Published with permission from Media Matters for America.
Prominent white nationalists touted their growing media influence in the wake of Donald Trump’s rise to the Republican presidential nomination on a wave of bigoted rhetoric at a September 9 press conference titled “What Is The Alt-Right?”
The press conference, organized by white nationalist “think tank” the National Policy Institute (NPI), aimed to explain how the “alt-right” — a movement of fringe modern white supremacists — had “become a force in American politics in such a short period of time.” The racist movement has garnered renewed interest from media outlets in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s August 25 speech decrying the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship with the movement, including the hiring of Breitbart News executive chairman and alt-right leader Stephen Bannon as campaign CEO.
The press conference featured three prominent white nationalist speakers: NPI president Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right;” Jared Taylor, who publishes the white nationalist online magazine American Renaissance; and Peter Brimelow, who founded the white nationalist anti-immigration site VDare.com.
The press conference came just hours before Clinton told supporters at a fundraiser that half of Trump’s supporters belonged to a “basket of deplorables” — people who harbor “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic” animus who have been “lifted … up” by the Republican nominee. Indeed, the white nationalist movement has provided Trump with some of his most fervent supporters and praised him for helping to grow their ranks.
Spencer began the press conference by noting the “alt-right’s” unprecedented media moment. The movement, which has for years been relegated to the extreme racist fringes of the internet, has broken into the American public’s consciousness, thanks in large part to the “alt-right’s” vocal support of Trump’s anti-immigration platform. “We’re not just some marginal movement that you could dismiss,” Spencer told the room of supporters and journalists. “The fact is our ideas are so powerful that despite the fact that we’re doing all this on a shoe-string, we’re getting at people. We’re affecting them. They know we’re right.”
Indeed, the Trump campaign has helped bring the racist “alt-right” movement into the mainstream — rubbing elbows with white nationalists, echoing many of their common themes, and demonizing Muslims and immigrants.
That willingness to flirt with the racist fringe is what has captured the imagination of people like Spencer, who see in Trump a “leader” who is willing to shirk norms when talking about race and identity. “He seems to be willing to go there, he seems to be willing to confront people. And that is very different from the cuckold.”
Spencer described Trump’s campaign as a kind of jumping-off point for the “alt-right” — an opportunity to introduce their pro-white agenda to a broad national audience. “Certainly we have been, you could say, riding his coattails, there’s been more interest in us because we’re generally pro-Trump, because we’re inspired by him and things like that.”
The press conference also featured a significant amount of the explicitly racist rhetoric that one would expect from white nationalists — Taylor argued that blacks and Latinos are genetically predisposed to have lower IQs and behave less ethically than whites, Spencer waxed poetic about the importance of protecting a white cultural identity in America, and all three speakers expressed concern about the influence of Jewish people in American politics.
But beyond that, the press conference pointed to the speakers’ emerging awareness of the need to transform the “alt-right” from a disorganized and anonymous movement of internet trolls and meme-creators into a serious, professional political movement.
“I think the big challenge for the alt-right is a professionalization,” Spencer told his audience. “We’ve got to have professional organizations, professional people doing it… We want to increase our exposure, increase our influence.”
For the “alt-right” speakers in the room, being Trump supporters, while important, was secondary to their primary goal of advancing their pro-white agenda. Spencer acknowledged that Trump could not fairly be described as “alt-right,” instead describing Trump’s campaign as an opportunity to influence a major political party’s candidate to advance a pro-white agenda.
“We have not been made by Trump but we want to make Trump,” Spencer declared, “and we want to imagine him in our image.”