A couple months ago, I spoke with two figureheads of the alt-right. I was attempting to shine a light through the opacity of the term. “How do you define the alt-right?”–I wanted answers from underneath the alt-right umbrella itself. I reached out to Andrew Anglin, editor of the alt-right blog “The Daily Stormer,” and Jared Taylor, editor of “American Renaissance.” The former is a younger voice, brimming with brio, intent on his mission to–in his own words–“ethnically cleanse America of non-Whites and establish an authoritarian regime.” The latter–who occupies a different space on the alt-right’s spectrum of beliefs–graduated from Yale and Sciences Po, in Paris.
“Alt-Right,” merely the term, has evolved from a befuddling buzzword to two syllables which evoke true, justifiable fear. The alt-right, via Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon, a man who embraces hate and turns it into profit, is en route to the White House. Unless you’re an ostrich, you know this. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the current home of Barack Obama–arguably the most likable dude we’ll ever call POTUS–will soon open its gates for Chief Strategist Bannon, and of course, President Trump.
We couldn’t have seen this coming. Maybe we could have actually–or at least maybe we should have. But in an attempt to remember a more vivid experience of what Bannon represents, and in an effort to share my experience with you, I’ve looked back to the two conversations I had with these members of the (now-not-so-)alt-right. I cringe, remembering how it felt like a novelty. It is harrowing to remembering the hubristic certainty with which I, and many others, wrote off the alt-right as a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon, one that would live and die by Trump. This is real now, folks. These are the people soon to be in power.
Andrew Anglin was the first to respond to my inquiry, and he came out big-dick-swingin’ off the bat. It was clear that if I wanted to hear what Anglin had to say, I’d play by his rules. Given that I had dog-shit for credentials (less than dog-shit, really), I was more than willing to abide. He had what I needed, insight into this fringe movement, and I would give him home-field advantage. Anglin would only conduct the interview over email, and I would have to keep my list of questions very short. He informed me that some dude from HuffPo had sent him a list of 47 questions–“None of them are getting answered. So like, keep it under ten.”
Easy enough. I opted for seven. I wanted to hear what this guy–whose blog is a rabbit-hole I ended up falling down for more hours than I care to admit–had to say. Mainly, beyond a bare-bones definition of “alt-right,” I wanted to know what his plan was if/when Clinton won. (Pardon me while I wipe this egg off my face.) How would the alt-right stay in the sphere of relevance once they lost their Trumpian foothold?
Anglin assured me that a Clinton victory “would be better for the movement overall.” He conveyed the idea that the alt-right wasn’t leaning on the media–they had their own media and ways of getting their messages out. He said, “the sole benefit of the media is that it gives a bit of energy to our guys to see us in the media.” The alt-right would maintain its presence, even with a Madam President.
In response to the bigger question–“What is the alt-right?”–Anglin didn’t really give me what I was looking for. I asked if he thought the media was portraying the movement accurately. He replied:
“There are two competing narratives in the media. One is that of Milo Yiannopoulos, which claims that we aren’t really racists and any racism we express is part of some big, sick joke. The other is that of Hillary Clinton, that we are a Nazi-KKK gang run by Vladimir Putin. Both are inaccurate, but the latter is a lot more accurate than the former.”
Nice. Okay. So the preferred definition is the Putin-led gang of Nazis and Klan. Solid.
In my sixth question, I took a subtle dig. At the time, I considered the alt-right a band of internet trolls with no concrete vision–they were too far-flung in their ideologies (self-proclaimed “amorphous” by Milo, himself) to actually amount to anything. I wanted to know what Anglin would say to someone who held that belief. More or less, I wanted to know what he’d say to me.
“I would tell them to go fuck themselves.”
Noted. Anglin went on, “The internet is real life now. We have been explicit about our vision. Our vision is vivid. We will ethnically cleanse America of non-Whites and establish an authoritarian regime. It is a simple idea. It is an idea whose time has come and there isn’t anything that can stop it.”
It read like a sci-fi novel at the time. Or a chapter out of some history book concerning a faraway moment in a faraway place. It still reads this way, but is now much more affecting.
My final question, lucky number seven, was whether Anglin ever expected to see the alt-right in the news as much as it is today.
He told me he was “not surprised by the media attention.” He told me he knew “that the coverage [the alt-right] got would be proportionate to how well [Trump] did. He said that “it wasn’t exactly difficult to predict that the media would try very hard to associate him with racists.”
The real kicker was when Anglin said, “The shocking part is how the media was so willing to completely destroy the term ‘racist’ by saying it so many times. We’ve been able to get them to cannibalize their own narrative, and yet, Trump is still going to win.”
Reads a bit like prophecy now, doesn’t it.
I was surprised to hear back from Jared Taylor. I’d reached out through a form on his website–you know, those bullshit “Contact Me” things, almost always dead ends. But I reached out anyway, with nothing to lose. He got back sooner than I expected, and was willing to talk.
Taylor’s definition of “alt-right” was more lucid, but more watered down. He defined it as “a dissident movement that rejects egalitarian orthodoxy,” as “a rejection of the idea that the races are basically equivalent and interchangeable,” and as a rejection of the “idea that the sexes are basically equal and interchangeable.”
He spoke in the way you’d expect an Ivy League graduate to speak–both in his vocabulary and his inflection. There was latent condescension in his voice, but then again there was probably latent condescension in my questions as well.
We spoke for a while about “race realism” and “white activism,” and Taylor explained to me that “a race realist or white advocate is not asking for anything special at all for whites, we are asking only for that which we are delighted to grant to every other racial group.” I am still not quite sure how to react to this statement. He went on, “That of course is why the term white supremacy is completely inappropriate for describing anybody that I know of on the alt-right. White supremacy is presumably the desire of whites to rule over people of other races.”
Taylor must not know Anglin, then, with his desire to “ethnically cleanse non-Whites,” his “authoritarian regime” and all. This, of course, is the central problem with the alt-right. Pinning down the locus around which the movement revolves is damn near impossible. It doesn’t exist.
I moved on to my “What about when Hillary wins?” questions–though I was not so indelicate of an arrogant ass-hat to say that flat out. Regardless, Taylor was sure that the alt-right was not going away.
“We are an increasing and growing force, Trump or no Trump.” He continued, “most people are coming to us, certainly not because of Trump, but because reality is waking them up to the terrible and ultimately suicidal liberal orthodoxies.” Faced with the prospect (what liberals misconstrued as certainty) of a new Clinton in the Oval Office, Taylor remained steadfast. “We predate Trump, we will post-date Trump.” Turns out Taylor was right. He predicted that alt-right activists would run for office on a local level–small-time stuff–but lo and behold, they’ve made it to the big-time. Bannon in the White House. Typing it and saying it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.
“Our ideas will only gain ground,” Taylor told me. In a subtle jab, he continued, “This probably shocks you because I am sure that you subscribe to all of the conventional orthodoxies that I’ve been denouncing.” He was right. I was shocked. I do subscribe to all of the conventional orthodoxies he so vehemently denounced. Revisiting my notes from these two interviews, I am faced with a few harsh truths. First is that we don’t really know what we’re dealing with–still–with the alt-right. We just know that we’re dealing with them. Whether the snake’s head manifests itself as a Taylor or an Anglin, we can’t be sure. We just know there’s a snake, and either way, we’ll have to reckon with it. Second is that, like Anglin said, the alt-right has its own media. Taylor maintains the same belief, he told me the alt-right has its own means of disseminating itself. “We have our own online publications, we have our own video broadcasters. Certainly not on the same scale on the mainstream. But an alternative view of the world, a correct and satisfying view of the world, is only a few mouse-clicks away.” I can’ say it enough. The alt-right isn’t going away.
Finally, we must swallow the large chalky pill and accept that these people hold the power now, and we don’t know what the hell to do. We don’t understand the alt-right, we can hardly even define it, and this works in its favor. Stephen Bannon addressed this in an interview with Michael Wolff, whom he told, “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” He embraces the dark ambiguity.
What this means–for those of us not in the alt-right–is that we need to be vigilant. We don’t know what we’re dealing with, we don’t know how to deal with it, we’ve never had to, therefore we must be hawkish and find the answer to these questions as soon as they make themselves apparent. These are the things we must make a serious, serious effort to figure out. We need to fucking find out what the next step is, and fast. This does not mean sitting in the backseat of an Uber, leaving Paul Ryan a whiny voicemail on the verge of tears, bitching out an automated recording asking whether or not you’re satisfied with your message (á la Lena Dunham). Yes, as Lena Dunham points out, many of us are disappointed in the appointment of Stephen Bannon. We should be. The word disappointment doesn’t even do the feeling justice. But disappointment is not an action. Disappointment is not a point of view. Leaving a voicemail, wallowing in inefficacy, and recording a video of all of it to post to your Instagram (in a prophetic display of everything that’s wrong with the left), may feel like action, but it is not the answer.
An Instagram post never changed the world. And I’m not claiming to know how to fix this issue–this appointment of a hate-mongering wrecking ball to a position of power, the perfect foil to Dunham’s backseat impotence. That’s precisely the issue. My friends look to me for alt-right information/advice and I find that I have none to give. I didn’t see this coming. Nobody did. We, the “cucks,” as the alt-right would call us, are caught with our pants at our ankles. We sat in our cozy little cocoons of liberal snark, we watched John Oliver, we watched SNL. This is not the way forward. We must learn our lessons. We didn’t see it coming, lets not let it happen again.
What I do see, in my punch-to-the-gut 20/20 hindsight, is that underestimating this movement would be a lethal mistake. We laughed at them, I know I did, but none of us are laughing anymore. There is nothing left to laugh at. The alt-right’s foothold will be sworn in come January, and wallowing–sitting idly by–is the last thing we can afford to do.