by Ben Cohen
UPDATE: Steve Bannon has officially stepped down from Breitbart.com.
News broke this past weekend that Milo Yiannopolous, once a powerful advocate for the Alt Right political ideology, has been dumped by his lawyer over the Simon & Schuster case. Yiannopolous was attempting to sue the publisher after it refused to publish his book “Dangerous” after it was revealed that the provocateur had explicitly endorsed pedophilia. In response to the lawsuit, Simon and Schuster released editorial notes given to Yiannopolous on his book that revealed how poorly written it was and how offensive the arguments he made were. It was an embarrassing affair for Yiannopolous who had already been beaten up badly by the press for his pedophilia comments. The news that his lawyers have now had enough of him is yet further evidence that the British boy who took great pleasure in letting everyone know how much “black dick” he sucked while promoting racism on Breitbart is now almost entirely irrelevant. He will now be representing himself in his lawsuit against Simon and Schuster, an idea about as intelligent as his arguments against feminism.
While Yiannopolous is not worth discussing in depth, he is a good barometer of the intellectual energy of the movement he helped propel into the mainstream. And the signs for the Alt Right are not good.
Steve Bannon has been the major force behind the Alt Right movement for many years, and like his protege Yiannopolous, is facing his day of reckoning as the fallout from the Michael Wolff book “Fire and Fury” continues to reverberate. Speaking with Wolff, Bannon directly accused Donald Trump Jr. of treason for colluding with the Russian government during the 2016 election. Predictably, Trump Sr. did not react well to the revelation and engaged in a very public war with Bannon accusing him of being irrelevant, “crying” after he was fired, and going as far as to given him a trademarked Trump nickname (“Sloppy Steve”). Bannon had likely calculated that his move would let Trump know who was really in charge of Trump’s base, but the fallout indicates that the Alt Right community’s loyalty lies with the president, not the “disheveled drunk” who seems to have overplayed his hand spectacularly.
Bannon’s role in the Alt Right movement has been that of a powerful middleman. He channels the racist, xenophobic energy in America behind Trump and gives it a veneer of intellectual respectability, mostly with Breitbart.com. The website cleverly appeals to nasty fascists while never explicitly condoning racism, and has managed through sheer force of will to make the mainstream accept it as a major player in today’s media landscape. This was no small feat — turning racist internet trolling into a serious political movement took a huge amount of energy and organization, and Bannon should rightly take most of the credit for this.
Without Bannon though, Breitbart and the Alt Right movement is in deep trouble. The relationship between Bannon and the real guts of the movement have always been tenuous at best. A fascinating article on Vice shed some light onto the marriage of convenience:
“Bannon is self-serving and will say or do anything as long as it appeals to the mass of his ‘base’ — whatever that may be,” said Cameron Padgett, the Georgia university student helping [Richard] Spencer organize his “college tour.” “I don’t think he really speaks how he truly feels.
Experts say the marriage of the alt-right and Steve Bannon was one of convenience rather than a genuine ideological kinship. He was a vehicle for the alt-right to get as close as was realistically possible to the mainstream — and to the White House.
Without Bannon and figures like Yiannopolous, the movement has no sheen, no veneer of respectability, and no intellectual credibility. The Alt Right has achieved its mission of getting into the mainstream, and now it is dumping the vehicle that got it there. While Bannon and Yiannopolous are not exactly heavyweight political philosophers, they are able to converse with civil society and provide a semi-coherent face for Trumpism. What happens to Bannon remains to be seen, but his fawning over Trump in the media after the spectacular fallout has been humiliating to say the least. After his implosion over supporting Roy Moore in the Senate race in Alabama, Bannon has moved swiftly from one disaster to the next and has little to no credibility left in or out of the Alt Right movement. It would not be surprising to see the board at Breitbart dismiss him in the coming weeks given the outcry over his Don Jr. comments, and without his spiritual home, Bannon will go from disheveled drunk to wandering drunk.
So what then becomes of the Alt Right? Left to its own devices, the movement has next to no chances of surviving in the mainstream. Trump may be able to rile up the racists and xenophobes, but he cannot organize them. As Michael Wolff’s book laid bare, Bannon rescued Trump’s badly flailing campaign in 2016 and got the president to focus on a message of economic populism and nationalism. Bannon got Trump elected, and without him, the president is lost at sea in a storm he cannot possibly navigate. The Alt Right community isn’t cohesive or organized in any meaningful way — it is just a band of angry, white malcontents who like to watching the establishment burn. They have no vision for America, no plan, and no way of channeling their energy. They are now a part of the mainstream but have no clue how to use their newfound power. Trump is the least popular president in polling history, and is essentially unable to get any of the big promises he made his supporters passed. The Republican establishment views him now as a useful idiot and will stick with him as long as they get what they want out of the relationship. The Alt Right appears to understand this but are powerless to do anything about it, and without Bannon and his “war on the establishment”, they are now a movement without a cause.