It all started off as a loose group of ultra-conservatives who felt that the likes of the Tea Party and the National Review were far too liberal for their tastes.
How it got dubbed the alt-right — short for alternative right — is debatable, but according to the New Yorker magazine, the term was coined two years ago by white nationalist Richard Spencer.
Who the alt-right officially encompasses is also debatable, but for the most part it includes a ragtag fringe cluster of white supremacists, anti-Semites, homophobes, misogynists and a sundry of other misanthropes and overt racists.
The real issue is how this heinous mélange of haters came into being in first place and why they are so prominent in the media right now.
To begin with, despite its newfound notoriety, the alt-right movement is not something that just recently sprang to life in the United States.
Although it has assumed an array of different ruses and monikers over the decades, racism is an all-American tradition, with roots going back to the nation’s very founding.
From the genocide of indigenous tribes by the early settlers, to the reprehensible ignominy of slavery, to the birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1860s, to the Neo-Nazi skinheads of the early 1980s, hate has been a fundamental aspect of American life from Day One.
The alt-right label is simply the latest new packaging of a xenophobic and racist mentality that has always persisted among extremist groups.
The fact that it represents a small — very small — minority of the U.S. population does not in any way diminish the shamefulness of its thinking.
But it must also be pointed out that racism and intolerance are not the exclusive domain of the United States.
Nationalist movements and xenophobia have always existed in virtually every culture and society since time immemorial.
And these social malignancies are now registering an uptick globally (in part due to the unprecedented flood of Middle Eastern and African refugees from war-torn regions and in part because of growing social unrest).
Like it or not, the alt-right has adherents both in the United States and abroad.
Racism is an inherent human trait — not one we should take pride in or savor, by any means, but one we should recognize as a fundamental part of mankind’s basic psychological makeup.
And it is through acknowledging that xenophobia and distrust of other cultures and ethnicities are universal tendencies that we can best overcome them and replace them with racial tolerance and respect for diversity.
Most xenophobia and racism are rooted in ignorance — not to be confused with stupidity, which is the inability to learn.
No, it is ignorance that feeds hatred, and ignorance, unlike stupidity, can be conquered through knowledge and understanding.
Rather than confronting the alt-right with the same sort of offensive and demeaning slurs its proponents pride themselves on slinging at minorities (and amplifying the blast of the hatefest to decibels that are reverberated around the globe), the best way to counter the vicious spiel this group spouts is to present rational and pragmatic arguments against its odious propaganda.
Giving the alt-right media coverage and using its hoopla as a political tool only perpetuates its venomous doctrine.
Moreover, the alt-right movement was born online, and left to its own devices, that is where it will die.
If no one responds to the vile and disgusting messages posted by its followers, these despicable missives will — like most internet pabulum — soon fade from memory and relevance.
In the end, racism and xenophobia will always find mooring among those who prefer hatred to understanding, aggression to peace.
But the alt-right movement — with its pitifully small band of followers — is destined to disappear, and that cannot happen soon enough for most Americans.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]