I Interviewed the Sage of the Alt-Right. No, It's Not Ben Shapiro.

The Economist corrects a massive error.


The Economist recently profiled the well-known conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. The article itself was inoffensive, but the headline initially described Shapiro as "the alt-right sage without the rage."

Michael Brochstein/ZUMA Press/Newscom

That is simply wrong, and it betrays The Economist's unfamiliarity with what the term "alt-right" means. No, Shapiro is not part of it. In fact, Shapiro has been a target of online harassment from some of the alt-right's members.

Shapiro was understandably displeased about being casually lumped in with the tiki-torch marchers of Charlottesville. "If you lump me in with people who are so evil I literally hire security to walk me to shul on Shabbat, you can go straight to hell," he tweeted.

Thankfully, The Economist realized its error and quickly changed the headline. Shapiro is now called a "radical conservative," which is more defensible, in that it's not flat-out wrong.

My guess is that The Economist has no idea what the alt-right is and just wanted a headline that rhymed. Perhaps its editors presumed the term just refers to someone who is even more on the right than your standard conservative. But the alt-right is a very specific ideological group that is not really more or less conservative. Its members subscribe to an ideology that they believe should replace the mainstream right.

My forthcoming book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump (pre-order here), includes an entire chapter on the alt-right. I covered some of their rallies and interviewed prominent members, including their best-known leader, Richard Spencer. In brief, the alt-right is a white nationalist movement that promotes an identitarian worldview: They think a person's worth is determined by his membership in a race-based group. The alt-right wants the U.S. to be a place for white Europeans and their descendants, and for the government to promote and protect the interests of white Europeans and their descendants. This is not a movement for black people, Hispanic immigrants, or Jews—all of whom represent a kind of "other" from the standpoint of the alt-right.

Needless to say, these are ugly and overtly racist beliefs. They are also at odds with what Shapiro, as a Jewish man, represents.

They are also at odds with what Shapiro thinks. To take just one example, Shapiro-style conservatives constantly bemoan identity politics. But the alt-right is all about identity; Spencer is actually in favor of identity politics. As he told me when I interviewed him, "I think actually the left is getting at something real when they say, 'I am not just an American citizen. I'm not just an individual consumer or producer in capitalism.'" He then accused conservatives and libertarians of "running away" from the sense of belonging that identity politics can provide, as part of our misguided defenses of individualism and markets.

If you're confused or intrigued by this, you should pre-order my book and read the full chapter. The alt-right really is its own thing, and casually lumping Shapiro in with it was a lazy move that The Economist was right to correct.