The term “alt-right,” or “alternative right,” designates a far-right movement that developed over the last decade, first in the United States, then in most English-speaking countries and onward throughout Europe, an expansion that primarily (if not entirely) took the form of prolific internet activity. The alt-right movement (which could be described as a “big tent,” bringing together a number of distinct tendencies) gained visibility in 2016, primarily for its support for Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States. Since the 2016 election, and faced with a large antifascist opposition in North America, the alt-right has lost a lot of ground and much of its legitimacy, in no small part due to the complete fiasco that the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, turned out to be.
Some “experts,” as well as some of its ideological adversaries, tend to reduce the alt-right to little more than its most grotesque manifestations. Alternately, the alt-right label is often used to describe everything to the right of the mainstream conservatism, with no distinction of any kind made. However, our enemies are more complex than we tend to think. Not everyone on the right (or even the far right) is necessarily alt-right. Furthermore, the alt-right is a movement with numerous tendencies and influences. While these diverse tendencies share a certain number of basic principles, it is also true that the alt-right is in reality a convergence of a number of complementary currents, ranging from the alt-light (the term designating its more sanitized face, superficially stripped of the worst rhetorical aspects, as well as a variety of groups and individuals influenced by the alt-right, but who prefer not to be identified with the movement) through supremacist networks and neo-Nazis (including elements that effectively go as far as to promote the extermination of various established scapegoats and the use of mass violence to precipitate civil war or race war) to a core group of “ethno-nationalist” intellectuals, each with its own ideology, its own leading lights, and its own platform and propaganda.
Nonetheless, there is a unifying political programme at the heart of the alt-right that includes a certain number of core beliefs that clearly place it on a continuum of fascist movements.
- White nationalism: all of the partisans of the alt-right aspire to create one or more white nation-states. White nationalism hopes to build a defensive rampart against (a mythical) “white genocide,” the idea that there is a vast secret conspiracy stretching back generations to replace white populations and destroy Western civilization by promoting multiculturalism, non-European immigration, mixed marriages, and the gradual subversion of morality, leading to a decline in the white birth rate. The solutions proposed by different currents range from parcelling out territory into numerous ethno-nationalist enclaves through the “remigration” of non-white populations to pure and simple genocide.
- Anti-egalitarianism: as with all fascist thought, the alt-right is radically opposed to any concept of human equality, seeing this as a liberal mirage that will lead to the fall of Western civilization. For example, the alt-right anchors its social theories in so-called “race realism,” a pseudoscientific idea that there are intrinsic biological differences between races, reflected in immutable differences, for instance in groups’ respective IQs. Generally speaking, the alt-right also sees women as inferior to men and sexual minorities as “degenerate.” This anti-egalitarianism also applies within ethnic groups; alongside the differences between distinct groups, the alt-right also believes in innate inequalities within groups, e.g., among white men.
- Anti-feminism/masculinism: the alt-right didn’t really consolidate into a movement until the convergence of trolls on 4chan during the anti-feminist and misogynist backlash of the so-called “Gamergate,” in 2014. This is also when the alt-right was able to refine and test the rhetorical techniques that would lead to its success. Numerous anti-feminists who gathered under the rubric of the “manosphere” were integrated into the alt-right and helped to drive it forward, including the “Pick Up Artist” (PUA) community, the “Involuntary Celibates,” or “Incels,” “Men Going Their Own Way” (MGTOW), etc.
- Disdain for “mainstream” conservatism: the alt-right loathes “mainstream” conservative parties and institutions with the same ferocity as it does the (very broadly defined) Left. The term “cuckservative” (cuckholded conservative, with racist connotations) is the epithet used to denigrate anyone who is part of the conservative establishment, dissociating them from the “genuine right” that the alt-right believes it exemplifies.
- Anti-communism: without necessarily being a founding principle, anti-communism is nonetheless omnipresent in alt-right rhetoric, generally in the form of a clichéd “cultural Marxism,” an antisemitic conspiracy theory based on the idea that philosophers associated with the Frankfurt School (most of them Jews) were at the origin of a conspiracy to undermine and destroy Western culture and civilization. This “cultural Marxism” theory can be traced directly back to the concept of “cultural Bolshevism” developed by the Nazis. (There is, however, a minority “red-brown” current within the alt-right that adheres to Alexander Dugin’s “National Bolshevism.”)
- Anti–political correctness: the principles listed above intersect in a violent ethos of opposition to anything and everything adherents consider “politically correct”: antiracism, multiculturalism, equality, feminism, sexual and gender diversity, and, in general, even the concept of social justice. This opposition is expressed in a culture of ever more extreme transgression in different anonymous forums, including /pol/ on 4chan, where users have gradually developed a distinct language and vocabulary, as well as an aggressive rhetorical style built around facile and outrageous insults and turning their opponents’ arguments back against them, the constant projection of the young white heterosexual male as the most oppressed identity, non-stop confusion of sincere opinions and the ironic expression of transgressive ideas for the pure pleasure of shocking or “triggering” “normies” (i.e., anyone outside this subculture who is likely to be repulsed by its excesses). Anyone who doesn’t adhere to this ethos is accused of “virtue signaling” and is denounced as a “social justice warrior,” a “snowflake,” a “cuck,” etc.
As such, the alt-right has developed a very distinct subcultural identity with its own vocabulary (“kek,” “red pill,” “black pill,” “based,” etc.), symbols (Pepe), and esthetic conventions (various memes, including Chad vs. the virgin, Wojack, NPC, etc.). These elements arise in part as an extension of the movement’s significant online activity and in part based on previous rhetorical clashes between a number of alt-rightists and members of the left (with which some had previously identified) both online and in the real world. It’s worth noting that a number of elements of the alt-right vocabulary that have percolated in popular culture in recent years have been spread on 4chan, 8chan, reddit, and Twitter, only to be picked up by a considerable section of the populist right, as well as by some of the more “edgy” members of the center- and far left.
The core concepts that animate the alt-right are in no way new, and its key thinkers are highly influenced by older political phenomenon, for example, American “paleoconservatism” and the European New Right. (Other more recent influences, like the “neo-reactionary” movement, are beyond the scope of this overview, but are nonetheless part of the same continuum.)
“Paleoconservatism” seeks a return to “authentic” (old right) conservatism and a break with “neoconservatism,” which has been a central influence on the Republican Party since the Reagan years, culminating with the George W. Bush regime. The paleoconservatives, as their name suggests, adhere to a vision of a glorified past, generally corresponding to the “America First” movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which opposed US involvement in World War II and exhibited a certain sympathy for fascism. The paleoconservative revival in the 1980s was critical of immigration and multiculturalism, US intervention in international politics, free trade, economic globalization, and domestic social security programmes. Socially, they were extreme reactionary traditionalists when it came to questions of gender, sexuality, social relationships, and—particularly—race relations. The paleoconservatives are also critical of the US’s privileged relationship with Israel, sometimes expressing this opposition in antisemitic terms. They also advance an anti-egalitarian and implicitly white supremacist perspective that prioritizes the interests and values of White Christian culture within American society. The term paleoconservative is attributed to Paul Gottfried, a philosophy professor who is also generally recognized as an ideological godfather of the alt-right.
The second major influence on the alt-right is the Europe New Right (ENR), which emanates from the French New Right around the Groupement de Recherche et d’Études pour la Civilisation Européenne (GRECE), under the direction of intellectuals like Alain de Benoist. This movement, the direct heir of the European fascist movements, is even more clearly white supremacist than the American paleoconservatives. Among its central concepts is a radical rejection of any egalitarian principle and the idea that alleged fundamental differences must be maintained by strict ethnic and cultural segregation and the development of distinct ethnic nationalisms (ethnodifferentialism). This aspect of the New Right remains very much present in the current European identitarian movements (e.g., Generation Identity) and the so-called revolutionary nationalist currents. The ideological influence of the European New Right is fundamental for Quebec’s neo-fascists in Atalante and the Fédération des Québécois de souche.
One of the key aspects of the European New Right is its “metapolitical” approach, which, rather than attempting to directly take state power by intervening in political institutions, proposes the gradual transformation of the political and intellectual culture in a way that will subvert the existing institutions and systems so they can eventually be seized, when the moment is right. It is, as such, a long-term strategy that rests on the general subversion of culture, notably by developing an increasing number of “reinformation” platforms favouring the circulation of far-right ideas, the creation of confusion, and a proliferation of conspiracy theories. While the European New Right’s metapolitical approach primarily targets intellectuals and members of the “elite,” their heirs have adapted this theoretical framework to the digital age to address a new generation, and this is an element of the alt-right movement, which, as we have noted, developed on the internet as a sort of digital counterculture, on the basis of a rejection and transgression of “political correctness,” using humour, irony, and irreverence to rehabilitate and reintroduce supremacist and fascist themes.
Another key preoccupation of the classic European New Right, within the context of this metapolitical approach, is to give fascism renewed appeal by playing down or modifying certain elements of the discourse and presentation to increase its social acceptability.
Here we touch upon a major difference with the alt-right, which, by taking up extremist discourses, welcoming various supremacist currents with open arms, and directing its activities towards specific short-term goals (e.g., the election of Trump), appears to have forgotten some of the key lessons of its predecessors and of the normalization strategy favoured by some of them.
In a certain sense, the dominant influences described above express themselves in different ways within the major currents of the alt-right, ranging from its moderate tendencies to the hardcore supremacist currents, including those that are explicitly fascist or neo-Nazi. The common principles (white nationalism, anti-egalitarianism, anti-feminism, etc.) shouldn’t lead us to overlook the existing and not insubstantial differences between the many tendencies and the divergences within them (key among them, for example, the importance of antisemitism and the role of religion). Whether or not these distinctions are a matter of ideology or strategy, they nonetheless exist and might well play an important role in the collapse of the alt-right.
In part, as Mike Wendling points out in Alt-Right: From 4chan to the White House, these rudimentary categories (moderate and radical) can be understood as the two sides of a single coin, whereby: “The alt-light plays down the extremist [and] the hardcore uses the relatively more attractive and ‘moderate’ wing to draw people further towards its side.”
On the other hand, while the alt-light (well-financed and enjoying some credibility) has effectively created and projected a more credible public image to advance its white nationalist programme, the same cannot be said of the other tendency, which keeps its crudest and most extreme expressions confined to private chatrooms (e.g., on Discord or Telegram), but has nonetheless chosen an approach that is diametrically opposed to any accommodation and is increasingly open with its extremist discourse and imagery, particularly on niche forums (e.g., 4chan, 8chan, reddit) and on blogs, podcasts, and internet propaganda sites like The Daily Stormer (TDS) or The Right Stuff (TRS), as well as on discussion forums like Iron March or Fascist Forge, which serve as incubators for various “post-alt-right” neo-Nazi groups of the “accelerationist” variety, i.e., supporters of terrorism and mass violence.
Whatever differences there may be in the strategies for further expanding white privilege, in the final analysis, and even according to some of its leaders, the movement’s decision to take to the streets in a militant manner represented a serious error of judgment, and this strategic mistake precipitated its dramatic decline. After the brutal murder of the antiracist activist Heather Heyer by the neo-Nazi James Alex Fields, on June 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, the alt-right experienced an unprecedented backlash that resulted in a broad suppression of its accounts on different social media platforms and a major decline in donations, as well as the doxxing of many of the key members of the movement, including Montréal resident Gabriel Sohier Chaput, who attended Unite the Right rally with other Canadians, Shawn Beauvais-MacDonald and Vincent Bélanger Mercure among them.
To summarize, the history of the alt-right can be divided into four broad categories: its prehistory, with different tendencies coexisting and developing in a common direction, without adhering to a common identity; its early stage, when these different currents started to consciously cooperate and act as a major inspiration for new online communities (e.g., the manosphere, “Far Web” forums like 4chan, etc.); its apex during the period when the nascent movement attracted unprecedented publicity due to its association with Donald Trump’s electoral campaign; its decline, which gradually became evident when the movement was unable to score any successes in a series of decisive battles against antifascist forces and picked up speed following its crushing defeat in Charlottesville, a defeat that was both political and tactical.
From the US to Quebec
The “early stage” of the alt-right roughly corresponds with Barack Obama’s presidency. Besides the major influence of online misogyny, the movement benefited from disillusion with the left and a growing “white panic” about the decline of white hegemony. The same social and cultural context that nourished the American alt-right also existed in Canada, whatever the particular intellectual heritage of one groupuscule or another. The most important consequence of this malaise was the rapid politicization of certain online subcultures, ranging from gamers to imageboard users, primarily made up of adolescent boys and young men and characterized by an increasingly profound cynicism (nourished by the anonymity the internet facilitated) and on various platforms in the manosphere that introduced them to websites that were more explicitly ideological (or falsely ironic), The Daily Stormer and The Right Stuff among them.
As a result, many of the individuals attracted to Quebec’s alt-right had no prior contact with the Quebec or Canadian far right, but were recruited into a primarily American movement on the internet. A large number of far rightists in Quebec were, however, familiar with certain key alt-right texts before their American associates, those of the European New Right, for example, which, as we mentioned, has its roots in France. While some of the more intellectual elements around the Fédération des Québécois de souche were already making use of this particular theoretical framework, that organization never identified with the alt-right, and the specific political context in Quebec would have made such a development anachronistic, a sort of step backward. Intellectually and politically, the far right in Quebec was already in a different place, with its own priorities and strategies, which may well have rendered the alt-right superfluous when it emerged here.
Beginning in 2016, symbolic support for Donald Trump’s candidacy became an important way for all sorts of people on the far right the world over to express their identity. This decision would be a bitter pill to swallow when it became clear that President Trump was not going to install a dictatorship, would not reverse the neoliberal world order, and, on top of that, was monumentally incompetent. These distressing realities were, however, easy enough to ignore outside the US. An identification with the alt-right (a label applied to all sorts of far-right phenomena, sometimes even to Trump himself, by the media and some leftists and academics who are allergic to analysis of any substance) continued to percolate in Quebec during this period, but only as a marginal far-right phenomenon. The term itself was losing any clear meaning, and other points of reference remain more meaningful for a goodly portion of the far right in Quebec. To the degree that an alt-right movement actually exists here, its is limited to an online presence (for example, Jean-François Gariepy’s podcast and a variety of ephemeral websites). Its only organized manifestation was the Montreal group organized around Athanasse Zafirov, from the masculinist community, and Gabriel Sohier Chaput, from the networks around the Iron March forum and The Daily Stormer, two of the most important projects of the neo-Nazi renaissance of the 2010s.
At the same time, subcultural aspects of the alt-right, such as the Pepe and Kekistan memes, shitposting, and “edgelord” posturing (transgression for its own sake), etc. continue to spread on the internet.
 We feel it is important to note that alt-right thinking about what its adherents call “white genocide” is not simply a wild delusion. It reflects genuine shifts on an international level at a point when white power and privilege is, in fact, being challenged at all levels. That said, rather than understanding the nature of the injustices at the root of these challenges or the way that white power has historically relied on violence to subjugate and exploit innumerable populations across the globe, the extreme right buys into an illusion of white innocence (and of whites’ “legitimate” place at the top of the social hierarchy), laments the “victimisation” of whites at the hands of equality-seeking groups, and blames the erosion of white privilege on a variety of conspiratorial forces (most commonly, Jews).
 Mike Wending, Alt-Right: From 4chan to the White House (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2018).