A fresh look at the ‘alternative right’

Matthew N. Lyons is author of INSURGENT SUPREMACISTS: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire and principal author of CRTL-ALT-DELETE: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right.

His two books give me a framework for understanding the “alternative right” movement.  What makes the movement “alternative”, according to Lyons, is that, unlike right-wing movements of the past, its leaders are revolutionaries.

The right-wing extremists of the past, such as the Klan, used extreme and sometimes violent movements to suppress threats to the status quo, such as labor unions or black people who wanted voting rights.  The alternative right is not a defender of the existing system.  They want to repeal and replace it.

While they are small in numbers, the nomination and election of Donald Trump is an indication that many people are fed up with the existing governmental and corporate system, including the leadership of both political parties.

The “alternative right” movement is diverse.  It is not led by any particular individual or organization, and there are exceptions to almost any general statement one could make about it.  Lyons sees three main strains:

  • White nationalists.   Nowadays they tend more to white separatism than to old-time white supremacy.  They are anti-semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim as well as anti-black.  They include long-time racist organizations such as the Klan, neo-Nazis and Aryan Nations, but the highest-profile leader is Richard Spencer, founder of the National Policy Institute.
  • Theocrats.  Their aim is to enact their idea of Christian doctrine and morality into law.  They oppose feminism, abortion, gay rights and separation of religion and government.  One of the driving forces is the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which advocates a theocracy based on Old Testament law in order to hasten the Second Coming of Christ.
  • The ‘Patriot’ movement.  Their aim is to arm themselves to prepare for a breakdown in social  order or a totalitarian government takeover.  They believe they have a right to resist illegitimate federal authority with armed force, but also to enforce order when the authorities fail to do so.  Examples are the Posse Comitatus and Oath Keepers movements.

One common theme uniting all the groups is an ideal of masculinity and warrior brotherhood.  Woman are honored mainly for their role as wives and mothers, although women do exercise leadership roles in some alt-right organizations.

White people and Christians are declining as a percentage of the population, so white nationalists and Christian theocrats think it’s important for whites and Christians to reproduce.

Lyons thinks the alt-right, the radical left and the corporate and governmental elite are engaged in a three-way fight that only one of them can win.

There is overlap between the alt-right and the radical left.  Both oppose globalization, both regard the corporate elite as enemies and both think the Republican and Democratic parties are corrupt, all of which I agree with.

The alt-right, like the radical left, is anti-imperialist.  Alt-rightists oppose military intervention in foreign wars, and want to wind down the existing wars, as do I.  Many admire Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian foreign leaders as examples of masculine strength and conservative nationalist values.

Lyons argued that the alt-right is not fascist.  Rather than trying to set up a totalitarian police state modeled in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, they seek to decentralize power.

In the United States, right-wing whites and Christians have never needed a central authority to enforce racial or religious domination.  In fact, the federal government has sometimes been a liberator, as during the Civil War and the civil rights era.

I would go further than that.  If you look for signs of a coming police state – assassinations, torture, undeclared wars, warrantless detention, universal surveillance – you will find them in administrations of so-called mainstream liberals and conservatives.

White nationalist terrorism and anti-abortion terrorism are serious threats, as much or maybe more than Islamic terrorism, environmental terrorism and so-called black identity terrorism.

But George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have more blood on their hands, through the wars they have started, than any kind of 21st century terrorist.

The alt-right welcomed the election of Donald Trump because he demonized all of the kinds of people they are against—liberals, immigrants, Muslims, feminists and black protesters.   They thought he opened up space for them by breaking taboos about what you could say about race and gender.

But few of them trust him, respect him or think that he is one of them.

What separates the alt-right from the radical left?

The radical left is utopian.  They want to create a new, utopian society. The alt-right is a backlash.  They want to take back things that they have lost, or think they have lost.

The radical left are levelers.  They want a society of equals.  The alt-right believe in hierarchy and discipline.  They just think the wrong people are in charge.

The radical left define their enemies as the corporate and governmental elite.  They see themselves on the bottom, fighting an elite above.  The alt-right see themselves in the middle, squeezed by both an elite above and a rabble below.

The revolutionary right and left are tiny fringe groups, but there are many who share their views in milder form, and their numbers could grow if there is another financial collapse or major losing war.

I have more sympathy for the aims of the left than of the right, but I am not ready to abandon the democratic process and the rule of law.   A turn to revolutionary violence would help the alt-right because the alt-right is more violent, better armed and has more sympathizers in the police and military.

Afterthought [7/30/2019]  The weapon of choice for the radical left should be mass nonviolent action.


threewayfight: An Insurgent Blog on the Struggle Against the State and Fascism.

Insurgent Supremacists: An interview with Matthew N. Lyons on Antifascism, Anti-imperialism and the Future of Organizing for It’s Going Down.

Fascism Today Conversation Part 1: Interview of author Shane Burley by Matthew N. Lyons.

Fascism Today Conversation Part 2: Interview of Matthew N. Lyons by author Shane Burley.

To Spite the Face: a review of Insurgent Supremacists by Matthew N. Lyons by rhyd wildermuth for Gods & Radicals.

The Alt-Creeps: a review of Against the Fascist Creek and Ctrl-Alt-Delete by rowan for threewayfight.

Right-Wing Terrorism

Homegrown Terrorists in 2018 Were Almost All Right-Wing by Adam Serwer for The Atlantic.

Cesar Sayoc Wasn’t First: a List of Trump-Inspired Attackers by Mehdi Hasan for The Intercept.


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One Response to “A fresh look at the ‘alternative right’”

  1. whungerford Says:

    ” They want to repeal and replace it.” Replace it with what?


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