THE BILLIONAIRE AND THE BIGOTS
HOW DONALD TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN BROUGHT WHITE NATIONALISTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS
BY ALEX ALTMAN
TIME, APRIL 25, 2016
The men eased past the picketers and police barricades, through a security-studded lobby and up to the eighth floor of a federal building named for Ronald Reagan. Inside an airy rotunda, guests in jackets and ties mingled over pork sliders and seafood tacos served by black waiters in tuxedos. There were celebratory speeches during dinner, crème brûlée for dessert. Apart from the racial epithets wafting around the room, the Saturday-night banquet seemed more like a wedding reception than a meeting of white nationalists. The event was sponsored by the National Policy Institute (NPI), a tiny think tank based in Arlington, Va., dedicated to the advancement of “people of European descent.” NPI publishes pseudo-scientific tracts with titles like “Race Differences in Intelligence,” runs a blog called Radix Journal (sample post: “My Hate Group Is Different Than Your Hate Group”) and holds conferences on topics like immigration and identity politics. This time it had gathered a group of 150 sympathizers in downtown Washington to discuss what the rise of Donald Trump has meant for the far right. Since the start of the 2016 campaign, Trump has built a broad coalition of supporters, attracting voters with his forceful personality and his willingness to challenge party doctrine. And while the vast majority are driven by reasons other than race, Trump has also emerged as a hero to white nationalists. “Trump has energized us,” says Richard Spencer, president of NPI. For the first time since George Wallace in 1968, far-right activists in the U.S. are migrating toward mainstream electoral politics, stepping out of the shadows to attend rallies, offer endorsements and serve as volunteers. “It’s bound to happen,” Spencer says of white nationalists’ running for office one day.
“Not as conservatives but as Trump Republicans.”
Extremists have latched on to Trump as a rallying cry and recruiting tool. Attendance at NPI events has jumped 75% over the past year, Spencer says.
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THE ALT RIGHT
A billionaire mogul from multicultural Manhattan makes an unlikely tribune for a white-grievance movement. But in more than a dozen interviews, extremists described why they feel galvanized by Trump’s candidacy. They love his calls for walling of the southern border and barring Muslim immigration. They find his salvos against political correctness refreshing. And they interpret his laments of national decline as a dog whistle about demographic change.
Now they’re hoping a powerful and ubiquitous messenger can spread their ideas. “It used to be that nobody would say these things,” says Richard, a Maryland resident in his 20s wearing a wispy beard and a black knit tie. “Trump has opened the door to nationalism in this country—not American nationalism but the white race. Once that door has fully swung open, you can’t close it.”
Trump’s ascendancy comes at a moment of reinvention for the far right. A new generation of leaders like NPI’s Spencer are trying to recast white nationalism as a 21st century movement steeped in social media. The NPI meeting was dominated by young men under 30, many of whom said they were part of an online network known as the Alt (for Alternative) Right. Originally rooted in antipathy to mainstream conservatism, the Alt Right has morphed over the past year into a virtual pro-Trump army. It’s a loose collection of furies who range from provocative Twitter trolls to white-rights activists, garden-variety anti-Semites, proto-fascists and overt neo-Nazis.
Like any other movement that peddles belonging to the alienated, the Alt Right has developed its own lexicon. The protesters holding anti-racist signs on the sidewalk below were classic “SJWs” (a derisive acronym for social-justice warriors). Establishment Republicans are known as “cuckservatives,” a term designed to connote emasculation. Both groups fall into the category of people whom members of the Alt Right refer to on Twitter and in blogs like the Right Stuff as “ovenworthy.”
Though they often disagree on tone and tactics, members of the Alt Right are bound by a few core beliefs. They regard most Republican politicians as Zionist puppets, captive to corporations seeking cheap labor. They tend to be protectionist on trade, isolationist on foreign policy and unmoved by cornerstone conservative issues like free markets or the Constitution. They reject the benefits of diversity and view demographic trends as an existential threat.
Over $10 cocktails at the NPI event, white nationalists described U.S. population dynamics with a sense of dread. “In a democracy, the majority rules,” said Jefrey, a 27-year-old soap entrepreneur from Louisiana. “If we become a minority in our own country, we will be stripped of our power.” Others suggested that they could face systemic persecution if white birthrates remain low and immigration isn’t curtailed.
“Diversity brings differences, and sometimes those differences are so irreconcilable, they cause conflict,” said Nathan Damigo, a 29-year-old student from Oakdale, Calif., who blogs about incidents of alleged anti-white bias. To Damigo, a former Marine who fought on the sectarian battle fields of Iraq, the rise of a candidate like Trump was inevitable. “This is what happens in all multiracial, multi-religious, multiethnic societies,” he said. “Identity politics trumps everything else.”
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THE WHITE ETHNOSTATE
Richard Spencer is ready to seize the moment. Spencer, 37, has devoted much of his adult life to forging a new path for white nationalism. “We need to present ourselves as serious and attractive,” he explains. “The type of people who can rule a country one day.”
Spencer is clean-cut, polite and solicitous. He spends his days on Twitter and Slack and peppers his paragraphs with academic jargon picked up during postgraduate studies at Duke and the University of Chicago. At the NPI meeting, where the tables were decorated with images of Trump’s golden mane, he wore a dark suit, a purple vest over a pink dress shirt and a distinctive haircut—shaved on the sides, longish on top—that has been widely mimicked by white nationalists.
Spencer strives to soften the edges of his ideology. He says he rejects white supremacy and considers slavery “abhorrent.” He calls himself an “identitarian,” a belief system that emphasizes racial identity and has much more in common with European far-right movements than anything cooked up by William F. Buckley and his cohort. But the preppy demeanor belies a radical vision: the establishment of a whites-only “ethnostate.”
It’s still just a fantasy, Spencer admits. But he’s not wrong to suggest that the rise of Trump, coupled with demographic trends and social crosscurrents, has imbued this cause with new momentum. The Black Lives Matter movement that took root in Ferguson, Mo., has fed a broader white-persecution complex. About 4 in 10 Americans—and nearly 75% of Trump supporters—say discrimination against whites is now as big a problem as discrimination against blacks, according to a November study by the Public Religion Research Institute.
Attempts to stifle free speech on college campuses—where students seek out “safe spaces” and complain that chalking “Trump 2016” on the quad is an act of intimidation—seem to validate the candidate’s jeremiads against political correctness. Meanwhile, the GOP’s perpetual pursuit of policies like free trade, entitlement cuts and lower taxes for the wealthy has widened the gulf between party bosses and the base. “Conservatism is committing suicide,” Spencer says. “We want to fill that space.”
In the age of Trump, the emergence of a new nationalist third party no longer seems impossible. The GOP front runner has shattered so many taboos, smashed so many conservative idols, that to Spencer it feels as if a movement rooted in race and identity, rather than the Constitution and capitalism, is gathering steam. It may take years of fitful progress, he predicts, capped by some seismic shock—a sudden war, a stock-market crash. Or maybe just the arrival of a candidate like Donald Trump.