The Autumn of the Alt Right

Shane Burley

The alt right is irrelevant now, because its ideas are entirely mainstream.

“Some women are simply aroused by the image of a penis.”

These were the words uttered by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer’s co-host in a now-deleted video from his YouTube show. In The Richard Spencer Show, the Alt-Right celebrity talks into his webcam for two hours while a single anonymous cohost using an avatar interrupts him from time to time.

In this particular episode, Spencer and his nameless interlocutor got into an argument about whether or not women enjoy “dick pics.” Spencer argued that they do not because of the innately reclusive nature of female sexuality. The cohost disagreed vehemently, saying that Richard may not understand because it is a “generational” thing.

Such is the content of The Richard Spencer Show, which launched in 2018. It isn’t the white supremacist’s first podcast-style talk program. Spencer began Vanguard Radio back in 2010, around the same time he launched But now that his notoriety has grown and he has pissed off all of his former cohosts, his show now boasts only his name, his face, and an anonymous cohost, and is livestreamed over the course of hours. On another episode published within the last year, he responded to allegations from his ex-wife that he physically and verbally abused her (she had documentary evidence), and his cohost commented on how much more attractive he thought Spencer’s new girlfriend was than his former wife.

In earlier incarnations of his podcast persona, Spencer would wax pseudo-philosophically, trying to resurrect the German Conservative Revolution, praising the European New Right of the late 1960s, cherry-picking from Heidegger and Nietzsche. He would interview the fascist celebrities he was hoping to cultivate into a powerful milieu: Jack Donovan, Tomislav Sunić, Greg Johnson, Matt Heimbach, and even Pat Buchanan. They would talk about the future, their dreams, how they saw the world, where they came from, and where they were going.

Now Spencer is defending himself against his abused ex-wife and debating dick pics. 

In early November, far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulos released an audio recording from 2017 on YouTube, in which Spencer can be heard spewing racist bile in the aftermath of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. “Little fucking kikes. They get ruled by people like me. Little fucking octaroons. My ancestors fucking enslaved those little pieces of fucking shit,” Spencer raged. “Those pieces of shit get ruled by people like me. They look up and see a face like mine looking down at them.” It’s hardly headline news for anyone aware of Spencer and his ilk—Hold the presses! Neo-Nazi is a racist!—yet, until a few months ago, mainstream news networks like CNN continued to invite Spencer on as a guest.

His leaked meltdown may be the long overdue nail in the coffin of Spencer’s career in the so-called respectable public. But the movement Spencer helped birth is undead, stumbling zombie-like into its next act, leaving the bodies of its creators behind to rot.

They Fell Hard

Two years can change a lot. Richard Spencer wanted to be many things, not the least of which was some type of “thought leader” or “thought criminal” as he would bombastically frame his allegedly heterodox, reliably monstrous brand. When his trademarked Alt-Right movement went off the rails, losing all forward momentum and ideological consistency, there was nothing he could do but alternate between enraged fist pounding and nihilistic humor. This may have been his moment of “black pilling,” which in Alt-Right scene jargon means to devolve into full-scale pessimism.

Spencer had creeped around the edges of the white nationalist movement when he was a graduate student studying European intellectual history at Duke University. He became an assistant arts editor at the American Conservative in 2008 after then-editor Scott McConnell liked a presentation he gave defending the Duke lacrosse players accused of sexually assaulting a black sex worker. McConnell eventually suggested that Spencer would be a better fit at Taki’s Magazine, the far-right paleoconservative outlet resembling the early—though with fancier words and a sleeker typeface. He was meeting new people, like far-right philosophy professor Paul Gottfried, paleocon-turned-white-identitarian Sam Francis, “human biodiversity” proponent Steve Sailer, as well as open white nationalists, romanticist pagans, and “traditionalists.” This was a new subculture, one which rejected the American conservative movement with its hodgepodge of ideas and allegiance to globalizing capitalism. This burgeoning crew was influenced by a fringe collection of European New Right philosophers, esoteric traditionalists, Old Right aristocratics like H. L. Mencken and Madison Grant, and the German Conservative Revolution. This new collection of people, which was crystalizing in Washington, D.C., conference rooms and places like the H. L. Mencken Club, did not agree on everything, but they rejected democracy and equality and believed that white identity was under attack.

Although the name originated with Gottfried, Spencer then decided to call his cadre the Alternative Right and built a website (, which went offline in 2014) to bring them all together to talk. He scoured the cobwebbed corners of the Conservative Movement, finding the people that would help define this new collective conversation—a real intellectual fascist and racist movement built around redefining the preservation of white supremacy. They would build the new fascist canon, filling a perceived gap in American right ideas, which at the time oscillated between boring Heritage Foundation policy papers and dodgy rants on Stormfront threads. This would be thoughtful, erudite, passionate, and metapolitical.

Spencer hedged his bets. He thought that if he created the ideological infrastructure, including blogs, podcasts, and eventually journals and conferences, the followers would come. And they did. In ways he never could have predicted.

By 2015, Spencer had started to move away from the term Alternative Right and was instead opting to describe himself as “identitarian” so as to align himself with the racist, anti-immigrant movements popular in Western Europe and inspired by the European New Right. That is when the Alt Right 2.0 came together; this time, bloggers and podcasters who had their own loose affinities gathered in message-board subcultures like the Manosphere and Neoreaction, and there began to memeify the Alternative Right’s talking points. Neoreaction birthed the “cuckservative” meme, which criticized conservative politicians who argued for anything less than border militarization. The Alt Right 2.0 used the banner and hashtag #AltRight to describe themselves. They were not quite as academic as the alt-right’s first iteration, their ideas less formed. Their praxis was little more than trolling. But there were a lot of them, and they were loud. It was Spencer who led the melding of these two worlds—the anonymous troll and the racist professor—from which online institutions like the Daily Shoah, R_The_Donald, and Red Ice Media were born.  

Because of the popularity that Alt Right 2.0 saw within a newly influential troll culture, it was able to grow far beyond the confines of the earlier magazines and pay-to-play conferences. This gave Spencer and his fellow travelers the idea that activism could not only influence ideas at their site of formation, but also shift ideology from the streets to the political mainstream. For years they had shied away from the world of white-nationalist activism, apprehensive about joining up with the kind of people that make up the yearly Stormfront potlucks.

Their turn toward activism was awkward, not the least because most of the key figures, like Mike Enoch, Greg Johnson, and Eli Mosley, were clueless as to how organizing works. Planned events usually amounted to purposeless flash mobs, high-profile public speeches marked by violence, or rallies that were almost identical to the Nazi-cosplay sideshows offered by the National Socialist Movement. They wanted to be taken seriously, but used every public platform as an opportunity to create new racial slurs and talk in silly and arcane internal jargon; they sounded like fanboys at their yearly convention. Spencer and company rose quickly and contemptuously, and by 2017 they thought they could stand on their own without any crossover support, so they launched into Charlottesville, where the reality of their neo-Nazi foundations were made clear. They could not escape the baggage of white nationalism’s past since they were the essentially same movement, but with fancier hair and undergraduate degrees.

When the alt-right descended on Charlottesville for the deadly Unite the Right Rally in August 2017, all plausible deniability about the movement’s neo-Nazi bent was obliterated.

In the Image of Their Leader

The Alt Right is a movement separate from its creator, but Richard Spencer is still its soul. The movement was crafted in his image and around his ideas. The Alt Right is, in large part, just a fascist aesthetics: collared shirts, swooped hair, academic rhetoric, millennial cultural tropes, and Internet meanness.

Spencer publicly tried to fashion himself as an intellectual aristocrat. He mimicked the Northeastern parlor accent of his white supremacist forerunner, Jared Taylor, who pronounces the word “white” with a hard “h.” But when the Alt Right brand changed to its public facing persona, taking new shape in festering social media spheres, it was no longer Spencer’s brainchild. It had a new ecstatic quality to it, developed in the message-board culture of the Chans. Spencer admired the figure of the Troll, suggesting at NPI conferences that since the Troll was the soul of the Internet, maybe the Alt Right was the soul of the Troll. 
His embrace of the troll persona became increasingly apparent as his speech style shifted over the course of 2015 and 2016. He was more abrasive, more insulting, more pedantic in his arcane pseudo-intellectualism, and more hardened. He appeared to take pleasure in this new antagonistic identity—he loved being hated—but he was never particularly good at trolling. He appeared abrasive and jarring in speeches at public venues like Auburn University and in video-captured confrontations in front of his Arlington loft. A troll is successful because their cruelty is masked by laughter and the participation of the audience, but Spencer appeared stilted and angry. No one found him funny. He was a bully and the reality of his white supremacist arrogance has always been glaringly obvious. 

At NPI he tried to antagonize the press while riling up his base, the result of which was the notorious video of him inspiring Seig Heil salutes from his minions. At Auburn University he forced his way onto campus by having Klan attorney Sam Dickson sue, and then used his time to yell at the audience and make fat jokes while laughing hysterically. He used to publish books of pseudo-academic racist prose lamenting the decline of the white race, but now he was holding ever-shrinking press events, continually shut down by the anti-fascist opposition. 
And then there was the alcohol. He usually drank a stiff bourbon to complement his brand as a rich American, nostalgic for the South. He lived up to another American masculinist trope, with alcohol acting as an accelerant for domestic violence, hastening the fraying of already-strained relationships.

His behavior, including his violent abuse of his wife, finally forced his relationships and public personae to dissolve. His rampant public racism made him an easier target to organize around for antifascists, and his divorce, financial mismanagement, and professional squabbles continued to erode the foundations of his celebrity—the “dapper white nationalist” as he had once been (appallingly) described by Mother Jones magazine. Antifa kicked him in the head while he worked hard to destroy his own foundations.

Spencer was increasingly incapable of playing the role of both racist conference speaker and shock jock. The former image of the Alt Right and its paper-thin veil of refinement was replaced by a movement more openly rabid and raging, and more at home with the white nationalist movement at large. The Alt Right had at first found rhetorical allies in the Alt Light, the online conservative sphere that shares an extreme reactionary bent with explicit white nationalists (but not their full fascist program). In August of 2017, in Charlottesville, the Alt Right cemented its affiliation with neo-Nazis. This was the moment that the fragile structure balanced between bookishness and white rage finally toppled over. Heather Heyer was murdered, and the Alt Right devolved into infighting, private message boards, and in-jokes.

The Everybody Platform

While the Alt Right was clearly in ascension by early 2017, it certainly is no longer. Social media allowed them the same platform as Senators and actors, and with some smart hashtags and meme magic they were able to spread their perspective and manipulate a mediasphere hungry for controversy. 

There was a certain amount of planetary alignment in how the fascists memed themselves into the millennial generation. The Alt Right world was formed around 2008–2010 as a party of pseudo-intellectuals, creating conferences and webzines in the vein of dissidence from the paleoconservative movement. They were into racist paganism, esoteric German philosophers, discredited race science, and a whole lot of boring books and long-winded talks, and were content to simply build meta-politics—the underlying cultural themes that can influence one’s sense of identity. That is when the edgelords on distant message boards, who were getting radicalized on the misogyny of the Men’s Rights movement and Gamergate, sought an ideology into which they could funnel their new discontent. The jargon world of academic fascism became #AltRight: racist meme makers and racial-slur inventers.

The Alt Right’s methodology is informed by the European New Right’s conception of meta-politics, the cultural influences that form pre-political ideas, identities, and values. By this logic, if you can affect what people think of themselves and about right and wrong, you can change political reality down the line. For several years, white nationalism was in search of effective meta-politics, since practical politics— going out in the streets or running candidates—was off the table. They built up a significant Internet presence because of its low-cost and Wild West lack of regulation, so when our modes of communication moved fully to Web 2.0 self-creation platforms, white nationalists were well versed in how to “do the Internet” in ways the rest of us failed to understand.

“We like to assume that the arc of history will bend inexorably toward justice, but this is wishful thinking,” writes Andrew Marantz in his book Antisocial, on the Alt Right’s growth via social media. “The arc of history bends the way people bend it. In the early years of the twenty-first century, the internet was full of nihilists and masculinists and ironic neo-Nazis and nonironic neo-Nazis, all working to bend the arc of history in some extremely disturbing directions.”

This is why deplatforming, meaning removing certain figures and groups from the mass platforms that they share with the rest of us, was a death sentence for key players in the Alt Right. Outside of the social media and Web 2.0 framework they lost the ability to stay in the conversation, their “hot takes” returned to the cooler world of private mailing lists and subscription newsletters. The Alt Right are, once again, a fringe white nationalist movement. It is now difficult for the uninitiated to simply stumble across the Alt Right while scrolling. Nothing could make them more insular.

See, for example, the trajectory of the Daily Shoah. It was once the largest podcast in the Alt Right scene, so large, in fact, that it spurred an entire podcast network with dozens of shows, a lively message board, and enough paid subscribers that a couple of hosts were full time employees. Their hosts and guests used the platform to freely wax genocidal; cohost Jayoh de le Ray argued, for example, that all black people should be exterminated. Now, the Daily Shoah is all but invisible. They have been veritably kicked off of the web, podcasts, and blog-hosting platforms like iTunes, Twitter, and Facebook. You can’t find them in a Google search, they are absent from almost all social media, and the listener has to have already been acquainted with the content before they can join in on their conversation. They used to speak both to the converted and to new recruits, now it is only the existing echo chamber that tunes in for their twice weekly, three-hour invective. They have returned to where they started, and they weren’t prepared for that.

Some of these fascist media figures had given up their old lives completely, banking on the idea that the Alt Right would become established enough to stop being a professional liability. The Daily Shoah’s cohost Mike Enoch even divorced his Jewish wife and left behind a six-figure career as a computer programmer to live in a trailer in upstate New York. It was a bad bet: his subscriber list continues to shrink, and fewer and fewer people tune in to hear his “hate facts.” Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer now lives a life on the run, escaping the lawsuits his harassment provoked. The entire media empire of the Alt Right is, with few exceptions, desolate and underattended. The website hasn’t added new content in over a year; the work of painstaking brand development was seemingly for nothing. 

When the Alternative Right, with all of its intellectual posturing, turned out to be the Alt Right, just neo-Nazism in a dinner jacket (as so many of us had long pointed out), the movement lost its earlier mystique, and with it much of its access to new converts.

And then there is Richard Spencer.

He always fashioned himself a bit of a bohemian, but like all people who identify as such, this meant moonlighting as a rebel while returning to the comfort of his parents Montana lodge. He is currently accused of brutally abusing his ex-wife, including in front of their kids, and of having a (very visible) drinking problem. His conferences have been canceled and his website hasn’t been updated since 2017. Nevertheless, he has persisted. He continued with The Richard Spencer Show on YouTube (followed by the McSpencer Group) and, apparently lacking any interesting cohosts or guests, he picked an anonymous Alt Right personality to help him in his broadcasts, which were reaching a few thousand people rather than the hundreds of thousands, or millions, that Alt Right imprints could reach at their peak. For a (brief) moment in 2016-2017 he got millions of views in press interviews and was the shining hope for fascists around the country, but now he is lucky to get a few thousands watches on YouTube or to keep a social media account up long enough to gather a following (though his personal account has continued, somehow, to keep trucking).

The story of Spencer is, in a clichéd sense, the story of American celebrity. White liberal media loved (to hate) him because white supremacy was an oddity, not a threat. His brand of ethnic cleansing was discussed as if it was rowdy, every apology was made for his rhetoric, and the microphones were always open. And this apologist approach made sense: how could Spencer’s rhetoric be differentiated when the Republican Party (GOP) was advocating a ban on immigration from primarily Muslim countries?

Spencer wanted an intellectual movement. He wanted long essays, respected speech, grand narratives, but wound up making the sort of right-wing talk show content he had purported to hate: talk radio-style updates, spoken directly into the camera, slightly blown out but still in frame.

Alt Right mainstay and neo-Nazi Greg Johnson once said, “Alt Right means white nationalism or it means nothing.” He and his cohort believed that with new branding, rhetoric, talking points, and style, they could take white nationalism into the mainstream. And they did. But the Alt Right figures themselves were left behind.

And now the Alt Right emerges from the ruins of their shattered movement, trying to piece together a brand, a movement, an analysis, all in fragments just as volatile, but even less coherent. They are seeing some “white pills,” however, with the emergence of the Patriot Front, the largest formation from this suit-and-tie brand since the collapse of Identity Evropa, and Alt Right propaganda is returning to college campuses. But the Alt Right as a catchy crossover moment is not what it was in 2016, and instead they are searching for their relevance past a peak. In this stage of the Late Alt Right we no longer get the antagonisms of Identity Evropa’s frat-boy culture, rather we get the open threat of genocide from Atomwaffen. And dick pic commentary, complete with spicy memes.

About a year ago I was working on an essay about a moment of decline in the Alt Right when an editor asked me how, since the Republican Party has moved so far right, it can make sense to talk about the Alt Right’s failure. If Alt Right ideas had made their way into the mainstream, how could they have lost? I thought the editor simply didn’t get it, the insurgent white supremacists themselves had lost ground, that wasn’t the same as what happens inside of the state.

I was the one who didn’t get it.

The Alt Right leaders and followers wanted to make space for their positions in the culture, and they did. But the mainstreaming of white supremacist politics, it turns out, didn’t need the Alt Right as constant stewards—in fact it seems to not need them at all. The Alt Right organizations and figureheads may have been pushed to the sidelines, but they didn’t lose. They had influenced the surrounding world (or maybe the world around them influenced them), and their insurgency happened in tandem with white supremacy’s reassertion of itself. In the future they may not need the Alt Right since they have the GOP (and UKIP, AfD, and FPO, etc.). A decline of the Alt Right is not a decline in the threat of fascism, in fact, it could simply be momentary projection of what is to come.

Now is the time to watch for how the Alt Right will try to refashion itself, how its leadership class will adapt to new conditions. But of greater concern still is the way white nationalism informs and will inform the state, and how it responds to migration in a global crisis of climate catastrophe and economic collapse. The Alt Right gave the state extra license to resort to racist violence as a solution to its problems, and just as in fascist movements past the state found the relationship with extra-state groups synergistic. This means struggle cannot silo itself between issues and targets, but has to grow to confront the expanding network of white violence.

Richard Spencer definitely got punched, but he left his fingerprints on the world that rejected him.

There is a certain impetus from people writing about the far-right to extend its reach beyond its boundaries. Perhaps this comes from having your head in that world too much, and therefore it seems more significant than it is. Is the world racist because of the Alt Right, or is the Alt Right possible because the world is racist? Deportations, the wealth gap, mass incarcerations, rape culture, all existed in eras when white nationalist movements were much smaller than they are today. We are living in a period of mass resurgence on the part of the far-right, from the fascist-turned-populist parties in Europe, to anti-refugee violence, to the return of reactionary religious militancy. This is not cause and consequence of their own organizers (like I said, they are bad at that), it is because their movements are the externalization of a social consciousness that runs through every distinct element, every building, and every institution in Western life.

The Alt Right was able to identify the burgeoning “white identity” politics and give it a name, a language, to bridge the gap between the reality of white supremacy and the mythology and playbook of white nationalism. The fingerprints that Spencer left on the world are now part of the world.

On November 12, 2019, Michael Edison Hayden released a story through the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch project chronicling the role that White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller had on influencing far-right media coverage of issues like immigration, particularly at Breitbart. Leaked emails show that he was propping up a number of canards about immigrant crime and violence, particularly using Alt Right favorites American Renaissance, known for its race and IQ banter, and the anti-immigration website VDare, as sources. In discussions it was clear that Miller’s public persona is the tip of the iceberg, and below the surface lies the murky world of the Alt Right, mixed together pseudo-science, white replacement conspiracy theories, and panicked white anxiety about slipping hegemony. In fact, Miller’s connections to the Alt Right were no secret, he had worked closely with Richard Spencer back when they were students at Duke University.

This was a major story, an example of actual white nationalism not just in the inner circle of the White House but pushing its way out into the general political conversation. And the reaction outside of activists and journalism Twitter was, in the words of Brenden O’Conner, a journalist who covers the far-right, “a shrug, as if to say: Of course Stephen Miller is a white nationalist. What else is new?”

Fascists have certainly had an effect on the organs of power, but only in the way that white nationalism has been normalized as a political identity, which gives capital the ability to harness the violent energies generated by our era of mass crisis. White supremacy is the method by which capital splits the working class and uses the crisis it created to its advantage rather than its detriment. The Alt Right is then a part of that process, a useful vanguard, the symptom rather than the disease. What we can say with certainty about the symbiosis between systemic and insurgent white supremacy is that you cannot unseat one without confronting the other. That I do know.