Etymology and scope
The term "alt-right" is a neologism first used in November 2008 by self-described paleoconservative philosopher Paul Gottfried, addressing the H. L. Mencken Club about what he called "the alternative right". This talk was published in December under the title "The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right" in the conservative Taki's Magazine, becoming the earliest published usage of the phrase in its current context according to Slate. In 2009, two more posts at Taki's Magazine (one by Patrick J. Ford and the other by Jack Hunter) further discussed the alternative right. Since 2016, the term has been commonly attributed to Richard B. Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute and founder of Alternative Right. A white supremacist, Spencer coined the term in 2010 in reference to a movement centered on white nationalism and has been accused by some media publications of doing so to excuse overt racism, white supremacism and neo-Nazism.
The term "alt-right" is sometimes ill-defined. This has been complicated by the various contradictory ways in which self-described "alt-rightists" have defined the movement and by the tendency among some of its political opponents to apply the term "alt-right" liberally to a broad range of right-wing groups and viewpoints. For instance, the conservative writer Ben Shapiro claims that the American Left has attempted "to lump in the Right with the alt-right by accepting a broader, false definition of the alt-right that could include traditional conservatism".
The 'alt-right' or 'alternative right' is a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States in addition to, or over, other traditional conservative positions such as limited government, low taxes and strict law-and-order. The movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism ... criticizes 'multiculturalism' and more rights for non-whites, women, Jews, Muslims, gays, immigrants and other minorities. Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.
—The Associated Press
The anti-fascist researcher Matthew N. Lyons defined the alt-right as "a loosely organized far-right movement that shares a contempt for both liberal multiculturalism and mainstream conservatism; a belief that some people are inherently superior to others; a strong Internet presence and embrace of specific elements of online culture; and a self-presentation as being new, hip, and irreverent." The academic Tom Pollard referred to the alt-right as a "socio/political movement" comprising "a loose amalgam of rightist groups and causes" who "shun egalitarianism, socialism, feminism, miscegenation, multiculturalism, free trade, globalization, and all forms of gun control". The journalist Mike Wendling termed it "an incredibly loose set of ideologies held together by what they oppose: feminism, Islam, the Black Lives Matter movement, political correctness, a fuzzy idea they call 'globalism,' and establishment politics of both the left and the right."
The Southern Poverty Law Center defined the alt-right as "a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces using 'political correctness' and 'social justice' to undermine white people and 'their' civilization." The Anti-Defamation League states that "alt-right" is a "vague term actually encompass[ing] a range of people on the extreme right who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of forms of conservatism that embrace implicit or explicit racism or white supremacy".
In 2016, the Associated Press described the "alt-right" label as "currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists" that "may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters' actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience". The Associated Press said that it has previously called such beliefs "racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist". Because the term was coined and used by white nationalists themselves rather than being applied to them by academic observers or by their opponents, the journalist Shaya Tayefe Mohajer urged their colleagues not to use the term "alt-right". George Hawley, a political scientist specialising in the U.S. far-right, disagreed with this approach, noting that using terms like "white supremacist" in place of "alt-right" conceals "the ways the Alt-Right differs from other manifestations of the racial right."
According to a 2016 description in the Columbia Journalism Review, the alt-right is not formally organized and may not be an actual movement: "Because of the nebulous nature of anonymous online communities, nobody's entirely sure who the alt-righters are and what motivates them. It's also unclear which among them are true believers and which are smart-ass troublemakers trying to ruffle feathers". Many of its own proponents often claim they are joking or seeking to provoke an outraged response. Andrew Marantz of The New Yorker describes it as "a label, like 'snob' or 'hipster,' that is often disavowed by people who exemplify it".