Media Matters’ Cristina López explains how the White House uses dog whistles to appeal to the “alt-right”

Cristina López on PRI’s The World: Dog whistles like “cosmopolitan” “allow you to appeal to a certain part of the population that it wouldn’t be OK to appeal in a general speech, like the White House press briefing. But these groups are attune

From the August 3 edition of PRI's The World:

MARCO WERMAN (HOST): It may sound a little like it falls into the category of the word “elitist,” but “cosmopolitan” also has an ugly history of anti-Semitism. Nazis in Germany and Joseph Stalin both weaponized the word. Cristina López is a senior researcher at Media Matters. She's been following trends in language used by white supremacists and the “alt-right.” So, what does a word like “cosmopolitan” actually signal to white supremacists, Cristina?

CRISTINA LÓPEZ: Well, like you very well said -- antisemitism has a long, ugly tradition of using cosmopolitanism as a dog whistle. And the thing about dog whistles is that they work kind of like easter eggs -- you have to know what you're looking for to find them. So, therefore, they kind of, like, land with a very specific kind of audience, but fly over the heads of everybody else. So, on a sort of speech that was meant for public consumption, like yesterday's press briefing, Stephen Miller was able to just throw in the word “cosmopolitan” and make it sound like he meant “elitist.” And, when confronted by anyone, he would be able to say, “Well, no. Of course you're making this up, I am myself Jewish” or be able to get away with it. And the thing about dog whistles is that they have to work into a larger context, and the context that we have in this particular instance is that the White House in the past 24 hours has cited explicitly groups that are anti-immigrant nativist groups -- Stephen Miller cited the Center for Immigration Studies, and the White House website had the praise from the group the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, and the group NumbersUSA. These three groups have been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. So, those citations that are so explicit leave very little room for interpretation to whether we should call it a dog whistle or not.

WERMAN: Do you think Stephen Miller was connecting the propaganda dots when he used the word, or was he kind of referring to a vague sense of globalism, cosmopolitanism?

LÓPEZ: So, it’s very hard to know what was going through the mind, and that's why dog whistles are so insidious, because they can be used innocuously and they kind of give an out to whoever is using them to be able to say that's not what I meant. The thing is that they are not meant for the general population; you're throwing red meat for the well-attuned ear that has the context -- the larger context -- where you want it to land. So, dog whistles in that sense allow you to appeal to a certain part of the population that it wouldn't be OK to appeal in a general speech, like the White House press briefing. But these groups are attuned and they are listening. And, Stephen Miller is right now being celebrated in the corners of the alt-right, white nationalistic internet as a hero -- as a hero for keeping the purity of the population of America by kind of trying to curtail immigration.


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