White Revolution and the Legacy of the Vietnam War

Bring the War Home (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Drawing on government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and multiple archives of White Power publications, Kathleen Belew has written a comprehensive history of White Power vigilantism, paramilitary training, and revolutionary violence in the United States. In her new book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (Harvard University Press, 2018), Belew focuses on the pivotal time between the mid-1970s and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing: the period that witnessed the rise and fall of the White Power terrorist organization the Order. Founded and led by Robert Mathews in 1983, and seeing itself as the vanguard of a White revolution, members of the Order committed a string of robberies and in June 1984 assassinated Jewish radio host Alan Berg. Belew makes the connections between the violence of the Order and the other factions—Klan, neonazi, Christian Identity, and paramilitary militias—that comprise a full-blown social movement.

Perhaps the most interesting argument in Bring the War Home is the idea that it was the American experience in Vietnam that radicalized White Power activists. It was that, Belew argues, that created the frame within which they moved from more-or-less “patriotic” vigilantism in defense of Jim Crow and its sensibilities—such as violent voter suppression in the South, or Klansmen patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border—to revolutionary efforts to disrupt or even overthrow the state to establish a new White dominated, or all-White territory. Woven through Belew’s narrative is the role of both crucial movement activists’ direct experiences in Vietnam, and the broader consciousness of the American war machine’s humiliating loss in that country. For White Power activists, losing a war to dark-skinned Vietnamese enemies echoed what they saw as the capitulation at home of federal and state governments to the Civil Rights Movement.

Belew traces the continuity between the Klan of the late ‘70s, the spread of paramilitary training camps run by Vietnam veterans, the Order, through the armed militias of the ‘90s leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing. Along the way, she points out how law enforcement has consistently underestimated the threat of White Power violence, often while misunderstanding its implacable opposition to the idea of a multi-racial state. This March, Belew talked to Steven Gardiner for The Public Eye:

PE: Early in the book you describe the moment in 1983 when what you call the White Power Movement declared war on the United States. In a closed-door meeting at the Aryan Nations World Congress, movement leaders seem to have decided that the time for racist vigilantism was over and all-out White revolution was called for. What factors made 1983 the breaking point?

Kathleen Belew: In a lot of ways, the White Power Movement mirrored what was happening in society at large. This is true of the movement’s revolutionary turn in 1983, which mirrored the feelings of people across the Right, particularly evangelicals, who were beginning to express frustration with what they saw as the moderation of the Reagan administration. Social issues like abortion were beginning to galvanize people. But the White Power Movement represented a much more extreme reaction to this moment. Its members saw the distance between Reagan’s campaign promises and his administration’s action as proof that electoral politics would never deliver the changes they wanted. White Power activists came to see a war on the federal government as the only option.

Typically, the phrase “bring the war home” is more associated with the Left, with the Black Power Movement and anti-war veterans. The link between Vietnam and the racist Right—though it seems intuitively powerful—is not one I have seen treated at length before. How did you come to see it this way?

The White power movement cohered around a common narrative of the Vietnam War, emphasizing gore, horror and an intense sense of betrayal by politicians, military leaders, and even civilians back home.

The White Power Movement cohered around a common narrative of the Vietnam War, one that emphasized gore and horror and, perhaps more than anything else, an intense sense of betrayal by the government, politicians, military leaders, and even civilians back home. This story created both an entry into the movement for a small but influential cohort of veterans and active-duty personnel and a performative identity for those who had not served. This is evident in the materials produced by the movement. They portray people in camouflage fatigues, marching in military formations, and armed with military-grade weapons. In one image taken by an undercover informant, a Klansman poses in a hood made out of camouflage material. This paramilitarism within the White Power Movement was far more than performative, though: it worked to escalate movement violence, pave the way to race war, and dramatically increase the civilian casualties that resulted from White Power actions.

KKK members and a white supremacist group the America First Committee, hold a rally in Marquette park, Chicago, Illinois, 28th June 1986. Photo: Mark Reinstein / Alamy.

In a remarkable speech to police chiefs in 1982, Ronald Reagan lamented the moral decline of America, suggesting that the growth of government and spending on the public good undermined individual responsibility. His speech was part of the New Right’s systematic attack on the idea of government as an agent of the public good. To what extent was the White Power Movement’s turn to fomenting revolution bound up with this more general attack on government?

Although anti-state ideas appeared in both mainstream conservatism and the White Power Movement in the 1980s, the people I write about were not conservative. They typically did not believe their goals could be achieved by simply maintaining existing order, or by turning the clock back to Jim Crow segregation or even slavery. They thought they would have to use more violent methods to achieve their ends. However, anti-state ideas sometimes connected White Power activists to the New Right, and even occasionally provided recruitment opportunities that appealed to that group.

Following the terrorist attacks of the Order and the Whidbey Island confrontation with founder Robert Mathews in 1984, federal law enforcement seemed to recognize that elements of the Far Right had turned from patriotic vigilantism to sedition, and reacted accordingly. Even so, in the early 1990s, there was another round of paramilitary training and organizing that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. Do you see a tendency on the part of federal law enforcement to minimize the threat posed by White Power terrorists?

The successful prosecutions of Order members in the mid-1980s were achieved under anti-racketeering laws, whereas a major federal seditious conspiracy trial failed to convict White Power activists in 1988. Further, the prosecution of the Order was piecemeal. Only a fraction of its members ever stood trial. Historically, although some federal agents have worked arduously to prosecute White Power activists, their efforts have often been stymied by a lack of understanding about the scope and nature of the movement. White Power activism is often depicted as the work of “lone wolf” terrorists, rather than as part of a wide-reaching social movement. But this movement reached across all regions of the country, included men, women, and children, and bridged urban and rural divides. My hope is that a more complete history of this movement will reveal these interconnections and enable more coherent opposition.

As you note, there seems to be a reluctance among both scholars and journalists to understand the political activity of the White Power Movement and the Hard Right more generally as constituting a social movement. Why is this and what are the consequences for our understanding?

The historical archive shows over and over again that the White Power Movement attempted to avoid being understood as such. Through strategies like leaderless resistance, which called for cell-style violence without direct command from movement leadership, the activists attempted to hide that they were a movement. The archive that disproves this idea is only recently available and Bring the War Home is the first to make use of it in full. Thousands of pages of government surveillance documents and previously unavailable movement publications make clear what these earlier accounts missed: that White Power was a social movement bound by networks.

Through strategies like leaderless resistance, which called for cell-style violence without direct command from movement leadership, the activists attempted to hide that they were a movement.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing, a combination of public revulsion and increased law enforcement crackdowns dampened the movement’s revolutionary activities. The center of gravity seemed to shift—away from trying to either carve out a White racial homeland or overthrow the United States government and toward pressuring the Republican Party, particularly on immigration. Do you see in today’s climate any indications of a new move toward revolutionary violence on the part of forces analogous to the ‘80s and ‘90s White Power Movement?

The historical record shows that in the absence of decisive prosecution, the White Power Movement has retreated, regrouped, and reemerged after moments of public backlash. While the Oklahoma City bombing did result in public attention and some new enforcement efforts, its investigation was limited only to the bombers and a few co-conspirators, with a more sweeping effort deliberately prohibited by investigative policy. The White Power Movement was not publicly confronted. Perhaps now, with a full archival history of the movement available and at another moment of intense public interest, we might hope for a different result.

What drew you to write about the White Power Movement and more particularly the revolutionary turn in the aftermath of the Vietnam War?

“I killed communists in Vietnam, why wouldn’t I kill them here?”

I was drawn to this topic through research on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission held in Greensboro, North Carolina, to explore the 1979 shooting of five Leftist protestors by Klan and neonazi gunmen. The commission sought to understand how the gunmen were acquitted in state and federal trials despite extensive video footage of their actions. Although it had no subpoena power, several perpetrators and other White Power activists chose to testify, and many of them repeated a similar story that went, basically, “I killed communists in Vietnam, why wouldn’t I kill them here?” I found this intriguing because it represented such an intense collapse of enemies, and of battlefield and home front. As I began to review the writings of key White Power activists, this idea came up over and over again and gave rise to the book.

Mothers of White Supremacy: Q&A with Elizabeth Gillespie McRae

Mothers of Massive Resistance (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Although historically, White women have supported the political, cultural, and social systems of White supremacy, there’s still a surprising level of confusion and shock when White women today do the same. Media narratives continue to assume, against evidence, that women’s activism must be progressive by definition. A new book, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy (Oxford, 2018), provides a different, more complicated story, carefully considering White women’s activism and defense of racial segregation from the 1920s through the ‘70s.

Focusing on four White women from a variety of political affiliations, McRae documents their efforts to protect segregation from the threats of racial equality campaigns and so-called “White apathy.” Her book corrects previous histories of segregation that focus on Supreme Court decisions, federal law, leaders, and ideologues by examining how segregation is maintained primarily on the local level. White women prove to be the “constant gardeners” of segregation by writing letters and lobbying local officials, by censoring textbooks for public schools and hosting essay contests, by policing racial boundaries of folks in their communities as overbearing neighbors and administrators, and by teaching children racial hierarchies that emphasized White over Black.

White women prove to be the “constant gardeners” of segregation.

In doing this, White women weren’t simply capitulating to men’s preferences under a patriarchal system; rather, White women supported segregation because it benefited them. They affirmed, defended, and praised segregation every day and birthed a particular White supremacist politics—which defends a racial hierarchy of White over Black in institutions, politics, and culture—that still resonates today. This March, McRae spoke to The Public Eye.

PE: When I was writing my book on the 1920s Ku Klux Klan and White religious nationalism, I was arguing against particular historical narratives that claimed the Klan ended in 1930 and that somehow White supremacy ended then too. What historical narratives of segregation were you writing against?

McRae: I was writing against three main trends in the scholarship. First, most scholarship offers a tight chronology of massive resistance—organized opposition to the Civil Rights movement—from 1954 after the Brown decision to 1964 or 1965. This chronology focused on national legislation and for the most part on Southern governors, senators, and elected male officials. The idea that such opposition erupted whole cloth in the aftermath of Brown and ended with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts raised questions for me. What were these protestors doing before 1954? Did they accept the end of their deep devotion to a segregationist state and society just because the federal government declared an end?

Second, the White Southern women who I first met in Civil Rights-era scholarship were progressive women who supported and joined the Black freedom struggle. Their efforts were certainly important, but they did not capture the broader swath of White Southern women. But in scholarship, White women’s work seemed oddly absent. I began to look for women’s involvement in massive resistance.

Finally, stories of segregation and its activists had long focused on the South. The story of segregation dominated by the features of Southern places and events—the literal signs marking White and “colored” access. Other iterations of a Jim Crow order, anti-United Nations or anti-busing protests, were sequestered from the stories of segregation. Yet, the aims and outcomes of women’s grassroots work—not the geographic location, the decade, or a particular political language—should dictate whether the activists were segregationists or not.

You note that part of the reason White women have not made it into the larger history of segregation is that the terms “segregationist” and “White supremacist” aren’t being applied to them. Why have White women slipped these labels?

When I think of White supremacists, a few images come to mind: a [male] KKK rally, White men gathering around a Black man or three whom they have lynched, or George Wallace standing in the doorway of the University of Alabama. Those iconic images are embedded in American culture—in our history books, movies, and documentaries.

Of course, this does not explain why White women and girls who are screaming at Ruby Bridges or Melba Patillo Beals—equally iconic images—do not produce the thinking that White women are also segregationists and White supremacists. Perhaps it’s because of the hard-to-discard “truth” that women’s maternal nature leans toward progressive political beliefs. Of course, this “truth” is rooted in biological essentialism and reinforced by a dominant historical narrative: Because a woman has the ability to bear children (at least in theory), she believes in taking care of children, which means advocating for public health, good schooling, decent child care, women’s political and economic equality, peace, and an end to child labor. Women’s political ideals, then, arise out of their biological role. Even though this formulation seems ridiculous, it persists, in part because of history. Many suffragists argued that women would clean up politics and make the nation take care of its citizens. Later, the proliferation of women scholars in the wake of second wave feminism provided us with very good histories of women who pushed for a more equitable society.

Finally, by focusing on national voices and elected leaders who opposed the Black freedom struggle, segregationist rhetoric most often came from men. Men’s voices dominated these forums, drowning out the grassroots work of White women who sustained a politics of White supremacy in community after community.

One of the things that I was struck by as I read Mothers of Massive Resistance was the garden analogy that you used to describe segregation and White women’s roles.

The garden metaphor came to me, in part, because my desk, where I spent my summers writing, overlooked my aspiring vegetable garden. And I considered all the work a prolific garden would take: fences, fertilizer, daily weeding, constant vigilance toward new pests, years of prepping the soil. And it came to me—this constant, unheralded, often hidden work was how these White segregationist women toiled. They were constantly looking for threats to segregation and trying to weed them out: interracial marriage, critical historical interpretations of White Southerners, outside influences like the United Nations. They were constantly sowing the seeds of White supremacy for the next generation. Also, gardening is not particular threatening or dramatic, so the garden fit the mundane and quotidian tone of my evidence.

How did motherhood become a way to claim authority and build upon notions of White supremacy?

The irony of using motherhood to claim authority for the four women who frame the narrative is that only one of them was actually a mother. And yet, they all invoked a discourse of public motherhood that tied racial segregation to the duties of White women.

In the Jim Crow nation, being a good White mother was imbued, in many ways, with teaching your children to follow the laws and customs of segregation.

Invoking motherhood meant that they could call on political and cultural authority and call on the state to meet its duties, to provide for public health, public safety, and public education. In the Jim Crow nation, being a good White mother was imbued, in many ways, with teaching your children to follow the laws and customs of segregation. As a White mother, protecting your child in the racialized landscape of the mid-20th Century could mean securing distance between White and Black. That meant preventing interracial sex and marriage, policing classrooms to make sure White and Black children did not learn together, teaching that racial separation was natural and timeless, and telling children stories that reified racial “place” in American society. Part of the power of the system was the way it married daily duties with the prescriptions of White supremacy.

Currently, there’s a renewed attention on women’s activism because of the massive participation in the Women’s March last year. But, it’s worth noting that when the media focuses on women’s activism, it tends to be progressive. Why do you think there’s less attention to the activism of conservative women, especially their support of White supremacist politics?

Louise Day Hicks with Mayor John F. Collins circa 1960-1968. Photo: City of Boston.

Certainly, surprise still persists when women vote for conservative candidates like Roy Moore or when we discover women’s role in White nationalist movements. And yet, the historical evidence abounds of White women participating in and shaping White supremacist politics. But [more generally], the way we discuss political movements has obscured women’s roles. The spokesmen often take center stage, but the mundane and the persistent make movements. This mundane work is often done by women: Jo Ann Robinson and Georgia Gilmore in the Montgomery Bus Boycott; Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in #BlackLivesMatter; [and, on the pro-segregation side] Louise Day Hicks and ROAR [Restore Our Alienated Rights] women in the antibusing crusades. In minimizing the grassroots work of women, the framing of White supremacist politics is no different.

The inability or unwillingness to look beyond the male-dominated narrative of White supremacy or to consider the complexity and diversity of White women’s political ideologies has provided perfect cover for these women and their work. It has meant that they could be considered outside the mainstream of American politics—anomalies, hardly worth our attention—while they operated inside it.

What do we learn about modern politics if we center the story of White women’s support of White supremacy?

White women’s historical dedication to White supremacy and their persistent, multilayered work might help prevent us from premature pronouncements about the nation’s commitment to racial equality and help us recognize the multiple layers of society where the fight for equality must be waged.

Olympics Row Reveals White Supremacist Pagan Foothold

This week The New York Times reported that the uniforms of this year’s Norwegian Olympic Alpine ski team have caused a stir among those concerned about neonazi co-optation of Viking symbols. The Viking-themed uniforms include the runic Tyr symbol, used chiefly in a linguistic context but which also refers to an ancient Norse god of war. It’s also become a symbol used by the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neonazi organization founded in Sweden in 1997, with additional official chapters in Finland and Norway, and substantial support in Denmark and Iceland. “One of the group’s slogans, ‘Enough is enough,’” writes Richard Martyn-Hemphill for the Times, “even showed up on a drum in last summer’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.”

The Viking-themed uniforms of this year’s Norwegian Olympic Alpine ski team include the runic Tyr symbol.

The controversy over the uniforms has special importance in a country that makes knitting patterns available each Olympic cycle, allowing everyday Norwegians to knit and wear their own team sweaters with pride. But following the co-optation of the rune by the Nordic Resistance Movement, several retailers have declined to carry the pattern, and many Norwegian Olympic athletes will be wearing an alternate official design to PyeongChang. Others in Norway see this response as abandoning cultural heritage to bigots. As Hilde Midthjell, chief executive of sweater manufacturer Dale of Norway, told the Times, “‘Neo-Nazis have marched with Norwegian flags. That does not mean we stop using that, does it?’” In accordance with this stance, Dale of Norway will continue to carry the runic sweater design.

From a cursory glance, the decision to drop the Tyr-emblazoned uniforms may seem excessive given the seeming obscurity of the group appropriating the symbol. But the Nordic Resistance Movement—which has attacked LGBTQ events, committed violence against anti-fascist protesters, bombed refugee centers, and was subsequently banned in Finland late last year—is part of a larger global landscape of White supremacist groups that have adopted ancient Nordic religious iconography and beliefs as part of their crusade for hate.

The Nordic Resistance Movement is a neonazi group established in Sweden and Norway.

As I explore at length in the Winter 2018 issue of The Public Eye, White supremacists are increasingly embracing Odinism, a revival of ancient Norse paganism that centers around the god Odin. These Odinists reject Christianity as a weak, effeminate religion originating from a Jewish tradition they despise, favoring instead a hypermasculine fantasy of Viking religion they see as noble and authentically White. In the piece, I argued:

Many of those drawn to Odinism seem to fit the popular image of the angry, disaffected White men who voted for Trump: lacking in status, searching for a sense of identity and community, and insistent that White people are under attack as a group. In the face of economic despair and entitled, hypermasculine White rage, embracing a religion that seems to be all about White male victory can be appealing.

Such rage is fueling Odinist movements across North America and Western and Northern Europe, with goals ranging from expelling immigrants and refugees of color en masse to igniting racial holy wars and taking up arms against the state. In this light, concern over a rune on an Olympic team’s uniform takes on more gravity.

The growing White supremacist Odinist movement should be continually monitored as everyday enthusiasts of Nordic history and culture (including those who want to take back the Tyr rune from the Nordic Resistance Movement), as well as anti-racist practitioners of Norse paganism, push back against the appropriation of their heritage and beliefs.

 

White Supremacy’s Old Gods: The Far Right and Neopaganism

Click here for a PDF.

This article appears in the Winter 2018 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

In 2014, a White supremacist leader, Frazier Glenn Cross, Jr. (also known as F. Glenn Miller), killed three people outside Jewish organizations in Overland Park, Kansas. Although all three were actually Christian, Cross’s intended target was clear, as was the religious justification he found for his supremacist beliefs. Cross, founder of the Carolina Knights of the KKK, which later became the White Patriot Party,1 was a convert from Christianity to a neonazi interpretation of the pre-Christian, Northern European and Germanic religion of Odinism. In his self-published 1999 autobiography, A White Man Speaks Out, he wrote:

I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity. / Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott [sic], Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part. / Odin! Odin! Odin! Was the battle cry of our ancestors; their light eyes ablaze with the glare of the predator, as they swept over and conquered the decadent multi-racial Roman Empire. / And Valhalla does not accept Negroes. There’s a sign over the pearly gates there which reads, “Whites only.”2

Cross’ hateful manifesto on the eve of the 21st Century represents more than just the ramblings of one violent terrorist. His argument that White people need to embrace their pre-Christian roots in service of the White race is one increasingly being adopted by White supremacists across Europe and North America. More than a decade ago, in 2003, comparative religion scholar Mattias Gardell wrote that racist forms of neopaganism were already outpacing traditional monotheistic versions of White supremacy.3 Today, they’re even more prevalent, as White supremacists exploit political instability driven by anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment in Europe, and the racist backlash surging under Donald Trump in the United States.

Only about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population follow beliefs related to neopaganism, an umbrella term for modern interpretations of polytheist and pantheist religions that predate Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.4 Within that figure, an even smaller number—just 7,878 people according to one community census—practice Scandinavian and Germanic forms of neopaganism known as Heathenry.5 Perhaps the most recognized Heathen faith is Ásatrú, a polytheist religion venerating old Norse gods and goddesses. However, despite its small numbers—in 1996, religion scholar Jeffrey Kaplan estimated fewer than 1,000 U.S. adherents6—Ásatrú has come to figure prominently in modern U.S. White supremacist movements.

By 2003, racist forms of neopaganism were already outpacing traditional monotheistic versions of White supremacy.

While most U.S. Ásatrúar (followers of Ásatrú) are inclusive,7 there exists a divide within Heathen communities about who should be allowed to take up ancient Scandinavian and Germanic spiritual practices. Those who eschew racism and invite potential members regardless of ethnic background are termed “universalists.” Conversely, those groups calling themselves “folkish” stipulate that only members with Northern European or Germanic ancestry may join. Many of these “folkish” groups are overtly White supremacist, claiming that Ásatrú is the true religion of the superior “Aryan race.”

White supremacists practicing Ásatrú may also use the term Odinism, named after the god Odin, though not all self-identified Odinist groups are White supremacist, and there are ongoing debates within Ásatrú communities about the differences implied by the terms. Others use the name Wotanism. The late White supremacist and convicted murderer David Lane promoted the term Wotanism to serve as an explicitly racist form of Odinism. Lane, who also created the “14 Words” slogan widely cited by White supremacists—“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children”8—favored Wotanism in part because, he explained, “W.O.T.A.N. makes a perfect acronym for Will Of The Aryan Nation.”9

By whatever name, the ties between some neopagans and organized racist movements are clear. “The most cursory glimpse at White-racist publications, Web pages, and White-power lyrics,” warned Gardell, “reveals muscular heathens, pagan gods and goddesses, runes and symbols, magic, and esoteric themes in abundance.” Racist versions of paganism had already become so popular among White supremacists that, by the time Gardell’s book Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism was published in 2003, they were displacing organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and national socialist parties, and were rendering “earlier racist creeds, such as Christian Identity, to the status of an ‘old man’s religion.’”10 Since that time, the explosion of the Alt Right has only amplified this threat.

Many of those drawn to Odinism seem to fit the popular image of the angry, disaffected White men who voted for Trump: lacking in status,11 searching for a sense of identity and community, and insistent that White people are under attack as a group. In the face of economic despair and entitled, hypermasculine White rage, embracing a religion that seems to be all about White male victory can be appealing.

In the face of economic despair and entitled, hypermasculine White rage, embracing a religion that seems to be all about White male victory can be appealing.

The numbers of incarcerated White supremacists finding themselves drawn to Ásatrú are also growing. Odinism was introduced to the American prison system in the late 1980s12 by adherents such as Danish immigrant Else Christensen, who traveled through the U.S. spreading the word about Odinism and setting up Odinist prison groups.13 In 2002, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that Ásatrú was “one of the faiths that incarcerated White supremacists found most often.” For example, David Lane, who was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his role in the murder of a Jewish radio host, heavily promoted Ásatrú during his incarceration, before dying in prison in 2007.14

In addition to the “true believers” drawn to Odinism, the religion has also become a useful organizational tool in providing White supremacists behind bars a chance to gather under the guise of religious worship. This strategy is common for many ethnically-based prison gangs, who are legally permitted to congregate with inmates dispersed across the prison only when united in worship. The Latin Kings, for example, organize under the cover of Santería, while Italian gangs organize under the facade of Catholic worship services. Given that the only jewelry prisoners are allowed to wear are wedding bands and religious insignia, wearing a Thor’s Hammer necklace (as Heathens have been legally permitted to do since 2005) can serve as a signal to other White supremacists in a prison environment structured by de facto racial segregation and interracial violence.15

Shannon Weber, “White Supremacy’s Old Gods,” photo collage, January 2018.

The Power of Vinland

For many White supremacists, the ability to connect with a religious identity they see as indigenously White is alluring. Ásatrú, especially for men, is a celebration of virile Northern European hypermasculinity, a chance at re-enacting the glory of their presumed Viking ancestors. Followers in the U.S. take the idea of this legacy one step further through their notion of “Vinland,” the portion of North America (most likely eastern Canada) explored by Vikings prior to the conquest of Christopher Columbus.16 In Vinland they are able to envision a past in which they were both victors and victims, beating Columbus in the race for conquest yet not given their proper historical due.

Many “folkish” Ásatrúar, Odinists, and Wotanists defend their desire to restrict the religion to those with Northern European ancestry as akin to Native Americans practicing indigenous religious beliefs. The difference between the two groups, of course, is one of power. Native Americans strive to maintain their cultural and religious practices in the aftermath of centuries of colonization and genocide. White Odinists, by contrast, benefit from White supremacy and deny others membership out of concerns about White “purity” rather than cultural survival in the face of mass slaughter, forced sterilization,17 and the kidnapping, abuse, and cultural “reeducation” found at American Indian boarding schools.18

Given that White people were the perpetrators of this colonization and genocide—and do not have an original claim to the land—professing a connection to Vinland enables White supremacist Odinists to “asser[t] a historical claim over North America,” according to David Perry, associate professor of history at Dominican University in Illinois.19 In other words, by laying claim to Vinland, Odinists tap into the idea of indigenous belonging while conveniently glossing over their status as settlers on stolen land.

As religion scholars Jennifer Snook, Thad Horrell, and Kristen Horton argue, when it comes to defining indigeneity, “Heathens in the United States certainly do not count.” But claims of indigeneity serve a powerful rhetorical purpose:

[C]laiming indigeneity offers an opportunity to understand oneself not as a global villain, an invading destroyer of distinct and diverse cultures and a spreader of global mono-culture, but rather as a fellow victim of these historical atrocities. Most Heathens recognize that their ancestors were global conquerors. Most of these seem to celebrate the fact as an indication of their people’s potency and power. This allows the maintenance of their settler identity…20

To put it another way, White supremacist Odinists assert their claims as “rightful” inhabitants of North America by paradoxically emphasizing their Northern European ancestry. At the same time, their adherence to Whites-only Odinist beliefs and hypermasculinity aids them in strategically celebrating their presumed ancestors’ conquest of foreign lands. In so doing, they are able to maintain the contradictory idea that they are both indigenous Vinlanders and powerful White invaders.

Above all, writes Perry, “They use the myth of Vinland to position themselves as righteous defenders in the wars of race and religion they believe are coming.”

Connections to Antisemitism: The Right Finds Odinism

While White supremacist Odinists use their religion as a way to play at the bygone glory of hypermasculine Viking culture, they see Christianity, by contrast, as a “self-destructive theology created by Jews and forced on White people who were by nature supposedly very different,” in the words of Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) senior fellow Mark Potok.21

On its face, it might seem illogical for Odinists to embrace antisemitism. After all, as John Yeowell, a leading Odinist community figure and author on modern Odinism in the U.K. (also known by the pen name “Stubba”),22 writes:

[A]ntisemitism is a Christian aberration and in no sense a product of the heathen tradition …  In the pre-Christian period the Jewish diaspora had not yet spread to the still heathen lands of northern Europe and therefore the question of antisemitism does not arise in the historic tradition of Odinism.23

However, the contemporary White supremacist revival of Odinism is deeply rooted in antisemitism and Nazism.

The veneration of ancient Scandinavian and Germanic religions has a long history in modern Europe, particularly in Germany since the 19th Century. Amid a backlash against the Industrial Revolution and German modernity, the 19th and early 20th Centuries saw the rise of the völkisch movement in Germany: a renaissance of romanticized notions about the “German people,” their history and folklore, and a yearning to return to a mythical agrarian past.24

During Weimar-era Germany, writes Kaplan, some contingents of the German Youth Movement embraced Odinist beliefs that would later flourish in Nazi Germany, as well as “sympathizers abroad whose anti-Semitic beliefs would lead them to conclude that, as Christianity is built on a Jewish foundation, it too must be swept away in the construction of a millenarian ‘New Order.’”25

In the U.S., the American Nazi Party was founded with Odinist influences in 1959.

During World War II, the “neo-völkisch” movement constituted a revival of this völkisch sentiment, as well as the heavy investment of prominent Third Reich leaders in Odinism. Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel, or SS, for example, relied on Odinist mythology in their initiation rituals and cosmology. After the war, “völkisch ideology in general [was] discredited” in Germany, writes German literary scholar Stefanie von Schnurbein, yet Odinist groups in West Germany were also able to rebuild thanks to the restoration of constitutional protections for the freedom of religion.26 In the U.S., the American Nazi Party was founded with Odinist influences in 1959,27 followed by the first U.S. Ásatrú and Odinist organizations in the 1970s. In short order, the new groups would become divided between their White supremacist and universalist contingents.

Stephen McNallen, who became interested in Heathenry as a college student in Texas in the late 1960s,28 formed the Viking Brotherhood circa 1972 with Robert Stine.29 This group in turn became the first American Ásatrú organization, the Asatru Free Assembly, about four years later.30 By 1978, McNallen sought to lessen Odinism’s association with Nazism, even though he expressed sympathy for the “‘legitimate frustrations of White men who are concerned for their kind.’”31 He ultimately shut down the Asatru Free Assembly in 1987 before founding the folkish Asatru Folk Assembly in 1994. (McNallen is most recently responsible for forming the Wotan Network, a White nationalist Odinist group dedicated to spreading White nationalist Heathen memes.)

Shortly after McNallen disbanded the Asatru Free Assembly, White supremacist Valgard Murray formed the Asatru Alliance (AA) to take its place. Murray was a former member of the American Nazi Party who, until the 1960s, signed his letters with the phrase “Heil Hitler!”32 He also had a history of violent rhetoric: Viking Brotherhood co-founder Robert Stine, a fellow member of the Asatru Free Assembly and former member of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party, claimed that Murray once threatened to kill a gay man at an official Asatru Free Assembly gathering.33 While the current bylaws of the AA claim that the organization “do[es] not practice, preach, or promote hatred, bigotry, or racism,”34 Murray has served as its chief religious leader since 1997,35 as well as its treasurer36 and public contact.37

The “Thug Reich”

Murray’s threats of violence weren’t an isolated example. Odinist groups that use Vinland as a defining part of their organizational identity, such as Vinlanders Social Club—who go by the slogan “Thug Reich”38—and Wolves of Vinland, have frequently embraced violence. Vinlanders Social Club, according to the ADL, is “one of the larger racist skinhead groups in the United States and has a high association with violence, including multiple murders.”39 They were formed in 2003 in the U.S. Midwest by one-time members of the Outlaw Hammerskins, a breakaway faction from the Hammerskin Nation coalition of White supremacist skinhead groups.40 Decrying what they see as the downfall of Western civilization, the group has developed a reputation for using brute force to intimidate and control those they perceive as enemies, including other White supremacists.

The Wolves of Vinland, based outside Lynchburg, Virginia, haven’t been shy about either their ritual practices (posting a photo to Instagram in 2015 of a dead sheep they had sacrificed41) or their members’ violence (in 2012, member Maurice Michaely pled guilty to setting a Black church on fire42). But they’ve nonetheless gained entrée to the Nazis-in-suits political world of the Alt Right. Member Jack Donovan made an appearance at the White supremacist National Policy Institute’s biennial Halloween event in 2015, which was held at the National Press Club, two blocks from the Obama White House.43 Given how White supremacist violence has become more mainstreamed during the Trump era, especially after the lethal violence in Charlottesville, Wolves of Vinland and groups like them seem bound to grow. And with the token inclusion of gay male members of the Alt Right, such as Donovan and Milo Yiannopoulos,44 these movements also have the potential to attract members from a community typically thought to be excluded from right-wing movements. (Of course, there have long been gay men among the leadership of right-wing groups, although they’ve often been easily disposed of, such as Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi Brownshirts, who was ultimately assassinated during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.45)

Other White supremacist Odinists have been linked to multiple high-profile acts of violence and murder in recent years.46 Anders Breivik, Norway’s worst mass killer who murdered 77 people (mostly youth) in 2011, more recently revealed that he has long considered himself an Odinist. Potential signs of Brevik’s Odinism may not have been as well understood in 2011, prior to the rise of the Alt Right. But during his trial in 2012, Breivik explained how he’d named various of his possessions after Odinist religious beliefs. In 2016, he removed all doubt, declaring during a court proceeding, “I’m an Odinist, I believe in the only god, Odin.” He added that he “had never truly believed in Christianity.”47

During his 2012 trial, Norwegian domestic terrorist Anders Breivik declared, “I’m an Odinist, I believe in the only god, Odin.”

Since the public rise of the Alt Right, there has been a string of White supremacist, pagan-inflected crimes in 2017.

In March 2017, Vinlanders Social Club cofounder Brien James led another White nationalist group he’d founded, The American Guard—formerly the Indiana chapter of Soldiers of Odin48—to show up at an Indianapolis rally for Donald Trump. They bore shields with White supremacist symbols and claimed they were there “to provide ‘security’ for the march against the threat of left-wing protesters.”49 James, who is also involved in the “Alt Light” organization the Proud Boys and their “tactical defense arm”50 the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights (FOAK), has a violent past going back to at least 2000, when he was allegedly involved in beating a man nearly to death for failing to sieg-heil during a party.51 (James has even found a way to monetize his hatred, as creator of American Viking Clothing, a White supremacist t-shirt company.52)

The next month, in April, street-fighting between White nationalists and anti-fascist groups in Berkeley, California, attracted neonazis who carried flags embossed with a black sun, a symbol of Odinism that was widely adopted by Nazi and neonazi groups.53 The symbol, used during the Third Reich and known in German esoteric circles since the turn of the 20th Century,54 would also surface in June during a White supremacist rally in Houston, Texas,55 and again in August by Vanguard America during the infamous and deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville.56

In May 2017, an intoxicated White supremacist named Jeremy Christian killed two men and seriously injured a third on a Portland, Oregon, light rail train, after the men had intervened to stop Christian from harassing two teenaged Muslim girls, variously yelling “Get the fuck out,” “I don’t care if you are ISIS,” and “Free speech or die!” Earlier that month, Christian had posted to Facebook, along with various neonazi rants, “Hail Vinland!!! Hail Victory!!!”57

Then in August came the White supremacist terror in Charlottesville, which in addition to featuring Odinist symbolism also drew the support of Odinist leaders like Stephen McNallen of Asatru Free Assembly.58 Odinist involvement in the terrorist clash, which involved assaults on Charlottesville residents and left 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer dead,59 is a sobering reminder of the White supremacist Heathen glorification of and capacity for violence.

The Soldiers of Odin

While examples of White supremacist, neopagan violence are plentiful, central to any discussion of these connections is the Soldiers of Odin. Originally formed in late 2015 in Kemi, Finland—against the backdrop of increasing White supremacist and right-wing radicalization across Europe that targets immigrants, refugees, and Muslims as defiling the European “way of life”—just two years later the group has a presence in more than 20 countries worldwide,60 including the U.S.

From its inception, Soldiers of Odin was linked to violent White supremacism. Its founder, Mika Ranta, a White supremacist with connections to the neonazi Finnish Resistance Movement, was convicted of racially aggravated assault for attacking two immigrants in 2005,61 as well as assault and aggravated assault in 2016.62

The stated purpose of the Soldiers of Odin is to “protect” citizens from refugees through deploying vigilante street patrols. By February 2016, they had reached the U.S. thanks in large part to social media, with at least 42 state chapters, some of which have only a few adherents, and others with at least 75 members.63

Some members of Soldiers of Odin are notable for their associations with other racist groups, such as Jason Tankersley, founder of the Maryland Skinheads, and Bradley Jenkins, an Alabama neonazi KKK leader. Foreshadowing the violence that would unfold in Charlottesville, 27-year-old Jani (no last name given), one of the group’s leaders in Kemi, told the U.K.’s Daily Mail, “‘The Government screwed things up so bad, and we are the consequence. Politicians are allowing migrants to rape our women, and they are doing nothing about it. There will be a war on the streets, and we are ready to fight.’”64

In some regards, that war on the streets may have been underway already. In 2016, Finnish police opened an investigation into three men who had worn Soldiers of Odin jackets while assaulting a man in the city of Imatra.65 Immigrants in Finland report fearing for their safety as a result of the menacing patrols; Kurdish migrant Hasim Keles explains, “We [asylum seekers] don’t go into town any more, particularly in the evenings, because we’re scared of getting beaten up by the Soldiers of Odin.”66

Juha-Matti Kinnunen, a Soldiers of Odin chapter leader in Joensuu, Finland, felt comfortable telling a British journalist, “If things carry on like this, ethnic cleansing will be necessary”67 —an ominous statement that can hardly be seen as a hollow threat on a continent haunted by genocide, whether during the Holocaust, the Bosnian war, or the Armenian Genocide.

Lari Kuosmanen, another Joensuu chapter leader, claims, “The cops say they hate us, but on the street they often give us the thumbs-up…Some of them would probably join us if they could.”68 In a similar claim, Soldiers of Odin USA also boast of being the “eyes and ears” of the police, characterizing their patrols as “observe-and-report” operations.69 This is special cause for concern given FBI reports from 2006, 2009, and 2015 on the infiltration of White supremacists into law enforcement roles.70

Gendered Violence in Right-Wing Neopaganism

Soldiers of Odin’s leaders say their founding motivation was to protect White women’s “honor” in the face of an epidemic of sexual violence allegedly being committed by Muslim refugees in Europe. Between December 2015 and January 2016, women in Helsinki, Finland, and in several German cities reported multiple incidents of sexual harassment and assault, by men who appeared to be Middle Eastern or North African, during holiday festivities. German police connected many of these reports instead to gang activity by men gathering near train stations for the purposes of mugging; and, as journalist Alex Shams points out, “Germans have only to look to Oktoberfest…or other mass drunken gatherings to remember that, unfortunately, misogynist men from many different cultural backgrounds engage in sexual harassment.”71 Still, the damage had been done, as anti-refugee extremists used the reports to justify assaulting asylum seekers and burning down refugee centers.72

“Where are the Freikorps when we need them?” Stephen McNallen wrote in response on Facebook, referencing the right-wing German-aligned mercenaries responsible for political assassinations after World War I. Many Freikorps members went on to become loyal servants of the Third Reich in the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi Party’s original paramilitary wing, colloquially known as the Brownshirts.73

In April 2016, a Soldiers of Odin USA Facebook group with more than 4,000 members declared that “it stands in opposition to the hordes of ‘refugees’ that have invaded Europe and will soon be coming to America, brining [sic] massive waves of rape and crime with them.”74

Contradicting previous assertions that they would serve only as the “eyes and ears” of the police, one graphic from the Facebook group declared:

We are not a nice, polite group that will do nothing but report outrages to the police. The police are overworked as it is, and hamstrung by the dictates of law. WE ARE NOT. We will BEAT THE LIVING SHIT out of any we catch raping American women and terrorizing American citizens.75

However—and unsurprisingly—the claimed concerns about protecting women from violence at the hands of immigrants and refugees also exist alongside a clear pattern of gendered violence at the hands of Odinists themselves. There was Vinlanders Social Club member Michael Parrish, who in 2009 murdered his girlfriend and their two-year-old son,76 for which he entered a guilty plea in 2010.77 Also in 2010, Vinlanders members Travis Ricci and Aaron Schmidt were indicted in Arizona78 after murdering a White woman walking at night with her Black boyfriend the previous fall.79 Separately, in 2011, Ricci was sentenced to 22 years in prison for slamming his girlfriend’s head into a wall during a party and stabbing two men who tried to intervene.80

Underlying these attacks are threads of misogyny throughout a male-dominated movement—one study found that Odinists in the U.S. are 65 percent male81—where women simultaneously serve as the rationale for outward-directed bigotry and violence and internal targets of domestic violence.

Women simultaneously serve as the rationale for outward-directed bigotry and violence and internal targets of domestic violence.

The misogyny within the movement makes sense for a culture that goes hand in hand with the hypermasculinity and rejection of femininity that’s common in the groups’ literature82 (and its social media, as Wolves of Vinland and other Odinists often add “#brosatru” to their posts, a play on the words “bros” and “Ásatrú”). It’s also in their disparagement of Christianity as a feminine, weak religion. Followers see the Norse gods, in contrast, as “the big tough white guys who, when they see a woman they want, grab her by the hair and pull her in the cave,” says Potok. “It’s seen as this ultra-male, super muscular religion, which is antithetical to Christianity and Judaism … It’s a comic book religion in a lot of ways.”83

Universalists Fight Back

The good news is that, despite this growing movement of violence, a large contingent of anti-racist Heathens are fighting to take back control of their religion. Given that universalist Heathens are already positioned as a mysterious minority within the West’s Christian-dominated religious landscape, the association of Ásatrú with White supremacy presents an embarrassing image problem. On a deeper level, universalists have collectively become fed up with their religious beliefs being used to justify bigotry and violence. These Heathens, despite being comprised primarily of White members, see the old Norse gods as deities who might call out to anyone, and they identify their community not through shared Whiteness but shared commitment to Heathen cosmology. Increasingly, they see it as their duty to not only distance themselves from White supremacist movements but to vocally denounce and organize against White supremacist Odinists.

The major universalist Ásatrú organization is The Troth, formerly the Ring of Troth. The Troth emerged in 1987, as religion scholar Jeffrey Kaplan writes, “from the wreckage of the Asatru Free Assembly,”84 and it represented remarkable diversity, with Jewish, Black, and LGBTQ members.85 As the group noted on its website, “membership in the Troth and participation in our activities is open to worthy folks regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation, and we do not permit discrimination on these grounds.”86

An important turning point came in 2012, when a group called Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) emerged to unite Heathens opposed to the “co-optation of our beliefs, traditions, and lore by racist groups.”87 Ryan Smith, one of HUAR’s co-founders, told PRA88 that the group first started as a discussion and educational space for Heathens to collectively unpack the troublesome problems of bigotry that have so long plagued their communities. “For a long time the racist, fascist types have effectively hogged the microphone and set the tone for how Heathenry is perceived, shouted down any opposition, and effectively marginalized all protest,” said Smith. “This was also made possible by a lot of self-identified moderates and liberals who wanted to be fair-minded, not cause strife in the community, or were defending personal relationships.”

Over time, HUAR’s mission became one of taking bold stances against White supremacy and fascism. Although in previous years, the White nationalist wing of Heathenry engaged in what Smith called “very careful plausible deniability,” he continued,

As we stepped up our efforts and the Alt Right became more visible, the [Asatru Folk Assembly] became more blatant in their rhetoric and positions and more actively linked itself to the rising Alt Right. They effectively self-radicalized and in the process also self-isolated, making it easier to rally opposition and support for genuinely inclusive community.

HUAR members’ increased education about these issues, and the AFA’s increasingly visible alignment with the Alt Right, caused HUAR to “shif[t] in the direction of exposure, denunciation, and in some cases direct action in solidarity with movements like Black Lives Matter” and antifa, Smith says. HUAR has also sought to hamper Soldiers of Odin’s organizing by publicizing any information they obtain about Soldiers of Odin’s members and supporters, internal organizational structure, and key leaders. Their efforts have sometimes resulted in venues pulling their support from Odinist events, such as persuading The Cotillion Room and Garden, an events center and wedding hall in Independence, Missouri, to cancel a book-signing event with author and Asatru Folk Assembly member Bryan Wilton.89

Smith says HUAR has developed “a substantial, international support base,” including  chapters in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, and online connections with the Scandinavian Heathen group Svinfylking.90 This international networking has enabled them to coordinate multiple intercontinental actions. In May 2016, according to Smith, HUAR organized an event called Light the Beacons, in which Heathens lit candles and bonfires at over 200 locations across four continents to demonstrate solidarity with inclusive Heathenry. The same year, HUAR took part in signing Declaration 127, an open letter approved by 180 Heathen organizations in 20 countries that publicly disavowed and broke ties with the Asatru Folk Assembly based on the AFA’s “long and well-documented history of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, sexuality, and gender identity.”91

As White supremacist Ásatrúar, Odinists, and Wotanists continue to grow in number and influence across North America and Europe, it will be essential to better understand, document, and track their growth. It is critical to have a full view of the connections between racism, antisemitism, and misogyny that animate White supremacist appeals to pre-Christian European religion as activists and researchers develop best practices for countering their recruitment strategies. Going forward, anti-racist advocates will need to continue challenging and dismantling pseudoscientific theories of Aryan racial purity and superiority, ahistorical claims about the nature of pan-European White identity, and teachings that pit marginalized groups against one another. Above all, advocates will need to continue their sustained and vocal pushback on the increasing prominence and validity given to these types of groups by the Trump administration and those adjacent to it. Through these means, as well as through partnering with anti-racist Heathen groups like HUAR, White supremacist Odinism can be countered.

End notes

1 “White Patriot Party (WPP) Group Guide,” Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (MIPT) Terrorism Knowledge Base, accessed November 2, 2017,

2 Daniel Burke, “The Accused Kansas Killer’s Neo-Pagan Religion,.” CNN Belief Blog,. 14 April 14, 2014. Accessed 29 August 2017, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/14/frazier-glenn-cross-racist-religion/.

3 Mattias Gardell, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003).

4 2014 Religious Landscape Study, Pew Research Center, accessed August 28, 2017, http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/.

5 Karl E.H. Seigfried, “Worldwide Heathen Census 2013: Results and Analysis,” The Norse Mythology Blog, January 6, 2014, http://www.norsemyth.org/2014/01/worldwide-heathen-census-2013-results.html.

6 Jeffrey Kaplan, “The Reconstruction of the Asatru and Odinist Traditions” in Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft, ed. James R. Lewis (Albany: State University of New York Press), 198.

7 Jeffrey Kaplan, “The Reconstruction of the Asatru and Odinist Traditions.”

8 George Michael, “David Lane and the Fourteen Words,” Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2009, 10(1): 43-61.

9 David Lane, “Wotanism (Odinism),” Der Brüder Schweigen Archives & David Eden Lane’s Pyramid Prophecy, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.davidlane1488.com/wotan.html.

10 Mattias Gardell, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003), 1.

11 See Will Carless, “An Ancient Nordic Religion Is Inspiring White Supremacist Terror,” Reveal News, May 25, 2017, https://www.revealnews.org/article/an-ancient-nordic-religion-is-inspiring-White-supremacist-jihad/.

12 Frank Green Richmond, “Two Accused of Race-War Plot Tied to Asatru Religion in Virginia Prisons,” The Roanoke Times, November 22, 2015,http://www.roanoke.com/news/virginia/accused-of-race-war-plot-tied-to-asatru-religion-in/article_f83401e4-faf5-5196-baad-2a428a54f849.html.

13 Will Carless, “An Ancient Nordic Religion Is Inspiring White Supremacist Terror.”

14 Betsy Woodruff, “Inside Virginia’s Church-Burning Werewolf White Supremacist Cult,” The Daily Beast, November 11, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-virginias-church-burning-werewolf-white-supremacist-cult.

15 Rick Paulas, “How a Thor-Worshipping Religion Turned Racist,” VICE News, May 1, 2015, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qbxpp5/how-a-thor-worshipping-religion-turned-racist-456.

16 Birgitta Wallace, “Vinland,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, June 3, 2015, https://www.britannica.com/place/Vinland.

17 Jane Lawrence, “The Indian Health Service and the Sterilization of Native American Women,” American Indian Quarterly vol. 24(3), 2000: 400-419.

18 Charla Bear, “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many,” NPR, May 12, 2008, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865.

19 David Perry, “White Supremacists Love Vikings. But They’ve Got History All Wrong,” The Washington Post, May 31, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/05/31/white-supremacists-love-vikings-but-theyve-got-history-all-wrong/?utm_term=.986f1bbb7b34.

20 Jennifer Snook, Thad Horrell, and Kristen Horton, “Heathens in the United States: The Return to ‘Tribes’ in the Construction of a Peoplehood,” in Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism, ed. Kathryn Rountree (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 58.

21 Jack Jenkins, “The New Religion of Choice for White Supremacists.” ThinkProgress, November 13, 2015, https://thinkprogress.org/the-new-religion-of-choice-for-white-supremacists-8af2a69a3440/.

22 “Stubba – John Yeowell (1918-2010),” The Odinic Rite of Australia, ccessed December 7, 2017, https://odinicriteofaustralia.wordpress.com/stubba-john-yeowell-1918-2010/.

23 Stubba, This is Odinism and Other Essays (Melbourne: Renewal Publications, 2016), 90.

24 George Lachmann Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York: Schocken Books, 1981).

25 Jeffrey Kaplan, “Right-Wing Violence in North America,” in Terror from the Extreme Right, ed. Tore Bjørgo (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1995), 60.

26 Stefanie von Schnurbein, Norse Revival: Transformations of Germanic Paganism (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2016), 48.

27 Daniel Burke, “The Accused Kansas Killer’s Neo-Pagan Religion,” CNN Belief Blog, April 14, 2014, http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/04/14/frazier-glenn-cross-racist-religion/.

28 Stephen McNallen, “Three Decades of the Ásatrú Revival in America,” in Joshua Buckley and Michael Moynihan (eds), Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition, Volume II (Atlanta: Ultra), 203-219.

29 Michael F. Strmiska and Baldur A. Sigurvinsson, “Asatru: Nordic Paganism in Iceland and America,” in Michael F. Strmiska (ed.), Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (Santa Barbara and Oxford: ABC-CLIO, 2005), 127-180. 127.

30 Gardell, 260. Note that some sources, such as Strmiska and Sigurvinsson, place the founding of the Asatru Free Assembly as having occurred circa 1972.

31 “New Brand of Racist Odinist Religion on the March,” Southern Poverty Law Center, March 15, 1998.

32 Ibid.

33 Jeffrey Kaplan, “The Reconstruction of the Ásatrú and Odinist Traditions,” in Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft, ed. James R. Lewis (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 203-204.

34 “Bylaws,” The Asatru Alliance, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.asatru.org/aabylaws.php.

35 See “Valgard Murray Biography: ABOUT VALGARD MURRAY,” World Tree Publications, accessed November 1, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20130501220434/http://www.worldtreepublications.org/page009.aspx.

36 See “Asatru Alliance Althing 36,” The Asatru Alliance, accessed November 1, 2017, https://www.asatru.org/althing36.php.

37 See “Contacts of the Asatru Alliance,” The Asatru Alliance, accessed November 1, 2017, https://www.asatru.org/contact.php.

38 “Do You Want Bigots, Gavin? Because This Is How You Get Bigots,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 10, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/10/do-you-want-bigots-gavin-because-how-you-get-bigots.

39 “Vinlanders Social Club,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed October 3. 2017, https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/vinlanders-social-club.

40 Stephen E. Atkins, Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism in Modern American History (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 117-118.

41 Woodruff, 2015.

42 Ibid.

43 Will Rahn, “Inside the White Supremacists’ Halloween Bash,” The Daily Beast, November 2, 2015, https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-the-white-supremacists-halloween-bash.

44 Donna Minkowitz, “How the Alt-Right Is Using Sex and Camp to Attract Gay Men to Fascism,” Slate, June 5, 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/06/05/how_alt_right_leaders_jack_donovan_and_james_o_meara_attract_gay_men_to.html.

45 Matthew Wils, “Ernst Röhm, the Highest-Ranking Gay Nazi,” JStor Daily, March 27, 2017, https://daily.jstor.org/ernst-rohm-the-highest-ranking-gay-nazi/.

46 Jenkins, 2015.

47 Carless, 2017.

48 Jordan Fischer, “Who are the American Guard: Patriotic Nationalists, or Skinheads in Disguise?” The Indy Channel, May 25, 2017, https://www.theindychannel.com/longform/who-are-the-american-guard-patriotic-nationalists-or-skinheads-in-disguise.

49 “Behind the American Guard: Hardcore White Supremacists,” Anti-Defamation League, March 30, 2017, https://www.adl.org/blog/behind-the-american-guard-hardcore-white-supremacists.

50 Bill Morlin, “New Alt-Right ‘Fight Club’ Ready for Street Violence,” Southern Poverty Law Center, April 25, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/04/25/new-alt-right-fight-club-ready-street-violence.

51 “Do You Want Bigots, Gavin? Because This Is How You Get Bigots,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 10, 2017,https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/10/do-you-want-bigots-gavin-because-how-you-get-bigots.

52 See https://shop.americanvikings.com.

53 Natasha Lennard, “The Violent Clashes In Berkeley Weren’t ‘Pro-Trump’ Versus ‘Anti-Trump.’” Esquire, April 16, 2017, http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a54564/the-violent-clashes-in-berkeley-werent-pro-trump-versus-anti-trump/.

54 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, New York: New York University Press, 2002, 136.

55 Shane Burley, “Disunite the Right: The Growing Divides in the Pepe Coalition,” Political Research Associates, September 19, 2017, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/09/19/disunite-the-right-the-growing-divides-in-the-pepe-coalition/.

56 “Flags and Other Symbols Used By Far-Right Groups in Charlottesville,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 12, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/12/flags-and-other-symbols-used-far-right-groups-charlottesville.

57 Jason Wilson, “Suspect In Portland Double Murder Posted White Supremacist Material Online,” The Guardian, May 28, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/27/portland-double-murder-White-supremacist-muslim-hate-speech.

58 McNallen was scheduled to speak at the rally, and he also publicly endorsed the event on Twitter through his Wotan Network account: https://twitter.com/WotanNetwork1/status/896382167336538113.

59 Christina Caron, “Heather Heyer, Charlottesville Victim, Is Recalled as ‘a Strong Woman,’” The New York Times, August 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/heather-heyer-charlottesville-victim.html.

60 Jonathan Montpetit, “Inside Quebec’s Far Right: Soldiers of Odin Leadership Shake-Up Signals Return to Extremist Roots,” CBC News, December 14, 2016, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-far-right-soldiers-of-odin-1.3896175.

61 Tom Porter, “Soldiers of Odin: Name of Far-Right Group Patented for Use By ‘Glittery Unicorn’ Clothing Range,” International Business Times, May 18, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/soldiers-odin-name-far-right-group-patented-use-by-glittery-unicorn-clothing-range-1560781.

62 Tom Porter, “Mika Ranta: Founder of Far-Right Soldiers of Odin Vigilante Group Convicted of Aggravated Assault,” International Business Times, May 19, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/mika-ranta-founder-far-right-soldiers-odin-vigilante-group-convicted-aggravated-assault-1560987.

63 “Soldiers of Odin USA: The Extreme European Anti-Refugee Group Comes to America,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Soldiers-of-Odin-USA-Report-web.pdf.

64 Jake Wallis Simons, “Exclusive: Nazi Daggers, SS Hats and a Hangman’s Noose: On Night Patrol with the ‘Soldiers of Odin’, Neo-Nazi Led Vigilantes Vowing to ‘Keep Europe’s Women Safe from Migrant Sex Attacks,” Daily Mail, February 4, 2016 (updated 7 February 2017), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3426685/Nazi-daggers-SS-hats-hangman-s-noose-night-patrol-Soldiers-Odin-neo-Nazi-led-vigilantes-vowing-Europe-s-women-safe-migrant-sex-attacks.html.

65 “Soldiers of Odin USA,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016.

66 Simons, 2016.

67 Ibid.

68 Ibid.

69 “Soldiers of Odin USA,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016.

70 Alice Speri, “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement,” The Intercept, January 31,2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/01/31/the-fbi-has-quietly-investigated-White-supremacist-infiltration-of-law-enforcement/.

71 Alex Shams, “Neither Taharrush Gamea Nor Sexism Are Arab ‘Cultural Practices,’” HuffPost, accessed December 19, 2017, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alex-shams/sexism-isnt-an-arab-cultural-practice_b_9022056.html.

72 “Soldiers of Odin USA: The Extreme European Anti-Refugee Group Comes to America,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Soldiers-of-Odin-USA-Report-web.pdf.

73 “Enough is Enough,” Patheos, January 16, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/throughthegrapevine/2016/01/enough-is-enough/.

74 “Soldiers of Odin USA,” 2016.

75 Ibid.

76 Dan Berrett, “Differing Pictures Emerge of Pennsylvania Slaying Victim,” Times Herald-Record, July 17, 2009, http://www.recordonline.com/article/20090717/News/307179900.

77 Given the fact that Parrish also worked as a Pennsylvania corrections officer, it is worth considering to what extent those employed by the prison industry are also “buying into” the promises proffered by incarcerated Odinists.

78 “2 Men Charged in Phoenix Hate-Crime Shooting,” AZFAmily.com, September 30, 2010, http://www.azfamily.com/story/28328488/2-men-charged-in-phoenix-hate-crime-shooting.

79 Stephen Lemons, “Can France Save a Phoenix Neo-Nazi and Accused Murderer from the Needle? Let’s Hope Not,” Phoenix New Times, January 31, 2017, http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/can-france-save-a-phoenix-neo-nazi-and-accused-murderer-from-the-needle-let-s-hope-not-9037127.

80 Stephen Lemons, “Neo-Nazi Travis Ricci Just Pulled Two Decades in the Joint, As The Specter of His Death Waits,” Phoenix New Times, May 26, 2011, http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/neo-nazi-travis-ricci-just-pulled-two-decades-in-the-joint-as-the-specter-of-his-death-waits-6448951.

81 Helen A. Berger, Evan A. Leach, and Leigh S. Shaffer, Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-pagans in the United States (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 16.

82 “Soldiers of Odin USA: The Extreme European Anti-Refugee Group Comes to America,” Anti-Defamation League, 2016, https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/combating-hate/Soldiers-of-Odin-USA-Report-web.pdf.

83 Jenkins, 2015.

84 Jeffrey Kaplan, Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997), 21.

85 Ibid.

86 “Frequently-Asked Questions About The Troth,” The Troth, February 3, 2017, https://www.thetroth.org/faq.html.

87 See https://www.facebook.com/pg/HeathensUnited/about/?ref=page_internal.

88 Ryan Smith (Co-Founder, Heathens United Against Racism), interviewed by Shannon Weber via Facebook Messenger, November 2, 2017.

89 Max Londberg, “White Supremacists Coming to Independence? Community Outcry Halts Fringe Group’s Event,” The Kansas City Star, August 16, 2017, http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article167494937.html.

90 See https://www.facebook.com/HeathensUnited/.

91 “Declaration 127,” Huginn’s Heathen Hof, accessed October 3, 2017, http://www.declaration127.com/.

 

Disunite the Right: The Growing Divides in the Pepe Coalition

White nationalist “Alt Right” demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial on June 25, 2017. Photo: Susan Melkisethian via Flickr.

By the time Richard Spencer, the man responsible for coining and popularizing the term Alt Right, made his way to the front of the crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and took the microphone, anger was already brimming among his supporters. While barely 100 Alt Right acolytes amassed for this June 25 “free speech” rally in Washington, D.C., they represented the hardcore adherents of a movement demanding a White “ethnostate”—a nation for Whites only. Standing in front of banners for White nationalist organizations like Vanguard America, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and Identity Evropa, Spencer issued the sort of romantic call for struggle that had once made him a leader:

We are fundamentally fighting to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves. We are fighting to be part of a family together. We are fighting to be strong again. To be beautiful again. We are fighting to be powerful again in a sea of weakness and hopelessness. That is our battle. Our greatest enemies will tell us that there is nothing to fight for, that it is all over. All you have to do is go to the voting booth or go purchase some cute new product or watch some cute new video. We are going to fight for meaning. We are going to make history all over again.1

Spencer’s passionate appeal came after a falling out with Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer, who had denounced Spencer’s presence at the rally and opted to hold their own competing event across town.2 As Spencer became the focal point of broader divisions, the Far Right was sent into a tailspin, with Spencer leading his explicitly White nationalist faction of the Alt Right against the more moderate “Alt Light.”

“We need to attack the Alt Light in the most ruthless manner possible,” Spencer declared in a rant on the podcast “Alt Right Politics” on the eve of what were now two rallies. “They are objectively the immediate enemy, they must be destroyed.”3

Spencer was declaring war against the Alt Light—a group peripheral to the core Alt Right, which Spencer appeared to see as his access point to mainstream conservatism.

What might have appeared to outsiders as simple subcultural rivalry had more definitive consequences: Spencer was declaring war against the Alt Light—a group peripheral to the core Alt Right, which Spencer appeared to see as his access point to mainstream conservatism. As the man who developed staple Alt Right institutions such as the National Policy Institute, the Radix Journal, and AltRight.com, Spencer has spent approximately the last two years scrambling to capitalize on the increased exposure the Trump campaign brought to his rebranded White nationalist movement. The Alt Light, which served as the next ring around Spencer’s core movement organs, weren’t committed to the harder-edged ideology of the Alt Right, but as a collective of right-wing provocateurs, they had helped popularize Spencer’s talking points.

Now, Spencer’s “Free Speech” rally became purer but far smaller: a parade of White nationalist celebrities, who came at the cost of the rally’s potential to influence more mainstream conservatives.

A Fragile Coalition

Richard Spencer. Photo: v@s/ Wikkimedia commons.

In 2008, the Alternative Right was born, as a concept that triggered a movement, after Richard Spencer’s time working among paleoconservatives led him into the “dissident right”: those who reject liberal values of human equality and multiculturalism. The Alternative Right, and the eponymous web journal Spencer would launch in 2010, brought together a range of Rightists loosely defined by racial identitarianism and their belief in human inequality. While the GOP still rhetorically rejects racism and inequality, the Alternative Right embraced these ideas, redefining fascism for a 21st Century U.S. context. When their nascent movement collided with internet troll culture, their name was shortened to Alt Right and their flag-bearers adopted the racially abusive personality we know today.

The Alt Light came later—an outer layer of supporters mobilized largely around the celebrity of former Breitbart Tech Editor Milo Yiannopoulos, and also including former Rebel Media star Lauren Southern, online “manosphere” leader Mike Cernovich, and Infowars conspiracy baron Alex Jones. Though their agendas weren’t identical, they served a purpose for the Alt Right. Fascists who have difficulty entering the public stage have always required crossover figures and institutions that can help pave the way for more ideologically pure leaders to come—a “stopover” point on the road to authoritarianism. In earlier generations this included figures like Pat Buchanan and the paleoconservative movement, but as public trust in party politics has waned, that role has fallen to online cultural leaders who sway social networks. In the age of the Alt Right, it was the less radical representatives who loaned the movement broader popular appeal.

To the Alt Right, compromise on core principles threatens the ideological purity they were founded to uphold.

But the relationship between the Alt Right and the Alt Light, as well as “patriot” organizations like the Oath Keepers, has often been more pragmatic than comfortable. And maintaining this coalition has not been easy, requiring compromises on language, targets, and allies. To the Alt Right, compromise on core principles threatens the ideological purity they were founded to uphold.4 The Alt Right already constituted a coalition, linking together the “race realist” pseudoscientists, racial pagans, European New Rightists, male tribalists, classic White nationalists, paleoconservatives, and others who defined themselves by essentialized identity and inequality. This point of agreement was enough to initially bring them together, but disagreements over issues like Ukrainian independence, Brexit, and culture led to splits, which were papered over when Trump ran, demonstrating to them again that they could be stronger if they suppressed their differences and rode the wave.

It was the need to find a more palatable vessel for their politics that led the Alt Right to embrace the Alt Light in the first place, although both camps had different intentions from the start. To Alt Light figures hoping to parlay movement celebrity into lasting careers, the Alt Right’s overt White nationalism threatened to become a toxic association. In both camps, strong personalities combined with murky ideological boundaries became a recipe for explosive fractures, undermining the potential of a unified front. That disintegration provides insights into the organizing process of the Alt Right, and how the Left can challenge their growth before it becomes a populist wave.

Free Speech Light

A 19-year-old student named Colton Merwin began planning the June 25 “free speech” rally in Washington, D.C., weeks in advance. It was the latest in a series of rallies, hosted by Alt Right and Alt Light figures alike, in response to public clashes between the Far Right and anti-racist organizers that had started in December 2016 and escalated in early February 2017, after an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley was canceled amid mass protests. The later cancellation of Ann Coulter at Berkeley prompted Lauren Southern to host the inaugural “free speech” rally in the city of Berkeley in April.5

While Yiannopoulos and Southern were both Alt Lightists, Southern opened her rally to Alt Right speakers as well, inviting Brittany Pettibone, a contributor to websites like AltRight.com and Red Ice Creations. After Southern’s Berkeley event descended into violent attacks on counter-protesters—a media spectacle that played heavily in the news cycle, leading to greatly increased media exposure for both the Alt Light and Alt Right—“free speech” protests spread across the country. The rallies became popular enough that Spencer and the Alt Right had the opportunity to use them as recruitment opportunities.

Spencer and the Alt Right saw the free speech rallies as recruitment opportunities.

Later in the spring, the movement continued to make headlines, as Alt Light leaders Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer gained notoriety for derailing multiple Shakespeare in the Park performances in New York City. Colton Merwin invited both as speakers, alongside Mike Cernovich, author of The MAGA Mindset.

But when Richard Spencer’s name was floated as a fellow speaker, Posobiec and Loomer declared that they wouldn’t share a stage with him, instead announcing a simultaneous rally across town, targeting the “political violence” of the shooting attack on a congressional baseball team that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in critical condition. (This rally focused on blaming the broad Left, suggesting that the shooter’s brief support of Bernie Sanders was evidence that the shooting amounted to political terrorism.6)

After the Alt Light abandoned the Lincoln Memorial rally—splitting the crowd and depriving Spencer of the big platform he sought—Alt Right trolls swarmed, with one prominent commentator, Baked Alaska, harassing Loomer with violent antisemitic images. While Spencer had long sought to present an above-the-fray tone for his new brand of White nationalism, he quickly joined in, tweeting, “The Alt Light is a collection of outright liars (Posobiec and Cerno), perverts (Milo, Wintrich), and Zionist fanatics (Loomer).”7

Tensions had been growing for months. The Alt Right had bristled at Milo Yiannopoulos’ refusal to fully adapt to the Alt Right through his rejection of “identity politics”8; at Trump’s Syrian intervention, which struck the Alt Right as capitulation to GOP “globalism”9; and Spencer’s earlier ostracism from Alt Light events like the Deploraball.10 But after D.C., it appeared that the face of the Alt Right had tired of his moderate counterparts.

Alt Identities

While the break in Washington stemmed from particular complaints—denying the Alt Right a recruitment platform at crossover events—the underlying issues were deeper conflicts over rhetoric and ideology. The Alt Right is an “identitarian” movement that can accurately be described as fascist and White nationalist: they seek to create a “traditionalist” society in the form of a pan-European ethnostate. That is specific and concrete. The Alt Light, on the other hand, seeks to create a bigger tent, including a range of “Independent Trumpists” who generally ally themselves with a looser type of nationalism—“American” or “Civic Nationalism,” which tempers its ideas about race yet still utilizes national chauvinism, protectionism, and isolationism. (To be sure, in effect Civic Nationalism manifests many of the same bigotries as its more explicit counterpart.)

Similar movements outside the U.S., like Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Brexit vote, are in vein with this Civic Nationalism, as is Donald Trump’s brand of populism. Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart alumnus and former Trump’s chief strategist, has defined his role in Trump’s campaign and administration as an expression of Civic Nationalism, viewing Trump’s “us-versus-them” language as a means to overturn establishment politics.11 (Unlike leftist expressions of populism, Civic Nationalism seeks to reestablish a mythic version of a stable and hierarchical America.)

The Alt Right has often identified Trump and the Alt Light, as well as older figures like Pat Buchanan, as Civic Nationalists. As “free speech” events proliferated, and organizations like the Proud Boys—a “Western chauvinist” group associated with the Alt Light—rose to prominence within them, some coalition members broke with the Alt Right in favor of vocal expressions of Civic Nationalism. At a June 4 rally in Portland, Oregon, Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, a movement celebrity allied with the Proud Boys, did just that. Although Chapman had become famous within the Alt Right for attacking anti-racist protesters with a large wooden rod, he distanced himself from the Alt Right’s racial politics, noting his Asian-American girlfriend and biracial child. Speaking to a line of news cameras, he declared himself a patriot, not a racist:

I consider myself an American nationalist… It’s a type of nationalism specifically applied to America, where we come together under Americana, 1776, the embrace of our beautiful country…Western Civilization. Regardless of race, regardless of sexual identity, we all come together to embrace America, American values, and put Americans first in all the dealings of this country.12

Chapman had already been condemned by Nathan Damigo, who recently resigned as head of the White nationalist group Identity Evropa, for his social media posts “denouncing racism” and suggesting that the “founding fathers” had created the U.S. as a country centered on ideals rather than ethnicity.13 But what appeared as Damigo and the Alt Right’s larger complaint was that Chapman had legitimized the accusations of racism in the first place, by calling “for a rejection of white interests”14 and, effectively, denouncing White nationalism. The Alt Light’s separate rally later that month in Washington, D.C., reinforced this rejection: that the Alt Right’s “White identitarianism” was so toxic that they had to hold their own nationalist rally somewhere else.

The Alt Right’s “White identitarianism” was so toxic that the Alt Light had to hold their own nationalist rally somewhere else.

The Alt Light wasn’t motivated by conscience alone; there were financial considerations at stake. Mike Cernovich has made a career on his books and videos, and with the growth of crowdfunding websites and donation appeals, Alt Light organizing against the Left has become a money-making prospect for many movement leaders. Kyle Chapman, for example, has parlayed his “Based Stick Man” persona into a clothing line alluding to the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, using incendiary language to promote his brand and create a financial base for himself. (Chapman, who has served 10 years in prison for a litany of crimes including grand theft, was able to make a reported $87,000 for his legal defense and $40,000 for a graphic novel that he is pitching at Comic Con through crowd source websites.) Websites like WeSearchr are also cashing in, raising money through crowd-sourcing to deliver “bounties” for different right-wing causes, like paying money to people who successfully doxxed anti-fascists.

But while edgy language and fighting postures have helped bring Alt Light leaders some acclaim, they seem to rightly suspect that open White nationalism is still a bridge too far for anyone seeking to build a lucrative career. Leading Alt Light website The Rebel has raised over a $1 million in its three years, almost entirely in crowd-sourced small donations. And while sites like GoFundMe are often off-limits to the Alt Right, since openly racist appeals violate their Terms of Service, the coded language of the Alt Light—using Civic Nationalist rather than “identitarian” talking points—can and does pass the bar. 15

The Alt Right has also taken hits when it comes to movement branding. In the heyday of the big Alt Right tent in 2015 and 2016, Gateway Pundit’s Lucian Wintrich told The New Yorker, the movement name “was adopted by libertarians, anti-globalists, classical conservatives, and pretty much everyone else who was sick of what had become of establishment conservatism.” But after “Richard Spencer came along, throwing up Nazi salutes and claiming that he was the leader of the alt-right,” Wintrich continued, “He effectively made the term toxic…We all abandoned using it in droves.”16 Wintrich’s summary was ahistorical: the broader use of the term Alt Right during the long election season was ideologically inconsistent with how it had been used for years by Spencer and his crew of “identitarians,” and Spencer’s efforts to reclaim the term, as explicitly signifying White nationalism, were really what the Alt Right had always been about. But the larger point remained—the bigger coalition Spencer had sought was falling apart.

There was further splintering within the Alt Light. Lauren Southern released a video message, “The Alt-Lite vs Free Speech,” arguing that blocking Spencer’s participation was capitulation to Leftist suppression of free speech. But despite this show of support for Spencer and the Alt Right, other Alt Right figures criticized her. In a long post at AltRight.com in late June, writer Michael Driscoll took Southern to task for what he saw as her lackluster opposition to immigration, arguing that “Something more is needed. That something is identity.”17

While further alienating their depleting number of allies may be a tactical misstep for the Alt Right, many, like Driscoll, see the popularity of more moderate voices like Southern as an impediment to the Alt Right’s goal of mobilizing anti-immigrant sentiment into support for open White identitarianism. As Driscoll wrote:

Southern is the focal point between the “Alt-Lite” and the Alt-Right and is one of the few new media figures aware that “classical liberalism” is not synonymous with Western Civilization, nor is it sufficient to defend that civilization’s existence. For that reason, where she goes from here is important.18

Taking the Oath

The tensions arose on other fronts as well, sometimes spilling over into violent confrontations between Alt Right White nationalists and Alt Light “Patriot” groups. On June 10, far-right groups including the Oath Keepers, a prominent Patriot movement organization, protested the removal of a Houston statue depicting former Texas President Sam Houston. The Oath Keepers, seeking to disassociate themselves from the White nationalist element of the Alt coalition, openly tried to keep the Alt Right from attending. But they came anyway, including an associate of the neonazi website the Daily Stormer, who arrived bearing a Nordic “Black Sun” flag and shouting antisemitic slogans. After event organizers asked protesters affiliated with the Daily Stormer and Vanguard America to leave, a scuffle broke out. When the man brandishing the flag was confronted, he began to repeat a line that would have seemed nonsensical before 2016—“What about the memes?”—until a rally attendant placed him in a chokehold. It was an absurdist image of a movement disconnected from most people’s political experiences, but within the fractious Alt coalition, it signaled another marked break.

A Patriot movement member stands guard during the Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation in Oregon in January. Photo: Shawn Records.

The various Patriot militia organizations, headed primarily by the Oath Keepers and the more decentralized 3%ers, can mobilize a large base for public events like the “free speech” rallies. While much of the Alt Right, and even the Alt Light, have little experience with public protest, the militia movement has frequently relied on displays of community pressure and intimidation. Starting with the first Bundy siege in 2014 and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Southeastern Oregon in January 2016, Patriot groups’ visible presence has led to an increase in membership numbers not seen since their 2008 surge in response to the election of President Obama.19 But while often lumped together with other players on the Far Right, Patriot groups’ stated ideology often excludes open White nationalism. Instead, they could easily be seen as the hard edge of the Republican Party, mixing extreme libertarian economics with anti-federal conspiracy theories, opposition to environmentalism, and a disbelief in the reality of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.

Due to their experience and numbers, Patriot groups have assumed a deciding role in strategizing some “free speech” events, as at the June 4 rally in Portland, Oregon, where militia organizations planned the entire security and structure of the event, outlining their efforts with local police and the Department of Homeland Security.20 But Patriot groups also represent the most consistent right-wing voice against the ideological platform of the Alt Right. While the Alt Right attempts to destigmatize “White racial consciousness,” the militias hope to avoid accusations of racism entirely. During the Portland rally, Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson appealed to attendees “to make this day positive, with no hate and no violence,”21 and the speaker lineup included a trans woman and a security team member with Pacific Island heritage who performed a traditional “warrior dance.”

These gestures towards diversity may seem surprising. Patriot groups’ rhetoric is well known for racialist dog whistles, decrying everything from communism to “illegals,” but the image the organizers of the Portland rally sought to create was of a united Right unburdened by “identity politics.”

While major racialist groups like Identity Evropa have participated in the “free speech” rallies, there has been increasing pressure for the militia movement to take a stand against their presence. In June, Oath Keepers founder and president, Stewart Rhodes, distanced his organization, saying:

We’re not white nationalists. We’re not racists of any kind. And if they show up [at our rally], I am going to personally, physically remove them. Because they are trying to co-opt what we’re trying to do.22

The subsequent Alt Right backlash to Stewart trended the hashtag #OathCuckers, recalling the popular Alt Right #Cuckservative hashtag used to denigrate Republicans perceived as weak on immigration during the 2016 campaign season. When the Oath Keepers then condemned the Alt Right organizations that came to the Houston rally, seemingly hoping to exploit conservative anger over the destruction of Confederate monuments to drum up recruits, the divide deepened.

AltRight.com immediately ran a story that the Oath Keepers “showed their true colors.” The Daily Stormer published a series of articles denouncing them that focused heavily on the age of their membership and the fact that they allow non-White members, and suggesting that the attack on the flagbearing “Nazi” was an affront to free speech.23 Robert Ray, an Alt Right attendee at the Houston rally who goes by the handle “Azzmador,” scolded the Oath Keepers for their treatment of the flagbearer and their “color blind” politics; he would later appear on the White nationalist podcast The Daily Shoah, using antisemitic slurs as he said, “I had been predicting before we went to this thing that Antifa was not going to be our main problem there, it was going to be these ‘Cucks.’”24

Unite the Right?

In August, some of these divisions appeared to begin healing, as the various factions of the Alt Right coalesced around planning for an August 12 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally, “Unite the Right,” sought to bring together all organizations to the right of the Alt Light in protest of the planned removal of Confederate monuments. Organizer Jason Kessler saw the rally as a formal break with movement moderates and an effort to start harvesting the energy of the last two years. Among the invited groups were the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party and other street-level organizations associated with skinheads or explicit neonazism that Spencer had avoided in the past.25 It was a decisive move for the Alt Right: associating with openly violent Nazi and KKK organizations, but not with those who cite Civic Nationalism and acknowledge the concept of racism. They anticipated high attendance—anywhere from 400 to more than 1,000 protesters—since the annual American Renaissance conference in Tennessee had sold out just two weeks before. And while counter-protests at American Renaissance were larger than in years past, the event went on largely uninterrupted, demonstrating that even at an explicitly White nationalist event the Alt Right could draw a crowd without the aid of the Alt Light or Patriot groups.26

It was a decisive move for the Alt Right: associating with openly violent Nazi and KKK organizations, but not with those who cite Civic Nationalism and acknowledge the concept of racism.

The movement converged on Charlottesville on the evening of August 11. Alt Right protesters, including figures like Christopher Cantwell and Richard Spencer, marched from the University of Virginia to surround a church hosting Union Theological Seminary professor Dr. Cornel West, kicking off a two-day frenzy of violence. When the Alt Right came upon people chanting and holding signs with Black Lives Matter slogans, they started punching the counter-protestors, spraying mace, and hitting them with torches in full view of the press.27 The next day, a Black counter-protester, Deandre Harris, was beaten with metal poles in a parking garage,28 and dozens of others were pepper sprayed or beaten.29 Just after 1:00 pm,30 a man who had been seen protesting alongside Vanguard America, and carrying a shield bearing its logo, drove a Dodge Challenger into the counter-protesters, killing one woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 more.31

Across the political spectrum, the melee was roundly repudiated, along with the movement itself32 (though not by President Trump, who refused for two days to condemn White nationalism by name, and suggested that “many sides” shared blame for the violence33). At a subsequent press conference intended to “disavow” the violence, Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler was chased off by protesters.34 And while The Daily Stormer published a ghoulish celebration of Heather Heyer’s death,35 many other Rightists, such as Alt Light leader Laura Loomer spent the weekend tweeting about the Alt Right’s connection to neonazis.

Aside from constituting a national tragedy, the moment could mark a decisive turn in the Alt Right’s position: granting them credibility with the further reaches of the Nazi Right, but also severing any access they had to the more moderate Trumpian Right, and likely other militia and Alt Light organizations.

What Next?

There have been massive social shifts on the Right following Trump’s election, including a mainstreaming of nativism. And yet, despite this cultural change, the social toxicity of open White supremacy has prevented the Alt Right from finding mainstream support for explicit White nationalism.

To overcome this, the Alt Right would need to find critical wedge issues—problems that appear insurmountable to those feeling them—that provide communities in crises with systemic answers. That has been, until recently, the Alt Right’s remaining avenue for growth: to present themselves as the answer to “problems” like crime, immigration, terrorism, and a range of perceived social ills like political correctness. But to gain access to those crowds they need more accepted factions of the Right to give them access to a stage (that they will use for their own reasons). The Civic Nationalists of the Alt Light seemed to offer this opportunity, but to keep this coalition intact, it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship, offering something that the Alt Light doesn’t already have.

This task is even harder in the wake of Charlottesville. In the days immediately following the Charlottesville riot, a number of Alt Right participants had their identities made public, and were subsequently arrested, fired or denounced by embarrassed family members. The Daily Stormer’s web hosts at GoDaddy cancelled their contract and forced the website offline (although they soon reemerged on a website only available through the Tor web browser).36 They, along with multiple other Alt Right accounts, have been banned on Twitter, and PayPal is cleaning out many profiles used by White nationalist projects, denying AltRight.com a major funding channel.37 Within days of the tragedy in Charlottesville, two of Richard Spencer’s planned events—a “White lives matter” rally at Texas A&M University38 and a speaking engagement at the University of Florida—were unceremoniously canceled.39

AltRight.com has claimed that the showdown in Charlottesville will prove to be the “beginning of the White Civil Rights movement.” But facing nearly universal condemnation by the public, it’s likely that the existing divisions between the Alt Right and the Alt Light will only grow.

While the Trumpist moment was too advantageous for them to ignore, the avenue for growth it offered also exposed a key disconnect between the Alt Right’s ambitions and its reason for being—that is, its radicalism, and its reduction of politics to identity. The rest of conservatism, including Civic Nationalists, argues for ideological principles, semi-universal policy positions that outline a worldview. The Alt Right’s principles, by contrast, all form downstream from identity—a politics that are ordered entirely around their perceived “White interests.” While they’ve battled over tone and optics, the divide between the Alt Right and Alt Light is not just a disagreement about intensity, but about their core understanding of the world. And while they may find these partners useful in attacking the Left or targeting mass immigration, when it comes time for the Alt Right to define its perspective, it must finally alienate its crossover supporters, who simply will not agree on the fundamentals.

While the rest of conservatism argues for semi-universal policy positions that outline a worldview, the Alt Right’s principles all form downstream from White identity.

Trump’s populist banner gave the Alt Right access to the broader culture, but they’ve reached the end of their ability to compromise to grow. The increased violence at events like Unite the Right further widen the divide, as their radicalism is shown to have bloody consequences, and it will force even the revolutionary side of their movement to take sides. In a post-Charlottesville world, they may be too toxic for the Alt Light to touch, making the benefits of their earlier coalition moot.

For anti-racist organizations looking to stem the rise of the Alt Right, these divides offer an opportunity to pressure the crossover organizations, from Rebel Media to the Oath Keepers, to draw a line between themselves and open White nationalists. The Alt Right needs some hold on mainstream cultural institutions if they are ever to see critical mass that can result in effective, self-sustaining organizing. Ensuring further breaks in the coalition they seek can help put a break in their momentum.

Endnotes

 

1 Richard Spencer, “The Alt-Right Triumphant,” AltRight.com, June 30, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/30/the-alt-right-triumphant/.

2 Andrew Marantz, “The Alt-Right Branding War Has Torn the Movement in Two,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-alt-right-branding-war-has-torn-the-movement-in-two.

3 Richard Spencer, “Alt-Right Politics – June 24, 2017 – This Means War!,” AltRight.com, June 24, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/24/alt-right-politics-june-24-2017-this-means-war/.

4 While the Alt Right is a “big tent” in its own right, the coalition has defined values of inequality and ethnic identity. Richard Spencer, “What is the Alt Right?” NPI/Radix, YouTube, December 17, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBHck8mIylo.

5 Bradford Richardson, “Trump supporters headline free speech rally at University of California, Berkeley,” The Washington Times, April 27, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/27/gavin-mcinnes-lauren-southern-headline-free-speech/.

6 David Neiwart, “Competing Alt-Right ‘Free-Speech’ Rallies Reveals Infighting Over White Nationalism,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 21, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/06/21/competing-alt-right-free-speech-rallies-reveal-infighting-over-white-nationalism.

7 Richard Spencer (RichardBSpencer) “The Alt Light is a collection of outright liars (Posobiec and Cerno), perverts (Milo, Wintrich), and Zionist fanatics (Loomer).” June 16, 2017, 11:11 PM, Tweet.

8 Richard Spencer, “Milo and His Enemies,” AltRight.com, March 2, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/03/02/milo-and-his-enemies/.

9 Shane Burley, “As the alt-right breaks with Trump, so goes its moment in the sun,” Waging Nonviolence, April 17, 2017, https://wagingnonviolence.org/2017/04/alt-right-trump-break/.

10 Brakkton Booker, “Alt-Right Infighting Simmers Around Inaugeral ‘DeploraBall,” NPR, January 1, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/01/01/507395282/alt-right-infighting-simmers-around-inaugural-deploraball.

11 Joshua Green, Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (New York: Penguin Press, 2017): 5-6.

12 Kyle Chapman, Interview With Author, June 4, 2017.

13 Nathan Damigo, “Is Based Stick Man Not So Based?” AltRight.com, March 28, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/03/28/is-based-stick-man-not-so-based/.

14 Ibid.

15 Josh Harkinson, “Cashing in on the Rise of the Alt-Right,” Mother Jones, June 16, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/06/kyle-chapman-based-stickman-alt-right/.

16 Lucian Wintrich as quoted by Andrew Maratz, “The Alt-Right Branding War Has Torn the Movement in Two,” The New Yorker, July 6, 2017, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-alt-right-branding-war-has-torn-the-movement-in-two.

17 Michael Driscoll, “Lauren Southern, Generation Identity, and the Quest for Meaning,” AltRight.com, June 29, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/29/lauren-southern-generation-identity-and-the-quest-for-meaning/.

18 Michael Driscoll, “Lauren Southern, Generation Identity, and the Quest for Meaning,” AltRight.com, June 29, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/06/29/lauren-southern-generation-identity-and-the-quest-for-meaning/.

19 “Antigovernment militia groups grew by more than one-third in last year,” Southern Poverty Law Center, January 4, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/news/2016/01/04/antigovernment-militia-groups-grew-more-one-third-last-year.

20 Arun Gupta, “Playing Cops: Militia Member Aids Police in Arresting Protester at Portland Alt-Right Rally,” The Intercept, June 8, 2017, https://theintercept.com/2017/06/08/portland-alt-right-milita-police-dhs-arrest-protester/.

21 Joey Gibson, “Speech at ‘Free Speech’ Rally,” Speech, Patriot Prayer “Free Speech” Rally, Portland, Oregon, June 4, 2017.
22 Steward Rhodes, “Oath Keepers say IDENTITY EVROPA is not Welcome: ‘If they come in today we going to whoop their ass,’” Very Fake News, YouTube, April 29, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14J1dCwXh5w.
23 In mid-August, The Daily Stormer was denied domain registration from Google and GoDaddy and these webpages were no longer live.

24 Azzmador, Mike Enoch, and Seventh Son, “The Daily Shoah 164: Vanned in the UK,” The Right Stuff, June 20, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0lU2WtUKxc.

25 Sarah Viets, “Neo-Nazi Misfits Join Unite the Right,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 26, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/07/26/neo-nazi-misfits-join-unite-right.

26 Jason Wilson, “’Young white guys are hopping mad’: confidence grows at far-right gathering,” The Guardian, July 31, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/31/american-renaissance-conference-white-identity.

27 Jason Wilson, “Charlottesville: far-right crowd with torches encircles counter-protester group,” The Guardian, August 12, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/12/charlottesville-far-right-crowd-with-torches-encircles-counter-protest-group.

28 Yesha Callahan, “White Supremacists Beat Black Man With Poles in Charlottesville, Va., Parking Garage, The Root, August 12, 2017, http://www.theroot.com/white-supremacists-beat-black-man-with-poles-in-charlot-1797790092?rev=1502591812341.

29 Brendan King, “Protesters pepper spray, beat each other during Charlottesville rally,” WTVR, August 12, 2017, http://wtvr.com/2017/08/12/protesters-pepper-spray-beat-each-other-during-charlottesville-unit-the-right-rally/.

30 Joe Heim, “Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death,” The Washington Post, August 14, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/local/charlottesville-timeline/?utm_term=.1225c1019e5c.

31 “Alleged Charlottesville Driver Who Killed One Rallied With Alt-Right Vanguard America,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 12, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/12/alleged-charlottesville-driver-who-killed-one-rallied-alt-right-vanguard-america-group.

32 Jeniffer Calfas, “Virginia Governor Delivers Defiant Speech Against White Supremacists ‘We Are Stronger Than Them,’” TIME, August 13, 2017, http://time.com/4898560/virginia-governor-terry-mcauliffe-church-speech-transcript/.

33 Glenn Thrush and Rebecca R. Ruiz, “White House Acts to Stem Fallout From Trump’s First Charlottesville Remarks,” The New York Times, August 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/13/us/charlottesville-protests-white-nationalists-trump.html.

34 “USA: Unite the Right organiser shutdown after blaming Charlottesville chaos on ‘anti-white hate,’” Ruptly TV, Youtube, August 13, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X4qeu5zLVI.

35 “After praising Trump’s statement on Charlottesville, a neo-Nazi website celebrates murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer,” Media Matters for America, August 13, 2017, https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2017/08/13/after-praising-trumps-statement-charlottesville-neo-nazi-website-celebrates-murder-counterprotester/217610.

36 Justin Ling, “Neo-nazi site The Daily Stormer moves to the Darkweb, but promises a comeback,” Vice News, August 15, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paypal-suspends-dozens-of-racist-groups-sites-altright-com/.

37 Jonathan Berr, “PayPal cuts off payments to right-wing extremists,” CBS News, August 16, 2017, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paypal-suspends-dozens-of-racist-groups-sites-altright-com/.

38 Doug Criss, “Texas A&M cancels white nationalist rally set for 9/11,” CNN, August 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/14/us/texas-white-nationalist-protest-trnd/index.html.

39 Colin Dwyer, “University of Florida Denies Richard Spencer Event, Citing ‘Likelihood of Violence,” NPR, August 16, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2017/08/16/543874400/university-of-florida-denies-richard-spencer-event-citing-likelihood-of-violence.

RELEASE: From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

Contact: Greeley O’Connor, g.oconnor@politicalresearch.org, 617.666.5300

From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

(BOSTON) The U.S. Far Right has killed nearly 450 people since 1990. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, Virginia is the latest casualty of White nationalism. We can honor the sacrifice of the dead and wounded by matching their courage in standing down similar rallies planned for the weeks ahead. Equally important, we can defend members of our communities who are under attack. People of good conscience, regardless of party affiliation, faith tradition, or identity should look upon Charlottesville as a call to moral action in defense of humanity and rejection of White supremacy.

Saturday’s Unite the Right rally was designed, over months, to be the largest gathering of its kind in at least a decade, and was successful in bringing together disparate elements of the Far Right. We should reflect on the deep connection between antisemitism and White supremacy and understand why women, people of color, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are often targeted first. This is bigger than Charlottesville. White nationalism should not be excused as an expression of “hate” or “ignorance;” it is a strategically coordinated movement with a political agenda.

Not all White nationalists dress up in costume and give Nazi salutes. Whether they are chanting “Jews will not replace us” at a torch lit rally or proposing regressive legislation on voting rights, the right to assembly, or other keystones of a liberal democracy, we must stop their momentum. When our President condemns neonazis only reluctantly and temporarily, it’s not courageous; it is too little too late, and only serves to further embolden the Right.  It is an open secret that the violent White nationalists on the streets of Charlottesville (and many other cities) were emboldened by candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, which gave voice to many of their own dangerous views. Their support is not only for Trump’s platitudes but also for the president’s policies. So while we welcome the denunciation of White supremacy from various corners of Congress, we require more from our elected officials. We call on them to uphold our common humanity as they consider policy changes to immigration, health care, education, and the equitable distribution of taxes needed to fund vital public services. We need to remain on alert for “law and order” rhetoric used to justify police and state aggression. We have no intention of stopping bigotry on the streets only to suffer its continued codification in the laws of our land.

The ostensibly “extremist” ideas given expression in Charlottesville must not be allowed to make racist federal policy initiatives appear moderate by comparison. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty presciently stated in a 2005 essay “Wrong About the Right”:

The right has not been afraid to propose extreme positions, knowing they will be pushed back to more moderate ones still well to the right of the status quo. We’ve seen this in almost every policy fight since 1980. By boldly taking stands that are far outside the mainstream, the right has managed to pull the mainstream to the right, which is why it is now perceived as speaking for the majority.

The activists, faith leaders, and everyday people who stood up to armed and violent White nationalists in Charlottesville are the heroes of this still-unfolding story. Their courage stands in stark contrast to the cowardice on display in Washington, D.C. Theirs is the moral conscience of a people that refuses to be divided. Who we can be together will determine whether the U.S. protects and advances the principles of democracy, justice, and pluralism or succumbs to the forces that threaten to unmake them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 will be a National Day of Action Against White Supremacy. PRA will be here, as it has for more than three decades, monitoring threats and revealing what each of us can do to advance justice and democracy in these turbulent times.

###

A Guide to Who’s Coming to the Largest White Nationalist Rally in a Decade

A poster for Unite the Right combines imagery of Confederate flags and monuments, Pepe the Frog, as well as the Roman Eagle–reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

The Unite the Right rally, which will take place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12, 2017, looks like it will be the largest White Nationalist rally in the United States in more than a decade. Between 500 and 1,000 people are expected to participate, while up to 4,000 counter-protestors may come.

While there have been numerous Far Right rallies since Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, this is the first major one that is led by fascists and other White Nationalists, which include Richard Spencer, Matthew Heimbach, Mike Enoch, and Michael Hill. It is also the third rally to be held in Charlottesville this year; the first one, in May, was marked by a torchlight rally at night, and was followed by a KKK march in July.

I have identified over thirty groups and prominent individuals who will be speaking at or attending the event, or have provided support for or endorsed it. This list includes Alt Right and Alt Lite members, neoconfederates, neonazis, racist pagans, Patriot movement paramilitaries, and even a European neonazi party. What follows is a scorecard of the Far Right groups that have announced they will attend the event, although undoubtedly many more will come.

ORGANIZER

Jason Kessler (Unity and Security for America)

Jason Kessler writes on Twitter, “#UniteTheRight opposes the demonization of white people & their history. We oppose the globalist plan to replace us w/ 3rd world immigration.”

As Unite the Right’s main organizer, Kessler has filed for the rally permits and has held several press conferences. He is the president of the Far Right group Unity and Security for America, and has written for the White nationalist anti-immigration VDARE website. He had written a Daily Caller story praising the May Charlottesville rally. However, after it was revealed that Kessler had also given a speech to the protestors the same day, the website suspended their relationship. Kessler promotes antisemitic and “White genocide” conspiracy theories, and supports calls for a White ethnostate.

On the Political Cesspool radio show, Kessler said about Unite the Right: “the number one thing is I want to destigmatize Pro-White advocacy…. I want a huge, huge crowd, and that’s what we’re going to have, to come out and support, not just the Lee Monument, but also white people in general, because it is our race which is under attack.”1

SPEAKERS

Richard Spencer (AltRight.com, National Policy Institute)
Spencer is the most visible Alt Right figure and is usually credited with coining the term. The leader of the intellectual wing of the movement, he has been pivotal in remaking the image of White nationalism. An advocate of “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and a White ethnostate, Spencer is influenced by European unorthodox fascist trends like the New Right and Identitarian movement. Despite being firmly on the fascist wing of the movement, his untraditional influences show, for example, in his toleration of openly gay and lesbian participants. In 2011 Spencer took over the National Policy Institute (NPI) think tank and has held several conferences in Washington. A supporter of Trump at the time, at the NPI conference before the inauguration Spencer gave a speech that ended with, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” Audience members sieg-heiled in response. In 2017, Spencer founded a new website, AltRight.com, along with others including Jason Jorjani and Swedish fascist Daniel Friberg, both of whom work with Arktos press.

AltRight.com wrote about the rally, saying “People will talk about Charlottesville as a turning point. There will be a before Charlottesville and an after Charlottesville. Will you stand up for your history, your race and your way of life?”2

Matthew Heimbach (Traditionalist Worker Party)


Matthew Heimbach and his Traditionalist Worker Party have been promoting the event; he is depicted here during his time in the White Student Union he founded while attending Towson University. Photo: Flickr via cool revolution.

Heimbach has founded and led several groups in succession: a Youth for Western Civilization chapter and a White Students Union (both at Towson University in Maryland), and then the Traditionalist Youth Network and its outgrowth, the Traditionalist Worker Party. He is one of the three leaders of the racist umbrella group the Nationalist Front, and is a member of the neoconfederate League of the South. Now twenty-six, Heimbach was the bright young thing of the White Nationalist movement before the Alt Right, and despite his orientation towards more traditional neonazi and KKK groups, he portrays himself as a prominent figure in the Alt Right. He is a tireless networker, with links to groups like Greece’s neonazi Golden Dawn party, but is also a controversial figure. He had been feuding with Richard Spencer, but this apparently ended in April 2017 when Heimbach came to Alabama’s Auburn University to help protect a talk Spencer gave. In July 2017 Heimbach plead guilty to disorderly conduct for attacking a black woman at a March 2016 Trump campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky.3

Mike Enoch (The Right Stuff)

Enoch (real name: Mike Peinovich) runs The Right Stuff, a podcast platform which includes the Daily Shoah show. The Right Stuff acts as middle-ground between the intellectual and juvenile trolling wings of the Alt Right. Enoch appeared with Nationalist Front groups at the April 2017 rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, and was at the May rally in Charlottesville. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas. Enoch is credited with popularizing the racist neologism “dindus” as well as the antisemitic “echoes” symbol (where three parentheses are placed around names of people thought to be Jewish). Vehemently antisemitic, when he was doxed in January 2017 it was revealed he lived in New York’s wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood—with his Jewish wife.4

Michael Hill (League of the South)

Hill is the founder and leader of the neoconfederate League of the South. A former professor, he has the led the group from having a base of support from pro-Southern academics into a racist group with paramilitary elements. Hill is also one of the three leaders of the Nationalist Front. He will be the only person speaking at Unite the Right with a PhD.5

Augustus Invictus (Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights, American Guard)

Invictus is a Florida lawyer who ran in the 2016 Libertarian Party primary for senate, hoping to take Marco Rubio’s seat. Invictus is a Thelemite (occultists in the tradition of Aleister Crowley), and the press has a had a field day with that fact that he admits to sacrificing a goat and drinking its blood. As a lawyer, Invictus defended Marcus Faella of the American Front, a Third Positionist skinhead group whose Florida chapter was arrested and charged with illegal paramilitary training; American Front members have hosted and attended Invictus’s talks in the Pacific Northwest. He has floated into Alt Right circles and, although he denies being a white supremacist, he is unusually open about his willingness to work with fascists. He is a member of the American Guard, a Midwest-based Alt Right group that accepts open White nationalists while claiming the group itself are “constitutional nationalists.” He also helped Based Stickman form the Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights—a group designed to engage in fights at demonstrations, and who are affiliated with the Proud Boys.6

Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska takes to Twitter to promote the rally.

Tim “Treadstone” Gionet, aka “Baked Alaska,” is a former Buzzfeed social media strategist who has moved towards antisemitism, Islamophobia, and White nationalism. He was Milo Yiannopoulos’s tour manager in 2016, but was uninvited to the Alt Lite “Deploraball”—held in Washington, DC the night before Trump’s inauguration—for his antisemitic tweets. Baked Alaska apologized, but has since attacked Alt Lite livestreamer Laura Loomer using blatant antisemitism, and now promotes White supremacist ideas such as “the 14 words” and “White genocide” on Twitter.7

Pax Dickinson

The most commercially successful of the crowd, Dickinson worked at Business Insider until his misogynistic tweets forced his departure. He later worked at Wesearchr, a Far Right funding platform. After a fallout there, he announced that he is starting Counter.Fund, a new Far Right crowdfunding site. However, the revelation that Peter Belau, the site’s “first High Council appointee” is Jewish, has caused neonazi stalwart Billy Roper to denounce the Unite the Right gathering.8

Christopher Cantwell

One of the minor league speakers tapped early on, Cantwell hosts the Radical Agenda podcast. He had worked with the Cop Block project, before he—like an number of Alt Right members—moved from libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism into the Alt Right and sympathy with fascists. In a recent interview, Cantwell said “let’s fucking gas the kikes and have a race war.”9

Johnny Monoxide

The least-known of the speakers, Monoxide (aka Johnny Ramondetta) is a White nationalist livestreamer who has run different podcasts. Living in Berkeley, California, Monoxide has livestreamed Identity Evropa events.10

LEGAL SUPPORT

Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, Inc.

Led by Kyle Bristow, this Michigan-based legal non-profit was formed in 2016. He claims it is “quickly becoming the legal muscle behind the alt-right movement.” In April, Bristow successfully forced Auburn University to host Richard Spencer’s talk. More recently, Bristow has tried to block the Charlottesville city government from moving the location of Unite the Right out of a small park in the downtown area. The group’s board of directors include Alt Right activist Mike Enoch; William Johnson, the chairman of the White nationalist American Freedom Party; and James Edwards, who runs the White nationalist Political Cesspool radio show.11

Memes such as this one have been circulating social media in anticipation for the rally.

ATTENDEES

Daily Stormer

Founded by Andrew Anglin, by July 2016 the site, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “had become the most popular English-language website of the radical right, eclipsing the Stormfront site that had held that position since the early days of the Internet.” Daily Stormer (a pun on the 1930s German Nazi party newspaper Der Stürmer) is the most prominent representative of the openly neonazi wing of the Alt Right. In 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center said they have established thirty-one on-the-ground groups, called “book clubs.” Staffers Lee Rogers, “Azzmador,” “Zeiger,” and Ben Garland announced they are going to Unite the Right. Rogers writes, “Daily Stormer Book Clubs should do everything they can to get their people out to this event. All readers of the Daily Stormer should do the same.”

Another article Daily Stormer says, “this will clearly be an earth-shaking day that will go down in the history books. It can really only be explained as a perfect storm. That everything has been leading up to this. That our time has come. … It will be a monumental turning point in the progression of our movement. Everything will be different afterwards. … Next stop: Charlottesville, VA. Final stop: Auschwitz.”12

Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights (FOAK)

The “military wing of the Proud Boys,” this group was founded in April 2017 by Based Stickman, with help from Augustus Invictus. (Based Stickman was originally slated as appearing at the rally, but it does not appear that he will make an appearance.) On August 7 the FOAK announced that will be come to Unite the Right.13

Brad Griffin (Occidental Dissent)
Griffin’s Occidental Dissent blog has been heavily promoting Unite the Right. Griffin, who writes as “Hunter Wallace,” is a member of the neoconfederate League of the South. He also has been a board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the group who was the inspiration to Dylann Roof, the murderer of nine black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015. Despite his neoconfederate views, Griffin has come around to supporting the Alt Right.

In July, Griffin wrote:I think Charlottesville has the potential to be a breakthrough moment in our activism. There is so much energy which has been bottled up online over the past 15 years that the dam is close to breaking. It is only a matter of time before it finally spills over into the real world and we are getting very close to that point.”14

Identity Dixie

A media outlet with a webpage and podcast called Rebel Yell. It was started by The Right Stuff in order to appeal to neoconfederates, and mixes confederate and Nazi imagery.15

Identity Evropa’s advertisement for the rally.

Identity Evropa

Founded in March 2016, Identity Evropa is one of two fascist Alt Right groups who are oriented toward recruiting men in their teens and early twenties. They copy European Identitarian politics and are known for sporting Richard Spencer-like “fashy” haircuts and recruiting on campuses. They have been present at many of the combative Far Right-organized street demonstrations since the inauguration. Their leader, Nathan Damigo, achieved internet notoriety for punching a counter-protestor at a Berkeley rally in April 2017. Damigo has previously led the Nationalist Youth Front, the youth branch of the White nationalist American Freedom Party. Identity Evropa also participated in the May 2017 Charlottesville rally.

Damigo plans to be at Unite the Right; he says the removal of Confederate monuments is part of a plan “to sever us from our identity so that we will have nothing left to gain strength and inspiration from to resist their mass colonization. Join us, and push back against the cultural Marxists their war on Whites.”16

League of the South

The League is a highly visible neoconfederate organization, and promote an explicitly White nationalist version of the Confederacy’s goal—southern secession. Founded in 1994, they have been able to attract thousands of members over the years, and have created paramilitary elements. Their current popular issue is their support for Confederate memorials and flags. In April 2017 they joined the Nationalist Front, and attended the Pikeville, Kentucky rally alongside the Traditionalist Worker Party, National Socialist Movement, and others.

The League’s founder and leader, Michael Hill, will speak at Unite the Right. The group says, “This is an event which seeks to unify the right-wing against a totalitarian Communist crackdown, to speak out against displacement level immigration policies in the United States and Europe, and to affirm the right of Southerners and White people to organize for their interests just like any other group is able to do, free of persecution.”17

National Socialist Movement

The NSM is the prominent U.S. neonazi party. After American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell was assassinated in 1967, some of his followers latter founded a group that eventually became the National Socialist Movement. Lead by Jeff Schoep, they came into prominence in 2004 and are known primarily for staging high-profile public rallies. This included a 2005 Toledo, Ohio march that ended in rioting. In April 2016 they helped found the racist umbrella group Aryan Nationalist Alliance (now the Nationalist Front), and Schoep is one the group’s three leaders. Attempting to mainstream itself in the atmosphere created by Trump, in November 2016 the National Socialist Movement removed the swastika from their flag, replacing it with an Odal rune. In April 2017 they attended a large rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, led by Heimbach. In July 2017, they announced they would come to Unite the Right, saying “This is a call to all NSM Members to be in Charlottesville, and show our support for White History and Heritage.” However, as of press time Schoep is not listed as a speaker.18

Nationalist Front
A national umbrella organization of various neonazi, fascist, Klan, and other groups. Founded in April 2016 as the Aryan Nationalist Alliance, soon after it changed its name and now has three leaders: Matthew Heimbach (Traditionalist Worker Party), Jeff Schoep (National Socialist Movement), and Michael Hill (League of the South). Heimbach and Hill are speaking and all three groups will attend the rally, along with Vanguard America, a new member group who are Alt Right neonazis. Especially with the addition of the National Socialist Movement, Unite the Right has gained the aura of being a Nationalist Front event.19

Stephen McNallen (Wotan Network)

McNallen is the founder of the Asatru Folk Assembly, a White nationalist Heathen group. (Heathens are pagans who worship the traditional Norse and Germanic gods; this religious tradition is favored by many White nationalists, although many other Heathens are anti-racist.) Recently McNallen has formed the openly White nationalist Wotan Network, which is focused on disseminating White nationalist Heathen memes. He said he wants his appearance at Unite the Right to have a large public impact.20

Patriot Movement and the Militias

The role of the Patriot movement and its paramilitaries—which have appeared at numerous other Trumpist street rallies—has been a hotly discussed topic on social media. In the end, the optics of the rally have become too neonazi looking for most to attend. However, there are some exceptions.

The American Freedom Keepers are mobilizing people to come. This group seems to be based in Portland, Oregon; its members have participated in different street actions. They are a split from another group, the Warriors for Freedom. At an ultra-nationalist demonstration in June 2017 in Portland Oregon, an American Freedom Keeper made the news after he was photographed assisting law enforcement in arresting a counter-demonstrator. 21 When contacted via their website, the group did not deny it was organizing its members to come.

The leader of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia has also said he will bring his group. He claims that they are “going to try to coordinate with law enforcement.”22

Additionally, the social media posts of various individual Patriot movement members, including III%ers and members of APIII%, have said they will attend.

Proud Boys
An Alt Right group founded by Gavin McInnes, who co-founded Vice media, but left in 2008. McInnes is deeply misogynistic and Islamophobic, and has called transgender people “gender niggers.” McInnes denies being a White supremacist, and the group describes itself as “western chauvinist.” The Proud Boys allow people of color, Jews and gay men in their group.

McInnes has contributed to White nationalist publications like American Renaissance and VDARE, used White nationalist rhetoric like “White genocide,” and has had White nationalist leaders on his show. White supremacists like Mike Enoch brag about how close the Proud Boys are to neonazism, going so far as to say that those who won’t become White Nationalists are “Jewish, they’re half-white, they’re mixed race or they have a non-White girlfriend of [sic] wife.”

The Proud Boys are an international organization that is explicitly violent; part of advancing in rank in their organization requires members to fight with their political opponents. They have been frequently seen at the clashes over the last six months. In April 2017 the formation of the Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights was announced; it is described as the “military division of the Proud Boys.” Proud Boys in the Canadian armed forces were investigated after they disrupted a First Nations ceremony.

Originally the Proud Boys website ran an article denouncing “Unite the Right,” but it was taken down and replaced with one saying “if a chapter or an individual Proud Boy feels compelled to go, we encourage him to do so.”23

Red Elephants

A new Alt Right media platform known for their livestreaming. They have promoted the violent DIY Division, are alleged to have illegally livestreamed inside of a courtroom, and were part of a July pro-Trump provocation in downtown Berkeley. They have promoted Unite the Right and are fundraising to send members there.24

Traditionalist Worker Party

Led by Matthew Heimbach, the Traditionalist Worker Party is an outgrowth of his Traditionalist Youth Network. The group is both a predecessor to the Alt Right as well as a participant in it, despite Heimbach’s own orientation towards more traditional White Supremacist organizing. The group is a founding member of the Nationalist Front, and technically they are Third Positionist: they seek a separate White ethno-state and portray themselves as anti-capitalist. In April 2017 they organized a large rally in Pikeville, Kentucky, which was attended by the National Socialist Movement, the League of the South, Mike Enoch, and Vanguard America. Traditionalist Worker Party member Matt Parrot (who is Heimbach’s father-in-law), says the Traditionalist Worker Party will be “welcoming and supporting non-identitarian and non-White allies” at Unite the Right. Elsewhere he says:

“There’s this impression that Unite the Right is a White Nationalist event. This is false. Unite the Right is a broad unity event for every single faction of the right with the balls to stand and fight for our heritage against a nightmare swarm of Marxist degenerates. It just happens that only White Nationalists got the balls to hold the line when the media tries to divide and conquer.”

Meanwhile, in a video promoting Unite the Right, Heimbach claims a Jewish conspiracy is behind the removal of the Confederate memorials, because “they want to be able to destroy knowledge of the past so they, the Jewish Power Structure, can try and control the future.”25

Unity and Security for America

Founded by Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler, the goal of this group “is to defend Western Civilization including its history, culture and peoples while utterly dismantling Cultural Marxism.” In addition to limiting immigration (they want to require that “most immigrants come from Western nations”), Unity and Security for America advocate a strongly isolationist foreign policy.26

Vanguard America

An Alt Right neonazi group formed in 2016 and led by Dillon Irizarry, they focus on recruiting men in their teens and early twenties. They have been present at many of the street rallies and clashes this year, and have concentrated on campus-based recruiting. Originally named the American Vanguard, after participating in the April 2017 Pikeville, Kentucky rally, they joined the Nationalist Front.27

“Wife With a Purpose” ministry
Richard Spencer announced that the blogger Ayla Stewart, who runs “Wife With a Purpose” ministry, will be attending the rally. Her brand of openly White nationalist Mormonism has gained her over 30,000 Twitter followers and media notoriety.29

Endorsements


David Duke advertises the Unite the Right rally on his Twitter. The list of featured speakers includes many notable white nationalists and fascists.

American Renaissance

Jared Taylor leads American Renaissance, which is both a White nationalist publication and annual conference with an intellectual approach. Matthew Lyons describes it asone of the movement’s central institutions” which “pioneered a version of White nationalism that avoided antisemitism.” Taylor has been called the “father of the alt right” because of his promotion of the notion of “race realism.”

In June 2017, antiracist activists claimed Taylor attended a meeting with Kessler and others at a Charlottesville restaurant, where Taylor disguised himself in a wig and spoke in a fake French accent. While no Unite the Right speakers were on the official program of the July 2017 American Renaissance conference in Tennessee, shortly thereafter Taylor made a Periscope video promoting the rally. In it, he says the desire to remove Confederate monuments is an “attack an all Americans who think differently than the way we are obliged today” and was an attempt to destroy “White heritage.”30

David Duke

Since so many White nationalists who lead the 1980s and ‘90s movement have died, Duke is moving into a position as the movement’s preeminent elder statesman. Duke was a neonazi in the 1970s and later the founder and leader of the influential Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s. Part of the faction that wished to mainstream the Klan, he was elected as a Louisiana State Representative in 1989. Duke is promoting Unite the Right on his radio show and Twitter.31

Matthew Heimbach announced Golden Dawn’s endorsement of the rally on Facebook.

Golden Dawn

Matthew Heimbach announced on Facebook that Golden Dawn sent him a message to read at Unite the Right. This Greek neonazi party holds seventeen seats in the national parliament, and has chapters in the United States and other countries.32

Endnotes

1 A.C. Thompson, “A Few Things Got Left Out of The Daily Caller’s Report on Confederate Monument Rally,” ProPublica, May 31, 2017, https://www.propublica.org/article/things-got-left-out-of-the-daily-callers-report-confederate-monument-rally; Hatewatch Staff, “Dueling Alt-Right Rallies, Separated by Anti-Semitism, Face Off in DC Despite Calls to ‘Unite the Right’,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June 26, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/06/26/dueling-alt-right-rallies-separated-anti-semitism-face-dc-despite-calls-unite-right; “Jason Kessler tells white nationalist radio host that he hopes to destigmatize white nationalism with the Unite The Right rally…,” Restoring the Honor, July 31, 2017, http://restoringthehonor.blogspot.com/2017/07/jason-kessler-tells-white-nationalist_31.html.

2 “Richard Bertrand Spencer,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 7, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/richard-bertrand-spencer-0; Daniel Lombroso and Yoni Appelbaum, “‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect.” Atlantic, November 21, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379; Vincent Law, “The ‘Unite The Right’ Rally Is Going To Be A Turning Point For White Identity In America,” AltRight.com, August 5, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/08/05/the-unite-the-right-rally-is-going-to-be-a-turning-point-for-white-identity-in-america.
3 “Matthew Heimbach,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 7, 2017,
https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/matthew-heimbach; Lois Beckett, “Neo-Nazi pleads guilty after shoving black protester at Trump rally,” Guardian, July 19, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/19/matthew-heimbach-neo-nazi-trump-rally-guilty-plea; Vegas Tenold, “When the White Nationalists Came to Washington,” New Republic, January 23, 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/140053/white-nationalists-came-washington; “Auburn, AL: Students Chase off Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimbach’s Alt-Right Trolls,” It’s Going Down, April 19, 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/auburn-al-students-chase-off-richard-spencer-matthew-heimbachs-alt-right-trolls.

4 Matthew Sheffield, “The alt-right eats its own: Neo-Nazi podcaster ‘Mike Enoch’ quits after doxxers reveal his wife is Jewish Bad day for the Fourth Reich,” Salon, January 16, 2017, http://www.salon.com/2017/01/16/cat-fight-on-the-alt-right-neo-nazi-podcaster-mike-enoch-quits-after-doxxers-reveal-his-wife-is-jewish; “Michael ‘Enoch’ Peinovich,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 7, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/michael-“enoch”-peinovich.

5 “Michael Hill,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 7, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/michael-hill.

6 Shane Burley, “Imperium and the Sun: The Strange Case of Augustus Sol Invictus and the New Right,” Hampton Institute, January 11, 2016, http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/augustus-sol-invictus.html; Augustus Invictus, “On Left-Wing Terrorism & Right-Wing Counterterrorism,” The Revolutionary Conservative, April 25, 2017, http://therevolutionaryconservative.com/articles/2017-04-25-on-left-wing-terrorism-right-wing-counterterrorism; “Augustus Invictus Meet & Greet Report Back,” Rose City Antifa, March 5, 2016, http://rosecityantifa.org/articles/augustus-invictus-meet-greet-report-back; “The American Guard,” YouTube, posted by The Revolutionary Conservative on May 11, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CM35ZyGWHw.

7 Oliver Darcy, “The untold story of Baked Alaska, a rapper turned BuzzFeed personality turned alt-right troll,” Business Insider, April 30, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-baked-alaska-milo-mike-cernovich-alt-right-trump-2017-4; Taly Krupkin, “The Jewish Provocateur Caught in the Turf War as the ‘Alt-right’ Battles the ‘Alt-light’,” Haaretz, June 22, 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.797372; Tim Gionet (@bakedalaska), Twitter post, May 7, 2017, https://twitter.com/bakedalaska/status/861399464271073280; Tim Gionet (@bakedalaska), Twitter post, June 28, 2017, https://twitter.com/bakedalaska/status/880239704758599680.

8 Nitasha Tiku, “Business Insider’s CTO Is Your New Tech Bro Nightmare,” Valleywag, September 9, 2013, http://valleywag.gawker.com/business-insider-ctos-is-your-new-tech-bro-nightmare-1280336916; Pax Dickinson, “A Gentle Introduction to Counter.Fund,” Medium, June 13, 2017, https://medium.com/@paxdickinson/a-gentle-introduction-to-counter-fund-bb0c9d6dd444; Jesse Singal, “The WeSearchr Meltdown Is a Reminder That Some Very Rich People Are Funding the Alt-Right,” New York (Select/All), May 16, 2017, http://nymag.com/selectall/2017/05/chuck-johnsons-wesearchr-is-having-a-bit-of-a-meltdown.html; Billy Roper, “UniteTheRight…with Jews?,” The Roper Report, July 2, 2017, https://theroperreportsite.wordpress.com/2017/07/02/unitetheright-with-jews; Peter B, “Introducing the Counter.Fund High Councilors: Peter Belau,” Medium, June 27, 2017, https://medium.com/@PissAndVinegar/introducing-the-counter-fund-high-councilors-peter-belau-b7ccf37fc060.

9 “Capitalists Against Cops: Cop Block, Christopher Cantwell, and the Libertarian Paradox,” Anti-Fascist News, December 15, 2015, https://antifascistnews.net/2015/12/15/capitalists-against-cops-cop-block-christopher-cantwell-and-the-libertarian-paradox; “Christopher Cantwell Claims He’s ‘Not Even a Hitlerite’ But Wants to ‘Gas’ the Jews,” Angry White Men, June 26, 2017, https://angrywhitemen.org/2017/06/26/christopher-cantwell-claims-hes-not-even-a-hitlerite-but-wants-to-gas-the-jews.

10 “Identity Evropa: Mapping the Alt-Right Cadre,” Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA), December 9, 2016, https://nocara.blackblogs.org/2016/12/09/identity-evropa-mapping-the-alt-right-cadre.

“John Ramondetta Exposed to Berkeley Community as Neo-Nazi Organizer,” Indybay, June 29, 2017, https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2017/06/29/18800525.php.

11 “Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, Inc.,” GuideStar, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.guidestar.org/profile/81-1969574; Chris Suarez, “Unite the Right rally sparks First Amendment questions,” Roanaoke Times, July 29, 2017, http://www.roanoke.com/news/virginia/unite-the-right-rally-sparks-first-amendment-questions/article_595b06b8-6d57-507f-9827-ff3419af8ff6.html; Bill Morlin, “Extremists’ ‘Unite the Right’ Rally: A Possible Historic Alt-Right Showcase?,” Southern Poverty Law Center, August 7, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/07/extremists-unite-right-rally-possible-historic-alt-right-showcase.

“Kyle Bristow,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/kyle-bristow; “FMI’s Board of Directors,” Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, accessed August 7, 2017, http://www.freedomfront.org/board-of-directors; “Kyle Bristow: The Alt-Right Has Its Own Political Party That Will ‘Make America White’ Again,” Angry White Men, September 11, 2016, https://angrywhitemen.org/2016/09/11/kyle-bristow-the-alt-right-has-its-own-political-party-that-will-make-america-white-again; “Leadership,” American Freedom Party, accessed August 8, 2017, http://theamericanfreedomparty.us/leadership.

12 “Andrew Anglin,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017,
https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/andrew-anglin; Lee Rogers, “Join Daily Stormer Staff at the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia!,” Daily Stormer, July 30, 2017, https://www.dailystormer.com/join-daily-stormer-staff-at-the-unite-the-right-rally-in-charlottesville-virginia; Keegan Hankes, “Eye of the Stormer,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 9, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/eye-stormer; Benjamin Garland, “Charlottesville 2.0: Be There or Be Square,” Daily Stormer, August 5, 2017, https://www.dailystormer.com/charlottesville-2-0-be-there-or-be-square.

13 Tracie Chiles, Facebook post, August 7, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/events/137857813439031/permalink/163175937573885.

14 “Bradley Dean Griffin,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/bradley-dean-griffin; Hunter Wallace, “Unite The Right Rally,” Occidental Dissent, July 3, 2017, http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/07/03/unite-the-right-rally.

15 Hunter Wallace (@occdissent), Twitter post, July 30, 2017, https://twitter.com/occdissent/status/891727405840203777; Hatewatch Staff, “Neo-Confederates Breaking From The Right Stuff After Doxxing Scandal,” Southern Poverty Law Center, January 26, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/01/26/neo-confederates-breaking-right-stuff-after-doxxing-scandal.

16 Gabriel Joffe, “Identity Evropa and the Fraternity of White Supremacy,” Political Research Associates, June 15, 2017, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/06/15/identity-evropa-and-the-fraternity-of-white-supremacy; “White Nationalists Work to Make Inroads at U.S. Colleges,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 15, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/white-nationalists-work-make-inroads-us-colleges; Vincent Law, “The ‘Unite The Right’ Rally Is Going To Be A Turning Point For White Identity In America,” AltRight.com, August 5, 2017, https://altright.com/2017/08/05/the-unite-the-right-rally-is-going-to-be-a-turning-point-for-white-identity-in-america; Nathan Damigo, Facebook post, July 18, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/nathan.damigo/photos/a.1002986733057881.1073741828.979683198721568/1478779288811954; Jason Kessler, “Richard Spencer Leads White Nationalist Demonstration In Front Of Virginia Robert E. Lee Monument,” Daily Caller, May 14, 2017, http://dailycaller.com/2017/05/14/richard-spencer-leads-pro-white-demonstration-in-front-of-virginia-robert-e-lee-monument.

17 “League of the South,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/league-south; Michael Hill, “League will be at Unite the Right rally, 12 August, Charlottesville, VA,” June 9, 2017, League of the South, http://leagueofthesouth.com/league-will-be-at-unite-the-right-rally-12-august-charlottesville-va.

18 “National Socialist Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/national-socialist-movement; Rohan Smith, “America’s white supremacists ban swastika in bold attempt to ‘go mainstream’,” News.com.au, November 16, 2016, http://www.news.com.au/world/north-america/americas-white-supremacists-ban-swastika-in-bold-attempt-to-go-mainstream/news-story/53f68100ba52a1e33b13cf25b794d028; Sarah Viets, “Neo-Nazi Misfits Join Unite the Right,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 26, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/07/26/neo-nazi-misfits-join-unite-right.

19 James King, “Rival White Supremacist Groups Unite To Fight ‘Race War’,” Vocativ, April 28, 2016, http://www.vocativ.com/313543/rival-white-supremacist-groups-unite-to-fight-race-war; Sarah Viets, “Nationalist Front Chumming up to Klan Members Once Again May 30, 2017,” Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/05/30/nationalist-front-chumming-klan-members-once-again.

20 “Stephen McNallen and Racialist Asatru Part 1: Metagenetics and the South Africa Connection,” Circle Ansuz, August 19, 2013, https://circleansuz.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/stephen-mcnallen-part-one.

21 “Meet Warriors for Freedom: Racist Rage Revival Club,” Rose City Antifa, June 3, 2017, http://rosecityantifa.org/articles/warriors-for-freedom; Jason Wilson, “Member of Portland militia-style group helps police arrest anti-fascist protester,” Guardian, June 8, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/08/portland-alt-right-rally-militia-member-police-arrest.

22 “Exclusive: Commander of the PA Light Foot Militia, Christian Yingling, says they are gearing up to help maintain order with potential police support at Unite The Right rally…,” July 31, 2017 Restoring the Honor, http://restoringthehonor.blogspot.com/2017/07/exclusive-commander-of-pa-light-foot.html.

23 Gavin McInnes (@Gavin­_McInnes), Twitter post, June 26, 2017, https://twitter.com/Gavin_McInnes/status/879318997845626880; Gavin McInnes, “America in 2034,” American Renaissance, June 17, 2014, https://www.amren.com/news/2014/06/america-in-2034-7; “Gavin McInnes,” VDARE, accessed August 8, 2017, http://www.vdare.com/users/gavin-mcinnes; “Gavin McInnes’ ‘Alt-Right’ Fan Club Drifts Towards Neo-Nazi Violence,” May 18, 2017 Idavox, http://idavox.com/index.php/2017/05/18/gavin-mcinnes-alt-right-fan-club-drifts-towards-neo-nazi-violence; Taly Krupkin, “Meet the Proud Boys, the Chauvinists Providing ‘Security’ at a Right-wing Event Near You,” Haaretz, June 19, 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.796302; Tom Porter, “Canadian Armed Forces Members Face Expulsion Over ‘Alt-Right’ Protest,” Newsweek, July 5, 2017, http://www.newsweek.com/canada-armed-forces-first-nations-proud-boys-alt-right-631936.; Based In Colorado, “Proud Boys Official Statement on the ‘Unite the Right’ Rally,” Proud Boy Magazine, June 2017, http://officialproudboys.com/news/gavin-mcinnes-virginia-unite-the-right-rally-disavowed.

24 “DIY Division: The Violent neo-Nazi Group Central to the California Alt-Right and Alt-Light Protest Movements,” Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA), July 6, 2017, https://nocara.blackblogs.org/2017/07/06/diy-division; “Meet the Bay Area’s 4chan Kangaroo Court,” June 5, 2017, Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA), https://nocara.blackblogs.org/2017/06/05/meet-the-bay-areas-4chan-kangaroo-court; Natalie Orenstein, “Trump supporters’ ‘experiment’ meant to provoke Berkeleyans on Saturday,” Berkeleyside, July 10, 2017, http://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/07/10/trump-supporters-experiment-meant-provoke-berkeleyans-saturday; Vincent James, “‘Unite The Right’ Rally Set To Take Place Next Month,” The Red Elephants, July 2017, http://theredelephants.com/unite-right-rally-set-take-place-next-month; “Support the Red Elephants,” Back the Right, July 14, 2017, https://www.backtheright.com/campaign/18/support-the-red-elephants

25 Matt Parrott, Facebook, August 1, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/parrott.matt/posts/10154801841131918; Matt Parrott, “Proud Boys Are Cordially Invited to Unite The Right,” TradYouth, June 2017,
http://www.tradyouth.org/2017/06/proudboys-are-cordially-invited-to-unite-the-right; “Unite The Right! August 12 – Charlottesville, VA at Lee Park” (video), YouTube, posted by Traditionalist Worker Party on July 8, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i19GxzCcm4; around 2:50.

26 Unity and Security for America, Facebook post, January 29, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/UniSecAmerica/posts/781161652035898; “We Are Unity and Security for America,” Unity and Security for America, accessed August 8, 2017, http://www.unityandsecurity.org/protect-the-west.html.

27 “White Nationalists Work to Make Inroads at U.S. Colleges,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 15, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2017/white-nationalists-work-make-inroads-us-colleges; “Vanguard America,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/backgrounders/vanguard-america; “Unite The Right! August 12 – Charlottesville, VA at Lee Park” (video), YouTube, posted by Traditionalist Worker Party on July 8, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i19GxzCcm4; around 4:28.

29 Richard Spencer (@RichardBSpencer), Twitter post, June 24, 2017, https://twitter.com/RichardBSpencer/status/878713947339321347; Wife With A Purpose (@apurposefulwife), Twitter post, accessed August 8, 2017; Jim Dalrymple II, “Meet The (Alt-Right) Mormons: Inside The Church’s Vocal White Nationalist Wing,” BuzzFeed News, March 27, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/meet-the-alt-right-mormons-inside-the-churchs-vocal-white; Joshua Rhett Miller, “This young mom is the face of Mormonism’s hateful alt-right,” New York Post, March 31, 2017, http://nypost.com/2017/03/31/this-young-mom-is-the-face-of-mormonisms-hateful-alt-right.

30 Matthew N. Lyons, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The origins and ideology of the Alternative Right,” Political Research Associates, January 20, 2017, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/01/20/ctrl-alt-delete-report-on-the-alternative-right; “Jared Taylor,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 7, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/jared-taylor; “Ivy-League Racist Jared Taylor Disguised as Frenchman: Clandestinement dans Charlottesville,” It’s Going Down, June 6, 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/ivy-league-racist-jared-taylor-disguised-as-frenchman-clandestinement-dans-charlottesville; Hatewatch Staff, “Infinite DramaQuest 2.0: American Renaissance Edition,” Southern Poverty Law Center, July 27, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/07/27/infinite-dramaquest-20-american-renaissance-edition; “Defense of Southern heritage is defense of American heritage. #UniteTheRight,” Perioscope, August 4, 2017, https://www.pscp.tv/AmRenaissance/1eaKbmynnYexX; see around 4:00.

31 “David Duke,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed August 8, 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/david-duke; “David Duke urges followers to attend rally in Charlottesville,” Daily Progress, July 6, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/david-duke-urges-followers-to-attend-rally-in-charlottesville/article_4f25085a-da7f-5449-bf7f-ca091f59a5b3.html;

32 It’s Going Down News (@IGD_News), Twitter post, August 6, 2017, https://twitter.com/IGD_News/status/894284361133989888.

An Alt Right Update

These notes are based on a talk I gave in Seattle on July 22, 2017 and the discussions that followed. Thanks to the organizers of that event, my fellow presenters, and everyone who attended. Special thanks also to the members of Q-Patrol who provided security.

My January report, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete,” was published at the beginning of Donald Trump’s administration. It dealt with the Alt Right’s ideological roots, major players, multiple internal currents, and complex relationships with both conservatives and the Trump campaign.

A lot has happened since then. The terrain on which the Alt Right operates, and the character of the movement itself, have shifted in some important and disturbing ways. The situation is very much in flux, but the half-year mark seems like a good moment for a snapshot of where things stand today. The notes that follow are my attempt to give a brief overview of five major changes related to the Alt Right that have taken place in that time.

Photo: Mark Dixon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

1. Trump’s election has encouraged supremacist violence by vigilantes and local police.

In the days and weeks immediately after the November elections, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a sharp increase in “bias-related harassment and intimidation” across the country—threats and attacks against immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, trans people, and other oppressed groups.1 “Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults,” the SPLC noted, and many of those targeted said the incidents were like nothing they had experienced before.2 A logical, horrifying intensification of these attacks took place in May, when a White nationalist in Portland, Oregon, screamed racist and anti-Muslim abuse at two women on a light rail train, then stabbed three passengers who intervened, killing two of them.3

Meanwhile, the first two months of 2017 each saw police officers kill more people than any month in 2016, according to the website KilledByPolice.net.4 While there isn’t yet a breakdown of those specific numbers, among young men overall, Blacks are more than three times more likely than Whites to be killed by cops, according to Washington Post statistics.5

Whether it’s carried out by cops, right-wing activists, or unaffiliated individuals, supremacist violence didn’t start with Trump. It’s been going on for a long time, and it’s deeply rooted in the structure of U.S. society. But the climate has changed. Where President Obama defended Black Lives Matter and sang “Amazing Grace” at a memorial to victims of the Charleston, North Carolina, racist mass shooting,6 we now have a president who calls police “the thin blue line between civilization and chaos,” claims they are subjected to “unfair defamation and vilification,” and urges them to handle suspects more brutally. He’s also a president who, before taking office, encouraged his followers to assault political opponents, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and bragged about sexually assaulting women.7 In Jeff Sessions we now have an attorney general who, reversing previous policy, dismisses the idea that police brutality could be systemic and says that it’s bad for “morale” for his department to investigate abuse by local police departments.8 The same day that he appointed Sessions, Trump signed three executive orders intended to give police more authority.9

The Alt Right has contributed to this change in political climate through its supremacist propaganda and its role in helping Trump get elected. (For a full discussion of this, see “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”) It also benefits from these changes, which serve as a public validation of its message; help grow its pool of potential recruits; and sharpen the atmosphere of tension, fear, and crisis that helps Far Right politics thrive.

2. Despite Trump’s volatility, in policy terms his administration has largely been coopted by conventional conservatism.

As a candidate, Donald Trump didn’t just run against the Republican establishment, but ridiculed and vilified it, in ways that helped endear him to most Alt Rightists. He touted a populist nationalism that defied conservative orthodoxy on multiple fronts, rejecting free trade and repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, while pledging to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and rebuild infrastructure on a large scale. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals went much further than most conservative politicians were willing to go.10

But because he lacked an organizational base of his own, Trump was immediately forced to bring other constituencies into his administration. He appointed some nationalists, such as Attorney General Sessions, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, but he also put together a patchwork of establishment politicians, social conservatives, and people recruited from big business or the military. So, from the beginning, Trump’s presidency has rested on an unstable coalition of “America First” nationalists and people more or less aligned with conventional conservatism.11

Initially, the nationalists seemed to be on top, seeing their agenda supported or enacted in Trump’s inaugural speech, the Muslim ban that brought protesters to the airports in January, the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and moves to expand the roundup of undocumented immigrants. But over time the balance shifted largely away from them. Flynn was forced out of his role; Sessions recused himself on the Russia investigation; former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn gained ground on economic policy; and Bannon was kicked off the National Security Council.12

The nationalist faction is still there and still making itself felt, but it’s far from leading a full-scale charge. As president, Trump has abandoned many of the populist-nationalist positions he took as a candidate, such as declaring NATO to be obsolete, advocating an alliance with Russia, denouncing NAFTA and the Export-Import Bank, and his call to make health care accessible to all. Even his policy on undocumented immigrants, writes columnist Doyle McManus, isn’t much harsher than the plan Mitt Romney proposed four years earlier.13 On the other hand, the recent White House-announced proposal to cut legal immigration in half indicates that the America Firsters have gained some ground again.14 This struggle is likely to continue.

Donald Trump is just as belligerent, impulsive, and self-aggrandizing as ever, which tends to put him at odds with conventional politics but also makes it more difficult for him to effect substantive, lasting change. In policy terms, what we’re left with so far is a harsher, more repressive, more chaotic version of neoliberalism with some America First elements. The Trump administration is dismantling environmental regulations and other kinds of business regulation, and (together with Congress) may eventually succeed in repealing Obamacare and cutting business taxes. All of this will further enrich the wealthy at the expense of our wallets, our future, and, in some cases, our lives. The administration will tinker with trade deals, deport Latin Americans and Haitians more indiscriminately than Obama, and make life harder for Middle Easterners and LGBTQ people—particularly trans people. It will probably do its best to speed up the growth of the national security state (which has been expanded by all recent presidents, Republican and Democratic alike). But barring some unforeseen crisis that could shift the balance again, the Trump administration is not going to withdraw from NAFTA, is not going to abandon NATO and align with Russia, and is not going to close the borders. The administration’s proposal to cut legal immigration will shift the terms of debate but is unlikely to pass since most Republican leaders, and probably most capitalists, oppose it. The neoliberal consensus is starting to break down, and will face more challenges in the coming years, but populist right-wing nationalism doesn’t seem strong enough or developed enough to supplant it yet.

3. The Alt Right has largely abandoned its support for Trump.

After the election, Alt Rightists saw themselves as the vanguard of the Trump coalition—the ones who would stake out forward positions and then pull other people along with them part of the way. They were excited about Trump appointing Bannon, Sessions, Flynn, and some others they saw as allies.15

But as the political balance inside the administration shifted, Alt Rightists got frustrated. The key turning point came in early April, when Trump launched a missile strike against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. Most Alt Rightists saw this as a shocking capitulation to the neocons and the foreign policy establishment.16 The fact that many conventional politicians and mainstream media organs praised the missile strike underscored Alt Rightists’ sense of betrayal.17 Many in the movement portrayed Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and other Jews in the administration as evil wire-pullers who had manipulated or blackmailed Trump into changing course.18

Since then, some Alt Rightists have argued their movement should “remain demanding but supportive” of Trump,19 but generally they have become cool or even hostile to the administration in a way that’s markedly different from six months ago. The Alt Right blog Occidental Dissent, which has been particularly outspoken in repudiating Trump, re-emphasized the movement’s revolutionary condemnation of the U.S. political order: “No elected official can salvage this nation. There is no reforming the system—it is beyond repair. We can only rebuild from the ashes.”20 Very recently, some Alt Rightist praised Trump’s moves to reduce legal immigration and attack affirmative action, but Richard Spencer warned that the immigration plan would bring in too many highly skilled non-Europeans and be “devastating” for White middle-class professionals.21

4. Alt Rightists have taken to the streets alongside other right-wing forces.

Even as it’s become alienated from the Trump administration, the Alt Right has been working to strengthen its influence in other ways, and strengthen its grassroots ties with organized Trump supporters. Even six months ago, the Alt Right still existed mostly online, excepting a few small conferences. Since then, some Alt Right groups, such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party, have focused more on building actual organizations and holding public rallies. Many of these rallies have been joint events with other rightists, including Alt Lite groups (who identify with Alt Right ideology to an extent but don’t call for abandoning the U.S. political system) and even Patriot movement groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.22 That’s a big change, because before this spring the Alt Right and Patriot groups didn’t have much visible contact with each other. Now they’re showing up at the same rallies—such as at Berkeley in April or Pikeville, Kentucky, that same month.23 There have been tensions and even some physical altercations between the two camps, because Patriot groups, like Alt Lite activists, generally disavow White nationalism, but the convergence of rightist forces in the streets is definitely an ominous development.24

Some of these joint events have been held under the banner of “free speech,” protecting political space against Antifa activists (militant anti-fascists), who are portrayed as “the real fascists.” Islamophobia has been another major point of unity, as in last month’s national “March Against Sharia,” which brought together Alt Rightists, racist skinhead groups, Patriot groups, right-wing Zionists, and even some LGBTQ activists. As PRA research fellow Spencer Sunshine argues, Islamophobia “is more socially acceptable than anti-Semitism while still demonizing a minority group. Plus, its ostensible emphasis on religion is a way to avoid specifically naming race.”25

5. Alt Rightists and their allies have been turning toward physical violence and creating a street-fighting presence

As part of their new focus on public demonstrations over the past several months, both Alt Right groups such as Nathan Damigo’s Identity Evropa as well as Alt Lite formations including Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys and Kyle Chapman’s Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights have been organizing and training for combat and taking their skills to the streets. This has developed largely in the context of confrontations with Antifa activists, as in Berkeley, but has much bigger implications in terms of the Right’s ability to target oppressed communities and shape political space.26

To make the situation even more disturbing, neonazi skinheads from groups such as Hammerskin Nation have, at least in California, also been involved in these street clashes. As Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA) reports, the southern California-based DIY Division, also known as the Rise Above Movement, is a violent neonazi group that brings together Alt Right and Alt Lite activists along with Hammerskin members. “DIY Division as a political collective is working hard to bridge the gap between the more internet-based Alt-Right brand of white nationalism which is targeted to appeal to younger, generally more educated and upper-class white men and the more traditional boots on the ground and street violence which has characterized neo-Nazi skinhead politics.” NoCARA also highlights “the close relationships that exist between McInnes’s Proud Boys and…DIY Division…. The Proud Boys need the numbers and the muscle of the neo-Nazis, while the neo-Nazis need the cover of pro-Trump groups.”27

*                      *                      *

These developments are extremely serious. Despite its disenchantment with the Trump administration, the Alt Right appears to be simultaneously building a real capacity for organized physical violence and strengthening its grassroots connections with other rightist currents, including Trump supporters. Their focus on a shared enemy, whether Muslims or the black bloc, is helping to draw different rightist forces closer, and shared street fighting is deepening those ties. This type of activism is a direct physical threat to both oppressed communities and the Left, and can fuel authoritarian and supremacist tendencies within the state at all levels. To assume that breaking with Trump will leave the Alt Right weakened and marginalized would be a dangerous mistake.

At the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate either the unity or the competence of this new wave of militant right-wing forces. Rightists are just as vulnerable as leftists to infighting, personality conflicts, and sectarian ideological squabbles. As journalist Shane Burley points out, Alt Rightists “are not politically savvy organizers; they are angry white men taking their rage out on everyone they think eroded their meager privilege.”28 So far, thankfully, their movement has failed to produce a skilled, charismatic leader who can unify them and provide strategic direction. (Richard Spencer may look dapper and sound polished in interviews, but he has never inspired devotion from the Alt Right as a movement.) And even a strong leader wouldn’t necessarily overcome the basic political differences separating Alt Rightists from their conservative fellow travelers. In the long run, if the Alt Right wants to coalesce with system-loyal rightists, it either has to win more people to its dream of right-wing revolution, or abandon it.

End notes

1 “Update: 1,094 Bias-Related Incidents in the Month Following the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 16 December 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/12/16/update-1094-bias-related-incidents-month-following-election

2 “Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 29 November 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/20161129/ten-days-after-harassment-and-intimidation-aftermath-election

3 Jason Wilson, “Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online,” Guardian, 28 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/27/portland-double-murder-white-supremacist-muslim-hate-speech

4 Angela Helm, “More Americans Killed by Police in 2017, but Trump Dominates Headlines,” The Root, 4 March 2017, http://www.theroot.com/more-americans-killed-by-police-in-2017-but-trump-domi-1792969338

5 Will Greenberg, “Here’s How Badly Police Violence Has Divided America,” Mother Jones, 19 March 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/media/2017/03/police-shootings-black-lives-matter-history-timeline/

6 Dave Boyer, “Obama defends Black Lives Matter protests at police memorial in Dallas,” Washington Times, 12 July 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/12/obama-defends-black-lives-matter-protests-police-m/; “Obama Delivers Eulogy in Charleston” (video), New York Times, 27 June 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000003767801/obama-delivers-eulogy-in-charleston.html?mcubz=2

7 Celia Caracal, “America Is Suffering from a Plague of Deadly, Unaccountable and Racist Police Violence,” AlternNet, 5 July 2017, http://www.alternet.org/human-rights/look-police-violence-one-year-after-philando-castile-and-alton-sterling-were-killed; Mark Chicano, “Donald Trump’s speech was made more disturbing as Suffolk County cops cheered the idea of police brutality,” Newsday, 28 July 2017, http://www.newsday.com/opinion/columnists/mark-chiusano/donald-trump-s-speech-was-made-more-disturbing-as-suffolk-county-cops-cheered-the-idea-of-police-brutality-1.13864824; Michael Finnegan and Noah Bierman, “Trump’s endorsement of violence reaches new level: He may pay legal fees for assault suspect,” Los Angeles Times, 13 March 2016, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-trump-campaign-protests-20160313-story.html; Tal Kopan, “What Donald Trump has said about Mexico and vice versa,” CNN, 31 August 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/31/politics/donald-trump-mexico-statements/index.html; Ben Jacobs, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Scott Bixby, “‘You can do anything’: Trump brags on tape about using fame to get women,” Guardian, 8 October 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/07/donald-trump-leaked-recording-women

8 Adam Serwer, “Jeff Sessions’s Blind Eye,” The Atlantic, 5 April 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/04/jeff-sessions-blind-eye/521946/

9 Rachael Revesz, “Donald Trump signs executive order giving police more powers,” Independent, 9 February 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-sign-executive-order-police-more-authority-murder-shooting-us-president-jeff-sessions-a7572001.html

10 Benjamin Studebaker, “Why Bernie Sanders is More Electable Than People Think,” Huffington Post, 12 February 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/benjamin-studebaker/why-bernie-sanders-is-more-electable_b_9219882.html; “Morbid Symptoms: The Downward Spiral,” Unity and Struggle, 19 December 2016, http://unityandstruggle.org/2016/12/19/morbid-symptoms-the-downward-spiral/

11 Robert Cavooris, “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Trump and the Revolutionary Scenario,” Viewpoint Magazine, 21 February 2017, https://www.viewpointmag.com/2017/02/21/one-step-back-two-steps-forward-trump-and-the-revolutionary-scenario/

12 Donald J. Trump, “Transcript of President Trump’s inauguration speech,” USA Today, 20 January 2017, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2017/01/20/his-own-words-president-trumps-inaugural-address/96836330/; Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions,” Washington Post, 30 January 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-hard-line-actions-have-an-intellectual-godfather-jeff-sessions/2017/01/30/ac393f66-e4d4-11e6-ba11-63c4b4fb5a63_story.html?utm_term=.25b61b5ac6ed; “Wall Street banker Cohn moving Trump toward moderate policies,” Reuters, 17 April 2017, http://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/17/wall-street-banker-cohn-moving-trump-toward-moderate-policies.html; Steve Holland and John Walcott, “Trump drops Steve Bannon from National Security Council,” Reuters, 5 April 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-security-idUSKBN17724S

13 Doyle McManus, “Trump’s populist revolution is already over—for now,” Los Angeles Times, 16 April 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-mcmanus-trump-flip-flops-20170416-story.html

14 Peter Baker, “Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half,” New York Times, 2 August 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/us/politics/trump-immigration.html

15 Richard B. Spencer, “We the Vanguard Now,” Radix Journal, 9 November 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20170105065744/http://www.radixjournal.com/blog/2016/11/9/we-the-vanguard-now

16 Shane Burley, “As the ‘alt-right’ breaks from Trump, so goes its moment in the sun,” Waging Nonviolence, 17 April 2017, https://wagingnonviolence.org/2017/04/alt-right-trump-break/; Vegas Tenold, “The Alt-Right and Donald Trump Get a Divorce,” New Republic, 26 April 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/142276/alt-right-donald-trump-get-divorce

17 Hunter Wallace [Brad Griffin], “Donald Trump is Now ‘The Leader of the Free World,’” Occidental Dissent, 8 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170622213726/http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/04/08/donald-trump-is-now-the-leader-of-the-free-world/

18 Andrew Anglin, “An Extremely Unfortunate Turn of Events,” Daily Stormer, 7 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170619172920/http://www.dailystormer.com/an-extremely-unfortunate-turn-of-events/

19 Pseudo-Laurentius, “Deploying Tactical Blackpills: The Alt Right Versus Trump,” The Right Stuff, 14 April 2017, https://blog.therightstuff.biz/2017/04/14/deploying-tactical-blackpills-the-alt-right-versus-trump/.

20 Meinrad Gaertner, “A Reflection and Foreshadowing,” Occidental Dissent, 17 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170428104016/http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/04/17/a-reflection-and-foreshadowing/

21 Marcus Cicero, “MAGA: Trump Proposes Bill Vastly Cutting Legal Immigration, Imposition Of YUGE Hurdles For New Arrivals,” Occidental Dissent, 2 August 2017, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:wvakoofdlr4J:www.occidentaldissent.com/2017/08/02/maga-trump-proposes-bill-vastly-cutting-legal-immigration-imposition-of-yuge-hurdles-for-new-arrivals/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us; Colin Liddell, “Trump Fires First Salvo Against Anti-White ‘Affirmative Action’ Policy,” AltRight.com, 2 August 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170802132555/https://altright.com/2017/08/02/trump-fires-first-salvo-against-anti-white-affirmative-action-policy/; Richard Spencer, “Why I Oppose the RAISE Act,” AltRight.com, 3 August 2017, https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:58G1fdYUSFYJ:https://altright.com/2017/08/03/why-i-oppose-the-raise-act/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

22 “Based Reserve Army: How the Right is Changing Its Strategy,” It’s Going Down, 25 April 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/based-reserve-army-how-the-right-changing-strategy/; Spencer Sunshine, “The Growing Alliance Between Neo-Nazis, Right Wing Paramilitaries and Trumpist Republicans,” ColorLines, 9 June 2017, https://www.colorlines.com/articles/growing-alliance-between-neo-nazis-right-wing-paramilitaries-and-trumpist-republicans

23 “Oath Keepers Call to Action: Stand and Defend Free Speech at Berkeley Patriots Rally, April 15, 2017,” Oath Keepers, 1 April 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20170402184553/https://www.oathkeepers.org/oath-keepers-call-action-stand-defend-free-speech-berkeley-patriots-rally-april-15-2017/; Eminence Grise, “Reflections on the Revolution in Berkeley,” The Right Stuff, 16 April 2017, https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:sNKoo5E9CgIJ:https://blog.therightstuff.biz/2017/04/16/reflections-on-the-revolution-in-berkeley/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari; Lois Beckett, “Armed neo-Nazis prepare for potential clash in small Kentucky town,” Guardian, 29 April 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/29/neo-nazi-rally-pikeville-kentucky-anti-fascist

24 “‘Alt-Right’ declares flame war on Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 15 June 2017. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/06/15/alt-right-declares-flame-war-oath-keepers; Taly Krupkin, “The Jewish Provocateur Caught in the Turf War as the ‘Alt-right’ Battles the ‘Alt-light,’” Ha’aretz, 22 June 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-1.797372

25 Spencer Sunshine, “Islamophobia is the Glue that Unites Diverse Factions of the Far Right,” Truthout, 14 July 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/41265-islamophobia-is-the-glue-that-unites-diverse-factions-of-the-far-right

26 Antifascist Front, “The Alt Right Has Taken the Public Step Towards Violence,” Anti-Fascist News, 28 April 2017, https://antifascistnews.net/2017/04/28/the-alt-right-has-taken-the-public-step-towards-violence/; David Neiwert, “Far Right Descends on Berkeley for ‘Free Speech’ and Planned Violence,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 17 April 2017, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/04/17/far-right-descends-berkeley-free-speech-and-planned-violence; Emma Grey Ellis, “Don’t Look Now, But Extremists’ Meme Armies are Turning Into Militias,” Wired, 20 April 2017, https://www.wired.com/2017/04/meme-army-now-militia/; “Gavin McInnes’ ‘Alt-Right’ Fan Club Drifts Toward Neo-Nazi Violence,” IdaVox, 18 May 2017, http://idavox.com/index.php/2017/05/18/gavin-mcinnes-alt-right-fan-club-drifts-towards-neo-nazi-violence/

27 Northern California Anti-Racist Action, “How ‘Based Stickman’ & Proud Boys are Working with Neo-Nazis in So-Cal,” It’s Going Down, 8 July 2017, https://itsgoingdown.org/based-stickman-proud-boys-working-neo-nazis-cal/

28 Shane Burley, “Alt-Right 2.0,” Salvage, 6 July 2017. http://salvage.zone/online-exclusive/alt-right-2-0/

Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism

This article appears in the Summer 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

One September weekend in 1995, a few thousand people met at a convention center in Seattle to prepare for an apocalyptic standoff with the federal government. At the expo, you could sign up to defend yourself from the coming “political and economic collapse,” stock up on beef jerky, learn strategies for tax evasion, and browse titles by writers like Eustace Mullins, whose White nationalist classics include The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, published in 1952, and—from 1967—The Biological Jew.

The sixth annual Preparedness Expo made national papers that year because it served as a clearinghouse for the militia movement, a decentralized right-wing movement of armed, local, anti-government paramilitaries that had recently sparked its most notorious act of terror, the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse by White nationalists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. A series of speakers told expo attendees the real story: the attack had been perpetrated by the government itself as an excuse to take citizens’ guns away.

Not a lot of Black folks show up at gatherings like the Preparedness Expo, one site in an extensive right-wing counterculture in which White nationalism is a constant, explosive presence. White nationalists argue that Whites are a biologically defined people and that, once the White revolutionary spirit awakens, they will take down the federal government, remove people of color, and build a state (maybe or maybe not still called the United States of America, depending on who you ask) of their own. As a Black man, I am regarded by White nationalists as a subhuman, dangerous beast. In the 1990s, I was the field organizer for the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, a six-state coalition working to reduce hate crimes and violence in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain States region. We did a lot of primary research, often undercover. A cardinal rule of organizing is that you can’t ask people to do anything you haven’t done yourself; so I spent that weekend as I spent many—among people plotting to remove me from their ethnostate.

It helped that, despite its blood-curdling anti-Black racism, at least some factions of the White nationalist movement saw me as a potential ally against their true archenemy. At the expo that year, a guy warily asked me about myself. I told him that I had come on behalf of a few brothers in the city. We needed to resist the federal government and we were there to get educated. I said I hoped he wouldn’t take it personally, but I didn’t shake hands with White people. He smiled; he totally understood. “Brother McLamb,” he concurred, “says we have to start building broad coalitions.” Together we went to hear Jack McLamb, a retired Phoenix cop who ran an organization called Police Against the New World Order, make a case for temporary alliances with “the Blacks, the Mexicans, the Orientals” against the real enemy, the federal government controlled by an international conspiracy. He didn’t have to say who ran this conspiracy because it was obvious to all in attendance. And despite the widespread tendency to dismiss antisemitism, notwithstanding its daily presence across the country and the world, it is obvious to you, too.

The bombing of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse by White nationalists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols was painted as a conspiracy by the government itself as an excuse to take citizens’ guns away.

From the time I documented my first White nationalist rally in 1990 until today, the movement has made its way from the margins of American political life to its center, and I’ve moved from doing antiracist organizing in small northwestern communities to fighting for inclusive democracy on a national level, as the Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice program officer at the Ford Foundation until recently, and now as a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Yet if I had to give a basic definition of the movement—something I’ve often been asked to do, formally and informally, by folks who’ve spent less time hanging out with Nazis than I have—my response today would not be much different than it was when I began to do this work nearly thirty years ago. American White nationalism, which emerged in the wake of the 1960s civil rights struggle and descends from White supremacism, is a revolutionary social movement committed to building a Whites-only nation, and antisemitism forms its theoretical core.

That last part—antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism— bears repeating. Let me explain.

Antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism.

The meteoric rise of White nationalism within national discourse over the course of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and freshman administration—through Trump’s barely coded speech at fascist-style rallies, his support from the internet-based “Alt Right,” and his placement of White nationalist popularizers in top positions—has produced a shock of revelation for people across a wide swath of the political spectrum. This shock, in turn, has been a source of frustration within communities of color and leftist circles, where White liberals are often accused of having kept their heads in the sand while more vulnerable populations sounded the alarm about the toll of economic crisis, mass incarceration, police violence, deportation, environmental devastation, and—despite and in reaction to the election of Barack Obama—the unending blare of everyday hate. This is an understandable reaction. It’s one I’ve often shared. But the fact that many of us have long recognized that the country we live in is not the one we are told exists doesn’t mean we always understand the one that does. Within social and economic justice movements committed to equality, we have not yet collectively come to terms with the centrality of antisemitism to White nationalist ideology, and until we do we will fail to understand this virulent form of racism rapidly growing in the U.S. today.

To recognize that antisemitism is not a sideshow to racism within White nationalist thought is important for at least two reasons. First, it allows us to identify the fuel that White nationalist ideology uses to power its anti-Black racism, its contempt for other people of color, and its xenophobia—as well as the misogyny and other forms of hatred it holds dear. White nationalists in the United States perceive the country as having plunged into unending crisis since the social ruptures of the 1960s supposedly dispossessed White people of their very nation. The successes of the civil rights movement created a terrible problem for White supremacist ideology. White supremacism—inscribed de jure by the Jim Crow regime and upheld de facto outside the South—had been the law of the land, and a Black-led social movement had toppled the political regime that supported it. How could a race of inferiors have unseated this power structure through organizing alone? For that matter, how could feminists and LGBTQ people have upended traditional gender relations, leftists mounted a challenge to global capitalism, Muslims won billions of converts to Islam? How do you explain the boundary-crossing allure of hip hop? The election of a Black president? Some secret cabal, some mythological power, must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious.

“The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” first circulated by Czarist secret police in Russia in 1903, established the blueprint of antisemitic ideology in its modern form.

What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews. Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for antisemites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils. At the turn of the twentieth century, “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”—a forgery, first circulated by Czarist secret police in Russia in 1903, that purports to represent the minutes of a meeting of the international Jewish conspiracy—established the blueprint of antisemitic ideology in its modern form. It did this by recasting the shape-shifting, money-grubbing caricature of the Jew from a religious caricature to a racialized one. Upper-class Jews in Europe might have been assimilating and changing their names, but under the new regime of antisemitic thought, even a Jew who converted to Christianity would still be a Jew.

In 1920, Henry Ford brought the “Protocols” to the United States, printing half a million copies of an adaptation called “The International Jew,” and the text has had a presence in American life ever since. (Walmart stocked copies on its shelves and for a time refused calls to take them down—in 2004.) But it is over the past fifty years, not coincidentally the first period in U.S. history in which most American Jews have regarded themselves as White, that antisemitism has become integral to the architecture of American racism. Because modern antisemitic ideology traffics in fantasies of invisible power, it thrives precisely when its target would seem to be least vulnerable. Thus, in places where Jews were most assimilated—France at the time of the Dreyfus affair, Germany before Hitler came to power—they have functioned as a magic bullet to account for unaccountable contradictions at moments of national crisis. White supremacism through the collapse of Jim Crow was a conservative movement centered on a state-sanctioned anti-Blackness that sought to maintain a racist status quo. The White nationalist movement that evolved from it in the 1970s was a revolutionary movement that saw itself as the vanguard of a new, whites-only state. This latter movement, then and now, positions Jews as the absolute other, the driving force of white dispossession—which means the other channels of its hatred cannot be intercepted without directly taking on antisemitism.

This brings me to the second reason that White nationalist antisemitism must not be dismissed: at the bedrock of the movement is an explicit claim that Jews are a race of their own, and that their ostensible position as White folks in the U.S. represents the greatest trick the devil ever played. The bible for generations of White nationalists is The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by the White supremacist leader William Pierce, published under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. The novel takes place in a near-future in which Jews have unleashed Blacks and other undesirables into the center of American public life, and follows the triumph of a clandestine White supremacist organization that snaps into revolutionary action, blowing up both Israel and New York City. Its narrator, a soldier in the White revolutionary army, insists that “trying to distinguish the ‘good’ Jews from the bad ones” is as absurd as the way “some of our thicker-skulled ‘good ol’ boys’ still insist on trying, separating the ‘good niggers’ from the rest of their race.” Contemporary antisemitism, then, does not just enable racism, it also is racism, for in the White nationalist imaginary Jews are a race—the race—that presents an existential threat to Whiteness. Moreover, if antisemitism exists in glaring form at the extreme edge of political discourse, it does not exist in a vacuum; as with every form of hateful ideology, what is explicit on the margins is implicit in the center, in ways we have not yet begun to unpack. This means the notion that Jews long ago and uncontestably became White folks in the U.S.—became, in effect, post-racial—is a myth that we must dispel.

Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.

I’ve been terrorized by structural racism and White nationalist activism all my life. Contrary to a popular image of White nationalists living exclusively off the grid, far from people of color—who are imagined to live exclusively on it—White nationalists are our neighbors. As a kid in Southern California and as a young adult in Oregon, deep in a West Coast punk scene that in some ways looked a lot like the U.S. in 2017, they were literally mine. Because I grew up Black in a city and a scene where people of color were under attack by White nationalists, the immediacy of the movement’s threat and its hatred of dark-skinned people like my family and friends is something I have always known. I thought I understood what motivated them, and I thought their motivation always looked like me. What I learned when I got to Oregon, as I began to log untold hours trying to understand White nationalists and their ideas, was that antisemitism was the lynchpin of the White nationalist belief system. That within this ideological matrix, Jews—despite and indeed because of the fact that they often read as White—are a different, unassimilable, enemy race that must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated. Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win our freedom without tearing it down.

. . .

Long Beach, California is planted on the line that locals call the Orange Curtain, the border between the working-class and immigrant neighborhoods of southern Los Angeles County and the White conservative suburbs of Orange County. By the time my mom and I moved down from L.A. in 1976, when I was in sixth grade, this endless sprawl of White flight was increasingly interrupted by people of color looking for affordable housing in safe neighborhoods. The civil rights and radical social movements of the 1960s and early Seventies had already been smashed by the state or self-destructed. White nationalism, on the other hand, was part of the scenery. Just down the street from one of our Long Beach apartments was an outpost of the John Birch Society, the foremost right-wing anticommunist organization during the Cold War—now having a Trump-era revival—which officially disavowed White supremacism and antisemitism but fought the civil rights movement and described the communist menace as an international cabal.

I was bussed to school in middle-class suburbs through the fanciest neighborhoods I’d ever seen, where White people rolled down their car windows to call us monkeys or tell us to go back to Africa. At school, White kids initialed SWP on their desks: Supreme White Power. One of our local celebrities was Wally George, a public access television star whose show, “The Hot Seat,” was a forerunner to the hate radio of shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carson. As teenagers we’d get stoned and watch his show for laughs. But there was fear, too, beneath the laughter. Neonazis, a kid on the bus told us one morning, were marching in a nearby park. I’ve avoided that park to this day.

(Photo courtesy of the author).

The L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s brought me into constant, unavoidable contact with proto-White nationalist youth. The scene was utopian and dystopian, thrilling and violent, gave me friends for life—Black, White, and Filipino, U.S.-born and undocumented—and killed some of them. The scene attracted the brightest minds and the burgeoning sociopaths from across lines of race and class. Chaos broke out at shows and kids formed gangs. There were racist and antiracist skinheads. Someone wearing a swastika armband might be a neonazi or might just be fucking around. The cops stationed outside shows terrorized everyone present. We didn’t expect to make it far into adulthood and we had fun, until the war on drugs intensified and we knew it was a war on us.

When I was twenty-one, working minimum-wage jobs and playing in a garage band called Sloppy 2nds, some friends announced they’d be starting college at the University of Oregon and asked me to come with them. When I imagined anything north of San Francisco and south of Seattle, all I conjured were endless stands of trees. I said no. But working one night shift, pumping gas at the Union 76 station, the Specials song “Do Nothing” came on—“Nothing ever change, oh no/Nothing ever change”—and I knew that if I didn’t leave southern California I would die soon. So I moved with a multiracial group of L.A. punks to the remote college town of Eugene, Oregon and we bunkered down in a house we called Camp Iceberg because we never turned on the heat. Sloppy 2nds disbanded and when it later reformed without me, it became Sublime, the most famous Long Beach band of all time.

(Photos courtesy of the author).

White liberals have long imagined Oregon as a kind of haven. Portland has now largely replaced San Francisco as the destination of choice for White youth with West Coast dreams of alternative living. But it is also where the White liberal imagination becomes a libertarian one: implicitly, it imagines a place free of people of color and therefore pregnant with the possibility of social harmony. But Oregon’s Whiteness—and, particularly, its non-Blackness—was the product of deliberate, violent exclusion; founded by White supremacists before the Civil War, by the 1920s the state boasted the largest Klan membership west of the Mississippi. Klan campaigns often chose Catholics as their immediate targets, because Blacks were not allowed to reside in Oregon until 1926.

The White nationalist movement that emerged in the last decades of the twentieth century grew across the country. But it was Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming that neonazis in the 1980s carved out as the territorial boundaries of their future Whites-only state, a region that self-identified “Aryans” from around the country began to colonize with nothing short of White national sovereignty as their goal. “Ourselves alone willing,” declared White nationalist leader and Aryan Nations organizer Robert Miles, “we shall begin to form the new nation even while in the suffocating embrace of the ZOG.” In White nationalist parlance, the United States is the ZOG, or Zionist Occupied Government. It was in the Northwest that the nascent militia movement—notorious in the 1990s after standoffs between White nationalist compounds and the FBI in Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas—declared war on their country loudly enough they could no longer be ignored.

Ironically, then, if I had moved to Oregon to get away from the unpromising life expectancy for a Black male punk in southern California, the people who had decimated urban life in my home state had gotten there first. In 1978, California’s White conservative voters passed the infamous Proposition 13, which cut taxes and slashed social services, turning the state into a laboratory for the Reagan revolution. Poverty and drug crime increased, and the same White folks who had gutted Californian cities in their flight to the suburbs after World War II now fled up the coast. I arrived in liberal Eugene in 1986, walked into workplace after workplace, and despite my resume, my smile, and my charm—funny, but no one was hiring. I didn’t understand Oregon yet; I thought it was just me.

Meanwhile, the growing clashes between racist and antiracist skinheads in the punk scene that had made life in Long Beach dangerous were a fact of life in Oregon as well, and often took place beyond the reach of the law. As part of their nation-building project in the Pacific Northwest, White supremacists were establishing their own common law courts, their own religions, and their own paramilitaries. They attacked and sometimes killed cops, and the local authorities, cowed, turned a blind eye. So when gangs of neonazi punks terrorized people of color and other vulnerable groups in Portland, it was coalitions of the communities under attack that struck back and eventually beat them off the streets.

I began to fight white nationalism because my world, my scene, my friends, and my music were under neonazi attack.

In the end, I began to fight white nationalism because my world, my scene, my friends, and my music were under neonazi attack. The great postpunk band Fugazi was on a national tour, and an unwanted audience of neonazis had begun turning up at their shows. Fugazi would stop playing, give the neonazis five dollars, and refuse to start up again until they left. A venue in Eugene cancelled a scheduled appearance when rumors spread that skinheads were planning to disrupt the show, and the community erupted in anger. By that time, I was a student and an activist. I had stumbled into student of color politics while attending community college and now co-directed the Black Student Union and Students Against Apartheid at the University of Oregon. I spent a semester in France and while I was away, a 28-year-old Ethiopian international student named Mulugeta Seraw was beaten to death by White supremacists on a Portland street. I returned to a community deeply shaken and in mourning. But it was in the wake of the cancelled show that I founded an organization, Communities Against Hate, in the way these things often happen: no one else wanted to do it. We created a zine called The Race Mixer (“Miscegenation At Its Finest”), reporting on the activity of hate groups in the Northwest; during the standoff at Ruby Ridge, we stood outside the Portland City Hall dressed as Klan members to warn against the spread of the militia movement. Two years later, in Eugene, Communities Against Hate got Fugazi to come back and play.

. . .

The Turner Diaries, a 1978 dystopian novel by the White supremacist leader William Pierce, takes place in a near-future in which Jews have unleashed Blacks and other undesirables into the center of American public life.

When folks ask me, skeptically, where the antisemitism in the White nationalist movement lies, it can feel like being asked to point out a large elephant in a small room. From the outset of my research on White nationalism all those years ago, it was clear that antisemitism in the movement is everywhere, and it is not hidden. “Life is uglier and uglier these days, more and more Jewish,” William Pierce wrote in The Turner Diaries. “No matter how long it takes us and no matter to what lengths we must go, we’ll demand a final settlement of the account between our two races,” the narrator promises at the book’s conclusion. “If the Organization survives this contest, no Jew will—anywhere. We’ll go to the uttermost ends of the earth to hunt down the last of Satan’s spawn.” White nationalism is a fractious countercultural social movement, and its factions often disagree with each other about basic questions of theory and practice. The movement does not take a single, unified position on the Jewish question. But antisemitism has been a throughline from the Posse Comitatus, which set itself against “anti-Christ Jewry”; to David Duke’s refurbished Ku Klux Klan, which abandoned anti-Catholicism in the 1970s in order to focus on “Jewish supremacism”; to the neonazi group The Order, inspired by The Turner Diaries, which in the mid-1980s went on a rampage of robberies and synagogue bombings in Washington state and murdered a Jewish radio talk show host in Denver; to evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson who denounced antisemitism but used its popularity among their followers to promote an implicitly White supremacist “Christian nationalism”; to the contemporary Alt Right named by White nationalist Richard Spencer, which has brought antisemitic thought and imagery to new audiences on the internet—and now at White House press conferences.

Doing primary research on hate groups revealed the contours of the movement’s antisemitism in even more intricate detail. At a time when many larger social justice organizations refused to take White nationalism seriously, regional groups like Communities Against Hate, Coalition for Human Dignity, Montana Human Rights Network, Rural Organizing Project, and dozens of others did much of the groundwork documenting its theories, strategies, and warring currents. That’s why in 1990, for instance, antiracist activists were itching to get our hands on a copy of Vigilantes of Christendom, a self-published book by a writer named Richard Kelly Hoskins influential on the Christian Identity circuit. (I scored a copy by marching into a book vending tent at a White supremacist rally and marketing it to passersby as a life-changing volume I had read at the behest of a White friend.) We learned that Hoskins’s book appropriated the Old Testament story of Phineas, a prominent Israelite who marries outside the faith and is punished for his transgression by a rogue member of the tribe who kills him and his bride with a spear. Historically unpopular within the rabbinic tradition for appearing to endorse this lawless act, Hoskins’s work celebrated the tale. To join the Priesthood, he wrote, an Aryan must act as a latter-day Phineas by perpetrating lone-wolf attacks against inferior races and their White apologists.

The Phineas Priesthood does not, in an organizational sense, appear to actually exist. But for decades, domestic terrorists—like Eric Rudolph, a Christian Identity acolyte who killed people in a string of bombing attacks at Southern gay bars, abortion clinics, and the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta—have allegedly seen themselves as Phineas Priests. Like the Phineas Priesthood, one small formation that might stand in for the whole, contemporary White nationalism has no clear center. Yet it does have a deadly commitment to revolutionary violence against racial others, and to the state apparatus perceived to do their bidding. And like the Priesthood, it rests upon a tortuous racial cosmology in which Jews form a monstrous, all-powerful cabal that uses subhuman others, including Blacks and immigrants, as pawns to destroy White nationhood.

Over years of speaking about White nationalism in the 1990s and early 2000s in the Northwest and then the Midwest and South, I found that audiences—whether white or of color, at synagogues or churches, universities or police trainings—generally had a relationship to white nationalism that, at least in one basic sense, was like my own. They knew the scope and seriousness of the movement from personal experience, and—if they didn’t take this for granted to begin with—they were not shocked to discover its antisemitic emphasis. The resistance I have encountered when I address antisemitism has primarily come since I moved to the Northeast seven years ago, and from the most established progressive antiracist leaders, organizations, coalitions, and foundations around the country. It is here that a well-meaning but counterproductive thicket of discourse has grown up insisting that Jews—of Ashkenazi descent, at least—are uncontestably White, and that to challenge this is to deny the workings of White privilege. In other words, when I’m asked, “Where is the antisemitism?,” what I am often really being asked is, “Why should we be talking about antisemitism?”

And indeed—why? Why, when the president of the United States appears bent on removing as many dark-skinned immigrants from the U.S. as he can, and when men who look like me are shot in the street or tortured to death in prison with impunity? Why, when the leadership of some mainstream Jewish communal organizations level false charges of antisemitism in order to silence critique—whether by Jews or non-Jews—of Israeli government policies? Why, after decades of soul-searching by Jewish antiracists has established a seeming consensus that Jews—with Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews posited as an exception—should regard themselves as White allies of people of color, eschewing any identity as a racialized people with their own skins at risk in the fight against White supremacy? Why, when Jews are safe and claims to the contrary serve to justify rather than to challenge racial and other oppressions, like conservative commentator Alan Dershowitz’s cynical recent attempt to discredit antiracist and anticolonial struggles by declaring intersectionality an antisemitic concept? Why, when Jews of European descent are supposedly “White,” have long been, will ever be?

Antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up.

I can answer this question as I have been doing and will continue to do: antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up. To refuse to deal with any ideology of domination, moreover, is to abet it. Contemporary social justice movements are quite clear that to refuse antiracism is an act of racism; to refuse feminism is an act of sexism. To refuse opposition to antisemitism, likewise, is an act of antisemitism. Arguably, not much more should need to be said than that. But I suspect that much more does need to be said. To the hovering question, why should we be talking about antisemitism, I reply, what is it we are afraid we will find out if we do? What historic and contemporary conflicts will be laid bare? And if we recognize that White privilege really is privilege, what will it mean for Jewish antiracists to give up the fantasy that they ever really had it to begin with?

And yet this impasse seems finally to be breaking down. It has long been the case that at moments when the left has suffered another devastating and seemingly inexplicable political loss, my phone rings more often; now that the White nationalist movement has come to national power, it is ringing off the hook. The public and private discussions I’ve had just in the past month suggest a hunger to understand antisemitism—within and outside the Jewish community—the likes of which I have never witnessed before. Certainly many American Jews who regard themselves as White are feeling less so over these recent months as the candidate-turned-president seemed reluctant to disavow his endorsement by David Duke, the most notorious White supremacist in America. Meanwhile, Jewish cemeteries are desecrated even as the administration directs the FBI to double down on the surveillance of Muslims and focus less on the White supremacists who constitute the principal domestic terrorist threat in the United States. Jewish thought leaders and journalists are being harassed on social media. Just last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer caused a furor by favorably comparing Adolph Hitler to Bashar al-Assad of Syria in remarks that, whether intentionally or not, echoed the apologetics of Holocaust deniers.

We do not yet know where Trump’s coalition will land on the question of White nationalism. That Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is Jewish should not in itself be of comfort; there were Jews who worked with Hitler, too, and Blacks in the Confederate army. But it is important to note that the White nationalist faction of the administration led by Stephen Bannon—now ousted from his position in the National Security Council—is just one of several warring parties and currently appears to be losing ground. In other words, we do not yet have a fully activated White nationalist administration. (If we did, we’d know.) At the same time, the fact that this remains an open question at all likely invites more than a few ostensibly “White” Jews to contemplate the provisional nature of their Whiteness, their privilege. Privilege, after all, is not the same as power. Privilege can be revoked. And this means too that progressive movements and social change organizations must come to understand that all social movements have influence, including those that seek to construct a society based on exclusion and terror.

Privilege, after all, is not the same as power. Privilege can be revoked. And this means too that progressive movements and social change organizations must come to understand that all social movements have influence, including those that seek to construct a society based on exclusion and terror.

Sometimes I wish I had a better story to tell about how I arrived at this analysis—a story more dramatic or more heartwarming, somehow more about me. If I live and work, as I do, in the kind of daily, intimate Black-Jewish coalitions that were a mainstay of the civil rights movement but are now supposed to be fraught with mutual suspicion, I must have experienced a historically uncanny revelation or been drawn to the Jewish community through some mysterious pull of identification. It’s true that back in Long Beach, on days I opted out of middle school, the man at the corner deli would call me over and give me blueberry blintzes. He was the first person I knew was Jewish. I didn’t know what that meant, but the blintzes were good, and when you don’t have a lot of food, they are even better. But I also remember the delicious sushi a local Japanese restaurant gave me. I still love sushi, and blintzes, but neither helped me to understand racism or social change. There was no kumbaya experience, no light bulb, no moment where I became Paul on the road to Damascus. It was just common sense to study my enemy, White nationalism. And like any worthwhile research project, it has taken time.

A central insistence of antiracist thought over the past several decades is that, as with any social category produced by regimes of power, you don’t choose race, power chooses it for you; it names you. This is why all the well-meaning identification in the world does not make a White person Black. Likewise, as much as I draw inspiration from the Jewish community, and as much as I adore my Jewish partner and friends, it was my organizing against antisemitism as a Black antiracist that first pulled me to the Jewish community, not the other way around. I developed an analysis of antisemitism because I wanted to smash White supremacy; because I wanted to be free. If we acknowledge that White nationalism clearly and forcefully names Jews as non-white, and did so in the very fiber of its emergence as a post-civil rights right-wing revolutionary movement, then we are forced to recognize our own ignorance about the country  we thought we lived in. It is time to have that conversation.

 

 

Identity Evropa and the Fraternity of White Supremacy

Writing for The Public Eye this spring, author Naomi Braine delves into the history of the 2nd wave Klan:

The Klan of the 1920s was a mainstream, national fraternal organization which openly espoused White supremacy and engaged in racist terrorism but whose primary activities involved a range of community projects of interest to its middle class membership, from social events (e.g. pageants and baseball teams) to support for Prohibition…The KKK functioned in many ways as an ordinary fraternal order, with special social events and women’s and children’s auxiliaries. This effectively normalized the expression of White supremacy combined with conservative moralism as no different than any other social organization.

The origins and progression of the Klan being permitted to function in society as a social club or “ordinary fraternal order” is striking when you see images and messaging coming from the White nationalist groups that have coalesced in recent years.

“Become part of the fraternity”: Screenshot from the Identity Evropa website.

The media often portrays clean-cut individuals such as Alt Right leader Richard Spencer or members of Identity Evropa as proof of a re-branding of White nationalism and indeed, there is a long history of White supremacist groups re-inventing their image to become more mainstream and palatable. Along with the shifting aesthetic, the messaging coming out of the Alt Right movement also is reminiscent of the allure of early Klan in giving young White men identity and purpose.

The initial formation of the KKK in the 19th century has been described as a social club using trolling tactics not unlike the Alt Right. In a review of historian Elaine Frantz Parsons’ book Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan During Reconstruction, Malcolm Harris points out that the earliest Klan members were college boys looking for someone to be and something to do while being “forced to confront a rapidly changing social, cultural, and economic environment.”

Founder, Nathan Damigo is pictured on Twitter with the caption, “Get this look!”

Perhaps at similar crossroads is the recent White nationalist formulation called Identity Evropa. As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported in February, Identity Evropa is among a constellation of White nationalist groups that have popped up in the last couple years and are actively recruiting among young people. SPLC calls the group a “reimagining” of the now defunct National Youth Front, the young adult contingent of the White nationalist American Freedom Party. National Youth Front member, Nathan Damigo (a Cal State Stanislaus student and former Marine corporal), founded Identity Evropa in 2016. The group cloaks their White nationalist message in language of identitarian pride in European heritage and softens it with a polished look.

Identity Evropa intentionally recruits to maintain this particular image. Members are allegedly not allowed to have facial or neck tattoos, piercings, or even be overweight. Their website features a carousel of photos of sharply dressed members with fresh haircuts at events in D.C., New York City, San Francisco, and Charlottesville.

As Damigo described to The Daily Beast, Identity Evropa serves to “attract high-quality individuals from doctors to lawyers to economists to our fraternity” to ultimately “create an alternative social network that will act as a fifth column, over time shifting the edifice of our political establishment to encompass our interests.” He anticipates that the threat of negative repercussions when being “outed” as pro-White will diminish as their network grows. Recruiting efforts have included #ProjectSiege, a national poster campaign across college campuses.

While the tone of Identity Evropa reads social club or fraternity, that is not an indication of innocuousness as history has proved. In May, the group co-sponsored a protest along with an Alt Right coalition against the removal of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, VA.

Identity Evropa took to Facebook to report back from the protest in Charlottesville, Va.

White nationalist Richard Spencer led the group bearing flaming torches to protest. He defended the May protest by stating that statues like that of Robert E. Lee are “symbols of our European heritage” and “represent gods” and that tearing them down represents a “symbolic genocide of the White race.”

The Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have since applied to host a rally near the same statue on July 8. Richard Spencer responded to this news by saying, “KKK is not my scene.” Spencer and Alt Right formations such as Identity Evropa might continue to distance themselves from groups such as the KKK, but the lens of history may reveal more similarity than difference between the two.