Below is an archived edition of Ctrl Alt Right Delete, a weekly email newsletter. This edition was published on 02/26/2017. Members of Factual Democracy Project have access to past editions. Subscribe to Ctrl Alt Right Delete.
Freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
Saul Alinsky’s 13th and final rule for radicals is “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.” I think about this rule often as it relates to the so-called alt-right. Because from the start, Donald Trump has walked a tightrope with them. This week, we saw a couple of successful applications of Rule 13: Trump’s being forced to denounce anti-semitism; and Milo Yiannopoulos’ fall from grace.
During his campaign, Trump didn’t outright endorse the so-called alt-right, but he gave them a large public platform. Early in his campaign, Trump tweeted a rare Pepe as a signal to the frog squad. As the campaign progressed, Trump frequently retweeted white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Without ever saying that he agreed or disagreed with the content, Trump’s retweets amplified and validated extremists and their ideas. He could promote their worldview, but left room to distance himself if needed. “People are saying…” he’d often say during speeches and interviews, a smart way to validate extremist views while also never claiming ownership of them.
It worked. Trump’s strategy won him the allegiance of an army of online trolls happy to do his dirty work for him. Along the way, they mainstreamed racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic ideas, dragging them out of the shadows and into the political conversation. Trump stoked fears with an open bigotry against Muslims and Latinos. Post-election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that “(i)n the ten days following the election, there were almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation from across the nation. Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults, making it clear that the outbreak of hate stemmed in large part from his electoral success.” The hate crimes are so numerous that a coalition of news outlets, nonprofits, and universities created Documenting Hate, a hub to track them.
But the Trump administration is quickly learning that amplifying and validating the frog squad isn’t as easy from the White House. Last week, White House aide Kellyanne Conway retweeted a white nationalist account (and then claimed some unnamed person who had access to her account must have done it!). Trump was also completely caught off guard when a Jewish reporter asked him about an uptick in anti-Semitism since his election — and his bungled response became a news story unto itself.
When a wave of bomb threats closed Jewish community centers across the nation, and over 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery were vandalized, the White House was forced to address the issue, knowing it would alienate their so-called alt-right supporters. First Daughter Ivanka Trump, herself a practicing Jew, tweeted a call for “religious tolerance” in support of the JCCs. The idea was likely to address the issue but still give President Trump some distance. But public outcry was swift and the next morning Trump was finally forced to say that anti-Semitism was “horrible” and that it was “going to stop.”
It’s surprising that Trump has been able to walk this tightrope for as long as he has. But I know from conversations with Trump supporters in my family that he’s given himself plenty of cover. My uncle once angrily responded to a Facebook post of mine about Richard Spencer saying, “That’s not who Donald Trump is and you know it!” Another family member implored that I “do my research” because Trump was a Zionist and that his son-in-law was Jewish, so of course, Trump couldn’t be anti-Semitic. (For more on this, Forward has a write-up of the alliance in Trump world between Zionists and anti-Semites.) I mention these incidents because it’s a good reminder of what Trump has to balance: your average Republican voter with the frog squad. Keeping them both placated isn’t easy.
Which brings me to Milo Yiannopoulos’ rapid fall from grace. Milo, a nominee for worst human being on the Internet, had recently been catapulted from alt-right darling into the mainstream when protesters shut down his speech at UC Berkeley and President Trump tweeted a threat to cut off their public funding in response. (Talk about signaling!) Milo started this week coming off a softball interview with Bill Maher and a planned keynote speech at CPAC, and ended it losing his speaking spot, book deal, and his day job at Breitbart after a video surfaced of him essentially defending pedophilia.
I’m amazed Milo’s ride lasted as long as he did, not because he’s a racist, misogynist, transphobic bully (all acceptable to your average Trump supporter) but because his whole persona just seemed outside of what your average Republican voter would find socially acceptable. Last September, Amanda Marcotte did a video interview with Milo where he comes off as so weird, so alien to middle America, that when I saw it, I knew that a downfall was inevitable. Because once The Milo Show hit the mainstream, Republicans would have to distance themselves from him. For this reason, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Milo’s downfall came just before his planned CPAC debut, and while the left has been priming the pump, it looks like conservatives were responsiblefor the final blow.
Here’s the lesson from this week: we can chip away at Trump’s support. We can pick off his surrogates one by one, and we can force him to to distance himself from the frog squad. It won’t change who Trump is or how he operates, but it will limit his ability to effectively communicate. It will force him to spend an increasing amount political capital to satisfy his supporters, the GOP, and the American public. More broadly, we can push hate and extremism back out of the mainstream.
The so-called alt-right has given us plenty of material with which to work. Now is the time to make the Trump administration own or denounce everything they’ve put out there.
- Here’s why the world’s biggest brands are blacklisting Breitbart
- No pop culture walls in the Trump era
- How to run a rogue government twitter account with an anonymous email address and a burner phone
- On the Milo bus with the Lost Boys of America’s New Right
- Putin and the new Cold War
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That’s all for this week. Thanks and appreciation to Nicole Belle for copy editing.