During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a small right-wing movement known as the alt-right forced itself into the national political discussion. The alt-right, which a few years ago was a tiny, marginal, and almost exclusively Internet-based phenomenon, achieved mainstream attention thanks in part to its connection with the presidential campaign, and then administration, of Donald Trump. (Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, once called his Breitbart website a “platform for the alt-right.”) Although the alt-right’s real influence is debatable, the mayhem that occurred during an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, in which one counterprotester was killed and dozens more were injured, has assured that the movement will remain in the news for some time.
Yet for all its notoriety, the alt-right is poorly understood. The movement is disorganized and mostly anonymous, making it difficult to study systematically, and until recently its definition was up for grabs. Throughout 2016, the term “alt-right” was often applied to a much broader group than it is today; at times, it seemed to refer to the entirety of Trump’s right-wing populist base. Since the U.S. presidential election, however, the alt-right’s nature has become clearer: it is a white nationalist movement that focuses on white identity politics and downplays most other issues. As the alt-right’s views became better known, many people who had flirted with the movement broke ranks, leaving it smaller but more ideologically cohesive.
Some have argued that the alt-right is simply the latest iteration of an old, racist strain of U.S. politics. And indeed, as a white nationalist movement, the alt-right’s ultimate vision—a racially homogeneous white ethnostate—is similar to that of earlier groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations, and the National Alliance. Yet the alt-right considers itself new and distinct, in terms of both style and intellectual substance. Stylistically, it has attempted to distance itself from the ineffectual violence and pageantry of what it derisively calls “white nationalism 1.0,” instead
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