On CNN Monday night, Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak issued a challenge to anchor Don Lemon: “Can you name for me, Don, one white nationalist article at Breitbart? Just one.”
“Yeah,” Lemon replied. “There's an article defending the alt-right.”
Since President-elect Donald Trump announced Sunday that his chief strategist in the White House would be former Breitbart chairman Stephen K. Bannon, the conservative news site has defiantly resisted the “white nationalist” label. In fact, Breitbart said in a statement to the Hill on Tuesday that it is “preparing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a major media company for its baseless and defamatory claim that Breitbart News is a ‘white nationalist website.’ ”
Perhaps you, like Breitbart, are wondering how people would get that impression. In the interest of research, we took a closer look at the evidence, beginning with the article Lemon cited. Published on March 29, the piece in question was called “An establishment conservative's guide to the alt-right.” Here's how it looked on the site, complete with a Pepe the Frog cartoon.
And here are a few more headlines that have been featured on Breitbart:
Pollak claimed that the “guide” was “not defense or advocacy” but was merely about “explaining the alt-right to mainstream conservatives.” That's a stretch, to say the least.
Remember that Bannon told Mother Jones in August that Breitbart is “the platform for the alt-right.” So when the site explains that “there are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared),” the explanation reads a lot like a defense of a group in which Breitbart is a leading member.
Since Bannon identifies Breitbart as an alt-right news site, the question is whether the alt-right encompasses white nationalism, an ideology characterized by a belief that the United States' identity as a nation built by white people (or “European Americans,” as David Duke euphemistically calls them) is under attack and must be restored. The answer is clearly yes.
In their guide to the alt-right, Breitbart's Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos acknowledge that the alt-right includes “real racists and bigots” but argue that “there's just not very many of them, no one really likes them, and they're unlikely to achieve anything significant in the alt-right.”
Why, then, is there so much online hate speech under the alt-right flag? Breitbart contends that most of it should be taken in jest. Here's more from Bokhari and Yiannopoulos:
The alt-right openly crack jokes about the Holocaust, loudly — albeit almost entirely satirically — expresses its horror at “race-mixing,” and denounces the “degeneracy” of homosexuals … while inviting Jewish gays and mixed-race Breitbart reporters to their secret dinner parties. What gives?
If you're this far down the article, you'll know some of the answers already. For the meme brigade, it's just about having fun. They have no real problem with race-mixing, homosexuality, or even diverse societies: It's just fun to watch the mayhem and outrage that erupt when those secular shibboleths are openly mocked. These younger mischief makers instinctively understand who the authoritarians are and why and how to poke fun at them.
There. See? Everyone should calm down, Breitbart explained, because hurling “vicious slurs and stereotypes” is akin to “jocks busting each other's balls at the college bar.”
So when Breitbart writes about “why white people seek black privilege” and stokes fear of refugees and resentment toward immigrants, we shouldn't view those stories as embodying white nationalist themes. Apparently we should laugh.