Three weeks ahead of the coming apocalypse, Matthew Heimbach knew that violence was a real possibility in Charlottesville, Va.
A prominent white nationalist who’d squared off with leftist counterprotesters before, Heimbach said the group he was leading into Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park would be prepared: helmets and shields. And a security wing of his fringe political party would openly carry weapons.
Standing in the middle of an Indiana forest where he sometimes films propaganda videos, Heimbach cast himself and his cause — the defense of white heritage — in the most romantic of terms.
“I know — and my wife knows — whenever I go to an event, like the ancient Spartan wives used to tell their husbands, come back with your shield — or on it. And my family knows this will likely cost me my life or freedom in this system we are fighting.”
…A portly, bookish man with a jet-black beard and rimless eyeglasses, Heimbach’s appearance is less of a Spartan warrior than a member of a college debate team.
The story of how Heimbach arrived in Charlottesville — and how he’s come to peddle his ideology from a home base in Indiana — reveals much about members of the white nationalist movement. And it also helps explain why they are no longer content to vent their anger solely online, but feel emboldened to parade their anger through the middle of American cities.
Aug. 12, which some white nationalists have come to refer to as the Battle of Charlottesville, was to be a date when they made a stand. And in the middle of it was Heimbach, dressed in black, wearing a Nazi-style combat helmet, about to enter a street fight with counterprotesters from the extreme left.
Heimbach wasn’t a main organizer in Charlottesville, but he was among a short roll of leaders scheduled to speak. More broadly, Heimbach is considered a leading figure in the movement. Recently, the Anti-Defamation League listed him among the Who’s Who of the alt-right. And at least one observer has likened Heimbach to a man who was the face of white supremacy a generation ago.
“He’s the next David Duke,” said Ryan Lenz, a senior investigative writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. Duke is a former imperial wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Today’s “movement” has several faces, and Heimbach’s keeps showing up more than most.
“Matt Heimbach is the constant glad-hander of the radical right because there is not an organization that he is not associated with or rubs shoulders with or sought to build alliances with,” said Lenz.
“He kind of bridges the gap between the intellectual racists and the neo-Nazis. And he’s done that for some time,” said Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism…
Alt-right. White nationalist. White supremacist. The terms are overlapping, if not interchangeable. At the heart of them all, says George Hawley, author of “Making Sense of the Alt-Right,” are two things: A devotion to white nationalism and an intense antipathy toward Jews.
Both criteria apply to Heimbach.
Heimbach wants to end racial strife in America — and arguments over history and heritage — not by bringing people together, but by separating them further apart. He dreams of an America carved into separate ethnostates. Whites, perhaps, would occupy the upper South, the Midwest and Appalachia. Blacks would occupy the deep South. Hispanics would be in the Southwest. And those from biracial families or interested in multicultural living could have the coastal areas and the big cities. In these “ethnostates,” the schools, churches and workplaces would be racially monolithic. Police forces would look like their communities.
Where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of children of different races seated together at the table of brotherhood, Heimbach would prefer they lived in different time zones. “Obviously America has failed,” he says. “One size fits none. Nobody is really happy. This isn’t just for whites. This is for everyone.”
As much as he sees race as a problem, Heimbach is just as quick to point the finger at Jews. He sees Jews as manipulating the controls of American finance, politics and media. He blames Jews for pushing America toward a pro-Israel foreign policy that leads to foreign wars and, at home, for pushing civil rights, gay rights and abortion rights. Jews, Heimbach said, “are against the best interests of my people.”
Heimbach’s distrust of Jews extends to the Holocaust. He doesn’t accept the historic fact that 6 million Jews died under the rule of Nazi Germany. Heimbach puts the number at less than 200,000, and says most died from disease and hunger. “So what I would say about Adolf Hitler,” he says, when asked, “is that he is the most lied-about man of the 20th century.”