If you follow NPI events, there was more than a little déjà vu in the National Policy Institute’s press conference in DC on Friday, September 9th. Titled “What Is the Alt Right?,” and framed as a reply to Hillary Clinton’s disordered denunciations of Donald Trump and his nationalist supporters, it was a very sedate, familiar affair.
To begin with, it featured the same speakers as NPI’s “Beyond Conservatism” a year-and-a-half ago: Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimelow. Like that mini-conference, it showcased the three speakers’ contrasting viewpoints in a lecture-and-questions format. And what the speakers had to say wasn’t terribly different from what they said at “Beyond Conservativism” on February 27, 2015.
Once again, NPI President Spencer deplored the degeneration of “conservatism” in recent years, particularly in its refusal to tackle issues of race and foreign policy. Brimelow of Vdare recounted his career as a Reagan conservative and immigration-control advocate, and his eventual ousting as senior editor of National Review. Jared Taylor of American Renaissance talked of the intrinsic whiteness, or European-ness of America as nation, and refuted the notion that defending the national heritage is “racist” or “white supremacist” (since East Asians, as he never tires of reminding us, seem to have higher average IQs).
But if Spencer, Brimelow, and Taylor are still pretty much the same, the surrounding political landscape today is vastly different. That is why the press conference was held in the first place, and it made for some decorative differences. Richard Spencer took on the main task of answering the question posed in the press conference’s title. In the space of a few minutes he touched on the memes and milestones from the past year: Cucks, Dank Memes, Pepe, Chaos, It’s the Current Year! “Being Alt Right is being authentic to the Current Year.” Spencer dismissed the Clinton campaign’s “myth that Trump invented the Alt Right.” In reality the Alt Right was drawn to Trump because he has “high energy” and “he seems to be willing to go there.”
Nobody Saw It Coming
There’s a more salient difference between this press conference and that February 2015 event. Although “Beyond Conservatism” looks in hindsight like the kick-off event for the Alt Right, it really wasn’t. That very term, “Alt Right,” was hardly even in use. (I don’t recall hearing “alt right” at the mini-con, nor was it mentioned in Counter-Currents’ coverage. The Washington Post doesn’t seem to have known the label before July 2015.) When speakers and attendees talked about how we were going to get “Beyond Conservatism,” they wanted a movement but weren’t sure how this would happen. Nobody foresaw the frenzy that would erupt in the summer of 2015 over Donald Trump, or the coincidental blitz against “cuckservatives” in the Twittersphere. Nor could Spencer, Brimelow, and Taylor or anyone else expect things to coalesce so fast and ferociously, let alone foresee the unlikely actors in the mix — the GamerGate bloggers, YouTube vloggers, Disney parodists, memers, channers, Taylor Swift fans, the exotic self-promoter Milo Yiannopoulos . . . and of course that manic tweet-bot himself, Mr. Trump.
And finally, we must credit the mainstream press, which sensed the excitement and spread it far and wide. The Alt Right thing made good copy, even if its adherents were easily dismissed as mostly kids, NEETs, losers, white nationalists, and those creeps who read the Daily Stormer. Orthodox “conservative” outlets such as National Review and The Federalist had already done the groundwork, bracketing Trump and the Alt Right gang together as bigots, bullies, basement-dwellers, not-true-conservatives.
All this fed directly into the policy makers and speechwriters in the Hillary Clinton campaign. When she denounced Trump and the Alt Right in her Reno, NV speech in late August, she accomplished what the wowsers at BuzzFeed and The Federalist could never do: she legitimized the Alt Right. It was now on the nightly news and on the front page of the daily paper. People who had never heard of the Alt Right before now suddenly knew what a Pepe meme was.
This was a colossal own-goal blunder on the part of Clinton’s team. They just didn’t understand how the information world has moved on. In the early 1960s you could denounce the John Birch Society and know that most of your audience wouldn’t have the knowledge or curiosity to refute it. Today you run to Google — or Twitter — and find a hundred places assuring you the Alt Right are nice clean-livin’ American folks, while Hillary Clinton is a horse’s ass.
Journos of Confusion
So the journalists who showed up for the NPI press conference on Friday –from the Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Mother Jones, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, inter alia — knew they were at a watershed moment in American politics. Hillary was foundering, Trump had evened out the polls and would likely be the next President. Regardless of the election outcome, the Alt Right was now something to be taken seriously: people like Spencer, Brimelow, and Taylor might well be determining public policy for years to come.
The journos were a subdued, somewhat confused-looking bunch, as though not quite sure why they were there. The press conference had made the headlines a couple days before when it was banned by the National Press Club and then transferred to a secret location (which turned out to be the Willard Hotel, a few doors away). The NPC has never canceled a press event there before, and it hosted NPI twice last year. Somehow, this time, a press conference was thought too incendiary.
Anyway, few of the reporters had substantive questions, or seemed to be up on the subject matter. Things they did ask were mainly silly or irrelevant. One of their number, wearing a baseball cap, asked Richard Spencer if he thought it was unfair that residents of Washington DC don’t get to vote for President. “I really don’t care about that,” said Spencer with a laugh.
Another tried to probe for deep meaning in the AR logo that Spencer designed for the event, which looked sort of like origami folds, or perhaps a sign for a sailing regatta (although some Twitter lefties had insisted the A was meant to be a Ku Klux Klan hood). “Synthwave nostalgia,” Spencer described the abstract design. “I wanted to evoke something that was new and dynamic and futuristic . . . I’ve seen enough billowing flags, and eagle with a tear . . .” (Audience laughter.)
The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel asked a bland question about relations with Russia — would Spencer favor Russian expansionism? — and got an equally bland answer (The Ukrainians have Kiev, Crimea is obviously Russian). A reporter from the Jewish Telegraph Agency tried to press Spencer on the ulterior meaning of the parentheses used around some names on Twitter. Apparently the man from JTA does not spend much time tweeting, because he wanted to know whether ((())) means you’re “Zionist” or leftist. This was far too confused a question to answer, so Spencer said the whole thing was an internet joke that some people adopted and helped popularize in the belief this would destroy the Alt Right.
“They’re doing our work for us,” Spencer explained, clearing it up not at all for the man from the JTA. At no point did anyone mention that the “echo” parentheses were created as a signifier for “Jew.”
The JQ did come up eventually, as the press conference wound down. Each of the speakers was queried, directly and indirectly, on whether Jews could be white/European/American. And Taylor, Spencer, and Brimelow gave the classic answers we have come to expect. Basically — Taylor: Yes, if some identify as such and share the proper values. Spencer: No, because they regard themselves as different. Brimelow: My answer is somewhere in between.
Finally Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast asked the most pointed version of the question, and got the most click-baity mileage out of it. She basically devoted her whole writeup to the subject, leading off with, “Bad news, Jews: You don’t get to be part of Richard Spencer’s white ethno-state.”
It’s fun reading, a magpie’s nest of every cliché we’ve seen in the past year. Here Betsy sets the scene:
In a windowless room in a swanky hotel half a block from the White House on Friday afternoon, three of the most visible leaders of the alt-right movement held a two-hour press conference to discuss their affection for Donald Trump and their hopes for a white homeland. The white supremacist alt-right movement has grown over the last eight years or so, incubated in racist forums like StormFront and meme-loving corners of the internet like 4chan and 8chan.
(Love that swanky. And not just alt-right, but white supremacist alt-right! And you got Stormfront in there, too—good!)
Conversely, WaPo’s Dave Weigel steered completely away from such greasy kid stuff. He compared the press conference at Willard’s with the social-conservative Value Voters Summit going on the same day, and found the Alt Right presser much franker and edgier:
[Spencer, Taylor, Brimelow] praised Trump not because he was adopting new beliefs, but because he had found and defeated the right enemies.
“I don’t think our support of Trump is about policy, at the end of the day — it’s about style,” Spencer said. “We live in a fragmented, decaying society. We live in a society of moral degeneracy. We’re going to fight our way out it, and sometimes that means using the tools at hand. It’s going to mean unleashing a little chaos.”