When the Lunatic Fringe gets Mainstream attention

by Grania Spingies

So a guy almost nobody ever heard of before last Saturday holds a meeting where approximately 200 members show up—the size of a large-ish knitting club or a small-ish local atheist group—makes some benightedly stupid hand gestures, and scores the media coup of the century.

While one should probably not completely ignore people publicly championing a range of nasty and obsolete views that are predictably vomited by the mouths of white nationalists, a group that small certainly doesn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage lavished on them by the media. However, if you are a white nationalist with delusions of grandeur and a modicum of intelligence and a complete lack of inhibition, you can probably work out a way to troll the world and make everybody pay attention.

Since then, there has been the predictable avalanche of op-eds in which people generally agree that Nazis (even wannabe Nazis) are bad (this is good) and other op-ed responses that complain about the tone of the first op-eds for not being condemning enough and “normalising”—normalising is the new buzzword du jour —these fools and their acolytes. The problem, however, is not the daftly headlined and faintly breathless piece in Mother Jones describing the self-appointed Leader’s dapper clothing (and there was me thinking that only women were described in terms of the clothes they wear) and skills with chopsticks. [JAC: The headline, “Meet the dapper white nationalist who wins even if Trump loses”, has now been changed.] What might normalise them though is having their faces and ideas plastered everywhere.

So what should the media do? Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has an opinion on this. The whole thread is worth a read, but  pay attention to points 15 and especially 16.
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Douthat’s point is that it isn’t Spencer that merits attention, but rather Trump, who courted his ilk whenever it was expedient during the election cycle, and might continue to do so in the future. It is Trump and his regime whose feet need to be held to the fire whenever they make common cause with such groups.

I’ve read a couple of pieces by conservatives who make similar points. In The New Republic, Jacob Bacharach, who had a teenage flirtation of his own with Nazi fanciers, argues that they are a distraction, but points out that Trump and Bannon have used such groups as “an instrument of media relations”.

An even more revealing piece in Slate by Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart—and once a colleague of both Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos—offers an insightful analysis of white supremacist groups, the “alt-right”, and their links to Bannon and Trump.

So they’ve tried to broaden the definition so they can suck people into believing they’re alt-right, and then make themselves seem indispensable by saying, “Look at all these alt-right people. They’re all out here, and if the Republican Party pushes them to the side, then they’re going to pay an electoral price for that.” And then you have people winking and nodding at them because they think they’re an important constituency. So it’s a couple-step process, and glomming onto Trump has been part of that because Trump, I don’t think, is alt-right. I don’t think that Trump is particularly racist. I think he’s an ignoramus. I think that more than anything, Trump is willing to pay heed to and wink at anybody who provides him even a shred of good coverage. So if the alt-right, which worships at the altar of Trump—if they provide him good coverage, he’s willing to wink and nod at them and not wreck them.

Shapiro also has things to say about the partisan divide between the Left and Right and where some common middle ground can be gained by moderates from both sides.

I think that the more the left focuses on the things that are actually serious regardless of your politics—like corruption, like policies that are self-directed, that kind of stuff—that will have more of an impact than just going around shouting, “Racist, racist, racist!” I think one of the big problems here is that if you called Mitt Romney a racist in 2012—as Bill Maher said, if you turned it all the way up to 11 for Mitt Romney—it’s very difficult for people to hear you when you turn it up to 12 for Trump.

The common thread here seems to be: don’t get distracted by the antics from the monkey cage. There may be very serious issues soon that will need to be confronted and challenged. It is Trump and his official advisors and their forthcoming policies who should be scrutinised.



  1. Cindy
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    Another perspective here, from Quillette:


  2. Posted November 25, 2016 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Good job, Grania.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink


  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    That is a great conclusion from Grania. Excellent take on how the left, the demos and everyone of sanity should take this stuff. Burning up energy over the nuts around you is wasted time and calories.

    Let CNN and Fox go after this so-called entertainment and concentrate on real news and actions taken by Trump. Besides, his VP may be far more dangerous than he is.

    • Posted November 26, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Yes, Pence is still being overlooked. I’ve seen some (in many cases, joyous) speculation that Trump won’t last his full term. This is the last thing we want. Pence is a religious maniac who thinks it is his divine duty to legislate his faith into our society.

  4. Craw
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    With so many on the left acting like children it is encouraging to see serious, adult posts like this one.

  5. Posted November 25, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink


  6. Historian
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    During the campaign, Trump did little to disavow support from the white nationalist, neo-Nazi fringe groups. His hiring of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist did little to inspire confidence. He recently made a statement that seemed to condemn these groups. Unfortunately, whatever Trump says means little. To the extent that these groups successfully identify themselves as part of the “Trump movement,” the more dangerous they become. This is because to the many white folks with incipient racist and anti-Semitic tendencies, these groups will be perceived as a legitimate part of the American political scene, i.e., they will become normalized (to use the latest buzzword). Therefore, these groups have the potential to create significant racist movements, which could set back racial progress many decades.

    It is hard to say what the best strategy to defang these groups is. Perhaps it will help if the media ignores them. But we can’t be sure that the media will ignore them or that it will help. Many bad groups in the past started small and then gained momentum by playing to the fears, anxiety, and bigotry of the populace. It would certainly help if Trump continues to condemn them. His base might listen to him. In any case, it is far from irrational for watchdog organizations to keep a close eye on them. What will happen during the next four years under Trump is totally unpredictable. Vigilance is necessary.

    • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      “What will happen during the next four years under Trump is totally unpredictable. Vigilance is necessary.”

      Agreed, and as an older white male living in Alabama I’m often astounded by how groups like this are dismissed with description like

      “So a guy almost nobody ever heard of before last Saturday holds a meeting where approximately 200 members show up—the size of a large-ish knitting club or a small-ish local atheist group”

      I don’t get out much, and I try to avoid the racists, and xenophobes, but I would argue that their numbers are incredibly underestimated. My wife is a nurse at a nursing home,(3 different ones over the last 6 years) and she believes 90% of her residents are racists, and this is based on things they’ve blatantly stated. While that percentage is lower among younger people if you said less than 50% were blatant racists, I would disagree, in fact I suspect less than 25% of white Alabamians share my liberal non-racist views, 75% are racists to one degree or another.

      If the attitudes in that meeting of 200 people were to become acceptable to express, Spencer could fill stadiums in the most red of states.

      • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and currently reside in Nashville, TN. Whenever the locals yell “the South’s gonna do it again,” one is compelled to cautiously ask: What exactly?

        • chris moffatt
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          Makes one wonder though, if the North had to do it all over again would they bother?

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 25, 2016 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            .. I can maybe suggest a better location to build Trump’s wall…


            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 25, 2016 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

              (Please note that was cynical and facetious and not seriously advocated)

        • ploubere
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I’m in the Nashville area too, and my sense of the atmosphere in Tennessee and the South is that whites have bought the line that they’re getting screwed in favor of minorities and immigrants. That’s the basis of their hatred of Obama and Clinton.

          • Posted November 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

            Rick Santelli reignited an all-encompassing version of Reagan’s “welfare queen” fire in 2009 that was tediously fanned by Palin to become the mutated torch of jingoism now held by King Trump.

      • Pete
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Agree with you both. Vigilance will be necessary. There is, sadly, a lot of racial animus in the country for the lunatic fringe to work with.

    • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Explaining to the country’s largest racial minority that white nationalists have provisional dinner reservations at the diplomatic reception room seems like a force multiplier for diffuse racial tension.

      Call me an alarmist when it comes to anti-Semitism, but seeing “oven-ready” as a popular alt-right hashtag during this campaign season appears somewhat distasteful and seems potentially problematic.

    • Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Very well said.

    • Blue
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      This entire discussion, right here under and headed up by Historian / #6, Folks, has been enlightening and very helpful. Thank you, All.


      • Blue
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        And, particularly, of this point of Mr Paps’ which I do not know to be ‘fact’ but would easily wager that it, indeed, is fact: “that their numbers are incredibly underestimated.”

        The same I would, as well, wager re: the “numbers” of sexists. And include in those numbers and within my wager … … women as thus.


        • Blue
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

          … … and why my wagering = cuz it begins with one (— since the others of those “numbers” ‘ll follow): http://www.rawstory.com/2016/11/alabama-bank-vp-canned-over-racist-facebook-post-bragging-trump-could-buy-and-sell-obamas


        • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

          “And, particularly, of this point of Mr Paps’ which I do not know to be ‘fact’ but would easily wager that it, indeed, is fact: “that their numbers are incredibly underestimated.”

          One thing I point out about Alabama when it comes to racism is that fact that John Kerry got 25% of the white vote in 2004, Obama who won the presidency just 4 years later only got 10%. That difference can’t be explainable based on differing policies. So only 40% of the most liberal 25% of white voters chose Obama. If 60% of the most liberal white voters are racists, just imagine the degree of racism among all white voters. These people may be “lunatics” but they aren’t a fringe.

  7. Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The fact that any of this nonsense has to be confronted or challenged is an indication of how bat shit insane, reprehensible, and absurd our political atmosphere has become.

    Thanks for the memories, Trump.

  8. Gamall
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Why use Twitter if you’re going to need 18 tweets to make your point?

    2016, on a blog, and we need to unironically post several bloody *screenshots* of text that’s already been typed and posted online????? Why not print it out, send it by snail mail, and then scan it on a wooden table, while we’re at it.

    Why? WHY? WHyy-hyYYY-hyy?

    (I’ll get properly worked out about the politics stuff when I’m done being worked out about the asinine use humanity is making of its own technology.)

    • Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Because more people will read (18 x tweet) than will read a blog. Such is life on the Internet.

      • Gamall
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Had Trump promised to bring down Twitter, I’d have voted for him.

        Granted, I’d have had to obtain USAian nationality first, somehow, but still.


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

          What? 128 characters?

      • Posted November 25, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

        There’s a common workaround: put text into an image and tweet the image.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      You’re presuming it’s easy to extract the text (in ASCII) out of a tweet. Easier than taking a screenshot. Which I doubt.

      (I used to get similarly exercised about people who composed emails in MS Word. Like writing your letter on a brick, parcelling it up and sending it).

      And in general I agree about the sad waste of technology when we have marvellous high-definition screens and magnificent sound reproduction all devoted to watching Kardashians having domestic arguments.

      It did also occur to me that Douthat’s comments would have been better formatted as a blog, but Twatter is what he posted it on so that’s the format he’s got. Also your comment sounded rather rude towards Grania, which I hope was unintentional.


  9. Posted November 25, 2016 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  10. Posted November 25, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    “Normalizing” is actually a crucial word right now. If people had understood how abnormal Trump was during the campaign they would not have voted for him. I’m not talking about him being a maverick non-politician, I’m talking about him being a dangerously delusional sociopathic narcissist. He is mentally ill. The media ignored this and treated him like a merely outlandish politician. That is normalization.

    If you have a better word, please suggest it.

    • Posted November 25, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      The DSM-5 supports your thesis. This is why I hope there’s some Dialectical Behavior Therapy specialists available PRN on Pennsylvania Avenue.

    • Blue
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I concur, airbagmoments: I myself have been using it to verb – alize my thinking / my fright upon this election result + its subsequent short – and, more scarily to me (coming … … inside reality, as I am, to the end of my lifetime), its long – term “crucial” ramifications as re Mr Trump’s appointments (read that: Bannon, attorney general – pick, Supreme Court justice(S)’ nominations, DOEdn Secretary and beyond).

      Do, please Any, suggest “a better word” / what you would ‘rather be reading or hearing’ used as .the. descriptor – verb for this quite specific nutzo – scenario: fringe – wise OR “regular” – wise ?


  11. chris moffatt
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Adolf Hitler’s membership number in the german labour party, which became the National socialist german workers party, was “7”. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s harmless. It’s the nuts on the fringes who will try to steal power from Trump who are potentially highly dangerous. If they become the powers behind the Trump figurehead would he even know or realise? Oh well, nothing to worry about I guess, after all “It can’t happen here” can it?

  12. ploubere
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    The idea that whites are getting screwed by minorities and immigrants has been promoted by Fox News and Breitbart and Limbaugh for years, either subtly or overtly. It is now a widespread and virulent meme in all the places that voted for Trump. That’s why the wall was such a rallying cry for them, and is the basis of their hatred of Obama and Clinton.

    It’s also the basis of their hatred of LGBTQ and gay marriage law. They see any gain by a minority group as being at their expense.

    So 200 fascists doing nazi salutes at the Ronald Reagan Building is significant and not an aberration, unfortunately. To expect the white majority to act reasonably would be to discount history. We ignore this movement at our peril.

    • colnago80
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      You are correct and accurate and Ms. Grania is wrong. The number dastardly characters already nominated for federal offices by dumbkopf Donald is frightening. Bannon and Sessions are racist neo-fascists, Flynn, Mattis and Pompeo are certifiable. DeVos is out to destroy the public school system in the US. Dumbkopf Donald’s vice-president Pence is a fascist theocrat creationist, cigarette smoking/lung cancer denier and raging bigot.

      Spencer, along with his pals Don Black and Pat Buchanan are no longer fringe characters and have been boosted in visibility by the election of dumbkopf Donald

      • Posted November 25, 2016 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure you read what I wrote. My point is that it is the ones in office that matter and should be held to account for what they do and who they associate with. However, the trolls trying to boost their signal with stunt performances should not be feted and therefore rewarded by the media.

      • Simon
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure what Steve Bannon is, but to assert that he is definitely racist is to uncritically accept the frenzy of poorly researched and tribally motivated hit pieces coming out of left wing media. He might be a racist, but there is a lot of evidence suggesting that he isn’t and the evidence that he is seems mostly based on the media’s highly questionable interpretations of his statements and their unwarrantedly categorical characterisations of amorphous groups like the alt-right.

        One lesson I’ve learned from matching left leaning reporting about social media and online movements against what I know to be factually true from closely following events is that the reporting is rigidly narrative based and an almost perfect inversion of reality in many cases. I do wish that more people on the left, particularly those who see themselves as skeptics, would be more inclined to mistrust their ‘home’ media. They can make Fox News look responsible sometimes.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    In the early 1960s, before Barry Goldwater launched his run to for the Republican presidential nomination, leaders like William F. Buckley, Jr., made a concerted effort to purge white supremacists, anti-Semites, and John-Birch-Society-style fringe elements from the conservative movement, where they had been festering throughout the Fifties.

    Then, with Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and Ronald Reagan’s kicking off of his 1980 presidential campaign with a “states’ rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi (site of the infamous murder of three civil rights workers), the Republican Party recommenced a coquettish four-decade-long flirtation with these same white supremacist elements. This relationship gained momentum after the election of the nation’s first black president, with the co-option of the Tea Party into a far-right movement and the rise of birtherism.

    Those chickens have now come home to roost for the Republican party and movement conservatism with the nomination and election of Donald Trump and the rise of the alt-right. The leading alt-right publicity organ is Steve Bannon’s Breitbart website, which last March touted Richard Spencer as a leading intellectual in a flattering feature article about the alt-right movement. Bannon himself is ensconced as the Cardinal Richelie of Trump’s inner circle, set to become his administration’s “chief strategist.”

    These elements shouldn’t be given credit for more power and influence than what they actually have. But they certainly should not be ignored either, not when they have a fifth column within the White House’s west wing — sunshine and fresh air being known as the best metaphorical disinfectants for ridding a body of such vile pathogens.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      “Cardinal Richelieu”

    • chris moffatt
      Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      It has always irritated me to hear and read President Obama described as the “nation’s first black president”. The fact is that he is of mixed race – he’s just as white as he is black. But in the USA how white do you have to be to not be black any more? 60%? 75%? 90%? 99% It’s way past time for you people to f*****g grow up.

      • Historian
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        The definition of who is “black” goes back at least to slavery times when any person with the smallest degree of African ancestry was classified as black. This is why many people who had some African ancestry, but looked “white” decided to try to pass as “white.” That we still have this definition today bothers me. It reminds me of the Nazi laws that attempted to define who was Jewish. The fact that people still feel compelled to announce their race means that unfortunately race is still important to define a person’s identity. The Star Trek universe where one’s home planet, no less race, was inconsequential to how a person was perceived is, indeed, in all likelihood centuries away.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 25, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

        If the topic here had been Obama being the first black president, I certainly would have discussed that — as well as the “one-drop rule” that Historian alludes to.

        But the topic here is alt-right white nationalism, which encompasses the racist reaction to Obama’s presidency, rather than his presidency itself, so I didn’t.

      • Posted November 25, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

        More to the point: How does President Obama or any other individual view himself in terms of race? Who do you self-identify with? Who are you most comfortable with? Obviously, when President Obama ran for office his “mixed race” was emphasized. But, what groups of people was he most likely to “hang out” with when he was just Barack Obama.

        My “mixed race” college student grandson seems to select mostly “black” friends. I assume that’s because he feels more at home with them.

        When asked to provide my “race” on documents of any kind, I usually either don’t respond or write “N/A”. I could also just write “human”.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 25, 2016 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

          That’s the thing about the black community. Black kids can sometimes be cruel to kids of mixed race, but it’s nothing like the ostracism a mixed-race kid used to feel from the while world (though that’s better now than it was back when Barack was a child).

          Ultimately, it’s the black community that always treats such kids like family — family in the sense that the poet Robert Frost defined “home”: the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

          Hell, there were plenty of the black folk were still willing take in Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who was reverse-passing, the one didn’t have a drop of black blood to claim.

          • Posted November 28, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

            My friend Raven and other Native American rights activists think that social systems, not biological heritage, should determine membership in groups. I suspect there are African Americans who feel the same way.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    If that whiny, dissembling right-wing nut-job Ben Shapiro can now claim the middle-ground as the voice of moderation, the nation is in even worse shape than we thought.

  15. ToddP
    Posted November 25, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Focusing all attention on the fringe elements of either side is not wise, but it’s important to remember that we (the rational “we”) are not simply dealing with 200 white supremacists in a room somewhere. There were tens of thousands of chanting hordes at Trump rallies during the campaign. “Lock her up!”, “Build that wall!” It would’ve been nice to hear a rational voice speaking within that crowd to soften the rhetoric a bit. There was none. Now we’re left hoping that Trump somehow morphs into a capable statesman? Hmmm.

    The more emboldened the far-right elements like Spencer’s group become, there will naturally be an equal reaction from the far-left Regressive fringe. We in the moderate center may be squeezed into irrelevance by the loud shouters who will get all the coverage. I hate to be a pessimist, but with someone as oblivious as Trump at the helm, I don’t see much promise on the horizon. I tend to think we are two disparate nations trying to cohabitate, but the gulf grows ever wider. We are on the road (if not the fast track) towards becoming the Divided States of America.

  16. somer
    Posted November 26, 2016 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Re Shapiro’s point

    “I think that the more the left focuses on the things that are actually serious regardless of your politics—like corruption, like policies that are self-directed, that kind of stuff—”

    Something that are Trump integrity issues both parties can unite about (Not that there aren’t heaps of attacks on liberal values to be concerned about)
    According to the Washington Post 20/11/16 Trump has left his business in the hands of his children (who are among his advisers) instead of using a blind trust which is unprecedented in US history. He did EIGHT deals with businesses in Saudi Arabis during his election campaign and
    “At least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East, a Washington Post analysis of Trump financial filings shows.”

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