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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.