In terms of recent political history, 2016 was an exciting year. Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency was on everyone’s mind, and a surge of populism gripped the country like a fever. The Left had positioned what they believed was their most powerful, unsinkable candidate ever: Hillary Clinton. Yet, day by day, a cultural war against political correctness was gaining ground. On an hourly basis, it seemed, more and more people on the cultural and political Right were becoming less afraid of accusations and ostracism. For years, it seemed as if the country were being ruled by a brow-beating species of cultural Marxism. However, the time had finally come when people would collectively rise against Leftist oppression. Happily and unapologetically, these right wingers referred to themselves with a new, unknown term; they called themselves the Alt-Right.
This new brand that no one had ever heard of before was a new creation in the public mind. No one knew what to do with it. No one knew what it meant. It was some sort of mysterious anomaly that appeared out of nowhere. At first, it seemed momentary, fringe, ignorable, and unimportant. Yet for those who were in the know, being a part of the “Alt-Right” movement was a secret badge of accomplishment. Back then, the term was not a pejorative label or an insult, as it is now. Rather, the term was like a secret code among people “in the know.” Alt-Righters recognized each other online, they recognized what their comrades were doing, and they were quick to aid one another in whatever internet mischief they engaged in.
However, these red-pilled people of 2016 did not create the Alt-Right “brand.” Though the name of this phenomenon seemed to erupt out of nowhere that year, it did not magically spawn out of a vacuum. The “Alt-Right” took years to form and come into its own. Nor was the development and maturation of this brand complete by 2016—it would continue to evolve for years afterwards. One could say that the Alt-Right movement had a life cycle of its own, and perhaps it could even be said that 2016 was the term’s own golden age. The movement had a gestation period; it had an active adulthood, and by 2018, the “Alt-Right brand” arguably passed its prime into an uneventful geriatric phase.
It would be a mistake to blow off the Alt-Right movement as simply a collection of white nationalists. There is more to the story than that. It began as a kind of noble, subversive, counter-revolutionary movement, and in its heyday it was an anti-political correctness crusade. Clearly, Alt-righters were uncivil and tactless in their rude online engagements, but on the other hand, the Left never adhered to the rules of civil decorum either. A double-standard had been forced upon the Right in America for decades, and so what we saw in the Alt-Right’s behavior was a decision not to play by the Left’s rules any longer. The Right had learned that no amount of patient reasoning and dialectic would get through to those seeking to be “moderates,” as moderates had proven time and again they would quickly sell out against their own interests, joyfully accepting noble defeat, never having realized there was a better way to survive politically. No, the Alt-Right had had enough. It would be a movement with teeth.
Pre-2016 Alt-Right: It Began With Richard Spencer
In November of 2008, John McCain lost the presidential election to what would become a radical Democrat candidate, Barack Hussein Obama. The independent Ron Paul Revolution had failed to produce any kind of a tangible result for libertarian-minded voters. America would be stuck with a radical Leftist president for two terms. Later that month, Paul Gottfried gave an address at his newly-established H.L. Mencken Club, in which he proposed the formation of an independent, intellectual Right. It would be something different from the failed establishment right-wing model. The title of Gottfried’s address was The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right. Gottfried claims in an interview with Jacob Siegel that this particular term in the headline, “Alternative Right” was co-created with Richard Spencer, who was then his protégé.
The origins of Richard Spencer are a whole other topic of their own. Before 2008, Spencer was actually an assistant editor at The American Conservative magazine from March to December of 2007, until he was fired for his extreme views. Before that, he was a doctoral student at Duke University from 2005 until 2007. This means that Spencer was present at the school to bear witness to the Duke Lacrosse Scandal, which involved accusations that three white lacrosse team members had raped a hired black stripper. The entire media circus at Duke University proved that the charges and hyped outrage were a hatchet job. It was clear to many that a liberal establishment had rushed to ascribe racist guilt in a media hoax that got out of control. When the charges against the three men were dropped, audiences were vindicated in their belief that an oppressive, forcibly multicultural, feminist establishment—in tandem with a complicit media cabal—had tried to undermine the legitimacy of white American males.
Richard Spencer was at ground zero for these events. He was a close, personal witness to the speeches of college senior, Stephen Miller. Miller’s enthusiastic reputation preceded him, as he wrote a bi-weekly column for the campus newspaper titled “Miller Time.” In a 2007 February article, titled Racial Hypocrisy, he wrote of the Duke University scandal:
Protesters swarmed our campus and the city streets, they screamed vulgar condemnations, they tarred the whole team as complicit in a stonewall cover-up, they put up wanted posters, banged pots and pans. They cried out for justice and vengeance, demanded suspensions, expulsions and incarcerations. Worst of all, as they feverishly disregarded due process, they helped create an atmosphere of hysteria and madness which could only serve to embolden an unhinged district attorney who had the power to breathe life into the fantasies of the growing mob.
The “Miller Outrage Machine” (as his associates nicknamed him) served as an inspiration to the 29-year old Richard Spencer. In January 2007, Spencer would join others at a Thai restaurant to give a scathing criticism about the Duke faculty’s rush to prejudge the three innocent lacrosse players. Spencer’s was the most interesting speech of the night, and it marked the beginning of a new life. Miller would go on to become a sought-after media figure, an official spokesperson for congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and he would later join the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Richard Spencer dropped out of his doctoral program to “pursue a life of thought-crime” (as he tells it on his website). When asked about his role in the events surrounding the Duke Lacrosse controversy, he said in an interview to New York Magazine’s Intelligencer: “My life would not have taken the direction it did absent the Duke lacrosse case. […] I was, philosophically speaking, more or less the person I am today, […] but the Duke lacrosse case catalyzed me to be a pugilist for my views. I’m more combative and come out of the gate taking stands in a way that I wasn’t then.”
This is just an excerpt from Culture Wars Magazine, not the full article. To continue reading, purchase the March, 2019 edition of Culture Wars Magazine.
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