The Alt-Right Extends Its Reach—Edited (Print) Version

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The “paypal mafia,” photographed at Tosca in San Francisco, October, 2007.
Back row from left: Jawed Karim, co-founder, Youtube; Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO, Yelp; Andrew McCormack, managing partner, Laiola Restaurant; Premal Shah, President of Kiva; 2nd row from left: Luke Nosek, managing partner, The Founders Fund; Kenny Howery, managing partner, Founders Fund; David Sacks, CEO, Geni.com and Room 9 Entertainment; Peter Thiel, CEO, Clarium Capital and Founders Fund; Keith Rabois, VP of Business Development at Slide, and original Youtube investor; Reid Hoffman, Founder, Linkedin; Max Levchin, CEO, Slide; Roelof Botha, partner, Sequoia Capital; Russel Simmons, CTO and co-founder, Yelp.

Max Levchin, a UIUC 1997 graduate in computer science, will deliver the keynote at commencement in May, Chancellor Robert Jones has announced, terming Ukrainian-born Levchin “an inspiring entrepreneur.”

After four start-up failures during college and immediately after, Levchin moved to Silicon Valley, where in 1998 he co-founded PayPal, the money transfer service, which eBay bought for $1.5 billion in 2002.

His PayPal co-founder was Peter Thiel, a Stanford grad, and Silicon Valley billionaire. Notable for his far right-wing, libertarian views, Thiel first came to national attention when he gave a prime-time speech at the 2016 Republican convention supporting Donald Trump.

PayPal made Thiel a multimillionaire; his early investment in Facebook in 2004 made him a billionaire. Thiel and Levchin originated what later would become known as the “PayPal mafia” in which Levchin played the consigliore to Thiel’s don.

After Trump’s election, Thiel and his buddies played a prominent role in the transition.

Peter Thiel with Donald Trump, Trump Tower, December, 2016. Thiel’s most high-profile moment during the transition occurred when he organized a meeting with tech leaders, including Tim Cook (Apple), and Larry Page (Google). As “a slew of reporters looked on in astonishment,” Trump was seen “gently petting his [Thiel’s] hand.”

Also along for the ride was Charlie Kirk, 24, founder of TPUSA. The “Deploraball” immediately before the inauguration celebrated the union of the alt-right and alt-lite. One participant said, “The thing about the alt-right and the alt-light is we all have the same style, in that we’re un-cucked,” that is, not conservative but hard right.

On right, Charlie Kirk appropriates the “OK” sign to make a “white power” hand gesture. The three upright fingers form the letter “W,” and the thumb and index finger form the letter “P.”

While at Stanford (BA ’89, JD ’92), Thielin 1987 co-founded the Stanford Review, a long-lived student conservative publication. Thiel’s “work and outlook today can be traced directly to his college years.”

For 30 years, the Review has fought against Stanford’s liberal and left majority, building a “quite impressive” network.  In Silicon Valley, “Review alumni have built an infrastructure that spans many billions of dollars in both company market value and personal wealth.”

Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu and Purdue professor Bill Mullen co-founded  Campus Antifascist Network (CAN) in August, 2017, days after the alt-right rally in Charlottesville.

In January, 2018, the Stanford Review published “Antifa Thugs Find a Champion and Leader in Stanford Professor.” The CAN co-founders “can mince words all they want: their organization is undeniably a chapter of a terrorist group, championing the same kinds of violent resistance that have muzzled free speech across the country.”

Palumbo-Liu responded in the the Stanford Daily student newspaper. Six Stanford law school professors from “across the political spectrum” argued that “there is no evidence that he has advocated violence or is a member of a terrorist group.”

Earlier, both Palumbo-Liu and Mullen had been vocal supporters of professor Steven Salaita during 2013-15, when UIUC withdrew a tenured job offer that led the AAUP to censure UIUC before it finally settled with Salaita.

CAN issued a statement on January 22, 2018 in support of UIUC history grad student Tariq Khan, harassed by TPUSA and disciplined by UIUC.

Another UIUC grad, James Damore (’10), moved to Silicon Valley, like Levchin, to work at Google. Damore wrote a 10-page memo in 2017, in which he argued that many fewer women worked in technology not only because of “socially-constructed” gender differences, but “in part due to biological causes.” Damore concluded that “we need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.” Furthermore, he labeled corrective reverse discrimination “authoritarian.”

April 5, 2018 TPUSA appearance by James Damore, former Google employee, co-sponsored by the libertarian Ayn Rand Institute and the Leadership Institute, a right-wing think tank.

Damore’s memo went viral, Google fired him; he sued Google, and joined the nation-wide, conservative, college talk circuit. He appeared at UIUC April 5 at a TPUSA-sponsored event.

 

TPUSA UIUC announces chapter president Andrew Minik’s impeachment by Illinois Student Government as chair of Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. It is not true that he was impeached “due to his affiliation” with TPUSA, but because he forwarded a student’s information received in his capacity as committee chair that led directly to her being “doxxed,” harassed and trolled online.

One day before Damore’s appearance, TPUSA’s Andrew Minik was impeached by a two-thirds majority of the Illinois Student Government as chair of its Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. In the 13-page formal articles of impeachment, the single most damning charge was that Minik not only organized an “anti-immigrant” TPUSA event, “Building the Wall: A Memorial for Victims of Illegal Immigration,” but that he “also disclosed an email sent to him in his capacity as the Chair of the Committee … to members of Turning Point USA, who proceeded to publicly shame and harass that student on social media.”

Facebook announcement for TPUSA’s anti-immigrant, “Build the Wall” event, March 15.

TPUSA’s cardboard wall went up March 15.

TPUSA “Build the Wall” event, March 15. On left with upraised thumb, is Joel Valdez, a TPUSA activist who has targeted UIUC grad student Tariq Khan.

Two days earlier, on March 13, Michael Hari and three other members of the White Rabbit 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, a domestic terrorist group in Clarence, located 35 miles northeast of Champaign, were arrested for allegedly bombing a mosque last August 5 in Minnesota and attempting to firebomb a women’s health clinic in Champaign last November 7. Last April, Hari submitted a $10 billion bid to build Trump’s border wall.

Internet video of an individual, presumably Michael Hari, calling on militia members to come to Clarence and support the White Rabbit 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, in March.

In another example of the overlap between the alt-right and alt-lite, and how they share symbols and memes, both Hari and Minik fly the Don’t Tread on Me flag, the one after the Confederate flag most frequently connected to white supremacists.

Don’t Tread on Me flag in front of building owned by Michael Hari, Clarence, Illinois.

TPUSA UIUC leader Andrew Minik, Facebook home page, Don’t Tread on Me flag on wall in background.

Key to understanding what the alt-right alt-lite is, and where it came from, is social media.

Social media = social + media, where “social” is our human, social world, and “media” is the technology of the Internet, a human and social construct, a representation of the “social.”

The Social Network (2010), the story of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, is actually about networking through social media. For this is what Trump and his supporters did.

Most people do not realize that, not only is Trump Internet troll #1, but that the Internet of 4chan, /pol/, /b/ already had voted for Trump in 2015. 4chan may not be congruent with Trump’s base, but it comes close.

What happened was that as the hacktivist group Anonymous was repressed out of existence on 4chan’s /b/ board, by the FBI and other agencies, what became the alt-right filled the vacuum thereby created.

Anonymous, 4chan. Pepe the Frog takes over the world, a widely shared emblem for /pol/, the political discussion boards on 4chan and 8chan.

Pepe the Frog exemplifies how it happened. The meme spread across 4chan by 2008, then was appropriated by and “jumped” to the alt-right, as it became asscociated with Trump’s campaign. When Trump retweeted a Pepe representation as himself, the circle was closed.

Donald Trump as Pepe the Frog. Trump retweets “You Can’t Stump the Trump (Volume 4),” October 13, 2015. Note links to alt-right alt-lite sites the Drudge Report and Breitbart News.

In retrospect, we can see that Trump had won the 2016 election by October, 2015.

An outfit like TPUSA UIUC was just one of many alt-right alt-lite groups relatively slow to reproduce and retweet the now-white nationalist Pepe the Frog meme.

Slide, TPUSA UIUC meeting agenda pairs Trump and Pepe the Frog, February 16, 2017.

Time to draw up a balance sheet. Today, we may characterize the core issue as (economic) libertarianism + (political) autocracy versus (liberal) democracy. This has scrambled what we think of as “left” and “right,” “liberalism” and conservatism.” Most people most of the time do not consider the Right—Republicans, libertarians, alt-right and alt-lite—“extremists” and “radical.” In fact, they are. In this contest, Democrats are—ironically—conservative, because they want to preserve (liberal) democracy.

About Richard Esbenshade

12-year resident of Urbana, taught history for several years at UIUC, specializing in Eastern Europe; contract not renewed due to budget cuts, currently self-employed; longtime activist in peace/green/social justice/solidarity movements; father of two, including Public i alumna Shara.
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