Is There A Difference Between The Right And The Alt-Right?

Last year, with the help of Breitbart editor Steve Bannon, white supremacists rebranded themselves as the “alt-right” – an attempt to portray themselves as part of the mainstream. In many ways, the effort succeeded, since most of the media now use the term in referring to Nazis, the KKK and other white supremacists. I’ve even found myself using the term.

But despite the name change, they are the same ugly racists as before.

In reality, the only thing that has changed is that they now have the son of KKK parents in the White House who has appointed like-minded people to his cabinet, including a well-known racist who serves as the US Attorney General.

He was put there by a Republican Party that, with the help of Russia, cobbled together just enough electoral votes to allow him to take office. Trump’s supporters could not have been surprised by his racist leanings. After all, he was the de facto leader of the “birther” movement. And he began his campaign with the promise to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. His voters had to know full well that Trump intended to target minorities, such as Latinos, Muslims, African-Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Republican voters also had to know that Trump’s positions were shared by many, if not most, of the Republican congressional and senate candidates. That fact was made clear by their hateful political campaigns and the legislation they supported.

For example, throughout the country, Republicans passed restrictive voter ID laws to suppress minority votes. In minority areas, they shortened early voting periods and reduced the number of polling sites. They used Gerrymandering to reduce the number and power of minorities in Congress and state legislatures. They passed so-called religious freedom laws making it legal for employers to discriminate against non-Christians and others. They blocked increases in the minimum wage that would disproportionately help minorities. And they refused to provide funding to clean up water in Flint, Michigan and on Native American lands.

Since 1986, Republicans in Congress have refused to vote on a comprehensive immigration bill. They refused to protect the Dreamers, forcing President Obama to create DACA via presidential order. Worse, they turned their backs on refugees whose only crime is to attempt to escape violence and poverty in their own countries…conditions that are often the result of US policies.

Just this year, the Trump administration has banned travel from several Muslim nations. It has begun breaking up families and harming employers by deporting undocumented immigrants. It has returned mothers and children to Central America where they are almost certain to become victims of widespread violence. The administration has banned transgender people from serving in the military. It has announced the end of DAPA and DACA. And it has targeted affirmative action programs that help high-achieving minority students gain entrance to universities.

All of this has happened with the support, or acquiescence, of the Republican-controlled Congress. Even when Trump refused to hold white supremacists accountable for the violence in Charlottesville, few Republicans were willing to speak up and denounce their party’s leader.

So tell me: What is the difference between the alt-right and the right? What is the difference between rank-and-file Republicans and white supremacists?

Looking at their actions, it seems clear that they all support racist policies. The only real difference is that one group waves Nazi and Confederate flags while the others hide behind their desks or their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Our Racist-In-Chief.

Unfortunately, the hatred and bigotry that claimed the national spotlight on Saturday was highly revealing.

President Trump’s tepid condemnation and initial refusal to call out the hateful groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville called attention to the White House’s deep ties to the “alt-right.” Indeed, Trump has a long history of racism. His parents were members of the KKK. His father taught him the importance of breeding, likening humans to race horses. Early in his business career, Trump Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to non-whites in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Later, he ran a full-page ad that many saw as racist. In it, he called for the return of the death penalty for five non-whites accused of raping a woman who was jogging in Central Park. (The men were later cleared of the charges.) And, of course, he was the most prominent leader of the racist “birther” movement, calling Obama an illegitimate president.

Trump began his campaign for president by making racist claims about Mexicans and promising to build a border wall that would be paid for by Mexico. For a campaign slogan, he chose Make America Great Again, which in itself was a clarion call to racists. And the racists responded. The KKK endorsed Trump for president. Numerous other racist groups, such as Vanguard America, were formed as a result of Trump’s campaign. (The alleged driver of the car which killed one and injured at least 19 others in Charlottesville was photographed wearing a Vanguard America uniform and holding a Vanguard America shield.)

An examination of Trump’s voters is more telling. 62 percent of non-college educated white women voted for Trump. 56 percent of college-educated white women voted for Trump. And 63 percent of white men voted for the Donald. As a result, for the first time in generations, we have a white supremacist in the White House. And Trump is not the only one.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is largely responsible for making Breitbart News “the platform for the alt-right” – a virtual megaphone for bigots and neo-Nazis. The White House is also the workplace for at least two other racists. Steven Miller is Trump’s senior adviser for policy and Sebastian Gorka serves as a deputy assistant to Trump. Not coincidentally, both have gone on record denying the threat of domestic terrorist groups.

Want more proof of Trump’s connections to the alt-right?

He appointed Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, who in 1986 was denied a federal judgeship when his former colleagues testified that Sessions used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought its members were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”

In almost every conceivable way, not the least of which is color, Trump is the polar opposite of his predecessor. He is clueless and classless with no discernible redeeming traits. Indeed, he is the anti-Obama. Obama entered office saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.” President Obama reached across the political divide to appoint 18 Republicans to his administration. He repeatedly called for unity. By contrast, Trump has done nothing to reach across the divide. In fact, he has deepened the chasm and widened it. He verbally attacks anyone who disagrees with him. And his furor isn’t limited to Democrats and liberals. He has repeatedly assaulted the media and virtually everything his opponents hold dear. He has continued his assault on immigrants, on the environment, on regulations designed to protect citizens, on health care…he has even attacked the law and the Constitution.

Yet Trump has been reluctant to say anything negative about Nazis and racists.

Only when he was backed into a corner did he tepidly denounce the support for his campaign by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK. And only when there was a near universal outcry following the violence in Charlottesville did he finally, and hesitantly, call out the alt-right groups that fomented the violence. Even the Nazis and white supremacists didn’t believe he was sincere in his denunciation. Indeed, David Duke was quoted as saying, “He has our back.”

By failing to wholeheartedly condemn Nazis and racists, there is reason to wonder if Trump is trying to give the alt-right what it wants – a race war. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize that increased violence would give Trump the opportunity to do what the dictators he seems to idolize (Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, et al) have done and declare martial law.

Yet, as Trump has willingly become a symbol of racism in America, a bigger problem is the racists next door who enable him. They are your neighbors and your family members. They are students, laborers, truck drivers, farmers, realtors, lawyers, business executives, police officers, sheriffs, border patrol and many others. Their racism is seldom obvious. They don’t bother to wear sheets and hoods. They rarely gather to burn crosses.

Instead, they gather on websites like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Fox News, and the Daily Stormer. They listen to hate-filled radio programs hosted by Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and dozens of others. Like the man in the White House, they choose to bully and threaten from afar. They troll social media like Facebook and Twitter.

More worryingly, they hoard high-powered weaponry and ammunition. Many are members of the NRA. Many belong to militias such as the Oath Keepers and the Border Guard. Others are sovereign citizens who refuse to follow laws or to pay taxes. And they have been placed on alert by Trump with his warnings that his “enemies” are trying to steal his office.

It is the people who support Trump despite his overt bigotry, his birtherism and his dismissal of all Latinos as rapists and “bad hombres” who allow the alt-right to exist. It is the people who cheer Trump’s bluster and verbal attacks against the media and his political opponents who are responsible for the extreme divisiveness we face. It is the people who politely laugh when they hear racist jokes; who are willing to look the other way when they see examples of bigotry who are just as responsible for racial violence.

If we are ever to heal the divisions – racial and political – in this nation, we must be willing to call out violence and bigotry whenever we see it or hear it. We must put humanity, compassion and kindness above self. We must elect politicians who will put an end to policies that have resulted in economic inequities based on color, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We must encourage everyone to vote and remove from office those who try to suppress minority votes. We must put nation above tribal politics. And we must call out all those who refuse to do so.

Beware The Politics Of Self-Righteous Zealotry.

For many years, we’ve heard network pundits talk about a “war on Christianity” and call for the US to officially become a Christian nation. Such talk would have made our Founding Fathers cringe. After all, many of them had settled in the US, like some of my ancestors did, as the result of religious persecution in Europe. Our earliest European settlers were Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews and others who had fled their homes in search of religious freedom.

Yet, some of the original colonies themselves began imposing their religious views on others, claiming that a particular denomination was the official religion of the colony and taxing all citizens to support that denomination. It was as a result of such discrimination that those who wrote the US Constitution included the wording that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Nevertheless, preying on our citizens’ fear of radical Islamic terrorism, many of our political candidates continue to call for the US to be named a Christian nation. One wants to prohibit certain immigrants based on their religion. Others want to “return our nation to its Christian values.”

That may be good politics. But it is dangerous policy. After all, almost every atrocity in the world has been committed in the name of righteousness – crimes committed as the result of zealotry for an ideology based on the ends justifying the means.

Such atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, Islam, Judaism…even Buddhism. But the problem doesn’t just lie with religion. Out of the same kind of self-righteous zealotry, they have also been committed in the name of communism, fascism and capitalism. Almost always, such crimes are not considered crimes by those committing them – the true believers believe that they are doing the right thing for their religion, their nation or their children. Such was the case when the Bush administration zealously decided to impose democracy in Iraq resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) Iraqis.

There have been examples of other destructive examples of self-righteous zealotry in the US. The KKK murdered blacks under the cross of Christianity. Senator Joe McCarthy accused, investigated, blacklisted and imprisoned many who failed to demonstrate that they were not communists or communist sympathizers (it’s always difficult to prove a negative). The same mentality led to the John Birch Society which believed both the Soviet Union and the US were led by a cabal of internationalists, bankers and corrupt politicians. Its leader even accused President Eisenhower of being a communist. The same rightwing conservatives wrapped themselves in the cloak of Christianity to draw greater distinctions between righteous Americans and the godless communists. To distinguish themselves from communism, they pushed through legislation replacing the original national motto “E Pluribus Unum” – from many one – with “In God We Trust.” They added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. And congressional members of The Fellowship, aka The Family, instituted the National Prayer Breakfast at the capitol, a quasi-governmental Christian event that has been held every year since 1953.

Much of the conservative-based zealotry was driven underground after Edward R. Murrow focused attention on the abuses of McCarthyism and after William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater shunned the John Birch Society. But the ideology never went away. As a result, we are now seeing conservatives again using religion to divide. The movement again raised its ugly head with the “Moral Majority” of the 70s and 80s. About the same time, the GOP’s “southern strategy” reached out to racist southern Democrats who were outraged by the Civil Rights Act. GOP politicians also latched onto the issues of abortion and the so-called “sanctity of marriage” to embolden the “righteous” and further divide us. And they claim that any attempt to prevent the establishment of Christianity as the official state religion – the placement of Christian symbols and the institution of mandatory Christian prayers in public schools and government meetings – is a “war on Christianity.” You can hear such accusations at any GOP presidential debate, at most GOP rallies and on GOP media such as Fox News Channel.

Now you may wonder, what harm could come from institutionalizing Christian values in our government? The answer lies in history – the history of Christian Protestants and others being persecuted and driven out of their homes by Catholic Christians. That’s not to say that Catholicism is any worse, or better, than other religions. It’s just that one person’s religious values can easily become another person’s religious persecution.

Though it is true that the US has long been predominately Christian, it has never been a Christian nation, and it never should be. When we hear politicians like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and others call for special treatment of those who believe in one religion over another, or over those who believe in no religion at all, we should all be mindful that our Founding Fathers created our Constitution and our government to end tyranny, including tyranny by the majority.

To learn how a government led by a self-righteous authoritarian like Trump might look like, I encourage you to read Thom Hartmann’s excellent essay for AlterNet.org.