Who’d have thought that in 2016, we would be discussing whether mainstream Republicans and conservatives should be nicer to white nationalists? Yet here we are.
The debate is, of course, about the “alternative right,” suddenly propelled into visibility by its fervent embrace of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Recently, it was the subject of a long, sympathetic article by Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos at Breitbart.com, the Trump-loving site that some, including ex-Breitbart writer Brian Cates, have long accused of courting the alt-right. (For the record, I have had a cordial professional relationship with both authors, have been on a panel with both of them and have appeared twice on Yiannopoulos’s webcast.)
In a nutshell, the article argues that, while the alt-right does have some actual—but, worry not, utterly irrelevant!—white supremacists and neo-Nazis in its ranks, it is mostly a loose alliance of maverick intellectuals, traditionalists who feel unrepresented in the mainstream political establishment, and cheeky young rebels who post racist slurs and memes just to annoy the pearl-clutching guardians of political correctness.
While this taxonomy of the alt-right is interesting, it is ultimately—as it were—a whitewash, full of far-fetched arguments and misleading claims that consistently downplay this movement’s ugly bigotry.
Those ‘Dangerously Bright’ Alt-Right Intellectuals
Take the article’s section on the “intellectuals” behind the alt-right, which offers a respectful account of the movement’s online hubs such as Richard Spencer’s AlternativeRight.com, Steve Sailer’s blog, and VDARE. Sailer is credited with having “helped spark the ‘human biodiversity’ movement, a group of bloggers and researchers who strode eagerly into the minefield of scientific race differences—in a much less measured tone than former New York Times science editor Nicholas Wade.”
A caption also notes that “Razib Khan, who lost an opportunity at the New York Times over his views on human biodiversity, now writes for the alt-right Unz Review.” We are clearly meant to get the impression that the alt-right web is a refuge for, as the authors put it, “dangerously bright” people unafraid of taboo topics. While Bokhari and Yiannopoulos acknowledge that “all of these websites have been accused of racism,” the unmistakable implication is that such accusations stem from P.C. hypersensitivity—and probably fear of the alt-right gurus’ outstanding intelligence.
Are there political taboos surrounding race-related genetic cognitive and behavioral differences? Of course (and for very understandable reasons, given historical experience). The controversy around Wade’s 2014 book, “A Troublesome Inheritance,” demonstrates how sensitive the subject is. It is very likely this sensitivity has deterred legitimate inquiry. Some people who have waded into this minefield have also been, in my view, unfairly tarred as racists—such as Charles Murray, with whom I disagree on a number of things but whom I am honored to know.
But let’s be clear: the authors populating the alt-right’s webzines are not just Wades and Murrays with less tone policing.
Abortion as Racial Population Control
I tried to check out AlternativeRight.com, only to find the site no longer exists; a little googling revealed that it went offline in late 2013 and was reincarnated as RadixJournal. (It is noteworthy that the Bokhari-Yiannopoulos piece, otherwise generous with links, does not link directly to a single alt-right website.) For a general idea of RadixJournal’s fare, it is more than enough to sample one of its latest articles: “The Pro-Life Temptation” by Aylmer Fisher—presumably a pseudonym stolen from the innocent British geneticist—which cautions the alt-right against adopting an anti-abortion stance in knee-jerk opposition to liberals.
If you think you know where this is going, you’re right. Fisher argues that, firstly, the pro-life position is “dysgenic,” since it encourages breeding by “the least intelligent and responsible” women who are most likely to have abortions and who are “disproportionately Black, Hispanic, and poor”; and secondly, pro-life claims “rely on principles we generally reject,” namely “equality” and “human rights.”
He also points out that “some of the most pro-life politicians are those most excited about adopting children from Africa” and that pro-lifers “are among the conservatives most likely to denounce the ‘racism’ of their political opponents,” which makes them “the ultimate cuckservatives.” (If you’ve been living happily under a rock, that’s the alt-right slur for conservatives deemed complicit in the betrayal or “cuckolding” of white civilization.) For the record, I support legal abortion, but I shouldn’t even have to say that I’ll take pro-life “cuckservatives” over the RadixJournal crowd anytime.
VDARE, which calls itself a “news outlet for patriotic immigration reform,” is somewhat less in-your-face about its racism; but the site’s gleeful chronicling of black, Hispanic, and Muslim criminality leaves little doubt that its authors are not simply interested in objective analysis of crime demographics. While mainstream media and liberal punditry can be overly skittish if not denialist on the subject, VDARE’s racialism not only reeks of hostility and contempt toward the presumed losers in the “biodiversity” lottery but veers into outright paranoia about cover-ups of crime’s racial angle.
Valentines to Nazi Germany—How Cute
Thus, a post on a Bangladeshi-born and probably Muslim Canadian gynecologist accused of sexually assaulting patients speculates that his name, Mohammed Haque, was deliberately omitted from the headlines on news stories about his arrest. (Actually, nearly all recent stories about sexual assault charges against doctors named David Newman and Ian Hardy also left the suspects’ names out of the headlines.)
Another item, on a Texas couple’s arrest for enslaving and abusing their Nigerian nanny, cavils that the Associated Press report waits too long to reveal the suspects’ own Nigerian background, allowing inattentive readers to assume they were racist rednecks—even though the second paragraph mentioned the couple’s distinctly non-redneck names, Chudy and Sandra Nsobundu.
Then there’s the Jewish question. One of VDARE’s regular contributors is retired California State University-Long Beach psychology professor Kevin MacDonald, who has some peculiar theories about Jews: namely, that Judaism is an “evolutionary strategy” by which Jews seek dominance and that, as a minority in gentile societies, they use this strategy by working to subvert and weaken majority culture.
Those cunning Jewish plots, according to MacDonald, include destroying Russia via Bolshevism and undermining America via unrestricted immigration. It’s “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” dressed up as evolutionary psychology. (Interestingly, back in 2003, MacDonald’s book “The Culture of Critique” was the subject of a scathing review in The American Conservative by John Derbyshire, currently another VDARE stalwart, who described its main thesis as not only anti-Semitic but “silly.”) MacDonald is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Occidental Observer, a “white identity” site that has run unabashed valentines to Nazi Germany.
The Unz Review, founded by maverick businessman Ron Unz as a forum for non-mainstream perspectives, is somewhat more eclectic; but much of this eclecticism is a mix of far-right and far-left anti-Semitic crackpottery, from 9/11 “truther” and conspiracy theorist Paul Craig Roberts to “Holocaust industry” critic Norman Finkelstein, who believes Jews exploit the Holocaust to justify oppressing Palestinians. There’s also someone blogging as “The Saker,” who wittily refers to the U.S. government as “Uncle Shmuel” and argues that the corruption-exposing Panama papers are a ploy to compromise enemies of “the AngloZionist Empire” with the help of the obedient “Ziomedia.”
That’s some impressive intelligence, alright.
From “the intellectuals,” Bokhari and Yiannopoulos move on to the movement’s rank-and-file—mainly what they call “natural conservatives,” after the classification used by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in the 2012 book “The Righteous Mind” to describe people whose moral values are based on traditional norms, authority, and loyalty. Bokhari and Yiannopoulos argue that “natural conservatives” have turned to the alt-right (and to Trump) because mainstream Republicans have abandoned them:
It’s arguable that natural conservatives haven’t had real political representation for decades. Since the 1980s, establishment Republicans have obsessed over economics and foreign policy, fiercely defending the Reagan-Thatcher economic consensus at home and neoconservative interventionism abroad. In matters of culture and morality, the issues that natural conservatives really care about, all territory has been ceded to the Left, which now controls the academy, the entertainment industry and the press.
This is a rather quaint analysis that not only conflates political representation with clout in the academy, entertainment, and media but completely erases the Christian coalition, the pro-life movement, the tenacious battle to thwart the legalization of same-sex marriage, and generally the prominent role of “values voters” in the GOP. (And I say this as someone who wishes the party would move in a more libertarian direction on cultural issues.)
Indeed, the irony is that Trump is almost certainly the least socially conservative candidate to come within reach of the Republican nomination in recent years. If the Trumpian rebels were disaffected traditionalists, they’d have flocked to Rick Santorum.
Bokhari and Yiannopoulos also assert that the priorities of “natural conservatives” include resisting leftist attacks on the Western cultural heritage, such as the push to remove “dead white males” from college curricula. “In fairness,” they add, “many establishment conservatives aren’t keen on this stuff either—but the alt-right would argue that they’re too afraid of being called ‘racist’ to seriously fight against it. Which is why they haven’t.”
I’ll let pass without comment the amusing suggestion that many Trump voters are driven by the passion to restore Shakespeare and Dickens to their rightful place in the college classroom. But are Yiannopoulos and Bokhari really suggesting that National Review, their mainstream-conservative bogeyman (presumably because of its harsh attacks on Trump and his fans), is too scared of being called racist to stand up to attacks on Western culture in the academy? The same National Review that has run numerous articles criticizing campus racial politics?
Really, if there’s one accusation you can’t level at National Review, it’s shying away from racially charged topics: they publish authors like Heather MacDonald, who argues strenuously against claims of systemic police racism.
The Alt-Right Is Just New Identity Politics
So what is the alt-right giving its followers that mainstream conservatism is not? Bokhari and Yiannopoulos themselves supply the answer: “a new identity politics” that claims to champion the interests of whites, and even more specifically white males, as a “demographic.” They speak repeatedly, and non-pejoratively, of “tribal concerns.” Where mainstream conservative pundits like Dennis Prager assert that Western culture belongs to everyone regardless of color or background, the alt-right’s “natural conservatives,” Bokhari and Yiannopoulos tell us without a hint of irony, “value the greatest cultural expressions of their tribe.” For good measure, they add that for the alt-right’s intellectuals, “culture is inseparable from race.”
The authors do reassure us that alt-rightists worry about the demographic effects of mass immigration “while eschewing bigotry on a personal level.” But the source for this optimistic assessment is unclear. Are there non-bigoted people involved in the alt-right? Probably.
But, for what it’s worth, the one alt-rightist who started a Twitter conversation with me after my earlier critical article about the movement, and who stressed he was not a racist but simply a “race realist,” circuited our dialogue when he stated point-blank that African immigrants should not be admitted to the United States because they are likely to be stupid and violent. (“Realism”? Not quite: In fact, African immigrants tend to be more successful than U.S.-born blacks, and some groups such as Kenyans have above-average education and income compared to the American population as a whole.)
None of this, by the way, has much to do with what Haidt identifies as the conservative worldview. Yes, Haidt does recognize “in-group/loyalty” as a “conservative” moral foundation that he believes has positive aspects such as patriotism and self-sacrifice, but he certainly doesn’t link these values to racial or ethnic identity (except to acknowledge that they probably stem from “the long human history of tribalism”).
In the article linked by Bokhari and Yiannopoulos, Haidt notes that “in-group/loyalty” values “can lead to dangerous nationalism” but can also promote civic unity, and that understanding the importance of those values should be an impetus to balance diversity with “encouraging assimilation and a sense of shared identity.” Bokhari and Yiannopoulos’s “natural conservatives,” on the other hand, see those goals as utopian or even destructive to Western culture.
The Anti-PC Rebellion
Bokhari and Yiannopoulos are equally sympathetic to young people who they say are “drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.” The laughs include posting anti-Semitic caricatures and Bosnian genocide jokes.
A few days before the Breitbart article ran, Yiannopoulos made the same argument on the Dave Rubin podcast: “[W]hen Jonah Goldberg of National Review is bombarded with these memes, and anti-Semitic ‘take a hike, kike’ stuff, it’s not because there’s a spontaneous outpouring of anti-Semitism from 22-year-olds in this country … it’s a mischievous, dissident, trolly generation who do it because it gets a reaction.”
Aside from whether we should condone this brand of merry mischief, I will say that the fun-loving alt-right “dissidents” I have seen tweeting anti-Semitic taunts almost invariably have Twitter profiles that reveal a consistent pattern of Jew-hatred and white supremacism, not general irreverence.
Retweeting an image of a man in a Nazi uniform standing in front of a baker’s oven captioned “Pop ’em in the oven!” may be a tasteless “trolly” joke. When the same person retweets comments about Jews “killing millions in the #Holodomor”—the Soviet terror-famine engineered by the Stalin regime—this looks like something more than “lulz.” The trolls of the alt-right are well-versed in anti-Semitic tropes such as Jewish control of the media (which Yiannopoulos, in his Dave Rubin interview, bafflingly waved aside as a mere statement of statistical fact). Many also echo MacDonald’s theory that support for immigration is a Jewish subversion strategy.
Legitimate Grievances Don’t Justify Actual Racism
Bokhari and Yiannopoulos do have one valid and compelling point: that the rise of the “alternative right” is in large part a backlash against left-wing identity politics with their speech-policing and “cishet-white-male”-bashing. Indeed, the ultra-left “social justice” cult, which now dominates much of the progressive media, has enabled ultra-right white nationalism and other forms of bigotry in several ways.
It has legitimized overt race- and gender-based hate speech; if it’s okay to say hateful things about white men, the claim that it’s not okay to say them about other groups becomes tenuous. It has lent credibility to claims that whites, especially straight white men, are under attack. It has subverted the moral authority of anti-racism—and of liberalism (in the classic sense), dismissed in current progressive discourse as “a philosophy of white male domination.” And it has so trivialized the concepts of bigotry and racism that they have lost much of their stigma. When wearing a sombrero for Halloween can get you labeled a racist, the label becomes meaningless.
It’s hard to disagree when Bokhari and Yiannopoulos write:
The Establishment bears much of the blame. Had they been serious about defending humanism, liberalism and universalism, the rise of the alternative right might have been arrested. All they had to do was argue for common humanity in the face of black and feminist identity politics, for free speech in the face of the regressive Left’s censorship sprees, and for universal values in the face of left-wing moral relativism.
But it does not follow that the alt-right deserves any sympathy or respect. This is a movement that counters the toxic culture of the left with a toxic brew of its own: a mix of old bigotries and new identity and victimhood politics adapted for the straight white male. Bokhari and Yiannopoulos try to connect it to “cultural libertarianism,” a concept coined by Bokhari last year and championed by both authors; but other than opposition to restrictions on “hate speech,” it’s hard to see what an ideology that explicitly subordinates the individual to the tribe could have in common with libertarianism of any kind.
Today, the excesses of the “social justice” movement have brought us to a point where reasonable conservatives, libertarians, and liberals are ready to join forces against quasi-totalitarian identity politics. We need to start reclaiming the principles of common humanity, freedom, and universal values, not put a positive spin on a different brand of divisive identitarianism.
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously identified VDARE as Steve Sailer’s site. While he is a regular contributor, VDARE’s founder and editor-in-chief is Peter Brimelow. We regret the error.