The alt-right isn’t a political belief. It’s an excuse for young white men to get more attention


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The alt-right isn’t a political belief. It’s an excuse for young white men to get more attention

And God knows it’s hard for them to have their voice heard

Before Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Breitbart and pepe memes, you’d be forgiven for thinking “what the fuck is the alt right”. In a very long explainer published by Breitbart, the media centre of the movement, it’s defined like this: “The alternative right, more commonly known as the alt-right, is an amorphous movement. Some — mostly Establishment types — insist it’s little more than a vehicle for the worst dregs of human society: anti-Semites, white supremacists, and other members of the Stormfront set. They’re wrong.”

Yeah, still not very clear.

Later, the post quotes Jack Donovan, who says: “It’s tragic to think that heroic man’s great destiny is to become economic man, that men will be reduced to craven creatures who crawl across the globe competing for money, who spend their nights dreaming up new ways to swindle each other. That’s the path we’re on now.” The alt-right is supposedly a political ideology, and for that reason it’s genderless. But in reality quotes like this sum up the movement better than any Wikipedia description could. The alt-right, more than ever, has become the voice of disenfranchised, confused, attention-starved young men.

In many ways the stratospheric growth of the alt-right (at least in how we talk about it) is symptomatic of the more extreme splits in our culture in general. The so called alt right wouldn’t exist without the trigger-warning safe-space culture of the left, that much is obvious.

But for most of its followers, underneath the vitriol and internet infighting and exceptionalism of the alt-right, there isn’t much substance to speak of. The alt-right is filled with the kind of young men who follow figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and latterly Donald Trump. They’re angry at the space suddenly being taken up by people saying that they simply can’t do or say certain things, and so they’ve reacted by aligning themselves with the antithesis of political correctness, as if just to say “fuck you, you can’t tell me what to do”.

That instinct is in all of us to a degree. It’s the nasty streak in everyone which makes us tell a joke that will offend someone we don’t like. It’s the contrariness that will make us question what we hear or what we’re told to do. That instinct of cynicism is not a bad thing in itself, but it becomes a bad thing when it’s channelled into the racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia that’s the backbone of the alt-right.

But for the young men of the alt-right it’s even more sinister than that. Because, let’s be honest, young white men, historically, have not had to do much to have their voice heard. They’ve always been able to shout the loudest about things they care about, particularly if they feel oppressed by the status quo. The people who now gravitate to the alt-right are dangerous because despite never having experienced systematic oppression of other marginalised groups, they have the same anger and inferiority complexes as these same groups. And that means they can use it with relative ease outside of Twitter arguments, they can take it to real life politics, real life behaviours. They can be more dangerous than the sum of their YouTube subscribers, you only need to look at the state of our politics to see that.

In February this year I was in a packed-out auditorium in New Brunswick, in the presence of alt-right bros who had escaped the internet and ventured into real life, as we waited for Milo Yiannopoulos to take the stage. As Milo, as ever, spoke in soundbites, courting his own controversy, the crowd around him, full of the real-life alt-right and the people who hated them, erupted. Even Milo looked shaken, shouted-down and quiet for once as Black Lives Matter protesters smeared fake blood on their faces. At either side of the stage campus police stood armed and cautious as the audience screeched at each other with growing hysteria.

“Anyone who asks for safe spaces or trigger warnings at college should be immediately expelled”, Milo said, as boys wearing Make America Great Again caps and George Bush t-shirts shouted “freedom” and “you ain’t gonna take my guns”. One guy behind me called a black student “boy”. It was so over the top it should have been parody, but it wasn’t. The figureheads of the alt-right, the Milo Yiannopouloses of the world, might not believe in everything they say, but that night at Rutgers, the young male audience did, and they were ready to shout about it and fight about it and vote for it if they needed to.

Everyone knows one distantly – they’re the guy at the party who will disagree with the group religiously, just to stand out, just to be heard, even if they don’t actually believe in what they’re saying. That night in New Brunswick a lot of them were the kind of awkward, quiet, chronically-uncool people you wouldn’t look twice at in a bar. They’re invariably overweight, badly-dressed, flushed and pock-marked, in a way that suggests their teenage years were uncomfortable and sad and now they’ll be damned if they’re not gonna be heard in their twenties. You probably wouldn’t accept their friend request. They might not get attention in the stereotypical way, but through this they could.

Maybe we do need to pay more attention to young white men. To say that they use the toxic views of the alt-right as an outlet and cry for attention without asking why is myopic. Young white men are struggling with mental health, young white men are affected by misogyny just like women. As Jack Rivlin wrote after Trump’s election, to dismiss the gripes of young white men is stupid: “America is full of these men, and yesterday they won the election. Everyone knows the issues that motivate white, male voters: depressed wages, fears about jobs, distrust of elites, racism, sexism, boredom with political correctness.”

Distrustful, depressed, bored of political correctness, this sums up the alt-right. If you look to the media or the majority of our campuses you’d feel relatively safe in the idea that our society is finally becoming more liberal, more tolerant. But for the alt-right bros that doesn’t matter. They’ve checked out of that society and formed their own, and unfortunately, we’re all finding it harder and harder to ignore them.