This from columnist Lindy West on why we stop at “alt-right” when we’re talking about ethnic-cleanser racial supremacists:
What does it take to call a Nazi a Nazi? In the interminable fortnight since the election of Donald Trump, the US press has been floundering in a gyre of panic over the internal taxonomy of racists.
For months, many (myself included) indulged Trump’s base in their euphemism of choice, the “alt-right”, an attempt to rebrand warmed-over Reconstruction-era white supremacy as a cool, new (and harmless!) internet fad. Despite the fact that Breitbart News (described by former honcho turned Trump adviser Stephen Bannon as “the platform for the alt-right”) had, at one point, a news tag labeled “black crime”, and was a driver of the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was a secret Kenyan Muslim, the press contorted itself into labyrinthine knots to avoid applying the word “racist” to Bannon or Trump in any committed way. (In our post-meaning world, being called a racist is nearly as grievous as being a racist.
Public outcry has prompted some hemming and hawing over the finer distinctions between “white nationalists” and “white supremacists”, the mainstream media not allowing either term to get too close to Trump himself, even as antisemitic, anti-black, anti-gay and Islamophobic hate crimes (not to mention KKK victory parades) continued to proliferate in his name. The website Boing Boing published a “White Supremacy Euphemism Generator for journalists”, explaining: “even when people pander to the idea Western culture’s wellbeing is inseparable from European ethnicity, they somehow avoid being called white nationalists or supremacists by journalists”. One hang-up seemed to be a lack of self-identification. If a person doesn’t consider himself a white supremacist, can he still be one? (Answer: OF COURSE.)
Finally, though, at Richard B Spencer’s closing speech at Saturday’s alt-right conference just a few blocks from the White House, it became undeniable what we’re dealing with here (at least among this particular sect of Trump’s true believers): it’s a bunch of straight-up neo-Nazis.
According to the New York Times, Spencer – who claims to have coined the term “alt-right” – “railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people … As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute.” The crowd joined Spencer in a cry of “Heil victory!”
And yet, still, headlines were tentative. The New York Times gesticulated wildly toward Nazism without actually using the word (“Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’”), and a CNN panel managed to avoid saying “Nazi” entirely, despite discussing a chyron that read, “Alt-right founder questions if Jews are people.”
But if declaring the superiority of the white race, quoting Nazi propaganda, calling for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, and provoking Nazi salutes from his audience isn’t enough to qualify one as a neo-Nazi, then where on earth is the bar? What is the hesitation? And, given the close ties between the “alt-right” and Trump’s cabinet, how is the top story on every front page not some version of “NEO-NAZIS ATTEMPTING TO SEIZE CONTROL OF AMERICAN GOVERNMENT”?
Read her entire column here.