Politics

Don’t Fall For The New, Well-Groomed Alt-Right. It’s Still The Alt-Right

The alt-right hasn't changed, it's just wearing a nicer suit.

Over the weekend, UK newspaper The Sunday Times published an article about the far-right. In a now-deleted tweet, the Times wrote, “Middle class and well-spoken, dress in skinny jeans and New Balance trainers — meet the hipster fascists breathing new life into the British far-right.”

The article was rightly slammed as “glossy treatment” of a dangerous ideology. Critics said the paper had shown poor judgment by examining far-right figures in such warm light.

What the episode reveals is that both the far-right and the alt-right are attempting to rebrand themselves as normal, mainstream players — and so far, they’re winning.

What Does The New Alt-Right Look Like?

The alt-right’s image has dramatically changed in the past couple of years.

The rise and fall of former alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos is the perfect example. Yiannopoulos, the provocative figure who was the de facto alt-right figurehead, attracted millions of fans by firing off one controversial line after the other (before his timely demise).

Today, he barely makes a top ten list of alt-right personalities.

His catchphrases — feminism is cancer, birth control makes you ugly, fat people are stupid — may have been effective back when the alt-right needed to get some name recognition, but now they’re not as valuable.

Perhaps we’ve become so desensitised to alt-right sentiments in the age of Donald “Bad Guys On Both Sides” Trump. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that actual fans of the alt-right movement don’t need recognition anymore. We know who they are, and what they want. What they need to continue to grow is legitimacy, and the mainstream media is giving to them.

In place of Yiannopoulos, a new breed of alt-right figureheads has risen up. They’re polished, coherent and highly sellable to the mainstream public.

Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto who gained fame after an infamous Channel 4 interview, has had a meteoric rise. At the beginning of 2017, he had 123,000 YouTube subscribers. In the past year-and-a-half that has jumped to 1.14 million. His videos have been viewed more than 20 million times so far this year. He’s not just a professor: he’s a published author with a slick website and cool suits. He tours the world speaking to large audiences, and appearing on panel TV shows to discuss the political issue du jour, as he recently did in Australia.

Ben Shapiro joins him at the top of the movement. He’s a Harvard law graduate with an online show, who talks quickly and intelligently. And while he stridently seeks to avoid the label of alt-right, he often spouts a list of common right-wing talking points.

They’re both similarly as extreme as Yiannopoulos. But because they’re part of a new brand of alt-right that wears nice suits and a carefully manicured smile, the media treats them wildly differently.

At the height of Yiannopoulos’ fame, the New York Times wrote dismissive headlines such as ‘Milo Yiannopoulos Doesn’t Have Feelings’. When promoting articles on Facebook, the NYT would write that Yiannopoulos could “sometimes veer into offensive and racially charged language.”

They clearly labelled Yiannopoulos as a figurehead with fringe, dangerous views. Now, it’s easy to compare how the NYT treated Milo, compared to how it treats the new alt-right today.

The outlet has published profiles on both Shapiro and Peterson. They’re very different to the articles about Yiannopoulos. Shapiro’s profile is headlined ‘Ben Shapiro, a Provocative ‘Gladiator’, and Peterson’s is titled ‘Jordan Peterson, Custodian of the Patriarchy‘.

The alt-right’s push for legitimacy is working: they’ve dressed the same old, dangerous ideas up in a shiny suit and in turn, the media is rewarding them by framing key figures in a more sympathetic light.

They’re Still Alt-Right

Don’t fall for it.

Peterson, for example: opposed a law that put “gender identity expression” under Canadian human rights law, said that #MeToo was a toxic attack on men, and likened political correctness to the “murderous ideologies” of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

In that recent NYT profile, Peterson discussed Alek Minassian, the van driver who killed ten people in a rampage after posting on Facebook about the “incel” movement.

“He was angry at God because women were rejecting him,” Peterson said in the profile. “The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.”

His take away from the misogynist attack is that men should get laid more. That sounds pretty alt-right to me.

Shapiro thinks abortion is murder and that transgender people suffer from a mental illness. Both men deny the existence of a gender wage gap.

These were all key platforms of Yiannopoulos’ and the original alt-right. Recently, some political scientists have started to recognise that these personalities are all an evolution of the same species. Writing for Vox earlier this month, professor Henry Farrell said that “the online alt-right orchestrated by… Yiannopoulos and others had origins quite similar to the somewhat more respectable” new branding, such as Shapiro and Peterson’s.

He adopts the term “dark web intellectuals” to describe people like Shapiro and Peterson, a label first coined by Bari Weiss in the NYT.

Weiss herself argues that “you’ll find alt-right figures like Stefan Molyneux and Milo Yiannopoulos and conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich (the #PizzaGate huckster) and Alex Jones (the Sandy Hook shooting denier)” if you look slightly beyond the current dark web intellectuals.

“It’s hard to draw boundaries around an amorphous network,” Weiss writes. “Especially when each person in it has a different idea of who is beyond the pale.”

If all this is true, it’s hard for the media to justify its near-adoring treatment of some of today’s alt-right figures, and dismissal of some others. If the media was so easily able to condemn Yiannopoulos as someone who was nothing more than an attempt by a dangerous ideology to go mainstream, they should do the same with Shapiro and Peterson.

Whether these figures are wearing New Balance trainers, Louis Vuitton sunglasses, or three piece suits: they’re all covering up an ugly ideology.