WASHINGTON — On a day when the alt-right is likely to become more famous than it’s ever been before, the movement is also facing a disorienting shift on its key issue by its favored candidate.
On one hand, Hillary Clinton is set to give a speech today tying Donald Trump to the movement — a moment that will undoubtedly raise its profile and which casts its members as central characters in the election.
On the other, Trump has pivoted hard on immigration, reversing his stance on deportations. And Trump’s hard-line positions on immigration had been a key cause of the alt-right’s devotion to him. On the week of possibly the alt-right’s biggest victory, it’s also dealing with possible betrayal.
“Trump has been so good for my cause that I’m able to be very tolerant and patient with him,” said Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, in an email to BuzzFeed News. “My tolerance and patience is huge. No one is more tolerant and patient than I am.”
“It’s always been important that the alt-right remain an independent force from Donald Trump,” Spencer said. “The moment Trump allows millions of Hispanics to stay — with or without citizenship — is the moment I’m off the train. For me, foreign policy is also a key issue, and thus I’m hesitant to say this. But I have to. If Trump ceases being a nationalist, then what’s the point?”
The alt-right movement, which draws heavily from the meme-heavy internet culture popularized on 4chan and reddit, is a rejection both of the left and of mainstream conservatism. It found the closest thing it has to a mainstream political voice in the past year in Donald Trump, in whom the alt-right found a reflection of its own ethno-nationalist impulses. The alt-right has been a vocal presence online throughout the election, popularizing the “cuckservative” slur against non–Trump supporting Republicans and frequently harassing Jewish and other minority journalists.
The hiring of Breitbart Chairman Steve Bannon as the Trump campaign’s CEO constituted another hopeful sign for the alt-right. Under Bannon, Breitbart embraced “nationalist populism,” and Bannon has described Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right.”
But Bannon’s hiring has coincided with Trump’s “softening” on immigration, which has alarmed stalwarts like Ann Coulter, who criticized him on Twitter on Wednesday night after initially defending him. Trump suggesting on Wednesday that he would be open to allowing a path to legalization amounts to a stark reversal of his previous position, which involved deporting all 11 million in the country illegally and using deportation forces.
The alt-right internet has been intensely anticipating Clinton’s speech, with popular video blogger RamzPaul putting out a primer on the alt-right ahead of time and an #AltRightMeans hashtag circulating on Twitter.
Spencer is hopeful about Clinton’s speech, writing on his site Radix Journal on Thursday that “Hillary is trying to push the GOP into permanent minority status by empowering the alt-right—and, believe me, she will be empowering us today. The alt-right is, in a way, what people wrongly accuse the GOP of being: a nationalist party for White people. Hillary’s alt-right speech will try to force the GOP to become what it is.”
American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor sounded optimistic about Clinton’s speech drawing more people to the movement.
“If Hillary Clinton tries to discredit Donald Trump by pointing out that many in the alt-right support him, it will be only the latest of countless attempts to blame him for our views,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Of course, if she wants to shine the spotlight on us, it will mean only that yet more Americans will find that we are a broad dissident movement represented by thoughtful, well-spoken people who have thought very carefully about race and immigration.”
“We welcome any opportunity to explain and defend our views,” Taylor said.
“We won't know if Donald Trump is softening on immigration until he delivers his next speech on the subject,” Taylor said (before Trump’s interview with Hannity on Thursday night in which Trump indicated he was breaking with his previous plan to enforce mass deportations). “I hope (Trump campaign CEO) Steve Bannon will encourage him to stick to his signature positions, but ultimately I'm sure Trump himself will decide, and his instincts appear to be very sound.”
Later, Taylor quoted back Trump’s remark that “to take a person who’s been here for 15 or 20 years and throw them and their family out, it’s so tough,” and said, “Let's hope Mr. Trump believes in tough love. I'll wait for his speech on immigration before I jump to any conclusions.”
Vdare founder Peter Brimelow defended Trump as being still better than Jeb Bush and said he expected him to “get back on track.”
“He gave two other great speeches (from our point of view) yesterday,” Brimelow wrote in an email. “This is not a conventional campaign (have you noticed?). I think he’ll probably get back on track esp. when he sees he’s not getting any credit. But wtf, He’s still better than Bush.”
Vdare is currently fundraising off of Clinton’s speech later today. “I, and my team at VDARE.com have weathered more than a decade of fact suppression and attacks against our character and livelihood, because I know what is at stake here,” Brimelow writes in his fundraising appeal. “Hillary wants to ignite a witch hunt against the alt-right because she knows we are finally starting to make an impact on the public's thinking on immigration.”
White nationalist William Johnson, who was briefly a Trump delegate in California, said Clinton was doing the alt-right a “great service” by giving the speech.
“I am encouraged by her speaking about it. Because once — our position, the alt-right position — is just, moral and proper, and so if it is brought out then people can see and choose for themselves,” Johnson said.
On the question of Trump’s immigration shift, Johnson said, “It doesn’t worry me because, as I say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. You cannot make dramatic changes immediately and as a first step, taking a more cautious approach, is prudent.”
Occidental Dissent blogger Brad Griffin aka Hunter Wallace said he was “looking forward” to Clinton’s speech and “She’s publicizing us.”
Wallace said he wasn’t too concerned about Trump’s flip-flop on immigration, arguing that Trump is doing this because he’s in the midst of a campaign. “If he actually, like Bush or Obama, tried to pass comprehensive immigration reform, then yeah, that would concern me and I would of course oppose it, but I don’t think it’s too serious. I think it’s just, you know, a campaign gesture.”