In the search for answers to an election result many didn't see coming, Americans have reached a general consensus about the majority of Donald Trump voters. After decades of having their hardships neglected by politicians, their plight ignored by the media, and their lifestyles and values scoffed by "coastal elites," White, rural, working class Americans came out in droves to support the candidate they thought could bring about much-needed change in Washington, D.C. Trump's propensity for mouthing off and his history of sexist comments may have been unsavory, but his supporters ultimately had priorities bigger than keeping it "politically correct." To paint them with broad brushes as sexist, racist, and xenophobic contributed to much of the attitude that underestimated their valid concerns.
But while most Trump supporters may not be the overtly bigoted boors that some have characterized them as, his victory — and, indeed, his entire campaign — has undeniably boosted the "alt-right" from the dark, trolling corners of the internet into the spotlight of mainstream American consciousness.
Chief among the alt-right communities enjoying unprecedented attention is the National Policy Institute, which, despite its stodgy-sounding name, is an organization passionately dedicated to White supremacists ideals.
Over the weekend, the National Policy Institute held its annual conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., where founder Richard Spencer, who coined the term alt-right, greeted attendees by exclaiming, "Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!" The more than 200-strong crowd responded with cheers and exuberant Nazi salutes. Trump supporter Tila Tequila, a former reality-TV star of Vietnamese descent, later tweeted a photo of her and two White men raising the Nazi salute at the conference, grinning from ear to ear. "Seig Heil!" she wrote in the caption.
The conference was widely covered by the media, and Spencer, his ilk, and the alt-right fervently analyzed in profiles, including one in Mother Jones that ostensibly called Spencer a "dapper white nationalist."
The seemingly glowing profiles of a man who positioned himself as the leader of this White nationalist movement is problematic, and quite obviously so. (The Los Angeles Times and Mother Jones have both come under fire for them.) But just as problematic is the media's insistence at calling what went down in D.C. on Sunday an "alt-right" conference.
Let's be clear about that. The National Policy Institute event was a gathering of neo-Nazis, headed by neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, attended by neo-Nazis across the country who hooted and hollered as Spencer boomed, "America was, until this last generation, a White country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation and our inheritance, and it belongs to us."
Like any political movement, diversity in the alt-right exists. Though they are comprised of communities with differing impulses and motives, the alt-right's core belief, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is that "'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces using 'political correctness' and 'social justice' to undermine white people and 'their' civilization."
But its diversity is not as wide-reaching as Breitbart's Milo Yiannopoulous and Alum Bokhari thought it to be. In March, they wrote an extensive guide to the alt-right that intended to parse whether they were truly "the second coming of 1980s skinheads," or, if they were something more harmless, like the "youthful, subversive, underground" internet communities such as their forerunners, 4chan and 8chan.
The article prompted fierce backlash, from mainstream liberal and conservative publications to prominent neo-Nazis such as Andrew Anglin, who runs the Daily Stormer website. In his piece on the alt-right, journalist Luke O'Neil wrote in the Huffington Post that Anglin lobbed Jewish and homophobic slurs at Yiannopoulous for portraying the movement as "unserious," calling on readers to harass Yiannopoulous at speaking events and put him in a "constant state of fear."
And the alt-right's White nationalist values are leaking into American society, too. Already we've seen an uptick in reports of hate crimes and incidents of harassment in the wake of the election. Schoolchildren are chanting "build the wall" to their Hispanic classmates. Muslim women are discussing with their mothers and sisters whether they should wear their hijabs out in public and risk being attacked. Swastikas have been drawn at playgrounds, in subways, and on buildings. These things are really happening in America in 2016.
And what has Trump done to address this? During his campaign, he retweeted alt-right propaganda, feigned ignorance about KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, and hired Steve Bannon, former executive of Breitbart, as his campaign CEO. (Bannon once called Breitbart "the platform for the alt-right.")
After he was elected, one of Trump's first hires was again Bannon, this time as his chief White House strategist, one of the most powerful positions in the White House. Bannon's appointment was criticized by civil rights groups and celebrated by the alt-right. Also in Trump's cabinet are Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, whose career was almost derailed because of his long history of racist statements, and Michael Flynn, who in August called Islamism a "vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people" that must be "excised."
When faced with questions about post-election hate crimes and his connection to the alt-right, Trump flat-out denounces both. In a 60 Minutes interview, he stared right in the camera and told his supporters to "stop it" with the attacks on minorities and women, implicitly acknowledging that he had a hand in stoking the hatred against them.
On Tuesday in an on-the-record interview with the New York Times editors, Trump said he "disavows" the alt-right. But his other actions indicate that he's comfortable with riding the wave of their support.
While many Americans reflect on their own biases about the majority of Trump supporters whom they dismissed, it's crucial that it doesn't extend into sugarcoating the worst elements of America brought out by Trump's campaign.
Whether goals and tactics within the alt-right are truly that different from one another, what's clear is that its worst inclinations have a foot in the door of America's political conversation, with Spencer and Co. at the forefront of that charge. White supremacists are an increasingly powerful and organized group, empowered by Trump's win, and emboldened by his appointment of Bannon and the oblique nod towards their values. They are neo-Nazis, and the least we could do is to label them as such.