David Neiwart has produced an eminently readable exploration of the rise of the Alternative Right in America, which culminated in the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
While I was well aware of the cosy relationship between the right wing media, the President and his supporters, it was only after reading this book I realised how long the depth and breadth of this relationship has been building. Those supporting the distorted view presented by Trump and his media allies includes white nationalist, conspiracy theorists, and racists who had never left the political landscape.
Neiwart argues ‘rivulets of hate mongering and disinformation-fuelled propaganda [had] been flowing out of the right-wing media for at least a decade’ aided by the almost total lack of reporting of right-wing extremism in the main stream media (page 3). The attacks of 9/11 provided further fuel for conspiracy theorists and a distorted focus on Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists while alt-media virtually ignored right wing terrorism, which was, and is, far more prevalent in America.
With Republicans controlling Congress in 2010, it was possible for Homeland Security Committee Chair Congressman Peter King to announce that there was no equivalent in the threat posed by al-Qaeda and that of home grown extremists, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary, and he refused to hear any evidence on domestic threats.
Organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which tracks extremist groups noted a decline between 2013-15 but sadly this did not mean they were any less active, rather they had moved online thus making them harder to track.
Several of the church shootings and bombings in recent years have been racially motivated but the alt-right rarely discusses this. Rather, perpetrators are described as ‘a lone wolf’ thus dismissing the incident as aberrant behaviour on the part of an individual rather than a systemic and/or structural issue.
For me, the Birther Movement is the ultimate conspiracy theory. Although the main stream Republican Party had scotched the notion back in 2008-9 that President Obama was not American-born, Trump joined the bandwagon in 2011. The release of the complete birth certificate did not stop the Birthers.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, notorious for keeping prisoners in tents in the desert heat and reintroducing chain gangs, even went as far as sending detectives to Hawaii to investigate and claimed the birth certificate was a forgery. This clearly confirms the author’s contention that evidence which clearly contradicts the alt-right view seems to present no difficulty to those who hold these questionable and/or extremist views.
The book is both eye-opening and chilling in explaining the seemingly weird, often violent and extremist views held by many in America which are reinforced by the alt-right media who repeat them unquestioningly and, when they can’t shoe-horn their version of reality into the coverage, they offer us ‘alternate facts’.
A great read.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Rating out of 10: 9
Distributed by: Bloomsbury Australia
Release Date: January 2018
RRP: $39.99 hardback, $22.50 paperback