William Daniel Johnson is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles.
He’s 54 years old with neatly styled silver hair and a kind of authoritatively quiet voice. He also serves as chairman of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group he co-founded. And he absolutely loves Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump isn’t governed by handlers,” Johnson told me over the phone from his law office. “He shoots from the hip and he speaks forthrightly. He does not care what public opinion is.”
Johnson, who requested that he not be referred to as a neo-Nazi in this article, is listed under the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Extremist Files,” notably for proposing a 1985 constitutional amendment that would have revoked the American citizenship of every non-white inhabitant of the United States.
“No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race,” the language of the amendment read. “Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”
In Johnson’s words, the United States is facing a threat to “the continued existence of Western civilization,” with immigrants displacing whites throughout the world. The only person who seems equipped to ensure that the white race can thrive at the top once again is a golden-haired real estate magnate by the name of Trump.
“I was not a supporter of the man until the positions made me a convert,” Johnson said, describing how he was swayed by Trump’s promises of a wall separating the United States and Mexico and a new plan to ban all Muslims from entering the country. For the quarter of a century during which Johnson was aware of Trump before these proposals, he wasn’t a huge fan. Now, he said, “I admire what he’s doing very much.”
Still, Johnson doesn’t want to hear Trump—despite his strong leadership skills and penchant for xenophobia—compared to Adolf Hitler. “We eschew any reference to Adolf Hitler,” he said.
The slight problem for Johnson, in his political capacity, is that the American Freedom Party has its own presidential candidate. The portly, blue-eyed Bob Whitaker is the party’s man. He campaigns with the catchy slogan “Diversity Is a Codeword for Genocide.” Yet as Johnson laughingly told The Daily Beast, Whitaker himself supports what Trump is doing, as do many members of the party.
Indeed, interest in the American Freedom Party has surged along with Trump’s rise, Johnson said.
“We have seen a dramatic uptick in support,” he crowed. “In fact, sometimes I can hardly manage because of this Trump phenomenon.”
He thinks this is a major turning point in American history, that white men are experiencing a reawakening upon finding a candidate who is not as effeminate and fearful as the country’s previous leaders.
“The white men in America have been beaten down over the last 50 years by anti-white propaganda,” Johnson explained. Referring to Trump’s recent proposition to ban Muslim entry to the United States, Johnson said, “That will go down in history as a major turning point. When I was a teenager and saw the antiwar movement, I think we are seeing an equal turning point right now.”
Trump’s political message has rung true with a number of white nationalists, who feel that immigration and the influence of Islam are curtailing their freedom and economic opportunity. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, they say, are leaving the country unsafe with a leader who is not fit to protect Americans.
Former KKK leader David Duke spoke highly of Trump’s immigration plans in August. Forums on Stormfront, a white supremacist organization, lit up like the phone lines of a radio station giving out free concert tickets after Trump proposed his recent idea.
“Seeing all the top politicians in Britain come out in full fury in defense of the enemy is sickening,” one user wrote of foreign politicians’ disdain for Trump’s rhetoric. “Islam and Europe are mortal enemies and have been for 1400 years during which they have tried and almost succeeded in conquering us many times but were beaten back at the last minute!”
“Yuuup, The Don is on a roll,” another chimed in, referring to their red hat-wearing hero. “More whites will wake up.”
Johnson seems to think, and hope for, the same thing. For his group, which requires all members to be heterosexuals of “complete European Christian ancestry,” Trump is a mainstream mouthpiece for what are often deemed publicly unsavory ideas.
The GOP frontrunner, after all, retweeted a racially biased false crime statistic generated by an individual who identifies as a neo-Nazi. People of color have been kicked out of his rallies—called the n-word and “monkeys” when they have spoken up against Trump’s racially hostile language.
And he’s awoken a sleeping giant, according to Johnson.
“A few years ago, the people that would come out and be forthright about supporting the white race and the Western civilization, they would just be beaten down,” he said. Now, he claims, he gets calls from the white student union at an Ivy League university, asking him for a way to get their message out there effectively.
“The fact is that this has started only since Trump has taken his position that he’s not backing off from,” Johnson said.
Still, the American Freedom Party chairman describes his relationship with Trump as “unrequited love.” He said he has contributed financially to the campaign, created a super PAC to support him, and tries to get the message out about Trump’s near sainthood on the party’s daily radio shows.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to The Daily Beast when asked if he would consider giving Johnson a position in a future Trump administration. At this point, Johnson said the idea of playing any official role for his future president would just be “wishful thinking.”
“I would do it, but it would be unlikely that I would be approved by the Senate,” he said. But he’s not actively courting any kind of role. “We’re doing this because we want to save Western civilization and the white race.”
Johnson made it seem like a great majority of the American Freedom Party—which he founded alongside Kevin McDonald, an anti-Semitic professor who thinks Jews are genetically programmed to try to out-compete others for resources—is on board with supporting Trump. But the party itself will not allow me to attend its meetings.
“Sorry, but most meetings are not open to the public, and members don’t want to be demeaned by curious media,” an unnamed representative of the party said.
Somewhat in jest, he told me to wait six months before I try to get into one of the group’s get-togethers. Its New York office is nothing but a P.O. box, according to Johnson, as many members of the party work out of their homes. But given Trump’s steady climb over the past six months, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to suggest he’ll still be around in the next six.
Some 65 percent of likely Republican primary voters said in a recent Bloomberg poll that they supported Trump’s Muslim ban. Just 24 percent of his supporters in North Carolina think Islam should be legal in the United States. And from the rallies to Stormfront forums to the mouth of Johnson, the sentiment is not that Trump is doing too much. It’s that he’s not doing enough.
“I’d want him to focus on all immigration, whether it’s illegal or legal,” Johnson said.
Upon hearing that under President Trump, no Muslims, legal or otherwise, would be allowed entry, he replied, “OK, good.”