With Trump’s surprise victory and Brexit, 2016 was marked with a definitive swing to the far right. Such “right-wing victories” have emboldened members of the far-right who were previously considered too radical. The migrant crisis revealed how many in the West still remained hostile to outsiders, and far-right parties are now gaining traction on political platforms in Europe as disillusionment with the European Union continues to grow.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news these past few months, you’ve probably come across the terms “alt-right” and “neo-Nazi” quite often. Both words, especially “neo-Nazi,” were not used commonly in mainstream media until 2016, when the far-right movements finally started to catch the attention of the public.
So what does “alt-right” and “neo-Nazi” mean? Alt-right stands for alternative right, and it was coined by Richard Spencer, the leader of the movement. George Hawley, a political scientist at the University of Alabama, described the alt-right as “a loose movement, predominantly online, and largely anonymous.” They distance themselves from traditional conservatism (hence their name) because they believe that mainstream conservatives are too weak to actively support racism and anti-Semitism or prioritize the interests of white people. Their beliefs have been described as racist, homophobic, and misogynistic.
As Donald Trump started to gain support during his campaign, members of the alt-right recognized him as a hero of their cause. They had previously been considered a fringe movement in politics, which meant that their ideas were considered to be outside the spectrum of acceptable opinion. Having a man who spoke of the same ideas as them elected for the highest office in the country electrified the alt-right movement, leading them to believe that they were no longer to be marginalized in Western politics.
The alt-right uses memes to spread their ideologies on the Internet, hoping to attract young educated white people by claiming that their “white identity” is under attack because of multiculturalism and political correctness in the status quo. The ADL, or Anti-Defamation League, announced that Pepe the Frog has become a hate symbol after white-supremacists and other groups re-drew the frog so that he was dressed up in Nazi and Ku Klux Klan clothes. The frog is now generally recognized as the mascot of the alt-right movement, much to the dismay of his creator, Matt Furie.
Neo-Nazis, unlike the alt-right, have some history; they have existed since 1945, the end of Nazi Germany. Neo-Nazism is very similar to the original Nazi doctrine, containing elements such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities), anti-Semitism, and ultranationalism. Neo-Nazis seek to establish the Fourth Reich, a revival of Nazi Germany. Significant effort has been taken in European countries, particularly Germany, to prevent such movements; many countries have banned Nazi-related symbols such as the swastika.
So what is the difference between the two? Although not all of those who identify with the alt-right movement are neo-Nazis, a good number of people in the alt-right are represented in the neo-Nazi movement. Since “alt-right” is such a broad term, it can include neo-Nazis; in fact, neo-Nazis are often considered to be a minority in the alt-right. The line between the two movements, however, has become so unclear that the two terms are often associated with each other. During a speech to his supporters in Washington after Trump’s victory, Richard Spencer, the leader of the alt-right, shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” His supporters responded with enthusiastic cheers, applause, and Nazi salutes.
The rise of the far-right didn’t end just with Brexit and Trump’s election; right-wing parties in the Netherlands and France have called for Brexit-like referendums on EU membership. Even in Germany, where shame over the Holocaust prevented any nationalistic movement from gaining serious support, the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) has become one of the mainstream political parties; in a local election last September, the AfD won more votes than Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in her own electoral district. Recent efforts to ban the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), a party usually described as a neo-Nazi organization, have failed once more. This has only emboldened the members of the party, who say that their victory once again proves that their beliefs are not a threat to the safety of their country.
However, there is no need to fret too much over the alarmingly swift swing to the far-right in Western politics. Over a period of 150 years, studies suggest that every major financial or social crisis was followed by a 10-year surge in support for far-right parties that claimed to be populist, so this far-right movement is not likely to last any longer than far-right movements in the past. Just examining recent reactionary politics is not looking at the big picture; in history, we have seen that even with all the political ups and downs, society has always taken steps towards progression.
– Kristin Kim (’20)
Featured Image: dailystormer.com