Whether or Not They Realize it, the Alt-Right Have Gotten What They Want
On Wednesday morning, the Washington Post published an article that quoted three infamous American white supremacists regarding their thoughts on the weekend’s heinous, anti-Semitic mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. These far-rightists “lament” the mass murder that took place because, they claim, it might deter far-right ideologies from gaining ground in the mainstream. The irony — regardless of whether it helps their cause — is that they appear not to be having any issues getting their voices heard in the mainstream, in the first place: The Washington Post is one of the leading papers in the country.
The article reiterates the three men’s insistence that they are opposed to violence, and makes clear that their position is not necessarily a rejection of the hatred that violence expresses or harm it creates, but because of the way it makes the whole far-right movement look to outsiders. But in broadcasting far-rightists’ attempts at distancing the movement from violence, media outlets — along with institutions like universities who permit student groups to book these figures for speaking events — help circulate a false illusion that has been strategically crafted to make the far-right, as a whole, appear palatable enough to secure its influence in mainstream politics.
This week’s article includes input from three individuals categorized as hate group-aligned “extremists” by the Southern Poverty Law Center: Andrew Anglin (who runs one of the largest Neo-Nazi websites in the world, The Daily Stormer), Richard Spencer (a white nationalist famous for helping to organize the deadly “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017), and Matthew Heimbach (former leader of the now-defunct white nationalist cell called the “Traditionalist Worker Party” who recently went to jail over domestic violence charges).
While Anglin might indeed be frustrated over the specific timing of Saturday’s horrific crime in Pittsburgh, Anglin himself has written about the need to eliminate Jewish people and all other marginalized groups from society. That’s violence. Spencer, too, speaks of “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of non-white people — a total contradiction in terms.
And yet, both Heimbach and Spencer have either planned or embarked on (albeit, highly controversial) college speaking tours in the past year. A Spencer follower sued the University of Cincinnati when the university decided to cancel Spencer’s booked engagement on account of the steep security fees his appearance would require. (Heimbach booked a heavily protested event at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville under the pretense that his “Traditional Worker Party” was a church.)
Spencer has also been treated generously by the media over the last few years. In 2016, as President Trump was campaigning on a platform of banning Muslims and building a border wall separating the US from Mexico, the liberal news and commentary site Mother Jones published a softball profile of Spencer, taking care to mention Spencer’s taste in wine and clothing.
There are innumerable other examples of far-rightists getting a cushy platform from the mainstream. Just last month, the Today show dedicated a segment to the white nationalist cell Identity Evropa’s recruiting efforts. And earlier this week, NBC News reshared a 2017 puff piece the network produced about the violent far-right fraternity the Proud Boys just two weeks after members of the group were shown assaulting protesters in New York City.
Yet the far-right is comprised of more than street brawlers like the Proud Boys and self-styled “intellectuals” like Spencer. Anglin and others may gripe that the mainstream hasn’t made much room for the far-right agenda, but a glance at some of the people who launched midterm campaigns on the GOP ticket demonstrates that’s not true.
Take Steve King, the Republican currently representing Iowa’s 4th Congressional District in the House. King has repeatedly shared content from white nationalists and supremacists on Twitter, made anti-Semitic remarks, and has a history of voting in line with racist and sexist policies. King, who is up for re-election next week and is virtually tied in the polls with his opponent, has been the subject of Anglin’s praise on many occasions. Even in the wake of the anti-Semitic attack in Pittsburgh, King’s supporters were reportedly unconcerned by the similarities between King’s ideology and that of the killer.
There’s also Arthur Jones, an avowed Neo-Nazi who is running on the GOP ticket for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. Jones has virtually no chance of winning, but no Republican in the district ran against him in the primaries, handing him the nomination.
In Missouri, a bigoted Republican candidate for the state’s General Assembly, Steve West, has even been publicly denounced by his children, who are asking the public not to vote for their dad. West has a radio show on which he has repeatedly made anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and other racist statements, according to the Kansas City Star.
And then of course there’s the president himself. Trump has twice publicly referred to himself as “a nationalist,” and has long been denounced as a racist and white supremacist by civil rights advocates. And when it comes to political ideology and policies, it’s hard to get more “mainstream” than the views of the president of the United States.
Trump himself reportedly had to be persuaded by his daughter Ivanka Trump to make remarks condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of the shooting in Pittsburgh, according to the New York Times. He also famously said there were “some very fine people on both sides” following the car attack at “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville.
Many far-rightists do criticize Trump and the GOP for not being extreme enough, but still get excited about Trump policies like the effort to ban Muslims from entering the country, detaining asylum-seeking children in camps operated by prison firms, and the border wall. He’s not necessarily the ideal president for all far-rightists, but the far-right certainly prefers him to any Democrat and other Republicans who they see as too moderate.
So while Anglin gripes about the “bad optics” of 11 slain Jewish people, Spencer claims it is “disappointing and demoralizing” to be associated with the killer, and Heimbach says the murders were “a big negative” for the movement, they were still quoted in a national newspaper. What’s more, they are still seeing permutations of the hatred they espouse come to life on the national political stage.
Given the rise in hate crimes since Trump announced his campaign, new prison camps built on American soil for asylum-seekers including children, threats to end birthright citizenship, and the end of TPS status for several nations, the far-right is doing the best it has in the United States for some time. Whether they realize it or not, they already have what they want: a presence.
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(Images via Win McNamee + Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)