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Alt-Right, White Nationalist, Free Speech: The Far Right's Language Explained

Jeremy Christian (right), seen during a Patriot Prayer, allegedly stabbed three men, two fatally, in Portland earlier this year. During a subsequent courtroom appearance, he exclaimed: "Free speech or die, Portland. You call it terrorism I call it patriotism."
John Rudoff
Jeremy Christian (right), seen during a Patriot Prayer, allegedly stabbed three men, two fatally, in Portland earlier this year. During a subsequent courtroom appearance, he exclaimed: "Free speech or die, Portland. You call it terrorism I call it patriotism."

Updated 9:26 a.m. ET on Aug. 14

Alt-right. White nationalist. Free speech. Hate speech.

A number of labels involving the far right have been tossed about once again after a weekend white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly.

Here's a look at some of the phrases being used to describe the people involved and what's behind them:

Alt-right/white nationalist

There's plenty of disagreement and debate about what language to use to describe far right politics and the groups that operate there.

These days, the labels white nationalist and alt-right have become ubiquitous. Radical right and ultra-right are older terms from the 1950s and '60s, and other terms include paleo-conservative, the militia movement, identity movement, American fascists, national socialists, neo-Nazis. But according to Mark Potok, a leader at the Southern Poverty Law Center for the last two decades, essentially these groups can be broken down into two main categories — those who focus primarily on issues of race and those who focus primarily on conspiracy theories. One idea that courses through nearly all of them is the belief that healthy societies are dependent on racial, ethnic and cultural purity — that for the white race, diversity is the path to political and cultural extinction.

The thinking is that each racial/ethnic group should get their own country, but the USA (and Europe) is for white, European, Christian culture.

It's why language like that of Jeremy Christian — who allegedly stabbed three people on the Portland Metro then shouted "get the f*** out of my country" in court — is prevalent among the far right.

In the "Unite the Right" rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia last week, white nationalists and neo-Nazis chanted the phrase "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us."

"Blood and soil" began as a political and cultural idea in Germany that predated and then was taken up in earnest by the Nazi regime.

There are several romanticized conceptions in the Blood and Soil ideology — race and ethnic purity combined with a belief that a rural, agrarian lifestyle is the healthiest, most sincere, conservative and (during the first half of the last century at least) Germanic way of life. In 1930, Richard Walther Darre wrote a book Neuadel aus Blut und BodenA New Nobility Based On Blood And Soil — which glorified "peasant virtues" and aggressively promoted eugenics. It was a powerful influence on Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler. A virulent anti-Semite, Darre became Reich Minister for Food and Agriculture in 1933 and authored the idea of "Rasse und Raum" — Race and Space — which was intended to provide political and intellectual cover for Nazi aggression and expansion.

This supremacist vision is what separates alternative right/white nationalists from others on the political spectrum. It's an enormous leap ideologically from mainstream conservatism and the main reason why alt-right membership remains relatively low. Where does the term alt-right come from? Paleo-conservative philosopher Paul Grottfried first used the phrase in 2008 but white nationalist Richard Spencer ran with it and helped make alt-right ubiquitous.

Spencer is a new face of the extreme right movement. Well-educated at the Universities of Virginia, Chicago and Duke, he is a world away from old images of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Pete Simi, professor of Sociology at Chapman University and the co-author of the book American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate, the term alt-right was a successful attempt by Spencer to rebrand himself and his followers as something fresh, young and smart for a new generation.

Among its allies, the alt-right embraces President Trump adviser and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon. Bannon has called the site a "platform for the alt-right."

Free speech or hate speech?

Free speech has grown into a major issue for both mainstream conservatives and the alt-right. For mainstream conservatives, the belief that the left is more intolerant of dissent than the right is evidenced by the protests against right-wing speakers on college campuses.

White nationalists believe their First Amendment rights go further: that they should have the freedom to say whatever they like and not suffer consequences — for example, getting fired from their job for posting something hateful on Facebook.

The alt-right has developed its own language and symbols on the Internet. Parentheses around a person's name means they are Jewish. "Cuckservative" is a particularly ugly racist and derogatory term describing establishment Republicans who aren't considered conservative enough.

Professor Simi says a key feature of white nationalist belief is seeing themselves as victims. "We're not the haters, we're the victims of white genocide," Simi says, describing the alt-right mindset. Marginalized, oppressed and fighting an uphill battle against the powers that be, they view themselves as noble, courageous, even heroic warriors.

"Patriot" or terrorist?

A second category of the extreme right is the American militia movement, which can be characterized by its belief in conspiracy theories. On his Facebook page, Christian praised Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, "May all the Gods Bless Timothy McVeigh a TRUE PATRIOT!!!"

Former SPLC director Potok said the movement's fundamental idea is that the federal government is involved in a conspiracy against its people's liberties. The imposition of martial law will be followed by the forced confiscation of guns, and Potok explains that in the end, the U.S. government will be forced into a one world government, the so-called "New World Order" that will be run to serve the global elite. Elements of these conspiracy theories recently made a prominent appearance in Texas in 2015 during an armed forces military exercise, which stoked fear among some worried Texans that President Barack Obama was about to use Special Forces soldiers to confiscate guns and round up resisters. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the Special Forces soldiers while they trained in Texas.

Martin Kaste contributed to this story. It was originally published on June 4.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.

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