Newsweek

Politics

Is the Alt-right Flounderin­g?

- BY MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN @Michaeleha­yden

“HAIL TRUMP!” RICHARD SPENCER bellowed. “Hail our people! Hail victory!” It was November 2016, not long after Donald Trump’s presidenti­al victory, and Spencer, perhaps America’s most well-known figure in the so-called alt-right, was speaking to a packed room of white nationalis­ts in Washington, D.C. A clip of the speech, first published by The Atlantic, went viral and seemed to confirm the worst fears of many Trump critics: that the president-elect had empowered a fringe movement of racist, right-wing radicals—and launched it into the mainstream.

But less than 18 months later, on March 5, 2018, Spencer spoke in front of another room of like-minded supporters, this time at Michigan State University. Only now, the audience was smaller than the one in D.C., and Spencer seemed far less triumphant. “We are going to have to suffer through these birth pangs of becoming a real movement,” Spencer said, referring to the scattered crowd. Outside, a smattering of self-identified neo-nazis rumbled with a much larger group of left-leaning protesters.

What was perhaps most striking about Spencer’s event in East Lansing, however, was who didn’t show. Kyle Bristow, Spencer’s attorney, who had helped him secure the speaking engagement, wasn’t there. He had publicly quit the movement days earlier. Also notably absent: Mike Peinovich, a podcaster and Spencer ally who frequently talks about Jewish conspiracy theories. Another Spencer ally, Elliott Kline, wasn’t there either. He hasn’t made a public appearance since February, when a story in The

New York Times appeared to show he had been untruthful about his service in Iraq. (He didn’t respond to a request for comment). Even the Daily Stormer, a neo-nazi website that was critical in promoting past Spencer speeches, declined to cover it; instead, its home page featured a story ridiculing the Oscars.

More than a year after Trump’s victory, the alt-right movement may be flounderin­g. The coalition, which once seemed so formidable, now appears divided by

infighting, while its online presence has dwindled because of Twitter and other media platforms purging its most influentia­l accounts for producing offensive content. Meanwhile, some analysts say the movement’s violent encounters with left-leaning protesters have come to overshadow most of what the alt-right hoped to achieve when Trump took power.

Things looked different last August. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottes­ville, Virginia, more than a thousand white men converged to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederat­e General Robert E. Lee. Counterpro­testers showed up, and the two sides clashed. In the process, James Fields, a 20-year-old with far-right views, allegedly killed Heather Heyer, a protester, when he rammed into a crowd of people with his car. Most of the mainstream press was appalled, and Charlottes­ville Mayor Mike Signer called it a festival celebratin­g “the absolute worst elements” of society.

Trump took a different approach. “You had a group on one side who was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” Trump said of the rally. Later, he added: “You [also] have people who are very fine people on both sides.”

Since Charlottes­ville, most Republican­s in office have tried to distance themselves from the alt-right. And by the time Spencer visited Michigan State, the group had experience­d a series of setbacks. First, there was his speaking engagement at the University of Florida in October 2017, where police charged three of his supporters with attempted homicide after one fired a gun in the direction of a crowd. Then there was the White Lives Matter event in Tennessee later that month, where a crowd of neo-nazis and white nationalis­ts were outnumbere­d two to one by counter-demonstrat­ors, spurring a debate in the movement about how the alt-right should present itself.

And then there was the fallout over the death of Kate Steinle, a 32-yearold white woman from California. An undocument­ed Mexican immigrant named Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder in her death, and about 20 neo-nazis and white nationalis­ts, many of them present in Charlottes­ville, rallied in front of the White House in December to express their anger over the verdict. Spencer, Peinovich and other alt-right figures gave speeches. It should have been a big moment for the movement, analysts say, especially since Trump had mentioned the Steinle case on the campaign trail. But a diverse group of anti-fascist protesters shouted down the small cluster of white men, and D.C. police escorted them away after less than half an hour. Media coverage was practicall­y nonexisten­t.

Critics point out that the alt-right isn’t a new movement, just a rebranded version of different hate groups that have been mired in division for decades. So the unified front America saw on display in Charlottes­ville is an anomaly. “It’s historical­ly typical to have fracturing in white supremacis­t movements,” says Carla Hill of the Anti-defamation League (ADL), an organizati­on that monitors hate groups. “It makes you wonder...if they were ever really united in the first place.”

Anti-fascist, or antifa, activists, meanwhile, argue they deserve credit for the recent failure of alt-right events. Mark Bray, an activist and academic who is the author of Antifa, The

Anti-fascist Handbook, says the end of Trump’s first year left him feeling “optimistic” that white supremacis­ts could no longer organize effectivel­y in public. He says Charlottes­ville and the lackluster rallies that followed showed that these events inevitably lead to arrests, backlash and infighting.

Liberals and even some of those on the far left have been critical of antifa’s tactics. The writer Noam Chomsky called them “a major gift to the right, including the militant right, who are exuberant,” suggesting that they embolden far-right recruiting and give government agencies an excuse to crack down on left-leaning activists.

But some key figures on the radical right say their opponents have hurt their movement. “The antifa have... pretty much succeeded in achieving what [mainstream liberals] cannot,” Matt Parrott, a co-founder of the neo-nazi group Traditiona­list Worker Party, who resigned from leadership duties in mid-march, wrote in a popular alt-right forum after Spencer’s event. “They demoralize­d and disabled the majority of the altright, driving them off the streets and public-square.”

Even Spencer said as much after his talk at Michigan State, claiming that antifa is “winning.” He posted a video overnight on March 11 in which

“If you don’t let us dissent peacefully, then our only option is to murder you. To kill your children.”

he acknowledg­ed that pushback from university administra­tors and antifa had made it difficult for him to continue to try to speak at colleges as he had planned. He said the situation had forced him to reconsider his approach to movement building altogether. “The fact is, things are difficult,” he said.

Yet the alt-right seems loath to admit its own actions and rhetoric may be driving away recruits, some observers say. In December, Christophe­r Cantwell, who is currently under house arrest in Virginia on felony charges for allegedly using tear gas and pepper spray at the Charlottes­ville rally, hosted Andrew Auernheime­r on his podcast, Radical Agenda. Roughly 40 minutes into their talk, Auernheime­r, the man tasked with handling the technical side of the Daily Stormer, seemed to call for the murder of Jewish people in retaliatio­n for his website being taken offline after Charlottes­ville. The rant even appeared to shock Cantwell. “Someone has to step in,” Auernheime­r said, referring to the Jewish elites he believes have collaborat­ed to censor his right to free speech. (He declined to comment for this article.) “If you don’t let us dissent peacefully, then our only option is to murder you. To kill your children.”

It’s not just talk. Violent incidents involving those with alt-right ties are on the rise. Earlier this year, the ADL announced that 2017 was the fifth-deadliest year for extremist violence since 1970, and that right-wing extremism accounted for 71 percent of the homicides that took place. Islamist militants, by comparison, accounted for 26 percent of the deaths.

The violence seems to have flustered alt-right leaders who have made a priority of trying to recruit law-abiding white conservati­ves into the movement. Brad Griffin, a vocal member of the movement, recently condemned both Auernheime­r and his past praise of the neo-nazi group Atomwaffen Division on a public internet forum. He accused them of making him and others look dangerous.

Kit O’connell, a Texas-based writer and anti-fascist activist, is concerned about what he calls a “cornered rat” phenomenon taking shape—one in which recruits of the alt-right give up hope of trying to build a lasting political movement and, as an alternativ­e, simply lash out with violence.

Cornered or not, the alt-right’s dream of an authoritar­ian white utopia is still alive. Identity Evropa, a white nationalis­t group that marched on Charlottes­ville, drew three times the crowd that Spencer did at Michigan State at a conference in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 10. That group has been aggressive­ly targeting college campuses, where white supremacis­t recruitmen­t is surging, researcher­s note.

Still, as Spencer acknowledg­ed in his March 11 video: “We’re now in something that feels a lot more like a hard struggle. And victories aren’t easy to come by.”

 ??  ??
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? WHITE FLAG? Once seemingly triumphant after Trump’s victory, Spencer and his altright allies seem to have been weakened by in  ghting and opposition from antifa.
WHITE FLAG? Once seemingly triumphant after Trump’s victory, Spencer and his altright allies seem to have been weakened by in ghting and opposition from antifa.
 ??  ?? THE CLASH Anti-fascist activists argue they deserve credit for the recent failure of alt-right events.   elow,   athan   amigo of the alt-right group Identity Evropa, at a conference in   ashington,   .C.
THE CLASH Anti-fascist activists argue they deserve credit for the recent failure of alt-right events. elow, athan amigo of the alt-right group Identity Evropa, at a conference in ashington, .C.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States