The term “alt-right” is toxic. It should be. The loose confederation of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and misogynists have spent the last year spreading fear, hatred, and conspiracy theories.
The problem for conservatives is that the movement is directly connected to the major right-wing news outlet Breitbart.com; its former executive chairman, Stephen Bannon; and Bannon’s new boss, President Donald Trump.
“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right,’” Hillary Clinton said last year after Bannon was hired by the Trump campaign, highlighting the website’s promotion of “race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman [ideas].” “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” she added.
That “fringe element” is now in the White House. But direct association with racists and misogynists isn’t great for the conservative movement’s brand -- or Breitbart’s bottom line. So the organizers of this week’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) are working hard to redefine the term “alt-right” in order to retroactively separate that movement from the White House and the website.
In cable news interviews and speeches from the conference lectern, CPAC’s organizers have condemned the “alt-right” -- even having security very publicly remove from the premises Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who originally coined the term.
But at the same time, they have vouched for Bannon, are hosting seven Breitbart staffers and accepting a sizable donation from the website, and they even claimed that the “alt-right” is really made up of liberals. Bannon’s “alt-right” ties went unmentioned this afternoon when he sat alongside White House chief of staff Reince Priebus for a fawning “conversation” with Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC.
In a speech this morning titled “The Alt Right Ain’t Right at All,” the ACU’s Dan Schneider claimed that the term “alt-right,” which he claimed had previously “been used for a long time, in a very good and normal way,” had been “hijacked” by a “hate-filled, left-wing fascist group” that “stole the term specifically to confuse us.”
The ACU is having trouble getting its story straight -- Schlapp claimed during an MSNBC interview this morning that he had never heard of the term before last year -- according to him, it is a “new term.”
But Schlapp did want everyone to know that Bannon is definitely not associated with the “alt-right.” “Today, [Bannon] would repudiate what these people stand for,” he said. “He’s a good man, and he’s a tolerant man.”
“I know Steve Bannon well. He's a good man; he is not a racist,” Schlapp added on CNN. “Yes, the conservative movement and voices in the conservative movement are changing. But I do not believe that he is associated with the ‘alt-right’ at all.”
This is all bullshit. Bannon himself described Breitbart last year as “the platform for the alt-right,” and he led the website in an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, misogynistic, ethno-nationalist direction that appealed to that movement. He hired Milo Yiannopoulos and had no apparent problem with the despicable commentary and activism he wrought -- or the way he championed the “alt-right.”
Notably, when Breitbart produced a list of “20 lies” in Clinton’s speech on the “alt-right,” it made no effort to distance itself from the movement or suggest that she erred in linking it to the website and its former leader.
Bannon was very happy to be associated with the movement when it was boosting Breitbart’s traffic, influence, and revenue. But now things have changed, as companies and ad vendors have pulled their advertising from the site in huge numbers due to its association with racism and misogyny.
And so CPAC is helping the website out, repeatedly condemning the “alt-right” while very deliberately separating it from Bannon and Breitbart.