Why we're saying 'white nationalism' instead of 'alt-right'
In journalism, we avoid wonk.
Which is why we at KUOW discussed whether to use the term “alt-right.” Mainstream news sites have plugged it into headlines, but our readers and listeners were confused. What does that label even mean?
Alt-right, short for alternative right, is a loose, online community that Stephen K. Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has pushed as chief executive of Breitbart News. Breitbart News promotes racist and sexist stories like "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive And Crazy." For a while the news site designated some stories “black crime.”
Given that bent, alt-right sounded too soft to us. Would our listeners understand that alt-right is another way of saying white supremacist?
David Neiwert, the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the Southern Poverty Law Center put it this way:
It's definitely distinct from the Patriot/militia/Bundy folks, but I and most of the folks I work with feel pretty sure that this is the face of the far right going forward. It encompasses a lot of old ideologies – white nationalism, white supremacism, nativism, neo-Nazism – as well as some of the Internet-driven newer movements such as the Men's Rights Movement.
The Anti-Defamation League writes:
People who identify with the alt-right regard mainstream or traditional conservatives as weak and impotent, largely because they do not sufficiently support racism and anti-Semitism.”
It’s a tiny group – mostly male commenters on chat boards and trolls on Twitter. “Alt-right is a small number of Trump supporters, but they are legitimized by the Trump administration,” Nicole Hemmer, University of Virginia professor, told NPR.
Lindy West described them in the Guardian as “wildly disparate groups of men from the slimiest corners of the internet – anti-feminists, anti-Semites, anti-choicers, white nationalists, gun fetishists, Islamophobes, right-wing talk-radio toadies, garden-variety good old boys – coalesced into one sprawling, frothing hydra behind Donald Trump.”
And Shaun King, a reporter with the New York Daily News put it this way: “The alt-right movement is simply the KKK without the hoods. They are skinheads with suits and ties.”
Those are outsider takes. Looking to insiders, it's clear they’re not sure of their mission – or if they even have one.
In a piece on Breitbart News, Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulous wrote a primer on the alt-right. Their piece begins, confusingly, with the same first four words of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels ("A specter is haunting..."), and suggests that the alt-right is intellectual, hipster racism. Not to be confused with 1980s Skinheads. They write:
Skinheads, by and large, are low-information, low-IQ thugs driven by the thrill of violence and tribal hatred. The alternative right are a much smarter group of people — which perhaps suggests why the Left hates them so much. They’re dangerously bright.
But the article pivots toward the end, saying that it’s all a joke – that the alt-right is just a punchy group that hates political correctness: Bokhari and Yiannopoulous say they’re “a young, rebellious contingent who feel a mischievous urge to blaspheme, break all the rules, and say the unsayable. Why? Because it’s funny!”
But that "joke" is trolling women on Twitter and using violent, code words for black people, Muslims and Jews. They also like to say “glorious,” as in, “glorious" leader Donald Trump, a nod to Hitler’s “fields of glory.”
Yiannopoulous insists that just 2 to 3 percent of people identifying with the alt-right are truly racist. But others who identify as alt-right disagree with him – they are REAL racists, they repeat, who don’t like Jews and don’t believe in the Holocaust. They have ridiculed Yiannopoulous, who is gay, and whose mother is Jewish.
Which is why we are avoiding "alt-right" in favor of white supremacy or white nationalism.
Cathy Duchamp, KUOW’s managing editor, wrote in a memo to the staff:
The takeaways: ‘alt right’ doesn’t mean anything, and normalizes something that is far from normal. So we need to plain-speak it.
This may change. Alt-right may become better defined and understood by the general public. But until then, we will avoid vague words that neutralize anti-social and abnormal ways of thinking.