Guest Contributor: Corrine Yu, Managing Policy Director, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Let’s take a quiz. The “alt-right” is:
- A new Spotify playlist.
- A keystroke shortcut (like Control-Alt-Delete).
- A movement that includes and is heavily shaped by white supremacists, anti-Semites, anti-Muslims, nativist, and other extremists.
The correct answer, of course, is “c”. Since the election, a number of news organizations, including the Associated Press and The Washington Post, have sought to clarify the use of “alt-right” or “alternative right.” NonProfit Quarterly wrote a piece on this, as did The New York Times.
As the NonProfit Quarterly piece notes, following the publication of its profile of Richard Spencer, The Washington Post received thousands of comments protesting the description of the white nationalist, white supremacist movement that Spencer says he leads as “alt-right.”
The New York Times had its own case study, which involved its article on the man whom President-elect Trump wants as his chief strategist in the White House—Stephen Bannon. As the executive chairman of Breitbart LLC, Bannon turned the website Breitbart.com into what he described as “the platform for the alt-right.” Times readers tweeted their complaints, as well as emailed the newspaper’s public editor, about the article’s use of the term “populist” to describe Bannon, which seemed to normalize his views.
Nothing is “normal” about the “alt-right” or what it stands for.
Bannon’s expressed views are so extreme, and his potential presence in the White House so troubling, that my organization, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wrote to President-elect Trump last month to urge him to reconsider his appointment of Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House. We did not undertake this action lightly, and in fact, could not recall a previous instance in which The Leadership Conference weighed in on a presidential appointment that was not subject to the Senate confirmation process. But this was no normal internal staffing matter.
The AP, The Washington Post, and now The New York Times have all announced that they will be providing a definition whenever “alt-right” is used in a story. The AP will define “alt-right” as “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.” The Washington Post will define the term as “a small, far-right movement that seeks a whites-only state” with followers known for “their expressions of racist, anti-Semitic and sexist points of view.” In the memo accompanying its guidelines on the term “alt-right,” The New York Times defined it as “a racist, far-right fringe movement that embraces an ideology of white nationalism and is anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-feminist.”
One of our coalition members, the Center for Media Justice, has launched a petition drive urging other news outlets to stop using the term “alt-right” without providing context. Though not a news outlet, we at The Leadership Conference will use “white nationalist movement” as a general description of “alt-right.” We shouldn’t let white nationalists define themselves in a way that disguises their objectives. We agree with the AP guidance that the term “alt-right” may exist primarily
as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.
In our letter, we noted that it made no difference whether Bannon holds these views or – as his former editor-in-chief recently speculated – is simply pandering to a radical and extremist constituency to increase his political influence. Either way, it means that white supremacist views may now have a home in the White House – and the ear of the 45th president. So let’s call it like it is.
As managing policy director for LCCR, Corrine Yu develops program opportunities, coordinates policy development on priority issues for LCCR, and assists managing the policy department. Prior to joining LCCR, Ms. Yu was the director and counsel of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, a private, bipartisan organization established to monitor the civil rights policies and practices of the federal government and to examine important policy issues affecting equal opportunity. There, she co-edited the Citizens’ Commission’s highly respected biennial reviews of the Clinton administration’s civil rights track record.