Ever since Steve Bannon was first selected to replace Corey Lewandowski as the Trump campaign manager, journalists and news consumers alike have been struggling to understand exactly what the term “alt-right” means. My common knowledge understanding is that it is a viewpoint promoted by Bannon’s conservative news website Breitbart, and many other Trump supporters. Alt-right supporters can be classified as just about as socially conservative as you can get, embracing white supremacist and white nationalist views and abhorring any liberal policies. The alt-right term came front and center when Bannon was nominated by Trump to be chief strategist in the White House. As the Washington Post article defines it, alt-right is “a fringe conservative movement saturated with racially insensitive rhetoric and elements of outright white nationalism.”
Probably the most prominent political organization representing the alt-right disposition is the National Policy Institute. The group made headlines just after the election by hosting an annual conference in Washington, D.C. where, among other things, there was a Nazi-esque white pride salute to Trump stating “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” The National Policy Institute is lead by Richard Spencer, considered to be the creator of the alt-right political movement. In his own words, here is one dream he hopes the alt-right movement will accomplish:
“Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence,” said Spencer in an interview with Vice in 2013.
Below is a video from The Atlantic from the controversial dinner:
Breitbart themselves issued a ‘establishment conservative’s guide to the alt-right’ earlier this year. By their own admission in the second paragraph of the article, the movement is “amorphous” at best. The article was quick to dispel all negative connotations the alt-right movement had secured from the media: anti-Semitism, white supremacy, racism. Instead the article detailed in length that contrary to popular belief, the “subculture” which entered the political sphere in 2015 was made of the following subgroups: intellectuals, “natural” conservatives, the neo-Nazi “1488ers” and most comically meme makers. I will admit that after reading the extensive study into the alt-right base, I was thoroughly befuddled and gained no deeper an understanding of the alt-right movement than I previously had, other than the fact that apparently internet trolls constituted a portion of their base.
All accounts seem to equate alt-right with white supremacist and neo-Nazi views. The issue then becomes how media outlets should utilize (or even if they should utilize) the nebulous and often confusing term alt-right when referring to Spencer, Bannon and members of the movement. Should the much milder sounding alt-right term continue to be employed, or should outlets elect to refer to the movement by what truly lurks underneath: white supremacy? A significant portion of Trump supporters after all did cast their votes in light of Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric. Ironically enough, Trump has repeatedly distanced himself from the alt-right movement.
A New York Times article posted yesterday detailed major news organizations’ struggle with the term. According to the report, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Times and NPR have all created new ethical guidelines specifying how to use it. All the outlets elected not to ban usage of the term, but instead suggested that reporters try and put an explainer afterwards (i.e. the leader of the alt-right movement, a political movement associated with white supremacist and nationalist hyper conservative views). And why not espouse the title completely? Nicole Hemmer, an assistant media professor at the University of Virginia, explained it best in this quote to the Times:
“In the case of the alt-right, I think that the tendency has been to want to simply do away with the term and use the term ‘white nationalist,’ but I don’t think that captures the stew of hate,” Existing terms, including white nationalism, do not reflect the group’s distinct history, media tactics or myriad hostilities, including its “hard-core misogyny,” she said.”
The head of standards for the Associated Press, John Daniszewski, wrote a blog post Monday explaining their decision to modify style guidelines. He stated that reporters had an obligation to provide a definition after citing the title alt-right, because it was their duty to define the group not by their own self-definition, but by how their actions and historical perception defined them. The AP has also stated that alt-right must be put in quotation marks whenever used, and should be preceded by “so-called” or “self-described.”
In an interesting turn of events, an advertising professional from New York just unveiled a new Google Chrome plugin that will automatically convert any mentions of the term “alt-right” to read “white supremacy” on any webpage.