Image: Spencer Means / Flickr
Image: Spencer Means / Flickr

One year on from Charlottesville: the alt-right and dog whistle politics

The relatively unknown city of Charlottesville, Virginia didn’t expect to become the maelstrom of modern Western politics but found itself reluctantly shoved on to the international stage a year ago. American White Nationalist Jason Kessler organised the infamous ‘Unite The Right’ rally to oppose the planned removal of a Confederate statue of Robert E Lee. After chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” in a procession that included American white supremacist Richard Spencer and former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke, the protest that was later declared unlawful, culminated in a car ploughing into a counter-protest, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer.

The death of Heather Heyer was the handbrake that brought the alt-right to a grinding halt. Following the protest, more cities across the country decided to follow suit and remove their Confederate statues. Soon after, Charlottesville elected its first black female mayor, Nikuyah Walker. White supremacist groups became subject to mass de-platforming as the flagship neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, was taken offline. It did not stop there – social media and PayPal accounts belonging to fascists and neo-Nazis were removed before Richard Spencer’s controversial ‘college tours’ were cancelled- citing low turnout and counter-demonstrations as the reason. What was meant to be a PR victory for Kessler and co became a disaster for the previously burgeoning movement. They lost the creeping mainstream acceptance the movement has been courting since Spencer coined and codified the term ‘alt-right’ in 2010.

November 2017 proved to be a major boost to the Democratic Party recovering from their darkest hour

One might be convinced that the momentary star of the alt-right and Trumpism movements has already dissipated from the sky, collapsing into a black hole from the sheer force of his fall. The unrelenting scrutiny behind every move of Trump’s presidency is a burden that weighs heavily on public perception which, combined with the trend for the incumbent party to perform badly in midterms, has cultivated in success for Democrats and progressives to the left who have been maligned as perennial losers in modern US politics.

Election day in November 2017 proved to be a major boost to the Democratic Party recovering from their darkest hour. They comprehensively secured the key governorships in Virginia and New Jersey despite concerns of being unable to energise voters. Even at a local level, there were strong performances for many Democrats and progressives. Danica Roem became the first openly transgender politician to serve in an American state legislature, defeating self-described “chief homophobe” Bob Marshall. Virginia elected their first Latina state legislatures and Democrat Lee Carter unseated one of the most powerful Republicans in Virginia.

The fascist movement uses language that isn’t overtly racist but can fertilise racist beliefs by associations – conscious or not

Unfortunately, the alt-right are nothing if not obstinate. Immediately after the ‘Unite the Right’ rally, a post on 4chan titled ‘Fixing the alt-right’ delineated the strategy for the alt-right to take in the post-Charlottesville world. It argues for concealing overt white nationalist rhetoric and aiming for incremental changes, looking for the grassroots movement to utilise dog whistle politics to entice white Americans into the movement.

Dog whistle politics are the goal posts that fascist movements like the alt-right play with. It’s entrenched in the alt-right parlance. The overt speech decrying Jewish-controlled white genocide by mass immigration in front of Swastikas and Iron Crosses is simply unpalatable. People will point out the blatant racism and spot the Nazi, so it’s necessary to become subtle. A dog whistles at an ultrasonic wavelength that humans can’t hear but fellow dogs can; so too the fascist movement uses language that isn’t overtly racist but can fertilise racist beliefs by association – conscious or not.

The people who are most often labelled globalists tend to be Jewish like George Soros

This tactic is seeped into American political history, as Lee Atwater (who managed Bush Sr’s 1988 campaign) describes its implementation in the Southern strategy: “You start out in 1954 by saying “N*****”. By 1968, you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it.”

The term ‘globalist’ is the most famous dog whistle, which for the alt-right ostensibly refers to rich liberal businessmen controlling the world and proponents of those people. But it also has an anti-Semitic subtext that weaves their rhetoric into their conspiracy theories of Cultural Marxism (a neo-Nazi inspired conspiracy theory) and white genocide. The people who are most often labelled globalists tend to be Jewish like George Soros; and, as a New York Times piece argues, the concept was imported from communist conspiratorial rhetoric which has always been tied to Judaism due to Marx’s Jewish ancestry.

Republican primaries have found themselves hosting numerous neo-Nazi and white supremacist candidates

Though recent and upcoming elections have seen an increased presence of progressive and reversal of fortune for Democrats, Republican primaries have found themselves hosting numerous neo-Nazi and white supremacist candidates. Among these so-called ‘gentlemen’ are former leader of the American Nazi Party, Arthur Jones; California candidate John Fitzgerald who became notorious for telling voters that “everything we’ve been told about the Holocaust is a lie” and Paul Nehlen, who promotes his anti-Semitic views on Twitter and is now running to succeed Paul Ryan’s vacated Wisconsin seat.

While the Republican Party did publically disavow these three candidates, it’s telling that they’ve attracted multiple white supremacists who believe they can win the support of the Republican base. It only makes sense when thinking about their leader, Donald Trump, a man who referred to the white nationalists in Charlottesville as “very fine people” and took a day to disavow former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, claiming that he didn’t know who he was and wasn’t aware of the concept of ‘white supremacy’ despite previously calling Duke a racist.

What we’ve seen is two diverging responses towards Charlottesville in response to the Overton Window being shifted further right. The legacy of Charlottesville is being decided now. The US political system is a broken mirror, dropped by a financial crisis and socioeconomic inequality, and one that is now being glued together. Soon we’ll see our reflection in this new mirror.

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