Donald Trump rally
Credit: Evan Guest/Flickr

Yesterday during her speech in Reno, Hillary Clinton said this while talking about the fact that Donald Trump hired Stephen Bannon of Breitbart to be his campaign CEO:

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, Breitbart embraces “ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas.

Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-Immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right.’”

Alt-Right is short for “Alternative Right.”

The Wall Street Journal describes it as a loosely organized movement, mostly online, that “rejects mainstream conservatism, promotes nationalism and views immigration and multiculturalism as threats to white identity.”

The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the “Alt-Right.” A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party.

When Anderson Cooper asked Trump about that, he said:

“Nobody even knows what it is, and she didn’t know what it was. This is a term that was just given,” Trump said when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked if he embraces the alt-right. “There is no alt-right or alt-left.”

He got part of that right. A lot of people don’t know about the alt-right. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Kevin Drum says that is precisely why Clinton talked about them yesterday.

…she was giving the press permission to talk about Donald Trump’s racism. So far, they’ve tiptoed around it. But once the candidate herself calls it out, it invites a thousand think pieces about Breitbart, the alt-right, the GOP’s history of tolerating bigotry, Trump’s troubling background, and dozens of other related topics. Surrogates can blather all they want about this, but it doesn’t truly become a mainstream subject until the actual candidate for president makes it one.

This is part of the agenda-setting power that presidential candidates have. Donald Trump has used it endlessly, and now Hillary Clinton is using it too. Trump has made his bed, and Hillary is making sure he has to lie in it.

Bingo! In the lead-up to her speech yesterday, the press had been informed that Clinton was going to talk about this. I noticed primers on the alt-right from people like the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dave Weigel and Media Matters. If you want to educate yourself about these folks, those are a good place to start. But here’s a handy guide, what started out as white supremacists, became white nationalists, became identitarians, became alt-right.

One name that pops up a lot when describing the alt-right is someone who takes credit for coming up with those last two more “politically correct” labels – Richard Spencer. I wrote a bit about him a year ago when Evan Osnos published a fascinating article about how his travels among white supremacists had introduced him to the idea that they were celebrating the rise of Donald Trump. Here is how Osnos described Spencer:

Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.

And here is what Spencer said about the candidacy of Donald Trump way back then:

“Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

In a blog post he wrote before Clinton’s speech, Spencer suggests why he thinks Clinton will talk about them.

What could she be thinking in bringing our ostracized movement into the limelight?…

Hillary is trying to push the GOP into permanent minority status by empowering the Alt Right—and, believe me, she will be empowering us today. The Alt Right is, in a way, what people wrongly accuse the GOP of being: a nationalist party for White people. Hillary’s Alt Right speech will try to force the GOP to become what it is.

I wouldn’t say that Clinton “empowered” the alt-right so much as she shined a light on the dark places they inhabit. But there is a grain of truth in what he says about her trying “to force the GOP to become what it is,” at least in terms of how it exists today with Donald Trump at the helm.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.