The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The alt-right, explained in its own words

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A whole lot has been written lately about the alt-right, that insurgent, Internet-born identity movement that seems dead-set on swallowing the Republican party whole. The mainstream press has tried to define it. The alt-right press has tried to defend it.

But over the past five days or so, we’ve also heard from a different demographic all together: The ordinary Internet foot soldiers of the alt-right are attempting to explain themselves to normies on Twitter. (Normie, for you normies in the audience, is derogatory image-board slang for safe, mainstream people — presumably, the exact sorts who haven’t embraced the movement.)

Since August 24, more than 50,000 tweets have been sent on the hashtag #AltRightMeans, according to the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University. In terms of pure post rate, the hashtag peaked ahead of Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech Thursday, as members of the movement readied for a new wave of outside scrutiny. But the hashtag remained hyperactive over the weekend, serving as a sort of messy, public manifesto for a group that has thus far defined itself largely in opposition to and isolation from the American mainstream.

The alt-right’s take on Clinton’s speech

There isn’t a cohesive or overarching philosophy here — we’re talking tens of thousands of tweets. But the most popular tweets, the ones that have been shared hundreds or thousands of times, tend to repeat three related themes. There’s an overwhelming frustration with concepts like feminism, multiculturalism, political correctness and (especially) white guilt/privilege, which members of the alt-right describe as having jeopardized their own identity or social standing.

There is, very similarly, an enormous annoyance that anyone would conclude such a belief is racist, misogynistic, or otherwise problematic; such criticisms are generally framed as hysterical responses to the alt-right’s “logic.”

Finally, there are also a lot of fairly conventional attacks on Hillary Clinton, albeit attacks with a conspiratorial tinge — that she has accepted money from foreign interests, is secretly ill, or is “crooked,” for instance.

What does this tell us about the alt-right that an avalanche of analyses and explainers haven’t? I mean, these themes are pretty predictable — the alt-right’s aversion to things like multiculturalism is pretty well documented. But the accounts sending these tweets, or at least the most popular and conventional ones, are sometimes surprising. As common as it’s become to dismiss alt-righters as teenage 4chan trolls with anime avatars, a lot of them look like … well, fully grown normies.

An analysis of the network around the #AltRightMeans hashtag, which maps the users who were most influential on the hashtag, turns up handles like @Cernovich, @PrisonPlanet, @JaredWyand and @magnifier661 — all adult men with nary a Pepe avatar between them. And according to Demographics Pro — a firm that uses predictive analytics to infer the demographics of Twitter users — the vast majority of tweets on #AltRightMeans have come from married white men between 40 and 60 years old.

That’s not a definitive analysis, mind you — this is an inference, after all, and the hashtag has been picked up well outside the alt-right community — but it complicates the easy dismissal of alt-righters as disenfranchised, neckbeard teens. For better or worse, the alt-right’s ideas about race, gender and diversity would appear to resonate with a slightly more varied cross-section of the electorate than many imagine.

All of which might help clarify what #AltRightMeans … but only complicates the movement’s larger cultural implications.

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