WASHINGTON -- Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech on Thursday addressing a movement that self-references as the "alternative Right," also known as the alt-Right, a sub-sect of the Republican Party that had previously lived exclusively online before the emergence of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Blaming the rise of a movement she characterized as "extreme fringe" on her opponent, Clinton accused Trump of "refusing to condemn" death threats and "anti-Semitic slurs" from alt-Right pioneers, and warned that his policies would put their "prejudice into practice."
"There has been a steady stream of bigotry coming from him," Clinton said.
"It's like nothing we've heard before from a nominee," she added. "He is taking hate groups mainstream."
Trump preempted Clinton's speech with one of his own, accusing Clinton of "trying to smear" his supporters.
"She paints decent Americans as racists," Trump said in New Hampshire. He defended his tough policy on closing the US-Mexico border: "That doesn't make you a racist," he said. "It makes you smart. It makes you an American."
"People who speak out against radical Islam and warn against refugees are not Islamophobes," he added. "If the choice is between saving lives and appeasing politically correct censors in Washington, DC, that is the easiest choice."
But in her address from a college in Reno, Nevada, Clinton characterized the alt-Right movement as an extreme fringe unrelated to the conservatism that has grounded the Republican Party for decades.
"This is a moment of reckoning," Clinton continued, "for every Republican dismayed that the party of Lincoln has become the party of Trump."
The alt-Right movement is affiliated with white nationalism, and is aggressively anti-immigrant. While its membership is unofficial and its messaging largely unorganized, some of its most vocal members– its "leadership" on the web– have described the group as the "subversive, underground edges of the internet" that has become "addicted to provocation."
The one difference between the alt-Right and white supremacist skinheads, wrote Milo Yiannopoulos, one such Internet leader, is "intelligence."
The "natural conservatives" of the alternative Right are "mostly white, mostly male middle-American radicals, who are unapologetically embracing a new identity politics that prioritizes the interests of their own demographic," Yiannopoulos wrote in March. These alt-Right warriors, he said, are chiefly concerned with "the preservation of their own tribe and its culture."
The movement has thus been characterized as unabashedly racist, as its members– largely white and male– are driven by a political philosophy that discriminates on the basis of race.
Early on in Trump's bid for president, the candidate began receiving positive coverage from Breitbart.com, characterized by its founder, Steve Bannon, as "the platform for the alt-Right." Bannon was appointed chief executive officer of the Trump campaign earlier this month.
But the movement has also faced accusations of anti-Semitism, ever since David Duke– a former Ku Klux Klan leader
and avowed white nationalist made famous for his lifelong campaign promoting Jewish conspiracy theories– endorsed Trump with gusto earlier this year.
"The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the 'alt-Right,'" she said. "All of this adds up to something we’ve never seen before. Of course there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone, until now."
"On David Duke’s radio show the other day, the mood was jubilant: 'We appear to have taken over the Republican Party,' one white supremacist said," Clinton continued. "Duke laughed. There’s still more work to do, he said."
The movement festered for years on platforms 4chan and 8chan, where countless anti-Semitic graphics have originated, including clip art of a six-pointed star accusing Clinton of "corruption" that ultimately reached Trump's personal Twitter feed.
That star was greeted by the American Jewish community with concern, but Breitbart.com called the whole affair a "fake controversy."
"The fact that banks like Goldman Sachs funnel cash to Clinton is not an indictment against Jews in banking," one Breitbart writer asserted. "It is an indictment of a political class that puts commerce before country."
The outlet has accused Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard
, of being a "renegade Jew" for opposing Trump's candidacy– a charge that Kristol himself has characterized as anti-Semitic, for its suggesting that Jews should think and vote as a collective. The site has stood by its story.
After one of their own editors, Ben Shapiro, publicly criticized Trump, the Jewish journalist received a torrent of anti-Semitic criticism that prompted a response from the website. "Nobody hates Jewish people," its current leadership wrote.
While the alt-Right movement appears to reject the labels that it is racist and anti-Semitic, it does appear to embrace white supremacism, and seems to identify its insurgent cause with the Trump campaign.
Clinton claimed that the "fringe" alt-Right has effectively taken over the Republican Party, and to lay blame for its "hateful politics" at the feet of her rival.Trump in recent days has pushed back against Clinton's characterization of his campaign and the alt-Right movement– an effort designed to confuse voters, Clinton says.
Trump has begun publicly appealing to African American voters, claiming that Democrats have offered the community decades of hollow promises. And he declared a willingness to "soften" his stance on immigration earlier this week.