The alt-right in shards: what has become of the movement?

By early 2020, the separation and decline of the alt right had become a matter of intense confusion for some of its members. One confused poster wrote on the now mostly empty 8kun: “Where the fuck did everyone go?” Came the reply: “The chans are dying anon […] I suggest you train, pick up a book or begin to organize IRL [in real life] now. Just know that those of us who really understood what we had before it was destroyed will always miss you as well. We shared something unique.” Much of the rest of the thread is dedicated to reminiscences of “a moment of internet history that was of unimaginable quality,” namely, the rise of the alt-right. It is, of course, impossible to say just how many people have adopted such a low-lying strategy. Even more difficult to say is how much it might matter. Even at its peak, the alt-right was always notoriously tricky to pin down or even properly quantify. This new turn towards local, offline, organisation exacerbates that problem still further. Here we will look at the movement’s present state. What remains of the coalition of 2016?

Five main fractions derived from the alt-right remain. First, the projects that hue closer to Republican Party politics, or trying to influence it from the outside, such as Nick Fuentes’ entryist project into the Republican Party, which aims to make it more explicitly racist and anti-semitic. Second, come the street movements. Of this second fraction, the groups that remain prominent, such as the Proud Boys or the Boogaloo Boys, have taken a turn rightwards, making explicit the racism that had undergirded their project from the start, and embroiling themselves in internal struggles for power. They have also become increasingly embattled through their vilification in the political mainstream (the Proud Boys were recently banned in Canada alongside two self-evidently terroristic groups, Atomwaffen and The Base from the fifth fraction below). 

Third, the disparate crew of podcasters and meme-makers still holding onto the alt-right’s 2016 tactics, their ‘meme magic’ rapidly obscolescing. And then, fourth, there’s QAnon, too vast and complicated a phenomenon to shovel into the alt-right framework entirely. In these two fractions, the tendency is towards politics becoming ever-more like a cosmology: divorced from the mechanisms of power, it cheers or boos developments in its own fictional universe, like a giant, dangerous, fanclub. It is also in these two groups that the memeplex of ecofascism has started to take shape, which we will explore in more depth in the next essay in this series. 

The fifth grouping is more fixated on violence. It contains groups The Base, who have exited the field of conventional politics not into a dream world (although there is a sense of pervasive derealisation to their politics) but into a nightmare of horror and death. They have been responsible for many murders over the last few years, and have been largely suppressed by the FBI. Their numbers are tiny, but they are dangerous, albeit not systematically so. We call these groups the ‘blackpilled’. 

What do these projects have to do with the alt-right? On the surface, perhaps not much. In one  fraction – Fuentes’ entryism – the politics has hewed to a conventionality in form that has yet to find success. Other parts of this broad fraction, that which had been known as the ‘alt-lite’ which were always relatively sanitised, found their talking points dissolving back into mainstream Trumpism. Or, like Jordan Peterson, they largely disappeared. Although relatively well organised, they could not shake the feeling that what they were doing was actually just politics the old – and boring – way, a style of politics that the alt-right was supposed to have broken with.

In the second group, there is also not much of the standard alt-right to be detected: The Proud Boys’ politics has bled too much into meatspace, and resembles too much a street movement for the alt-right’s internet-primacism to still apply. We can see some of the alt right in an adherence to ritual, and to specific potent images that are imbued with meaning. The Boogaloo’s and their hawaiian shirt’s are one example of this.

Those in the third group, who have stuck with the meme-magic of 2016, has seen their ability to harness the scale of the internet rapidly wane. They are still tactically wedded to the alt-right’s playbook, but no longer have the capacity to realise it. That is because the alt-right was not just a particular style of culture, but a scale of cultural effect: the propulsive amalgamation of the far right into a viable counterculture. This third group we might describe as continuing the tradiction of the ‘centre ground’ of the alt-right – the racist but not actively terroristic part. Here, as the total amount of attention available has become constricted as platforms shutdown and accounts shadowbanned, previously harmonious relations between influencers and swarm became increasingly acrimonious as mutual blame for the movement’s decline acted as both symptom and catalyst. This centre ground itself dissolved into a multitude of distinct subcultures: fashwave image-makers, trad Catholics, self-described ecofascists, and so on, each increasingly operating in their own cultural space. Each, arguably, was attempting to recover in their own way the fundamental impulse of the alt-right: its aesthetic meme-magic character, its fervent reactionary and religious dimension, or its reliance on a pro-hierarchy account of natural order. We will discuss these various attempts to ground the alt-right in some other deeper project in the next installment of this essay.

What about the last two fractions? The fourth fraction, QAnon, had obviously, at the time of Trump’s departure, lost its countercultural relevance or scale. Instead, it simply obsolesced the alt-right, accelerating through its high-on-meme-magic countercultural phase so fast that it has rendered comparatively minor the questions that were so central to the alt-right: race and the use of metapolitics.

The fifth part – the extreme wing (even by the standards of the alt-right) which actively venerated mass killing – has the exact opposite problem to QAnon. As substantial political influence fell from the movement’s grasp in the wake of Charlottesville, some took the ‘SIEGEpill’. Named after veteran neo-Nazi James Mason’s 1980s newsletter, newly collected into a single volume and widely shared online, it urges sporadic terrorism to hasten social breakdown. It lacks the alt-right’s winking humour, its capacity to be anything other than disgusting or horrifying.

None of this means the movementist far right in the US is gone, of course. There is also, because it preexisted the alt-right and it will outlast it, the background grind of both white supremacist groups like the KKK and that, somewhat louder, of the racist police state. These were only momentarily superceded by the alt-right, indeed even that may be a too generous reading. The KKK marched in Charlottesville after all, and the police have continued to commit racist violence throughout the lifespan of the alt-right.

For the time being at least, the alt-right is a chastened and even largely irrelevant force. It has entered a period of contensation of its core. This contestation will take place largely amongst those in the third fraction we outline above, for whom ideology is primary. The possibility of the conflict being resolved decisively in favour of one or the other factions for now seems remote. It is unlikely that those committed to esoteric paganism will suddenly convert to traditional catholicism or vice versa. Instead, the process of contestation is likely to lead to further hybridisation, and only then strange alliances and ideas. Perhaps, a common core that underlies all of these attempted groundings will be found. It is beholden on anti-fascists to watch this process of contestion and its internal shifts closely over the coming years and prepare for future configurations of far right and fascist politics.


At the moment, 12 Rules for WHAT is running a book club on Kathleen Belew’s Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. You can access it through our Patreon, Alternatively, if you don’t have the means, send us a messsage on Twitter @12rulesforwhat and we’ll get you.

This essay is part 2 of 3 part series on the alt right and its future. You can find parts 1 and 3 on the Patreon.