A former colleague now laboring in the teaching fields sent this inquiry the other day:
“A student wonders why news stories refer to the ‘alt-right.’
“Is that just a euphemism for neo-Nazi or white supremacist?
“Is ‘alt-right’ the umbrella term? Or are we avoiding tough descriptions like ‘neo-Nazi’?
“What say you?
“Help us understand?”
What am I, an oracle? I can give some context that people can use to reach their own conclusions.
The alt. prefix, meaning “alternative,” rose early in the internet to accommodate groups of users whose interests and priorities differed from those of established mainstream news groups. It got a mildly grubby reputation because it was a spot for various groups to discuss explicitly sexual preferences and practices, but it is an umbrella for a very wide range of interests.
The alt-right category has become an online platform for people to express openly and advocate ideas—white supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism—previously thought to be beyond the pale of public discussion. The objection to the term, then, is that it could make the odious look innocuous. But it’s not all people like that ass Richard Spencer maundering about a white ethno-state or his yahoo followers giving him the Nazi salute. It is a place where people are saying and advocating vicious things.
I’d prefer to shun it myself to avoid giving those people any appearance of respectability. I’d also prefer to shun fascist and neo-Nazi in most cases, because they are thrown around so casually and imprecisely. White nationalist and white supremacist do the job quite clearly, and racist and anti-Semitic are available when the code words and dog whistles are put aside.