Jul 3, 2020
The Alt-Right believes politics is downstream from culture. They operate in this meta-political sphere where changing American politics must start with changing culture, discourse, and language. The internet allowed the Alt-Right’s ideology to proliferate through memes, in online communities, and finally into mainstream culture. After the 2016 election collapsed the timing between culture and politics, the internet continues to serve as a platform to disseminate their cultural values. Conversely, de-platforming prominent Alt-Right voices like Gavin McInnes and Alex Jones has reduced their ability to gain new adherents.
The Proud Boys, McInnes’s group, is a gateway to right-wing extremism. They often claim plausible deniability by saying anti-Semitic or transphobic memes are jokes and using seemingly harmless initiation rituals to lure young white men into their orbit. They attempt to “red-pill” their followers and decry modernity, liberalism, egalitarianism, and feminism. They would like America to re-embrace a “traditional” natural order in which white men are at the top of the pyramid, one of the central ideas of white supremacy. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, groups like The Proud Boys are often the first step toward white nationalism.
We must support democratic uses of social media to create a fair online environment. Pressuring companies like Facebook and YouTube to call out and remove hate; exposing the farce of nostalgia for a dominant white culture; and pushing back against tribalistic tendencies, especially among teenagers online, is critical. The Alt-Right is focused heavily on gender norms, so supporting transgender and LGBTQ+ rights is an actionable way to promote and support an inclusive society. Further, we should infuse our public discourse with a positive and racially pluralistic message.
Alexandra Minna Stern is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate of History, American Culture and Women’s and Gender Studies and Associate Dean for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. She also directs the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab housed in the Department of American Culture.
Her research has focused on the history of eugenics, genetics, society, and justice in the United States and Latin America. Through these topics, she explored the dynamics of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, social difference, and reproductive politics.
Her book, Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is Warping the American Imagination, applies the lenses of historical analysis, feminist studies, and critical race studies to deconstructing the core ideas of the alt-right and white nationalism.
You can learn more at her website: http://www.minnastern.com/.