Alt-Right, White Nationalist, Free Speech: The Far Right’s Language Explained – Wade Goodwyn June 4, 2017 5:00 AM ET


Jeremy Christian, right, seen during a Patriot Prayer, allegedly stabbed three men, two fatally, in Portland last month. During a subsequent courtroom appearance, he exclaimed: “Free speech or die, Portland. You call it terrorism I call it patriotism.”

John Rudoff/AP

Alt-right. White nationalist. Free speech. Hate speech.

A number of labels involving the far right have been tossed about once again after a white supremacist allegedly stabbed three people who tried to keep him from shouting at two teenage girls, one wearing a hijab, on the Portland metro.

Fearing trouble because emotions are running high, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the federal government to revoke a permit for a “Trump Free Speech Rally” on Sunday, describing the organizers as “alt-right.” But a rally organizer rejected that characterization, insisting he didn’t even know precisely what the phrase meant. Left-wing groups also are planning rallies this weekend.

Here’s a look at some of the phrases being used to describe the people involved, and what’s behind them:

Alt-Right/White Nationalist

White supremacist Jeremy Christian, who has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, attempted murder and intimidation in the second degree, began his courtroom appearance last week shouting about free speech. “Free speech or die, Portland. You call it terrorism I call it patriotism,” Christian shouted. “If you don’t like free speech get the f*** out of my country.”

So what exactly was Christian ranting about? Was it nonsensical ravings or something more — an exclamation of his political ideology? Was he saying he allegedly stabbed the three men, two of them fatally, because he believed they were interfering with his right to speak to the young women?

Understanding the language of the far right is a good place to start. There’s plenty of disagreement and debate about what language to use to describe far right politics and the groups that operate there.

These days, the labels white nationalist and alt-right have become ubiquitous. Radical right and ultra-right are older terms from the 1950s and 60s, and other terms include paleo-conservative, the militia movement, identity movement, American fascists, national socialists, neo-Nazis. But according to Mark Potok, a leader at the Southern Poverty Law Center for the last two decades, essentially these groups can be broken down into two main categories — those who focus primarily on issues of race and those who focus primarily on conspiracy theories. One idea that courses through nearly all of them is the belief that healthy societies are dependent on racial, ethnic and cultural purity — that for the white race, diversity is the path to political and cultural extinction.

The thinking is that each racial/ethnic group should get their own country, but the USA (and Europe) is for white, European, Christian culture. It’s why language like Christian’s — “get out of my country” — is prevalent among the far right.

This supremacist vision is what separates alternative right/white nationalists from others on the political spectrum. It’s an enormous leap ideologically from mainstream conservatism and the main reason why alt-right membership remains relatively low. Where does the term alt-right come from? Paleo-conservative philosopher Paul Grottfried first used the phrase in 2008 but white nationalist Richard Spencer ran with it and helped make alt-right ubiquitous.

Spencer is a new face of the extreme right movement. Well educated at the Universities of Virginia, Chicago and Duke, he is a world away from old images of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Pete Simi, professor of Sociology at Chapman University ant the co-author of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate, the term alt-right was a successful attempt by Spencer to rebrand himself and his followers as something fresh, young and smart for a new generation.

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