White nationalists started fundraising off of Hillary Clinton’s speech bashing them and the “alt-right” before she even delivered it.
“Word about Hillary’s attack on the Alt Right has obviously gone out to her supporters in the Main Stream Media,” white-supremacist website VDare blasted out to its readers, asking for money. “We need your help to fight [her ‘McCarthyism’] off.”
All across the alt-right this week, its proponents were bristling with excitement. The far-right political movement—defined largely by racial resentments, anti-Semitism, nationalistic giddiness, Nazi internet memes, and enthusiastic support for Donald Trump’s stand against political correctness and immigrants—is now achieving all the attention and free publicity it has long craved from beyond the margins of polite society.
“I think it is great,” William Johnson, leader of the white-nationalist American Freedom Party and actual former Trump delegate, emailed The Daily Beast. “Our positions are just, moral and proper, so, if they are discussed openly then eventually we will persuade the hearts and minds of the public. She is doing the nation a great service by addressing us—regardless of what she says.”
Last week, Stephen K. Bannon, head of the alt-right-loving and relentlessly pro-Trump Breitbart News, officially assumed power as “CEO” of the Trump presidential campaign. The alt right rejoiced at the news—Bannon had previously bragged to Mother Jones magazine that Breitbart now serves as “the platform for the alt-right.”
On Thursday, Hillary Clinton tried her hand at throwing the national spotlight on the alt-right.
“It’s like nothing we’ve heard before from a nominee for president of the United States from two of our major parties,” Clinton told the crowd at a rally in Reno, Nevada. “He is taking hate groups mainstream, and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
“This is not conservatism as we have known it… these are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas,” she said, name-checking the alt-right as “the paranoid fringe” and racist. “The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for [the alt-right]… which has effectively taken over the Republican Party.”
The speech, which was announced on Tuesday, aimed to draw yet more focus to Trump’s hire of Bannon, and the Trump camp’s “embrace of the disturbing ‘alt-right’ political philosophy,” according to the Clinton campaign.
“This ‘alt-right’ brand is embracing extremism and presenting a divisive and dystopian view of America which should concern all Americans, regardless of party,” the campaign continued. (Clinton herself described it as part of a “hate movement.”)
For Trump, Clinton’s speech on Thursday afternoon was nothing more than yet another instance of the “oldest play in the Democratic playbook,” smearing Republican voters as racists. For Team Hillary, this was yet another chance for them to try to damage Trump by inextricably tying him to a crew of trolls, writers, and activists deemed far too bigoted and toxic.
For leading voices of the alt-right, however, Clinton had just handed them all the free publicity they could have possibly ever wanted—she legitimized them, she made them more notorious and more mainstream. She was helping to finally make “alt-right” a household term, not just a fringe, reactionary sliver of 4chan, or Reddit, or Stormfront.
In fact, champions of the alt-right would love it if Clinton delivered more of these speeches and knocked them even more.
“When your movement is going to be mentioned by name by the presidential candidate leading in the polls, you can safely say that we’ve made it,” Richard Spencer, who runs a white-nationalist think tank called the National Policy Institute, told The Wall Street Journal. “Our fundamental obstacle was people having no idea who we are.”
Other prominent figures of the extreme-right movement found themselves annoyed at Clinton’s high-profile condemnation of the alt-right.
“This is a subject on which I suspect she is in the most profound ignorance,” said Jared Taylor, American Renaissance founder and white-nationalist thought leader. (He advocates for voluntary racial segregation and believes African Americans are genetically predisposed to crime, for instance.) “This is a typical leftist attempt to discredit… Trump because of his supporters, like me. It’s the idea of saying, ‘Look at this loathsome insect wo supports Donald Trump, well, Donald Trump must be a loathsome insect, too!’ This is a game only the left tries to play against the right.”
Similarly, VDARE.com editor Peter Brimelow seemed unimpressed with Clinton’s censure, telling The Daily Beast, “Well, I think George Soros will be pleased!”
“I think she’s a dogmatic leftist who lives in a bubble and thinks yelling ‘RACIST’ is a compelling argument,” Brimelow said. “Maybe [this speech] will rile up her base, [and] I’d rather have her yelling at us than lynching some poor police officer.”
Thursday’s speech was hardly the first time the Clinton campaign leaped at the opportunity to call out the alt-right, Trump, and Breitbart, all in the same breath. Last week, after Bannon’s new gig was announced, Team Hillary immediately invited reporters on a conference call so that campaign manager Robby Mook could chastise Trump for “turning his campaign over to someone who’s best known for running a so-called news site that peddles divisive, at times racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
And now, the alt-right has more ears, eyeballs, and media attention on it than ever before.
Numerous news outlets, from The Washington Post to CBS News, have been forced to publish primers and explainers on the movement for their millions of readers. For at least the next few days, cable-news bookers will scramble to schedule interviews with its leaders. And with the blessing of Donald Trump, the alt-right has seized power within the GOP—and the Democratic presidential nominee is reinforcing the idea that the insurgent far-right faction has remade the Republican Party in its own ethno-nationalist image.
If it were up to the movement’s leadership and activists, Clinton would denounce them every week.
“Whatever she says will backfire on her for sure,” Johnson said. “If she says: ‘Alt right is groovy!’ then her base will reject her. If she condemns us, then it publicizes us and legitimizes us in the eyes of the anti-globalists.”
—with additional reporting by Gideon Resnick