Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
Cause, I don’t think I can take anymore
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you
— Stealer’s Wheel, “Stuck in the Middle with You”
If all press is good press — the last presidential campaign suggests it is sadly — it was an awfully good week for America’s “alt-right.”
Never mind that one of its storm trolls killed a 32-year-old woman using a Dodge Challenger as a weapon; the David Duke crowd is reportedly thrilled with the week’s news coverage. (One white supremacist leader told Vice News after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, that the killing of counter demonstrator Heather Heyer was “more than justified” because of rocks allegedly thrown at the vehicle by “Antifa” leftists. He promised more demonstrations and violence going forward.)
The alt-right, as American white nationalists are now being called, are finally getting the ink and television coverage it’s long craved. They know news coverage equals recruitment gold in volatile times, and, aided by modern online organizing tools, they’re poised like never before to capitalize on it. Americans who value civil stability shouldn’t underestimate their potential to grow, especially if the country were to be thrown into Constitutional crisis or suffer another significant economic downturn.
Leaders of the alt-right movement aren’t your father’s Ku Klux Klan, if you will. They are highly educated polemicists with crystal clear messaging and a (warped) blueprint of the past and future.
They include people like the Yale- and Paris-Institute-of-Political-Studies-educated Jared Taylor, who is a highly polished public speaker. He can come across as downright avuncular in YouTube videos — when they’re muted.
Richard Spencer is another. The impeccably groomed neo-Nazi holds degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, and pens magazine-quality propaganda for all who will give him the time of day. It’s not hard to imagine lesser educated disaffected Americans falling under their spell.
The gist of their messaging is thus: History went off the tracks during the Enlightenment when it was declared that “all men are created equal.” Alt-righters reject that axiom, arguing that racial biology predetermines a natural social order. (East Asians rule the roost, according to this theory, followed by Caucasians. Everyone else predictably, and conveniently, falls below. See “Dark Enlightenment” if you find this hard to swallow.) The model for these ultra nationalists is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. They see Putin as the only “traditionalist” world leader willing to roll back progressive social policies such as gay rights. They also see Putin as a defender of “white” culture.
Many alt-righters also believe that democracy itself is fatally flawed. They openly discuss replacing our democratic system of government with some type of benevolent, authoritarian chief executive.
You can’t make this stuff up. But they can — and do.
It’s worth noting for the record that there’s nothing inherently conservative, or even right wing, about these radical doctrine. Alt-right tenets skew toward collectivism rather than individualism, and to highly centralized rather than limited government.
But that doesn’t relieve those of us on the right side of the aisle from the responsibility of nipping this virulent nationalism in the bud. We own the problem like it or not.
At the same time, it’s the responsibility of Americans on the left to rein in extremism on their side (I am not suggesting moral equivalency in what happened in Charlottesville.) The shouting down of speakers on college campuses, for example, has to stop. The constant labeling of fellow Americans with legitimate policy differences “haters” stifles honest dialogue and fuels underground movements.
America has been incredibly fortunate in its political stability. But it will take active work to preserve it. Those of us in the wide middle have our work cut out for us.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.