Meanwhile, this obsessive coverage of the alt-right not only helps mainstream a small movement but it’s also exactly what the bigots need and want to grow.
A New York Times headline read, “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory.'”
Politico‘s headline read, “Alt-right celebrates Trump’s election at D.C. meeting.”
NPR’s read, “Energized By Trump’s Win, White Nationalists Gather To ‘Change The World.'”
Every major cable news network had a discussion about the importance of the Institute. But here’s a little nugget from the NPR piece that asserts the election has given this “once fringe movement a jolt”:
“About 300 people—split nearly evenly between conference attendees and protesters of the conference outside—were on hand at the downtown D.C. event.”
About 300 people? Some jolt. To put that into context, there were well over 300 people at thousands of churches and temples across the Washington area this weekend praying for peace on Earth. In this country, you could pull together 300 people for a meeting about anything, actually. Thousands of UFO enthusiasts got together in the Arizona desert last year in hopes of not being mass abducted by space aliens.
A few years ago, I attended the Socialist convention in Chicago, where at least a thousand activists gathered to discuss how to end economic freedom. Since then, 43 percent of Democrat primary goers have given this extreme movement a jolt, I guess.
Then again, it’s possible not every self-styled American “socialist” is an ideological purist about handing production of iPhones to the state. We’d be wise to view many on the alt-right with similar skepticism.
Still, it is indisputable that many of these people are odious—and not odious in the way liberals think of Republicans who worry about refugees from Syria, or in the way immigration laws are odious. We have a responsibility to use morally precise language when referring to this group (which, in this case, is the neo-Nazi group); contextualize their influence (which is little but more than it should be); and unequivocally call them out. We should never, ever glamorize them for political purposes.
Why do media obsessively cover the alt-right? I suppose it’s the same reason every major publication gave former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke—who polled at 3 to 4 percent in the Louisiana Senate race all year—their undivided attention. (What am I talking about? We’re still hearing about Duke on a daily basis.) It’s to create the impression that they matter.
None of this is to say Trump shouldn’t be called out for his vulgar rhetoric or ideas, some of which gave these people the space they needed. Nor does it absolve Republicans who look the other way when genuine bigotry appears. Yes, GOPers shouldn’t normalize the alt-right, and neither should the media imbue the movement with an outsized importance to feed its preferred narrative regarding the election.