My Journey to the Center of the Alt-Right
I went to a white nationalist ethnostate in Indiana. I got bounced from a secret meeting in D.C. I spent weeks figuring out how hate gurgles up from the nastiest recesses of the Internet. And I'm sorry to report that unconscionable racists will be a force in American politics well beyond November 8.
BY Luke O’Brien
ILLUSTRATIONS BY Mariano Pascual
To get to the white ethnostate, I drove through cornfields, listening to a man on the radio hype an upcoming “machine-gun shoot” at a nearby firing range. Paoli is a pretty postage-stamp-size town in southern Indiana. The seat of Orange County, it has a charming central square and a beautiful Greek Revival courthouse built in 1850. It also has an alt-right base camp occupied by neo-Nazis.
My instructions were to meet the “comrades” outside the Walmart. From the entrance, I watched a horse and buggy clop into the parking lot. An Amish couple got out and tied up the horse, then pushed shopping carts into the store. After a few minutes, I noticed a dirty red van idling nearby. There were three men inside, dressed in black shirts emblazoned with a pitchfork surrounded by a gear of industry—the logo of the Traditionalist Worker Party, which the Anti-Defamation League categorizes as a hate group. The men motioned for me to come over, and a side-panel door swung open. Behind the wheel, wearing a black military cap, was Matt Parrott, 34, the TWP’s co-founder. A figure in the back introduced himself as Jason Farrell, a 31-year-old musician who plays in a “pro-European” heavy metal band. In the passenger seat was Matthew Heimbach, a burly, black-bearded 25-year-old who has been referred to as the “next David Duke” and the “future of organized hate.”
When I first spoke to Heimbach on the phone in August, he sounded intelligent and good-natured, although his aw-shucks folksiness could seem forced. (“I woke up on the right side of the dirt this morning,” he observed in our initial conversation.) Heimbach had grown up in the Washington, D.C, suburbs, where his parents teach in the public school system in Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the wealthiest areas in the country. A week before we met, he’d attended the annual gathering of one of the most violent neo-Nazi groups
The Hammerskin Nation The Hammerskin Nation
In 2012, Wade Michael Page, a former Hammerskin, murdered six people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
in the country. Over the summer, he organized a rally in Sacramento that ended with seven people getting stabbed. Last year, the United Kingdom forbids him from entry because his presence might incite violence. And in March, he was caught on video at a Donald Trump event in Louisville, Kentucky, shoving a black female protestor and yelling, “Leftist scum!” The protestor, who also said that Trump fans had called her a “nigger” and a “cunt,” is suing Heimbach, who, she alleges, assaulted and harassed her. All of this has won him a reputation as an up-and-comer in extremist circles, and he is currently angling to be a standard-bearer for a younger, funkier version of American white nationalism that has sprouted online. This is the alt-right.
Until recently, not many Americans knew this term, a catchall for a loose confederation of far-right locos so deviant that a few years ago they were in danger of extinction. Then they found Trump. Or Trump found them. Now, they are stationed along his parapets in a union that represents the biggest uptick of white power activity in American politics since the Ku Klux Klan’s invisible empire in the 1920s. Neo-Nazis do door-knocks for Trump and scream “Sieg Heil” outside his rallies. And Trump has gone along for the ride, retweeting alt-right propaganda and hiring Stephen Bannon, whose Breitbart News Network has become the most significant transmitter of the movement’s ideas to a mass audience. Thanks to Trump, ethno-nationalism is poised to be a force in American politics for the first time in decades.
Experts who track hate groups lament that the alt-right is just old white nationalism rebranded. And it is. But it’s more than that, too. It is also a grassroots movement that coalesced online, in the primordial ooze of chat forums and message boards like 4chan, 8chan and Reddit. Most alt-righters are digital natives, and they have weaponized social media. To appreciate how far through the looking glass Trump and his online storm-troopers have taken us in this strange election, consider that Hillary Clinton devoted an entire speech to denouncing alt-right ideology, and that Pepe, a once-harmless cartoon frog transformed by the alt-right into an anti-Semitic icon, now needs little introduction.
Heimbach, however, wants to be more than a keyboard race warrior. The TWP is a small operation: It has 16 chapters around the country with about 500 dues-paying members, plus thousands of active supporters on social media, according to Heimbach. (Caveat lector: These guys are propagandists.) But it has big plans for the future. He is building “boots-and-suits” alliances between skinhead soldiers and politically minded racists such as William Johnson of the American Freedom Party, who nearly sashayed into the Republican National Convention as an official delegate, until a reporter sniffed him out. Heimbach travels to Europe regularly to seek tips from white nationalist politicians. And then there is his nascent ethnostate. At a German restaurant where the TWP comrades like to take visiting journalists and make Holocaust jokes, he and Parrott talked about their dream of building an all-white fiefdom for their extended race-family. Farrell described his “big leap of faith” to move to Paoli. He’d arrived a week earlier from New York, where he’d left a corporate job and his entire life behind. The pressure to “despise yourself as a white person” in New York was too much, he explained, and then told a story about Dominicans harassing him at a bodega. The comrades told me more TWP members were moving there by the end of the year.
“I can’t get over how rapidly this has come alive,” Parrott said, attributing the surge in interest to Trump. Heimbach described the Republican nominee as a “gateway drug” to white nationalism. “We’re all growing and using this momentum,” he said. blob image
Trump had gone beyond playing footsie with the alt right. "This man is 88% woke," wrote a columnist on The Daily Stormer.
It is tempting to mock the alt-right as an exhibition of political rarities. There may only be a few thousand of these souls rattling cages; there may be many more. But the risks of dismissing them, even when they wave cartoon frogs, should be clear. According to a study conducted by an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University, 65 percent of white Americans would consider supporting a nativist, xenophobic party. And two toxic months reporting on key figures in the movement convinced me that they are serious in their desire to crack open a hateful new space in the system. With an assist from the Trump campaign, the alt-right’s fusion of musty racist dogma and millennial troll power has given it a political influence far beyond that of tobacco-stained Klansmen and swastika-bedecked skinheads. Now, from operativesblob image in D.C. to wannabe politicians in the heartland to trolls lurking in online grottoes around the world, its would-be leaders are trying to take the malignant energy that has coursed through conservative circles this election and transform it into something lasting.
In Clarendon, a Northern Virginia neighborhood two subway stops from downtown DC that is popular among young political strivers, there is a Java Shack located in a building that used to be the headquarters of the American Nazi Party. One Sunday morning in early September, I went there to meet 38-year-old Richard Spencer, the originator of the phrase “alternative right” and the movement’s debonair frontman. Also in attendance was the managing editor for Radix, a publishing imprint attached to Spencer’s think tank. A younger man in his twenties, he goes by the pseudonym Hannibal Bateman.
Coined the phrase "alternative right"
Even dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, Spencer was fashionable. He wears his hair in a side-swept undercut, the signature coif for stylish guys in the movement. He’d once dreamed of becoming a theater director and speaks with a dramatic air. He also laughs a lot. In one conversation, he regaled me with a story about Whitefish, the town in Montana where he has spent most of his time in recent years. Since Spencer became the area’s notorious racist-in-residence, a concerned local had sought to change the name of nearby Lost Coon Lake. Its previous name turned out to have been Nigger Lake, which Spencer found hilarious.
At the coffee shop, Spencer and Bateman attempted to explain their ideology to me. Spencer pulled from history, at least the glorious white remnants of it, and mixed in assorted debris from philosophy and pop culture. He’d borrowed a term for this bricolage—“Archeofuturism”—and in one breath he might swing from discussing the Byzantine Empire to the alt-rightyness of Frank Herbert’s Dune, which depicts a feudal interstellar society with an aristocratic hero.
In the broadest sense, the alt-right is a populist revolt against the political establishment. Alt-righters are mostly young white men who are angry about income inequality, poor job prospects, PC culture, crumbling social welfare programs and war. They come from Pat Buchanan’s nativist paleoconservatism, Ron Paul’s libertarianism, the rape-y Manosphere, the Gamergate underground, and other subcultures. Along the way, they feed off disinformation and conspiracy theories that have gained credence thanks in no small measure to Republican efforts to demonize journalism, science and what Karl Rove is believed to have dismissed as the “reality-based community.” This journey is called being “red-pilled,” a reference to the main character’s choice in “The Matrix” to swallow a red pill that shows him the horror of his enslaved reality or a blue pill that lets him remain blissfully unaware.
The horrifying truth the red pill supposedly reveals is that we inhabit a country in the throes of a “white genocide” driven by immigration policies. Some, like Spencer, dress up these notions with palaver about preserving identity and Western culture. Others lace up jackboots. Either way, there is nothing ambiguous about their beliefs. These are unabashed racists who think that blacks, Hispanics and Arabs are congenitally stupid and violent. Most are virulently anti-Semitic. Many are self-identified fascists.
Spencer seems an unlikely candidate to become a racist renegade. He grew up in a wealthy Dallas family and attended St. Mark’s School of Texas, an elite all-boys prep school. A classmate remembers him as an average student who played football. As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, Spencer staged avant-garde plays and had a life-changing experience reading Nietzsche. In 2005, he began a doctoral program in European intellectual history at Duke. By this point, he was devouring the writing of racist intellectuals and feeling increasingly isolated from his professors and fellow students. “I was definitely red-pilling by that stage,” he told me. He grew restless and unhappy. Then, in 2006, after white members of the Duke lacrosse team were falsely accused of raping a black woman, Spencer became an outspoken critic of what he saw as reverse racism on campus. He gave a talk about the Duke case that was attended by editors from The American Conservative magazine, which later offered him a job. Spencer accepted and dropped out of his doctoral program.
Kevin MacDonald, a former college professor whose books have become urtext for the contemporary white nationalist movement.
Jared Taylor, a Yale graduate and the foremost pusher of race-based IQ studies.
Peter Brimelow, a paleoconservative who had his own anti-immigration publication called VDare and worked at National Review in the 1990s until editor William F. Buckley purged him and other radical voices and anti-Semites from the magazine.
It soon became apparent to colleagues that the magazine had hired a man with extreme views. “I remember we were in the office and Richard expressed his disgust with evangelicals in very colorful terms that horrified the other editors,” said Michael Dougherty, then an associate editor at the magazine. “He basically was like, ‘These people, maybe they can make middle managers in retail.’ It dripped with real disdain. ... Richard expressed to me at the time his agreement with Nietzsche that Christianity is a slave morality. Over time we discovered his worldview was pagan.” (“I might have said some thing like this, but not in such bald, incendiary language,” Spencer said when I asked about it. “I was clearly more interested in European, radical philosophy than [the magazine’s editor] Scott McConnell.”)
Spencer then took a job at a more radical publication—Taki’s Magazine, founded by Buchanan ally Taki Theodoracopulos. It was there that Spencer first used the term “alternative right” to refer to the motley crew of right-wing extremists who had been pushed out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley. In 2010, Spencer launched alternativeright.com, which became the intellectual organ for these exiled racists. The next year, he signed on to run the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank and publisher. Calling himself an identitarian, he distilled his philosophy into a catchy slogan: “Race is real, race matters, and race is essential to identity.” In one conversation, he explained the best ways to secrete a white nationalist idea inside an acceptable shell. For example, he supported giving women paid leave from work so they could have children. Why? Because most of those Lean In women were high-IQ whites.
But no matter how deftly Spencer repackaged the racism, he freely admits that his ideas had little hope of entering mainstream Republican conversation until recently. Even the term “alternative right” had fallen out of use. The truncated version only became a sigil to rally behind when the alt-right’s “Glorious Leader” presented himself, riding down a gold-plated escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy and label Mexicans rapists.
White nationalists rejoiced. Most realized that the chances of Trump being a true believer were slim, but he sounded more like one of them than any major presidential candidate in their lifetimes. They’d been laboring for years to widen the Overton window—a term for the range of acceptable political discussion—and now Trump had put his fist through the damn thing. “Trump has opened up space for a new kind of discourse,” Spencer told me. “He’s opened up space for talking about nationalism.”
That is, after all, the ultimate goal: to expand the boundaries of what is permissible or even thinkable and red-pill more normies. For Spencer and his clique, that process isn’t about influencing policy but rather the way people saw the world, which would naturally lead to policy changes. He calls it metapolitics. His aim is to seed these ideas in Washington. blob image
There is, it turns out, a small network of young, educated white nationalists braided into the conservative apparatus in the capital, working at small anti-immigration PACs, right-wing media websites and libertarian think tanks. A number have taken courses at the Leadership Institute, a conservative organization founded by Morton Blackwell to train grass-roots activists (alumni of Blackwell’s earlier programs include Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove.) At Leadership, Heimbach learned how to write press releases, organize events and engage the media through what he called “street theater.” He encourages all his TWP chapter leaders to go through the institute’s youth leadership course. “They trained this entire next generation of white nationalists,” said Heimbach. Blackwell, who is still the Institute's president, confirmed that Heimbach studied there. He told me that the Institute strongly repudiates Heimbach’s ideology and has an “open-door policy” toward admissions to protect its tax status. “I never heard of this guy until today. And I don’t know who his associates are but anybody can apply to our schools and we have people from a wide variety of backgrounds and political philosophies.” blob image
However, most of these activists lurk in the shadows, like Hannibal Bateman. “When you get into a movement like ours, there’s a turtling,” Bateman told me. “A fear of losing jobs, friends, social status.” At the Java Shack, Bateman recoiled in fear when a man he knew from his normie life happened past on the sidewalk and greeted him. Bateman awkwardly avoided introductions, which might have blown his cover. Still, despite the cloak-and-dagger precautions, which alt-righters revel in, they make for sloppy spies. I was later able to piece together Bateman’s identity, and he was exactly what I’d imagined: an ardent young Mississippian who’d come to DC to sip bourbon, wear Brooks Brothers and make a difference, in his special racist way.
There is, it turns out, a small network of young, educated white nationalists braided into the conservative apparatus in Washington.
One night in September, I tried to crash an alt-right dinner at the Tabard Inn, a historic D.C. hotel with a cozy wood-paneled fireside lounge perfect for classy dates. I found Bateman reeling about the lobby intoxicated, roaring about someone not being “racially aware.” Another man, who refused to give his name, approached to tell me that I didn’t “have the face of a leftist.” I later found him in a photo and learned his name was Devin Saucier and that he hangs out with the Wolves of Vinland, a white nationalist outfit in Virginia that gathers in the woods for neo-pagan bonding exercises that include animal sacrifice. One of the Wolves is currently sitting in prison for trying to burn down a black church.
From what I could tell, there were around 20 spiffily dressed alt-righters at the Tabard, drinking steadily. One in particular, Marcus Epstein, made it clear he didn’t want me there. Epstein is, improbably, a half-Korean, half-Jewish white nationalist. He used to work for Buchanan and co-founded a college organization called Youth for Western Civilization that many alt-righters have passed through. In 2007, he entered an Alford plea (in which a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges the prosecution can likely prove its case) to an assault charge after he drunkenly called a passing black woman a “nigger” and tried to karate chop her in the head.
It’s no wonder so many of them keep a low profile.
Spencer, on the other hand, sought the limelight. Buoyed by the attention from the presidential election, he planned to expand his Washington operation and permanently relocate to the city. He was looking for property near D.C. The old Nazi office in Arlington used to post a man in full uniform outside the door, but that was far too overt for Spencer’s tastes. He wanted a place where young men in fancy dress can sneak in through a back door for white-power cabalism and catered parties. He dreamt of nothing less than a white ethno-empire stretching across North America and Europe. This racist utopia is, he knew, an impossibility, but he intended to ride the surge of interest in the alt-right as far as he could.
“I don’t think that Donald Trump set out to inspire the alt-right, but we’ve been thrown into the same boat by our shared enemies, so he’s become an alt-right god,” Spencer told me. “If you wear a Trump hat in many places, you might as well be wearing a swastika.”
The Lord of the Memes
The trolls came for Erin Schrode one Friday morning in June, four days before the Democratic primary in California’s 2nd Congressional District. Schrode, a 25-year-old civic activist and environmentalist from Marin County, was a long shot for the win, but still campaigning hard. The previous day, she’d responded to critics about her pro-Israel stance, which had recently been highlighted by the Jewish press. The public discussion was civil. But when she opened her inbox the next morning, she encountered something different.
“The first email came in at 7 a.m.,” Schrode told me. “It said, ‘Get out of my country, kike. Get to Israel where you belong. That or the oven. Take your pick.’”
Founder of The Daily Stormer
Over the next few days, emails, voicemails and tweets, hundreds of them, then thousands, poured in from neo-Nazi trolls, none of whom used names but many of whom identified as Trump supporters, according to Schrode. They wondered how she could be a vegan, given all the “Negroe [sic] semen she swallows.” They talked about laughing as they “gang raped her and then bashed her bagel eating brains in.” It was, she told me, the first time she’d experienced anti-Semitism. “It shook me in a really profound, startling way,” Schrode said.
Soon, she was talking to FBI agents, who, she said, told her they’d never seen such venom directed at a political candidate. They found that her contact information had been posted on The Daily Stormer, the most popular white nationalist site in the country and the online barracks for an army of alt-right trolls. There, readers can access news filtered through a racist lens, alongside images of blacks being burned alive and doctored GIFs of Taylor Swift curbstomping people. And Schrode wasn’t the Stormer’s first target. In April, the publication had sicced its army on Julia Ioffe, a Huffington Post contributor, after she wrote a profile of Melania Trump for GQ. In addition to scores of anti-Semitic emails and images, Ioffe received calls purportedly from an overnight casket company and a homicide cleanup crew.
The Daily Stormer’s editor and publisher is a 32-year-old named Andrew Anglin. He claims to live in Ohio, although his true whereabouts are murky: He appears to be in Berlin or to have recently been there, according to his social media activity and the FBI's best knowledge. With his shaved head and a tattoo on his chest of the “Black Sun”—a pagan symbol Himmler tiled on the floor of his occult castle—Anglin belongs to the jackboot wing of the alt-right. It is very different in style, if not in substance, from Spencer’s elitist academics. Anglin openly describes himself as a neo-Nazi, or 1488er
The 14/88 movement is named for its devotion to a 14-word white supremacist slogan (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) and what the eighth letter of the alphabet represented when repeated (“Heil Hitler”).
He is preoccupied with the idea that Jews control the world, mainly through the global financial system, and designed The Daily Stormer as a “hardcore front for the conversion of masses of people into a pro-White, Antisemitic ideology.” In the year after Trump announced his candidacy, its traffic doubled, to about 2 million readers a month, according to web tracking data. “I represent the will of the mob,” Anglin told me in an email.
What sets Anglin apart from other neo-Nazis is that he strives to be entertaining. If he hadn’t damned himself to his race war, he might have landed a job as a blogger. He writes clearly, with a saucy, scorched-earth tone. When in gear, he can crank out around a dozen posts a day in two five-hour shifts. For several weeks, his website header featured Pokemon characters superimposed on a bucolic landscape with a beatific Hitler winking from the clouds. In September, Anglin told readers to print up fliers depicting Hitler in the form of the chubby yellow anime character Pikachu and hand them out to young boys at “Pokemon Go” “gyms,” real-world locations where people gather to play a Pokemon-based game. (There is no evidence this happened.) As puerile as the stunt sounds, Anglin had a theory behind it: If you could make people laugh, you got them to accept something that was previously too distasteful to consider. It is the Mein Kampf chapter on propaganda updated for culture-jamming millennials
This was a major turning point within trolldom and for the alt-right. Hardcore gamers, fed up with what they viewed as the intrusion of PC culture upon their domain, launched a mass attack against a female game developer and media critics, coordinated out of 4chan forums, which were crawling with white nationalists. For many trolls and alienated young men, Gamergate demonstrated that they had real-world power. For the alt-right, it was the biggest red-pilling moment—until Trump.
Anglin’s journey to the alt-right took him through many of the alleys of self-radicalization that angry young men now travel on their way to white nationalism. He became a fan of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, whose show Trump has appeared on. According to Anglin’s writings, for a while he drove around the country, slept in his car and got popped for drug offenses. And he burrowed into the emerging 4chan community. Launched in 2003, 4chan was a free-for-all of mostly underemployed young white guys looking to have fun or cause trouble. Trolling—the act of provoking or harassing a person online—was born in 4chan forums. The reward was the “lulz”—the cackling that ensues when trolls crushed their perceived foes. Most of the victims were people of color, women and gay men.
For a few years, Anglin roamed through Southeast Asia, teaching English. On his personal blog, he expressed sympathy for impoverished Filipinos he came across in his travels. But after a while, unable to forge meaningful relationships with the locals, he grew depressed and found himself “drinking too much of a strong coconut wine.” He decided that the Filipinos were too “primitive” to connect with his “intellectualism.” “It was only among my own kind—those of the European race—that I would ever be able to share true kinship, as it is only they who share my blood, and can understand my soul,” he concluded. He launched a new site called totalfascism.com, where he wrote about wanting to throw non-white immigrants in concentration camps and put landmines along the Mexican border. He also had some foreboding words for the GOP. “As the Republican party moves towards embracing multiculturalism,” he wrote, “a void is being created within the mainstream of American politics, one which will be easily exploitable. Our position represents that of the vast majority of the folk, the working White man who is still the core of American society.”
In July 2013, Anglin launched The Daily Stormer. The purpose: Make hate fun. Lulz, Anglin wrote, were a “weapon of the race war.” He orchestrated Stormer campaigns against prominent media and political figures. He wrote guides for his shock troops on how to register anonymous emails, set up virtual private networks and spoof IP addresses. He provided imagery and slogans for them to email and retweet, and warned his trolls not to threaten anyone with violence, perhaps as a safeguard to protect himself from prosecution. In one 2015 campaign, he trolled students at the University of Missouri who were protesting the school’s handling of racist incidents on campus. Using the same Twitter hashtags as the protestors, Anglin injected fake news into the conversation. He said the KKK was burning crosses on the university lawn and had shot several people, offering a random photo of a black man in a hospital bed as evidence. This touched off a minor panic, and gullible reporters broadcast the subversion to the wider world. Lulz.
And in Trump, the troll army found an even greater purpose and a megaphone. Not only does the Republican nominee seem to share certain character traits with many alt-righters—he is deliberately offensive, he clearly enjoys trolling people on Twitter—he also circulates their rhetoric and imagery.
Some of the most controversial social media moments of the Trump campaign have a provenance that can be traced directly back to hardcore racists like Anglin. The process goes something like this: Anglin plies 4chan waters like a fascist tastemaker, surfacing memes for his core audience. From there, the memes disperse to a more “mainstream” conservative readership, often through transfer points such as Breitbart, a top destination for readers leaving The Daily Stormer. During the course of the election, Breitbart has styled itself as “the platform for the alt-right,” as Bannon boasted this summer. The site scaremongers about “migrant rape gangs” and black crime, and gives hate-memists free rein in the comments section. And traffic has soared. Its monthly visitors have increased from around 8 million in mid-2014 to around 18 million this July, according to comScore. Other conservative sites, even ones that prefer bowties, appear to have accepted that angry right-wing populism translates into clicks. Take The Daily Caller, which now runs its fair share of immigrant knife-attack stories and Jew-baiting George Soros exposes. The reader comments on the site are at times indistinguishable in tone and racist content from those on Breitbart.
Just as important to the propagation effort is social media, and a small number of alt-right Twitter celebrities have had a freakishly large impact. The most noteworthy was @Ricky_Vaughn 99, whom Richard Spencer described to me as the “ultimate shitlord.” Part of what made Vaughn an effective disseminator of alt-right terms and ideas is that he mixes his hate memes seamlessly with more standard conservative fare. This February, MIT published a study of the top 150 influencers on the election, based on news appearances and social media impact. Vaughn, who had around 62,000 followers at the time, came in at 107, one spot behind Senator Elizabeth Warren and ahead of NBC News, The Drudge Report, Stephen Colbert and Glenn Beck. “He has pulled off a truly an amazing thing,” said Keegan Hankes, a data intelligence expert at the SPLC. “He gets retweeted by so many different people and by people who clearly don’t know about his connections.” On October 5, Twitter banned Vaughn for unspecified reasons. Within hours, #FreeRicky became the top-trending Twitter topic in the country.
For alt-righters, there is perhaps no more satisfying reward than “meme-magic”—the internet-up process by which absurdist images or phrases get dismissed as offensive jokes only to bubble up into real expressions of a subculture. One example of this alchemy is “cuckservative.” The term derives from “cuckold” pornography, but among the alt-right, it is shorthand for a spineless “beta-male” conservative who sells out the interests of white Americans to the forces of globalism. This usage originated on a small racist forum and was amplified by The Right Stuff, home to the movement’s most popular podcasts
The Right Stuff
The second-largest alt-right website is run by someone who uses the pseudonym Mike Enoch. On a podcast after the first presidential debate, Enoch and others discussed wanting Trump to rape Clinton.
. It was broadcast to a far wider audience during a large-scale troll attack against the National Review Online, in which Vaughn was a ringleader. “Cuck” has now so fully entered the political lexicon that even lefty political types use it jokingly on Twitter. blob image
Another example is the ubiquitous Pepe, a cartoon frog that became a humorous image on 4chan and 8chan and then, thanks to pro-Trump trolls, mutated into a Nazi. According to Hankes, it was Anglin who elevated Nazi Pepe from 4chan and made him a presence on The Daily Stormer. The ecosystem did the rest. In October, Trump retweeted an image of himself with the face of Pepe standing behind a presidential lectern. Later, the Anti-Defamation League declared Pepe a hate symbol.
In an email, Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, wrote, “Mr. Trump has repeatedly disavowed these groups and individuals, as well as their hateful rhetoric, which he strongly condemns, and will continue to do so.” In fact, Trump and his son Donald Jr. have retweeted neo-Nazi alt-righters, including Vaughn and someone named @WhiteGenocideTM, on multiple occasions. A Fortune investigation published in March revealed that numerous Trump campaign staffers followed white nationalist accounts.
The alt-right’s efforts to contaminate the zeitgeist have, by many measures, succeeded. “Everywhere now on normie sites I see our ideas and memes being pushed,” Anglin said. Since 2012, American white nationalist groups have seen their Twitter followers grow by more than 600 percent, according to a September report by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. An ADL task force found that between August 2015 and July 2016, 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets
Alt-right trolls often wrap Jewish names within a triple parentheses. This meme was inspired by a podcast on The Right Stuff, which used a reverb sound effect to make Jewish names echo nefariously. At one point, an enterprising anti-Semite designed a Google Chrome extension that automatically "echoed" Jewish names as users browsed the internet. (Google removed the extension from its Chrome store for violating its hate speech policy.)
, many of them from Trump supporters, generated an estimated 10 billion impressions. This torrent of hate, the ADL suggested, could “contribute to reinforcing and normalizing anti-Semitic language on a massive scale.”
Attacks like those on Ioffe and Schrode have become commonplace, particularly against members of the media. According to the ADL, at least 800 journalists, most of them Jewish, were targeted by anti-Semitic attacks in the 11-month period the task force examined. Twitter, in particular, has proved ill-equipped to prevent trolls from running amok on its platform. A banned troll can set up another anonymous account within minutes and keep on trolling. And the savviest ones know exactly how far they can go: No specific threats against specific people. Nothing that can be construed as “inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” the legal standard created by the U.S. Supreme Court. The FBI initiated a threat assessment of the incidents involving Ioffe and Schrode, but did not find sufficient evidence to open an investigation, according to FBI officials in San Francisco.
To avoid the attention of internet companies when using racial slurs, trolls have developed a lexicon of sorts. They call black people “googles,” Jews “skypes,” Latinos “yahoos” and Asians “bings.” More recently, they have started to refer to Muslims as “skittles” after a tweet from Donald Trump Jr comparing Syrian refugees to a bowl of candy.
After the trolling attack on Ioffe, Wolf Blitzer asked Trump if he had a problem with his supporters issuing anti-Semitic death threats. “I don’t have a message to the fans,” said Trump.
“We interpret that as an endorsement,” Anglin said.
The Aspiring Politician
The sun was going down in Paoli when Heimbach and his comrades took me to their “compound,” the heart of the would-be ethnostate. As the red neo-Nazi van trundled down a country road, the comrades sucked on vape pens and explained that one of the alt-right’s long-term objectives is to build homogeneous “high-trust” societies. Parrott lamented the fact that his hometown had diversified so much since he was a kid. Later, I checked the census data and found that Paoli’s white population had dropped from 98.3 percent in 2000 to 97.7 percent in 2010. The total population during that period had held steady at about 3,700, which meant the demographic change that so horrified Parrot amounted to an increase of 22 non-white people over a decade. He was probably as close as he was ever going to get to his homogenous high-trust society.
The "next David Duke"
The ethnostate was a property of almost two acres down an unpaved driveway off a small road, a couple Trump yard signs planted in the grass. They said they had purchased it about six weeks ago from a bank that repossessed it. Parrot was fixing up a dilapidated house that he planned to convert into offices and living quarters. For now, the comrades lived in two trailers, one of which had a flag with a Celtic cross, a common white nationalist symbol, hanging in the window. There were two men sitting outside the trailer, but when they saw me, they hastily went inside.
Heimbach and Parrott had seven party members living on the property and expect three more to arrive by the end of the year. They hope to build a recording studio on the property and expand their publishing efforts and clothing line. “If we’re holding back progress, then let us go,” Heimbach said. “Let us have self-determination. We’re not going to go bother you all, just let us go. Let my people go.”
His secessionism reflects a shift in the racist underworld. In the last 30 years, as demographics have changed, even ultra-right bedlamites have been forced to acknowledge the futility of white dominion. Their ambitions have retreated to segregated communities. “It’s just slightly more practical than trying to murder 60 million people,” said Mark Potok of the SPLC. Heimbach rhapsodized about Brexit, Catalonia, south Sudan, the Kurds and even Hezbollah as examples to emulate in some fashion. “It’s no longer going to be a subculture. It’s going to be a culture within a culture, a state within a state,” he’d told me.
We were sitting in one of the trailers, which had green sheets thrown over the few pieces of furniture, a picture of Orthodox Jesus on a shelf and white power magnets on the fridge. Heimbach’s 14-month-old son, Nicholas, named for the last Russian czar, toddled over to me, smiling. He grabbed my pen and I let him doodle on my notepad while Heimbach and I discussed mountaintop mining. (In a millennial spin on old-school neo-Nazism, the TWP supports environmental conservation, on the grounds that that greedy corporations often poison the water, air and economies of local white communities.)
Heimbach and Parrott are using a map of Trump strongholds to target areas where a white nationalist political party would play best.
Heimbach joined the white power movement six years ago. He founded the White Student Union at Towson University in Maryland as an undergraduate in 2012, and met his wife, Brooke, at one of Jared Taylor’s conferences. He shares many of the downwardly mobile problems of his generation, although his have been accentuated by his beliefs. He’d been fired from a job as a caseworker for the Indiana Department of Child Services. According to the SPLC, an answer he provided in a training exercise suggested violence against a client. (Heimbach said he had passed all training sessions, including one on diversity, and believed his firing was “political.”) Since he went full Nazi, his family has shunned him. He has no contact with his parents or siblings, and knows Nicholas might never meet his grandparents. I could see this upset him deeply. “I could have been a teacher if I’d just kept my mouth shut,” he said. blob image
Heimbach and Parrott founded TWP in 2015. They see it as a more pragmatic vehicle for white nationalism, one that could transcend the infighting that has historically plagued the movement. In April, almost 20 groups came together to sign a pact in Georgia and chant, “Death to the Jews!” The alliance, which is called the Nationalist Front, now contains two dozen groups. Heimbach and Parrott wrote its constitution. No violence. No white supremacy. Every member organization has to be willing to work with others. The TWP successfully pushed to exclude Nazi imagery from the coalition’s branding. The TWP would act as the political arm: Anyone belonging to a National Front organization who ran for office would do so as a TWP candidate. The other National Front organizations would help with logistics and communications. At least that was the plan. It was hard to imagine skinheads on the hustings.
Globalism and Jewish financial power
Matthew Heimbach and friends. Heimbach confirmed that this is him in the photo, which was provided by a source. The logo in the top right belongs to the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the country.
Heimbach has traveled to Europe several times to seek advice from far-right leaders, including politicians from the nationalist Czech Worker’s Party of Social Justice and Golden Dawn in Greece. The Trump campaign has also unwittingly generated valuable intel. Heimbach and Parrott are using a map of Trump strongholds to target areas where white nationalism would play best. “If they’re ready to vote for Trump, they can’t be too far away from being ready to support a real nationalist party,” Heimbach reasoned. The TWP is focused on greater Appalachia and planning to conduct outreach in districts in West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee in anticipation of running local candidates in 2018. Heimbach wanted white millennial candidates who felt disconnected from the system and could speak to other white millennials who felt the same way. He himself plans to run that year for the Indiana state legislature. “The state GOP has no ground game here,” he said.
On the state level, Heimbach and Parrott want to run sleeper agents masquerading as GOP candidates. And on the federal level, they intend to run spoilers against mainstream conservative incumbents in close districts, the idea being that if they could steal 2 percent of the vote and knock out a cuck, they’d have a “disproportionate impact” with a minimal spend. Their plan sounded preposterous. But, then, so did the notion of Trump as a candidate a year ago.
“The Republicans need racists to win,” Heimbach said. “They need us to win and they want to chain us in the attic and ignore us but then count on us for votes. That’s just not going to work long term.”
A month before the election, and exactly one year after retweeting Nazi Pepe, Trump delivered a thunderous speech in West Palm Beach in which he all but named the Jew. “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors,” he said. “This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.”
Trump had gone well beyond playing footsie with the alt-right. “This man is 88% woke,” wrote a columnist on The Daily Stormer. blob image
The hard tack toward outright white nationalism was no accident. It was set in motion in August, when Trump placed Stephen Bannon, Breitbart’s executive chairman, at the head of his campaign. Thanks to Bannon—who helped write the Palm Beach speech—the alt-right, incredibly, now had an ideological thruway to the campaign itself. blob image
But as this gang of white nationalists slithered closer to actual political relevance, fissures began to appear in their movement. The discord was embodied in the cartoonish figure of Milo Yiannopoulos
Yiannopoulos himself was also a troll. Twitter banned him permanently for encouraging racist online attacks against the actress Leslie Jones.
, an ostentatiously gay British faux-journalist and Breitbart’s technology editor. Although most alt-righters dismissed him as a poseur and an opportunist, Yiannopoulos had played a major role in promoting the movement on Breitbart and steering new recruits its way. Then, he went too far: He failed to take its racism seriously. In a guide to alt-righters, published on Breitbart in March, Yiannopoulos described them as mostly pranksters who didn’t mean the revolting things they said. The response was swift and brutal. Mainstream observers blasted him for penning an apologia for a deeply racist movement. And alt-righters were angry at being portrayed as unserious. Anglin and others soon identified Yiannopoulos as a threat, a “kike infiltrator” trying to coopt or water down their cause. In September, Anglin put up a post outlining “The Final Solution to the Milo Problem,” in which he urged readers to crash Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagements and put him in “a state of constant fear.” The next day, a Yiannopoulos event at Florida Atlantic University was canceled because of a threat the FBI deemed credible, according to a university spokesperson.
Yiannopoulos had exposed a rift between the Spencer and Anglin wings of the alt-right. Both are dedicated white nationalists, but they differ on how to achieve their goals. Anglin is a purist. Spencer is willing to work with people outside the movement’s core. For instance, there is the so-called “alt-lite”—more casually bigoted mischief-makers, who might bandy about the N-word but are more likely to be upset about PC culture than, say, the Jews. A broader circle still—you could call it the “alt-white”—encompasses a large number of Trump voters. Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who studies populist movements, described these people as “not necessarily racist or consciously racist. They just think they have a right to things they used to have and they don’t realize that was in a racialized and fairly racist structure.” Trump has consistently performed better among Republican voters who feel whites are losing out. According to several recent studies, including one by Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, the more resentment a voter bears toward minority groups, especially blacks, immigrants and Muslims, the more likely he is to support Trump. Economic status and attitudes were far less important factors, according to Klinkner. An Iowa poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in December 2015 found that nearly half of Trump supporters believed the Japanese internment camps in WWII were a good idea. A national analysis of Trump supporters by The New York Times found that 20 percent disagreed with the Emancipation Proclamation. blob image
Spencer wants to meld both the alt-lite and alt-white into a viable political force. “What we should do is basically ride [Yiannopoulos’] coattails,” Spencer said. “If I wanted to create a movement that was 1488 white nationalist, I would have done that. But I didn’t because I recognized that is a total nonstarter. No one outside a hardcore coterie would identify with it. The whole point about alt-right is it’s open. Different people can identify with it. I thought that was strategically wise.”
But Spencer’s strategy has its limits. In mid-September, a surreptitious message was sent to Spencer inviting him to a breakfast meeting at the Heritage Foundation, an oaky conservative think tank. According to congressional sources and emails obtained by the Huffington Post, an invitation had been extended to a handful of Republican congressmen, including Representatives Warren Davidson, Mark Meadows, Gregg Harper, Trent Kelly, Rod Blum, and Scott Garrett; Senator Mike Lee; as well as Ken Cuccinelli, the president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a Tea Party-friendly PAC, and Indiana State Senator Jim Banks. The occasion was a visit from Tom Colbert, the senior chairman of a Mississippi bank and a major Heritage donor, who was in town with his state’s Republican governor. Colbert wanted to sit down with some of the elected federal officials he supports, according to Lee’s communications director. The leadership of Heritage would be at the meeting, including its president Jim DeMint and Mike Needham, the head of its lobbying arm.
For Spencer to gain entry to such a room of right-wing powerbrokers would be a coup for the alt-right and a validation of his cocktail circuit methods, not to mention a hopeful sign that he shared “elective affinities” with certain GOP leaders. It was not to be. The meeting took place, but without Spencer. Someone recognized his name and decided that letting a notorious white nationalist in the building for donuts with Republican congressmen might be unwise, especially in the middle of a presidential election. When I asked Spencer about this later, he was coy. “If such a meeting occurred, I wasn’t there. That said, these meetings are going to have to take place in the future. The alt-right and Trumpian populism are a major force that the GOP simply can’t ignore.”
Wesley Denton, a spokesman for Heritage, told me that Spencer had not been invited to the meeting by Heritage and did not attend. “This was a policy discussion for members of Congress and conservative leaders,” Denton said, adding that “we have a longstanding policy that we do not comment on private donors.” Colbert didn’t respond to requests to comment. Among the politicians, only two responded. A spokesperson for Garrett said he didn’t go to the meeting. Lee, who has refused to endorse Trump and pushed the campaign to denounce the alt-right, didn’t attend either, according to his communications director.
No matter how refined his speech or dress, Spencer's calling card is racism. The alt-righters all had that problem. “This is going to be the peak of their existence,” argued Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the executive director of One People's Project, an anti-racist organization that monitors right-wing groups.
And yet even in the best-case scenario—if the alt-right's leaders slink back into obscurity after the election—the movement has unleashed an ugly and volatile force into American politics. It has proved that a small group of trolls can poison discourse with violent, racist rhetoric and help to elevate a candidate who entertains ideas like registering all Muslim Americans in a database. It has built the iconography, language and infrastructure for a millennial version of an old hate. And together, the alt-right and Trump have created a potential space for a nationalist white voting bloc. It’s not so hard to imagine a European-style ethno-nationalist movement emerging from Trumpism, one that isn’t dependent on hardcore alt-righters but taps into the alt-lite and alt-white demos.
After Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, moderate Republicans famously issued a detailed plan for the future that recommended extensive minority outreach. But the course the GOP actually chose in 2016 hewed a lot closer to a white paper Spencer wrote in 2011 about a “majority strategy” advanced by racist intellectuals. The strategy urged Republicans to forgo their fruitless minority outreach and instead unite a majority of white voters by focusing on immigration restriction. The GOP, Spencer wrote, needed to accept its role as the “white people’s party whether Republican leadership likes it or not.”
There are no brakes in this train
Unfortunately, the shitlord who made this meme was right.
Already, there are signs blob imagethat right-wing Republicans intend to make a play for Trump’s base. In late October, members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of ultra-conservative Republicans, openly warned Speaker Paul Ryan that they would not support him unless he respected the will of Trump voters on issues like immigration. (According to multiple reports, Bannon is determined to use Breitbart to eject Paul Ryan from the speakership after the election.) These efforts don’t have to capture the White House or the congressional leadership in order to wreak havoc on the GOP or the political process. The Tea Party has already demonstrated the power of a rebellious faction to alter the course of the party. During this election, the timorous behavior of Ryan, John McCain, Mitch McConnell and others has demonstrated how willing the party establishment is to roll over for a noisy insurgency.
Particularly at the local and state level, there is seemingly ample opportunity for white identity politics. A week before the election, a Wall Street Journal analysis of census data found that in the GOP primary, Trump had captured 80 percent of counties that had experienced the most rapid demographic change in recent years. “At the very least, at the sub-national level in various states Trumpism will stay alive,” said Mudde. “A pure white strategy will still be the way forward in many Midwestern and Southern states. Many of the politicians in those regions will become more accepting of Breitbart. We’ll see more synergy between those alt-right groups and politicians.”
In the waning days of the presidential election, Anglin primed his readers to prepare for an inevitable Trump victory, seizing on FBI director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress of ongoing inquiries into Clinton’s emails. (“I knew James Comey was a pretty cool guy...,” Anglin wrote.) It was a characteristically dangerous gambit by Anglin. Raising the hopes of Trump supporters will only fuel their anger should their candidate lose and confirm their conviction that the election is rigged. Anglin was doing his best to inflame that conspiracy, too, trying to convince reporters that he planned to send an army of white nationalists to watch the polls. But in a way, the prospect of a Trump defeat held its own appeal for him. “Honestly, it’s better for us as a movement if [Clinton] wins,” Anglin wrote. “Everyone is going to be extremely angry and looking for answers and they will come directly to us.”
Where they go after that is the problem.
Story - Luke O'Brien
Luke is a contributing writer for Highline.
Illustration - Mariano Pascual
Mariano is a graphic designer and illustrator from Argentina, currently based in Barcelona.
Creative Direction & Design - Sandra Garcia
Sandra is the creative director for Highline.
Development & Design - Gladeye
Gladeye is a New Zealand-based digital design agency.
Richard Spencer: Twitter; Andrew Anglin: Twitter; Matthew Heimbach: Michael M. Reaves for The Washington Post/Getty Images; Hat: Getty Images; Steve Bannon: Carlo Allegri/Reuters; Milo Yiannopoulos: Facebook; Cover background: Frank Pali/Getty Images