I’m back from Hawai’i where I didn’t spend any time at all thinking about Murray Rothbard or Willis Carto. I’m ready take on the alt right again. Let’s wade in right up to our armpits, shall we?
Here’s a little scenario:
Major Right Wing Figure (MRWF): “Here is Something Horrible I believe.”
Proud Right Wing Racist (PRWR): “I believe something Something Horrible too! In fact, MRWF got Something Horrible from me and is furthering my racist agenda!”
Liberal Social Justice Warrior (LSJW): “OMG, everyone, MRWF got Something Horrible from PRWR and PRWR actually thanked MRWF for carrying out the racist agenda!”
MRWF: “How DARE you say that your filthy hippie LSJW! In fact, YOU are the real racist for pointing that out!!
This is a common script we see played out over and over these days. Trump, the current occupant of the dump we call the White House, tweeted a gif of him hitting Hillary Clinton with a golf ball. Hilarious, right? Turns out, however, that Trump didn’t make the gif himself (surprise!). It was a retweet from from a racist account called, get ready to hold your sides from laughing, “fuctupmind.”
Conservative website, The Daily Caller, has posted a piece by Peter Brimelow on how the Great and Powerful Trump has reduced immigration. Peter Brimelow runs a site called “Vdare” dedicated to white supremacy. It isn’t the first time the Daily Caller has helped the white supremacist cause, and it probably won’t be the last. The Daily Caller was founded by Tucker Carlson, cable TV’s number one draw and widely admired by white supremacists himself.
But, remember, you aren’t supposed to point out that someone who gives a forum to white supremacists or is widely admired by white supremacists is a white supremacist. That Would Be Wrong. America’s #1 Nazi, Andrew Anglin, can write about how he loves the Republicans for carrying out his agenda, urges his followers to run for office as Republicans noting that ” you’re just running on the already established Trump platform. Presumably, you are already publicly a normie Republican.” But, according to the mainstream right, the real sin is not for the Republicans to carrying out the Nazi agenda, he real sin is to point out that this is happening.
All this makes me wonder about the very notion of the “alt right,” the very topic of my blog. To the extent that the respectable right, like Fox News, are carrying water for the less-respectable right, what is the point of drawing a line between the “mainstream” and the “alt” right? Perhaps there is no useful distinction to be made.
Historically, we have the example of journalist Westbrook Pegler (1894-1969). You may never have heard of him, but that is an example of how fleeting fame is. Pegler was one of the most popular newspaper columnists of the 20th century writing a column that appeared six days a week between 1938-1962. He was the first columnist to win a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism which he did in 1941 for his work exposing union corruption. Historian David Witwer was exactly right when he wrote that “in his day he played a prominent role, one similar to the current best known radio or cable TV commentators.” Despite this, he’s almost forgotten today; the last time he was in the news was in 2008 when Sarah Palin quoted him, without attribution, at the GOP National Convention. David Neiwert, among others, was quick to contextualize the quotation among Pegler’s other reactionary stances.
Pegler was a facile writer and had knack for getting his reader’s blood boiling. His writing was also larded with personal attacks. Margaret Marshall, writing for the liberal Nation magazine had him pegged (get it? Pegler!) right at the beginning of his career in 1938:
Pegler’s attacks on the Bureau of Internal Revenue were based on a personal outrage. His argument is invariably ad personam. It dispenses with,any obligation for knowing more than one fact at a time or weighing one against the other. And it makes fast reading.
Pegler’s distemper, combined with a lack of any coordinated point of view, much less understanding, of the world he writes in must drive him farther and farther into reactionary attitudes.1
Carey McWilliams, a leftist muckraking journalist, sounded a similar alarm a decade later in his study of American antisemitism, A Mask For Privilege:
When a Westbrook Pegler, therefore, refers to “that and hateful word democracy”; when he charges that under certain circumstances bigotry and intolerance vicious are not un-American; when he states that no correlation can be made between fascism and the K.K.K. (because the Klan is a good old-fashioned American institution); and when he defends lynching, as he did at the time of the San Jose lynching in California, he is doing so in terms of this bogus countertradition in American life.
The Nazis who stoked the crematoriums could at least offer the specious defense that they acted under orders; but no one ordered the murder of Roger and Malcolm, of Dorothy Willie as Mae and George Dorsey. No callow sophistries such Westbrook Pegler’s statement that “bigotry and intolerance are not un-American,” and therefore presumably not manifestations of fascism, can obscure the reality possibly of fascist trends in American life.
Naturally, McWilliams was called a commie sympathizer and his anti-racist ideas thought extreme by those on the political right. But, Marshall and McWilliams were right to be concerned about Pegler’s personal attacks and his apparent defense of bigotry. Pegler’s personal correspondence is preserved at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and they reveal a man who privately repeated some of the most noxious of antisemitic beliefs in the post-World War II United States. 1955, writing to Russell Maguire, owner of the antisemitic magazine, American Mercury, which is still revered by the racist right, Pegler claimed that the “good” Jews, like Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting attorney Roy Cohn:
would show better sincerity if they would placard the indubitable facts that the Soviet revolution was financed largely by New York Jews, that many of the prime movers were Jews from outside Russia and that Rabbi Wise and others qualified to speak for “Jewry” acclaimed this revolution as a boon to Jewry.
For what it is worth, Donald Trump thinks a lot of Roy Cohn. Pegler also knew who was responsible for the “fake news” of his day: the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith! He wrote to a different correspondent in 1955 that:
The ADL is a vicious Klux which has suppressed vital information from the American public by the implied but very plain threat of boycott by retail advertisers. It blackmails Jews in every walk of our life and steals our taxes for Israel both by direct contributions from our give-away bureaus and by ‘deductibility’ of cash gifts by Americans to the foreign sovereignty.
1955 was also the year that Pegler lost a libel suit to another journalist and his career began to unravel As Witwer notes, Pegler was fired from his writing column in 1962, writing for the John Birch Society for a brief time. The last stop on the road out of the land of the respectable right was certainly George Lincoln Rockwell (1918-1967) leader of the American Nazi Party. Rockwell had no patience for those of the American right who were half-hearted about the Jews; for him Hitler was right and it was high time that the nation came around to realize it. When you got a letter from Rockwell it came on his personalized stationary with this letterhead:
With Rockwell, there was no notion that he wasn’t “really” an antisemitic racist, no possible cover from the charge of “Nazi.” America’s most famous Nazi tried hard to recruit Pegler to write for his latest journalistic venture. Rockwell wanted to buy the American Mercury from Maguire (Carto would eventually get it) and thought Pegler would be ideal to write for the Nazis. He asked Pegler to help him form a new organization in 1964, one designed to attract all those whose antisemitism made them unwelcome in the extreme right-wing, but not antisemitic John Birch Society:
The organization to which I referred, about which you will be hearing will LOOK like a “Birch” Society, -and SOUND like a ”Birch” Society, but all concerned will take the Fifth (ostentatiously) when asked if they love Jews, etc. It will also display a willingness to see Martin Luther Coon and his gang slip away from us to Africa, the moon, the garbage pile or wherever else may seem most appropriate.
The two men met and discussed the possibilities:
let me belatedly thank you for your hospitality, -and the
inspiration I gained meeting a man I believe has added a new dimen-
sion to American letters, even if we have to gas another six million
before the world will admit it.
Nothing came of their proposed collaboration, Pegler was old and sick and died a few years later. Rockwell was murdered by his own followers. In many ways, Pegler’s demise mirrored that of Revilo P. Oliver in his move from respectability to the farthest reaches of the racist right. Indeed, the men collaborated on a project:
We should not ignore the racist right when the claim that the mainstream right is carrying out their agenda on immigration, or voter suppression, or anything else. And we should take seriously when the mainstream right draws on these resources. Marshall was right about Pegler in 1938: he was driven to become more and more reactionary. McWilliams was right in 1948 when he explained that Pegler was embracing the worst of our society. And the Liberal Social Justice Warriors are right today when they point out how the ideas of the mainstream right are found among the most racist ideologues we have.
1 Marshall, Margaret. 1938. “Columnists on Parade II. Westbrook Pegler.” Nation 146 (10): 273–76.
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You made some excellent points in this article. A concern I have is that people are so afraid of negative stories or stories that maybe just feel too unpleasant or real that the term fake news is comforting for them. If you think of things as fake news then that really unpleasant story can be ignored verses dealing with the reality of the truth.
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