An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds the Swastikas – The New York Times

Good long-read on white supremacist groups:

The deceptively benign phrase “alt-right” now peppers the national conversation, often in ways that play down its fundamental beliefs, which have long been considered intolerant and hateful. The term’s recent prevalence corresponds with the rise of President-elect Donald J. Trump; alt-right leaders say his inflammatory statements and Twitter habits in the campaign energized, even validated, their movement.

The movement is also acutely image-conscious, seeing the burning crosses, swastikas and language of yesteryear as impediments to recruitment. Its adherents talk of “getting red-pilled,” a reference to the movie “The Matrix,” in which the protagonist ingests a tablet that melts away artifice to reveal the truth. New, coded slurs have emerged. Fewer pointed hoods, more khaki pants.

But the alt-right movement is hardly monolithic, despite a well-publicized gathering last month in Washington — one that might have been mistaken for just another corporate conference were it not for the white-nationalist sentiments and the Nazi salutes. The factions within its ranks can differ on any number of subjects: white supremacy versus white nationalism, for example, or the vexing “J.Q.” — the “Jewish Question.”

James Edwards, a far-right talk radio host who describes himself as a “European-American advocate” — and who interviewed the president-elect’s son Donald Trump Jr. this year — wrote in an email that the alt-right movement was “a group of marauding conservatives who reject both the failures of establishment conservatism and the false gods of political correctness.”

Race is the uniting factor, Mr. Edwards wrote. “One fundamental element of the Alt-Right that brings the disparate factions together is the awareness of the reality of race and the need for European Americans to have organizations and spokespeople that explicitly advocate for our unique group interests.”

For many years, the mix-and-match gaggle now called the alt-right existed in the shadowed alleys of American culture, sharing views through newsletters, online radio and crude websites. The news media often debated whether to cover their sparsely attended rallies, considering that any attention might grant the groups a veneer of legitimacy.

Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi, alt-right website The Daily Stormer, described the current moment in a recent essay as “a reboot of the White Nationalist movement” — one infused with youthful energy. The foot soldiers of the movement are not old white supremacists marching under a new banner, Mr. Anglin explained, but a mostly younger generation drawn from various online cultures, including conspiracy theorists and that misogynistic stratum of the internet known as the “manosphere.”

Then came Mr. Trump, whose opening gambit as a presidential candidate included his promise to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he called rapists and criminals. The alt-right raised its collective head to listen.

“I’d been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political candidate all my life,” said Gerald Martin, a retired public-school teacher from Dallas who grew up in a family that opposed desegregation.

He is a veteran of both the Army and a number of white supremacist movements, and name-drops the likes of William Luther Pierce III, a white supremacist who wrote “The Turner Diaries,” a novel about an underground band of white Americans who fight a liberty-crushing government controlled by Jews.

Before the Trump candidacy, Mr. Martin said, few in the alt-right were talking about politics; the movement was more about winning the battle of ideas. But once Mr. Trump began to talk, he said, “suddenly we’re all talking politics and we’re politically energized.”

“We’re almost intoxicated,” Mr. Martin continued. “We don’t have any power — but now we’re close enough to smell it.”

Mr. Trump brushed off his sharing of alt-right messages on social media as inconsequential — the sort of thing that just happens on Twitter. He also denied at one point the existence of any alt-right movement.

“Nobody even knows what it is,” he told CNN in August. “This is a term that was just given that — frankly, there’s no alt-right or alt-left.”

As if to clarify matters, members of the alt-right movement gathered in Washington about two weeks after Mr. Trump’s election for a conference sponsored by the National Policy Institute, an organization that describes itself as being “dedicated to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent.” Its president, Richard B. Spencer, 38, is a prominent alt-right leader who wears his brown hair in an undercut style once popular among the Hitler Youth. It’s called a “fashy,” as in fascist.

Mr. Spencer said in an interview that as he saw it, the principles of American conservatism throughout most of the 20th century had been wrongly defined within the context of capitalism and its ideological battle with communism. The matter of European identity, he said, was assumed, but never stated outright.

“Race is real,” he said. “Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.”

Not everyone in the movement appreciated the moment at the end of the conference when some in the audience raised stiffened arms, echoing the Nazi salute. Discussions afterward reflected the divisions in the loosely aligned ranks, as well as an acute awareness of public perception and the need to make their messages somehow more palatable.

…Indeed, the movement has the feel of a dispossessed youth rising up. Hours of interviews with young alt-right leaders suggest a pattern toward their white-nationalist radicalization. Seeing domestic and global strife often rooted in racial and ethnic differences. Finding validation from like-minded people on the internet. Hearing a major presidential candidate echo their grievances.

“The political establishment has made an entire generation of young white men and women into fascists, and that’s a beautiful thing!” said Matthew Heimbach, 25, who runs the Traditionalist Worker Party out of his trailer in Indiana. His group advocates replacing the United States with nation-states based on races, ethnicities and religions.

In Northern California, a university student, felon and Marine veteran, Nathan Damigo, oversees a group called Identity Evropa, which he described as a “fraternity” of mostly young, college-educated men who celebrate European heritage — that is, an embrace of white identity and a rejection of multicultural coexistence.

Ever conscious of the importance of marketing, Mr. Damigo, 30, pointed out that Identity Evropa’s website “looks completely mainstreamed.” And it does, featuring men in business suits who also happen to be sporting the Hitler Youth-style haircut.

But for all the fresh approaches — the slick marketing, the internet savviness — the message remains the same. It is one of separation, of supremacy, of a refusal to recognize the equal worth of others who do not have the same skin tone or share the same religion.

The ascension of the alt-right has lifted some familiar names from the muck of the past, including David Duke, the white nationalist, Holocaust denier and former Louisiana state representative whose national profile has been resurrected.

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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