The new face of white supremacism is a green cartoon frog.
His fans call him Pepe. On Twitter, you can find him dressed in a Nazi uniform, denying the Holocaust, disparaging Mexicans and Muslims and blacks, mocking feminists, and wearing a Donald Trump campaign hat.
The memes are made by supporters of the “alt-right,” a web-savvy racist movement with a fondness for bigoted harassment. It’s having the best month of its young existence.
Last week, Trump handed the leadership of his campaign to Stephen Bannon, head of Breitbart News, a website Bannon has described as “the platform for the alt-right.” On Thursday, Hillary Clinton claimed in a major speech that the alt-right had “effectively taken over the Republican Party,” which sent Google searches for the term skyrocketing.
They have a whole hodgepodge of ideas. Some of them — immigration should be halted or sharply curtailed; political correctness has run amok; feminism, multiculturalism and “globalism” are destructive — are within the bounds of mainstream conversation. At its core, though, the alt-right movement is about this: a belief that “white identity” and “white culture” are under threat and need to be aggressively defended.
“What the #AltRight means is that whites no longer are going to cower and will defend our own race,” wrote one supporter, who tweets under the handle Identitarian. “The #AltRight’s message isn’t one of hate, but one of love: Whites learning to love and support our own race.”
That means different things to different people. The umbrella movement encompasses everyone from veteran neo-Nazis to men’s rights activists to “intellectuals” who want to create a white “ethno-state” to a troll army of anonymous students who claim they are puncturing political correctness by heaping racist abuse upon black Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones or anti-Semitic abuse upon Jews.
Jones felt compelled to briefly quit Twitter after she was subjected to a vicious online mob incited by Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart editor sympathetic to the alt-right. Jewish journalists Julia Ioffe, Ben Shapiro, and Jonathan Weisman have been deluged with Holocaust memes and threats of violence.
Mayo described the alt-right, whose size is unknown, as “a subgrouping under the white supremacist movement.” But she said it is different from previous groups in its youthfulness, its social media fluency and how it is trying to influence conservative discourse rather than withdrawing from conventional politics.
“Even though the alt-right rejects mainstream conservatism, they still want to be a part of the conversation. That’s why they’re calling themselves the alternative-right,” Mayo said.
The movement is also different, extremism expert Brian Levin said, in its embrace of people of diverse political views. Anxieties about globalization and the changing complexion of America are spread across a far broader swath of the population than a “mere Hitlerian group” could ever hope to reach, he said.
“It’s almost a siren call: give me your libertarians, your hardened bigots, your ultraconservative disenfranchised, and we will embrace you,” said Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
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