The decision by the Irish Times to publish an article on Wednesday introducing its well-heeled readers to the political culture of the alternative right movement in the United States, including a lexicon of favoured alt-right terms, has created a bit of kerfuffle on Twitter and Facebook. Written by Nick Pell, an American conservative now resident in Ireland, the tone of the piece certainly seems a bit odd, the featured list of pejoratives reading more like a far right primer than a critical overview. There is a fair argument to be made that the article should have been subject to stricter editorial control. However, now that the piece has been published I strongly disagree with those who are calling for its removal. Actively censoring those perceived to be unduly sympathetic or understanding of the alt-right party in America (or indeed, Europe) is a dangerous step to take. Such policies simply bolster the ultra-right’s vainglorious image of itself. Indeed the alt-right almost invites such responses. Its eagerness to turn popular dismay at its tenets into a plus not a negative has given rise to its message-board mantra, “Your hatred feeds me!”.
Whether we like it or not, the presidential election of the New York real estate tycoon, Donald Trump, has made the alt-right mainstream in the politics of the United States – and by extension the rest of the Western world. This brings with it the strange mix of elitism, Silicon Valley libertarianism, xenophobia and old fashioned racism which characterises the Millennial far right and which we ignore at our peril. Such ideas – however inimical – need to be openly debated, contested and defeated not driven underground or behind closed doors. Making something so dangerous that we cannot see or hear it merely grants it a form of glamour and mystique that makes it all the more attractive to the curious and malcontent. If we cannot kill the alternative right with the strength and validity of our beliefs then the fault is ours not theirs.
And, as always, censorship is a double-edged sword. The censors of today can be the censored of tomorrow.
Update: There is some fun to be had, though, from seeing the staff at the Irish Times moving into lockdown mode on social media. Not to mention our own right-wing tendency – foreign and domestic, as the Americans might say – predictably taking to the conservative Twittersphere in defence of the controversial article.