George Hawley


On his book Making Sense of the Alt-Right

Cover Interview of November 05, 2017

In a nutshell

This book traces the antecedents, origins, major figures, and tactics of the white nationalist movement commonly known as the Alt-Right. Although the Alt-Right’s ideology is not new, it is much more effective at drawing attention and converts than its recent predecessors. We can primarily attribute the Alt-Right’s success to its skillful use of the internet, which it effectively used to inject itself into the national conversation. Breaking from earlier manifestations of white nationalism, the Alt-Right embraced an ironic, transgressive tone that appealed to many disaffected white millennials. The internet also allowed the movement to grow because it allows white nationalists to maintain anonymity; most of the people creating and consuming Alt-Right material remain anonymous, which keeps them generally safe from the social ostracization that often follows open and explicit expressions of racism.

Given its current high profile, a number of authors have recently released books on this subject; several more are in the pipeline. Mine is unique in that it relies predominantly on the Alt-Right itself for insights. That is, I carefully read the Alt-Right’s material, going back to its birth in 2008. I additionally interviewed dozens of people affiliated with the Alt-Right, including its leading figures and minor players that spread their message via anonymous Twitter accounts.

The Alt-Right has confused many people. Because of its ironic tone and use of humor, it was not always clear if the Alt-Right was sincerely committed to its rhetoric on race, or if it was just a group of nihilistic pranksters that enjoyed needling progressive pieties. The relationship between the Alt-Right and the broader movement supporting Donald Trump is also often ambiguous. Well-known provocateurs – such as Milo Yiannopoulos – who served as a bridge between the Alt-Right and mainstream politics added an additional layer of complexity. This book clarifies the subject.

In the book, I presented the material as dispassionately as I could. I wanted to keep it short, and mostly free from polemics; I trusted readers to make sound judgments without lengthy diatribes from me. I did not downplay the Alt-Right’s radicalism, but I also did not exaggerate its influence on American politics and society. My goal was to shed some light on one small element of our strange and disruptive political moment.