Is the alt-right an “identity movement” for white nationalists seeking political power in the United States and abroad, or is it just about “hating Hillary”?
Two of the ultra-conservative extreme’s visible provocateurs spent Tuesday duking it out on Twitter, fighting over the basis of the ideology, and splitting up the alt-right’s followers in the process.
The ongoing fight is another divisive blowout in the months-long, often public squabble for the reins of a movement that defines many young supporters of President Donald Trump—plus its viral information army that sometimes reaches the administration itself.
White nationalist (and avid Trump supporter) Richard Spencer, who created the term “alt-right,” tweeted at InfoWars editor (and avid Trump supporter) Paul Joseph Watson shortly after 10 p.m. Monday night, saying that, “the alt-right is an identity movement. Period. It's not about classical liberalism or hating Hillary.”
The two extended their transatlantic fight well into Tuesday. Watson, who is based in the U.K., sarcastically quipped, “Do tell me ‘what is expected of me’, mein Fuhrer.”
Spencer had been mocking Watson’s homemade style of YouTube videos during the squabble. “I hope you'll one day learn that more is expected of you than yelling into a camera in front of a map,” he wrote.
The dogfight was signal boosted, and effectively refereed by, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who threw his support behind Spencer’s brand of white nationalism and disavowed InfoWars’ Watson. “You cannot fight invasion with libertarian individualism,” he said, claiming Spencer “shut down” Watson.
Duke did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast by press time.
There were already fissures emerging between pro-Trump factions of the internet underbelly by the end of 2016. Shortly after Trump won the election, a proxy war over the identity and goals of the movement broke out over an inaugural party called the Deploraball.
Mike Cernovich, an organizer of the event who also popularized the #HillarysHealth hashtag to make up claims about a variety of illnesses from which he claimed Clinton was suffering, took issue with an attendee tweeting veiled anti-Semitic messages. That attendee—known on Twitter as @BakedAlaska and, in the past, Tim Treadstone—was quickly banned from the event. Cracks in the coalition began to appear.
At the time, some in favor of the ban were referring to themselves as “Trumpists.” They considered themselves supportive of the president’s agenda, but didn’t want to make it seem like they openly embrace anti-Semitism. Some alt-right originals against the ban, like Richard Spencer, began referring to Cernovich and others on his side as “alt-light.”
“The alt-light has also hitched its wagon to ‘free speech,’” Spencer told The Daily Beast at the time. “The catch is, there’s clearly some free speech they don’t like, particularly regarding race and Jewish activism and influence. In order for the Alt-Light to maintain its current position—playing footsie with the real alt-right and playing footsie with establishment conservatives—they are going to have to engage in thought-policing and disavows.”
Similarly, Spencer took issue with another Trump superfan earlier this year: the silver-shocked radio host Bill Mitchell, who has marketed himself as a Twitter Nostradamus after predicting that Trump would win the election. Mitchell drew the ire of the alt-right for tweeting disparagingly about Pepe, a frog meme that has been reappropriated by some as a symbol of the pro-Trump community.
“He’s just a cuckservative. I really thought the Trump campaign was the death knell of official “conservatism”; I was overly optimistic,” Spencer said of Mitchell at the time.
Responding to a question via email about his beef with Watson, Spencer simply said: “He's counter signaling very hard.”
On Tuesday, responding to the Twitter thread between Spencer and Watson, Mitchell told The Daily Beast dismissively: “Richard Spencer is an ass who thinks he's a big deal when he's actually nothing. That's pretty much it.”
Cernovich, who recently smeared humorist Vic Berger as a pedophile resulting in threats directed his way and has a sordid history including a claim that “date rape does not exist,” similarly disparaged Spencer saying that he is “desperate for fame.”
“It's really sad,” Cernovich said in a direct Twitter message to The Daily Beast. Spencer is “jealous of Paul Joseph Watson, whose videos get more views than CNN shows. RS telling PJW what is expected of him is laugh out loud funny. You gotta have juice to call shots, and RS has none.”
He added: “David Duke is a nobody who the fake news trots out when a GOP candidate needs the guilt by association treatment. He has no influence and stole a bunch of money from his supporters. Total loser.”
Emails seeking comment from Watson unreturned at press time.
Spencer’s week had already been eventful. His white nationalist “think tank,” the National Policy Institute, was stripped of its nonprofit status after it failed to file its tax returns, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce.
The National Policy Institute grabbed global attention for its meet-up in November, where Spencer exclaimed “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” at a podium, conference goers were seen throwing Nazi salutes towards the group’s founder.
Watson’s pro-Trump brand skews considerably more toward anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-“globalist” fervor. Watson was one of the leading purveyors of conspiracies that claimed Hillary Clinton had diseases like syphilis or a brain tumor during the 2016 campaign. He also asserted days before the election that Clinton actively worships Satan.
President Trump is a noted fan of InfoWars. In December 2015, Trump told InfoWars founder Alex Jones on the site’s livestream that “your reputation is amazing” and “I will not let you down.” Many of the president’s disproven or unproven claims about voter fraud or wiretapping originate or are heavily pushed by InfoWars, and sometimes Watson himself.
Spencer’s other recent claim to fame was a viral video of him being punched during an interview at the inauguration.
Cernovich seemed to find some humor value in the scenario.
“I'm off to do cardio kickboxing with my wife,” he told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I suggest Richard spend less time on Twitter and more time learning how to avoid a punch.”