Panel Held to Discuss Catholic Response to the Alt-Right


by Duane Paul Murphy

      The Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America hosted a small conference on the new political conservative movement, the alternative right, commonly called the alt-right. The event was held in Great Room C in the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center on Thursday and was co-organized by Millennial, a Catholic online journal founded in 2012.
     The event started with opening remarks by Maria Mazzenga, the Institute’s Assistant Director. In her opening statements, Mazzenga briefly summarized the history of the alt-right or alternative right, which is a political group that exists within the realm of far-right conservatism. The group that first gained prominence online mostly consists of those who promote white nationalism, anti-semitism, nativism, xenophobia, and homophobia. Figures of the alt-right that were mentioned at the
conference included white supremacist Richard B. Spencer as well as current White House chief strategist, and former Breitbart editor, Steve Bannon.
       Mazzenga also stressed similarities between the nationalist, exclusionary sentiments of the political movement with certain figures in the Catholic Church such as Father Charles Edward Coughlin, who publicly issued anti-semitic commentary as well as sympathies towards Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during the 1930s.
After the opening remarks, the keynote speech was made by National Catholic Reporter journalist Michael Sean Winters.
      “They are primarily interested in acting out,” said Winters about the alt-right’s tactics and motives. “This is really a movement we are talking about and it may be small, may be known mostly living on the internet, but it is trafficking a set of ideas that are considered deeply dangerous and I do not think it can be ignored.”
After the keynote address by Winters, the panel was introduced. Moderated by Daniel Petri, the Institute’s graduate fellow invited panelists for the round-table discussion and Q&A section included Catholic University assistant professor of history Julia Young, Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative research fellow Jordan Denari Duffner, and co-founder of Millennial and a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good Christopher Hale.
      During the discussion, a variety of topics regarding the beliefs and existence of the alt-right including the group’s core views regarding Islamophobia and xenophobia were discussed. Julia Young, whose expertise includes Latin American history and global migrations, correlated xenophobia and nativism of the early twentieth century, such as the era of the Great Depression and Operation Wetback, with the rise of anti-immigrant hate in modern times. Additionally, Hale believes that the economy, especially free trade, must benefit most working class and middle class workers in order deter economic nationalism with sentiments of xenophobia.
      As the event ended, many of the attendees expressed positive sentiment about the entire event.
     “I though it was interesting event overall,” said university teaching fellow and PhD candidate David Sollenberger. “Especially since sometimes you do not hear a lot from the Christian Left on these things and I thought all three speakers had a lot of really interesting perspectives on these things.”
       Throughout the conference, the speakers also brought up recent controversies with the alt-right, most notably the recent comments made by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

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