Democratic presidential nominee #Hillary Clinton has announced that she will deliver a speech in Nevada Thursday in which she will assail the “#alt-right,” the political movement of online #trolls that is almost universally backing Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.
"This 'alt-right' brand is embracing extremism and presenting a divisive and dystopian view of America which should concern all Americans, regardless of party,” according to a statement from the campaign announcing the speech.
All of that is true. The alt-right is noxious and terrible, and its deep ties to Donald Trump, from significant Twitter overlap to the CEO of the most pro-alt-right major conservative website recently taking over Trump’s campaign. But for Hillary Clinton herself to address the issue in a major speech is a huge, huge mistake.
Keep the alt-right in its place
What is the alt-right? It’s a loose coalition of online bottom feeders, from a broad cross-section of the Internet’s very worst subcultures, from white nationalism to men's rights activism to the “anti-jihad” gang to Gamergate to 4chan and 8chan to people who use the word “cuckservative” in complete seriousness. It’s a group of people who sincerely believe that the biggest problem with the right wing in the Obama years has been not enough direct racial hostility.
But what’s important to know about the alt-right is that, as of now, it’s not all that significant. The “movement” consists mostly of faceless Internet denizens who aren’t even willing to use their real names. Its biggest stronghold is Twitter- except that its leading lights keep getting permanently banned from the platform. The alt-right doesn’t hold major rallies or have any notable real-world presence, and it’s aligned with exactly one politician, a man who stands a strong chance of being out of politics for good in less than three months. I would guess that 95 percent of the American electorate never has so much as heard of the alt-right.
There’s one super-effective way to change that: For Hillary Clinton to give a major, nationally televised speech in which she names the alt-right, draws attention to it, and therefore elevates it immeasurably. A lot of anti-Hillary folks might view the speech, hear of the alt-right for the first time, and conclude that a new, strident movement that despises Obama and Hillary is something that sounds good to them.
Don’t feed the trolls
It’s a commandment almost as old as the Internet: “Don’t feed the trolls.” If someone is trolling you — which, at this point, is about all the alt-right has the ability to do — engaging with them only helps the troll’s cause. Clinton’s campaign, buoyed by a lot of Obama veterans, is considerably more digitally savvy than its 2008 version, and light years ahead of Trump’s anemic digital operation. But you’d think they’d have imparted this important advice to their candidate.
From this, it’s not hard to imagine one scenario: Hillary Clinton is elected president, but the alt-right emerges as her “grassroots” opposition on the right, the way the Tea Party was in the early Obama years. If you thought politics were ugly in 2009, that was nothing.