From Milo Yiannopoulos to Tomi Lahren: meet America’s young alt-Right pack | London Evening Standard
he new ultra-conservatism has unexpected idols. Its messiahs are not middle-aged and blustering, they are young, articulate and presentable — and they are intelligent.
Some are women, gay, transgender, and — so far — they are mostly American. They are commentators, not politicians. They are literate with new media and use Twitter and YouTube deftly. Accordingly, they are sceptical of the MSM, their sneering shorthand for the “mainstream media”. They are smug and convincing.
Their influence is modest: as yet they do not hold office. However, Donald Trump’s election has changed the parameters of influence. He has taken a Right-wing shock jock — Steve Bannon, founder of conservative news site Breitbart — into the White House with him, meaning their older incarnations do, in fact, hold office.
Those who demur that engaging with this group is “giving them a platform” ignore the fact that they have already seized their own. This is what you need to know about the group that is already being termed the ‘fascie pack’.
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Movements need leaders, and out of the swell notable stars have emerged. Of course, there is Milo Yiannopoulos, the arch celebrity of the movement. There is also 24-year-old talk show host Tomi (pronounced Tommy) Lahren, who transitioned into the liberal zeitgeist this week after she appeared on The Daily Show, a popular US evening show hosted by Trevor Noah. The pair sparred with the sort of energy only two diametric enemies can summon — Lahren was subsequently profiled in a piece by The New York Times, which called her “the Right’s rising media star”.
Lahren is the exuberant hostess of Tomi, a nightly talk show broadcast on The Blaze, a website, TV station and subscription service launched by the divisive conservative radio host Glenn Beck. She has 3.6 million likes on Facebook, 425,000 on Instagram and 406,000 on Twitter.
She’s from South Dakota, where her parents were ranchers, and is an only child. She studied broadcast journalism and political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and graduated in 2014. This summer she worked on Trump’s social media campaign.
Lahren was headhunted by The Blaze in October 2015 after the network watched a viral video in which she criticised President Obama. Her allure is straightforward: she is slim, pretty and — crucially — zealous about her mission. She is regularly accused of racism.
Her Facebook page is headed by a picture of the journalist, over which is written, “Whether you love what I’m saying or hate what I’m saying, you’re having a reaction to it, and that is exactly what needs to happen in this country.” The most popular part of her show is the end, Final Thoughts with Tomi Lahren, a short — usually two- to three-minute — diatribe on a topical debate.
Then there is Owen Shroyer. He is a Texan native and an anchor at InfoWars, a swivel-eyed, conspiratorial news website that has been called “fake news”. He was recruited off the back of a YouTube series, where he would posit emphatic conservative observations about organisations such as the Clinton Foundation.
InfoWars is run by Alex Jones, another divisive figure whom New York magazine described as “America’s leading conspiracy theorist”. Jones’s plots include a hackneyed 9/11 conspiracy that implicates the US government in the attacks, that the addition of fluoride to water is a nefarious scheme, and that the government is using chemical warfare to turn the population gay.
Shroyer is a disciple. When Jones was impugned by “four different sources” including comedian Seth Meyers and US cable television network CSPAN, Shroyer uploaded a video to his YouTube account, where he has almost 19,000 subscribers, defending Jones.
Shroyer has 13,000 followers on Twitter and his pinned tweet is a quasi-poem which reads, “Go Trump go!/Go Trump go!/Hey America, what do you say? Trump is going to win today!”. It has been liked 1,200 times and retweeted 447 times.
And then there is Blaire White, a transgender YouTuber who has almost 65,000 followers on Twitter, where her biog reads, “YouTube — make trannies great again”. She uses the word — now considered a slur — unashamedly.
Her YouTube channel has collected almost 200,000 subscribers and recent videos are headlined “There are only two genders, get the f*** over it”, “Transgender children? No” and “Islam apologists are cancer”. The titles suggest an intuition for the potency of clickbait.
She is sing-song, contrary and incendiary — in another recent video, in which White addresses her critics, the footage cuts to one transgender figure. “At first I thought this person was a Japanese sex doll,” says White.
Her persistent complaint is about the narrative of victimhood she says is ascribed to the transgender community. “I am not f***ing oppressed,” she says in one clip. “People insist in keeping me in this victimhood [mentality] that does nothing for me. I am not a victim. And I am not playing your f***ing games.” She too was a (cautious) Trump voter.
The new lexicon
The movement has its own language and rhetorical style. There are keywords like “cuck”, which — in Shroyer’s words — refers to “someone who is weak-minded or will kowtow to whatever authority says. They’re never gonna question anything and they’re never gonna look into anything for themselves.” Shroyer’s fans call him the “cuck destroyer”.
On Twitter, Shroyer attaches the hashtag #helltothenaw to liberal opinions with which he disagrees; spelling “no” as “naw” suggests a Rust Belt dialect — the white, working-class areas where Trump picked up much of his support.
He also uses words like “wussification” (“The wussification of America ends now,” he tweeted. “You want a safe space? Stay home. #americaisback”). It speaks to the masculinity of the Trump movement.
Spreading the network
Much of the movement’s conversation takes place on Gab, which Breitbart has described as the “free-speech alternative to Twitter”. “If I had to pick a single event that pushed me over the edge to take action and found Gab,” its CEO Andrew Torba told Breitbart in August, “I would have to say it was the suppression of conservative sources and stories by the incredibly biased Facebook trending topics team.”
It is also a microblogging site, where you can share messages of 300 characters, versus Twitter’s 140. It loathes censorship and the site, which has around 130,000 users (Twitter has 317 million), has been called “the alt-Right’s very own Twitter”.
Its idols make it all look like entertainment. White’s presenting tics are millennial: eye-rolls, comic pauses, droll intonation, while Lahren speaks very quickly. One of Lahren’s more effective shticks is to be wide-eyed and so facetious that she almost, conversely, comes across as reasonable.
For example, she turns to the black community’s discomfort with white people covering music sung by black singers. “If a white gay man can’t sing Beyoncé on YouTube what the hell can the rest of us do these days?” she trills. “Can we sing songs in the shower, can we buy them?” With a deft hand she makes a discussion about cultural appropriation seem trivial. She faux undermines herself (“feel free to disagree”, she’ll say) thereby strengthening her position as a lonely campaigner for the maligned. It works.
Dress the part
For boys there is a haircut — a short back and sides but long on top (nicknamed “the fascie”) and three outfits: a dark suit, a Farage-esque heritage look or a skinhead with Eighties jacket and light-wash jeans.
Women are polished — they channel Ivanka Trump (not that she is a member of this movement, per se). Lahren has it down: smooth, tonged hair and slim-fitting A-line dresses. It is forgettable dressing: bland, American, sterile.
The golden rule
The unifying line across the whole movement is the idea of authenticity. It regularly invokes the idea of a liberal persecution complex and presents the movement as an alternative that will hold the establishment to account. Time and again Trump supporters talked about the “realness” of their candidate versus the lies of the Clinton campaign. “The reason why someone like me can become popular in such a short span of time is just because I’m real,” Shroyer explained to one interviewer.
The battle lines have been drawn and the narratives are still developing, but this group has the energy for a long fight. “Consider your bubble burst,” Lahren says, her eyes fixed square ahead, her body still. “I am your worst nightmare. I don’t care what you label me or how many times you come for me. I’m fearless — and I’m just getting started.”