This was not what I set out to write this afternoon, but as often happens, one story led to another, which led to yet another and then something came to my attention that begged to be given a voice. So, here I am, and my piece about Affirmative Action will have to wait another day.
The story came from American political news blog, ThinkProgress. I get ideas from time-to-time from ThinkProgress, though I always confirm through another source, for the publication is not known for being completely unbiased. But their reporting is usually accurate and they dig for stories others might miss. That said, what caught my eye today was the following editorial announcement, issued in November 2016:
EDITORS’ NOTE: ThinkProgress will no longer describe racists as ‘alt-right’
The article gave me pause and made me stop to think for a moment:
A note from the ThinkProgress editors.
THINKPROGRESS, NOV 22, 2016, 4:04 PM
You can learn everything you need to know about the “alt-right” by looking at the man who popularized its name. Credit goes to Richard Spencer, head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute (NPI), and one of the country’s leading contemporary advocates of ideological racism.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, Spencer keynoted an NPI conference in Washington, D.C. Over the course of his speech, he approvingly quoted Nazi propaganda, said that the United States is meant to be a “white country,” and suggested that many political commentators are “soulless golem” controlled by Jewish media interests.
That, in a nutshell, is the face of the so-called alt-right. As Spencer himself has said, the core of alt-right ideology is the preservation of “white identity.”
So you might wonder what, if anything, distinguishes the alt-right from more hidebound racist movements such as the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. The answer is very little, except for a bit of savvy branding and a fondness for ironic Twitter memes. Spencer and his ilk are essentially standard-issue white supremacists who discovered a clever way to make themselves appear more innocuous — even a little hip.
The ploy worked. News outlets such as CNN and the New York Times, always a little shy when it comes to identifying racism by its true name, have taken to using “alt-right” in headlines instead. The term is flexible enough that Steve Bannon, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, can boast that he turned Breitbart News into “a platform for the alt-right” while simultaneously denying any association with white nationalist movements. Richard Spencer’s marketing campaign has made it possible for leading conservative figures to make common cause with neo-Nazis and Klansmen while dodging any accusations of personal racism.
Spencer and Bannon are of course free to describe themselves however they’d like, but journalists are not obliged to uncritically accept their framing. A reporter’s job is to describe the world as it is, with clarity and accuracy. Use of the term “alt-right,” by concealing overt racism, makes that job harder.
With that in mind, ThinkProgress will no longer treat “alt-right” as an accurate descriptor of either a movement or its members. We will only use the name when quoting others. When appending our own description to men like Spencer and groups like NPI, we will use terms we consider more accurate, such as “white nationalist” or “white supremacist.”
“White nationalist” refers to a specific ideology held by many of those who adopt the “alt-right” label. A white nationalist is someone who believes the United States should be governed by and for white people, and that national policy should radically advance white interests. White supremacists are a broader and more inchoate group, composed of those who believe in the innate superiority of white people.
We will describe people and movements as neo-Nazis only when they identify as such, or adopt important aspects of Nazi rhetoric and iconography.
The point here is not to call people names, but simply to describe them as they are. We won’t do racists’ public relations work for them. Nor should other news outlets.
I think they are right. The term ‘alt-right’ does not actually define any particular ideology. In and of itself, it could mean anything or nothing. We have come, over the past year or two, to associate it with the ideology of white supremacy, but it doesn’t actually say that. Words are powerful, and the term “white supremacist” is a powerful term. It says, “this person or organization believes that white people are supreme to all others”. It conjures images, as well it should, of Ku Klux Klan members setting fire to crosses on the lawns of black people. It conjures images of thousands of soldiers with swastika armbands giving a stiff-arm salute. Those who ascribe to the ‘alt-right’ movement are nothing less than white supremacists, and should be defined as such.
Racism is rearing its ugly head more and more these days, and the likes of Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Richard Spencer, Alex Jones, and many others are giving it their stamp of approval, while themselves remaining above the fray by using the more innocuous term ‘alt-right’. I thought about this long and hard, and my conclusion is that on this blog, I will follow suit with ThinkProgress. Unless contained in a quote, or as an example, I will now refer to the ideology and its followers as white supremacists, or if appropriate, white nationalists.
I have tried to maintain a standard with this blog. I rarely use profanity, and try to be respectful of all sincere viewpoints. I have never, except when using a direct quote, referred to Donald Trump by his official title, nor will I, for to do so would lend legitimacy to an illegitimate president. As I see it, this is one more layer in the standard … to call a spade, a spade.