A Fourth of July Tale: Encounter with the Alt-Right
“History may not repeat itself. But it rhymes.”
- (attributed to) Mark Twain
For some years now, I’ve kept up a family tradition on the Fourth of July. And that is to watch the movie “1776.” It’s a film based on a hit Broadway musical that first appeared in 1969. The movie came out a few years later.
Watching that film as a youngster had a tremendous impact on me. It drove home the historical reality that the men who cobbled together the United States during that hot, Philadelphia summer were just that: men. Imperfect and flawed like all of us.
Up until that time, American schoolchildren like myself were taught to revere the Founding Fathers as superhuman beings. Demigods who created our country using some omnipotent magical power. But the movie took away that mystique and replaced it with something far more valuable. A real, down-to-earth, all-American lesson: It doesn’t matter if the odds are against you, or how impossible something might seem. There’s always a chance a small group of diverse, adversarial-yet-united, determined people can make the extraordinary happen.
In 1776, everything was against the Colonials. Most reliable estimates indicate less than half of the three million or so citizens of the Colonies supported the War of Independence, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The most reliable statistics on active participation in the conflict are about 6.5% of the population. A respectable number, but far from the myth that everyone on every street corner was gunning for the British. There was no money, few resources, and an ever-dwindling supply of hope.
No. It was not an easy fight. But the war with Britain was fought, and it was won. The United States came into existence. Proof positive that a few people can bring great change. For good, or for ill.
Recently, I’ve been following the exploits of a political movement that considers itself the latest band of American Revolutionaries: The Alt-Right. So when some of their leaders decided to hold a rally in downtown DC, I thought I'd check them out. See what it is that is making them so angry, and active.
When I arrived at the Lincoln Memorial for what was billed as a “Free Speech Rally,” the first thing I noticed about the speakers and the assembled crowd was how young they all were. This was in stark contrast to the many gray-haired, counter-demonstrators further up the steps and safely separated from their competitors by a barricade.
Most of the Alt-Righers seemed to be their 20s or early 30s. They were neatly dressed, for the most part. Some even wore suits. They also appeared to be very comfortable in their skins. None of that over-nervousness one tends to see when a lot of angry young people show up someplace with poorly painted signs and over simplistic chants. No. These mostly young men were definitely in charge of the situation and their immediate surroundings.
The assembled crowd of supporters was not that large. Perhaps two to two hundred fifty at most. But there were more than a few video cameras present that were either recording the speeches for later distribution or feeding images live to interested parties around the world — which I would later discover numbered in the thousands.
After a few speeches, it seemed to be a nothing special event. Like most public rallies, it was as much a chance for the participants to hob-knob and network as it was to make a statement. No rocks and teargas were in the offing. Law enforcement was present, as was a large crowd of tourists from around and the world — busily snapping group photos and selfies. A few visitors even seemed delighted to have had the chance to witness a “real American protest.” Something to tell the folks back home.
But then I noticed one of the banners flapping amidst the United States, Confederate, and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. A green and black gaudy-looking thing that mimicked a German World War II battle standard.
When I asked one of the participants what the mysterious flag represented, I was told it was the national flag of a place called “Kekistan.” The explanation given to me was then followed with the utterance of the slogan “Praise Kek!”
It was at this point I began to realize a rabbit hole was about to be tumbled down. This was not your typical gathering of pissed off youngsters. It was something very different. They were something very different.
Now, without going into the meaning and significance of Kek, Kekistan, Pepe the Frog, and all the other accouterments of the Alt-Right movement, let me give you a simple explanation of what I think we are seeing:
The Alt-Right is a politically active component of the generation that grew from infancy into adulthood by way of the Internet. From birth, these kids have been swimming in massive amounts of information delivered by increasingly advanced technology at a rate and in quantities no earlier generation of humans has ever experienced. And although people like myself have been using computers since the late 1970s, we didn’t grow up with them. Our formative years were entirely analog. People of my generation and earlier probably can’t even think like these youngsters, let alone relate to them. It isn’t that one generation is “right” and the other is “wrong” in their way of thinking. Just different. Very different.
This could explain a lot. And it does a pretty good job of explaining how so may people in the establishment misread the political mood of the country during last year’s presidential election and continue to do so. The people who tried to get Hillary Clinton elected were still thinking in terms of television ads and editorials in newspapers to make their case. Her handlers thought that fund raisers drumming up millions of dollars for conventional media purchases would somehow ensure her election. Unfortunately for them, they discovered far too late that fewer and fewer people are sitting in front of TVs these days, and even fewer bother to read newspapers.
It’s not that the establishment politicians and media outlets don’t realize the world has changed. They do (sort of). But I doubt they can yet conceive how much it has changed. It was, and probably still is, beyond their cognitive abilities to grasp this reality. The world of Internet-centric media is as different from the traditional form as a round of golf is to a vicious game of street hockey. Only, in this case, one side knows what game is being played. The other doesn’t have a clue.
The Alt-Right movement is being misunderstood and grossly underestimated. Its leaders and growing numbers of followers are being labeled and dismissed out of hand as “racists,” “Nazis,” “white supremacists,” “klansmen,” etc. And although many of the beliefs shared by some of the Alt-Right would have been more than acceptable at a KKK gathering or Nuremberg rally, these knee-jerk labels simply don’t apply to all of them. Some of the Alt-Right are black; some are Hispanic; some are Jews; many are women. This is a totally different animal playing by totally different rules.
Why the Alt-Right came into existence is open to debate, if not a full-on research study. But what seems to have fueled the movement more than anything else is the pressure cooker-like intensity that has built-up over the past couple of decades caused by “political correctness.” What the late Charlton Heston so eloquently called “tyranny with manners.”
When people are made to suppress their opinions and be fearful of their words, the inevitable backlash should come as no surprise. One very obvious clue was the naming of the event held at the Lincoln Memorial as “The Free Speech Rally.” And in reading any of the writings or speeches of the Alt-Right celebrities, the term “free speech” shows up regularly and with emphasis. These are members of a generation that grew up immersed in information about every topic known to man, yet taught to be scared to death of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. Mentally and intellectually being caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s no wonder that a growing number of them have decided they have had enough, and have taken to the streets. You cannot have free thought without free speech.
Now, in case you don’t already know, Kekistan isn’t a physical place. The flag I saw that Sunday represented something that is concurrently real and not real. A conception that is both a joke and a deadly serious statement of fact.
This explanation may sound like a contraction. But it’s a very old lesson taught by many of the esoteric mystery schools of antiquity. If enough people believe something is real, it is real. And its “reality” has a tangible effect on the real world and all of us who live in it. It’s a concept I’m sure is not lost on many of those who are behind what we are seeing emerge on the political landscape. The Alt-Right is using a new, modern playbook with very ancient roots.
Kekistan notwithstanding, it remains to be seen if the Alt-Right has the legs to be a long-term political movement. When the American Revolution began, all was excitement and romance. It probably seemed to the average British soldier that every able-bodied colonist was taking up arms against them. But that wasn’t the case.
As the cold, hard reality of war became apparent, the ranks of the Continental Army grew thinner and thinner. Most of the original Minutemen quit the fight early and went home to become what George Washington scornfully called “Chimney Corner Patriots.”
Something of this sort could occur with this “revolution,” as it has with others (Remember “Occupy Wall Street?”). Perhaps resulting in many of the participating Internet-centric youth retreating to their mother’s basement when the going gets tough. But as we have seen throughout history — especially our history — a few determined, dedicated men, willing to risk all, can make a difference.
But 1776 was a long time ago. That was then. This is now. And this is different. Very different. Are these youngsters just playing, or are they playing for keeps?
This will be an interesting and eventful summer.
For good, or for ill.
Happy Birthday, America. The fireworks are just getting started.
© 2017 Thomas Michael Caldwell. All Rights Reserved. This written work is not to be copied or reproduced without the permission of the author. Links to this page from other websites is permitted and encouraged.