Breitbart and the Alt-Right's Attempt to Go Mainstream

As racially divisive rhetoric and hate groups become more mainstream, "the platform for the alt-right" is trying to fit in, too — but advertisers are already running away.

Katie McHugh and Milo Yiannopoulos / TWITTER, REUTERS

The campaign and subsequent election of President Donald Trump have made hate groups and words more mainstream. And Breitbart News seems to be attempting to assimilate, too.


Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart before being tapped as Trump's chief strategist, previously described the publication as "the platform for the alt-right." According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the alternative right, or alt-right, "is a loose set of far-right ideologies at the core of which is a belief that 'white identity' is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states." SPLC adds that "racist ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up [this] emerging racist ideology."

Some of Breitbart's headlines under Bannon's leadership include "Planned Parenthood's Body Count Under Cecile Richards Is Up To Half A Holocaust," "Sympathy For The Devils: The Plot Against Roger Ailes — And America," "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew" and "Hoist it High and Proud: the Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage" — written two weeks after the mass killing of Black parishioners at a church in Charleston last year.

But Breitbart appears to be changing its tune — if not just on the surface.

Katie McHugh, a former reporter for the publication, was fired on Monday after she posted racially charged remarks on Twitter.

"There would be no terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there," McHugh wrote.

Her tweet caught the attention of Iranian American actor Pej Vahdat, who called her "a real moron." In a now-deleted tweet McHugh responded, "You're an Indian."

CNN put a spotlight on the incident on Sunday in an article in which various Breitbart employees shared their discontent with McHugh's tweets. At least three employees spoke out against the remarks, calling them "appalling," "terrible" and "dumb." The employees were not identified.

Perhaps caving to public pressure, Breitbart fired McHugh the following day.

Breitbart's efforts may have come too late, as advertisers have been pulling out. More than 2,200 companies have cut ties with Breitbart, according to Sleeping Giants, a group dedicated to encouraging companies to remove advertisements from offensive content, ultimately shutting hateful sites down.

And readership has gone down as well, The Washington Post reported:

"The site's visitor traffic has fallen 53 percent since November, from 22.96 million unique individuals to 10.76 million last month, according to ComScore, which tracks Web trends. Other news sites have seen a falloff since the election, too — The Washington Post and the New York Times are off 24 and 26 percent during this period, respectively — but Breitbart's losses are at roughly twice the mainstream rate."

Just several months ago, Breitbart had a different tune when it came to its staff members. Perhaps one of Breitbart's most notorious figures, Milo Yiannopoulos, resigned after old tapes were leaked of him making comments about pedophilia.

"You're misunderstanding what pedophilia means," he reportedly said. "Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty."

Controversy had surrounded Yiannopoulos for a long time. According to The Washington Post, "The site was under pressure to take action against Yiannopoulos, 32, from its own staff, which had threatened to revolt if he wasn't fired or disciplined, according to people familiar with the discussions."

But this did not stop the publication from praising Yiannopoulos following his departure.

"Milo Yiannopoulos' bold voice has sparked much-needed debate on important cultural topics confronting universities, the LGBTQ community, the press, and the tech industry," the site said in a statement following Yiannopoulos' resignation.

Some of Yiannopoulos' headlines that "sparked much-needed debate" include "There's No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews," "Milo At The Ohio State University In Dangerous Faggot Pre-Election Extravaganza" and "Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It's Time To Get Back in the Closet."

None of these stories, which still exist on Brietbart's site, were too extreme for the organization and in fact were praised, as evidenced by the publication's statement following Yiannopoulos' exit. But, just several months later, a statement that did not even appear on the Breitbart website led to an employee's termination.

Meanwhile, since the election season, hate groups, propaganda and figures have all assimilated into the mainstream.

Hate Groups Publicly Support Trump

David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and former state rep. for Louisiana, publicly praised Trump on multiple occasions.

On his "David Duke Radio Program" to start volunteering for Trump, Duke said that "voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage." He added, "I hope he does everything we hope he will do."

Separately, Duke told NPR, "As a United States senator, nobody will be more supportive of his legislative agenda, his Supreme Court agenda, than I will."

The SPLC refers to the KKK, founded in 1865, as "the most infamous — and oldest — of American hate groups." Duke founded The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1975. According to the SPLC, the organization has "attempted to put a 'kinder, gentler' face on the Klan, courting media attention and attempting to portray itself as a modern 'white civil rights' organization. But beneath that veneer lurks the same bigoted rhetoric."

Before the election, the chairman of the American Nazi Party enthusiastically threw all of his support behind Trump, telling listeners of his radio show that a Trump victory is "going to be a real opportunity for people like white nationalists."

In a September American Nazi Party report, according to BuzzFeed, Suhayda wrote: "We have a wonderful OPPORTUNITY here folks, that may never come again, at the RIGHT time. Donald Trump's campaign statements, if nothing else, have SHOWN that 'our views' are NOT so 'unpopular' as the Political Correctness crowd have told everyone they are!"

According to its website, the American Nazi Party is "advancing national-socialism into the 21st century." The SPLC describes the National Socialist Movement (NSM) as one of the country's largest neo-Nazi groups.

"The group is notable for its violent anti-Jewish rhetoric, its racist views and its policy allowing members of other racist groups to join NSM while remaining members of other groups," SPLC writes.

Alt-Right: Trump's Condemnation is 'Just Words'

After skirting around the issue, Trump eventually disavowed the white supremacists that were throwing their support behind him. But his loyal followers took the public rejection as more of a "wink wink, nudge nudge" gesture.

"I obviously would have preferred he not condemn, but I'm not going to read too much into that. It is what it is — just words," wrote Andrew Anglin, founder of the popular neo-Nazi "Daily Stormer" website, in a post Tuesday. "As long as he does what he says he's going to do, he can condemn whatever he wants and I'll still support him 100%."

In a later blog post Anglin proclaimed, "Donald Trump is setting us free."

"We helped get Trump get elected, and the fact of the matter is, without Alt-Right meme magick, it simply wouldn't have happened," he continued. "We were there every step of the way, keeping the energy HIGH all through these tubes. The people paying attention know how much good we did, and they know how much good we can do in the future, making sure young people get on board with Trumpism."

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