Why the ‘alt-right’ is coming out of online chat rooms to support Trump

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Supporters cheer as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump takes the stage during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S., August 24, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RTX2MYAH

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HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in this country, both presidential candidates were in full attack mode today. At issue, Republican nominee Donald Trump’s alleged connections to a fringe conservative philosophy.

John Yang has the story.

JOHN YANG: Today, Hillary Clinton debuted a fresh line of attack against Donald Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Presidential Nominee: That is what I want to make clear today. A man with a long history of racial discrimination, who traffics in dark conspiracy theories drawn from the pages of supermarket tabloids and the far, dark reaches of the Internet, should never run our government or command our military.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHN YANG: This comes a little more than a week after Trump made Steve Bannon his campaign’s CEO.

Bannon is on leave from his job as executive chairman of Breitbart News, a Web site Bannon has called a platform for something called the alt- right. It’s a movement that lives largely online, rejects mainstream conservative politics, and is linked to nationalist and white supremacist sentiments.

Clinton said Trump has echoed alt-right rhetoric.

HILLARY CLINTON: All of this adds up to something we have never seen before. Now, of course, there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, a lot of arising from racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone, until now.

JOHN YANG: Clinton’s campaign backed up their candidate’s message online with this new video that includes a Ku Klux Klan member expressing support for Trump.

MAN: Donald Trump would be best for the job.

QUESTION: For president?

MAN: Yes.

MAN: I am a farmer and white nationalist. Support Donald Trump.

JOHN YANG: Even before Clinton spoke, Trump hit back.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: When Democratic policies fail, they are left with only this one tired argument: You’re racist, you’re racist, you’re racist. They keep saying it. You’re racist.

It’s a tired, disgusting argument. The people of this country who want their laws enforced and respected, and respected by all, and who want their border secured, are not racists.

If you want to have strong borders, so that people come into our country, but they come in legally through a legal process, that doesn’t make you a racist. It makes you smart. It makes you an American.

JOHN YANG: Today’s exchange between the candidates shining a spotlight on a little-known movement.

So, what is the alt-right? And how it is influencing this year’s presidential race?

For that, we are joined by Matthew Continetti, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news Web site, and from Manchester, New Hampshire, David Weigel, who covers national politics for The Washington Post.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.

Dave, let me start with you and ask you that question. What is alt-right, who’s behind it, where did it come from?

DAVID WEIGEL, The Washington Post: Well, it’s a fairly young movement with fairly old ideas.

I would say what they’re against, which is easier to define, is a philosophy of invite the world, invade the world. They are generally anti-intervention and anti-multiculturalism.

And they started to grow in 2007, as the Bush administration was falling to below 30 percent, was seen as discredited, was obviously going to help Democrats win the next election. Ron Paul’s campaign seeded some of this, but it really grew under the presidency of Barack Obama.

And they’re fairly young people. This is, I think, what’s worrying for a lot of progressives and a lot of people on the right, fairly young people, under 25, under 30, who have only known the Republican Party as a disappointment. And they have gravitated to these ideas which are very anti-immigrant, very anti-intervention.

JOHN YANG: And they’re getting a lot of attention, Dave, because of the anti-Semitic and anti-white — or — and white supremacist rhetoric. How central is that to their message and to what they believe in?

DAVID WEIGEL: It’s enabled in a lot of their messaging.

Not every alt-right thinker or activist is a white nationalist, by far, but there’s a sense that political correctness is a bigger problem than racism, and that racism is used as a cudgel for silencing what they want to say, what they want to argue about.

That’s, again, an older idea. Before the alt-right, there were paleoconservatives, like Sam Francis, like Pat Buchanan, who argued this and said, look, what the left wants to do to America, how it wants to import lots of immigrants, decrease the number of traditional white Americans, what they want to do is not popular, and they have to kind of Trojan a horse through culturally, and we’re against that.

JOHN YANG: Matthew, what is your take on this? What would you add to that, to what Dave said?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, Washington Free Beacon: I think I have a slightly narrower definition of the alt-right than Dave does.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: It’s true, there has always been this kind of critique of conservatism from the non-interventionist, the non-multicultural view.

I think the alt-right takes it a degree further. And so what you have that unifies a lot of these alt-righters on the Internet is really a disgust at the idea of egalitarianism.

They do believe in hierarchies. Some of them are racial. They also believe in sexual hierarchies. So, a lot of them kind of wave the banner of the men’s rights movement.

And so you start off from that political conclusion. And very quickly, when you read the rhetoric, it devolves into just outright racism, outright misogyny. So part of it starts with these ideas of Sam Francis, Joe Sobran, Pat Buchanan, that have been around since the end of the Cold War, really.

But a lot now of it is now much more visceral, hatred of the mainstream cultural movement for embracing some version of egalitarianism, civil rights, equality of the sexes.

JOHN YANG: And, David, what is the link, or is there a link or is there a connection between the Trump campaign and the alt-right?

DAVID WEIGEL: Well, there always has been. There been alt-right support for Trump mostly manifested online or even sometimes the T-shirts and signs you see at rallies.

There is a big alt-right presence on sites like 4chan and Reddit. And it was good that Matt mentioned the men’s rights movement. You could mention Gamergate. That was kind of a gateway for a lot of activists who consider themselves alt-right.

So, they supported Trump in the first place. The more direction came when Steve Bannon, the CEO of Breitbart, became the CEO of Trump’s campaign. Breitbart, very, I think, in a calculated and then also in a natural way became a forum for alt-right thinking and alt-right coverage, coverage of politics the way that those 4chan and Reddit people wanted it covered.

And that’s when this connection became harder to deny and when I think the Clinton campaign thought it was something to exploit.

JOHN YANG: And, Matthew, what does this mean for the future of the conservative movement?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: I think it’s one more sign that conservatism as we understand it is coming under great strain during the era of Trump.

And so you have all of these criticisms of the mainstream conservatism represented by William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan. All these critics now feel empowered with the rise of Donald Trump.

Anyone who had a bone to pick with the George W. Bush administration, with the Republicans in Congress, with the editors of National Review, of The Weekly Standard now says, Trump is our guy. Trump is going to be the agent of change that legitimates our somewhat fringe, marginal ideas.

Now, is there a large constituency for these ideas? No. I mean, you can find it on the Internet, but the danger for the conservative mainstream is to say, oh, all of a sudden, since it’s on the Internet, maybe we need to incorporate it into our thinking.

As soon as that happens, I think you’re going to find conservatism itself illegitimated.

JOHN YANG: You talk about the days of William F. Buckley, when he was sort of the one who said who was a conservative.

Does the conservative movement, do you think, bear any responsibility for the emergence of this sentiment, the alt-right?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: I think it’s bottom-up, really. So, I don’t think you had the same gatekeepers that you did in the earlier media age, when there were one or two conservative magazines that published biweekly or monthly.

Now we live in the Internet, and it’s the Wild West. Anyone with an opinion, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, they can express themselves. They can put these opinions into the public sphere. And what we have found, much to the surprise of conservatives like myself, is, there is a large audience for this type of rhetoric, these types of ideas.

And also one thing that needs to be mentioned with the alt-right, they’re kind of cyber-bullies. And we saw, with the rise of Trump in 2015, groups of these advocates and activists on Twitter going after in many cases Jewish conservatives and calling them anti-Semitic tropes.

This is something that I think is very ugly. And I worry for the future of conservatism, that it may displace the more traditional mainstream conservatism that most Americans think of when they think conservatism for the last 30 years.

JOHN YANG: We should point out that one of the targets of Breitbart was your father-in-law, William Kristol, who they went after right — in a very…

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: I wouldn’t like them anyway, though.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN YANG: OK.

Dave, what’s the future of this movement? You say that they feel like this is their moment, with Donald Trump as the nominee. Regardless of what happens to Donald Trump in November, what’s going to happen to this movement?

DAVID WEIGEL: Well, the light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of Republicans is, they don’t think they’re going to win the election. They think Trump will lose.

And there will be an effort — I don’t think a cynical effort, I think in part a sincere effort — to say the reason he lost is because he embraced a lot of radical ideas that can’t win in America anymore, we need to get rid of those elements.

To key off what Matt was saying, it wasn’t like they were part of the conservative conversation, the mainstream conversation anyway. They weren’t writing for National Review. They weren’t writing for The Weekly Standard.

They were always on the outs, but I think they will be actively ostracized after the election.

JOHN YANG: Dave Weigel, Matthew Continetti, thanks for helping us walk through this.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Thank you.

JOHN YANG: Thanks.

DAVID WEIGEL: Thank you.

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