All posts by Lena Zlock

Thesis Moment: Reading the Alt-Right as an Activist Movement

Research question(s): can we classify the alt-right as an activist movement, and if so how is it an activist movement, and why does this matter?

Thesis: in creating an agenda and seeking to enact change, the alt-right employs rhetoric characteristic of an activist movement. To understand this rhetoric, I will be analyzing a sample size of posts from two major alt-right forums: 4chan’s /pol/ or “politically incorrect” board, and Stormfront, a white nationalist site describing itself as “the voice of the new, embattled white minority.” First, I will discuss my choices in focusing on these groups, and why in particular on online communities. Second, I will analyze key features of forum rhetoric, and how they correspond to prevailing definitions of activism. Third, I will underpin this discussion by comparing these two forums with Reddit’s /r/evolution board, a liberal group devoted to “the free flow of information” as well as democracy. Drawing this parallels will drive home a major point: the left and right are closer, if not in their ideologies, in the structures and processes they use to pursue their agendas and enact change. My evidence consists of forum posts, scholarship done on online community formation, and popular media sources (primarily liberal, to show the need for a better understanding of the alt-right by the mainstream news).

Reading the Alt-Right as an Activist Group


The process of creating the infographic and revising my proposal led to a principle finding: I should approach my question (« how can we think about the alt-right as an activist group? ») in a comparative light. Among the comments that stood out on my proposal, the reviewer asked for further parallels between the alt-right and liberal groups with an established status as activists. I realized the utility of outlining these parallels lies in not only furthering my argument that the alt-right is an activist group, but also delving into what it means to be an activist. By simply applying this label, I made a number of unspoken assumptions about the nature of activism. Bringing the rhetoric of the alt-right into conversation with a liberal activist group like PETA or Reddit’s popular forum /r/evolution would serve two functions:

  1. It would highlight similarities between two seemingly polar opposite groups. While their ideologies might be different, they both rely on the same framework of activist rhetoric and strategy.
  2. By bringing forth this common structure of ideas, I will be pushed to question what it means to be an activist, and in particular what it means to hold the moral high ground, or in my particular study, what it looks like to be on the « right » side of history.

This comparative approach was underscored by my infographic. As I began constructing my infographic, I realized that simply putting forth the alt-right as an activist group could not stand on its own. For one, the alt-right is at first glance a far cry from what anyone would call an activist group. And second, by contrast, contextualizing the alt-right within a broader activist framework would lend legitimacy to my argument. It also helps the audience to connect the material I present with groups with whom they are already familiar. There is also a certain shock value to putting a group like PETA alongside a white nationalist forum. The shock value in this case seeks to push the audience their assumptions about activism.

Given my work on the proposal and the infographic, I will continue with my original question: « in what ways is the alt-right an activist group? » But rather than simply discussing the alt-right on its own, I will bring in comparative elements that will drive the urgency of this question home to the audience.