Political discourse bottomed out this cycle and the media was largely unprepared for it.
Well-educated journalists unversed in meme culture took it very seriously when the Anti-Defamation League classified Pepe the Frog a hate symbol on par with the swastika. They've since heightened efforts to legitimize their bogeyman: the alt-right.
The alt-right earned its legitimacy bona fides among Democrats when their nominee, Hillary Clinton, in August — after former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon joined as Donald Trump's campaign CEO — devoted a chunk of a stump speech to the "radical fringe" tainting the Republican party.
The Republican presidential nominee promotes "race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas, anti-woman — all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the 'Alt-Right,'" Clinton explained to rally goers in Reno, Nevada. "The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump Campaign represents a landmark achievement for the 'Alt-Right.' A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party."
The cherry on top of its attention-getting efforts was a Politico article from last week which details alt-righters' supposed plans to monitor inner-city polling places.
"Energized by Trump’s candidacy and alarmed by his warnings of a 'rigged election,'" Politico warned, "white nationalist, alt-right and militia movement groups are planning to come out in full force on Tuesday."
In a masterful bit of trolling, an anonymous "representative" for The Right Stuff divulged to Politico bogus plans (later redacted) to set up hidden cameras in inner-city polling places:
Many polling locations are in schools, and black schools are so disorderly that pretty much any official-looking white person with a clipboard can gain access to them ahead of time and set up a hidden camera. You don't really ever even have to speak with an adult. Simply walk in like you belong there and no one even asks you why you are there. So we usually go in teams of two, one person driving and one person dressed as a blue collar worker with a clipboard, and we set up a hidden camera in the school cafeteria. Go during lunchtime and the teachers are all so busy trying to contain the kids that no one says anything. We already have a few set up.
The "representative" further promised "teams going in to the ghettos in Philly with 40s and weed to give out to the local residents, which we think will lead to more of them staying home."
An updated version of the Politico piece amends, "Following the initial publication of this article, the Right Stuff reversed itself, and said it was not engaged in planting cameras or distributing drugs and liquor, and that it had fabricated those plans."
As Southern Poverty Law Center's Mark Potok told the outlet, the alt-right, in all its forms, are "serial exaggerators."
In 2014, New York Times reporter Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed "tens of thousands" of user profiles on Stormfront, the Internet's preeminent white nationalist discussion forum, and found, "The day that saw the biggest single increase in membership in Stormfront’s history, by far, was Nov. 5, 2008, the day after Barack Obama was elected president."
The people who frequent Stormfront, The Right Stuff, Daily Stormer, et al. don't often mobilize aboveground. And when they do, it's far from intimidating.
Reuters last week profiled the III% Security Force, a self-described militia group prepping in backwoods Georgia for "what they expect to be intense fallout from the 2016 election." The video speaks for itself.
"I can’t take a Hillary Clinton presidency," says founder Chris Hill (aka Blood Agent). "I’m gonna do everything in my power to try to rally people, and if the people want to stand and the people want to have their voices heard, I think that’s a First Amendment right and I want to be there with the Second Amendment right and stand and protect that voice."
Once a month in Jackson, Georgia, a couple dozen of the III% Security Force's self-estimated 300 members meet to practice "survival skills, hand-to-hand combat, and marksmanship," according to Blood Agent.
After Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer went undercover with the same militia group along the U.S.-Mexico border, he characterized the militiamen — largely made up of military veterans — as imagining they're "out in a kind of Wild West and they're basically re-enacting war again."
When push comes to shove, though, no amount of hand-to-hand combat training will trip up a military with a more than half-trillion dollar annual budget.