‘Alt-right’ softens the vileness of a racist movement

By Sylvia Stead

The Globe and Mail

Last November, I said the term alt-right should be avoided whenever possible and if it must be used, in a quote for example, “it should always be explained in transparent and blunt terms.”

The term is deliberately misleading. It sounds harmless – almost trendy – when its real purpose is to make white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis sound less frightening. I said this is not an alternative to the right wing, as it might sound, it is “a racist movement” and “its views and positions are vile.”

My concern was followed the next day by a note from senior editors to all staff at The Globe that said: “The term alt-right refers to a collection of groups or individuals espousing racist, fascist or white-supremacist ideologies. We should avoid this term as much as possible. If we must use it, in a quote, for example, we should provide a definition of the term.”

So last week, I was surprised to see a headline in the paper and online that said “Scheer’s inclusive appeal shouldn’t leave room for alt-right.” In the article, columnist John Ibbitson wrote about anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism and then referred to an Ezra Levant memo to his Rebel Media staff stating that the organization does not support the alt-right, which Mr. Ibbitson explained as “the umbrella term for white supremacists, fascists and other racists who demonstrated in Charlottesville.”

I checked the archives and the term has been used 90 times since The Globe agreed with readers that it should not use “Orwellian Newspeak” and made-up words. This was the only use in a headline, where there is no context or explanation for the term. The articles explain what this term really means, and the headlines on recent articles refer to white supremacists or white nationalists in the march on Charlottesville and other marches.

After I flagged this headline for senior editors, they reviewed the guidelines of the earlier note with staff, reiterating that they need to take care with word choice.
This column was originally published in The Globe and Mail on 21 August 2017.
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