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What is the Alternative Right? Part 3

[1]2,134 words

Part 3 of 4, Part 1 here [2], Part 2 here [3]

Author’s Note:

This is the third installment of the opening essay of a forthcoming anthology called The Alternative Right.    

Centralization, Purges, & Breakdown

It was quite natural for Richard Spencer to regret dropping a brand that had been adopted by a potent political force and an international media sensation. So he attempted to reassert ownership. But there was a problem: the new movement that emerged in 2014 to 2015 owed little to Spencer except the name that it eventually adopted. Spencer acknowledged this in an October 12, 2016 interview he gave to political scientist George Hawley who was doing research for his book Understanding the Alt-Right, where Spencer says, “The Alt-Right is what it is today not because of me; it is what it is today because I let it go.”[1] [4] This is correct.

But from the point of view of 2018, it is also true to say that the Alt-Right is the mess it is today—largely but certainly not entirely—because Spencer tried to take it back.

On September 9, 2016, NPI held a “What is the Alt Right?” press conference in Washington D.C. The speakers were Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimelow. At the conference, Spencer unveiled his “Alt-Right logo,” which never really caught on.[2] [5]  Clearly Spencer wanted to get out ahead of the new Alt Right, redefine it in his terms, and put his stamp on it.

After Hailgate, Richard Spencer and Persian-American academic Jason Reza Jorjani, who also spoke at NPI 2016, began a series of meetings to create what became the Altright Corporation. The main shareholders were Richard Spencer, Jason Jorjani, Daniel Friberg of Arktos Media, and Red Ice TV.[3] [6]

The Altright Corporation launched the AltRight.com webzine on January 16, 2017. Spencer’s plan was to elevate himself to movement leadership by looking like the leader. He was going to “fake it till you make it”[4] [7] by coaxing as many important voices as possible onto his platform; by coopting organizations like Identity Evropa; by schmoozing with the players who were too big to be coopted (TRS, Jared Taylor, Kevin MacDonald, Peter Brimelow); by maligning and purging those who were immune to his charms (Milo, Mike Cernovich, me); and, above all, by giving interviews to the mainstream media on the cynical but unfortunately correct assumption that many people in our movement will accept whomever the enemy media anoints as their leader.

The new webzine followed the same pattern as Spencer’s other webzines: a strong start and then a slump. Only in this case, the start was much weaker and the slump came much sooner. AltRight.com also differed from Spencer’s earlier webzines in the gutter vulgarity of its writing, which was clearly an attempt to curry favor with chan kids and Daily Stormer readers. For instance, this is how Vincent Law concludes his article “Daniel Borden Did Literally Nothing Wrong”:

. . . in the case of Daniel, inside sources say that he is holding up well. He has already received hundreds of nude photos and marriage proposals from girls solidly in 7–8 HB range. There is even a smattering of 9s as well.

Daniel is worried though.

He says he doesn’t know how to swim and has no idea how he won’t drown once he gets out [of jail] from swimming in all that pussy. Don’t worry, Daniel. We’ll be waiting with some water wings once you get out.[5] [8]

Serious writers were not exactly clamoring to share the same platform.

Spencer’s efforts at polarization and purges were no more successful. It is a classic White Nationalist rookie move for a new, would-be leader to set up his PO Box and webzine and then to try to recruit followers and donors by launching attacks on his rivals. The underlying assumption of the polarization strategy is that a certain percentage of followers will come over to the attacker’s camp, while the rest will remain with the target. But the movement as a whole will not suffer. The deck will simply be reshuffled.

In fact, such tactics are profoundly damaging to the movement as a whole. To use arbitrary numbers, the attacker might gain 15% of the target audience, the target might retain 40 to 50%, depending on his response, and the rest become disgusted and demoralized and refuse to have anything to do with either party. Some simply quit entirely. Polarization, therefore, brings some benefits to the aggressor but harms the movement as a whole, which is why we should shun anyone who uses this strategy as a selfish self-promoter.

One can argue that subjecting a movement like the Alt Right to any kind of centralized leadership is a bad idea. The Alt Right—and White Nationalism as a whole—is a decentralized, non-hierarchical network. The nodes of this network are individuals, most of them anonymous, and small hierarchical organizations. These nodes are largely linked by the internet, especially social media platforms. The drivers of the movement are creative individuals who produce memes in the form of articles, podcasts, videos, and images. When a particularly potent meme is created, the network propagates and augments it until the meme is exhausted and something new comes along. When it works well, the movement is endlessly stimulating and fun, and it has genuine transformative effects on the public mind.

Because the network makes possible the creative collaboration of countless anonymous individuals, one can argue that the network itself is actually smarter, more creative, and more powerful than any of the nodes. There are differences between the nodes. Some create memes; others merely propagate them. Some individuals and organizations have larger audiences, greater impact, and more moral and intellectual credibility than others. I would like to see many large, well-funded, and highly influential companies, think tanks, and political parties emerge from this network. But even the biggest nodes are smaller than the network as a whole.

What would happen to the overall effectiveness of the network if a would-be leader tried to subject it to his control? Even a small networked movement like the Alt Right is more complex and creative than any individual node. Thus if an individual were to try to assume leadership of the movement, he would inevitably have to simplify its structure, which would inevitably dampen its creativity and power. This is why centralization is always accompanied by polarization and purges. The size and complexity of the movement has to be reduced to what can be comprehended and controlled by an individual mind. The smaller the mind, the greater the damage. Those who are unimpressed with the would-be leader must, furthermore, be driven out.

The quest for centralization might promise immense ego gratification for a would-be leader. But the net result is a smaller, dumber, less creative movement. It is also less active, because formerly independent agents must now wait around for orders from above. Or they have to wrangle to gain the agreement of others, whereas formerly they could just act on their own judgment. Thus centralization inevitably makes the movement weaker. This would be true even if the centralizer were the kind of organizational genius capable of founding a large corporation or a government. It is especially the case when the would-be leader can’t even run a successful webzine.

Spencer’s attempts to purge rivals from the movement were also unsuccessful but created a great deal of lasting collateral damage. In the fall of 2016, Spencer’s polarization and purge tactics consisted largely of whispering campaigns. After Hailgate, he unleashed a barrage of transparently envious and embittered tweets against Milo, Cernovich, and other Alt Lite figures.

But on June 1, 2017, Spencer tried something much bolder. Spencer launched an attack against me and Counter-Currents with a lame and dishonest article co-authored by Daniel Friberg, “Greg Johnson’s Attacks and How to Deal with Them.”[6] [9] He did not, however, reckon any blowback into his plans. Counter-Currents is still here, but the Altright Corporation began to unravel at that point, first losing Jason Jorjani then Red Ice. Eventually even Friberg quietly severed ties.

But nobody really wins such battles. In this case, many relationships of friendship, comradeship, and collegiality were replaced by enmity, bitterness, and distrust that persist to this day. Connections that allowed productive collaborations were severed, leaving the movement less effective and more dysfunctional.

Spencer’s use of the media to elevate him to leadership status was ultimately unsuccessful as well. The media attention Spencer received came at a price. All Spencer had to do was help the media advance its anti-white agenda by conforming to one of its negative stereotypes, in Spencer’s case the smug, snobbish, amoral WASP plutocrat.[7] [10] The media loved Spencer, because he helped them make White Nationalism look bad. Spencer loved the media, because he hoped it would elevate him over his rivals in the movement. Neither party to this cynical transaction had any interest in representing White Nationalism in a way that might actually connect with the white majority.

As I have already argued, there is no way to be the leader of this movement as a whole. But one can still aspire to be a leader within the movement. There are basically two ways to do this: the grassroots way and the AstroTurf way. The grassroots way is to build a solid platform from the ground up, based on a record of achievements, whether they be in political activism or propaganda work. But the grassroots way is also the hard way, requiring many years of sustained and patient labor.

Thus it is tempting to take the easy way, the AstroTurf way: give an interview, or pull a publicity stunt, in the hope that the enemy media will anoint you leader. But even if you pull it off, you can’t remain a virtual leader forever. You have to start delivering actual results, positive results. Spencer has done things of value over the years: NPI conferences, Radix, and Washington Summit Publishers. But these were all sidelined for rallies and a college speaking tour that turned out to be net negatives.

At this point, most of Spencer’s followers have abandoned him, even his inner circle, and he has gone silent except for an occasional Tweet or YouTube livestream. The establishment, then, got the better deal. Whether Spencer ultimately fades away or makes a comeback, the media will be trotting out footage of Hailgate and other cringe-inducing gaffes to stigmatize Trump and White Nationalism for decades to come.

Those of us who are trying to present a morally coherent and historically accurate case for white self-determination will be forever dogged with clips of Spencer defending imperialism and white supremacism, attacking freedom of speech, calling for the genocide of Turks, dismissing the relevance of morality, and playing “agree and amplify” with outrageous anti-white canards like “Part of your greatness is the exploitation of other people.”[8] [11] It would be one thing if these were sincere but mistaken convictions. But with Spencer they are simply postures and provocations.

One cannot, however, entirely blame Richard Spencer for the declining fortunes of the Alt Right. Again, the movement that emerged in 2014 and 2015 owed little to Spencer except its name. And even though Spencer damaged the Alt Right by trying to assert control over it, the movement—including its problems—was always bigger than him. Which means that he cannot bear sole blame for its downfall. In particular, it is unjust to blame Spencer for the disastrous Unite the Right Rally of August 11–12, 2017, since he played little role in planning it. There were broader forces at work, in which Spencer himself was caught up, and which can be summed up as the return of White Nationalism 1.0.

Notes

[1] [12] George Hawley, Making Sense of the Alt-Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), p. 68.

[2] [13] See Margot Metroland, “The NPI Presser: ‘What is the Alt Right?,’” Counter-Currents, September 12, 2016, https://www.counter-currents.com/2016/09/the-npi-presser/ [14]

[3] [15] On some of the shady, deep-state connected operators who encouraged the formation of the Altright Corporation, see Greg Johnson, “The Alt Right Corporation and the American Deep State,” Counter-Currents, October 18, 2017, https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/10/the-altright-corporation-and-the-american-deep-state/ [16]

[4] [17] In Josh Harkinson’s “Meet the White Nationalist Who Wants to Ride the Trump Train to Lasting Power,” Mother Jones, October 27, 2016, Spencer is quoted as follows: “‘I still feel like we are faking it until we make it,’ he confesses. ‘I mean, in some ways, you’ve got to fucking fake it. You have to project success and project power and kind of make it a self-fulfilling prophecy . . .’” https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/richard-spencer-trump-alt-right-white-nationalist/ [18] Spencer has never disputed the accuracy of this quote, and it coheres with his pickup artist schtick that the model for political persuasion is “seduction.”

[5] [19] Vincent Law, “Daniel Borden Did Literally Nothing Wrong,” AltRight.com, https://altright.com/2017/09/07/daniel-borden-did-literally-nothing-wrong/ [20]

[6] [21] See Greg Johnson, “Reply to Daniel Friberg,” Counter-Currents, June 18, 2017, https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/06/reply-to-daniel-friberg/ [22]; Omar Filmersson, “Greg Johnson Told the Truth,” Counter-Currents, June 22, 2017, https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/06/greg-johnson-told-the-truth/ [23]; Alan Smithee, “Friberg Falls Back,” Counter-Currents, June 25, 2017; https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/06/friberg-falls-back/ [24]; John Morgan, “The Truth About Daniel Friberg,” Counter-Currents, June 27, 2017, https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/06/the-truth-about-daniel-friberg/ [25]

[7] [26] For more on the press engagement strategy of Spencer and Matt Heimbach/Matt Parrott, see Greg Johnson, “In Bed with the Press,” Counter-Currents, March 6, 2018, https://www.counter-currents.com/2018/03/in-bed-with-the-press/ [27]

[8] [28] https://youtu.be/h6N4VNxDT24 [29]