Even though the banquet hall was equipped with an open bar, a few attendees kept streaming down into the hotel lounge, buzzed on cheap-wells and jokes stolen from the forgotten back-alleys of 4Chan. After several conference attendants had gone up to the bartender asking if they have ‘Seen Kyle,’ stretching their arm out in a Roman Salute, the one-upmanship that has characterised the Alt-Right kicked in. A conference goer using the handle ‘Imperial Eagle’ decided to enter the bar in his homemade Nazi uniform, complete with antique WWII-era combat medals. If that did not get the police involved, it would have been the two solid days of drunken Seig Heils and blaring N-words, so loud they reverberated like a gunshot.
TRSlmania, as Mike Enoch and Seventh Son named it, was the final Grand Prix for the Right Stuff, the Alt-Right blog that has defined their internet arrival, jargon, and culture. Begun as a small WordPress site to prop up their flagship podcast, ‘The Daily Shoah’, it has exploded as a meeting place for those moving from 8Chan and /Pol/ and stepping into snarky white nationalism. At a $125 a pop, the crowd brought in almost $15,000 for a two-day conference at an unnamed Houston hotel. What has made the Right Stuff so prolific is their ‘shock jock’ approach to race hatred and the ‘Jewish Question,’ which has helped to build a network of like-minded podcasts. They turned their web-forums into an organising platform with ‘extreme vetting’ to keep out infiltration and doxxing. TRSlmania was the largest ‘In Real Life’ event for this collection of ‘Chad Nationalists,’ the angry male core of the reaction against eroding privilege. Understanding that they need to move into real-world organising if their movement was to take the next step, they began organising regional groups in major cities. New York, Boston, Washington DC, and ‘Cascadia’ for the Portland region came together with the Houston Goylers, named after the Hebrew insult they now used as an anti-Semitic badge.
It had been a tough couple of weeks for Enoch. His information had been leaked, revealing him to be Mike Peinovich, a six-figure Manhattan web developer with a half-Jewish wife. The revelation cost him his job, his extended family, and allegedly his marriage, a choice he seems to have made himself. What he was left with was a crowd of ‘shitlords,’ if they would have him.
From the podcast ‘The Fatherland’, a collection of ‘regular guys’ trying to raise a family in a multicultural world, to ‘The Paranormies’, a look at the stranger side of white life, the crowd cheered along, reciting the well-traveled racist jokes that have made the Right Stuff a hit. The voices echoed, intensifying a message of racial solidarity, of a refusal to allow assimilation, of a white Ethnostate. At the end of the night, two were in handcuffs. As Enoch would say on the following episode of ‘the Daily Shoah’, ‘I would be disappointed if people weren’t arrested.’
A Sea Change
Less than two years ago a conference this size, perfectly vetted, flown from around the country at a cost of thousands, could never have happened. No one outside of anti-fascist activists, a few clickbait journalists, and a growing cadre of serious white nationalists had heard of Richard Spencer, ‘identitarianism,’ or the Alt-Right. At the 2015 American Renaissance conference, the go-to gathering for ‘race realists’ with college degrees, Spencer knew that ‘something [was] happening.’
‘We are all part of the sick man of the world, but we are also all part of a race that despite its best wishes, is being forced to take up great politics again. To restart the world, and re-enter history. Real history. Which is the struggle between races and civilisations for the future of the planet.’
Something was changing in the culture as the Alt-Right came into its own amidst a Trumpian ‘Middle American Revolution,’ one promised by NPI’s founding thinker, the paleoconservative-turned-white-nationalist Sam Francis. The Alt-Right’s ideas, ported over from the French New Right, the Identitarian movement, and the back annals of American white nationalism, finally got shortened and popularised through the ‘Chan culture.’ The talking points were solidified, the social media equipped, and the anger mobilised. They had become who they were.
The news cycle followed their rising star, from trending hashtags like #Cuckservative to the memetic frenzy of synth-pop God Emperor Trump Twitter accounts. Barely able to decipher its internal jargon, most news stories portrayed it simply as iconoclastic conservatism, refusing to call it fascism. This representation allowed them to become meteoric, and Trump’s shocking ascent only made them appear as prophets rather than lunatics. This zenith came in the weeks after Trump’s election, where Richard Spencer’s appearance at DC parties was seen as inevitable rather than scandalous.
Spencer had always been the center of this media amplification, all by his own invention as he sat down for every interview possible and repeated ideological scripts. Spencer’s background lends a lot to the wealth and privilege of the college-age men that have populated the newest Alt-Right ranks. From a wealthy lineage in Dallas, he hopped between Ivy League schools before landing at a PhD program at Duke. After the Duke Lacrosse Case, where a black sex worker accused several lacrosse players of sexual assault, Spencer did a presentation saying that the faculty’s rejection of those male students was a ‘gothic fantasy’ about the effects of slavery. Scott McConnell, the publisher of Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative, was impressed, naming him an Assistant Editor. Spencer further radicalised while hobnobbing with dissident rightists, and McConnell hand-delivered him to the edgy paleoconservative site Taki’s Mag. While the content at Taki’s is far beyond what most would accept in their conservative movement, publishing everyone from Gavin McGinnis to Rand Paul aid Jack Hunter, its racialism is still covert. Spencer wanted to create a big-tent website to bring together the white nationalists, right libertarians, identitarians, New Rightists, ethnic pagans, and others rejecting the boundaries of the Beltway Conservative Movement. This birthed AlternativeRight.com, a webzine that became a home for a percolating movement, and would set the stage for him to take over NPI, start the Radix Journal, and to rebrand the ‘pro-white’ movement.
While he was successful by the standards of nationalists, it wasn’t until 2016 that he became a household name. The profiles landed, from the New York Times to Mother Jones, each framing him as the handsome face of a fashionable new movement. NPI’s events swelled, with a middle-income constituency finally ready for explicit white separatism and Spencer was their media-friendly shepherd. He held crowded press conferences, controversial campus appearances, and any opportunity to voice his racial views against the Trumpian backdrop. That growth came like a wave, and with his marriage crumbling and his family finally forced away from their pristine Montana home, he finally moved to Arlington to set up AltRight.com, a consolidation of almost a dozen blogs and media projects all united on ‘white identity politics.’ His appearance at Texas A&M was something akin to a football championship, with protesters stressing the venue and security overwhelming the campus. Spencer then announced the ‘Danger Zone’ campus tour. Because government run facilities had a certain impetus to host him without concern to ideology, he could depend on state schools as long as he coughed up the thousands for security.
He began raising money for the tour through his non-profit, offering tax deductions along the way. While it may have felt that this tour would be the sum total of his year of progress, it was also the ascent of his opposition. The 2016 NPI conference’s pre-dinner was disrupted as DC area groups overwhelmed the restaurant. At the Trump inauguration just a couple months later he was famously punched while doing a street interview, and, just as he suspected, it ‘became the meme to end memes.’ While his fame rose with a committed group of Millennial racists, his infamy skyrocketed with the rest of America, and that meant his access to the culture as anything other than an oddity was drying up. As he began to reach out for students and faculty to host him on campus, he got no takers, and as his organisation was stripped of non-profit status, his childhood friends rejected him publically, and his new Arlington home was protested by area churches, there seemed to be few pathways for his movement’s ‘next steps.’
The image that Spencer has always had, that building meta-politics would shift culture and inspire a movement down the line, was faltering on its critical shift into real-world gains.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The Alt-Right has grown along the lines of a principle contradiction in its presentation. On the one hand, Spencer has tried to create an intellectual mirage for white nationalism. This has done what fascist ideologues have done for decades: use the language and tactics of the left for far-right values and aims. Here they appropriated the language of post-colonialism, identity politics, and anti-capitalism to argue for the white Ethnostate, for boundaries between races and nations. The central premise is that they are an ideological movement, iconoclastic philosophers arguing for well-considered positions founded in ideas rather than violence.
On the second hand, what has sent their popularity into the stratosphere has been the angry message-board culture of racial slurs, memes, and trolling, which took the pseudo-academic white nationalist jargon of the Alt-Right and gave it a vicious soul.
‘When you are anonymous you don’t always have to take responsibility for what you say,’ Richard Spencer told me back in September of 2016, when a Trump presidency was till a fantasy.
‘There needs to be a kind of crazy, populism, ‘shitlord’ aspect … There needs to be a bit of a Dionysian element to the Alt-Right for it to be crazy. For it to be young. For it to shock the right people.’
They are now saddled with the resulting consequences of this clash of presentations: How do they develop into a mass movement when their hard edge presents a barrier to entry? Some, like Identity Europa’s Nathan Damigo, have tried to deny this contradiction, back-peddling in much the way that Milo Yiannopoulos did when confronted with the consequences of the Alt-Right.
They’re not serious with what they’re doing,’ he told me when asked why he continued to direct his ‘serious white advocates’ in the direction of The Right Stuff. ‘Everything they write is satire because it is what people actually believe we act [like] and what we think.’ Most of the Alt-Right would disagree with this, and when Milo published his infamous defense of the Alt-Right in Breitbart he was roundly condemned by websites like the Daily Stormer for presenting their rhetoric as less than sincere.
Unlike the movements of the left that they attempt to mimic, their ‘meta-politics’ lacked grounding in the mechanisms of struggle, the understanding of how politics takes shape from testable organising models. They have reached a critical mass in expensive conferences, private meet-ups, and racist troll-storms, but the next steps they were hoping this would translate to are unavailable. What they require is a political face that operates ‘in plain sight,’ that has concrete goals, and the ability for anyone in their constituency to join. As opposition outpaces their growth, and public opinion hardens in the era of Trump, it is difficult to estimate what a real Alt-Right political force would look like. Anonymity was especially critical to its expansive growth, a point that defined the younger generation that flocked to Spencer’s meetings, but it never provoked its followers into public action, which would be a necessity if they were to move beyond the blogosphere. Their formula for success, the captivation of an online narrative, created the Alt-Right’s only method for growth, but developed a hollow shell incapable of performing even the most basic tasks of a radical movement bent on taking real power.
On the Streets
The Alt-Right organisations determined on public activism have themselves lost the ‘crossover’ ability to recruit the more public they become. The Traditionalist Workers Party has sustained the largest amount of growth through public campaigns. Though lacking in long-term vision, they do ‘street activism’ like the protesting of anti-racist author Tim Wise’s speaking events, picketing in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference, and holding ‘anti-globalism’ rallies with skinhead partners. While their founder, Matthew Heimbach, came out of Alt-Right associations earlier in his career as the ‘world’s most friendly racist,’ he found his biggest pull with Blue Collar racialist organisations like KKK groups and patriot dissidents. As their numbers swelled with many ‘dual carders’ who were also a part of Oath Keepers or neo-Nazi projects, they lost the appeal to the middle-class recruits that were attracted to the most recent incarnation of the Alt-Right.
Identity Europa has built its entire persona on the marketing elements of 2016’s Alt-Right surge. Melding Spencer’s chosen aesthetics, the tactics of France’s far-right Generation Identity, and intermixing hardcore white nationalist talking points with the guilty smirk of a frat party, Identity Europa has swept college campuses by building alliances with Millennial men coming into adulthood as ‘Trump Republicans.’ Their appeal comes from their iconoclastic nature, but even though they have started holding public events and strategising concrete organising protocols on and off campus, the nature of their rhetoric is still too much of a barrier to entry for most recruits.
Instead, a group like Turning Point USA, a Trump-focused confederation of campus locals, seems to be the entry point that the Alt-Right will have to maintain. The Trump phenomenon has always been the most effective ‘mainstreaming’ cultural space for the Alt-Right to exploit, and the murky associations that Turning Point has at campuses Michigan State University has allowed for it to become a white nationalist front group.
The March string of Trump rallies has extended the reach of the Trump-Alt-Right crossover point as well. It was the hardcore base of Patriots and right-wing ideologues that took up Trump’s call to continue the rallies, and this created the volatile climate that determined Alt-Right organisers use to recruit. At the 25 March rally at Huntington Beach, California, the crowd of thousands echoed with chants from the Right Stuff, revealing the reach of open white nationalism. Young men flew WWI German Imperial flags and Hammerskin Nations tattoos could be seen, standing arm-in-arm with Oath Keepers. In Portland, Oregon, KKK members came out alongside wealthy Lake Oswego business owners, a tacit alliance between working-class racial consciousness and the reactionary determination of the bourgeois suburbs.
That force of convergence hit its zenith when Lauren Southern, the Alt-Right allied Canadian provocateur announced a ‘free speech’ rally in Berkeley, headlining a list of minor racialist celebrities. Given the recent eruption at the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos and the ongoing counter-organising of Identity Europa, Southern knew that the appearance was primarily a confrontation. The event descended into street fights and shut down the entire Berkeley Downtown area as entire city blocks were claimed both by the right-wingers, bolstered by Patriot militia members, and the anti-fascist left. While Alt-Right blogs erupted with claims of victory, it is difficult to see how this is going to move their political program past their closest periphery.
Since then a new stage in this soap opera has emerged, the hotly contested ‘Free Speech’ rallies that have been held around the country. Ideologically, these events focus on the hard-right of conventional conservatism, avoiding explicitly racialised language, but covering themselves with dog whistles and ready to fist-fight the left opposition. Anti-fascist researcher Spencer Sunshine has labeled this new phenomenon ‘Independent Trumpism’ as its figures take on the civic nationalism of Trump Republicanism, yet independent from all party apparatus and developed more around social networks and cultural signifiers than formal organisations. The Patriot militias are primary players here, and after ‘Free Speech’ participant Jeremy Christian murdered two people on a Portland train, they are drawing a line with explicitly racialist groups like Identity Europa.
The confluence of supporters inside of these organisations creates a mix that, while lacking the ideological consistency the Alt-Right hopes for, does bridge to the mainstream. While this may be the only option for the disaffected movement, it presents the same problem they have faced since their rise. Labeled the ‘Alt Light,’ the layer of commentators and provocateurs that have helped to popularise Alt-Right talking points have acted as that bridge since 2015. Milo Yiannopoulos, Anne Coulter, Gavin McGinnis, Peter Thiel, and publications like Taki’s Mag and Breitbart, have been that stop-over point between the think-tank Conservative Movement and the podium at American Renaissance. Those voices, like most crossover points between the moderate and extreme-right, ended up either disappointing or betraying the fringe with their willingness to capitulate with ‘liberalism,’ leaving them without their ability to really shift the culture. With their modest string of successes they believed they had finally crossed the bridge and no longer required their handlers. They thought they were past all this.
As Trump further capitulates with neoliberalism and accepts an interventionist foreign policy, the Alt-Right further signals their distance. Spencer has begun holding public ‘anti-war’ rallies while Heimbach has filed a lawsuit against Trump, creating a deep rift with Trump’s base.
This leaves them with the same options that most white nationalists have historically had: creating a home for extremists who have been rejected by mainstream conservatism. Instead of an actively growing project shifting American meta-politics, they could become an increasingly closed and marginal set of racist affinity groups, only deviating from traditional neo-Nazi clans in their middle-class personality. This space of ineffectual radicalism is a recipe for racist violence since their inability to create any meaningful political gains creates frustration that inspires desperate acts from constituents with no outlet for their increasingly revolutionary views.
Their measured failure in the movement arena does not mean they are abandoning activism yet, and instead they are focusing on the areas where they had their first layer of growth. Since the beginning of the 2016–17 university calendar, the Anti-Defamation League has tracked 104 distinct incidents of white nationalist propaganda plastered on US colleges. The weekend after the election, The Right Stuff led a blitz of campuses with posters created by anti-Semitic commentator Charles Lyons, in an attempt to pull in a few disaffected whites. At the University of Michigan, the incident was answered with a commitment from administrators to funnel millions of tuition dollars into diversity programs. Mike Enoch declared victory, saying their ability to push the faculty’s hands was proof their movement has teeth. The results, however, will be that the state-funded school will further shift away from white hegemony, the direct opposite of the Alt-Right’s goals.
While Spencer was hard up for campus appearances for his announced tour, he forced his way onto Auburn University on 18 April. After being denied a space by the administration over security concerns, Spencer railed against his ‘free speech’ being denied, and a federal judge agreed and forced an injunction that gave him access to the university’s facilities. While this was a dangerous precedent for white nationalists bullying their way onto colleges, the opposition swelled quickly and chased most recruits off campus. While Spencer had hoped to make a cottage industry out of these appearances, even at Auburn he could not find a student to invite him, and therefore he was simply renting the facility as if it was an American Legion. The bar has risen for speeches like these after the cancellations of Milo Yiannoupolous and Charles Murray, and while it may have garnered him brief press, it was because of the spectacle he created rather than his movement’s strength.
The next step for them is public white nationalist events with political goals, and their ability to execute this is the barometer by which to measure their success. Identity Europa has been the most successful at this, partnering with renegade College Republican locals and holding brief rallies like the anti-immigration event that lasted just over twenty minutes on San Francisco’s Pier 14 in October. On 9 March, Richard Spencer led a small cadre of followers in front of the White House to protest Trump’s bombing of the Syrian airfield, a move they saw as a betrayal of his isolationist ‘American First’ policy. They were met, as with most of their events, by a swarm of anti-fascist organisations that overwhelmed their numbers and sent the Alt-Right contingent running for cover. The pattern has been maintained consistently over the past eighteen months as a confrontational anti-racist movement matches any activist event. The best option remains using the Alt Light’s shifting presentation to ride into open conversation, from Spencer’s appearance at torchlit rallies in defense of Confederate monuments to their mass infiltration of ‘Independent Trumpist’ events. Spencer tried to do this with his own version of the ‘Free Speech’ rally on 25 June, yet brought barely a hundred people at the edge of the Reflecting Pool in the heart of Washington DC.
In Real Life
The arrests were not enough for Enoch and Seventh Son to call the private conference a failure as it helped solidify the ‘IRL’ groups in cities around the country. The Houston Goylers has been the most pronounced of these, requiring members to prospect before joining and stick to strict health and fitness regiments. Unless they can find a tract for their ideas, something tangible that can see steady growth and the ability to shift large portions of the Middle American right to an ‘identitarian’ politic, then they are bound to lose, and their energy will instead by channeled to less controversial areas of the antagonistic sphere of young American conservatism.
This will also depend on how concerted the opposition is, and if organisers are able to develop a true anti-fascist mass movement that sees growth beyond large-scale singular mobilisations, like those in Berkeley. In 2014, Richard Spencer tried to hold a ‘Pan-European identitarian’ conference in Budapest, and Hungary’s response was to declare him persona non grata, deport him, and ban him from entering the European Union. This seems like the nadir of the Alt-Right, a signal that they were fading into the night. Then 2015 happened. The Alt-Right’s floundering is not a concrete future that has already be decided upon, but instead only a pause that those horrified by its possibilities can use to pull set their sights. This requires a motivated and consolidated vision, one that moves past simple denunciations of Trump and can outline a strategy to undo even the modest hold that the Alt-Right has made on public discourse. Even though the Alt-Right lacks the tools to move into even larger projects, there is nothing saying that they will disappear from the political realm unless a movement develops that makes their growth impossible.
For Enoch, the Alt-Right’s hard edge is really what it has, even if that prevents them from ever moving out of private conferences. When the arrests halted the fun at TRSlmania, he wasn’t exactly surprised, something that extends to the violence seen by Alt-Right activists in Berkeley on 15 April.
‘We are who we are, to some extent we can’t change who we are,’ he said after the conference, a point that is well-taken across their community.
In the end, they are not politically savvy organisers; they are angry white men taking their rage out on everyone they think eroded their meager privilege. Their radicalism developed online, not out of the world of struggle, and while their rage may have hardened to a sharp edge, it lacks the political understanding necessary to carve their way into real movement building. That is, of course, if there is someone there to stop them.