The alt-right is a movement of people united by the common premise that white people deserve an identity politics of their own, and that Western civilization is inherently tied with white ethnicity. They’re not a major movement; they’re a fringe group. They’re extraordinarily loud on social media; they abuse their enemies, worship their perceived friends, and generate the feeling that they are far more of a powerful force than they actually are.
Over the weekend, they went to Charlottesville for the same reason they’ve gone to cities around the country: to gain attention. More specifically, they had three goals in mind. First, the alt-right wanted to grow its ranks by creating a perception of size and influence far beyond its actual numbers; second, the alt-right wanted to grow its ranks by squaring off against Antifa, far left violent agitators correctly perceived as threats to law and order — and they wanted to fight back victoriously against that group; third, the alt-right wanted to create the public perception that they aren’t just a group of muddle-headed white supremacists, but decent people who care about the future of Western civilization and stand up against criminality. In short, the alt-right sought to craft a perception of size, a perception of strength, and a perception of decency.
Now, the truth is that the alt-right has none of these three. They’re small, they’re not particularly strong, and they’re certainly not decent. But thanks to the media, the Left, and the president, they achieved all three of those goals.
Perception of Size. The alt-right showed up with several hundred allies ranging from open neo-Nazis to open white supremacists to their Friday night torchlight march. The media dutifully covered the event, seeking to heighten the impression of threat to the country from the Right — a narrative they’ve been promulgating for years, as they attempt to push the notion that the broader Right supports neo-Nazism and white supremacism. The following day, hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters gathered, amidst a bevy of media. Every newspaper front page in the country featured a close-up photo of the protesters, increasing the perception of numbers.
Perception of Strength. A huge portion of the alt-right’s appeal comes from their overtly militant language: their opponents are weaklings, cucks, sham men empty at their cores. They, however, are Nietzschean super-figures, the lords of creation, Viking warriors in pursuit of battle against the aggressors. Antifa helps the alt-right with this perception by attacking the alt-right, allowing the alt-right to use violence. Even the horrific car attack was perceived by Christopher Cantwell, a white supremacist speaker at the #UniteTheRight rally, as a victory: “We showed our rivals that we won’t be cowed. … I think it was more than justified. The amount of restraint that our people showed out there I think was astounding.” Cantwell vowed, “It’ll be really tough to top [Charlottesville]. We’re up to the challenge. … A lot more people are going to die here.”
Perception of Decency. Antifa helps the perception that the alt-right is merely a reactionary force, rather than a white supremacist group. The Right reacts to the Left’s defense of Antifa by pooh-poohing the alt-right. But they can’t completely dismiss the evil of the alt-right so long as alt-right is publicized as a white supremacist philosophy; that’s why the alt-right needs people who will help them distinguish themselves from the white supremacists and neo-Nazis with whom they march and fellow travel. That’s where President Trump came in, pretending not to know what the alt-right was, and then stating that some “very fine people” attended the #UniteTheRight tiki torch march.
The alt-right has successfully increased its visibility, its generalized perceptions of size, strength and decency. That’s a win for them. And people across the political spectrum bear responsibility for their continued growth.