When Clint Watts, a counterterrorism expert and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about Russia’s propaganda machine, it got me thinking about the messages pushing a toxic and divisive brand of white identity politics during the election. After Nov. 8, they miraculously disappeared. Was this a coincidence?
Although these tweets never changed my political opinions, I found them dispiriting. I had always assumed there was a small percentage of people on the right who held these unseemly views. But—based on what I began seeing during the 2016 election cycle—I had to reassess this estimation. The information coming across my Twitter timeline suggested there were far more of these trolls than I had thought.
The reason, I assumed, was the rise of the “alt-right,” a heretofore anemic movement that even after Trump’s win managed to attract a mere 300 followers to its Washington, D.C., conference.