The alt-right is not winning, even if it thinks it is. A whole sad coterie of strange young men have convinced themselves that the reactionary tilt in global politics is down to them; that they did it all online, by posting frog memes or saying ‘cuck’. They’re wrong.
When I went to Donald Trump’s inauguration, I only met one of these people: a nerd stereotype that had come to life on the streets of Washington DC, simpering and pustulous, and dragging around a big neo-Nazi flag. The real tide of victory came from the parents of the alt-right: the forbearing mums who bring the alt-right its dinner; the kind of racists who are nice when you meet them, but who’ll try to destroy the world if you put enough of them together.
That said, the alt-right is still here, if by ‘here’ you mean ‘online’, which is where basically everyone now spends every waking moment. You might’ve seen them yourself: strange Twitter accounts that descend on you like a flood of rats, frothing to inform you that feminism is a cancer, racism is exclusively directed against whites and everything bad in society is the work of the international Jew. They’re stupid, self-assured and unbearably annoying. What are you meant to do?
The very worst thing to do is to try using reason. Everything about the alt-right – including the name – was designed by a few pioneering bigots (such as Richard Spencer, of ‘getting merked in the face’ fame) to repackage neo-Nazi ideas and make them more palatable to the general public. You won’t win them over with honest debate; you’ll only end up being subjected to an incredibly pedantic slideshow about human cranial sizes and how concentration camps don’t work that way. And along the way, you’ll be helping to legitimise the Nazis. A good sensible chat didn’t make Hitler see reason, and it won’t work this time, either.
Instead, the only thing that works on the alt-right is to be a prick to them. But you have to do it in the right way. It’s not enough to call them cockwombles, even though you think that word’s funny, which it isn’t. It’s not enough to point out that they’re all losers (even though they are) who masturbate to cartoons (even though they do). A lot of these people got here by being bullied; they thrive on it now, and it won’t ever make them go away.
You have to hit them where it hurts: in their own self-image. The alt-right thinks of itself as being a cool, rebellious new movement, tearing through the liberal pieties. They don’t care about trigger warnings. They don’t care who they offend. They’re punk. What they actually are, though, is a bunch of crybabies, far more sanctimonious and censorious than anyone they oppose. They bubbled into a collective fit when people dared to be mean about their video games; they tried hobbling to war when someone made a Ghostbusters film featuring too many women. It doesn’t take much: just a reminder that their censorship is boring, that pedantry and moral puritanism don’t make for good company, and that – they should’ve learned this a long time ago – crying children never get what they want.