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Stasis & Context Notes: Alt-Right Conservatism

First Year Writing Faculty Meeting
Autumn Quarter, 2016

[Scroll down to the bottom for some post-election updates and sources]

“Politics is downstream from culture” — Andrew Breitbart

“Any understanding of public discourse as a product of a particular cultural climate must take into account the ways that ideology shapes and structures nearly every aspect of what, where, and how public discourse occurs as well as who gets to speak in public settings” — Christian Weisser, Moving Beyond Academic Discourse: Composition Studies and the Public Sphere

“If you spend 75 years building a pseudo-religion around anything – an ethnic group, a plaster saint, sexual chastity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster – don’t be surprised when clever 19-year-olds discover that insulting it is now the funniest fucking thing in the world. Because it is.” –Curtis Yarvin, quoted in An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.

A few sources on Alt-Right, within which there are currently a couple of different strains:

“Cultural libertarian”/pop-culture conservatism: meme- and troll-focused — alt-right conservatism as the new punk:

  • Anti-establishment
  • Anti-progressive
  • Anti-moderate
  • Anti-immigrant
  • Anti-social justice
  • Anti- black and feminist identity politics
  • Anti-multiculturalism
  • Anti-globalists (“internationalists”), globalization, free trade
  • Anti-LGBTQIA
  • Anti-many-accepted-social norms
  • For shorthand, the Milo Yiannopoulos wing of Alt-Right.

Members of this movement active at DePaul are predominantly young white males who feel anger and grievance against enforced “political correctness.” Economic, language, political, and cultural issues have affected this group immensely and intensely, and they are not necessarily accustomed to people — especially older people, especially teachers — listening to them and taking their concerns seriously. There is one protest presidential candidate who does appeal to their interests, and whose election seems inevitable, however, which is why they are fond of calling him “Daddy.”

For teachers of writing and rhetoric, some of our traditional materials and methods can serve us well when working with Alt-right discourses and media: stasis theory & practice, for example, can help a class define and focus on what the real, actual, genuine, meaningful issues are; critical thinking can help us and students identify our own biases, assumptions, ideologies, and lenses that shape and influence the way we perceive the world; Buberian I-Thou mutuality can serve as a respectful, inclusive, and civil framework for classroom discussions and interactions.

In other instances — ad hominem as a logical fallacy, for example — members of the Alt-right have elevated the ad
attack to an art form, and it is a highly valued skill in that discourse community. The combination of humor + provocation is a consistent theme and rhetorical device in Alt-right communications.

Many Alt-right members feel that higher-education faculty are “cultural marxists” who engage in progressive and liberal indoctrination.

Another version is more explicitly white-supremacy focused and anti-semitic:

“The end of Pat Buchanan’s publicity remission and his metastasis to mainstream news outlets represents a return to power of the old paleoconservative movement, with all of its attendant anti-Semitism. The old-school Buchananites are joined by alt-right blonde-coiffed intellectual skinheads like Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, who grin at anti-Semitism because they see it as a rejection of political correctness rather than an evil to be fought. And both of those groups have been joined by the outright anti-Semites, including David Duke, who couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise.”

— Shapiro, Trump’s Anti-Semitic Supporters



“’If you spend 75 years building a pseudo-religion around anything — an ethnic group, a plaster saint, sexual chastity or the Flying Spaghetti Monster — don’t be surprised when clever 19-year-olds discover that insulting it is now the funniest fucking thing in the world. Because it is.’”

“These young rebels, a subset of the alt-right, aren’t drawn to it because of an intellectual awakening, or because they’re instinctively conservative. Ironically, they’re drawn to the alt-right for the same reason that young Baby Boomers were drawn to the New Left in the 1960s: because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms they just don’t understand.”

An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right (Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos)

At least in part, it comes down to the way that this anger can be showcased. “We are past being a literate culture and are now a visual culture,” said @Ricky_Vaughn99. “Obama understood this, and so does Trump.”

Understanding Trump’s Troll Army (Oliver Lee)

Its own propagandists often say they are joking. The right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, of Breitbart, himself a leading fellow-traveller, claimed that some “young rebels” are drawn to the alt-right not for deeply political reasons but “because it promises fun, transgression, and a challenge to social norms.” The alt-right exists mostly online, and so it is shrouded in pseudonyms.

Is the Alt-Right for Real? (New Yorker, Benjamin Wallace-Wells)

THE first tweet arrived as cryptic code, a signal to the army of the “alt-right” that I barely knew existed: “Hello ((Weisman)).” @CyberTrump was responding to my recent tweet of an essay by Robert Kagan on the emergence of fascism in the United States.

“Care to explain?” I answered, intuiting that my last name in brackets denoted my Jewish faith.

“What, ho, the vaunted Ashkenazi intelligence, hahaha!” CyberTrump came back. “It’s a dog whistle, fool. Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.” With the cat belled, the horde was unleashed.

The Nazi Tweets of ‘Trump God Emperor’ (Weisman, New York Times)

4chan Isn’t Sure Whether It’s Excited the Times Wrote Up Its Anti-Semitism (NYMag)

(((The Jewish Cowbell))): Unpacking a Gross New Meme From the Alt-Right

“Free speech activist” is a curiously prevalent appellation on the medium of Twitter for members of the “alt-right,” short for “alternative right,” a populist movement that has been emboldened and bolstered by the fortunes of the Trump campaign. Existing largely on the Internet, which makes the size of its following difficult to gauge, the alt-right is proudly ethno-nationalist, protectionist, isolationist, and culturally traditionalist. It takes intellectual guidance from publications and websites like American Renaissance, Radix Journal, Occidental Observer, Taki’s Magazine, and, increasingly, the popular news website Breitbart.com.

Trump’s Terrifying Online Brigades: The “alt-Right,” the “neo-reactionaries,” and the politics of grievance (Kirchick, Commentary)

The Racist Moral Rot at the Heart of the Alt-Right — Tuttle, National Review

Why People Love Trump: A Case Study of Milo Yiannopoulos — Wasil, Harvard Political Review

— TROLLS FOR TRUMP: Meet Mike Cernovich, the meme mastermind of the alt-right. “Look, I read postmodernist theory in college. If everything is a narrative, then we need alternatives to the dominant narrative.” He smiled. “I don’t seem like a guy who reads Lacan, do I?” Andrew Marantz, New Yorker, 10/31/16




First Day of Class Strategies: promoting a civil environment of inclusion & respect for all contributions

My own approach to classroom management depends on rhetorical listening and identification —  classroom practices that resist student resistance to conflict-ridden classroom discourse about race, gender, and politics, and encourage students to share their stories and learn from each other — that align well with Vincentian values and rhetorical methods:

  • Start off classes with introductions that include preferred pronouns. Names are often gendered and introductions allow trans or non-binary students to express their gender in an inclusive environment. For example, “My name is Michael; my preferred pronouns are he, him, his”
  • You can invite students to collaborate on formulating class ground-rules on the first day. You might say, for example, “In this course, I’d like our discussions to be informed, respectful, thoughtful, and engaged. What are the ground-rules we should follow to make this happen?”
  • Invite students to collaborate on class values and ground rules:
    • What are our ground rules for discussing challenging or controversial topics?
    • What kinds of listening skills — active, empathetic, critical, generous — do we want to practice?
    • What are our strategies for demonstrating respect for each other?
    • What values and norms do we associate with dominant cultural groups?
    • What role will Vincentian human dignity play?
  • In small groups, have students think about past learning environments. Which learning environments were productive? What were the characteristics of that environment? Which learning environments were not productive? What were the characteristics of that environment?

For a student-centered approach, campus groups that you can invite to speak with your class on current issues, what their organizations do, and how to join and participate:


New York Times Readers

The Alt-Right movement is still new enough that the NYT has addressed it or invoked it only a handful of times, the Weisman piece, above, being the most prominent:

“With his us vs. them invective and his refusal to denounce hate-filled speech from some of his supporters, Mr. Trump is an echo chamber for certain corners of the far right, as evinced by his popularity with white nationalists and the so-called alt-right movement of mostly online activists.”

— Breitbart Rises From Outlier to Potent Voice in Campaign. 8/26/2016

Breitbart News has arrived.

The opinion and news site, once a curiosity of the fringe right wing, is now an increasingly powerful voice, and virtual rallying spot, for millions of disaffected conservatives who propelled Donald J. Trump to the Republican nomination for president.

Known for gleefully bashing the old Republican establishment, Breitbart now finds itself at the center of the party’s presidential campaign. Its longtime chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, was named campaign chief by Mr. Trump, whose nationalist, conspiracy-minded message routinely mirrors the Breitbart worldview.

Donald Trump’s Unstoppable Virality 12/29/15

“You’ve gained lots of fans on the left thanks to your vicious descriptions of Trump and his supporters. Once, on MSNBC, you called his base ‘‘childless single men who masturbate to anime.’’ That was in reference to the alt-right part of his base. I wish I could take credit for it being a broader smear. If one is going to insult a group of people who think that Trump is their own private postmodern Hitler, one ought to be specific.”

— Rick Wilson Would Take Clinton Over Trump 3/24/16

“This election has cast light on the darkness of pent-up nativism and bigotry all over the country. There are not-so-coded messages denouncing African-Americans and immigrants; concern about racial justice and national unity is ridiculed as “political correctness.” Religious minorities are scapegoated for the sins of others, with basic religious freedoms for them called into question. Many of those who have criticized Mr. Trump’s vision for America have faced threats and intimidation from the “alt-right” of white supremacists and nativists who hide behind avatars on social media.”

— A White Church No More 5/6/2016

— “‘We actually elected a meme as president'” — Chicago Trib, 11/12/16

“Breitbart, Reveling in Trump’s Election, Gains a Voice in His White House.”  November 16, 2016

“A Newly Vibrant Washington Fears That Trump Will Drain Its Culture”


Every classroom

“Every classroom is an act of making citizens in the realm of that room, and every room is a figure for the larger community.”— A. Bartlett Giamatti, “To Make Oneself Eternal,” from A Free and Ordered Space.