I wrote this article for Prospect Magazine, where it was first published in August 2016 here.
Two weeks ago, Milo Yiannopoulos’s twitter account, @Nero, was formally and permanently banned from Twitter. He had been accused of instigating racist attacks on social media towards the Ghostbusters cast.
Milo, who describes himself as “the most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” is a far-right writer and editor of the US conservative news site Breitbart. He is one of the better-known faces of the “Alt-Right” or “Alternative Right” movement, an eclectic mix of (mostly online) right-wing presences estranged from mainstream American conservatism which they find “too liberal.” Their ideologies are hard to figure out, as they seem more interested in what they oppose (liberalism, democracy, human rights, feminism) than what they support. They are most famous for their aggressive internet trolling (often racist, sexist, and homophobic) and their support of Donald Trump, whom Milo calls “Daddy” and labels as “the first truly cultural candidate for President since Buchanan.”
In an article by Milo on Breitbart, he sorts alt-right members into four groups: intellectuals, natural conservatives, the meme team, and the “1488rs.” The first category, Milo says, are drawn to the alt right by an “intellectual awakening”, the second by “inherent conservatism and protection of the tribe.” Only the latter two groups, he argues, are abusive. Even so, he still says the meme team only post their hateful memes and comments because they are young, rebellious millennials who love the “reaction” and there is “little real hatred present.”
He does admit, however, that the final 1488rs are real racists and bigots as “anything associated as closely with racism and bigotry as the alternative right will inevitably attract real racists and bigots.” The name of the group is a reference to two well-known Neo Nazi slogans, the first being the so-called 14 Words: “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children.” The second part is a reference to the 8th letter of the alphabet—H. Thus, “88” becomes “HH,” which becomes “Heil Hitler.”
The last two groups of alt-right members however are most prominent on social media, and receive the most coverage. The ban of Milo’s twitter has done nothing to stop his increasing popularity—he has since been interviewed by CNN, CNBC, The HollywoodReporter, Business Insider, Vice, and more. Yet it isn’t his politics that attract the media. Like their beloved “Daddy,” the alt-right’s ideas are confused and contradictory. Many of its members are homophobic, believing gay rights have “made us dumber,” yet Milo is a homosexual. They recoil in horror at “race-mixing,” yet invite mixed-race Jewish homosexuals to their parties.
So why is this movement of incoherent ideologies and aggression attracting so much attention? Milo’s twitter, before its suspension, had over 338,000 followers. Yet if you asked them for an explanation of the alt right’s core beliefs, you would probably get 338,000 different and contradictory answers. The appeal seems to lie purely in the anger, and the exhibtionism of it all.
At the gay neo-fascist rally at the Republican convention, when Milo learned of his twitter ban, he responded, “It’s fantastic. The perfect timing.” From his internet presence, to his widely acknowledged charm in person, Milo’s entire persona is a carefully executed performance.
The worrying thing is the number of people who take it seriously. As good at manipulating the public and his fans as the Kardashian clan, Milo and the alt-right’s popularity is far more dangerous because of what they do with it. They have identified the common desire in a politically correct world to be rude, angry, and unaccepting about something. Anything.
Milo himself has argued that he became a homosexual to rebel against his cotton-wool conservative upbringing. But today, homosexuality and transgenderism are more socially accepted than they once were. We live in a more open-minded, liberal society than we once did. The rebellious lefties have become the middle right. So the cycle of rebellion begins again and the alt-right rebels against social norms by espousing a bigoted, old-school conservative world view.
It is easy just to label them a bunch of show-off bigots, but their following is real and in the millions. Many educated, progressive thinkers in Britain never thought that Brexit could happen. Many of the same demographic in the US will dismiss Trump, the alt-right, and Milo as madmen throwing their toys out the pram, inspired by a childish desire for a reaction. Yet this anger is being turned into political power by their followers, who are much more dangerous than a bunch of internet trolls.