TRIGGER WARNING: WALL OF TEXT
I actually place the bulk of /pol/ inside the 'shitlord' category, not the alt-right.
Yes, I see your heads swelling. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to give you guys that aneurysm. Let me explain…
TRIGGER WARNING: CONTAINS MEMES, AND UNHEALTHY LEVELS OF AUTISM
I have a decent amount of insight into the mind of the average shitposter. I was, I must confess, an active participant in the meme-culture before it was known as such, frequenting such illustrious sites such as SomethingAwful and 4chan throughout high-school and into college, starting in about 2002. Although I stopped with the general shitposting years ago, I still understand the mindset, and keep tabs on enough of the pulse to 'get' most of the dank memes that occasionally bubble up to the 'normal' internet (by which point most of the memes are, in fact, 'stale'). I have friends who are still active shitlords, and I can appreciate most of their chicanery, albeit from a healthy distance, with a mix of an 'oh that's funny' chuckle and a relieved 'thank God I'm not part of this shitshow' giggle.
In this, I think it's safe to say that I can understand the average shitlord. I walk among them. I talk to them. I can trade memes with them, even if I think that real life is, well, real life. I would propose that I can serve as an ambassador, if you will, between normal internet-folk and the self-described-autists.
You can still see my love of transgressive humor in my very pseudonym - it amused me, to imagine someone confronted with a person calling themselves 'Fapmaster 5000', posting respectfully about politics, philosophy, or theology - I couldn't resist the temptation to inflict a sort of targeted-cognitive dissonance upon my interlocutors. It's this very vein of stupid-smart that drew me to internet humor in the first place, and its an understanding of that urge that lets me grasp, with some sympathy, the plight of the modern shitlord - friend to none, enemy of all.
So, why do I think that /pol/ are simply trolls, and not part of the alt-right, even thought the alt-right was born on their boards? Simple: the modern alt-right is not the same alt-right as it was, even during the early Trump campaign. The internet moves at light speed, and so while real political movements take years to change positions, the online realm shifts in hours.
Let's start at the top, with the known facts:
The alt-right formed on 4ch/8ch, but not as a legitimate brand. Richard Spencer, as stereotypically a white nationalist alt-righter as you could imagine, coined the term, but he was a political nobody back in 2010. His horrific positions, however, were viewed as hilarious on the board /pol/, and took off. Spencer lost control of his own brand, as his intellectual neo-fascism was taken from him, and turned into shock-humor memes.
It is important to understand that the "chans" have always been about pushing the boundaries of taste, class, and acceptable behavior. The initial links to 4chan back in 2003 (on the Something Awful forums) promised gore, vore, and mutilation, 'tits or GTFO', and 'check your maturity at the door'. While the /b/ board has stuck to this standard 'sexual' offensiveness, the /new/ and /pol/ boards pushed for a political shock humor.
Whereas /b/-tards might post a picture of an anime girl being sawed in half with a razor, along with insipid text about a 'waifu', the /pol/lacks would post an anime Nazi with insipid text about a 'waifu'. In both circumstances, the goal was offense, itself, not an endorsement of the implied horrific act. This culture of shock-and-counter-shock developed into an extended Kaufman routine, where the chans delight in confusing/apalling/infuriating outsiders ('normies'), while reveling in their own ironic stupidity ('shitposting').
Is it pointless? Yes. Is it dumb? God, yes. Is it offensive? Is it appalling? Do they mean it?
Here's the problem: Poe's Law.
The law states that, "without a clear indicator of the author's intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers or viewers as a sincere expression of the parodied views."
So, while the chans produce a ton of parody, satire, and plain-old shitposting, this also means that it can become hard to decipher sarcasm from sincerity, and trolling from actually being a racist. Context is hard, and remember, we're at least Seventh Degree Shitposting at this point, so 'get on my level, son'.
With this in mind, it easy for two kinds of outsiders to this culture to get confused: normies, and 'stormfags' - the 4chan term for actual Neo-Nazis, referring to the infamous "Daily Stormer" blog. If normies miss the point, and start screaming about 'Jesus Christ, Nazis!', that's just lulz. If stormfags miss the point, and think themselves in good company, well… short term lulz turn into problems.
Back to the question at hand: the alt-right.
The alt-right formed somewhere between parody and sincerity, a shock-culture right-wing movement that used the 4chan 'memetic warfare' to challenge the cultural supremacy of the left. I would say that, from personal experience (many friends who formerly identified as 'alt-right' or 'sympathetic' until recently), this was primarily a young, active, and in-your-face movement, but one not that far in core beliefs from mainstream conservatism. Individual rights were stressed, free speech, and a blow-back against the progressive adoption of the Marxist dialectics of oppressor/oppressed (now directed towards culture, as opposed to economics) In this, these beliefs are not at all different with many mainstream conservatives and even centrist liberals. Where this proto-alt-right differed was entirely in methodology - they fought in culture. Meme culture.
Running up the Trump campaign, the alt-right was almost indivisible from cultural libertarians, conservatives, and the free-speech crowd, other than in their unfettered love for 4chan shock. Their methods spread, and they grew. As they grew, they drew in more and more members from outside the cesspool of the internet, including a significant number of stormfags.
I say significant, but not large.
To this day, the number of actual, card-carrying Neo-Nazis is laughably tiny. They subscribe to perhaps the single most discredited ideology ever invented, and even engaging with them to dismiss them is giving them more credit than they are due. Saying "Nazis are wrong" is the political equivalent of "I don't like cancer" - insipid and useless. Those who earnestly believe the Nazi ideology share these traits, and their own pathetic status renders them an absolute zero threat to our society. Whenever these morons gather to march in a town, they have to pull in from dozens of miles of terrain, get a handful of people, and have to have police protection from the crowd of random people who just happen to be there, see this bullshit, and get pissed.
These guys are not a threat, nor a large portion of the alt-right, much less this proto-form.
Next are the spectrum of racialists - everything from general-purpose-fascists, ethnic nationalists, white supremacists, neo-confederates, and neo-monarchists. These are people who didn't get the joke, whose ideologies are generally as awful as the shock-memes, but meant un-ironically, and who you generally wouldn't want to talk to in a bar, much less put into office. I'd put these guys at a far larger number than the actual Nazis, but still far from the majority of the proto-alt-right. They oppose 'the left' for the same reasons as the assorted shitlords, libertarians, and conservatives, but instead of opposing the use of identity politics, they embrace a white-ethnic identity politic - completely missing the horrible point made by everyone else who ran parallel with them that the only thing worse than general-purpose oppressor/oppressed bullshit is when the majority group endorses this lens.
These guys are an actual problem, but one that can be defeated with argument. Literally every thing they say about the 'left' can be bent about the horseshoe, and used to bludgeon their own argument. You probably won't convince them, but you can dissuade everyone else.
Sadly, what I refer to as the 'alt-right', indeed, what it has become (and why those friends I mentioned earlier broke off all ties or claims), is a movement now dominated by this group of racialists and regressives.
How did this happen?
A soft coup, brought on by the amazing power of simplified narratives. Also Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.
Early on in the campaign, the proto-alt-right started to gain prominence for backing Donald Trump. Those in the know started to see signs of 'meme culture' appearing in the real world - a tweet here, a poster there. An occasional Pepe. The shitlords (those who used the shock humor to startle, unnerve, and ridicule their opponents) liked 'the king of the trolls' who would firebomb the system. The racialists (those who truly believed in the content of the shock) like the fact that Trump kept dog-whistling them, in more and more overt manner. Although this didn't break into the 'normie' news schedule, inside the youtube commentariat, and on the front lines of the memetic culture war, it was clear that Donald Trump had an online presence unheard of for a conservative. The meme-brigades were edgy, offensive, and absurdly difficult for the left to handle. The traditional methods of handling conservatives - shame them, mock them - failed utterly against an online army that had no shame, and was made of mockery. The proto-alt-right had, almost by accident, stumbled upon the perfect strategy straight out of Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. This was an enemy that the Clinton campaign and its surrogates couldn't get a handle on. They attacked it? Mockery. They engaged it? Mockery. Every time they tried to even investigate or explain it, they ended up drawn into a cesspit of lies, memes, and trolling.
Eventually, Clinton brought up the alt-right at a rally, and cast them firmly as earnestly holding the shock-humor beliefs of their memes. This was the lens through which culture writ large 'met' the alt-right: guys who passed around a racist frog.
Here, the insular and deeply ironic nature of 4chan bit it in the ass. To the normies, it was impossible to tell earnest Nazis from trolls, and to many on the left, they felt little need to differentiate, as the trolls were pissing them off nearly as much as the racialists. A slew of articles followed, from all corners of the mainstream, decrying the rise of Neo-Nazis, hiding behind humor to spread their hate
The alt-right might have been able to fight back, and assert that it was satire, but the significant portion of actual racialists inside their ranks took this moment to claim the movement as un-ironically theirs. The alt-right name had been coined by Richard Spencer, after all - an actual white nationalist - and he'd nearly lost it to people far to his left. For a moment, the proto-alt-right had been an agitating force, for the general right/libertarian movements, and Spencer had been trying, for months to 'get it back'. Once the mainstream media started calling the alt-right a bunch of white nationalists, Spencer and his boys stood up, and said, "damn straight".
After the election, this continued. Spencer got on the news, sporting his Pepe the Frog pin. He held a conference, where the attendees stood around, shouting 'Hail Victory', 'Hail Trump', and tossing Roman salutes - without a drop of irony, or appreciation that they were a political force, albeit a minor one. The media crowned him the face of the alt-right, and he donned the crown with pride.
In that moment, the alt-right became what it is today: a white nationalist movement. To the shitlords who'd traded memes, reveled in shock humor, and hoped to punch-up at the dominant culture, this was a total disaster. Their brand was now tainted with actual, confirmed racialists, and their Puckish trolling was now the stock-and-trade of a bunch of would-be fascists.
In one fell swoop, the left and the far right beat the shitlords. Spencer got his platform. That platform was marginalized. Everyone won but the guys in the meme-trenches.
For most 'movements', this would have been the end. They would have folded shop, ditched the brand, and lost the memes. Not the shitlords, though. They simply stepped to the side, shrugged, and said, 'nope, not us', and kept on shitting up the internet.
Because it wasn't about us. It was all that long-form, Carlin-meets-Kaufman in-joke. Memes for memes sake, telling anyone who wanted to mess with them to 'get out, REEEE'.
I suppose that "Kekistan" is about as close to a declaration of principles as we'll get from the shitlords: they're here for the 'keks'. They don't care about the 'race war', or about 'intersectionality'. They aren't Democrat, or Republican. They follow Trump for as long as he's funny, and they'll fight 'the left' for as long as the left keeps trying to 'take their memes' (and falling for the pranks). Until those days, though, they'll keep dividing protests about not being divided, triggering SJWs, and posting frogs.
Those shitlord friends of mine? This is where they stand. They swore off the alt-right when Spencer took it over. They don't buy into any of the racism of the far right. Talking to them, honestly, beyond the realm of memes, reveals that they're very similar to many 'normies'. They are aligned with the alt-right only so far as most conservatives or libertarians are: they despise the far-left. They are not friends of the alt-right, they simply do not see them as the dominant threat at the moment.
While Spencer may claim that Trump's victory has validated him, Trump's coalition was far broader than the fringes of the alt-right could support: mainstream Republicans, rust-belt Democrats, evangelicals, etc. If Trump ran tomorrow on ethno-nationalism (not dog whistles that slide below the radar of most), he would lose. Hell, if Trump ran tomorrow against anyone but Hilary Clinton, he would lose. Spencer's platform is void for all but the kekiest extremes of the right.
With that in mind, here's my advice to Trump is: be careful. The 'internet hate machine' is only backing you because the regressive elements of the left keep poking them with a stick, and they view you as a hilarious dumpster fire. If you keep down this simultaneously authoritarian and whinging path, they'll find more keks in trolling than trolling for you.
My advice to the left is: don't feed the trolls. All you have to do is be less authoritarian and whingy than Trump, and the shitlords will come back to your side. They backed you under the Bush administration. Remember that? The memes had your back. /b/ was Social Justice friendly! Just, literally, be less authoritarian than the man you call a Nazi, and you'll get allies when he fucks up. Also… seriously stop with the Nazi-naming shit. That is both insipid and useless
Do you know who loves things that are both insipid and useless?
I hope this helps people understand a little bit about the useless-useful politics of the internet. If people are interested, I can go into a little bit of why I think 4chan is very likely to swing back to the left, if only the far left can restrain itself more than the far right.
Remember, in the new culture war, memes are the weapon, and there is no one who can meme on 4chan's tier. Get them on your side, and may the dankest meme triumph.
EDIT: Perhaps unrelated, but the PBS Idea Channel has a recent video about Pepe, and his possible rehabilitation. The follow-up video directly addresses the Kekistan meme, and the idea that the meme-culture is larger than the alt-right uses of the frog.
EDIT 2: My shitlord friends provided me with a 'cultural exchange' smorgasbord. Enjoy or suffer for as long as you wish.