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'Unite The Right': Charlottesville Rally Represented Collection Of Alt-Right Groups


The self-proclaimed alt-right movement has up to now existed mostly online and Internet forums and on websites. It's a world that George Hawley of the University of Alabama spent a lot of time in. He wrote the book "Making Sense Of The Alt-Right" and has interviewed dozens of activists in the movement. Earlier today, Hawley told me last weekend's rally in Charlottesville was an effort by those activists to move their community from the virtual world into the real one.

GEORGE HAWLEY: I think the goal was to show that this is not - at least anymore - a movement that is purely made up of anonymous Twitter trolls. These are people who are willing to come out and make a show of force and be seen out in the real world.

CORNISH: To be mainstream. And if that's the case, does it look like they succeeded?

HAWLEY: I don't think so. I don't think any of them would say that especially Saturday went as they would have hoped. Obviously, this did not come across as a mainstream movement. A lot of the symbols of the most marginalized elements of the radical right were on visible display, things like swastika flags, et cetera. So if this was an effort at mainstreaming, I don't think it was a success.

CORNISH: You've interviewed many people who consider themselves part of the alt-right. Can you give us a profile? Who does this ideology appeal to?

HAWLEY: I would say it is definitely a young movement. I'd say that it is predominantly white millennial men. It is not sort of stereotypically conservative in its profile. I'd say that probably it is a more secular population than the country overall. That is, there are a lot of agnostics and atheists or people who are just generally indifferent to religion. And I think that it is a fairly well-educated movement on average, that as I think that probably the model alt-right member has at least some college education.

CORNISH: Now, is there a connection to those longstanding white supremacy movements that people are most familiar with, say, the KKK or skinhead groups?

HAWLEY: For the most part, no. What makes the alt-right unique compared to earlier white nationalist movements - as you mentioned, skinhead gangs and the KKK - is that those movements existed for the most part in the real world. They were real organizations that had people gathering in real life. And for most of the short history of the alt-right, that has mostly not been the case.

CORNISH: There was this focus in Charlottesville on the monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee that the city plans to remove. So was this really about the statue or something much bigger?

HAWLEY: Well, Southern heritage per se has not really been a rallying cry of the alt-right. So I think that a lot of people who were there were not so much motivated by a passion for Robert E. Lee or Confederate history than a sense that, first of all, this represented sort of a broader attack on white American identity and also just an opportunity. This was something in the news that they could take advantage of and make their - be an excuse to make their presence known.

CORNISH: What's the stated goal, not just for this past weekend but for the movement in general?

HAWLEY: Well, I think the long-term goal of white nationalists has been made very clear they're. They're quite open that their long-term goal is the creation of a white ethno state. That is, the creation of a state that would be racially homogenous, which, of course, makes them much more extreme and radical than anything you would see coming from certainly mainstream conservatives or even from anyone within the Trump administration.

CORNISH: So do you expect to see more from the kinds of people behind the Unite the Right movement, especially after Charlottesville?

HAWLEY: Well, at present, they say that there is more in the works. I'm inclined to believe them, but I'm not sure how that's going to work. I suspect it is going to be more of a challenge to get permits given the chaos that we saw on Saturday. So my suspicion is that future gatherings will be more likely to take place on, say, private property, where these sorts of concerns would be alleviated.

CORNISH: That was George Hawley. He teaches at the University of Alabama and is the author of "Making Sense Of The Alt-Right." George Hawley, thanks for speaking with us.

HAWLEY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.