It’s showtime for America’s white-nationalist movement.
Donald Trump and the extreme rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign have created a huge opportunity for some of the farthest-right’s groups to reach new followers, after nearly a decade in the wilderness. “He has disrupted business as usual… he’s uncovered the gulf separating the Republican Party from the people who vote for it… he’s taken celebrity culture and turned it into nationalism,” cries the National Policy Institute, a so-called think tank for white-ists.
While Trump may publicly reject their support, he is certainly helping them when he retweets messages from WhiteGenocideTM, a pro-Hitler Twitter user who has posted interviews with Holocaust deniers and is fervently behind the GOP’s frontrunner.
Also on the coattails: Thom Robb’s Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Arkansas-based group that has recommended Trump’s opposition to brown-skinned immigrants and Muslim refugees as a great conversation-starter. The Occidental Quarterly, a journal of white-nationalist thought, has declared the real estate mogul’s candidacy “a game-changer.” And then there’s the American National Super PAC, which is paying for the wave of robo-calls that are ringing in Iowans’ living rooms in support of Trump.
Phone solicitations likely won’t budge the needle much for the GOP caucuses in Iowa. Yet, they might mean more for the fortunes of these white nationalists. These are no ordinary racists and bigots. They wail that the period of white supremacy and domination has ended in the United States—voting-rights laws and other civil-rights measures that enforced the 14th Amendment’s dictum to bring “equality before the law” sealed that deal for them. Most say they believe “the Jews” disenfranchised whites. Now, with immigration feeding a demographic transformation that will turn white people into a minority alongside other minorities, white-ists fear that it will be near impossible for them to come back to power.
To survive, most of these movement groups say they require a whites-only nation state on a piece of the territory that once constituted the United States. Yet they are divided over a strategy to get there. The political-action types seek a grip on the mainstream of white American thought. Others, like Dylann Roof, who is charged with killing nine black church attendees in Charleston, South Carolina, last June, are “vanguardists,” who prefer to just use guns in hope of starting a race war. (Roof has pleaded not guilty.)
Their moment has seemed ripe. After the Charleston shooting, the battles over the Confederate flag lifted white-ists’ spirits, while Aryan opposition to Black Lives Matter protesters added fuel to their fire. Then along came Trump, with his anti-immigrant nationalist appeals. Finally, after eight years of being overshadowed by gun-rights groups and Tea Partiers, white nationalists are feeling and acting as if their day has finally come.
Case in point: William Daniel Johnson, treasurer of the phone-calling American National Super PAC and a Los Angeles lawyer who has spent decades on the political margins. In 1986, Johnson attended an Aryan Nations Congress in Idaho to promote a strategy to eviscerate the 14th Amendment. He wrote a book on that topic under the pseudonym James Pace. He has run for office twice, yet he apparently has not learned all election laws: At first, he named the PAC to include the word “Trump” in the title—a violation of campaign-finance statues. So, on Dec. 21, 2015, he renamed it. American National still must disclose its donors, but they are free to make individual contributions as large as they want.
The star of the American National robo-calls is Jared Taylor. Raised in Japan by missionary parents and with degrees from Yale and the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, he has become the white-nationalist movement’s man for all seasons. In 1990, he began publishing American Renaissance, a newsletter with a high-minded appeal for old-fashioned white supremacy. But without an explicit anti-Semitic conspiracy theory at its center, American Renaissance did not easily assume a leadership spot. Today, it’s thriving with a new conference business, and Taylor has also become spokesman for the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that descended from Jim Crow-era white Citizens Councils and the group that Dylann Roof singled out as his inspiration in his pre-Charleston Web manifesto. Taylor’s spot on Johnson’s PAC robo-calls can only add heft to that enterprise, too.
Johnson is also chairman of the American Freedom Party (AFP), and his support of Trump may be intended to ultimately support that electoral organization. Also among the AFP’s leadership: director Kevin MacDonald, a retired U-Cal, Long Beach psychology professor whose scholarship focused largely on Jews, and he is considered an erudite anti-Semite in the mainstream world. These days, he serves as editor at Occidental Observer, a white-nationalist Web-based publication with an anti-Semitic twist.
Also in the AFP leadership is Robert Whitaker. A Capitol Hill insider during the Reagan era, Whitaker came to far-right notoriety when he edited 1982’s The New Right Papers, a collection that included essays from men who would become propagandists and generals in the white-nationalist world in the 1980s and 1990s. But Whitaker is better known as the AFP’s candidate for president for 2016. It is that fact that makes Johnson’s super PAC support for Trump the most interesting. If Trump does not become the Republican nominee, the American Freedom Party may be able to roll some of Trump’s supporters into its own corner. The AFP, like all small third parties bound by ballot-access rules, usually runs a miserable campaign. They can use all the help they can get.
Not all white-ists support Trump, of course. Most prominent among his critics has been David Duke, the national socialist ideologue who twice won a majority of white votes in Louisiana while running as a Republican. Duke likes Trump’s immigrant-bashing, but not his friendship and association with Jews. Similarly, the American Free Press tabloid, which once promoted Holocaust-denial conferences, does not wholly support Trump.
But the fascination with Trump won’t end in Iowa and New Hampshire. On March 5, the first Saturday after the Super Tuesday primaries, the far-right National Policy Institute will discuss The Donald at its winter meeting in Washington, D.C. Richard Spencer , the NPI’s leader, will headline the proceedings. Young, well-educated, and connected, Spencer represents the white-nationalist movement’s future. (MacDonald, the AFP director, is also among the speakers.) NPI hosts intelligent talk sessions, but it is difficult to imagine anything concrete emerging from that conversation.
To be sure, white nationalists have a long way to go from an election campaign to a white republic. Ultimately, white-ist strategies will also include battles over Confederate memorials, armed militias, and takeovers like the federal Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation in eastern Oregon. The year to come will be full of new challenges—and far more dangers, too.