Posted in Behind the News

How to describe extremists who rallied in Charlottesville

, by John Daniszewski

UPDATED Aug. 16: We are adding “anti-Semitism” to the definition of “alt-right”; noting that the antifa movement that has been recently in the news actually has antecedents back to the 1930s; and adding some guidance on spelling and punctuation on the recently coined term “alt-left.” The post below includes these updates.

The events in Charlottesville are an opportunity to take another look at our terminology around “alt-right” and the way that we describe the various racist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist and white supremacist groups out there.

At AP, we have taken the position that the term “alt-right” should be avoided because it is meant as a euphemism to disguise racist aims. So use it only when quoting someone or when describing what the movement says about itself. Enclose the term “alt-right” in quotation marks or use phrasing such as the so-called alt-right (no quote marks when using the term so-called) or the self-described “alt-right.”

A makeshift memorial sits in Charlottevsille, Virginia, on Aug. 13, 2017, a day after Heather Heyer died when a car rammed into a group of people who were protesting a white nationalist rally in the city. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Another recent area of confusion is the degree of overlap between the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist.” For many people the terms can be used almost interchangeably. Both terms describe groups that favor whites and support discrimination by race. There is however a subtle difference, at least in the views of the groups involved.

White nationalists say that white people are a distinct nation deserving of protection, and therefore they demand special political, legal and territorial guarantees for whites. White supremacists believe that whites are superior and therefore should dominate other races. Depending on the group and the context, AP writers are free to determine which description most aptly applies to a group or an individual in a particular situation.

Finally, a term has emerged in the news recently – an umbrella description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events. The movement calls itself antifa, a contraction for anti-fascists, and emulates historic anti-fascist actors in Europe going back to the 1930s. Until the term becomes better known, include a definition in close proximity to first use of the word.

Similarly, “alt-left” has recently been coined by some to describe far-left factions. Like “alt-right,” avoid using unless in a quotation and always include a definition.

For reference, here is the whole guidance on this topic, which has been updated to add “anti-Semitism” to the definition and a few other additions:

“alt-right”
A political grouping or tendency mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism; a name currently embraced by some white supremacists and white nationalists to refer to themselves and their ideology, which emphasizes preserving and protecting the white race in the United States.
Avoid using the term generically and without definition, because it is not well-known globally and the term may exist primarily as a public relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In AP stories discussing what the movement says about itself, the term “alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lowercase) may be used in quotes or modified as in the self-described “alt-right” or so-called alt-right. Depending on the specifics of the situation, such beliefs might be termed racist, white supremacist or neo-Nazi; be sure to describe the specifics. Whenever “alt-right” is used in a story, include a definition: an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism, or, more simply, a white nationalist movement. When writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization. Report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them. Some related definitions: racism The broad term for asserting racial or ethnic discrimination or superiority based solely on race, ethnic or religious origins; it can be by any group against any other group. white nationalism A subset of racist beliefs that calls for a separate territory and/or enhanced legal rights and protections for white people. Critics accuse white nationalists of being white supremacists in disguise. white separatism A term sometimes used as a synonym for white nationalism but differs in that it advocates a form of segregation in which races would live apart but in the same general geographic area. white supremacy The racist belief that whites are superior to justify political, economic and social suppression of nonwhite people and other minority groups. neo-Nazism Combines racist and white supremacist beliefs with admiration for an authoritarian, totalitarian style of government such as the German Third Reich to enforce its beliefs. antifa Shorthand for anti-fascists, an umbrella description for the far-left-leaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations and other events. Until the term becomes better known, include a definition in close proximity to first use of the word. “alt-left” A term that some use to describe far-left factions. See “alt-right” for usage guidelines.