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Can The ‘Alt-Right’ Distance Itself From Neo-Nazis?

The alt-right has become an internet phenomenon. As a white supremacist movement, it seems to have a fairly large following among millennials. Yet the internet — the cradle of 21st century white supremacy — has also become a staging ground for a schism within the alt-right: to become mainstream or stay staunchly bigoted against all non-white, non-straight people.

The distinct internet culture of the alt-right has played a large role in bringing millennials into the fold. The memes, illustrations, cartoons and gifs that are shared on forum-based sites like 4chan, 8chan and Reddit also serve to give the alt-right a very different flavor from pre-internet white supremacy. They depict Jewish politicians being gassed, Japanese-style animated characters saying racist slurs, Donald Trump as a green frog — “Pepe the Frog” — shooting Mexican immigrants from on top of a wall, among other things.

Milo Yiannapolous, the enfant terrible and chief apologist of the alt-right, made headlines this spring with an article called “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” In that article, he and his co-author Allum Bokhari defended the makers of anti-Semitic, racist and anti-feminist internet cartoons as subversive “rebels.”

Milo Yiannopoulos Image by Getty Images

“These young rebels, a subset of the alt-right, aren’t drawn to it because of an intellectual awakening, or because they’re instinctively conservative,” he wrote in the section titled “The Meme Team.” “Ironically, they’re drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.”

Keegan Hankes, a data intelligence analyst at the SPLC, says that, although much of this online activity is ostensibly aimed at expanding the so-called Overton window of acceptable political discourse, the “meme team” is a real source of alt-right ideology.

“There are people who are just in it for the chaos, just doing it for the ‘lols,’” he said. But, he said, Yiannapolous’ article, with its suggestions that the memes were entirely benign, was “laughable” and “dishonest.”

“I think they’re being strategically used as a vehicle to get ideas out there,” he said

Hankes also noted that Yiannapoulos’s article failed to mention one of the leaders of the alt-right internet frenzy: Andrew Anglin, (pictured at the top of this article) publisher of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, which bills itself as “The World’s Most Visited Alt-Right Site.” Daily Stormer hosts a messaging board where many popular alt-right memes are first published. Anglin asks readers to tweet using hashtags such as #WhiteGenocide and #rapefugee.

Anglin has in turn clashed with Richard Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, a think tank devoted to the ideology of the alt-right. Spencer has declined to issue the kind of hateful proclamations against people in the LGBT community and Jews that are Anglin’s bread-and-butter. Spencer is attempting to legitimize the alt-right movement; Anglin seems to want to make sure it never forgets its roots.

“The reason [Anglin] was omitted [from Yiannapoulos’ article] was to protect Richard Spencer,” Hankes said. As two very visible leaders of the alt-right — one online and one in Washington — they seem to be engaged in a struggle over the direction of the alt-right movement.

After Spencer announced the lineup for his think tank’s annual conference last year, Anglin took to Daily Stormer to give his praise — until he found something he could not abide.

“It has come to my attention that Jack Donovan is an open homosexual, and as such, I am withdrawing my support for this conference,” Anglin wrote in May 2015. “I encourage people to boycott the conference in protest of the inclusion of an open homosexual in the pro-White movement.”

Yet, Anglin continued, he and Spencer remain on the same page about one of the most important things: Spencer is “now confronting the Jew problem more directly.”

It’s unclear if the next National Policy Institute conference will help bridge the gulf between would-be politicos like Spencer and glorified internet trolls like Anglin — or widen it. Yet even if Anglin is eventually pushed to the side to make way for Spencer’s more inclusive agenda, chances are that he will be able to keep his site at the heart of the online alt-right community.

For one thing, Anglin has a clear grasp of modern media sensibilities. He started Daily Stormer in 2013, a year after creating Totalfascism.com. That site published long-form essays on white supremacy — similar to Richard Spencer’s Radix Journal site. Daily Stormer is characterized by short articles replete with gifs and memes, much in the style of classic Buzzfeed articles.

“It was more effective as propaganda to generate ‘content’ and not long format essays,” said Hankes.

“These are calculated campaigns,” he added. “These guys aren’t fools.”

Contact Ari Feldman at feldman@forward.com or on Twitter @aefeldman.

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