The 2016 election introduced many Americans to what was previously a non-mainstream group in American politics: the alt-right. Last month saw the rise and sudden reversal of alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos’s incorporation into the conservative mainstream, after his controversial comments on pedophilia surfaced.
But the alt-right is not going anywhere. And with Steve Bannon, who boasted of turning Breitbart into “the platform for the alt-right,” serving as a chief adviser to President Donald Trump, it cannot be ignored.
The threat this movement poses to foundational American values and the key tenets of the Christian faith are so grave that Christians across the political spectrum should join together with other responsible citizens in opposing its pernicious influence and corrosion of our national character.
For those who are unfamiliar with the goals, methods, and nature of the alt-right, it can be described as a loose collection of individuals and groups that advocate for a far-right, ethno-nationalism that is centered on white identity and the notion that Western Civilization is under attack from immigrants, multiculturalism, feminism, political correctness, Muslims, and Jews.
At the heart of the alt-right is a vile racism that permeates the entire worldview. The racist elements of the alt-right are so predominant that some oppose the use of the term alt-right, favoring other descriptions like “white nationalists,” “white supremacists,” or even “neo-Nazis.”
Richard Spencer, the founder of the white nationalist organization, The National Policy Institute, and the man who coined the term alt-right, infamously led a rally in the days after the election of Donald Trump where the crowd made Nazi salutes after he shouted “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”
But even those who do not engage in such overt displays of racial bigotry and white pride are nevertheless motivated by a sense of white identity and focused on maintaining and fostering a culture and policies that they believe will benefit white Americans. This shapes their economic views, hardline immigration policies, and more.
Against these racist and xenophobic beliefs, Christian churches have taught the importance of all persons being a part of one extended human family. The Christian commitment to human equality is rooted in this recognition of universal brotherhood and sisterhood. The racism of the alt-right alone is enough to make it untenable for a serious Christian to be a part of the movement.
But Latinos and black Americans are not the only objects of enmity for the alt-right, there is deep anti-Muslim sentiment in the movement and it is linked to their belief in a “clash of civilizations.” The clash of civilizations is a theory proposed by the late Samuel Huntington that posited that after the end of the Cold War, there would be conflict between people whose cultures, values, and religions were incompatible with each other.
The alt-right maintains that Islam is not a religion of peace—that Islam itself, not just terrorist organizations like ISIS, is actively at war with the West, and that Muslims living in the West are an inevitable threat to Western culture and institutions. The exclusion of refugees from Muslim countries is not supported because they believe refugees present direct security risks, but in order to halt demographic changes.
Christians, on the other hand, are called to love and assist their brothers and sisters who face oppression around the world. This is why Christian leaders have called upon the United States and other countries to accept refugees and welcome migrants.
Christians maintain that diversity enriches society. It is possible to have a multi-ethnic and multi-religious pluralistic society—the proof is the American project itself. Freedom of religion is a fundamental right of all peoples, and Christians have a duty to stand up for the religious freedoms of others.
Another distinctive feature of the alt-right is the sexism and misogyny of the movement. Feminism is seen as a threat to the role of men as the heads of households. The alt-right is known for its online trolling and harassment, but its vile behavior toward women online is particularly egregious.
Likewise, the rise of anti-Semitic harassment on social media reflects the alt-right’s deep antipathy toward Jews, whom they often accuse of participation in conspiracies.
Christianity, meanwhile, has done better and better over time as a whole in affirming the full dignity and worth of women and promoting authentic equality, while also working to eradicate anti-Semitism from its churches. There is more progress to be made, but all Christians should be able to condemn the Nazi-like anti-Semitism of the alt-right and its degradation of women.
Finally, the alt-right has a distinctive foreign policy view, as well. In their attacks on globalism (which are frequently linked to anti-Semitic conspiracies), proponents promote an ‘America First’ approach of populist nationalism that is strongly anti-interventionist, anti-trade, and anti-foreign aid. They reject notions of universal human rights and global solidarity, key Christian political beliefs.
The only exception seems to be among those who promote a sectarian Christian agenda that places the well-being of Christians above the lives of non-Christians. We see this in action in their support of dictatorships that offer preferential treatment to Christians and in the debate over refugees from Syria. Many in this crowd advocate for letting in Christian refugees but refusing admittance of even Muslim children.
While the alt-right is not shy about its affection for dictators and strongmen abroad, it is also waging war on democratic norms here in the U.S. They declare real news fake and fake news real. This nihilistic assault on truth advances relativism and undermines democracy.
Christians who believe in truth and want to preserve the norms that allow our democracy to function must fight back against such efforts.
Racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism, sexism, sectarianism, and isolationism are not Christian values. Christians across the political and ideological spectrum must come together and speak with one voice: you cannot be Christian and support the alt-right.
Daniel Petri and Robert Christian are PhD candidates in Politics at Catholic University and organizers of a recent conference at the Catholic University of America on “How Catholics Should Respond to the Rise of the Alt-Right.”