To live in modern-day America is to live in a country undeniably affected by racism – mysteriously, without any racists. For instance, even after calling Mexicans rapists, retweeting memes from white-supremacist message boards and saying Muslims should be banned from entering the country, Donald Trump says he's not racist. Former KKK leader David Duke – an authority on this subject, if there ever was one – agrees. Many of the Republican nominee's other fellow party members have also enforced the idea that he's not racist, even if they must contradict themselves in doing so:
We live in a society in which damn near nothing can pass the bar for racism. At the same time the Republican Party has ushered in an era of socially regressive leaders like Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina, we're increasingly finding ourselves stuck in debates over whether statements or people are "really" racist. At her Reno, Nevada, rally Thursday, Hillary Clinton aimed to put an end to that pointless train of thought by attaching Trump to a movement that's clearly and unrepentantly racist.
If you haven't seen this Hillary Clinton speech on the alt right and Trump, it's worth 30 minutes of your time: https://t.co/JxZell3B5c— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) August 26, 2016
Before Clinton took the Reno stage to calmly and thoughtfully dissect the so-called "Alt-Right" movement, it's fair to say much of America had never heard of it. Though the Alt-Right sounds like an innocuous keyboard shortcut, the movement is actually a collection of ultra-conservatives who lurk in dark corners of the Internet, like 4Chan and Reddit threads, where they often anonymously spew their hatred.
But what may be most important to understand about this clique is that they are so far removed from the already troubling "establishment" conservatives that they consider themselves an alternative to those who find coded racism, misogyny and xenophobia to be too weak and passive. Their war isn't simply on Democrats, or on multiculturalism, or on women – it's on other Republicans, especially those unwilling to embrace their prejudicial megaphones. They repeatedly refer to members of their own party as "cucks" – short for cuckold – because they believe establishment Republicans gain pleasure in sitting back and watching their country "get fucked."
This past spring, as Trump was racking up wins in primary states around the country, Breitbart published an extensive explanation of who makes up the Alt-Right. The article was co-written by Milo Yiannopoulos – the same Milo who, in a review of the new Ghostbusters movie, launched an all-out misogynoir attack on actor Leslie Jones that resulted in her being so viciously harassed by Milo and his 750,000 followers that Twitter banned him from the service for life. (A month later, Jones' personal website was hacked and nude photos of her were stolen.)
Recently, Trump made his ties to the Alt-Right movement much more explicit by hiring Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart – a longtime safe space for white-supremacist ideology – as campaign CEO. The Alt-Right movement's rise to prominence, by way of the Republican nominee's campaign, is why the movement matters, and why we can't afford to frame its members as anything less than a band of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, white-nationalist xenophobes who spew dangerous bullshit while hiding behind their keyboards. The Alt-Right crowd is an ensemble of bigots who want us to understand their affinity for intolerance. Case in point: The Alt-Right group American Renaissance responded to Hillary Clinton's speech by writing, "There is a very broad overlap between the races, but they differ in average levels of intelligence and in other traits."
Now that the Trump campaign has put these people center stage in our national politics, the worst thing we can do is dither on about whether they – and he – pass the "officially" racist test. The Alt-right crowd believes in and endorses a racist ideology, and they have a presidential nominee who does the same. Calling these people anything less than vile racists would be morally reprehensible and intellectually fraudulent.