The Alt-Right’s Meltdown Is Just Like Any Other Message Board Drama
While the alt-right movement may be new, its current drama is as old as the internet itself.
Things have gotten bumpy for the alt-right online movement since the election. It’s facing an identity crisis (what does it mean to be the “alt” if you’re getting what you want?) and grappling with certain fundamental questions like “Are we OK with Nazis?” (Even if its very name was coined by, well, Nazis.) The handful of leaders who emerged over the last year or two are at odds with each other over those and other questions, forcing helpless anime-avatared Twitter trolls caught in the middle to choose sides.
The kerfuffle surrounds the DeploraBall, a black-tie-optional party in DC the night before the inauguration. There has been nasty and public fighting among the organizers. Stick with me here: Mike Cernovich, a lawyer who became an alt-right leader after taking up the GamerGate mantle, feuded with a fellow leader (and former BuzzFeed employee) who goes by “Baked Alaska” and announced that Baked Alaska had been removed from headlining the event because he had said anti-Semitic things on Twitter. Another leader, Bill Mitchell, announced he was no longer part of the alt-right after they started using the racist hashtag #WhiteGenocide. And just recently, Baked Alaska accused (and sources confirmed to BuzzFeed News) one of the DeploraBall organizers of planting a “rape Melania” sign at an anti-Trump protest in an attempt to make protesters look depraved. In the latest surreal twist, a popular alt-right podcaster and founder of the website The Right Stuff was revealed to have a Jewish wife, which sent his fans into a tailspin.
At first, this disarray might seem surprising. After all, the alt-right claims to be an unprecedented political phenomenon that memed a president into office. But if you want to understand what’s happening there, it’s helpful to think about it as an internet-first creature. While it’s possible — and necessary — to view it through the lens of political or social thought that it echoes, the other way of making sense of it is to look at it as a digital community, regardless of its politics. And if you view it as an online community rather than a political movement, its trajectory starts to look very, very familiar.