Politics & Policy

Time to John Birch the Alt-Right

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Reno, Nev., August 25, 2016. (Reuters photo: Aaron P. Bernstein)
In denouncing the fringe movement, Hillary treads where the GOP will not

Last week saw one of the most remarkable moments of this most remarkable political season. A major politician defended the conservative movement and the Republican party from guilt-by-association with a fringe group of racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists who have jumped enthusiastically on the Donald Trump train: the so-called alt-right.

“This is not conservatism as we have known it,” the politician said. “This is not Republicanism as we have known it.”

The politician was Hillary Clinton, and that’s what’s astonishing. Clinton is normally comfortable unjustly condemning conservatism and the GOP for the sins of bigotry and prejudice, not exonerating it. After all, she coined the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Her husband’s administration tried – unfairly – to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on conservative critics, specifically radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh. Less than a decade later, she revived the charge in her book Living History, tying the bombing to “right-wing radio talk shows and websites,” which “intensified the atmosphere of hostility with their rhetoric of intolerance, anger and anti-government paranoia.” Just last year, Clinton was comparing the entire GOP presidential field to “terrorist groups” for their views on abortion.

This history suggests that Clinton’s attempt to distinguish the party of Paul Ryan from the alt-right was not the product of high-minded statesmanship, but political calculation. The goal was to demonize Trump so as to make moderate voters feel OK voting for a Democrat.

(Trump is not an alt-righter, but his political inexperience, his anti-establishment persona, and his ignorance of, and hostility to, many basic tenets of conservatism created a golden opportunity for the alt-righters to latch onto his candidacy.)

RELATED: Why White-Nationalist Thugs Thrill to Trump

If I were a down-ballot Democrat, I’d be chagrined. By exonerating the GOP from the stain of the alt-right, Clinton has made it harder for Democratic candidates to tar their opponents with it. What’s truly extraordinary, though, is that Clinton is doing work many conservatives won’t.

There is a diversity of views among the self-described alt-right. But the one unifying sentiment is racism — or what they like to call “racialism” or “race realism.” In the words of one alt-right leader, Jared Taylor, “the races are not equal and equivalent.” On Monday, Taylor asserted on NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show” that racialism — not religion, economics, etc. — is the one issue that unites alt-righters.

If you read the writings of leading alt-righters, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion. Some are avowed white supremacists. Some eschew talk of supremacy and instead focus on the need for racial separation to protect “white identity.” But one can’t talk about the alt-right knowledgeably without recognizing their racism.

One can’t talk about the alt-right knowledgeably without recognizing their racism.

And yet that is exactly what some conservatives seem intent on doing. For example, my friend Hugh Hewitt, the influential talk-radio host, has been arguing that there is a “narrow” alt-right made up of a “execrable anti-Semitic, white supremacist fringe” but also a “broad alt-right” made up of frustrated tea partiers and others who are simply hostile to the GOP establishment and any form of immigration reform that falls short of mass deportation.

This isn’t just wrong, it’s madness. The alt-righters are a politically insignificant band. Why claim that a group dedicated to overthrowing conservatism for a white-nationalist fantasy is in fact a member of the conservative coalition? Why muddy a distinction the alt-righters are eager to keep clear?

RELATED: The Racist Moral Rot at the Heart of the Alt-Right

In the 1960s, the fledgling conservative movement was faced with a similar dilemma. The John Birch Society was a paranoid outfit dedicated to the theory that the U.S. government was controlled by communists. It said even Dwight Eisenhower was a Red (to which the conservative political theorist Russell Kirk replied, “Ike’s not a Communist, he’s a golfer”).

William F. Buckley recognized that the Birchers were being used by the liberal media to “anathematize the entire American right wing.” At first, his magazine, National Review (where I often hang my hat), tried to argue that the problem was just a narrow “lunatic fringe” of Birchers, and not the rank and file. But very quickly, the editors recognized that the broader movement needed to be denounced and defenestrated.

Buckley grasped something Hewitt and countless lesser pro-Trump pundits do not: Some lines must not be blurred, but illuminated for all to see. Amazingly, Clinton is doing that when actual conservatives have not.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Did Flynn Lie?

At the outset, let’s get two things straight: First, there is something deeply disturbing about the Obama administration’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation on retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn while he was working on the Trump campaign — and, ultimately, about the Justice ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Where Is the Flynn 302?

Better late than never (I hope), my weekend column has posted on the website. It deals with the question whether General Michael Flynn actually lied to the FBI agents — including the now infamous Peter Strzok — when they interviewed him in the White House on his third day on the job as national security ... Read More
U.S.

G-File Mailbag: The Results of a Bad Idea

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Including those of you just standing there eating Zarg nuts), I had a bad idea. It wasn’t a terrible idea, like asking a meth addict ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Collusion Scenario

It has become an article of faith in some quarters on the right -- well, most -- that the Mueller investigation has found no evidence of collusion with Russia and has accordingly shifted gears to process crimes like lying to the FBI or obstruction of justice. Having decided that this must be true, many have ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Who’s in Charge Here?

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was asked on many occasions whether he would “accept the results” of the election if he were to lose. Democrats and their media allies demanded that he make a solemn vow to “accept the results.” It was never entirely clear what anybody thought ... Read More