Nazi salutes are even too much for one white supremacist.
William Johnson, an early white nationalist supporter of Donald Trump, sent a letter to dozens of media outlets on Tuesday telling another Trump-loving member of the alt-right to quit embarrassing their movement.
Johnson took aim at Richard Spencer after a video, shot by The Atlantic, emerged from a Washington, D.C. conference over the weekend where Spencer was seen leading a room in chants of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” while some made the Nazi salute.
White nationalists had already exulted in Trump's hiring of Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon as the mastermind of Trump’s campaign in the final months of the election, seeing him as a kindred spirit who will now serve as White House Senior Strategist. Bannon has come under fire for stories of alleged anti-Semitism and his own popularization of the alt-right on his website, which he called a "platform for the alt-right."
“Knock it off!” the letter begins. “Any of your positive discussions on the decline of Western Civilization is obscured by the offensive imagery displayed at the DC Ronald Reagan Building and at Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant afterwards. You may refer to the stiff-armed greetings as the ‘Roman Salute’ but only about 10 professors of history will catch that comparison. Or you may claim that your 'Hail Trump' is nothing more than 'Hail fellow well met,' but only about 10 professors of English follow that line of reasoning. All the American public sees is imagery from a hated regime of 75 years ago. Nazi chic may currently be all the rage in Bangkok, but this isn’t Thailand.”
The disturbing visuals, Johnson acknowledged, are a bad look for a movement trying to make mainstream gains under a Trump administration while manipulating the media to cover them as just another faction of the Republican Party.
“Last Sunday, I was asked to appear on i24news (a well-respected Israeli news show) to opine on Trump’s cabinet picks,” Johnson continues. “I was not appearing as a circus-clown sideshow act as has been the case for the last 35 years, but instead, as a (quasi) legitimate talking head. So, I telephoned Steve Bannon’s personal friend and Breitbart News’s in-house legal counsel, Joel Pollak. Joel is a card-carrying, yarmulke-wearing orthodox Jew. I wanted him to give me the skinny on what Trump nominees would be good for Israel. Joel excoriated me on the phone and by a subsequent email saying that he wanted nothing to do with me. This is so even though many of our views dovetail. The reason he was so mean is because of the imagery you are promoting.”
A source familiar with the exchange said that Pollak was unaware of Johnson’s ideas when he was contacted. Pollak allegedly then Googled Johnson and subsequently made it clear that he and Breitbart did not share his views and did not wish to associate with him. Pollak was not even sure as to how Johnson got his number.
In his letter, Johnson goes on to say that he intended on using Pollak to help influence decisions made by Bannon.
“I also wanted Joel to put the very important bug in Steve Bannon’s ear that, as a way to counter judicial activism, President Trump should consider invoking what is called ‘the Departmental Theory of Constitutional Interpretation’ which provides that all three departments of the national government have an equal power to interpret the constitution,” Johnson says. “I couldn’t do that! Why? Because of the imagery you are promoting.”
Johnson was behind a pro-Trump, homophobic attack robocall directed at independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin in Utah. This came months after he resigned from his position as a California delegate for the RNC over the summer, after Mother Jones exposed his involvement. The Trump campaign attributed his appearance on the list to a database error.
Johnson claimed in the letter that Spencer had criticized his previous robocalls on behalf of Trump. When reached by email, Spencer told The Daily Beast that he hasn’t seen the letter and did not respond to a follow up question about his thoughts on the accusations when sent the content of the letter.
“The last two times we met, you criticized me for all the robocalls that I did and told me to stop lest I hurt Donald Trump’s campaign. While I admit the anti-McMullin robocall to Utah was (for me) uncharacteristically mean, it is said to be the single most effective ad in delivering a battleground state to Donald Trump, and by an overwhelming margin at that.”
There is no proof that the robocall made any difference in Utah.
Johnson finishes by acknowledging that the term “alt-right” has, in fact, allowed white nationalists to begin to normalize their ideas—so long as they do not give Nazi salutes.
“The term ‘alt right’ has given us a start-over moniker on which we can build a solid, positive reputation, but if you don’t rein in the negative National Socialist, leftist imagery, we will be viewed as that oblivious person driving a Ford Galaxy with his right turn signal on while turning left.”
The future of the movement, as Johnson sees it, is an inherent ability to take supremacist ideas and inject them into a mainstream dialogue—something that's much easier with Trump as president and Spencer not sounding like Joseph Goebbels.