Who are Richard Spencer and his friends? What precisely is the so-called “alt-right,” and why should we all be very, very concerned?

First, Spencer. He is the admittedly charismatic and deceptively clean-cut head of a white supremacist think tank called the National Policy Institute which describes itself on its website as “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”

Spencer is credited with coining the term “alt-right” or “alternative right” to describe, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “a loose set of far-right ideals centered on ‘white identity’ and the preservation of ‘Western civilization.’”

For “people of European descent” — read whites.” Spencer advocates “the creation of a White Ethno-State on the North American continent,” while railing against what he has referred to as “the Afro-Mestizo-Caribbean Melting Pot.”

Spencer rejects the Jeffersonian concept of human equality and instead bases his ideology on the proposition that “all men are created unequal.”

Embracing the concept of what he characterizes as peaceful “ethnic cleansing,” Spencer has also vilified the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. as “a fraud and degenerate” who “has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder has denounced the alt-right ideologue in no uncertain terms, calling Spencer “one of the worst hatemongers in America, and his white supremacist and other bigoted ideas are sickening.”

Spencer’s most recent bout of notoriety came on November 19, when his National Policy Institute organized a day-long conference in Washington, D.C., at which he quoted Nazi propaganda, in the original German, no less, and shouted out “Hail Victory” — the English translation of the Nazi “Sieg Heil” greeting — to followers stretching out their arms in the equally notorious Nazi salute.

“America,” Spencer declared, “was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

In addition to Spencer, the speakers at the National Policy Institute’s event included white supremacists Peter Brimelow, Jared Taylor, and Kevin MacDonald. They, too, warrant close scrutiny.

Brimelow is founder and editor of VDARE.com, named for Virginia Dare, the first child born to English parents in the American colonies in 1587, and designated as “an anti-immigration hate website” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a 2012 interview, Brimelow said that even legal immigration was creating a “Spanish speaking underclass parallel to the African American underclass,” that “[t]hese are people who are completely dysfunctional,” and that California was “rapidly turning into Hispanic slum.”

In his 1995 book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, Brimelow disparaged the Clinton administration as a “black-Hispanic-Jewish-minority white coalition.”

Taylor and MacDonald, meanwhile, have been a recurring noxious presence on both VDARE and the National Policy Institute website. Their corrosive views are instructive.

“Some of us,” Taylor wrote in 2011, “rather like being white, and would like for our children and grandchildren to be white, too. The self-haters are welcome to go extinct if that is what they want. But what would be wrong in wanting a country — even a small country — where whites are the majority and intend to keep it that way?”

MacDonald, the author of a screed entitled Understanding Jewish Influence, has written that in light of the “record of Jews as a very successful but hostile elite, it is possible that the continued demographic and cultural dominance of Western European peoples will not be retained, either in Europe or the United States, without a decline in Jewish influence.”

President elect Donald Trump has unambiguously repudiated Spencer and his ilk. “Of course I condemn [them],” President elect Trump told editors and reporters of The New York Times. “I disavow and condemn.”

We must not lose sight of the fact that fascism, even in unabashed neo-Nazi form, is enjoying a frightening resurgence in many parts of the world. One need only look at the Jobbik Party in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece to understand that the ideologies that gave rise to the genocides of the 20th century have not disappeared by any means.

There are objective reasons for Americans to be alarmed as well. According to FBI data, anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S. soared by 67 percent from 2014 to 2015, with anti-Jewish incidents increasing by 9 percent during the same period, and anti-black incidents by 7.7 percent. These are deeply troubling statistics.

In the context of this rising trend in hate crimes, inflammatory anti-minority and anti-immigrant rhetoric can easily morph, if it has not morphed already, into incitement to violence and worse.

Hate speech, whether from the extreme left or the extreme right, whether Jihadist or Hitlerian in orientation, can far too easily result in abhorrent discrimination, persecution, and unspeakable atrocities.

The problem confronting Americans today is not that white supremacist bigots such as Spencer, Brimelow, Taylor and MacDonald are likely to have any formal or informal role or influence in our government. For the time being at least, they, like the erstwhile Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, are outcasts on the malignant fringe of the American body politic.

However, cancers must be eradicated not when they have already metastasized but as soon as they are first diagnosed. Now that the White supremacists of the alt-right are becoming ever more confrontational with their untethered ideology of racial hatred, it is imperative that they be recognized and exposed as a clear and present danger to our democracy and to our very identity as a civil, and civilized, society.

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