Don’t Use the Term Alt-Right To Refer to White Supremacists

2016-07-06T23:32:33+00:00 July 5th, 2016|

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By Anne Trubek

The first time I heard the term “alt-right” was this spring, when a writer pitched an article for Belt that would follow an alt-right group planning to attend the RNC in Cleveland later this month. I assumed, wrongly, that the term was synonymous with another recently coined term, “Trump Supporters,’” which is most often used as a catch-all to refer to working-class white men, the core constituency fired up by Trump’s candidacy.

I realized my mistake this weekend. Trump’s use of an anti-semitic meme on Twitter originated on an “alt-right” site (or reddit post, or something) I learned, and “alt-right” refers to white supremacy groups. Researching further, I found other descriptions of the group as “the loosely assembled far-right movement that exists largely online,” “a movement … which rejects the premises on which modernity is built, like democracy and egalitarianism,” and a “white supremacist movement.”

“Alt-right” is very quickly snaking its way into our parlance; any minute now it will explode. Yesterday, I was with a friend who follows the news closely, and I used the term. “What’s alt-right?” she asked. “Basically white nationalism,” I said.

“I’ve never heard that term before,” she said.

“By the end of the week you will have heard it numerous times,” I replied.

Sure enough, I heard it on NPR this morning.

Language is power. We all know this. The terms we use to describe groups and people matter. We understand why we no longer use Negro, or Oriental, or how Queer has shifted from slur to point of pride. “Alt-right” is a term that should not be adopted by mainstream media — or leftist media, or people discussing the news with friends.

“Alt-right” — shorthand for the the Alternative Right — is, like “pro-life,”  the term the group gave itself. It is misleading, misrepresentative, and, most importantly, a benign or even attractive term. “Alternative” has long been used to refer to progressive, non-mainstream politics and art. When I hear the term my first thought is of alt-country, a music genre I adore; I think of Usenet groups, and the progressive news site Alternet as well.

I do not think of white nationalism.

So let us pick a new term to refer to this new group — and not the term the group has given itself. “White supremacist” works for me. “White nationalist” seems apt as well. In some cases, “neo-Nazi” applies.

If you have other ideas, let’s hear them. But let us not let adopt the term these bigots use to describe themselves, a term that hides their sickening violence and hate. We can very easily take that power away from them.

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7 Comments

  1. Matthew Lyons July 5, 2016 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree with Anne Trubek that we should identify and combat white supremacist politics in all its forms and guises. But I don’t agree that we should reject the term “alt-right” — for two reasons. First, the alt-right is a specific current within the far right, which differs from other white supremacist currents in tactics, style, organizational strengths and weaknesses, demographic base, etc. Understanding these differences can be important for developing effective anti-rightist strategies. Second, while most alt-rightists are white supremacists, and all of them are comfortable working with white supremacists, not all alt-rightists put race at the center of their politics. Some focus more on male supremacy (such as Jack Donovan, who advocates “male tribalism”) or on a kind of generic elitism (such as Keith Preston of the website Attack the System). The ability to reach out to far rightists who aren’t necessarily white supremacists is part of what makes the alt-right dangerous.

    Matthew Lyons
    threewayfight.blogspot.com

    • Anne Trubek July 5, 2016 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Fascinating–thanks, Matthew.

      I definitely think an accurate term is better than white supremacist. But could we not find an accurate term that is also not the seemingly benign term the group gives itself?

      • Matthew Lyons July 5, 2016 at 11:16 pm - Reply

        The term is only seemingly benign to people who don’t know what it stands for, so the challenge is to expose the movement’s actual beliefs, aims, and activities. Also, who is this “we” who are somehow going to rename the alt-right from the outside? The term has been in use since at least 2010 and there are probably thousands of online activists who identify with it. And these are people who pride themselves on their skill with manipulating online memes. Focusing on the name seems to me an uphill battle, and the wrong one to fight.

        • Anne Trubek July 6, 2016 at 9:03 am - Reply

          I think these groups are about to be discussed widely in the mainstream media (the “we” I was referring to) for the first time, and choosing a different, more descriptive name for them would be efficacious.

  2. Ron July 13, 2016 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    “Fascist” is an apt term, and I don’t think we need to prefix it with “Neo-” because Neo-Fascist thought is in its second or third generation by now and no longer new. The term applies to nostalgic authoritarian nationalist movements that copy Mussolini or Hitler in opposing democracy and so-called degeneracy in morals and art. These movements attract timid frustrated souls who feel powerful in a gang of bullies.

  3. Alt Right August 1, 2016 at 10:58 am - Reply

    You don’t know what racism is. You don’t know what bigotry is. You don’t know what white-supremacy is. These are terms you use against people who share different opinions than yourself and words you hope will demonize them. Words that you use to dehumanize people you do not know. You do not know what is in their heart, you do not know how they treat people nor do you care. You only know you fear them. As your own fear grows you might wish these people dead as well.

  4. Alt andy October 6, 2016 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    You will not define us as much as you might wish. We are the first intellectual movement on the right to counter your hippy progressive philosophy. You fear us and the superiority of our ideas, our energy, and our power. Trump is ours for case in point. His rise is due largely to us and win or lose we are not going away. Your safe spaces and naive belief that identity politics is ok for everyone but whites is the key to your downfall. Because regular white folks recognise and rightly resent it, we offer them their own identity politics, while systematically indoctrinating them in far more radical concepts. We are growing, and we are not going away. You will eventually, this whole system will, be forced to recognise, then to dialogue, then to compromise and finally capitulate to our demands,and in so doing we will win freedom and nationhood for our people. We are now a part of american politics. Fear us

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