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New Wine in New Skins:
The 2016 NPI Conference, Alt Right, & the Newsmedia’s Struggle to Misunderstand

2,888 words [1]

At the National Policy Institute’s conference on Saturday (officially titled Become Who We Are / 2016) I met a tweedy, middle-aged journalist I’ll call Charles. Charles was making notes for a political-analysis piece for a certain Newspaper of Record, and struggling to find an insightful angle about the Alt Right.

At the moment his working premise was that this Alt Right thing is essentially a revamping of old-fashioned “white supremacy” from decades past. But he wasn’t really happy with that idea.

Is it really that, or is it something else, he kept musing aloud, or words to that effect. “Is it really just old wine in new skins? New wine in old skins? That’s what I’m trying to work out. And what do they call those haircuts they all have? Is there a name?”

Charles was very much in earnest, honestly seeking to provide a answer with more gravitas than what one reads in The Daily Beast or a Paul Krugman column. So I did my best to help him out with a little background. I suggested he might begin by comparing the stated ethno-nationalism of NPI with the brand of Conservatism served up in the early years of Bill Buckley’s National Review.

At that time and place it was taken for granted that America was a white country with Western European roots and culture. To this “conservative” mindset, racial segregation was merely a sane and necessary thing, and Buckley accordingly supported it. Multiculturalism had never been heard of, as a ideal goal or even a concept. The quotas of the 1924 Immigration Act (favoring moderate immigration from the British Isles and Western Europe, and severely restricting it otherwise) likewise seemed eminently sensible for a society that wished to remain stable and cohesive.

That was the mainstream conservatism of the day, endorsed by such early NR contributors as Prof. Revilo Oliver, and it was not terribly different from the Alt Right today. The only significant difference, and it is a telling one, is that in 1956 such beliefs were not argued about (at least among Conservative folk) while today the mainstream press, and NR itself, deride them as fringe-y, frightening, and darkly subversive. And there is nothing mysterious about this mutation of of “conservatism,” particularly at National Review, which marked its march of progress by simply expelling its contributors and editors (first Oliver, later Joe Sobran, Peter Brimelow, and many others) and marking their ideas non grata.

Anyway, this was my suggestion to Charles. If he was really searching for an “old wine in new skins” angle for the Alt Right, this might be a good place to start. Meantime, I said, it might be best to ignore such ancient, weighted phrases as “white supremacy,” since those were really slurs put out by the Daily Worker . . . and people of that sort.

From his expression, I gathered Charles found my history lesson a little too granular and obscure, and perhaps too smooth an explanation of white nationalism and the Alt Right. Like a lot of political journalists today, Charles seemed to be trapped in a rhetorical bind that makes something like Alt Right difficult to write about. He would like to make an original, cogent analysis of a new, rising phenomenon, but the mainstream understanding of it has been framed by its enemies, and in a very scurrilous way. So if you want to talk about it you have to accept, or at least acknowledge, that the Alt Right is a dark and disreputable thing.

Ironically it’s this dark notoriety that makes Alt Right such an attractive topic in the first place. But if you take that darkness away or try to put the movement into historical context, you risk looking like an apologist for the Alt Right; or someone who pitched one article to the editor and then wrote another.

Alt Right: Villain or Joker?

This journalistic dilemma was much in evidence this past weekend when the NPI Conference convened in the Ronald Reagan Building. Unlike Charles, few of the other journalists had any interest in understanding the ideas or origins of this Alt Right thing. To them, the topic is basically a “pussy grab”—something shocking, sensationalistic, eye-catching, maybe evil, and ideally connected to Donald Trump.

Washington Post led the pack with a whole raft of articles and online slide-shows about the National Policy Institute, and this was not because the reporters were interested in national policy. No, they were interested in chasing a hot topic that showed Donald Trump getting cozy with white nationalism. Reporter Dave Weigel showed up at NPI’s Saturday afternoon press conference, and quickly produced a column [2] that seemed to connect NPI to Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General nominee:

Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute and popularizer of the term “alt-right,” told reporters in Washington on Saturday that Donald Trump could achieve some of the white nationalist movement’s goals by making Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) his attorney general.

For “Local News,” a WaPo beat reporter named Cox was supposed to cover the protest mobs that attacked conference attendees. Instead Cox put together a wow just wow piece [3], advising us (per the Southern Poverty Law Center) that NPI is an “extreme right-wing group” that may have some unspecified connection to Donald Trump’s new chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

A little later the same day (Saturday, Nov. 19) this same reporter stopped in at the conference and filed another story [4], this time reminding us that NPI conference speakers not only liked Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, they approved of (national security advisor nominee) Mike Flynn as well.

As a side note, the scribe added that NPI attendees wore some seriously weird clothes:

Most in the overwhelmingly male gathering wore dark suits, many with the triangle lapel pin of a California-based European identity group. One man was dressed in camouflage, another wore a pony tail and an opera cloak. Dozens of them also wore what’s known as “fashy” (as in fascist) haircuts — a hipster look that features shaved sides with the hair on top swept across. A blond teenage girl wore a Make America Great Again cap.

WaPo’s message about Bannon, Sessions, Flynn, and the Trump Administration is as subtle as a rock-drill. They want you to know the Trump people are in alliance with a “white nationalist” group that wears suits and lapel pins, and holds conferences in the Reagan Building.

The talking-points for this agitprop went down the day before the conference (Nov. 18), in a spicy Opinion column [5] by Paul Waldman:

Donald Trump announced [6]three new appointments Friday: Michael Flynn for national security adviser, Rep. Mike Pompeo for CIA director and Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general. While Sessions is rightfully getting most of the attention, we have to look at Trump’s emerging appointments in context. And that context is this: When you elect a white nationalist president, you get a white nationalist presidency.

What a kicker, that last sentence—can’t get more explicit than that!

The Washington Post, and mainstream press in general, isn’t interested in ideas here. Or history, or whether Alt Right and NPI are old wine in a rabbit skin. No, Alt Right is here used as a convenient stick for whacking Donald Trump. (And maybe other people too, but right now the main target is Donald Trump.)

Other journals with no love of Trump followed WaPo’s lead, though they sometimes gentled their agenda with silliness and humor. Mother Jones showed a Twitter image [7] of YouTube personality Tila Tequila smiling and giving the Bellamy salute to the camera (“Seig Heil!” [sic]). BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray, the closest thing to a veteran of the Alt Right beat, reminded her readers [8]that Alt Right has viewpoints that are naughty and outrageous and despicable, although Richard Spencer himself can be pretty lovable:

A sardonic man with a fondness for three-piece suits, Spencer clearly relishes the attention, and told me afterward how much fun he’d found the press conference to be. He says he’s beginning to be recognized in public; someone came up to him on the T in Boston and told him, “God bless you, Mr. Spencer,” he said.

Why They Don’t “Get” the Alt Right

I want to go back to the problem of Charles (who assiduously took notes all afternoon for his “Week in Review” piece). Charles is a highbrow but very much a normie, and maybe a Luddite as well. He does not have a Twitter account, and I gather he does not even watch much cable-news TV. He therefore comes to something like the NPI Conference very fresh and unspoiled, essentially unaware of Alt Right, white nationalism, race realism, Third Position and the whole panoply of organizations and outlets that have grown up in recent years.

But he will have a hard time taking it all in, and he probably never will. If he seeks a primer to what Alt Right is all about, and he’s lucky, he might find the (rather good) cheat sheet that Dave Weigel did in WaPo last August during “Basket of Deplorables” week, or maybe the chirrupy, overlong “Milo” treatise [9] that the Breitbart crew wrote back in March.

But I don’t think Charles will read very far, actually, because even in those Dummies Guides there’s too much information to take in at once. And few people can wrap their heads around a new political paradigm.

Let me back-and-fill that last remark. What I mean is that, for most Americans anyway, political education is very basic, minimal. Most of what you learn about politics, you acquire long before you start algebra. As a little kid you find out there are Democrats and Republicans (symbolized by a donkey and an elephant). Then you move on to the idea of liberals and conservatives, who vote differently on things involving welfare and taxes. That is pretty much all most voters ever learn, or think they need to learn. They may declare themselves libertarians or ultra-conservatives because they’re against welfare and taxes, or say they’re socialists; but the basic model remains the same.

Alt Right is something new, something that doesn’t fit the model. It is not Liberal Democrat or Conservative Republican, it is not about cutting taxes or furthering Progress and Equality. Furthermore it can seem terribly complicated when you’re first coming at it, because it’s not all about welfare and taxes and equality, and often refers to European political philosophers most people have never heard of.

In short, Alt Right has a high knowledge-barrier. One easy option is to ignore it entirely, the way you don’t think about a strange religion. Alternatively you can be like the Hillary Clinton campaign and deride it as a dank fad among basement-dwelling racists. If you’re a journalist, you might have only Option 2. I very much look forward to what Charles comes up with.

And Now About Those Conference Speakers

The speakers at Become Who We Are / 2016 were, besides Richard Spencer: Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow, Matthew Tait, Jason Jorjani, Kevin MacDonald, F. Roger Devlin, Sam Dickson, and a young Scotsman who travels under his YouTube moniker of Millennial Woes. (Ramzpaul was supposed to provide comic relief during the evening, but he cancelled late and we instead got a few thrilling minutes Saturday night from surprise guest Mike Enoch of The Right Stuff.)

Many, or most, of those names need no introduction here, just as most people who show up at a conference like this are already familiar with the speakers and/or their work. This familiarity is one reason why the Trump election was the central focus of the conference. We’re going through a national game-change, and we want to know what our favorite experts have to say.

But many—most?—media people don’t have this familiarity, and find any sort of identitarian or Alt Right discussion very hard to follow. It’s that high knowledge-barrier again. Hence the naïve, nonsensical questions they asked at the afternoon press conference (see below). And hence the incomprehension of Charles (who did not ask a question).

NPI chairman Richard Spencer was an extremely entertaining emcee, and took the stage as a speaker and panelist many times throughout the day. My favorite bit was his morning opening, when he announced he’d had a headache all week, and he didn’t think it was from drinking. “I think it’s the Winning. It’s Too Much Winning! Could someone please just stop the Winning? I don’t want to Win anymore.”

Waving a copy of USA Today, “the official USA newspaper of hotels,” Spencer said he felt like a fugitive in a scene from a movie, suddenly seeing “the Alt-Right” and himself on the front page.

“This is hugely new and if someone had told me that this was going to be a regular occurrence a year and a half ago, I wouldn’t have believed them. But at this point I’m almost used to it.” (Note: Most of the conference is viewable or at least hearable on YouTube [10], thanks to Red Ice Radio.)

The best part of the conference, apart from eating and drinking, was arguably the press conference, featuring Spencer, MacDonald, Jorjani, and Taylor answering a queue of journos from DW, ABC News, Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, and others.

The archetypal question asked whether “Alt Right” was merely a rebranding of discredited and “white supremacist” agenda from the past. When one reporter posed it, Spencer dismissed it as a silly question, whereupon Jared Taylor lifted his microphone and refuted it with impromptu eloquence:

The suggestion in your question is that this is some kind of attempt to hide the ball, to pretend that we are not who we are. No one is guilty of that. We are as straightforward as any movement that I can imagine.

And Alt Right of course includes an entire panoply of egalitarian orthodoxies that we reject. It’s not just race. It has to do with the idea that every culture is equal to every other; all religions are equally sane, and valid . . . The sexes are basically equivalent . . . All of these orthodoxies. There are many many views within the Alt Right. It cannot be summarized as simply a racial conception.

So I reject completely the implication that we are somehow trying to pretend that we are something other than what we are. We are exactly what we say we are.

A couple of “undercard” talks in late afternoon were standouts, because they were original and compelling in themselves, and did not directly address the conference’s main themes of Trump’s election and the ascent of the Alt Right. The first of these was from the vlogger Millennial Woes, who gave an unusual, rather transcendentalist refutation against contemporary individualistic nihilism (a scourge among millennials, one gathers).

MW’s argument is rooted in one’s need for loyalty to one’s own forebears, descendants and culture. “Everything you have, you have because other people had exactly the exact opposite to your attitude,” he quoted himself as advising a nihilistic girl. “Endure the pain, make the sacrifice . . .”

Your race and culture are important because they belong to you and you to them . . . because of the historical thread maintained by your ancestors. Nobody else is going to look after your race and culture. They are your responsibility and yours alone. And you don’t have the right, you don’t have the option to abandon them.

F. Roger Devlin’s short talk had two distinct and unrelated topics on rather discomfiting matters. The first had to do with the social anthropology of Norwegian communities in recent years, where a number of “Muslim” (Pakistani) arrivals had been allowed to settle. The Muslim boys bully the Norwegian lads, but the school officials forbid the latter to fight back, because the the Muslims are seen as victims whose disturbed behavior is a product of their backgrounds. Norwegian girls seek out the bad Muslim boys as lovers and reject their fellow Norwegians, a phenomenon Devlin ascribes to the limbic system, or “lizard brain”: a female reflexively seeks a dominant, victorious male. The Muslim boys call the girls “Norwegian whores” and eventually reject them, seeking a Paki girl when it is time to settle down.

Then, like most exogamous women in the West, these racially disloyal Norwegian women “end up alone once they hit their thirties.” Drawing a paraIlel between those exogamous Norwegians and the sort of anti-white Caucasian female who supported Hillary, Devlin advised the young men in the audience: “If you didn’t take pity on those bimbos on those bimbos weeping over Hillary Clinton’s defeat last week, you certainly don’t need to take pity on women who come crawling to you as their last resort.”

The second part of Devlin’s homily was a dismaying recollection of the Reagan presidency. He recalled that Ronald Reagan’s election and agenda in 1980-81 were very similar to Donald Trump’s. Yet what a failure his administration really was. He did not cut the budget, eliminate the Education or Transportation departments, and he gave amnesty to 3-4 million illegals.

Devlin quotes Joe Sobran’s judgment of the Reagan years as an “historic failure of nerve.” But “to True Believers, Reagan’s presidency was like an eight-year Inaugural Ball.”

Reagan’s failure shows us “the necessity of prompt and decisive action, especially on immigration-related issues,” Devlin said, noting that he closed with this to provide a “brief cautionary tale about the consequences of delaying action on those fleeting occasions when all the political stars align perfectly.”