anti-immigration policies would go even further than his official plan does.
Taylor wants Trump to push for a “pause” in issuing green cards, a step that Trump has gestured at but never fully spelled out. He wants Trump to end federal funding for Latino rights groups like the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). He wants him to use executive authority to limit the number of immigrants admitted for the purpose of family reunification.
“There is no end to the good a president could do if he were really convinced that immigration should benefit us rather than foreigners,” Taylor writes.
But alt-rightists’ ambitions for Trump go beyond mere policy. They want him to rewrite the boundaries of the politically possible.
Trump, with his incendiary rhetoric about virtually every minority group — like calling Mexicans “rapists” and describing black communities as dystopian hellscapes — has helped push discourse in what alt-rightists see as the right direction. Because Trump has gotten away with saying offensive stuff, and seized the highest office in the land while doing it, they think they’ve made progress.
Now they want Trump to go even further. They want him to continue using offensive rhetoric, and actually escalate it — to use his Cabinet appointments and the bully pulpit to normalize ideas that mainstream discourse shuns.
Taylor, again, is the clearest on this point.
“A change in tone would be as dramatic as a change in policy because a president and his cabinet have tremendous influence that goes well beyond policy,” he writes in his 2015 piece:
They can put a subject on the national agenda just by talking about it. They can make it respectable just by continuing to talk about it. Actually looking at the pros and cons of immigrants could open the door to looking at the pros and cons of different groups of people. White, high-IQ, English-speaking people obviously assimilate best, and someone in a Trump administration might actually say so. A Trump presidency could completely change what is said about the difference between a crowd and a nation, and what it means to be an American.
To be clear, Trump did publicly reject the alt-right last week, saying, “I disavow the group.”
The alt-right’s goals go beyond mere policy, to remaking the very nature of the American state itself.
The ultimate goal of the movement is to rebuild America along ethnic lines, turning it into an “ethno-state” for whites. This is why “white nationalist” is probably the most accurate description of the alt-right: They literally see themselves as giving birth to a new white nation in all or part of the continental US.
The alt-right believes that its white ethno-state is only possible if white Americans develop a stronger sense of white identity. Taylor calls it “racial consciousness,” the idea “that white Americans, as whites, have collective interests that are legitimate.”
This, ultimately, is the effect that many of Trump’s policies and actions could have — intended or not. Deporting millions of Latinos, banning Muslim immigration, and using the bully pulpit to condemn movements like Black Lives Matter create a sense of conflict between the whites who voted for Trump and the minorities who mostly opposed him. Whether Trump intends to sow racial division with these policies is irrelevant; that’s the inevitable consequence of implementing them.
This is why the alt-right is so excited by Trump’s victory. They believe that by electing Trump, whites have finally put their identities as whites front and center — an “awakening,” as Taylor calls it, of “white consciousness” itself.