I have thoroughly dealt with this topic once before, in a copiously documented article (11-18-16).
A key to the problem here is that “alt-right” as the title of a movement is somewhat ambiguous and ill-defined. Different people use it in different ways. This is common in newer social movements. Boundaries and parameters and definitions can vary. I know this from my sociology degree. Sociology is the study of human groups.
And so Steve Bannon used it in one way, and white supremacists in another. I showed at length in my paper above that Bannon had nothing to do with white supremacist Richard Spencer, and that the latter had disassociated himself from Trump and Bannon.
But no matter. That’s too factual and reasonable for Never Trumpers to fathom. I reckon. They love to make false equations and false associations. This is standard methodology of the left and its Never Trump parrots. And so the latter “reason”:
1. Richard Spencer used the term “alt-right.”
2. So did Steve Bannon.
3. Spencer is a white supremacist.
4. Therefore, Steve Bannon (along with his outfit, Breitbart News) is a white supremacist, or at least a sympathizer of same.
5. And all Trump voters are white supremacists, or at least a sympathizers of same (since Bannon is Trump’s Chief Strategist).
Because of this sort of pseudo-, half-baked, so-called “reasoning” the most critical Never Trumpers have concluded that President Trump himself is literally a white supremacist and/or also a Nazi sympathizer.
But lo and behold, The New York Times Magazine had a cover story just four days ago, about Breitbart News.
Breitbart itself took notice of it on the same day, in its article, “Harvard/MIT Study: ‘Breitbart Is NOT Alt-Right’” (Tony Lee, 8-16-17):
The striking conclusion (i.e., striking only to Trump critics) reached in the former article, is summarized in the Breitbart article’s opening paragraph:
An extensive study that professors and data scientists at Harvard and M.I.T. conducted has concluded that Breitbart News does not represent the “alt-right,” undercutting the legitimacy of left-wing activists, Democrats, reporters in the legacy media, Never Trumpers, and establishment Republican bobbing heads and mouthpieces who rushed after Charlottesville to reflexively smear, malign, and defame Breitbart News as an “alt-right” outlet associated with white supremacists and Nazis.
I now cite the Breitbart article at length:
[R]enowned essayist Wil S. Hylton spoke to Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler, . . .
According to Hylton, “the last thing Yochai Benkler noted before” Hylton “left his office at Harvard was that his team had performed a textual analysis of all the stories in their database, and they found a surprising result”:
“One thing that came out very clearly from our study is that Breitbart is not talking about these issues in the same way you would find on the extreme right,’’ he said. ‘‘They don’t use the same language you find on sites like VDARE and The Daily Stormer’’ — two sites connected to the white-nationalist alt-right movement. He paused for a moment, then added: ‘‘Breitbart is not the alt-right.’’
Benkler told the Times that his extensive scientific study of Breitbart News was the “the collaborative undertaking of more than a dozen interdisciplinary colleagues throughout Harvard and M.I.T.”
Legacy media reporters, Democrats, left-wing activists, Never Trumpers, and establishment Republicans have–revealing their laziness, ignorance, or malice–taken former Breitbart News executive Steve Bannon’s “platform for the alt-right” comment during the 2016 election out of context and wielded it as a club to bash Breitbart News and its readers of all backgrounds. . . .In his New York Times magazine essay, Hylton emphasizes that critics who reflexively criticize and malign Breitbart News have not even taken the time to figure out the context of Bannon’s remark.
“Take a quick survey of your friends and see how many visited Breitbart last week or can name two articles that appeared on the site in the past three months. Then ask the same people what they think of Breitbart’s influence on the election, and watch how loud the room becomes. It’s startling the way the word ‘Breitbart’ has become iconographic, referring not really to the website or the company but to an amorphous mass of revanchist opinions for which Breitbart receives credit or blame,” Hylton writes. “We’re all so certain that Breitbart is spewing a fountain of bigotry every day — denigrating women and riling up anti-Semitism, wailing about ‘black crime’ and ‘trannies’ — that few of us devote much time to observing it for ourselves. As a result, we haven’t done a great job of figuring out what exactly Breitbart is or what Steve Bannon meant when he described it as a ‘platform for the alt-right.’”
Anyone at all interested in the recent tempest-in-a-teapot, and the cynical, slanderous attempt to paint Trump and Bannon as racists must read these two articles. Harvard, MIT, and The New York Times are certainly not known for a conservative bias. That’s why these articles, and the study they describe, are so important, in terms of blowing away these false ideas. Kudos to all involved for their fair-mindedness. What a breath of fresh air it is to see this, in the midst of the flatulent stench that now makes up 90% of all political discourse in the media and online. It renews my faith in humanity.
And of course we also have the recent news of Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House. He had resigned on August 7th, before Charlottesville happened. So much for tin-foil hat conspiracies about supposed white hood conspiracies concerning his overwhelming “power” as a supposed puppetmaster of the President. Now he’s not even there anymore.
Bannon is a Catholic as well (like so many Trump cabinet members), which never fit into the white supremacist schtick, either, but no matter. Facts be damned! The supremely important thing is to bring Trump down. If lies every day are necessary for that, well, then, the Forces of Righteousness are quite willing to use the Nazi “Big Lie” (Joseph Goebbels) tactics.
I already showed in my article cited above, that Bannon had nothing to do with these evil KKK / Neo-Nazi goons and wingnuts. His recent remarks in an interview with a liberal outlet reinforce this:
Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more. These guys are a collection of clowns . . .
(“Steve Bannon, Unrepentant,” Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, 8-16-17)
So conservatives disavow and denounce and utterly condemn the racists and white supremacists and the result is what? Well, we are accused all the more of being closet racists.
You see, it’s how the fanatical, conspiratorial mindset works:
1. If a conservative doesn’t formally denounce racist nuts like the KKK / Spencer / Duke / Neo-Nazis et al, he is considered by default to be one: a secret sympathizer because “everyone knows” how rampant racism is within conservative ranks.
2. If, on the other hand, the conservative denounces in no uncertain terms, these evil racists (as Trump and Bannon have done repeatedly), then it’s merely (wink wink) a pretense; they “had to” under pressure and so they make their statement to get the Righteous Media and Democrat Overlord Masters off their backs, only to go right back to their nefarious racist plotting in secret.
“Heads I win, tails you lose.” Get it?
I can’t stop people who “think” like Never Trumpers do, from doing that, but I can surely convince non-conspiratorial, non-fanatic, non-hysterical folks (of whatever political persuasion) who care about facts, truth, fairness, documentation, and reasoning, that there is nothing to these racist / supremacist charges against Bannon, Breitbart, and Trump at all.
I think we may be able to “reclaim” at least some of the less vitriolic and extreme Never Trumpers and persuade them to see reason on some of these matters, and to soften their divisive stance. It’s to be devoutly wished.