An old and familiar poison is being spread on college campuses these days: the idea that America should be a country for white people.
Under the banner of the Alternative Right – or “alt-right” – extremist speakers are touring colleges and universities across the country to recruit students to their brand of bigotry, often igniting protests and making national headlines. Their appearances have inspired a fierce debate over free speech and the direction of the country.
Behind the provocative, youthful and sometimes entertaining facade of the alt-right is a scrum of white nationalists and white supremacists – mostly young men – who hate diversity and scorn democratic ideals. They claim that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and memes, they eschew establishment conservatism and promote the goal of a white ethnostate, or homeland.
As student activists, you can counter this movement.
The Southern Poverty Law Center examines the alt-right, profiles its key figures and exposes its underlying ideologies. We also recommend ways to deconstruct and counter its propaganda, mount peaceful protests, and create alternative events and forums when alt-right speakers are invited or come to your campus.
College campuses are clearly on the frontline of the alt-right’s battle against multiculturalism. They are targeted for a simple reason: They embrace diversity, tolerance and social justice. They strive for equality and have created safe spaces for students of every gender and identity. College campuses are home to the highest ideals of human rights.
These values are soft targets for the alt-right. College students are curious and receptive to new, even radical, ideas. And universities, by definition, welcome free speech and philosophies of every stripe. Publicly funded schools, in fact, may not prohibit free speech.
It’s an opportunity the alt-right and other extremists are enthusiastically exploiting to attack egalitarian values and recruit students to their cause. Here are a few examples:
ON THE DAY DONALD TRUMP WAS ELECTED president, students at the University of Central Florida awoke to find posters of white men and women with the headline, “We Have a Right to Exist.” Distributed by Vanguard America, one of several new hate groups active on U.S. campuses, it claims nonwhite immigrants are causing “the genocide of our people.” Its posters read: “Imagine a Muslim Free America,” “Free Yourself from Cultural Marxism,” and “Protect the Family – Reject Degeneracy.”
WITHIN DAYS OF THE ELECTION, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer, who is often credited with coining the term alt-right, parlayed a raucous appearance at Texas A&M into a national audience.His theme: “America belongs to white men.” At a Washington rally that drew 300 white nationalists shortly after the presidential election, he led a chant of “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory,” as many in the audience sieg heiled.
TWO WEEKS AFTER TRUMP TOOK OFFICE, a tour stop by alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled at the University of California at Berkeley because of violent, anti-fascist protests. Despite his bigoted views, the host Berkeley College Republicans had described Yiannopoulos as “a man who bathes in sheer and unmitigated awesomeness.” Within hours of the cancellation, Trump tweeted: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
The term alt-right emerged in 2008 to describe a form of white nationalism composed of far-right ideologies expressing a belief that “white identity” is under attack. Despite the new name, the alt-right is rooted in the familiar fascism and white supremacy that existed before World War II. It has simply been repackaged for an age that has seen gains by women, people of color, the LGBT community and others – an era of civil rights progress.
While this progress has left far-right extremists and hatemongers seething, they’ve been eager to exploit the anxiety of a changing world and expand their ranks. And during the 2016 presidential campaign, the xenophobia and white nationalist beliefs of the alt-right entered the political mainstream.
The movement became widely known when Stephen Bannon, the chair of Breitbart News, was named Trump’s chief campaign strategist. A month earlier, at the Republican National Convention, in July 2016, Bannon had touted Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right.”
As the news media began investigating Breitbart, alt-right advocates began a noisy campaign for Trump, whose candidacy electrified their movement by promising to stop all Muslim travelers at the border and deport millions of undocumented immigrants – criminals and “rapists,” Trump called them.
Four days after the inauguration, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer told a TV interviewer, “Trump is a white nationalist, so to speak. He is alt-right whether he likes it or not.”
Trump eventually disavowed the movement, tepidly, but when he named Bannon as his chief strategist in the White House, the alt-right declared victory and the movement’s world views made headlines.
Though the movement weighs in on issues such as Israel, immigration and globalization, its central theme is white nationalism, which can be boiled down to one sentence uttered by Spencer at the first national gathering of alt-right advocates in Washington after Trump’s election.
“America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer declared. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
The alt-right revels in notoriety. Much of its drawing power is the provocative and crude manner in which alt-right speakers rail against the established order. Posing as underdogs, they hurl insults against the walls of authority, decency and civil discourse using memes, juvenile humor and pseudointellectual arguments to deliver their message.
Their favorite bludgeon is “political correctness.” They charge that progressive college campuses are mired in meaningless, discriminatory rules as they embrace and protect individual differences. They claim these efforts are appeasements to individuals who might have their feelings hurt. But to call something “politically correct” is a cheap and easy way to dismiss community norms and basic human decency, and to undermine the fundamental American values of equality, justice and fairness.
As outrageous as their comments may be, they are protected by the First Amendment, except in extreme cases in which a speaker incites violence, for example. In other words, people have the right to express their views, even if those views are loathsome. No matter how repugnant one may find a speaker’s views, as long as the college has a policy of allowing student groups to invite people from outside their campus to speak, university administrators cannot pick and choose based on the views the speaker holds. Neither other students nor administrators can stop someone from speaking merely because they dislike the speaker’s ideas.
This is not to say that words don’t matter. In the 10 days following Trump’s election, a victory won after a campaign marked by rhetoric that demonized and degraded immigrants, Muslims, women and others, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented nearly 900 bias-related incidents across the country. Many of the perpetrators referenced Trump or his campaign slogans.
And it’s not to say that students and administrators can’t take a stand against the hateful rhetoric and ideology of the alt-right. There are steps students can take to cultivate their campus as a welcoming place that celebrates its diversity and can withstand the hateful ideas of the alt-right.
When an alt-right personality is scheduled to speak on campus, the most effective course of action is to deprive the speaker of the thing he or she wants most – a spectacle. Alt-right personalities know their cause is helped by news footage of large jeering crowds, heated confrontations and outright violence at their events. It allows them to play the victim and gives them a larger platform for their racist message.
Denying an alt-right speaker of such a spectacle is the worst insult they can endure.
While there’s nothing wrong with peaceful student protests against a hateful ideology, it’s best to draw attention to hope instead. Hold an alternative event – away from the alt-right event – to highlight your campus’ commitment to inclusion and our nation’s democratic values.
What’s more, take action to inoculate the campus against such extremism before these speakers appear on campus. The following steps can help prevent your college or university from being exploited by the alt-right.
THE TIME TO DEAL WITH THE ALT-RIGHT IS BEFORE IT ARRIVES ON CAMPUS.
Is your school being targeted? What group is likely to invite an alt-right speaker? Has it issued an invitation? What office approves or prepares venues for outside speakers? Check with campus security for a heads-up on controversial speakers. Study this brochure. Search for stories about the alt-right and extremists appearing at other campuses.
RESEARCH THE ALT-RIGHT’S HISTORY AND VIEWS.
Learn about the true meaning behind its message. Beyond its sophomoric humor and pseudointellectual veneer is a fringe movement driven by a small group of bigoted young men.
MEET WITH CAMPUS GROUPS TARGETED BY THE ALT-RIGHT. ENLIST THEIR SUPPORT.
This could include student of color groups, LGBT groups and Muslim student associations. Ask if they will help raise awareness. Encourage individuals to tell their stories of being targeted. They can speak in public meetings, newspaper stories, video interviews and online forums. A single story can change hearts, creating the foundation for a wall against bigotry in the community.
APPROACH THE HOST GROUP INVITING AN ALT-RIGHT SPEAKER TO CAMPUS.
Go to its meetings. Take copies of this brochure. Outline what you’ve learned. Relay your concerns. If the group is a conservative or young Republican group, make it clear this is not an anti-Trump campaign. This is an anti-racist campaign. Ask the hosts why they are inviting the speaker. Is it purely political? Is it to foster honest debate? Or is it sophomoric theater at the expense of fellow students? Do they understand what the alt-right wants? Have they viewed their talks? Have they considered the potential for harm? If possible, have a student of color or member of another targeted group tell their story to the student group. The story should demonstrate that the invitation will have serious, painful consequences for a fellow student or group of students. Finally, ask the group not to host the alt-right or to rescind an invitation.
CULTIVATE A COMMUNITY OPPOSED TO BIGOTRY.
In addition to groups typically targeted by the movement, enlist support from other groups, such as political organizations, athletes, unions, faculty members and alumni. Hold strategy sessions with them and design an action plan. You will find that others will join you if you summon the courage to speak out against hate speech. The community you create will last long after the speech that brought you together.
RAISE AWARENESS IN THE CLASSROOM.
Browse the course catalog for diversity courses and list the professors. Divide the list and visit every professor during their office hours. Don’t rely on email, which can be ignored. Give them a brochure. Ask them to create a class assignment on this subject. Offer to come to the class and speak for a few minutes about your concerns with the alt-right.
Born in 1978 and raised in Texas, Richard Bertrand Spencer has become one of the country’s most successful young white nationalist leaders. He’s also credited with coining the term “alt-right” in 2008.
A year earlier, he had dropped out of Duke University’s Ph.D. program in modern European intellectual history and taken a job as assistant editor at American Conservative magazine, where he was later fired for his radical views, according to former colleague J. Arthur Bloom.
Spencer then became executive editor of the paleoconservative website Taki’s Magazine. In 2010, he founded AlternativeRight, a supremacy-themed webzine aimed at the “intellectual right wing,” where he remained until joining the National Policy Institute (NPI), a white nationalist think tank. NPI aims “to elevate the consciousness of whites, ensure our biological and cultural continuity, and protect our civil rights.” Spencer became president of the group in 2011, following the death of its chairman, longtime white nationalist Louis R. Andrews.
Encouraged by his controversial and widely covered appearance at Texas A&M in December 2016, Spencer launched a short-lived campus speaking tour. Wearing a haircut patterned after Hitler youth, Spencer veers between dense academic monologues on identity and exuberant hijinks, such as holding a sign in public that reads: “Wanna talk to a racist?”
In April 2017, he was scheduled to speak at Auburn University in Alabama. The university initially issued a statement making it clear that it deplored Spencer’s views – an action within its rights, as the First Amendment doesn’t require public universities to be neutral when racist speakers come to town.
Auburn later canceled the speech out of fear that Spencer’s presence would provoke violence, even though the university was perfectly capable of providing security. Spencer challenged the decision in court and won, an outcome that allowed him to portray himself as a First Amendment hero.
When Spencer finally spoke at Auburn, hundreds of students gathered outside the venue to confront far fewer white nationalists who gathered to show their support for Spencer – an approach the SPLC does not endorse. Three people were arrested for disorderly conduct. The confrontation generated ample media attention for Spencer.
The most flamboyant alt-right speaker, British citizen Milo Yiannopoulos was born Milo Hanrahan in 1984 to a Greek father and British mother. A deliberately offensive provocateur who calls himself the “Dangerous Faggot,” he has spoken at dozens of colleges.
Yiannopoulos is a college dropout who was interested in literature and theater. He also published poetry before becoming a technology journalist. Named technology editor at Breitbart News by Chairman Stephen Bannon, Yiannopoulos attacked women programmers in the video game industry as sociopaths whose games demonize men. When tech bloggers called him a misogynist, he labeled them “justice warriors,” a term that became a favorite on his “Dangerous Faggot” speaking tour of college campuses.
Yiannopoulos is a canny, quick standup who elicits guffaws from college students by mocking a wide range of people and societal norms. He called it ironic trolling. His Twitter account, which had 338,000 followers, was permanently suspended after he led an online harassment campaign of Leslie Jones, the star of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.
In 2017, after comments surfaced of Yiannopoulos seemingly condoning sex between men and boys, he lost a lucrative book deal and resigned from Breitbart. He has since announced plans for a comeback by launching his own multimedia company, Milo Inc., a venture “dedicated to the destruction of political correctness,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Before he became the chief strategist for Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon, 63, was the chief enabler of the alt-right movement. Without Bannon’s ascension to the Oval Office, the movement would likely still be confined to the dark corners of the internet. Born to a working class family in Norfolk, Virginia, Bannon joined the Navy and worked his way up to a Pentagon job.
With an MBA from Harvard, he parlayed work at Goldman Sachs into ownership of a Hollywood production company. While screening In the Face of Evil, his documentary on Ronald Reagan, he met Andrew Breitbart, founder of the conservative news website that bears his name. When Breitbart died suddenly in 2012, Bannon took over Breitbart News, and the site took a sharp turn. With Bannon at the helm, it attacked the GOP establishment under what he described as a “nationalist” ideology similar to the right-wing ideology that has swept parts of Europe.
Bannon, who denies he is racist, presided over a news empire where he, as The Guardian wrote, “aggressively pushed stories against immigrants, and supported linking minorities to terrorism and crime.” Under Bannon, Breitbart published a call to “hoist [the Confederate flag] high and fly it with pride” only two weeks after the Charleston massacre, while the country was still reeling from the horrors of the murders. It also published an extremist anti-Muslim tract in which the author wrote that “rape culture” is “integral” to Islam.
A worldly scholar and white nationalist, Jared Taylor was born in 1951 to missionaries working in Japan and educated at Yale and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Fluent in Japanese and French, he began developing a scholarly excuse for racism in 1990 when he founded the New Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes “research” arguing for white superiority.
His now-discontinued magazine, American Renaissance, focused on research claiming links between race and IQ, as well as eugenics, the debunked “science” of breeding better humans. Taylor has said that blacks and Hispanics are a “genetic drag” on Western society.
Taylor is notorious for The Color of Crime, a 1990s booklet that tried to use crime statistics to “prove” that blacks are far more criminally prone than whites and that argued, based on a misunderstanding of what constitutes a hate crime, that black “hate crimes” against whites exponentially outnumber the reverse. The booklet remains a staple in white supremacist circles.
The work of Greg Johnson makes him one of a handful of academics providing a philosophical grounding for the alt-right and other movements.
Shortly before earning a Ph.D. in English from Emory University, Johnson writes that he was “red-pilled” in 2000 at a white nationalist gathering in Atlanta. After hearing Holocaust-denier David Irving, Johnson began publishing journals and books to “deconstruct the hegemony of multicultural, egalitarian, and anti-white ideas and create a pro-white counter-hegemony in its place.”
After a stint as editor of The Occidental Quarterly, a journal that’s a favorite among academic racists, he founded Counter-Currents Publishing in 2010. As of late 2016, it had published more than 30 books, according to an interview with Johnson on the Counter-Currents website. The books include his own titles, Confessions of a Reluctant Hater and Truth, Justice & a Nice White Country. As of late 2016, Counter-Currents had also churned out more than 5,000 articles and 200 podcasts.
Johnson boasts that he has organized “more than 10 White Nationalist weekend conferences and dozens of smaller events.” The driving force behind his prolific output may be best summed up in his own words: “[W]hen our values and worldview have sufficiently permeated the culture, it will be possible for White Nationalists to gain actual political power and put our ideas into effect.”
Born into an American communist family in 1939, David Horowitz was a founding intellectual member of the New Left in the 1960s and a onetime collaborator with the Black Panther Party. He turned away from the movement he helped found after a female colleague was murdered in San Francisco in 1974. Horowitz was convinced that members of the Panthers were involved.
He turned to the radical right and became a prolific writer of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant propaganda. The David Horowitz Freedom Center has published pamphlets with names like Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream and The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration. He called President Obama “an evil man” who is “systematically destroying America.”
Horowitz’s annual “Restoration Weekend” and “The Retreat” weekend focus on anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant policies. Past attendees include political figures such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
He honored Milo Yiannopoulos in 2016. Horowitz’s group also worked with Yiannopoulos on a program against “sanctuary campuses.” Horowitz has also underwritten a California college campaign called “Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus,” which attacks efforts to boycott Israel. In an attempt to intimidate, it used posters that named students and faculty involved in such boycotts.
Born in 1991, Matthew Heimbach is considered the face of a new generation of white nationalists. He is a regular speaker on the radical-right lecture circuit.
While a history student at Towson University in Maryland, he founded the White Student Union and organized a student night patrol with flashlights and pepper spray to counter what he described as a “black crime wave.” In 2012, “race realist” Jared Taylor spoke to the White Student Union at Heimbach’s invitation. Taylor is the founder of the white nationalist New Century Foundation.
After Towson graduated in 2013, his White Student Union was folded into the Traditionalist Youth Network, a new white nationalist organization cloaking itself in “traditionalism” that was founded by Heimbach and his father-in-law, Matthew Parrott. In late 2014, Heimbach assumed a leadership role in the League of the South as the neo-Confederate hate group’s training director.
Uninhibited and raw in his rhetoric, Heimbach has suggested that African Americans could find a homeland in the South or “areas like Detroit,” charitably adding: “[W]e don’t have to be antagonistic towards them.” He has also said that we “shouldn’t give up California just yet. Because it truly is beautiful in terms of weather, but it’s full of Mexicans and that’s sort of a problem.”
If you can stomach the ugly bigotry, Mike Enoch’s website, The Right Stuff, is a primer for some of the lingo used by neo-Nazis and the alt-right. From “niggertech” (mediocre, gaudy objects) to “ovenworthy” (anything improved by immediate incineration) to the “echoes” meme (putting triple parentheses around the names of people online suspected of being Jewish), it can be found on The Right Stuff.
Raised in a New Jersey suburb, Enoch, whose real name is Mike Peinovich, produces a podcast, The Daily Shoah, in which he rails against Muslims, establishment conservatives and Jews. The podcast, which has reportedly garnered as many as 100,000 regular listeners, allowed Enoch, who is in his 30s, to be considered one of the most influential purveyors of alt-right propaganda. The online magazine Salon described Enoch as someone who “routinely cracked jokes about killing Jewish people and forcibly deporting Muslims and people of African descent.”
When anti-fascist activists alleged in January 2017 that his wife was Jewish, The Daily Shoah co-host “Bulbasaur” tweeted that Enoch belonged in a gas chamber himself. Enoch appeared months later at an alt-right rally in Washington, D.C., as a speaker and railed against the Jews. “When you talk about Jewish privilege, which is objectively provable, we can prove it,” he said. “Who’s in control of the Federal Reserve Bank? Who’s in control of the media? Who’s in control of our foreign policy? Jews. We know that it’s Jews.”
Born in 1984, Andrew Anglin is the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, the nation’s leading extremist website, which aptly takes its name from the gutter Nazi propaganda sheet known as Der Stürmer. True to that vintage, Anglin is infamous for the crudity of his language and for mobilizing his online troll army to harass perceived enemies.
Anglin grew up in Ohio and was radicalized after discovering the work of Texas radio show host Alex Jones, one of the most prolific conspiracy theorists in contemporary America.
Created as a “news” site, the Daily Stormer encourages online trolls and a militia for a coming race war. The website, which has established 31 physical chapters in the United States and more in Canada, has been designated a hate group by the SPLC.
Those who have posted on the website include Dylann Roof, who massacred nine African Americans in Charleston in 2015. Among Anglin’s favorite trolls is “Weev,” the pseudonym of Andrew Auernheimer, who has hacked printers on university campuses to unleash a flood of swastikas and white supremacy fliers.
In December 2016, Anglin joined Richard Spencer and Mike Enoch (pseudonym for Mike Peinovich) on a radio show in which they referred to themselves as “The First Triumvirate.” The move was a bid for unity among three leaders of the fractious alt-right. Following the high-profile doxing of several hosts from The Daily Shoah, one of the alt-right’s most popular radio programs, Anglin took to the Daily Stormer to take up for Peinovich after it was alleged that his wife is Jewish.
In 2017, the SPLC, along with its co-counsel, filed suit in federal court against Anglin for orchestrating a harassment campaign that relentlessly terrorized a Jewish woman and her family with anti-Semitic threats and messages. The lawsuit describes how Anglin used the Daily Stormer to publish articles urging his followers to launch a “troll storm” against the family, which received more than 700 harassing messages.
A 30-year-old former Marine corporal, Nathan Damigo started the group “Identity Evropa” after reading the work of former KKK chief David Duke while serving five years in prison for armed robbery. His group, whose fliers have appeared at dozens of campuses across the country as part of its “#ProjectSiege,” is a reimagining of the defunct National Youth Front, the youth arm of the white nationalist American Freedom Party, which Damigo also led. Members must be of “European, non-Semitic heritage.”
Identity Evropa was founded in March 2016. It hit the ground running just months later over the July Fourth weekend, when supporters posted fliers promoting “European identity and solidarity” in 17 cities. Addressing a class at Cal State Stanislaus, Damigo called himself an “identitarian” – a reference to a racist European movement – and rejected terms like “racist” and “supremacist” as “anti-white hate speech.”
For Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys organization he founded is a “pro-West fraternal organization.” Others, however, describe it as the military arm of the alt-right, eager to clash with anti-fascist protesters. Although there initially aren’t any overtly racist themes, it sounds quite similar to a neo-Nazi “fight club” called the “DIY Division.”
The Proud Boys reportedly have a four-step initiation process. It starts with a prospect declaring himself a “Proud Boy,” suiting up in Fred Perry polo shirts with yellow stripes, similar to those worn by skinheads. The fourth and final step is brawling with anti-fascists at public rallies.
Its founder, McInnes, is also the co-founder of Vice, although he and the magazine severed ties a decade ago. More recently, he has been a frequent guest on Fox News and a contributor for the racist website VDARE, where he denigrated Muslims and called Asian Americans “slopes” and “riceballs.”
FRATERNAL ORDER OF ALT-KNIGHTS
Sporting the clever acronym “FOAK,” the Fraternal Order of Alt- Knights is a fight-club “fraternity” of young, white, pro-Trump men formed, its organizers claim, to defend the free-speech rights of alt-right leaders and engage in street fighting.
FOAK’s formation was announced in April 2017 by Kyle Chapman, a California activist arrested earlier that month in a clash in Berkeley between anti-fascist protesters and pro-Trump demonstrators. Chapman, who uses the internet meme “Based Stickman,” says his group is the “tactical defensive arm” of the Proud Boys, another group that shows up at pro-Trump rallies looking to rumble with counter-protesters.
“We don’t fear the fight. We are the fight,” Chapman said in a social media post announcing FOAK’s formation.
Civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. founded the SPLC in 1971 to ensure that the promise of the civil rights movement became a reality for all. Since then, we’ve won numerous landmark legal victories on behalf of the exploited, the powerless and the forgotten.
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