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Presidential Campaign Brings the Alt-Right Out of the Shadows

The reaction by the alt-right to the increased attention has been welcoming. Even though they were criticized, they say they are now legitimate.
Image: Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event at Truckee Meadows Community College, in Reno, Nev., Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016.Carolyn Kaster / AP

The alt-right, a mostly anonymous internet subculture, has been introduced to the mainstream thanks to the 2016 presidential campaign.

First Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hired controversial political figure Steve Bannon to a major position within his campaign. Then Hillary Clinton attacked him for it, claiming that Trump has associated himself with alt-right themes throughout his campaign -- nationalism, closed borders and race separation. After she delivered a scathing speech Thursday, tying Donald Trump the movement, it exploded into everyday vernacular.

In the span of 24 hours, the words alt-right and discussion about it blanketed 24-hour cable news, it was covered in every major mainstream news outlet from NBC News to the New York Times to Vice News to the Voice of America.

Related: 5 Things to Know About the Alt-Right

What ensued was piqued interest in what the alt-right is. Google Analytics shows that searches for the term “alt right” hit peak popularity Thursday after she gave her speech – but interest started to spike the morning of - the day the term blanketed news coverage.

Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term.
Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term.Caldwell, Leigh (206448258) / Google Trends

The reaction by the alt-right to the increased attention has been welcoming. Even with largely negative coverage, those associated with it say they have now reached legitimacy.

Jared Taylor, the editor of American Renaissance, a "race realist white advocacy group," said Clinton has done the alt-right "a big favor."

"She has called attention to our movement, and we’re perfectly pleased that she should do so," Taylor told NBC News. "The fact that she's calling attention to people who have very thoughtful things to say about problems for which the prevailing orthodoxy has no solutions, yes, we’re grateful to her for that."

“We just got bigger, thanks to Hillary Clinton!” says an excited commentator on Info Wars’ Facebook livestream shortly after Clinton’s speech concluded.

Lydia Brimelow of wrote on the homepage of their website, “Welcome, all new visitors who may have found as a result of the media frenzy around the Alt-Right.”

On the website Alternative Right, a writer exclaims, “If ‘Hildebeast’ singles you out by name for ignominious contempt, you’ve surely been doing something right!”

And from Radix, a post titled, “The Coming Legitimacy Crisis,” says, “Trump has already done what we needed him to do. So for all the reporters reading this, you do what you must. We have already won.”

Even a late-night television host, Jimmy Kimmel, was pulled into a conspiracy after an interview with Hillary Clinton where he asked her to open a pickle jar to prove she is healthy. And he was not just accused of staging the bit, he responded to criticism by alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on air, devoting part of his monologue to it.

“If you’re ever feeling bad about your job just remember there’s a grown man who’s spent a full seven minutes yelling about me and a pickle jar,” Kimmel said.

Trump has been flirting with alt-right rhetoric throughout his campaign by espousing some of their beliefs like building a wall to keep immigrants out. He has – five times according to the Washington Post – re-tweeted Alt-Right sentiments, including when he tweeted a picture of Clinton on a Star of David surrounded by American dollars.

And in a campaign rally and a tweet, according to Think Progress, Trump said Clinton "wants to be America's Angela Merkel." Merkel, the leader of Germany, is derided by the alt-right, in part, because of her acceptance of refugees.

But the connection wasn't overtly made until Trump hired Steven Bannon -- the the head of a Breitbart news organization that has morphed into an Alt-Right champion under Bannon’s leadership -- to be the CEO of his campaign.

Clinton made the direct comparison Thursday.

“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘Alt-Right.’ A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party,” Clinton said.

The double edged sword for Clinton is that by putting a spotlight on this movement, it places a possible exaggerated emphasis on it that is impossible to quantify. The Clinton campaign acknowledged that it took a risk in elevating the movement, even in the most critical of ways.

Clinton spokesperson Brian Fallon alluded to the dilemma in a Tweet Thursday.

That's one thing the Clinton campaign and the alt-right agree on.

"She's not doing it because she's a sweet girl and hopes that we succeed, she's doing it obviously because she thinks she can hurt Donald Trump by calling attention to us sand our support of him," Taylor said.

For his part, Trump denies familiarity with the alt-right, saying on CNN Thursday, “Nobody even knows what it is."

After this week, more people than ever do.