A year on from the deadly violence of Charlottesville 2017, it is worth assessing both the current state of the Alt-Right movement and the external political factors that potentially influence its internal development.
The Unite the Right 2 Rally of August of 2018 garnered great attention and anticipation: yet in comparison with previous events of this nature, it turned out to be a damp squib. Outside the White House on August 12th an unexpectedly sparse number of attendees were outmatched by a strong showing of counter-protesters. The rally failed to garner any sort of symbolic momentum. Rally-goers in 2018 eschewed the Nazi and supremacist symbolism that characterized the Charlottesville violence, and opted for polo shirts and khaki pants instead. Analysts have posited various explanations for the low turnout, but one possibility is that the movement has been injured by the splintering of its internal leadership. Many of the names that were driving forces in last year’s Charlottesville protest are currently in legal trouble, or have been ostracized by their political communities in the wake of the fallout from the devastating mayhem that took place at that event.
Media attention has also focused this summer on conflicts involving the Patriot Prayer group in Portland, Oregon. This Alt-Right group has distanced itself from white nationalism and promotes a broader, more libertarian-leaning platform. The disunity of fundamental objectives these two demonstrations indicates that the Alt-Right – which has always been a loose coalition – is now undergoing an increasingly decentralized attachment to a concrete political agenda.
However, an alternative explanation for the anticlimactic nature of Unite the Right 2 is political savviness by the leadership of the Alt-Right movement. As the mid-term elections approach, Alt-Right leaders are aware of how a repeat of the disaster of Charlottesville could hinder political success in November. Some within the Alt-Right understand that any opportunity for hostile media coverage in the next few months could hamper the ultimate social and legislative goals of the movement. What we are witnessing may not be the “dullness” of a movement that is running out of steam, but a conscious decision to avoid controversy.
The death of John McCain also has implications for the future of the Alt-Right. The Republican juggernaut and war hero included a powerful message to the Alt-Right movement in his farewell, stating, “Fellow Americans — that association has meant more to me than any other. I lived and died a proud American. We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil.” The reference to ‘blood and soil’ was a calculated rebuke to the ethno-nationalist movement. McCain’s passing drew the nation’s attention to the demise of bipartisanship in the contemporary political climate and has had a profound impact in unifying the country across party boundaries. It is notable that President Trump did not receive an invitation to the fallen Senator’s funeral: a powerful indication of depth of the divide that has emerged within Republican Party politics.
Much has changed in the past twelve months, since Charlottesville. McCain’s death may play a part in the revival of bipartisanship. If that is the case, it will stand as a testament to his political legacy. The upcoming election will constitute a litmus test of the Alt-Right’s overall influence on national politics since the horrors of last August, and will give us a sense of what to expect in second half of the Trump presidency.