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Clinton Bolsters the ‘Alt-Right’

At 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night, Google searches for the term “alt right” were at peak popularity [1]: more people were entering the search term at that point than ever before in internet history, as determined by Google’s tracking metrics. This was an easily predictable consequence of Hillary Clinton earlier in the day choosing to take the once-unthinkable step of coming right out and directly denouncing the “movement” by name, thrilling its adherents and accelerating wider public interest in their purported beliefs. It was a stunning development. That Hillary would have crafted an entire nationally televised speech around attacking the group—an amorphous, loosely amalgamated online phenomenon whose organizing principle is evidently to torment Twitter personalities with deranged and frequently racist meme-blasts—boggles the mind.

Hillary left no doubt that she was aiming her remarks specifically at the nebulous, trollish provocateurs, because she used the exact phrasing the trolls use themselves: “alt-right” is a neologism they proudly coined and bandy about routinely to distinguish themselves from other, more milquetoast right-wingers. The tactical calculation was notable in that Hillary need not have explicitly gone after the “alt-right” in order to accomplish her ostensible goal of tethering Donald Trump to the unsavory populist elements that have coalesced around him. She could have raised the specter of such groups and elucidated their repellent ideological features (to the extent that these groups have any ideology) without giving them an epic signal boost.

Their response, naturally, was jubilation. Leading lights of the burgeoning “movement” could hardly contain their ecstasy, with many thanking Hillary profusely for heightening their profile beyond anything they ever could have imagined. Once confined to a relatively niche subset of internet inhabitants dwelling in obscure forums and chats, the group has now attained a level of prominence such that they are being “called out” by the Democratic presidential nominee, and this could not bring them greater joy.

For one thing, they see their incendiary tactics as having been vindicated. “Alt-right” devotees are known for engaging in outrageous conduct on social media, namely Twitter—barraging perceived enemies with racist iconography, trolling assiduously, and indulging in other forms of relentless irritancy. The reason one behaves provocatively is generally to provoke a reaction, and provoke a reaction they now have—on a grand scale. Elevating the “alt-right” will feed their in-group notions about having some special ability to control wider societal discourse, as if they alone possess the magic keys to unlock the secret mechanisms lurking behind the national conversation. This phantasm will inevitably draw in new converts, hugely amplifying their delusions of grandeur.

While many who Google the term will of course be repulsed upon cursory investigation of what the “alt-right” stands for, others will no doubt be intrigued, fall into a research wormhole, and end up adopting the label. Even if the most recognizable “alt-right” tactics and imagery (such as the absurdist cartoon frog named “Pepe” they incessantly tweet at targets) become widely associated with repugnant conduct, the group is infinitely adaptive by virtue of existing almost solely on the internet. Not every “alt-right” adherent behaves in an outwardly inflammatory way. Some new followers will pick up on discrete bits and pieces of the still-forming belief system and promulgate its tenets more subtly than do the ostentatious “shock troop” types who position themselves on the front lines of a never-ending troll war. (It should probably be noted for posterity: I’ve heard rumblings about physical meetups increasingly taking place, so there might be a tactile component arising to operate in tandem with the internet presence.)

Whatever legitimate points Hillary could have made in the speech last Thursday—and she did make some, calling attention to the mainstreaming of genuinely noxious forces once consigned to the lunatic fringe—they were undermined by her bizarre pivot to Vladimir Putin. Her campaign had been ramping up its frenzied attacks on the allegedly ominous Trump-Putin nexus for about a month now, but over the last week the rhetoric has really escalated to a staggering degree.

First, on August 21, her campaign manager, Robby Mook, went on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and gravely intoned: “The hand of the Kremlin has been at work in this [Trump] campaign for some time. … There are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race.” Hillary carried forth these themes Thursday by attributing emergent right-wing populist movements across the United States and Europe to the diabolical subterfuge of Putin, whom she ludicrously called “the grand godfather” of worldwide nationalist extremism.

This was all the more ironic because earlier in the address Hillary had (rightly) condemned the GOP populist fringe’s propensity for conspiracy theorizing about all manner of topics—of late notably including her supposed hidden health problems. But she then promulgated a whopper of a conspiracy theory herself, suggesting that Putin is somehow personally orchestrating nefarious populist upswings throughout the Western world. It’s consistent with the narrative propounded days earlier by Mook—“the hand of the Kremlin” as the dark force behind every inconvenient global problem. Her charge had all the hallmarks of a classic conspiracy theory: spurious dot-connecting, unfounded insinuations, and an extravagantly baleful premise (Putin the omniscient evil menace). Then she went on to confabulate all kinds of disparate, tendentious evidence to substantiate the premise.

This would be perversely comical if it weren’t so dangerous: retrograde Russophobic hysterics are now being “mainstreamed” at a pace unseen in decades. Especially with Syria teetering on the brink of all-out multinational conflagration—the new U.S. commander in the region recently threatened [2] Russia and Syria with military retaliation should they attack in areas where American special forces are located—these Hillary campaign tactics are especially worrisome. Accusing Putin of single-handedly empowering Trump via surreptitious meddling not only poisons the well for future U.S.-Russia relations under a prospective Clinton administration, it makes catastrophic military conflict between the two nations far more likely.

Hillary might have accurately identified some nascent right-wing trends in the U.S. and abroad, but she also furthered us down the path of sleepwalking into Cold War 2.0.

Michael Tracey is a journalist based in New York City.

31 Comments (Open | Close)

31 Comments To "Clinton Bolsters the ‘Alt-Right’"

#1 Comment By Viriato On August 29, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

“Hillary might have accurately identified some nascent right-wing trends in the U.S. and abroad, but she also furthered us down the path of sleepwalking into Cold War 2.0.”

Here’s the thing: as far as a lot of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives are concerned, we are already in Cold War 2.0 — and have been for some time now.

#2 Comment By Brian J. On August 29, 2016 @ 1:47 pm

Mr. Tracey, once the other major party’s candidate named an “alt-right” or white supremacist campaign manager, it’s safe to say that the cat’s out of the bag and that they’ve already got a great deal of exposure. The trolls are already well-fed.

As for Putin, his actions in the Ukraine and through Wikileaks are why he’s being denounced. The decision by Putin and the Russian government to start acting against the United States was theirs, not ours.

#3 Comment By collin On August 29, 2016 @ 1:55 pm

Then WTF should Hillary call this movement and Trump? I used to think liberals overstated racist charges until I saw that Trump won the nomination. It appears minorities were being perceptive. This is an ugly movement that was contained to Breihart and O’Reilly rants on Fox News and now governors are calling the African-, Hipsanic-American enemy to be shot. (Good way to convince liberals not be concerned with gun control!) There are a lot people in California not real happy with the Republican Party and HRC gave them an Out this year. And worst yet the MSM will let Ryan off the hook for his support of Trump!

And the MSM is complaining about seating arrangements for HRC!!!

#4 Comment By Viriato On August 29, 2016 @ 2:09 pm

“The decision by Putin and the Russian government to start acting against the United States was theirs, not ours.”

But the decision to overthrow Ukraine’s government (which led directly to Putin’s actions in Ukraine) was ours, not Russia’s.

#5 Comment By EngineerScotty On August 29, 2016 @ 2:22 pm

One of the biggest gulfs between the traditional conservatives and the alt-right:

Traditional conservatives think Putin’s still a communist, and that Russia is still the Soviet Union in sheep’s clothing.

The alt-right seems to view Vladimir Putin as the savior of Western Civilization–a (shirtless) hero on a white horse who will guard America and Europe from the demons of feminism, liberalism, and immigration from the swarthier parts of the world.

#6 Comment By JZ On August 29, 2016 @ 2:30 pm

Per usual Clinton knew exactly what she was doing. She can’t run against Trump without naming the enemy and then repeatedly going after it. She has already said she plans to run out the clock on her onw scandals by focusing on Trump’s. It’s unfortunate the real estate buffoon has made it so easy for her.

#7 Comment By the media is the mess On August 29, 2016 @ 2:46 pm

Hillary’s been exploiting the racial fears and hatreds of blacks and other minorities for ages. This is just the latest example.

#8 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 29, 2016 @ 2:51 pm

@Brian J, “The decision by Putin and the Russian government to start acting against the United States was theirs, not ours.”

Okay Brian, please tell me how Russia’s annexation of Crimea impacts the U.S. more than Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights?

This is not a trick question or a jab a Israel.
Yes, the Israeli OCCUPATION of the Golan Heights since 1973 is legal under international law but the ANNEXATION of it in the 1980’s is every bit as illegal.

I am not asking for a moral distinction, I am asking how one is an action against the U.S. while the other is not.

#9 Comment By Dain On August 29, 2016 @ 2:52 pm

“This is an ugly movement that was contained to Breihart and O’Reilly rants on Fox News…”

The alt-right appears mostly confined to a conservative media ghetto WITHIN a conservative media ghetto. A true force to be reckoned with! Such power! Surely they’re on the cusp of controlling the MSM media, the entertainment industry, the federal bureaucracy, the SCOUTS, and the universities if we don’t take drastic action now.

#10 Comment By Anthony On August 29, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

If this speech amounted to anything, it was a big shout-out to people like Alex Jones and outfits like Breitbart which have in truth emerged as pretty important players on the Right, but trying to cobble those players together with trolls from Twitter and 4chan, American Renaissance (which really nobody is really paying attention to), the Trump campaign, and Putin was simply crazy. This was one of the worst attempts I have ever seen at smearing an opponent and their movement. For sure, it must have been to divert media attention from the Clinton Foundation.

#11 Comment By Will Harrington On August 29, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

Brian J

So, its OK for us to help with a coup in the Ukrain, but for Russia to interfere with what is, essentially, the historic heart of Russia is not. OK, if this is neoconservative Democratic groupthink for foreign policy then I’ll start building the bombshelter should herself win. It is simplistic and delusional.

#12 Comment By Anthony On August 29, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

I would add that “alt-right” outfits like Breitbart could be said to have anti-Muslim or “Islamophobic” prejudices, but this is not new or unique to the “alt-right” (whatever that is) as any review of the articles published in National Review and the Weekly Standard will attest. Talk Radio and Fox News have been accused prejudices against many groups for as long as I can remember too. This is not say this is necessarily good or that it wouldn’t better if it weren’t present, but the people and outfits being labeled “alt-right” are not really any better or worse than the establishment right in being “sensitive”.

#13 Comment By grumpy realist On August 29, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

So we should just ignore all the garbage that Breitbart spews out?

#14 Comment By collin On August 29, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

Didn’t Putin act first in Ukraine threatening the nation because the leader signed a European Trade deal in late 2013? Putin over-acted to deal and forced their leader Viktor Yanukovych to stop the deal and Ukraine started protesting? So Putin is acting aggressively here and not constructively with Ukraine. (Realize the US would not act any way if Mexico signed trade deals with Cuba.)

The good part for Putin’s aggression is most of them backfire!

#15 Comment By GregR On August 29, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

So when Trump hired Bannon as his campaign chief, who is on record as saying about Breitbart “We’re the platform for the alt-right,” Clintons responce should have been what?

Bannon has specifically and intentionally turned a media operation into the spokesperson for the modern KKK. Then he was hired as the campaign chief for a major parties nominee for President. In what possible world would that not have been raised as a campaign issue?

Sure Clinton may have been the one to first specifically tie Trump to the Alt-Right, but it was going to happen. And frankly it was good politics for her to do so. Informing the general public that Trumps current campaign chief is a member of the Alt-right doesn’t yet resonate in the same way that it would if he was a member of the Nazi party, or an active KKK member. But it probably will by the time the election is over.

This was a huge mistake on Trumps part, because all Clinton now has to do is keep throwing this in his face. And the Alt-Right is so odious to most Americans that every time she does so it’s going to hurt. Right up to the point that Trump fires him and reshuffles the campaign for the X time.

What’s odd is this article makes the implicit argument in favor of voter ignorance. Actually complaining about a candiate for office trying to inform the voters about a real issue.

#16 Comment By connecticut farmer On August 29, 2016 @ 4:06 pm

I gather that the author is not a Trumpeter in as much as he exposes his own biases rather early on (“trolls…”lunatic fringe”). Why not lay out ing the beliefs of the so-called “alt-right” and be done with it already? Be that as it may, the fact that The Rodham would have devoted an entire speech to this movement suggests that she and her fan club are just ever so slightly on edge.

This woman is every bit as off the wall as Trump and this article proves it. We need a confrontation with Putin like the proverbial hole in the head. What a pair! And THIS is the best we could produce?

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 29, 2016 @ 4:30 pm

“The vast right wing national conspiracy” afflicting the purity and virtue of the innocent victimized Clintons.

So now the delusion, as delusions go, has grown ever more paranoid and grandiose, now “the vast alt-right internationally-directed conspiracy” against the inevitability and rightness of the restoration to the throne, of the Arkansas Bourbons.

#18 Comment By Mark Potts On August 29, 2016 @ 4:37 pm

I suspect the message of the Alt Right upsets a lot of people because it invokes what terror management theorists in psychology call “mortality salience,” namely, reminders of vulnerability, failure and death. Look up terror management theory and see the experimental support it has – fascinating stuff.

Specifically, people have finally started to wake up from the make-believe world of the Radical Enlightenment in the 18th Century. This sweeping social experiment – based on pseudoscience about equality, democracy, feminism, human fungibility, the mind as a blank slate, cosmopolitanism, borderlessness, mass immigration, miscegenation and trying to erase the biological distinctions between men and women – has come crashing down around us because it conflicts with man’s nature. “Social progress” can never happen because human nature doesn’t change; and “social justice” remains forever beyond reach because society’s losers, misfits, kooks, weaklings, defectives, scolds, utopians and degenerates have conflicting grievances that they can’t reconcile, especially when it comes to dividing up the shrinking pile of spoils produced by generations of white people’s labor.

In other words, the Alt Right has rediscovered and articulated for our generation the essential tragedy of the human condition. It has become the voice of wisdom and maturity in a world full of delusions that we can no longer sustain. I have my doubts as to whether Donald Trump has really stumbled across this perspective, much less that he knows what to do with it. But thanks to the inadvertent attention he has drawn to the Alt Right, American politics in the 2020’s could look radically different from the nonsense that has damaged the United States for the past few generations.

#19 Comment By Further Afield On August 29, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

” This was one of the worst attempts I have ever seen at smearing an opponent and their movement. “

Clinton does this all the time. Remember the “vast right wing conspiracy”? She has always blamed her problems on dark, sinister forces, and always painted opponents as in league with those forces.

Recalling her collection and use of FBI files on her political enemies back when she was first lady, I just hope she doesn’t decide to use the police power of the state against her political enemies if she becomes president. But reckless, paranoid talk like this makes one think that’s exactly what she’s planning to do.

#20 Comment By Rossbach On August 29, 2016 @ 4:58 pm

“This phantasm will inevitably draw in new converts, hugely amplifying their delusions of grandeur.”

Hillary , of course, has no such delusions (It’s my turn to be president! Bill promised me!).

“The hand of the Kremlin has been at work in this [Trump] campaign for some time… There are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race.”

It’s actually worse than that; it’s all part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to make Hillary obey the law. But it is probably safe to surmise that anything so extreme is unlikely to succeed.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 29, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

“So Putin is acting aggressively here and not constructively with Ukraine. (Realize the US would not act any way if Mexico signed trade deals with Cuba.) The good part for Putin’s aggression is most of them backfire!”

Maybe I am misremembering this scenario. But as I recall, the oil deal trade with Russia was cheaper. It was really a matter of finances. That deal was just more ost effective.

One would think that if the EU really wanted to press Ukrainian independence as some manner of hedge against Russia, they would have offered a deal that actually saved the Ukraine money — they didn’t.

It’s apparent to me that the Ukraine was not under anyone’s thumb. One of Europe’s lingering legacies are the constant machinations that organized conspiracies are at work in anything that doesn’t go their way.

I love Europe, but give me a break.

#22 Comment By Noreastern On August 29, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

I believe that Hillary’s speech was on point and effective. Anyone who would be swayed by alt-right web sites was never voting for Hillary in the first place.

#23 Comment By Selvar On August 29, 2016 @ 9:15 pm

@ Mark Potts

The enlightenment was primarily a moral and political project, not a scientific one. It never claimed that genetics didn’t matter or that all groups in society would have equal outcomes. You are confusing classical liberalism with 1960s leftism.

For that matter, how exactly is mesegenation “unscientific”? You know that human biodevirsity dosen’t prevent people of different races from having kids and forming families with each other, right?

#24 Comment By cecelia On August 29, 2016 @ 10:24 pm

the myth of Crimea as part of Russia’s heartland – let’s stop with this. It is akin to saying that Texas is part of Mexico’s heartland so they would be justified in annexing it. History doesn’t count here – we have international law and under any circumstances it was violated re: the annexation of Crimea. What will the excuse be if Putin goes after one of the Baltic countries?

That said – the alt right is disturbing to me because of its cynical and often violent perceptions of women – who are typically portrayed as being after male money. There is nothing conservative about a movement which threatens woman and suggests that marriage is a trap for the male. As for Hillary calling them out – could we get serious about the filth that shows up at Breibart? Ever read the comments there? It is a swamp of conspiracies, woman hatred and all manner of pseudo scientific theories of white supremacy. Name em and shame em.

#25 Comment By Colm J On August 30, 2016 @ 7:56 am

One of the hallmarks of Clinton liberal interventionists and their Neocon allies is their penchant for hawking paranoid conspiracy theories, while hysterically denouncing others for the same offence. Freudians call this “projection”. Clintonites know they must keep nourishing tribalist liberal paranoia, since without it their program amounts to nothing much apart from more greed,more corruption and more war.

#26 Comment By Johann On August 30, 2016 @ 10:53 am

Its such a frightening world to the neoconservatives and neoliberals. Don’t worry. Demographics are on your side. Just keep more future like-minded voters coming into our country and the fix will be in even quicker. Meanwhile, us other people have no where to go. Too bad there wasn’t another planet to colonize. A lesson learned in forming a new country would be in addition to no taxation without representation, also no representation without taxation.

#27 Comment By Clint On August 30, 2016 @ 11:53 am

Hillary Clinton is an unreformed Serial Chickenhawk Interventionist darling of The Neoconservative/Liberal Interventionists from Iraq,to Libya to Syria onward.

#28 Comment By New Yawknapatawtha On August 30, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

“Hillary’s speech was on point and effective”

Sure, if you’re a conspiracy nut. Ever since she blurted out that “vast right wing conspiracy” nonsense twenty years ago, it’s been pretty clear that she inhabits a bizarre world in which large numbers of her fellow citizens creep about in the night whistling the Horst Wessel lied. Not a desirable trait in someone who could be giving the DHS its marching orders.

#29 Comment By KD On August 31, 2016 @ 11:12 am

I will try again.

It is curious that the enemies of what is called “xenophobia” are attempting to claim that the “xenophobes” are the puppets of a nefarious foreign leader involved in an international conspiracy to destroy “American values”.

Hillary is channeling vintage Henry Ford, only with a different international menace.

#30 Comment By hooly On August 31, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

The so-called ‘alt-Right’ seems to me to be a movement that has waken up to the central lie of Western Civilization. In other words, the bete noir of the alt-Right is not feminism, liberalism or even Islam, but rather Christianity itself. Alt-Righters are people who no longer believe in the ‘Judeo-Christian’ foundations of Western civilization. It’s like the Renaissance period when Europe rediscovered its deeper and older pagan roots in Greece and Rome. The alt-Right is deeply PAGAN in this respect, as in anti-Christian. The alt-Right has realized that Christianity is Middle Eastern (not Western), it’s Semitic (not European) and of course of non-white origin, with Jesus and all his Apostles swarthy skinned Arab looking men. With the rise of the alt-Right, Western Civilization has finally finished its de-Christainization, for good or ill.

#31 Comment By Cory Desormeaux On September 2, 2016 @ 6:09 am

Trump hired Bannon: they were already emboldened. But it didn’t start with Trump. It started in 1992 when Bill Clinton was elected. Ever since then, the GOP has been feeding a hate machine and these young Republicans are the result.