They are not “alt-right,” they are white supremacists
“Alt-right” has got to go.
Donald Trump has emboldened white supremacists across the country to emerge from the sewers of the extreme right wing into the light of day. But before Trump’s rise to power, white supremacists got a 21st century rebrand.1
Richard Spencer, an infamous white supremacist who wants to create an Aryan homeland for dispossessed white people, coined the term “alt-right” in 2008.2 He wanted to encapsulate extremist right-wing ideals of “white identity” and the preservation of “Western civilization” and make room for a different kind of conservative.3 What he has really made room for is a new kind of white supremacist, unburdened by the negative baggage of Klan robes or Nazi swastikas.
When traditional corporate media outlets call today’s white supremacists “alt-right,” they sanitize and normalize a movement that seeks to reverse decades of civil rights gains and solidify white power and privilege, using violence if necessary. They need to stop.
Tell traditional corporate media outlets: Call white supremacy what it is. Stop using the term “alt-right.”
Earlier this month, white supremacists spent almost 24 hours violently promoting their white resentment and rage in Charlottesville, Virginia. Their torchlit cries of “white lives matter,” “Jews will not replace us,” “one people, one nation, end immigration” and “heil Trump” gave way to fights with counter protesters and finally a terror attack that killed one counter protester and injured almost 20 more.
What white supremacists planned in Charlottesville was more like a military invasion than a protest.4 They seemed more committed to inciting violence and raising the profile of their extremist movement than staging a peaceful rally.5
Trump led the way in condoning their terrifying actions and communicating to them that he is on their side.6 The tweeter-in-chief was silent while torch- and assault-weapon-carrying racists marched through the streets. When he first spoke out on Saturday, he shamefully blamed “many sides” for the violence. It took him 48 hours to condemn racist violence and white supremacy, 48 hours that white supremacists celebrated as a victory and a rallying point.
But the media played a powerful role as well. Though most outlets condemned Trump’s refusal to call out racism in his initial statement, they repeatedly referred to the white supremacist Nazi terrorists as protesters and their race riot as a rally or clash.7,8 They gave space to guests who tried to strike false equivalencies between the white supremacists and anti-racist counter protesters or the Black LIves Matter movement more broadly. This is not the time for the media to normalize white supremacists as conventional political actors wearing suits and ties and pretend that there are two sides to white supremacy and Nazism. As Van Jones pointed out while blasting Trump:
This is a day in which… an American citizen was assassinated in broad daylight by a Nazi. A Nazi, who the day before had been marching with torches down American streets saying anti-Jewish, anti-black stuff… this not a time to talk about both sides.9
When it comes to this kind of hate, there are not many sides. There are not two sides. The media needs to do better and we need to force them to act.
Tell media outlets: Stop normalizing and sanitizing white supremacy.
Until yesterday, the Associated Press Stylebook raised flags about the use of “alt-right” in media coverage of the white supremacy movement, and suggested that reporters “avoid” using the term but did not go as far as recommending that reporters not use it.10 In response to the violence in Charlottesville, they took a slightly stronger stance. They still suggested that writers “avoid” the term but also called out “alt-right” as a “euphemism to disguise racist aims.”11
These guidelines, which reporters and editors do not even consistently follow, are not enough. Outlets that use “alt-right” are dignifying white supremacy’s horrific racism, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism and anti-LGBTQ hate. That’s why ThinkProgress stopped using the term last November.12 Other media outlets should follow their lead.
Tell media outlets: Call white supremacy what it is. Stop using the term “alt-right.”
Thank you for everything you do.
- Oliver Willis, "What is the 'alt-right'? A guide to the white nationalist movement now leading conservative media," Media Matters for America, Aug. 25, 2016.
- SPLC, "Richard Bertrand Spencer," accessed Aug. 15, 2017.
- SPLC, "Alternative Right," accessed Aug. 15, 2017.
- Zenobia Jeffries, "Charlottesville was not a 'protest turned violent,' it was a planned race riot," Yes Magazine, Aug. 12, 2017.
- Richard Fausset and Alan Feuer, "Far-Right groups surge into national view in Charlottesville," The New York Times, Aug. 13, 2017.
- Zack Beauchamp, "Trump loves saying “radical Islamic terrorism.” He has a tough time with “white supremacy.”" Vox, Aug. 14, 2017.
- Adam Johnson, "For media, driving into a crowd of protesters is a ‘clash,’" Common Dreams, Aug. 13, 2017.
- German Lopez, "We need to stop acting like Trump isn’t pandering to white supremacists," Vox, Aug. 14, 2017.
- CREDO Mobile, "Van Jones Blasts Trump," Aug. 14, 2017.
- John Daniszewski, "Writing about the ‘alt-right.’" AP, Nov. 28, 2016.
- John Daniszewski, "How to describe extremists who rallied in Charlottesville," AP, Aug. 15, 2017.
- ThinkProgress, "EDITORS’ NOTE: ThinkProgress will no longer describe racists as ‘alt-right,’" Nov. 22, 2016.