The Associated Press warned this week that the media outlets should avoid using the term “alt-right” because “it is meant as a euphemism to disguise racist aims.”
The term was coined several years ago by white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, and now “encompasses a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Although members of the “alt-right” insist they're not racist, from a practical standpoint it's been tricky, if not impossible, to find any daylight between the views they espouse and plain old white supremacy. And now, a new working paper from researchers at the University of Arkansas and Northwestern University sharply underscores the extent to which people who identify as “alt-right” harbor prejudicial views toward non-white people.
In the paper, “A Psychological Profile of the Alt-Right,” Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily attempt to asses the beliefs of the “alt-right” using an extensive online survey. It was conducted via Amazon's Mechanical Turk service, which social science researchers have increasingly used in recent years to explore otherwise difficult-to-answer research questions. They recruited 447 “alt-right” adherents and 382 non-adherents and asked them a battery of questions on topics ranging from race to economics to the proper role of government.
The main caveat to note here is that Forscher and Kteily did not set out to create a nationally representative survey. The people they identified as “alt-right” adherents cannot be said to represent all such individuals across the nation.
Still, their study is useful as a qualitative exploration of the beliefs of a small political subgroup about which national polling is virtually nonexistent — in a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, for instance, only 17 percent of Americans said they had heard “a lot” about the group. And given that the “alt-right” has been primarily associated with young, Internet-savvy men, an online poll may be uniquely suited to measuring what motivates many of them.
The most striking result of Forscher and Kteily's polling came via the responses to questions asking survey-takers to rate how “evolved” various groups were, using a series of silhouettes ranging from apes to modern humans as markers, below:
They explain how it works:
This scale asks people to rate how “evolved” they perceive people or groups to be using a diagram [that] depicts the purported biological and cultural evolution of humans from quadrupedal human ancestors. People use a 0-100 slider to decide where a person or group falls along the continuum established by the silhouettes in the image, with a score of 0 corresponding to the quadrupedal human ancestor and a score of 100 corresponding to a modern human. Higher scores therefore indicate humanization, lower scores dehumanization.
On average, “alt-right” adherents rated whites (92 points), men (88 points) and Europeans (87 points) the highest of all. They rated women lower, at 83 points. They rated Jews slightly below the figure of a spear-wielding Neanderthal figure, at 73 points. Mexicans came in at 67 points, while blacks came in at 65.
Arabs, Nigerians, and feminists all came in at sub-60 points, close to the half-simian human ancestor in the middle of the chart. Muslims were the group ranked dead last, with 55 points.
In the eyes of the members of the “alt-right” participating in the study, in other words, Muslims are 59 percent as “evolved” as white people.
The ratings done by people who did not identify with the “alt-right” were not anywhere near as segregated. They rated women (93 points) a hair higher than men (92 points). Non-adherents rated Muslims at 83, or 9 points behind their rating for white people. That's still indicative of prejudice, of course, but not anywhere near as much as the 37-point gap between “alt-right” adherents' ratings of Muslims and white people would suggest.
People not identifying with the “alt-right” reserved their harshest judgment for Republicans, who they assessed at 78 points. By contrast, the “alt-right” felt that Democrats rated 60 points.
“We found abundant support for portrayals of the alt-right that emphasize their perception that certain historically advantaged groups are superior to other groups and need their interests protected,” Forscher and Kteily write. “Alt-right adherents also expressed hostility that could be considered extremist: they were quite willing to blatantly dehumanize both religious/national outgroups and political opposition groups.”
People in the alt-right believe in a hierarchy of people that puts white people at the top and everyone else behind them — the essential tenet of white supremacy clouded only by an opaque name.
Whatever you call it, at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, that dehumanization — and its consequences — was on full display.