It’s easy to laugh at this weekend’s Unite the Right rally. It was pathetic. Media outnumbered white supremacists, and counterprotesters outnumbered the media. If that’s the alt-right in 2018, then public white supremacy in the United States is reverting back to its pre-2015 norm — when you could always find a couple dozen neo-Nazis to march somewhere, but you’d rarely see the kind of numbers we watched in Charlottesville. But as the alt-right fades (for now), let’s not forget its legacy. And let’s not turn our heads from its malignant influence. Consider what happened between 2015 and yesterday’s pitiful march.
Online troll armies launched truly unprecedented campaigns of harassment and intimidation against Donald Trump’s critics, with particular focus on conservative critics like Ben Shapiro, my colleague Jonah Goldberg, Erick Erickson, and others (including my family).
Breitbart, one of the most-trafficked sites in conservatism, became — according to Steve Bannon — the “platform for the alt-right.”
Bannon was for a time one of President Trump’s closest advisers.
Speaking of Trump, he retweeted alt-right accounts and alt-right memes and claimed (after an alt-right terror attack) that there were “very fine people” marching with the alt-right at Charlottesville.
The Virginia GOP nominated Corey Stewart for the United States Senate, and Stewart has a history of disturbing ties to alt-right figures — including calling the vile alt-right anti-Semite Paul Nehlen one of his “personal heroes.”
In some ways the influence of the alt-right has been more subtle. It has created room for more race-baiting on the right, including even in personal conversations and personal relationships. Since 2015, I’ve read and heard more racist comments (including directed at my youngest daughter) than I’d read or heard in my entire life. I’ve heard with my own ears a substantial uptick in casual racism in personal conversations, including when talking to people who know my family is multiracial. Our public and private conversations have been measurably degraded.
So, yes, I’m glad to see that the alt-right can’t even muster 50 supporters to its biggest rally of the year. I’m glad that the tide of trolls seems to be receding online. And, no, I will not ignore violence on the left (stay tuned, that’s the topic of an essay coming tomorrow). But I know the alt-right did significant damage to American politics and American discourse. The alt-right is fading, but its darkness lingers.