Ten days before the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year, Paul Walsh was telling fellow neo-Nazis how to build and carry shields. “Carrying it like that it will flop around and be a pain in the ass,” Walsh scolded a member of his chat group, who suggested a hands-free shield modification.
How did Walsh know how a shield would work in action? “I do a lot of nerdy LARP [live action role play] shit with shields,” he explained.
He wasn’t kidding. Before Unite the Right, Walsh was an active participant in Dagorhir, a medieval fantasy role-playing game in which players dress as knights or orcs (one of Walsh’s preferred costumes) and bash the hell out of each other with foam swords. Nor was he alone. Since the 19th Century, white supremacists have bought into a fictionalized vision of medieval Europe, which they interpret—incorrectly, according to medieval scholars—as an all-white world. Now, with white supremacist extremism on the rise, those medievalist influences are leaking into the real world, from allegations of neo-Nazism in the LARPing community and the professional sword-fighting realm, to Renaissance Faire-loving bombers and fascist cults who encourage recruits to read Lord of the Rings.