October 4, 2017

HNH explains… should we even call it the alt-right?

By Joe Mulhall, Senior Researcher

One of the questions we get asked more than any other is whether we think the term ‘alt-right’ should be used at all. This was especially the case in the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville.

This is a question we thought about long and hard as there is a real danger that traditional far-right groups and individuals have sought to sanitize their image by adopting the moniker ‘alt-right’ instead of being called a Nazi or white supremacist.

However, like the lively historiographical debates around the use of the term fascism that date back decades, it is best to ensure the accurate use of the term, rather than discard it all together.

While a very broad term, the alt-right does exist and though there are large areas of cross over with traditional far-right movements it does have differences, especially around its culture and means of operation.

At HOPE not hate we define the ‘Alternative Right’ (which encompasses both the white nationalist alt-right and Western chauvinist alt-light) as an international set of groups and individuals, organized primarily online though with offline outlets, whose core belief is that ‘white identity’ is under attack from pro-multicultural and liberal elites and so-called ‘social justice warrior’s’ (SJW) who use ‘political correctness’ to undermine Western civilization and the rights of white males.

Put simply the Alternative Right is a far-right, anti-globalist grouping that offers a radical ‘alternative’ to traditional/establishment conservatism.

It is best understood as a conglomeration of a number of pre-existing social and far-right movements and political trends that together, when combined with a specific form of hostile online antagonistic behavior make up what has come to be known as the alt-right.

Defining Features

One of the defining features of the alt-right is that it is a genuinely transnational far-right movement. Activists in different countries can work together, share news, resources and funds, become aware of, be angered or inspired by the same world events or stories in real time.

Someone can be sat in a bedroom anywhere in the world and publish antisemitic, sexist, racist or homophobic content directed towards people on the other side of the world. In addition, activists from around the world can mobilize together around a single issue or election in a single country.

Another distinctive aspect of the alt-right is that most activists operate independently of any formal organization and most engage in activism anonymously and online. Whether it is anonymous image boards like 4Chan, uncountable numbers of anonymous Twitter profiles or endless closed Facebook groups full of false accounts, the vast majority of Alternative Right activists are completely unknown.

So in short, while it is imperative we don’t allow the term to be used by the far right to soften their own image it is one we need to use. To do otherwise means running the risk of thinking about the alt-right as a traditional far-right movement, which could lead to misguided and inadequate responses.

Of course, if someone is a Nazi, then they should be called a Nazi. If someone is from the KKK then call them a Klansman. But if someone is alt-right, then call them alt-right.

If the concern is that the term is deemed less dangerous or extreme than the others then it is the job of researchers, scholars and campaigners to make people realize that isn’t the case.


For a more extensive exploration of what the alt-right is, read our full report.

If you have questions you think need answering about the alt-right, please get in touch at [email protected]