A WEEK AND A HALF after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Jason Reza Jorjani took the stage at a white supremacist conference in Washington, D.C. Richard Spencer gave him an awkward hug and pat on the back before he shuffled to the podium and spoke into the microphone.
“In light of the outcome of the recent election, in which I think the rise of the ‘alt-right’ was the decisive factor,” Jorjani said, “it is especially meaningful for me to be here with you as the leader of what is frankly the most significant press in the ‘alt-right.’”
Jorjani and Spencer had not met in person until that November weekend at the conference, hosted by the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist “think tank.” The weekend was spiked with occasional Nazi salutes. Just the month before, Jorjani had become the editor-in-chief of Arktos Media, a publishing imprint for some of the most canonical texts of the far right. They soon combined forces in a shared office in a spacious loft in Alexandria, Virginia. To end any confusion over what the “alt-right” movement stood for and who its leaders were, Spencer, Jorjani, and Arktos chief executive Daniel Friberg launched the AltRight Corporation.
But as quickly as Jorjani rose within the far right’s ranks, so too did he fall. A year ago, the “alt-right” was in a campaign to rebrand white supremacy as an intellectually sophisticated movement, backed by a troll army. Yet in 2017, the far right saw its most publicly violent year full of street protests. Spencer himself seemed to have traded his glossy “think tank” networking events, like the one Jorjani appeared at, for white supremacist rallies. Spencer’s “college tour” began in 2016, according to Spencer, as a project of “intellectual activity” — but it frequently served to provide opportunity for his followers to publicly gather and shout “white power,” throw Nazi salutes into the air, and engage in violent battles with counterprotesters.
In their earlier days, Jorjani and his business partners had tried to perfume their brownshirt musings as a style of opposition intellectualism worthy of fair debate in the public sphere. When I first met Jorjani in December 2016, at the height of his rise in the far right, he proudly told me, “What happened is that a hyperintellectual, vanguardist movement used a U.S. presidential election to advance its agenda.” Over a plate of fesenjan, an Iranian stewed meat dish, and jeweled rice, he added, “The ‘alt-right’ doesn’t work for Donald Trump, it doesn’t work for the Republican Party, it doesn’t work for masses of Republican voters, and it certainly doesn’t work for evangelical Republicans.”