Answering Your Questions About Going Undercover With the Alt-Right

Patrik Hermansson, New York Times, September 27, 2017

Nathan Damigo Alt-right

Credit Image: © Jeff Malet/Newscom via ZUMA Press

Patrik Hermansson spent nearly a year infiltrating the extreme right for the British anti-racist watchdog group Hope Not Hate.

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Here, Mr. Hermansson answers readers’ questions, which have been edited for clarity and length.

Jim Cricket: Have you ever tried to debate the alt-right? If so, with any success? How do you present facts/counterfacts to these types of people?

Patrik Hermansson: While inside, I couldn’t debate them; otherwise my cover would have been blown.

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Part of the problem with challenging these people’s views is that often they are not arrived at logically, so it is hard to reason them out of them.

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Robert Bruce: Fundamentally, all the alt-right stands for is the idea that ethnic Europeans have the same moral entitlement as every other people on earth: namely, a land of their own. They ask why it is that ethnic Europeans, uniquely, face a moral obligation to turn themselves into ethnic minorities and hope it all works out for their descendants. And, so far, no one has been able to answer that question.

PH: I’m afraid I fundamentally reject the premise of this question on several fronts. First, it’s based on the premise that ethnic groups have an “entitlement” to certain pieces of land. Ethnic groups have moved around the globe for millenniums so when exactly did this become static and certain ethnic groups became “entitled” to certain bits of the planet? Second, you state that Europeans “face a moral obligation to turn themselves into ethnic minorities.” Where is this the case? This is the sort of spurious demographic nonsense the alt-right uses all the time.

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98_6: I’m not trying to detract from the horrors of their racism, but understanding how integral sexism is to this poisonous ideology is important, too.

PH: This is such an important point and it is often hugely overlooked. The Hope Not Hate report looks at the importance of anti-feminism, gender and masculinity to the alt-right. It is central to the worldview of the alt-right.

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The alt-right believes the world should be ordered into strict hierarchies. That includes the belief that strict traditional gender roles are natural. Therefore, they fight against what they think is the emasculating effect of feminism.

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Norman: Why was it necessary to go undercover?

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PH: This is an important question and one that many have asked. The reason that Hope Not Hate uses undercover research and asks people like me to spend long periods inside far-right movements is not to just catch racist people saying racist things. Of course, in some cases far-right people and organizations cloak their true extremism and portray a more moderate image to the world to try to avoid criticism and gain new supporters. Going undercover allows us to expose this.

However, more important is understanding how a far-right movement operates, organizes and functions. This is invaluable for finding the most effective strategies for opposing and undermining them. I spent hundreds of hours with these people and came away with a real understanding of what drives their activism, the tactics they seek to use, and what they were planning to do. This allows Hope Not Hate to always be one step ahead, and to plan responses and opposition earlier than anyone else.

Sam: “Far-right”? “Alt-right”? “Alt-light”? Why not “Nazis,” “fascists,” and “white supremacists”?

PH: Terminology is a constant discussion when you’re looking at the far right. It’s really important not to just call everyone a Nazi. You can’t defeat what you don’t understand, and just writing off everyone you disagree with as a Nazi shows a lack of analysis. Of course, if someone is a Nazi, then call him a Nazi.

I fully understand why people want to avoid the term alt-right, and there is no doubt that some have adopted it with a view to sanitizing their image. This is why it is important not to be inaccurate and allow the far right to self-label.

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