I wish Alt-America were fiction, I would like it so much better if it were telling the story of what happened in another multi-verse, but it’s all terribly true and so it is depressing. However, if we want a just and decent society, we have to look at reality no matter how sad, depressing, and frightening it may be.
David Neiwert has spent decades reporting on rising extremism on the right. When the rhetoric of talk radio became increasingly violent, he coined the term eliminationist to avoid calling them fascist since many of them were not fascists in ideology, just using fascistic communication styles and means. In this book, he notes that the various movements among the right have coalesced into the alt-right, weaving together true fascists and neo-nazis with white nationalists, misogynists, racists, and dominion theologists into a movement that threatens democracy and our system of pluralistic government.
Since I follow the news and Neiwert’s blog closely, many of the events in this book were familiar, but even for me, there were many eye-opening things. Of particular interest for me was how the media narrative often erases the political motivation of mass killers. Even when they have political tracts, books, and their own manifesto, if they are white, they are often reported as troubled and singular, their motives found in mental illness rather than in response to stochastic violent incitement. When Sarah Palin tweeted, “Don’t retreat, RELOAD” she was playing with fire and she knew it, she was appealing to those who applauded Michael Douglas in Falling Down and make millions for vigilante films.
I think Alt-America is an important book, but dang, is it depressing. The alt-right is coalescing several different extremist movements united by a sense of grievance, a taste for violence, and a love of authoritarianism. They are gaining power.
I wish there were more information on how to combat the alt-right and rising extremism. Neiwert is right that conversations are where we must start and includes some advice on how to start and what to avoid. This is useful.
What disappointed me was his acceptance of caricatures of liberals that are generated from the right, you know the elitist latte-drinking, merlot-sipping elites who despise the ignorant hayseeds. I know they exist. They are called the Real Housewives and some of them are Republicans, too. But demographically, conservatives are whiter and wealthier than liberals. So who is more likely to be elitist? He also talks about the neglect of rural areas, though the Democratic Platform was full of programs to help rural America and one of the first things slated for cuts from Trump’s budget is the subsidy for high-speed internet in rural America.
I also would like to know what he thinks about the philosophical dilemma of tolerating the intolerant. When does speech go from protected first amendment speech to unprotected yelling fire in a theater speech? Are universities obligated to give a platform to hate speech? After Richard Spencer’s recent speech in FL, three men fired at protesters. Can the argument be made denying him a platform because he is dangerous?
Nonetheless, these are minor flaws in a strong and important history that everyone needs to read. Neiwert is scrupulous about using the terms Nazi and fascist, but when reading this book, I could not help thinking that the Nazis did not start out with concentration camps, they started out with firing teachers.
I was provided an e-galley of Alt-America by the publisher through NetGalley