What is the alt-right? And how is it using social media to spread its message?

What is the alt-right? And how is it using social media to spread its message?

With chants of "Jews will not replace us," and "White lives matter," last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, set off a national firestorm about the rise of the alternative right.

What is the philosophy of the 'alt-right?' USA TODAY breaks it down:

What is the alt-right?

Content Continues Below

The alt-right is a collection of far-right groups and individuals dedicated to "white ethnonationalism" in Western civilization, or the preservation of a white populous in Western countries. They view the presence of people of color, immigrants and religious minorities as a threat to their "white identity."

Because of it's fragmented nature, the SPLC does not technically consider the alt-right a hate group. However, the SPLC considers smaller organizations like AltRight Corporation in Alexandria, Virginia and Alternative Right in Atlanta hate groups.

Richard Spencer, one of the prominent leaders of the movement and president of the National Policy Institute, described the alt-right as "historically necessary," due to changing demographics in the United States.

"The Alt-Right emerges from the experience of White dispossession, that is, demographic displacement and demoralization—the idea that it’s *not* okay to be white," Spencer said in a text message to USA TODAY.

The group, made up of predominately young, college-educated men, also calls for the preservation of "white civil rights," or the freedom to protest the presence of immigrants and other minority groups in the United States.

"It does not differ (from other white nationalist groups) in the substance of its ideology. I would classify the alt-right as nothing more than a re-branding of traditional white nationalism," Keegan Hankes said, a research analyst for the SPLC.

How is the alt-right different from other white nationalist groups?

The alt-right does break from past white nationalist groups by using social media to attract members, according to Hankes. In 2008, Spencer coined the term after it began organizing on sites like Reddit, 4Chan and Twitter.

The alt-right's membership expanded widely in 2015 and 2016, spurred on by the U.S. and Europe's acceptance of Syrian refugees and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the SPLC. Since then, thousands of Twitter and other social media users have claimed to support alt-right values.

"They started using the same social media people use in their everyday life," Hankes said.

The alt-right rejects the "conservative establishment" in Washington, embracing libertarian values on trade and government regulation. Spencer said the alt-right also breaks with other nationalist ideologies because they seek to revolutionize "existing political culture."

"We are much closer to an insurgent movement," Spencer said. "The culture and political structure are not ours; indeed, we are viewed as aliens, as dangers by those in power."

Spencer added that the alt-right has struggled since the 2017 Unite the Right rally. He cited "recriminations" by Charlottesville city officials, including the October 2017 lawsuit to prevent over a dozen organizations and individuals from organizing further "paramilitary activity" in Virginia.

"(A)t the moment, we’re licking our wounds, recovering, or at best, building a new foundation for the future," Spencer said. "Charlottesville was used by the existing power structure to oppress us; it was an attempt to ensure that nothing like that happens again."

Who are the alt-right's leaders? 

The movement only has a few public leaders. Spencer has toured around the country speaking against diversity at conventions and on college campuses.

At a conference in 2016, Spencer addressed a conference of white nationalists held by the National Policy Institute, a think tank. He was recorded on video saying "Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!" as supporters were shown giving a Nazi salute by raising their hands.

Jason Kessler has also been a leader in the alt-right movement. In addition to organizing the Unite the Right rally, he has been active on Twitter and on his website since 2015, where he describes the ideals of the alt-right as "protecting the west."

Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos have also both been associated with the movement as senior editor and executive chairman of Breitbart News, a far-right organization.