Bannon and the Alt-Right

I don’t often do political commentary online. I get a lot of anxiety about the idea of people being mad at me, moreso if I believe they are upset just due to a misunderstanding. So, engaging in what is likely to be a highly polarizing debate about politics is never high on my list of things to do.

I’m finding that discourse and disagreement and vocalizing concerns in the political spectrum are more and more important as everyone gets farther and farther apart in their political camps. So I’m going to suck it up and post something I’ve been thinking a lot about.

There are some liberal responses to Trump’s election that I think are pretty silly. The whole “Calexit” thing is dumb. Announcing you are moving to Canada, unless you really love Canada (and, really, why wouldn’t you?), is not helpful. Claiming the electoral college needs to be overturned feels reactionary — whether or not it should be done away with or overhauled, only bringing it up when your side loses is… obvious.

On the other side of the coin there are very legitimate things that everyone should be concerned about, regardless of their political leanings. The rise of Steve Bannon and the alt-right is something that should be a problem for everyone in America. It’s not a partisan concern. Bannon should not be part of a Trump administration that wants to hold any pretense of governing for the better good of all Americans. And this is why.

Bannon took over as head of Breitbart news after Andrew Breitbart died in 2012 and morphed that fringe conservative news outlet into the self-professed voice of the alt-right. The alt-right likes to brand itself as a new wave of conservatism, the logical extension of the tea party movement and the future of the right-wing. Do not be fooled by this rhetoric. The alt-right is a platform built on racism, homophobia, sexism and xenophobia. It may be easy to mistake it for something more benign if you are not getting all your news from it, but at its core it is a venomous creature.

Let’s look at this article from March of 2016. This is a piece by Breitbart about the alt-right. So, I am not pulling this information from some far-left liberal hit piece. This is straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

It’s a long piece; I’ll try to break it down a bit for you. The authors break the alt-right into a series of groups, and there are massive problems with how they present all of them. I will be highlighting some of the low points in this write-up. Also, if you spend a few thousand words profiling your political group’s members and the thesis running through the entire thing is “see, we’re totally not racist” then you might want to consider that you doth protest too much.

First, there’s The Intellectuals. In this section, the bona fides of the alt-right are attempted to be established by listing its serious thinkers and talking about just generally how smart they all are, which is apparently what bothers everyone about them. “The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much.” I’m going to leave alone the fact that they proudly count the internet “manosphere” among their members because that’s a whole article by itself. The thing I want to highlight here is this:

“Steve Sailer, meanwhile, helped spark the ‘human biodiversity’ movement, a group of bloggers and researchers who strode eagerly into the minefield of scientific race differences…”

Read that carefully. Unpack it. “Human biodiversity” sounds okay. Sounds scientific almost. Legitimate. And then the kicker—”scientific race differences”. Right there, first section of the article, the not-racist alt-right counts among its intellectual champions a movement of bloggers and researchers who are asserting that, yes, racial (not cultural, mind you) differences exist. And before you chime in and say “Well, but different racial groups are different” — yes, everyone knows this. White folks and black folks have different skin color, hair, features, etc. You don’t need a pseudo-scientific movement to suddenly wade into revelations like this online. They are talking about scientific justifications for racial superiority here.

I hope I’ve whet your appetite for some linguistic gymnastics, because this section is my favorite: Natural Conservatives. This is the core of the alt-right, the rank and file. Breitbart describes the group as “mostly white, mostly male middle-American radicals, who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritises the interests of their own demographic.” 

Again, we can do some unpacking here. First off, it is rich that Breitbart can unironically champion a radicalized white populace while fear-mongering about Sharia Law out the other side of its face. But also “new identity politics that prioritises the interests of their own demographic” is not a new concept either. This is practically a textbook definition of racism. Again, it can be easy to defend this statement if you are choosing to give a generous reading. But the operative word here is demographic. We’re not talking about a group of people who are hoping to preserve their community or way or life, per se. They are specifically talking about their racial demographic.

“While eschewing bigotry on a personal level, the movement is frightened by the prospect of demographic displacement represented by immigration.” This might be my favorite sentence in the whole profile. Never have I seen a more slick redirection for charges of racism. No, no, see. They don’t fear brown person, they just fear brown people. Also worth noting, this concept does not cite illegal immigration, but rather all immigration. A major cause of the alt-right is the cessation of all immigration into the United States.

Now, before you try to defend them by saying that you’re sure the alt-right would have no problem with other races as long as they believe in the American dream and pay their taxes and etc. etc. etc. Nope. “[Alt-right intellectuals] say that when different groups are brought together, the common culture starts to appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Two races, two cultures existing side by side is something that the alt-right specifically refutes here. Instead of a strengthening bonds and increasing shared understanding between two groups, all that can result from the blending is the worst possible outcome for both. Oh, and then they claim that this idea is the same as the left’s opposition to cultural appropriation. So, having a problem with a runway model perhaps wearing sacred Native American headgear down the catwalk is pretty similar to believing that those of Muslim descent cannot live in American neighborhoods.

Here come the cringe. The Meme Team is a portion of the alt-right that Breitbart cannot ignore, because they are its mouthpiece on the web. The profile asserts that they are largely attracted to the alt-right due to a sort of punk-rock desire to mock the establishment. The article even goes so far as to make this astounding equivalency: “Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish ‘Shlomo Shekelburg’ to ‘Remove Kebab,’ an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide.” Wait wait wait. What? Growing your hair long to piss your parents off is the same as posting racist cartoons all over the internet? That’s… I mean… what? Like… what?

This is also where the profile tries to make the strongest push that the alt-right is born of the same fires as the progressive left was. They’re just out to shock their parents and grandparents and shake up the status quo. It’s all just hijinks. “Were this the 1960s, the meme team would probably be the most hellraising members of the New Left: swearing on TV, mocking Christianity, and preaching the virtues of drugs and free love.”

Now, strap in for this one. Time to talk about Millennials. (As a Millennial, I super hate reading things about Millennials.) “Millennials aren’t old enough to remember the Second World War or the horrors of the Holocaust. They are barely old enough to remember Rwanda or 9/11. Racism, for them, is a monster under the bed, a story told by their parents to frighten them into being good little children.As with Father Christmas, Millennials have trouble believing it’s actually real. They’ve never actually seen it for themselves…” I straight up cannot understand how this sentence is written and expected to be taken seriously. In the world of Black Lives Matter and post-9/11 fears about terrorism and Islam and, well, this entire election cycle with its talk of Mexicans as rapists and Muslim registries how can Breitbart be asserting that racism is a phantom that the Millennial generation has never been exposed to? This is a stance that they have to take, though. The actions of this meme brigade are so public and so blatantly racist, the only way to attempt to excuse their behavior is to make the tenuous claim that racism doesn’t mean anything to them because they do not understand it. Therefore, they cannot be culpable.

To help point out that there IS racism in the alt-right but it’s totally not THEIR racism they refer to the 1488rs. This name is explained like so: “a reference to two well-known Neo Nazi slogans, the first being the so-called 14 Words: ‘We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children.’ The second part of the number, 88, is a reference to the 8th letter of the alphabet – H. Thus, “88” becomes “HH” which becomes ‘Heil Hitler.'” This group is brought up to show that, look, there is a fringe element to the alt-right that is super racist, but we think they are assholes and they think we are assholes, so we can’t be racist because THESE guys are racist and they are not us. They are violent and want to take their political desires by force… but not us. We’re super civil. This admission gets real problematic as the article ends.

The conclusion of the entire piece seems like a call for compromise — a world where the liberal left acknowledges that the alt-right has just cause and must be allowed their safe spaces (which again, considering how much the alt-right loves to mock liberals for their trigger warnings and safe spaces, is pretty ironic) where they can maintain their racially pure demography.

But there’s a twist. What would happen if the left does not feel a need to compromise on the concept of white nationalism? “Well, the risk otherwise is that the 1488ers start persuading people that their solution to natural conservatives’ problems is the only viable one. The bulk of their demands, after all, are not so audacious: they want their own communities, populated by their own people, and governed by their own values.”

I sat with my mouth open for a minute after reading this. The crux of this entire profile that seeks to normalize the alt-right, to explain its motivations and origins, to make it seem less, well, super racist ends on a bald-faced threat. What will happen if you don’t agree with us? Well, if you don’t agree with us, we’ll start agreeing with the Neo-Nazis because, after all, they’re pretty reasonable guys with pretty reasonable desires.

This is why Steve Bannon is dangerous. This is why he has no business in the White House or anywhere near it. It does not matter if he himself has not said any of these things. He’s a smart man. He would have to be to get where he is today. You don’t have to say racist things to be a racist. And you cannot claim to not be a racist while sitting atop a media empire that defines itself by the tenets of racism. Bannon is a danger to America and Trump’s trust in him carries with it the same transitive property. Just as Bannon cannot hide from claims of racism while he allows Breitbart to operate as it does, Trump cannot claim he plans to be a President for every American while he allows Bannon to operate as he does.

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