Bogeymen: A Year with the Alt-Right
By Maggie Nipps
Trigger warning: this piece contains mentions of rape and racism.
“Like everyone in polite society, I was sickened to see openly smug Nazis,” Serena Tarr said, capturing the views of many liberal Americans living in the current political landscape.
Tarr, a sociologist at Kirkwood Community college, came to Iowa City’s Witching Hour Festival to give her lecture “Bogeymen: A Year with the Alt-Right.” Tarr has studied the alt-right in depth, going to their conferences and following around Richard Spencer and other alt-right figureheads.
Her aim was to understand them, how they developed their views, and the threat they posed. Specifically, she was focused on some of the political ramifications, asking “how could we be so blind” to the extreme misogyny, racism, and xenophobia that breeds in these groups, as well as wonder if “the arc of history really bends towards justice”?
When she first started to study their views, Tarr found an incredible amount of variance within the alt-right, instead of them being one unified political front.
Most of the alt-right can be broken down into two groups: 1.0 and 2.0. A 1.0 member of the alt-right is a fairly stereotypical skin-head: incredibly racist and anti-semitic with plenty of tattoos and lacking in education.
2.0 alt-righters can be harder to spot. They attempt to break into mainstream society. They dress fairly clean cut and use academic language to try and make their points heard. They’re generally younger than their 1.0 counterparts; think of the people from the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.
Beyond these categories, there’s still plenty of division. When it comes to the “Jewish question,” the alt-right can be fairly torn. They’re less likely to deny that the holocaust happened, and rather will focus on minimizing the numbers.
Some will say that genocide is a natural consequence of their political movement, while others say genocide isn’t as effective as racial-relocation. Some aren’t as focused on debating Jews and instead focus on immigration, racism, and/or misogyny.
Interestingly enough, many of them don’t deny climate change but see it as a problem; they worry that rising temperatures may cause people living near the equator to move to Europe and America, contributing to “white genocide,” as they put it.
The ideological divisions extend far further than just these, leading to disjointed in regards to their political aspirations.
Despite the overwhelming amount of variation in alt-right views, Tarr noticed that racism and misogyny were alive and well in the movement. She experienced plenty of misogyny firsthand.
Mostly, women were only “valued for their fuckability.” Very few women showed up to the alt-right events she attended, most of them accompanied by their husbands. At the first event she showed up at, she was asked: “did your husband let you come all by yourself?” When she said that made her uncomfortable, the men man said she’d be safer with them than at the R&B concert that wasn’t far away, presumably because of the non-white audience.
She noted that they mostly allowed her around since her married status made her “another man’s property.” It was clear that they either see no problem with rape or are passive on the issue. Richard Spencer’s bodyguard told her that one of his reasons for joining the alt-right were false rape accusations.
On his own experience, he said “how could it be rape? We hooked up several times before and I don’t even remember most of the night.” The idea that consent needs to be reaffirmed every experience was completely lost on him.
However, their overwhelming misogynistic tendencies may have given Tarr an advantage in her investigations. Because the men saw themselves as superior to her, they didn’t see her as a threat.
She could work on her project and ask them questions without jeopardizing their egos. In fact, she noted that “they seemed eager to be heard.” After Charlottesville, the many members of the alt-right were doxxed, so they had to become more secretive to avoid being found out by their friends, family, and employers.
However, since Tarr signed non-disclosure agreements with her interviewees, they finally had an opportunity to open up about their views. Tarr said that she never wanted to “give any comfort to any evil racist or misogynist,” but her unconventional methodology allowed her access to information and events that liberals generally wouldn’t.
From The American Renaissance Conference to a Richard Spencer Event at MSU to late nights at Spencer’s apartment, Tarr was able to observe the ways that the alt-right interacts with each other and plan their events. She paints a picture of a disorganized front with a hard time gaining momentum.
At the first event she went to, they were kicked out of two different locations before ending up at Spencer’s apartment, which Tarr describes as a “dystopian frat house.” Many of the days she spent with them followed a similar pattern of Spencer’s crew sleeping in until 1 or 2, drinking, podcasting, and occasionally throwing parties where they gave speeches consisting of “vague talk about taking our country back.”
Despite this, Spencer kept around a bodyguard at all times that described his job as more dangerous than his time in the military. When Spencer hosted a meetup in a hotel room, his bodyguard insisted on searching the entire hotel for exit routes and security threats, despite spending most of the night in the room.
When Spencer spoke at MSU, an event with a “stunning and frightening” amount of cops and riot squads, his bodyguard felt the need to personally inspect the venue and take charge of security measures. It’s unclear whether this need to take charge comes from a place of fear or a need to be dominant and superior, but regardless, the measures were hardly necessary.
When riots actually broke out, the police force was the one taking care of the chaos, not anyone from Spencer’s team. Besides this event, leftist movements like Antifa only posed a direct threat. At a Traditionalist Workers’ Party, Antifa activists threw nails on the driveway to block everyone in; hardly as terrifying as the 100-150 1.0 neo-nazis shouting “sig heil” inside. The other time occurred as they left a Starbucks, where a protester almost punched Spencer but didn’t because he looked vulnerable and terrified.
Tarr shows the alt-right to be a group disorganized, terrified, and ununified bigots. They despise the idea of victimhood but act like immigration, other races, and other genders pose a severe threat to their livelihood, despite those groups of people being historically marginalized.
They find fake threats in society to justify their hatred and frustration. Furthermore, they need to inflate their egos so bad that they assume they are superior to other people, so they create hypocritical justifications for themselves. They assume they are the master race, and yet, are terrified that people they see as lesser will be the ones to oppress them.
Despite the terrifying nature of these views, Tarr claims that the alt-right is not the greatest political barrier we have to a just society, but rather are a symptom of greater problems. In the short term, they insight catastrophic violence that cannot be underestimated, but their viewpoints are nothing new. “They were already here,” she says, “they come from a very fertile social landscape.”
Structural racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry have existed far before the rise of the alt-right and poses a greater threat in the long run. “I think their danger lies in the comfort of diversion… all you white liberals thought everything was fine under Obama, but it wasn’t.” The Trump regime has emboldened alt-right bigotry, but they’ve always existed.
The only difference now is that we see it and are talking about it. Tarr ended her speech by explaining that we need to change the scenarios that allow this level of bigotry to flourish by actively seeing institutional inequality and dismantling it, we remove opportunities for fascism to thrive.
The threat the alt-right poses to society is something we’ve allowed to happen, and it’s something we can stop. The last words she spoke sum up the crux of what we must do; “We need to look in the mirror and see the bogeymen in ourselves.”