“Tell that fat bitch she’d better stop.” That’s what members of the Philadelphia chapter of the Proud Boys, a gang of violent white supremacists, told my downstairs neighbor when they showed up at my home in the middle of the night in July 2019. In the wake of a November 2018 rally the Proud Boys had organized Philly, I’d spent months researching and tweeting about their racist online activity and recruitment tactics. In response, I received veiled online death threats, claims that my pets had been kidnapped, graphic discussions of my sex life, and the public release of my address and personal information. Despite their best efforts, though, they hadn’t silenced me, so they’d decided to escalate the threat, delivering it in the form of a home visit to let me know that even bigger trouble would come to our doorstep if I kept writing about their racist activities. Once the Proud Boys delivered their message, they stickered both my door and my neighborhood with their logo to let me know they’d been there.
My late-night visitors are just one part of the racist phenomenon of the “alt-right” that has come to define the contemporary far right, a vocal and digitally-savvy addition to traditional white-supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and older Neo-Nazi groups. Traditional far-right extremists center their public rhetoric almost entirely around their hatred of Black and Jewish people; the alt-right adds to that a strange mélange of virulent Islamophobia, Trumpian hatred for Latinx immigrants, and a deep and pervading distaste for women. The Proud Boys are a white supremacist, deeply misogynist “fraternity” that devotes a significant portion of its time and energy to exaggerated performances of toxic masculinity that echo the legacy of the nu-misogynist #Gamergate, mens’-rights, pick-up artist, and incel communities that birthed them.
The term “alt-right” was coined in 2008 by retired Jewish philosopher Paul Gottfried in an address to the pseudo-intellectual academic racists of the H. L. Mencken Society. Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer later embraced the term as a catchall for his favored brand of hipster white supremacy, but the moniker didn’t enter popular vocabulary until 2016, when Steve Bannon—at the time the editor of the sensationalist far-right Breitbart News Network—declared his media empire “the platform of the alt-right.” The alt-right, as Bannon described it, encompassed not just explicitly neo-Nazi white nationalists like Spencer but also a range of younger racist and misogynist movements.
He was particularly interested in channeling the frothing rage and racism-tolerant online culture of Gamergaters into his own pet project of American and pan-“Western” white nationalism, which he hoped to advance quickly by both supporting and exerting influence over Donald Trump. Bannon nurtured key #Gamergate boosters like Milo Yiannapoulos, who, as a tech writer for Breitbart, used his connections to neo-Nazis, Gamergaters, and other nu-misogynist communities to build a loose coalition of white male websites, organizations, and online communities that were animated by hatred of the marginalized—especially Latinx immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Black people, trans folks, and women.
“The alt-right is fundamentally premised on misogyny,” says journalist and author Talia Lavin, who has covered the rise of the alt-right extensively. “Misogyny is both a recruitment tactic and a basis for many of their actions.” The alt-right’s hatred of women runs deep, even compared to other white supremacist spaces. “Because alt-rightists were explicitly white nationalist, many observers didn’t notice that they also promoted a misogyny so extreme that even many neo-Nazis criticized it,” writes author and journalist Matthew Lyons in Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, his 2018 survey of contemporary right-wing extremism.
Since the 2016 election, Trump, his supporters, and Trump-imitating members of the GOP have worked to legitimize the alt-right while demonizing the antifascists that work to oppose them. After a brief lull following the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the gathering organized by the white-supremacist organization Unite the Right, these allies and apologists have doubled down on their support for the alt-right and their opposition to antifascists, particularly those that organize under the Antifa banner. Republican Senator Ted Cruz is even advancing a resolution that would categorize antifascists as domestic terrorists—an utter farce given that no fatalities have been attributed to them, while the alt-right is linked to a rising death toll caused by a string of mass shooters strongly influenced by its culture and politics.
Hours before an August 17 Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon, Trump echoed Cruz’s desire to classify counter-protesters against fascists as terrorists, tweeting, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!” As white supremacists march in our streets and conservative politicians increasingly ally themselves with far-right extremists and demonize their opponents, it’s more important than ever that we stand up together to fight fascism. But it can be hard to know how to get started. Here are seven simple—if not easy—steps towards joining the movement to counter organized white supremacy.
1. Learn the Basics
You can’t fight the enemy until you know what it looks like. Start with the basics: The Southern Poverty Law Center has a great primer on the alt-right. Then, identify who the movement’s major figures are. The alt-right loves to mask its white-supremacist propaganda with ironic humor, so it’s also helpful to acquaint yourself with some of the vocabulary and symbols they use to hide their racism in plain sight.
2. Stay Informed
Once you’ve got a handle on what the culture of the far right looks like, it’s time to pay attention to its activities. The SPLC, again, can help you stay up to date on the alt-right and organized racists in general. Right Wing Watch tracks white nationalism with a focus on its connection to broader right-wing politics; Unicorn Riot documents far-right actions on the ground; and It’s Going Down’s “This Week in Fascism” roundup is an accessible, comprehensive weekly rundown of fascist activity in the United States.
Twitter is also an excellent resource. Researchers like Lavin, along with Emily Gorcenski, CV Vitolo-Haddad, and Molly Conger catch stories and dog whistles that often get missed by the mainstream media. Check out activist accounts like Daryle Lamont Jenkins, @antifashgordon, and local Antifa groups (Rose City Antifa, NYC Antifa, Atlanta Antifascists, Berkeley Antifa, and Colorado Springs Antifascists are all great follows) to stay on top of local events. There are a lot of prominent white people writing about antifascism, so it’s also important to diversify your news sources so you’re not just getting white people’s takes on fighting white supremacy.
3. Speak Up
Street battles with Nazis may get the headlines, but fighting fascism begins at home. Far-right outlets like Infowars and Breitbart News make a habit of seizing on alt-right talking points and stories, retooling them to appeal to more mainstream audiences. Often, those narratives filter down through popular right-wing outlets, including Fox News. If your relatives or friends are spouting this kind of spin, name it and point out its connection to the language and messaging of the alt-right.
This doesn’t necessarily mean calling Grandma a racist in the middle of Sunday dinner. Approach this conversation as gently as possible: Say your piece using “I” statements, allow the conversation to move on, and then follow up with your relative afterward in an intentional one-on-one conversation. Work to find a core value you both share, connect over it, and inquire genuinely about the disconnect you see between that value and the statements they’ve made. This method helps establish that you understand, share, and respect at least some of their values, which creates trust in the conversation and allows you to approach the issue from a place of connectedness rather than opposition.
For example, if Grandma believes in prioritizing family, you could say, “Grandma, I remember when you dropped everything and drove your neighbor across two state lines because her cousin had called to say she’d been in a car accident and needed help. I’ve always admired the way you fight to make sure families stay safe and connected, and you taught me the importance of caring for one another early on. That’s why it surprised me when you said undocumented immigrants deserve to have their kids taken away. That statement doesn’t seem to align with the way you believe that families should be kept together and care for each other.”
Patience is key. Don’t get discouraged if your loved one doesn’t seem to hear you at first. Often, it takes a few conversations before you actually make headway, and sometimes it takes a while for the seeds you’ve planted to take root. It may not be glamorous, but one genuine conversation can have more impact than a thousand tweets. Never underestimate the power of giving voice to truth.
4. Take Action Online
People power can fight white supremacy, and we build people power by coming into community with one another and leveraging our voices, our bodies, and our resources. The alt-right relies on the internet for recruitment and radicalization much more than traditional white-supremacist movements, which makes online activism an especially effective tactic in combating them.
When a researcher identifies a member of an alt-right extremist group and asks you to call their employer, pick up the phone (hit *67 to hide your number before dialing, just to be safe). When activists are demanding a tech company de-platform a Nazi, amplify their voices and join in the call. When organizers call for a boycott of a corporation that advertises on far-right websites, email the company and let them know you’re joining the action.
5. Engage in Local Movements
The alt-right relies on public spectacle to make headlines and drive online recruitment. Helmeted, hockey stick-carrying, dress up–playing men like Based Stickman and Alan Swinney may be the stuff of far-right meme legend, but many members of the alt-right have jobs and reputations they want to keep, and may be more reluctant to show up to an event if they know an active opposition plans to counterprotest and document their participation.
More militant members of Antifa play an important role in community defense deterrence, but you don’t have to mask up and put yourself on the front lines to effectively mobilize against the far right. Just showing up with a sign and a strong chanting voice shows Nazis they aren’t welcome—and also makes it harder for right-wing media to frame counterprotest as “fringe.”
Showing up in person is especially important for white people. People of color are always at risk of experiencing disproportionate police brutality at public actions, and they’re obvious targets for white supremacists eager to enact violence against counter-protesters. People of color have every reason to avoid these confrontations, and it’s on white people to step up and use our bodies to tell organized racists to GTFO.
When it comes to local action, it’s important to be proactive. It can take time to establish relationships and figure out which organizations are trustworthy and effective. Fighting fascism is a lot more meaningful when you’re showing up with a team you’ve gotten to know. The more you engage before the white supremacists come to town, the more effective you’ll be in combating their presence when they do. And be sure to do your own research before committing to an organization. Pay special attention to who leads and speaks for that group: If a group claims to be anti-racist but centers white people in its leadership, for instance, that’s a red flag.
Make sure to research what white supremacy in your area looks like, too. “Know your local white supremacists. Know what they want, and how they believe it can be attained. Be prepared to answer their claims if they show up to rallies and stick a camera in your face,” advises CV Vitolo-Haddad, an academic and expert on the far right. The more you show them you know, Vitolo-Haddad says, the less likely they are to escalate.
The alt-right wants to make its racist politics the politics of the American mainstream. Together, we can stop that from happening.
6. Volunteer Your Skills
Pay attention to organizations and campaigns that you’re excited about, and think about how you can use your skills and expertise to help their cause. Are you a good writer? Local organizations, especially all-volunteer groups, often need help producing web and social-media content. Don’t mind asking people for money? I’ve never met an antifascist group that couldn’t use help finding a few dollars for a bullhorn or a legal defense fund. Whatever your education or training, chances are you have something valuable to offer the movement. Think creatively about what needs exist and how you’re positioned to meet them, and then volunteer.
7. Practice Self-Care
You can’t combat the alt-right without being exposed, in some way, to its poisonous ideology and speech, so practicing self-care is essential. In activist and organizing communities, self-care goes much deeper than taking bubble baths and binging Netflix. As you move from self-education to action, it’s important to map out a plan for mentally and emotionally detoxifying after ugly encounters. Figure out how you’ll maintain boundaries between your activism and other parts of your life. Decide ahead of time how you’ll schedule this work—and how you’ll schedule time away from it.
Try to practice self-awareness about how the work is impacting you, and allow yourself to have conversations with trusted friends or loved ones about it. Stay in communication with your friends-in-struggle about your emotional and mental health. If it becomes overwhelming, take a break: Our organizing is only as healthy as we are. Movement building is our way of creating change and combating oppressive power structures. We grow by learning together, taking action, and taking care of ourselves and each other. The alt-right wants to make its racist politics the politics of the American mainstream. Together, we can stop that from happening.
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