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Why the “Alt-Lite” Celebrated the Las Vegas Massacre

Even more effectively than the white nationalist alt-right, the alt-lite distorts the truth to spread the vile narrative of a "white genocide" in America.

Stephanie Keith/Getty

“I have something horrible to say,” Gavin McInnes, the Vice co-founder-turned-“alt-lite”-rabble-rouser, told viewers of his daily video rant, Get Off My Lawn, on Tuesday. “Something sick and wrong.”

For McInnes’s legion of white nationalist fans, there was no surprise in that: The U.K.-born Canadian, who also founded the bullyboy “fraternity” Proud Boys and formerly starred on far-right Rebel TV, has made a career of saying unspeakable things about practically everybody who’s not a right-wing white man. But in the wake of the murder of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, McInnes—one of the first alt-right rats to flee the ship and embrace the “lite” label once Nazi salutes began to tarnish the brand—had announced that he was leaving Rebel and “going mainstream.”

But if any of his angry young white male fans worried that McInnes would stop pulling his punches now that he’d matriculated to CRTV, the platform that hosts such “mainstream” stalwarts as Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, and Steve Deace, his response to the Las Vegas massacre was about to provide some reassurance. “I thought, yesterday, ‘Oh, good!’” McInnes said. “Sorry, I know it’s a horrible word to use in such a catastrophe. But I thought, ‘The narrative may have switched now. Right-wingers are no longer the murderers of Heather Heyer. Now we’re the victims of Stephen Paddock.’”

White victimology is the thread that unites the entire spectrum of the right-wing—from Fox News and President Trump to Richard Spencer and The Daily Stormer. After Charlottesville laid bare the violent consequences of all their blather about “white genocide” and the “death of the West,” the counter-narrative of a murderously intolerant “alt-left” took flight—and was soon being used by alt-liters to characterize the whole liberal movement. Nobody was more invested in that Orwellian inversion of truth than McInnes, whose Proud Boys had initiated the organizer of the fateful Unite the Right rally. (McInnes claimed this was part of a plot to “infiltrate” the group, and repeatedly insisted that he had “disavowed” the event beforehand, though the Proud Boys’ “tactical defense arm,” the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights, certainly showed up in force, along with a fair number of Proud Boys.)

Now, with no motive immediately apparent, the murder of 59 country music fans offered a golden opportunity to ramp up the argument that the left is violently targeting white people. Reports that indicated Paddock had considered other targets with very different crowds, including a festival headlined by Chance the Rapper the previous weekend, were beside the point. So was the untidy fact that the shooter himself, like most mass murderers, was white himself.

This advanced level of truth-twisting is the particular speciality of the “meme magicians” who wield the alt-lite label like a shield, protecting their foothold within the mainstream. Far more effectively than a straight-up white nationalist like Spencer could ever manage, the alt-lite peddles big lies that regularly work their way into “normie” right-wing discourse—the biggest of all being, as alt-lite stalwart Mike Cernovich tweeted way back in 2015, “diversity is code for white genocide.”

Before the shooter had been identified, the alt-lite site Gateway Pundit was already tearing up the internets with the wild claim that a “left-wing loon” named Geary Danley (same last name as Paddock’s fiancée) had done the killing. The piece, headlined, “Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Liked Rachel Maddow,, and Associated with Anti-Trump Army,” was  based on “reports” that bubbled up among right-wing trolls on 4chan and Everipedia, the right-wing Wikipedia alternative. When the real shooter was identified, the Gateway Pundit story was hastily taken down. But the narrative was too good, too convenient, to let go of. While the right raged at liberals “politicizing” the event, the misidentified man’s political leanings were simply transferred to Paddock, despite lack of evidence that he had had any political affiliations at all. But as McInnes said, “right-wingers don’t shoot up Jason Aldean concerts. Ever.”

On Tuesday, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Tony Shaffer put it all together for Fox News viewers. Paddock, he said, was another James Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders backer who shot Congressman Steve Scalise at a congressional baseball practice this summer. “First of all, this individual parallels in many ways—by age, and by predisposition of being unstable, the shooter who attacked Congressman Scalise back in June,” Shaffer said. “Very similar age, they are both considered unstable. And so in many ways, after talking to both the psychological professionals and people in law enforcement, there’s a lot of parallels.”

Uncanny, really: Both shooters were unstable, and around the same age. How could their motives have differed? The conclusion was inescapable: This was a politically selected target,” Shaffer told Martha McCallum, based on what he said were “interviews with law-enforcement officials”:

I think that the perception was there was going to be a lot of pro-gun folks there, Trump supporters, at this concert. So therefore, I believe the perception was by the shooter ... that this was a legitimate target of political expression. Martha, this may be something that people don’t like to understand, but the very reason that Hogkinson did what he did, and I believe Paddock did what he did, is that the left has now encouraged the use of violence as an extension of political speech.

“It’s an interesting theory,” said McCallum.

The internet is still boiling over with “interesting theories” connecting the shooter to the “violent left.” Among other things, Paddock was supposedly captured on video at an anti-Trump rally in Reno. (It was just another white guy with facial hair.) But there are always other crumbs to pick up and run with—or simply invent—in a story like this. And on the entire spectrum of the right, nobody this side of Alex Jones—who hosted McInness on InfoWars on Thursday night—twisted it into “proof” that the left is out to get white men with quite the thoroughness of McInnes. 

On his Tuesday broadcast, he picked up on Newsweek’s false story that Paddock’s fiancée, an Australian citizen born in the Philippines, was a bigamist. “Another corrupt immigrant,” McInnes muttered. He invoked InfoWars’ big “scoop” that someone else had been in Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Hotel: “You don’t order two Pepsis when you’re in a room by yourself,” McInnes said. (On InfoWars, Jones one-upped McInnes when he reiterated this point, bellowing, “Conservatives don’t drink Pepsi! Everybody knows it’s a liberal drink.”) What more proof do we require of a deadly left-wing conspiracy?

The note that was reportedly found in Paddock’s room provided perhaps the most glaring evidence of all. “Now, why wouldn’t the media and the government tell us what’s in that note?” McInnes said. He lowered his voice to a dead-serious register, imparting secret knowledge: “Because they want to prevent a civil war. Because he’s an anti-Trump guy. Because he’s a liberal Rachel Maddow MSNBC guy.

“They’re scared of the ramifications,” he added darkly. “This guy represents the war on the right, and they don’t like that.” Case closed.

Whatever might ultimately emerge about the Las Vegas shooter’s actual motivation, or his politics, the right-wing narrative is now set in stone. And it’s no coincidence that it’s the grievously misnamed “alt-lite” that drew together the scraps of fake news and conspiracy theories to concoct what McInnes called “the moral of the story”:

After Charlottesville—despite disavowing it—I got the vibe that everyone on the right wing is seen in liberal towns as a Heather Heyer murderer. And because the left is so dehumanizing, it left us vulnerable to violence.

What separates the “alt-left” from the “alt-right” has been the subject of a thousand taxonomies, but the current consensus is that the alt-right is committed to whatever it takes to create a “white ethnostate”—i.e., genocide if necessary—while the likes of McInnes, the InfoWars crowd, and Breitbart are “lite,” even “populist,” because they eschew violent means to the end of white supremacy. This distinction has served leading alt-lite figures like McInnes, Cernovich, Jack Posobiec, and Paul Joseph Watson extremely well, especially in the wake of Charlottesville. While alt-right voices and outlets were shunted out of the “mainstream” and relegated to more obscure corners of the Internet, and sites like Daily Stormer were left to search for a domain host, the “lite” label (originally an insult) has done wonders to preserve their popular brands. (McInnes, for one, has 231,000 Twitter followers, and 170,000 YouTube subscribers.)

They’ve all worked overtime to inonculate themselves—no matter how much rancid Islamophobia and violent misogyny, homophobia, immigrant-bashing, and racial stereotyping they traffic in. The alt-lite broke with the alt-right after Spencer’s more overt fascism tarnished the brand, well before Charlottesville. McInnes and company have made themselves experts at “virtue-signaling”: Denouncing the Nazis and decrying violence while continuing to spread the white nationalist message that, in McInnes’s pet phrase, “The West Is Best.”

Call yourself “lite,” virtue-signal like mad, and the fact that your greatest YouTube hits include the likes of “10 Things I Hate About Jews” fades into irrelevance. Let the alt-right call you a “cuck”—it only helps the cause. Let the left call you a “Nazi”—even better. McInnes constantly invokes the “either Nazi-or-not” strategy to make himself look “mainstream.” Whenever his ilk is being called out by the left, they’re being labeled as “Nazis.”

McInnes framed the Las Vegas massacre in exactly those terms. The shooter wasn’t just looking to kill some liberals; like every other liberal, he’d decided that the country music fans at the Route 91 festival were Nazis. That’s because the left has “dehumanized” the right. “I think the shooter thought this,” McInnes said on Monday’s episode of Get Off My Lawn. “Country music fans are all pro-Trump, they’re all Republicans, they all drive trucks, they’re all racist.” And this mindset “leads to murder, because we want to kill the Nazis that are going to facilitate Trump’s imminent World War III. The evil people, you can just kill them.”

With his remarkable talent for flogging the idea that white people (men in particular) are under assault by an unhinged and immoral left, McInnes has certainly earned his spot in the right-wing “mainstream,” along with his new cohorts Malkin and Levin, right alongside Fox News, Breitbart, and InfoWars. “Being proud of Western culture today,” he wrote a while back, is like “being a crippled, black, lesbian communist in 1953.” We shouldn’t give McInnes the gratification of calling him a Nazi. Like Alex Jones and Steve Bannon, he’s something far more pernicious. And “lite” is not the word for it.