Aug 10, 2018

“Racial dissidents have lost the ability to organize openly”: Alt-rightists on Trump, ICE, and what is to be done

This report was written on July 29, 2018 and updated on August 5, 2018. Originally published in Insurgent Notes.

The alt-right, or alternative right, represents the most recent major upsurge of far right politics in the United States. Blending white nationalism, misogyny, and aggressive social media activism, alt-rightists helped put Donald Trump in the White House and proclaimed themselves the vanguard of the Trump coalition. Although they never believed Trump shared their politics, most of them hoped he would buy time and political space with which they could further their own goal of a white ethno-state.

Some alt-rightists say ICE is "repelling
the barbarians." Others call federal agents
a "hostile occupation force."
In 2017 alt-rightists made a push to broaden their scope and impact by linking up with more traditional neonazi forces and expanding their activism from the internet to physical rallies and street violence. But since the brutal August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, at which one antifascist counterprotester was killed, the alt-right has suffered a series of setbacks. Several major alt-right websites have been forced to find new platforms or shut down entirely, infighting and personal conflicts have weakened the movement, and antifascist mobilizations have blocked their mobilizing drive. In addition, as Trump embraced conventional conservative positions and priorities on many issues (from cutting corporate taxes to bombing Syria) and pushed out several of his more “America First”-oriented advisors (such as Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon) many alt-rightists became increasingly alienated from Trump. Some declared that he has been bought off or blackmailed by Jewish elites, while others held out hope that his populist-nationalist tendencies could still win out.

Recent actions by Trump (launching trade wars against China and the EU, criticizing NATO allies, and holding friendly meetings with Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin) have reintensified his conflict with the conservative establishment, while the crackdown on undocumented immigrants has made his administration look more nativist and authoritarian than ever. How have alt-rightists responded to these developments? In this article I’ll explore alt-rightists’ current outlook, focusing on three issues: attitudes toward Trump, responses to the border crackdown and law enforcement more broadly, and political strategy in a time of weakness.

In broad terms, the alt-right’s views on Trump fall in between those of the Patriot movement (which appears to be squarely behind him) and neonazi groups unaffiliated with the alt-right (which are generally hostile). Alt-rightists like the steps Trump has taken to restrict immigration and punish immigrants, but wish he would go a lot further. Applauding the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Trump’s third ban on travel from majority Muslim countries, Hubert Collins of American Renaissance called on him to ban immigration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Jamaica, claiming that “such a ban would save lives and slow the displacement of white Americans.” Identity Evropa (arguably the most successful effort to move alt-right politics from the internet to real world organizing) simply called on the president and Congress to end all immigration to the United States.

Writers at Occidental Dissent have been generally scathing in their assessment of Trump’s administration. Marcus Cicero, for example, wrote, “We were promised isolation and got further Middle Eastern conflict, we were promised a protectionist economy and got watered down free trade, we were promised sealed borders and a wall and got hordes of feral Mestizos, and we were promised realpolitik and got slavish devotion to Israel.” Brad Griffin, Occidental Dissent’s founder who blogs under the name Hunter Wallace, agreed with Mitt Romney (an establishment conservative loathed by alt-rightists) that Trump’s actions in his first year as president were very similar to what Romney himself would have done. But even Griffin and Cicero have praised a few of Trump’s actions, such as ending Obama-era affirmative action policies and holding peace talks with North Korea’s Kim. [8]

In contrast, Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer has tended to downplay his criticisms of Trump. “I know his faults. I know there are Jews in his office. I know he bombed Syria. Twice.... But when I watch these rallies, my heart is saying ‘there’s the leader of my people, he is fighting to protect us.’” And further: “what he is doing, at least with the rallies and the tone, is Fascist in spirit. He is authoritarian, nationalist, and anti-liberal. The racial element isn’t there yet explicitly, but it certainly is there implicitly.”

As a rule, alt-rightists have been strongly supportive of the Trump administration’s border crackdown and “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Hubert Collins declared that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) protects Americans against foreign criminals and deserves full support. Many alt-rightists, like Patriot movement activists and other Trump supporters, have deflected criticisms of ICE’s family separation policy by turning pro-family arguments against ICE’s critics. American Renaissance wrote of “illegals” “using children as human shields” and dismissed criticisms Trump’s border policy as “hysteria” and “liberal viciousness.” Huntley Haverstock of Counter-Currents, drawing on the manosphere-type misogyny that has become standard across the alt-right, declared that news media sound clips of immigrant children crying for their parents represented “emotional abuse against women” – more specifically, an “attempt to hijack women’s hindbrains and override all possibility of rational thought” because “ the sound of crying has such a powerful mammalian impact on women that it can literally cause them to lactate.” Haverstock called this supposed physiological reaction healthy and positive in the right context, but in a political context it was “an argument against giving women the vote.”

However, alt-right discussions regarding ICE have gone well beyond these sort of reflexive attacks on immigrant rights politics. Anglin proclaimed that ICE is Trump’s “Praetorian Guard,” the only non-corrupt federal enforcement agency, which the president will use to implement martial law and impose a dictatorship. As with many of Anglin’s statements, it’s hard to know to what extent he was being serious and to what extent he was just mixing wishful thinking with provocation for its own sake. In contrast, VDare columnist Federale has long argued that ICE is a sham immigration enforcement agency that actually prefers to target non-immigrants. R. Houck of Counter-Currents went much further, declaring that all police and federal law enforcement agencies are part of a “hostile occupation force” and “are used first and foremost to protect Jewish interests.” Reversing the arguments of Black Lives Matter activists, Houck claimed that police actually are more likely to use deadly force against whites than blacks, and that “all bias in policing is in fact against the white race.” These assertions, aimed to counteract many rightists’ pro-police sentiments, highlight the difference between system-loyal and oppositional versions of right-wing politics.

The alt-right’s setbacks of the past year and misgivings about Trump have spurred some members to take a sober look at the movement’s strategic prospects. Many Republicans are predicting an electoral triumph this November and see the recent victory of democratic socialist Alexandia Ocasio-Cortez in a New York congressional primary as proof that the Democratic Party is out of touch with most voters. American Renaissance’s Gregory Hood disagreed, and, like other alt-rightists, his political hostility extended not just to liberals and leftists, but also to conservatives:
Despite (or because of) media coverage, racial dissidents have lost the ability to organize openly, while the socialist Left has gained in strength.... The established conservative movement has largely cheered this process. The Trump victory did not lead to a more welcoming environment for identitarians within the GOP but increased scrutiny and barriers.
In contrast, the DSA [Democratic Socialists of America] has the most powerful combination in politics—revolutionary cachet combined with support from the power structure.
*          *          *
The Republican message of ‘economic growth’ is uninspiring compared to the Democrats’ racial socialism, especially when corporate America and economic elites are more favorably disposed towards multiculturalism than they are to Trump-style nationalism. Unless President Trump can truly transform the GOP into the ‘Workers Party’ as he promised during the campaign, it’s unlikely his coalition will last.
In this climate, Hood urged white nationalists “not to daydream about Donald Trump’s ‘Red Tide,’ but to build institutions to ensure our people’s survival in the years when whites will be living under an occupation government.” [16]

Writing from a similar perspective, James Lawrence of Counter-Currents dismissed hopes that large masses of whites will embrace white nationalism and rise up against the established power structure as “alt-right victory fantasies.” He urged alt-rightists to learn from how twentieth-century fascist movements achieved power. Using Robert O. Paxton’s analysis in The Anatomy of Fascism (which is also a favorite among many critics of the right), Lawrence drew a number of lessons, including these:
  • “The fascist experience...illustrates the importance, yet also the limitations, of metapolitical action,” i.e., a “process of mental preparation going back decades, in which the failings of liberalism and democracy were exposed and the decline of Western civilization was discussed. This smoothed the way for the creation of fascist movements in the wake of the Great War, but did not guarantee their success.”
  • “successful fascist movements must cultivate not only the masses but also the vested interests of society. They must be encouraged, or at least tolerated, by an established ruling elite focused on the greater threat from leftist revolution.”
  • fascism “cannot be recreated in the present era…. The modern avatar of leftist revolution is not a military threat from beyond the frontier [such as the USSR in the 1920s], but a political enemy ensconced in every official institution, and it is now the ‘antifa’ and ‘SJWs’ who enjoy judicial leniency and elite patronage.”
  • “Of the three stages of fascist pathbreaking, the only one available to us right now is metapolitics…. This can never induce the masses to rise up and replace that oligarchy of their own accord, but it can ensure that they become convinced of its illegitimacy and unwilling to react strongly against threats to its power. That is the first step from which all others must follow."
Lawrence and Hood’s pessimistic but reasoned call for alt-rightists to prepare for many years of base-building stands in stark contrast to Anglin’s glib optimism, in which Donald Trump serves as a deus ex machina for the movement’s own failings. These are two sides of the same movement. Today the alt-right is significantly weaker and more isolated than it was a year ago. However, it has bolstered supremacist violence, expanded the space for hardline rightists in mainstream politics, and demonstrated the political power of internet memes and coordinated online attacks. The alt-right remains a significant political force, which could either rebound or pave the way for other incarnations of far right politics. Andrew Anglin and other in-your-face trolls have been the most public face of past alt-right efforts. But in the years ahead, it is strategic thinkers such as Hood and Lawrence who represent a greater threat.

Addendum – A note about Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer
I want to add some brief comments about Patriot Prayer (PP) and Proud Boys (PB) in light of the August 4th confrontation in Portland, Oregon, when a Patriot Prayer rally faced off against a larger counterprotest—until the counterprotesters were violently attacked by police.

Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer and Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys were both founded in 2016 as part of the wave of right-wing enthusiasm surrounding candidate Donald Trump. The two organizations are not identical, but they represent similar politics and have become closely intertwined. They offer a slightly sanitized version of right-wing racism. Both organizations have longstanding close ties with white nationalists and are staunchly anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, yet they disavow explicit white supremacist ideology and include small numbers of people of color as members. Both groups uphold patriarchal ideology and glorify political violence.

Unlike alt-rightists and other white nationalists, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer do not advocate a white ethno-state or a radical break with the U.S. political system. Rather, they want to reassert white male dominance within the existing system. As “The Grouch” put it on the antifascist website Its Going Down: “what they want most of all is to be called on by the State in order to attack perceived enemies of the existing social order. Chiefly this means social movements in the streets, but also journalists who are critical of Trump (or the Proud Boys and the far-Right), migrants, people of color, queer and trans people, and so on.” Unlike the alt-right, Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are solidly and unambivalently pro-Trump.

Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys are currently engaged in a drive to rebuild the kind of broad coalition of right-wing streetfighters that operated for several months in 2017. This coalition encompassed alt-rightists, neonazi skinheads, and other white nationalists, alongside “alt-lite” Trump supporters and Patriot movement activists. The effort fell apart in the wake of Charlottesville, amid in-fighting, deplatforming by media companies, and mass antifascist resistance. So far the revival of a right-wing streetfighting force has been limited to the Pacific Northwest. Continued militant opposition is needed to shut it down and keep it from spreading.

The August 4th events in Portland, like previous confrontations, indicate a close, friendly relationship between Patriot Prayer/Proud Boys and the police. As The Grouch commented, despite the fact that militant rightists are perpetrating more violence than their opponents, police look on right-wingers “as a group of victims, and anyone that stands up to them as instead a group of criminals and terrorists.” System-loyal right-wing groups such as Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer are better positioned to develop a collaborative relationship with the police than alt-rightists or neonazis, who don’t accept the existing system as legitimate. However, the intricate ties between Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys on one hand and white nationalists on the other underscores that we can’t treat the dividing line between system-loyal right and oppositional right as rigid or fixed. This is a dynamic situation, and I would not want to predict how things will develop from here.

Photo credit: A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent making an arrest,  30 November 2014. Public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

1 comments:

James Scaminaci III said...

I do not envy having to make a net assessment of the strength of the Alt-Right movement, given that it is made up of several strands of ideology.


One aspect that has made the Alt-Right and the neo-Nazi movements weaker has been deplatforming. One booster of the Alt-Right, Alex Jones's Infowars, has been kicked off Facebook, Apple, and YouTube. This development is significant, if it is maintained.


One of the more salient points you raised here and in your book is how much strength these movements had online. Gamergate was one episode. But, their strength on Twitter, coupled with Russian meme war, bots, and botnets, drove media coverage of the mainstream. Twitter is essentially their last bastion of online strength. Maybe YouTube because I'm not sure how much they have been deplatformed on YouTube which promotes and makes trend conspiracy theories.


In essence, under pressure from the Left, progressives, and even some conservatives, there is an evolving sense that there is a very broad normative center of discourse and that hate speech and conspiracy theories from the fringe will not be tolerated on private corporate platforms. Back in the 1960s, the barrier was more difficult to breach given that the norms of speech were stronger and mainstream media platforms were fewer and more publicly regulated.


But, there are at least two other battlespaces. One, is the Trump administration. Trump, of course. But, Stephen Miller is bureaucratically enacting a white nationalist agenda to limit refugees and immigrants.


Two, the Christian Right is a major proponent of delegitimizing the federal government. It plays up religious persecution which is implicity, in their view, white evangelical Christian. They play up that they are under cultural attack from "cultural Marxists." While the Christian Right is not explicitly white, it implicitly pushes white victimhood.


Christian nationalism has emerged as the strongest predictor of voting for Trump and holding anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim views, above and beyond being a conservative, a Republican, or attending church frequently.


Perhaps an open question is under what circumstances, if any, would the Christian Right become explicitly about advancing white interests.


One of the real strengths of your book is that you include the Christian Right, the smaller Christian Reconstructionists, and the New Apostolic Reformation in your consideration.


We have seen this apparent lack of attention on the Christian Right in the 1990s. The ADL and SPLC focused on the pitifully small, nearly bankrupt Christian Identity movement and ignored the massive Information Warfare infrastructure of the Christian Right, their planning for and operationalizing the Patriot militia, and their steady takeover of the Republican Party. Some scholars now consider the GOP to be an "outlier" in the political system since it rejects the legitimacy of the Democratic Party.


I think the strength of the Alt-Right and neo-Nazi movements is the degree to which they can push the Trump administration, Fox News (a third battlespace), and the Christian Right to be: (1) more anti-system and (2) more pro-white.


There are so many moving pieces now that net assessments are difficult. But, if they lose in the streets and online, then the threat will more likely come from the Christian Right.