By Luke O’Brien
Illustrations By Mariano Pascual
November 3, 2016
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.
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.
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 operatives 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.
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.”
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.
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, 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.”
Sidebar: Echoes 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.”
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.
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.
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 [Being woke means being aware. Knowing whats going on in the community (relating to Racism and Social Injustice)],”
wrote a columnist on The Daily Stormer.
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.
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.”
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.
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