The Fall of the Alt-Right and the Rise of the Norm-Core Right

Walt Mismark argues that the alt-right has won, calling it “wildly successful”. Sebastian Jensen takes the opposite view, which I agree.

The alt-right lost in the sense it has been subsumed or overtaken by the trad/norm-core right and aesthetic on twitter, especially since 2022. Although some alt-right values were assimilated, it’s no longer the alt-right. Second, the alt-right became associated with low status behaviors and mannerisms, like LARPing or the archetypical basement-dwelling keyboard warrior, and subsequently fell out of favor. Few things convey low status like neck-bearded neo Nazis bulging out of their uniforms out of breath as they plod down the street (even if this hardly describes every alt-righter, being associated with it hurt the brand badly).

The norm-core right combines ‘hard core’ trad values with ‘normie’ aspects of socialization, hence norm-core. This separates it from the mainstream-right in that it takes traditionalism much further. But whereas alt-right sought to subvert or exclude itself from mainstream society, the norm-core reconciles the contradiction between holding anti-woke views but ingratiating oneself and even thriving in a mainstream woke society, like good-paying careers, attentiveness to physical appearance (hence the importance of lifting and gym), civic participation (elections are very important), and family. Christianity is also very important, with a ‘white pill’ message of revival or hope, as opposed to the secularism and a more nihilistic worldview espoused by the alt-right. This also contributed to the norm-core being higher status.

The norm-core right values activism and political participation in the context of mainstream conservative politics. Same for local politics and civic participation, such as school board meetings. This stands in contrast to the memetic warfare (e.g. shit-posting on 4chan and Twitter) that typified the alt-right. Or the creation of fringe troll-like parties (e.g. ‘Traditionalist Worker Party’) that had no aspirations of electoral politics, and the only evidence of its existence is the inordinate media attention it generated, all negative, still indexed in Google.

People are motivated by status, and the worst thing that can happen for any movement is for it to be seen as uncool. This what happened with r/atheism during 2013 for example. Atheism was the trendy thing to believe, not just internally but to wear one’s irreligiosity on one’s sleeve, and then it became a caricature or parody of itself. If atheism is to not believe, then do that; there is no need to make it your identity, like — ahem — a religion.

For the alt-right, it also did not help that its members kept being arrested and its online communities, social media accounts, and payment processing accounts shut closed, making it hard to raise funds or to coordinate. But under Elon’s leadership, having unbanned many dissident accounts and opposing censorship even at the loss of ad revenue, the alt-right should be able to thrive under post-Musk Twitter, but except for Nick Fuentes, it hasn’t. Same for the rise of Substack, which has also taken a principled stance on free speech. So this leads me to believe that censorship is not at the root of the problem.

The period from 2013-2017, following Romney’s lopsided defeat and the post-Trump deracination of the GOP, saw an ideological and intellectual void in which the alt-right could carve out a niche. This saw the rise of various antisocial oddballs who for a fleeting moment were able to find a footing in dissident politics. The included the likes Matthew Heimback, Chris Cantwell, and Jason Kessler among others. I don’t mean this description pejoratively, but these people made no effort at things like optics or personal appearance. Any attention was better than being ignored, which by 2020 with the rise of Covid, they were.

But post-Musk Twitter and Biden’s presidency had the effect of making the alt-right less relevant, as everything became viewed through a woke vs. anti-woke lens. With the battlelines clearly drawn, there is less need for dissident/fringe parties anymore. But the alt-right does not as readily fit within the woke vs. anti-woke paradigm or dichotomy, being that it also has intellectual roots in critical theory (e.g. Frankfurt School), fusionism, accelerationism, Durkheim theory and the like. The most popular accounts on post-Musk Twitter are more interested in owning the libs and posting viral clips of societal decay, like shoplifting footage or Apple store looting than deeper critiques of society.

At the same time around 2022 or so saw the rise of the alt-center/middle, as a rebranding of the centrism of the 2018-2020 IDW, but revitalized under post-Musk Twitter to much success. These accounts have gained huge followings by being anti-woke but never crossing into alt-right territory. Some are basically liberal except on key issues of most importance to their large followings, mainly pertaining to opposition wokeness and DEI. With Covid on the decline, the attention focused focused on wokeness, which led to success–but at the same time had the effect of making anti-vaccine content, which thrived in 2020-2021, seem conspiratorial and low-status.

In short, the alt-right became low status, and after 2021 was crowded-out by competing, higher-status beliefs on either side of the aisle. Jan 6th and the inauguration of Biden arguably marked a closing of the chapter of American politics that was the alt-right. The conditions that gave rise to the alt-right are probably not going to return anytime soon.