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The State Of The 'Alt-Right'


We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. That rally was a protest against the planned removal of Confederate statues, including Robert E. Lee, there in Charlottesville. It made headlines when violent clashes broke out between white supremacists and anti-fascist protesters. And then a car rammed into a crowd of left-wing activists, killing one, Heather Heyer. James Alex Fields is accused of driving that car and is facing federal hate crime charges. Now the organizers of the Charlottesville event are gearing up for another Unite the Right rally, this time next to the White House. To get a sense of where things stand since Charlottesville with the alt-right, we reached out to a scholar of that movement, George Hawley, who teaches political science at the University of Alabama.

GEORGE HAWLEY: I would say that Charlottesville was a major setback for the alt-right. And I think that it has caused the movement to splinter even further and to stop growing. Certainly - was not - experienced the type of growth that it had during, say, the 2016 presidential election.

MONTAGNE: Except one could say, in terms of political viability, there are politicians out there who would seem to at least flirt with this movement. Corey Stewart - he's the Republican candidate for Senate in Virginia. He's spoken very fondly of Confederate statues and the history of the Confederacy in the South. He just won a primary.

HAWLEY: Yes, though I would say that the alt-right is considerably more radical than that. That is, defending Confederate statues has, for a long time, been something that mainstream conservatives have been willing to do. I would argue that the Confederate statue removal was mostly an excuse for the alt-right to gather in Charlottesville rather than something that they cared that much about, per se.

MONTAGNE: They are coming - so far - to Washington, D.C., for a demonstration. What do you expect from that?

HAWLEY: I expect it to have relatively low turnout. Charlottesville - I believe the alt-right thought that that would be their moment to come out and demonstrate that they've become sort of a normal part of politics. But that is obviously not what happened. That - the images that came out of Charlottesville shocked the world. And ever since Charlottesville, it's just - they've been become sort of a circular firing squad of everyone attacking each other saying, well, we failed because you made a mistake. No, it was because you made a mistake. So now it's become just a bunch of small bickering camp sort of the way their predecessors were in the - during the Bush years. So I don't expect a major breakthrough from them anytime soon.

MONTAGNE: Could they go underground - and then re-emerged later?

HAWLEY: Well, that's sort of - they - I mean, they began mostly as an underground movement, right? Their - most of their success was as a group of mostly anonymous online trolls. It was not ever a well-organized, real-world movement. And to the extent that it continues to exist, I think it's probably going to return to that earlier model. And it's also worth noting that over the past year, they've had a harder time staying online. That is, they've been no-platformed. They have been losing their ability to use online services to raise money. So even if they tried to return to the earlier methods, it's not clear that they'll be able to be as effective as they used to be.

MONTAGNE: George Hawley of the University of Alabama. He's the author of "Making Sense Of The Alt-Right." Thanks very much for joining us.

HAWLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECONDITE'S "LEAFS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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