WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton is ready to call out Donald Trump and his advisers for embracing a “disturbing alt-right” political philosophy that her campaign says presents “a divisive and dystopian view of America.”
She’ll try to make the case in a speech Thursday in Nevada.
Trump’s campaign counters that the GOP presidential nominee has never used the term “alt-right” and disavows “any groups or individuals associated with a message of hate.”
Since the term is new to many in the United States, here’s a look at its meaning, its origins, its adherents and how it intersects with the 2016 presidential campaign:
“Alt-right” is short for “alternative right,” to distinguish the movement from mainstream conservatism. There’s no one way to define its ideology, but it is often associated with efforts on the far right to preserve “white identity,” oppose multiculturalism and defend “Western values.” Adherents say those values are increasingly under attack with the rise of racial minorities in the U.S. and as the left pushes “political correctness.” Some adherents sometimes refer to themselves as “Europeanists” or “white nationalists,” rejecting the labels of racist and white supremacist. Some want to curb or block immigration to the U.S.; others would remove minorities from the country.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says the term “alt-right” was popularized in 2008 by Richard Spencer, head of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. Spencer this week tweeted: “Identifying as #AltRight entails HUGE risk, as it’s a position explicitly forbidden by the system.” As word of plans for Clinton’s speech spread, he also tweeted: “We’ve made it. #AltRight.” The movement largely swirls in online message boards and websites, attracting mostly young people.
Paul Gottfried, a retired professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who has written extensively about conservatism, wrote about the alternative right before the phrase was adopted and shortened by Spencer. Gottfried, who doesn’t consider himself alt-right, says it’s an amorphous group of people who disdain establishment conservatives, show “a willingness to be influenced by the European right” and believe American democracy has gone too far in an egalitarian direction.
“They’re still straining to become something more than a group of right-wing dissenters,” says Gottfried.
In a video on the National Policy Institute’s website, Spencer says white Americans need to “resist our dispossession,” claiming that a nation that is “for everyone” becomes one that is “for no one.” In an interview with The Associated Press at the Republican National Convention last month, Spencer advocated removing blacks, Hispanics and Jews from the U.S. He spoke admiringly of Trump, saying, “I don’t think people have fully recognized the degree to which he’s transformed the party.”
Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor at California State University Long Beach and an alt-right thinker, said in an interview this week that “white people in America are becoming a minority that is increasingly being victimized, and there’s a cost to multiculturalism and immigration.” Another alt-right adherent, Jared Taylor, founder of the “race-realist” American Renaissance online magazine, recently told Fox News Radio that “the melting pot ceases to work very well when you have to melt across racial lines.”
Gottfried says there are a lot of more moderate people in the movement as well.
Clinton’s campaign, in a preview of her Thursday speech, said Trump’s “alt-right brand” embraces extremism and “should concern all Americans, regardless of party.” Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, said in a statement that Trump’s hiring of Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon and others represents an “alt-right shift” to the GOP fringe that “tells voters everything they need to know about Donald Trump himself.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement: “Mr. Trump has never used or condoned that term and continues to disavow any groups or individuals associated with a message of hate.”
Trump’s “America first” campaign pitch has attracted many on the alt-right, drawn in particular to his pledges to deport the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally and to temporarily bar foreign Muslims from the U.S. Trump has since softened his tone, raising questions about whether he’ll backtrack on mass deportations. He’s also shifted away from talking about a Muslim ban to propose putting a hold on immigration from areas of the world with a history of terrorism against the U.S. and allies.
Trump also has retweeted a number of messages from Twitter users with questionable profiles, including one with the handle @WhiteGenocideTM.
Bannon, Trump’s new campaign chairman, last month told Mother Jones magazine that Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right” but he insisted the movement wasn’t racist even if it has attracted some people who are.
Alt-righter MacDonald says many Trump positions “fit into our world view.” But he added that Trump isn’t alt-right and it would be unfair to “tar Trump by doing a guilt-by-association thing.”
The Republican Party and conservatives in general have been tying themselves in knots trying to figure out how to handle Trump and some of his more inflammatory statements and policies. The party did not respond to requests for comment on any Trump connection to the alt-right.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, faulted Clinton for trying to tie Trump to racists, calling it “a tired old tactic from the past” and comparing it to her claim decades ago that her husband was the target of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”