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News organizations are telling writers to be clear that the alt-right is a racist movement

The movement rose in prominence as it pushed for Donald Trump’s election.

“Terrible things were done to many different people during that terrible war,” alt-right leader (and sometime Trump supporter) Richard Spencer — pictured — has said.
Alt-right leader Richard Spencer at a white nationalist conference in Washington, DC.
Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

With Donald Trump’s victory, news organizations are increasingly finding themselves writing more about the so-called alt-right, a racist, far-right fringe movement that heavily supported Trump’s election.

As part of this, news organizations are also increasingly telling writers to be clear that this movement is racist. The Associated Press previously released a style guideline for this:


“Alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.


Again, whenever “alt-right” is used in a story, be sure to include a definition: “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

Here is an example from the AP news report:

With an ideology that’s a mix of racism, white nationalism and old-fashioned populism, the “alt-right” has burst into the collective consciousness since members showed up at the Republican National Convention to celebrate Trump’s nomination last summer.

Now the New York Times has followed suit, releasing its own guideline:

Let’s avoid using “alt-right” in isolation, without an explanation (which means it will rarely be appropriate in headlines). We don’t need to adopt one-size-fits-all boilerplate, but any description can touch on some key elements, based on our own reporting about the “alt-right”:

It’s a racist, far-right fringe movement that embraces an ideology of white nationalism and is anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist. It is highly decentralized but has a wide online presence. Followers rail against multiculturalism and what they see as “political correctness.”

So, for example, we might describe someone as “a leader of the so-called alt-right, a far-right fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist and anti-immigrant positions.”

Some news organizations, such as the liberal ThinkProgress, have taken more drastic measures, noting that it will not refer to the phrase “alt-right” except in quotes. Its editors argued that the term is merely a marketing ploy to mask the alt-right’s racist intentions, and journalists shouldn’t fall for it.

Vox, by the way, mostly follows the Associated Press on this, as is our default.

Speaking personally, I think the New York Times and Associated Press approach makes more sense than the ThinkProgress approach. While it’s true that “alt-right” seems to be an attempt to hide what’s really going on in the movement, it’s also good to be able to distinguish between different racist groups. For example, the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis are both racist movements, but you couldn’t lump them together in vague terms about racism without neglecting what makes each unique and, at certain points in history, frighteningly successful.

Besides, the term “alt-right” is already out there. Without using that phrase, it’s going to be a lot harder to help readers understand which specific movement this new wave of racists belong to. In this way, not using the term “alt-right” might make it easier for the people in the movement to get away with what they’re doing.

Watch: Fear and loathing at a Trump rally