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Donald Trump’s Intelligence Deficit

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spectator.

Did President Barack Obama set Donald Trump up for four years of infighting with American intelligence agencies?

Obama, in one of his final acts before leaving office, took a hard line regarding allegations of Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential campaign. In addition to calling upon the Office of the National Intelligence Director to produce a comprehensive report on Russian electoral interference, the administration implemented new sanctions and gave the boot to over 30 Russian diplomats.

The DNI’s report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” also set Trump up. Though the final, unclassified document is a mere 25 pages, it summarizes findings from the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency regarding the scope, rationale, and implications of Russia’s hacking during the presidential election. We are told that the “influence campaign” sought to undermine public faith in the electoral process, that the Russian government overwhelmingly sought to denigrate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton while expressing “a clear preference” for Trump, and that the entire operation was overseen by President Putin.

For Trump, who has referred to the investigation as a “political witch hunt”—a claim echoed by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov—the intelligence community’s certainty regarding Russian involvement is a major thorn in his new administration’s side. Trump’s comments put him at odds with numerous Republican lawmakers, many of whom acknowledged Russia’s involvement and called for a forceful U.S. response. And Trump and his staff’s antagonistic stance toward the mainstream narrative surrounding the hacks pitted him up against the national security apparatus—even before he took office.

Trump’s belligerence toward the intelligence community prompted by allegations of Russian involvement in the election has raised talk of restructuring and reform. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal from early January, Trump’s team aims to “restructure and pare back” the DNI as it has become “bloated and politicized.” A similar plan is allegedly in place for the CIA.

Spats between the White House and intelligence agencies are hardly new, though in decades past these feuds tended to be on policy grounds. Trump’s, however, is more personal. Despite months of asserting he would challenge the results of the “rigged” election if he lost, he appears to consider the investigation as a personal affront. The DNI is careful to note that Russian involvement did not necessarily sway the election, but Trump’s wounded ego and narcissistic pride make such details easy to ignore.

While it remains to be seen whether such changes in intelligence agencies occur—the Trump team has denied having any interest in “reforms”—the chatter itself is foreboding. Before Trump set foot in the White House, he began his own campaign of chaotic retribution. Now, the question is not whether he continues to wage war with the intelligence establishment—it is how far he is willing to go.

Hannah Gais is associate digital editor at The Washington Spectator.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with county sheriffs at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

White Nationalists Salute The Übermensch Of 2016

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Spector.

The Alt-Right has been declared the winner. The Alt-Right is more deeply connected to Trumpian populism than the ‘conservative movement,’” Richard Spencer tweeted as the election results rolled in on November 8. “We’re the establishment now.”

The loosely organized, yet newly emboldened, white nationalist coalition Spencer lays claim to as president and director of the National Policy Institute, found itself living out its own dream. Trump, while not exactly one of them, was theirs—and he was heading to the White House.

Its annual gathering held last month—the second I have attended—was to open with a pre-conference shindig at the Hamilton, a popular bar and restaurant in downtown D.C. Yet Spencer’s original plan to indulge in the celebratory haze that surrounded his movement while sipping cocktails in the shadow of the White House was quickly cut short.

The night before the event, Spencer sent out an email informing participants that the Hamilton had “cowardly backed out,” and the event would be held at the Trump International Hotel. There, we were told, a “fashily dressed man” (i.e., a man dressed like a fascist) would direct us to our final destination. Hours before the event kicked off, the Trump International was inexplicably scratched and we were directed to meet at the Friendship Heights Metro station on the border of D.C. and Maryland.

Along with a fellow journalist, Tom McKay of Mic, I hitched up with a small group of NPI participants on their way from the station. Most, if not all, were men—and several were clearly around our age (mid-to-late 20s). As we wandered into Maggiano’s Little Italy, a family-style Italian chain restaurant minutes away from the station, one 20-something proclaimed, “It’s nice to see all these leftists angry and humiliated”—an obvious dig at the protesters who had derailed the initial plan to gather at the Hamilton and, later, the Trump International Hotel.

The “Griffin family reunion,” the benign identity NPI used to secure a space for the hundred or so alt-right sympathizers gathered in Maggiano’s banquet room, turned out to be exactly what you’d expect: predominantly white, male, and young. As we sidled up to the bar, we made note of the online and alt-right celebrities: Charles C. Johnson of doxing and Twitter-ban notoriety; Matt Forney, a writer for the Return of Kings, a “men’s rights” website; Peter Brimelow, founder of; Kevin MacDonald, a noted anti-Semite and editor of a white nationalist publication, The Occidental Observer. Lest we forget, the star of the occasion was Tila Tequila, a D-list celebrity and reality TV-host-gone-white-nationalist (not to mention a flat-earther). And Spencer, of course, who somehow recognized me.

“What’s your name?” he asked after walking across the room to our table.

“Hannah Gais . . .” I replied, hesitatingly.

“Yes, you’ve been to a few of these before,” he noted.

A few of the surrounding attendees glanced over as he verified that I had, in fact, purchased a ticket and had taken the time to register; then he wandered off. I had been “found out.” While I never explicitly denied being a journalist (I was, after all, registered for the press conference), I hadn’t been exactly forthright either.

Tom and I joined a table toward the rear of the room next to that of the guest of honor: Tila. As appetizers made the rounds, we struck up a conversation with our tablemates. One, a graduate student, explained his interest in white nationalism was spurred not only by the men’s rights community but also by one of his professors. He planned on starting his own white nationalist blog focused largely on “uncucking” Christianity. (The more literal definition of “cucking” refers to the experience of a man observing his wife being “taken”—in the Biblical sense—by another, often black, man. The alt-right uses it in various forms to refer to certain states of humiliation or subservience to a liberal agenda.) A middle-aged attendee to my right explained his excitement about what the Trump campaign meant for his views. It’s heartening, he noted, that the election meant you can “no longer be fired for being a Trump supporter.” He bemoaned his earlier inclination to remain silent on topics of interest, like “race realism.”

As the night went on, the atmosphere became increasingly tense. Antifascist protesters had made their way to Maggiano’s, and Spencer—presumably with a few drinks in him—stepped out to confront them.

Meanwhile, Tequila’s speech was canceled, at least for the time being; she busied herself by taking selfies with participants while giving a Nazi salute. A new arrival at our table, a younger blonde man with a shortly cropped haircut, was giving me dirty glances while he whispered to the graduate student bent on “uncucking” the Catholic Church.

The night was being cut short, we were told, and instead of facing off with the protesters, we were to go out the back and then proceed to the Trump International Hotel for drinks. Still, Spencer seemed jubilant—not to mention inexplicably shirtless, after a confrontation with protesters. We may have gone out of our way, he explained to the enthusiastic audience, but it was worth it to meet up. And “we have a culture; we have a right to do this. Go to Hell!”

“I was about to say something sarcastic like, ‘Party like it’s 1933’” he said, as loud cheers erupted from the audience. “That joke is outmoded. We’re going to party like it’s 2016!”

As attendees began to gather their things, the man who had been sitting to my right approached to ask if we were journalists. As he berated us, he grabbed my phone out of my breast pocket, asking repeatedly if I’m recording video or audio. I yanked it back as he continued his lecture on the “ethics” of journalism. We needed to be honest about who we are, he said. Tom responded that we’re writers interested in the alt-right. And, for the record, no one even asked me what I did.

We walked out, past several police officers and a small gaggle of journalists crowding the stairs. Spencer followed shortly thereafter to chastise the protesters.

“Are you the same person? The same formless, genderless blob?” he asked me outside. “I’m onto you, and this is the last time you pull this.”

* * *

On Saturday, I made my way to the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building, a frequent venue for NPI conferences and also home to a number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Woodrow Wilson Center, U.S. Customs and Border Control, and the Environmental Protection Agency. I cabbed to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street. The District’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, was visible down the street. Vendors were hawking Obama trinkets and T-shirts proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.”

At the start of the conference—dubbed Become Who We Are, a riff on Friedrich Nietzsche’s imperative to “become what one is”—Spencer declared that all members of the press would be subjected to a slew of legalese dictating how we were to behave. So I identified myself as press. The NPI volunteer responsible for checking in guests shrugged and explained that, because I had paid for my ticket, all was well. He handed me a name badge.

The ballroom wasn’t filled to capacity, but it was crowded. Nearly 300 people gathered around banquet tables with cups of coffee, eyes glued to Spencer as he offered an introduction and a tribute to a movement he’s nurtured for years: the alt-right.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the origins of the term “alt-right”—a loosely affiliated white nationalist and explicitly racist movement that’s fed off Donald Trump’s momentum. Yet the goals and interests of the group meeting in the Reagan Building are hard to define. While the term “alternative right” was first used by Paul Gottfried in a 2008 speech to the H.L. Mencken Club—where he called for an “independent intellectual Right,” an inheritor, of sorts, to the paleoconservatives—it’s commonly attributed to Spencer. After a short-lived stint at The American Conservative and Taki’s Magazine, a paleoconservative outlet founded by TAC co-founder Taki Theodoracopulos, Spencer took his energies elsewhere. The Alternative Right, a webzine he founded in 2010, could be seen as the movement’s more formal unveiling. With Gottfried as a progenitor of the movement, it was only appropriate he signed on as a contributing editor.

Spencer took the reins at the NPI about a year later, following the death of its long-time chairman, Louis R. Andrews. Under Spencer’s leadership, the institute founded its flagship publication, Radix Journal and shifted its headquarters to Spencer’s place of residence in Whitefish, Montana—a upscale resort town in a state that’s rapidly becoming a hotbed for white nationalists. The institute briefly made headlines when Hungarian officials shut down a conference organized by NPI, Jared Taylor of the white nationalist publication American Renaissance, and others in Budapest. Spencer was detained, and NPI founder William Regnery II was promptly returned to the United States after his arrival in Hungary.

Spencer and others had been making inroads with far-right extremists in both the United States and Europe for several years, but the “alt-right” as we know it now owes much of its strength to the 2016 presidential campaign. Where liberals and leftists turned away in disgust from Trump’s brash, overt racism and Islamophobia, Spencer and others saw an opportunity.

The resounding explanation of Trump’s appeal to the white nationalist crowd is that he advanced issues important to them, albeit in language that made them acceptable to “generic Americans”—a term used by Brimelow to describe a national coalition of heterosexual, non-Jewish whites. Taylor, the white supremacist, echoed these sentiments, observing that “it’s impossible to know why people voted for Donald Trump.” At the rallies he attended, he observed that few Trumpites addressed the issues the alt-right considers important. Establishing a white ethnostate, it turns out, isn’t a popularly held position, even among a crowd that’s gleefully supporting an anti-immigration candidate.

“We willed Donald Trump into office, we made this dream our reality!” Spencer said later. It was as if the movement had “crossed the Rubicon in terms of recognition.”

There’s some unnerving truth to this. Since I wrote about the NPI and its allies in the broader far-right movement in the winter and spring months of 2016, individuals and groups linked to the alt-right have received extensive coverage in places such as The New York Times, Time, Bloomberg News, Mother Jones, Wired, Highline at Huffington Post, NPR, and even at the BBC. Although many on the alt-right, including Spencer, prefer to refer to the media as Lügenpresse—or “lying press”—and deride journalists as stupid, the media have been instrumental in legitimizing the movement. (Spencer even said as much in his appeal to journalists during the press conference that day to protect the alt-right’s free speech rights.) As Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center explained to me, the press has allowed Spencer and others to hide behind the “comfortably innocuous label the alt-right” without sufficiently explaining that these groups are white supremacist in nature. Some, like the Associated Press, have made an effort to enact clearer guidelines on how to use the term without whitewashing what the movement stands for. And while Spencer and others insist the term isn’t an attempt to mask their beliefs, the movement’s title implies its adherents ought to have a place in mainstream American political discourse.

Despite all the media coverage, defining what some adherents prefer to be called the “alt-right” has proven to be tricky. It’s not that Spencer and his crew have succeeded in developing a “big tent” approach to political organizing—there’s plenty of infighting to go around. But as a catch-all term for a movement bent on countering what it sees as “establishment” conservatism, using the term as if its definition is self-evident sort of misses the point.

There were hints of this muddled identity at the conference.’s Peter Brimelow said in his speech that he couldn’t define himself as “alt-right” for two reasons. For one, he noted, “I’m too damn old,” he said to a room where most were under 40. “The second reason I can’t claim to be a member of the alt-right is haircuts,” he explained, his mane of curly white hair as evidence.

Though Brimelow’s comment was tongue-in-cheek, it points to deeper divisions preventing an understanding of the movement as a whole: who, beyond a loose-knit band of white nationalists that gathers each year in the Reagan Building and at events such as the American Renaissance conference, is the “alt-right”? Are they the shitposters and keyboard warriors splattering Pepes on 4chan, 8chan, Reddit, and the newly launched “free speech” network Gab? Are they the self-styled intellectuals who gathered in the Reagan Building in mid-November to bask in Trump’s win? Or, as many in the media have argued, are they Steve Bannon and his army of scribblers at Breitbart?

While Bannon has attempted to disavow the “racial and anti-Semitic overtones” of the alt-right, he’s seized upon his own definition—largely for the sake of boosting Breitbart’s popularityof the group as a home for “younger people who are anti-globalists, very nationalist, terribly anti-establishment.” Yet the alt-right’s more contrarian writers insist there’s one crucial modifier missing from Bannon’s pro-nationalist push: “white.” Indeed, as Greg Johnson argued in the new-right Counter Currents site after Hillary Clinton’s speech in August condemning the alt-right, “the Alternative Right means White Nationalism—or it means nothing at all.”

Spencer and his clan show no intention of letting that connection die. Hours after most reporters left the Saturday session, a camera crew recording the conference for an upcoming documentary caught him closing the night with a grandiose Hitlerian tribute to Trump. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” he shouted before the jubilant crowd. Several hands went up in enthusiastic Nazi salutes.

The speech, dripping with contempt, was a set piece from another era. “To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, and a conqueror,” Spencer said, echoing a sentiment that bleeds through the pages of Mein Kampf. “We build, we produce, we go upward, and we recognize the central lie in American race relations. We don’t exploit other groups. We don’t gain anything from their presence.”

“They need us and not the other way around.”

* * *

Spencer and his followers couldn’t hold an event in Washington without attracting protesters eager to confront him.

Members of the DC Anti-Fascist Coalition followed NPI through all its last-minute schedule changes and on to the restaurant at Friendship Heights. Protesters pushed into the dining area and up the stairs to confront participants, all the while chanting “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” Spencer left the party to confront them. By the time he returned, he had stripped off his shirt and was wearing nothing but pants, shoes, and a vest—he soon claimed that the protesters had attacked restaurant employees with mace.

Spencer’s account was little more than a fabrication, several protesters informed me. There was no mace at the protest, although something smelling much like farts was sprayed on Spencer and his followers. “It seems like sometimes the culture war is actually a war,” he tells the crowd. “And that’s what we’re up against.”

By Saturday, the number of protesters had swelled—as had the press coverage.

The crowd was diverse, with members of various unions, immigrant-rights and church groups, and members of the Democratic Socialists in attendance. Andrew Batcher, a member of the DC Anti-Fascist Coalition, estimates that almost 500 protesters came through on Saturday.

With one or two exceptions, few conference attendees approached or engaged the protesters. Emily—a member of Red Ice Radio, a white nationalist outlet that had been providing live video coverage of the event—wandered into the group with her cameraman to “interview” protest participants. “Are you a self-hating white person?” she asks one group, thrusting a microphone in their faces. The situation escalated quickly, and her cameraman was pushed to the ground. He rose with a cut on his forehead. The media swarmed.

Overall, though, Batcher told me in an email about a week later, the direct action he helped coordinate was successful. “We got the Hamilton to cancel [NPI’s] reservation. Maggiano’s donated their earnings. And we got a lot of media coverage which linked the alt-right to [the] KKK and neo-Nazi style white supremacy. We also got a lot of people involved, both marching in the streets . . . and through call-in campaigns. We met most of our goals, and realize this is something to build on.”

That raises the question, though: Did NPI’s leaders meet theirs?

* * *

Although the number of hate groups grew by 14 percent in 2015, there may be some hope for those concerned about the alt-right’s rise.

Indulgent fantasies of a white ethnostate and pseudo-intellectual beliefs about the nature of race and ethnicity may be what keeps Spencer, Taylor, MacDonald, and others going, but at the root of it, their followers are driven by fear and anger.

But over what? Outsourcing? For those of us in our 20s, many of whom found their voices among these extremists, that process was underway by the time we were legally able to work. For many of us, it was really the 2007–2008 crash that took a toll on our own budding careers—and that had more to do with pure corporate greed and an unmitigated desire to treat the middle class as pawns in get-rich-quick schemes.

But this is not about economic dislocation or anxiety. What the alt-right is mourning is a community that never existed. While the United States has been home to a certain class of elites with ancestral roots in Europe, the barriers to entry have been constantly in flux. Protecting and enforcing white supremacy may undergird much of our history and law, but that definition of “whiteness” has always been fluid. Spencer’s praise of Russian and Eastern European nationalists would be considered heretical among his movement’s ancestors in the 1920s and 1930s, when immigration quotas targeting Italians, Slavs, and Greeks were all the rage. And while the alt-right’s demand to shut down immigration in the next 50 years may seem in line with, say, South Carolina Senator Ellison DuRant Smith’s impassioned defense of the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, and of shutting the door until we can “breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship,” to borrow DuRant’s words, it’s unlikely that Spencer and Smith could have agreed on the fundamental terms that defined their movements.

What does it mean to be “European”? Being of European ancestry doesn’t capture the totality of these new white nationalists’ definition. For those of us of European heritage, the wave of imperial decline and the ever-changing borders of European nation-states in the late 19th to 20th century make discerning our place on the continent difficult, if not impossible. Instead of grappling with these nitty-gritty details, this new generation of white nationalists resorts to nonsensical, ahistorical universalisms. They take pride in unearthing “the European mind,” on articulating a “white identity” rootedin these nebulous geopolitical configurations. But whose Europe? Whose “white identity”?

The community of European whites imagined by Spencer is and always will be imagined. Its issue is not that it is a transnational or supranational community; the white nationalist formulation claims to have identified race as something more primordial. Yet, this racial “nation” never has, and never will, exist. It cannot even be imagined; the base elements of it are too flimsy for a community to even be “manufactured.”

In the end, the alt-right’s downfall will be itself. In the days following NPI’s conference, some of those affiliated with the movement began to turn on Spencer. Paul (RamZPaul) Ramsey, a featured speaker at the first NPI event I attended in March, stated his intention to distance himself from the alt-right over the “Sieg Heil” controversy that arose from the events on Friday and Saturday in D.C. In a podcast reposted on Spencer’s former webzine Alternative Right, Andy Nowicki exclaimed: “The alternative right is not its putative Führer Richard Spencer. And Richard Spencer is not the alternative right.”

It’s too soon to tell what will become of the alt-right. Soon, Spencer will begin his post-“Heil-gate” victory lap—a term he used in a recent podcast to refer to the outrage following the overt neo-Nazi references and behaviors at the conference—with a speech at Texas A&M. The alt-right is ready to capitalize on Trump’s win. The question, though, is whether it will destroy itself in the process.

Hannah Gais is associate digital editor at The Washington Spectator.

IMAGE: Donald Trump appears at a campaign rally in Miami, Florida. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Sump Trump: Looking For Votes In Reddit’s Basement

Published with permission from The Washington Spectator

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign draws energy from its rowdy, often racist, internet fans. On Wednesday evening, it embraced the unhinged shitposters who make up the candidate’s loudest fan base in all their meme-tastic glory.

Trump—who we now know can use a computer (or at least pose with it)—took to Reddit, or more exactly, to the alt-right-loving subreddit, /r/The_Donald for his first AMA (ask me anything). While AMAs have become one of the network’s more popular offerings, even among infrequent users, they’re usually coordinated by moderators from a subreddit that deals exclusively with these sorts of events. Anyone can ask anything. Your question may not be answered if, say, President Barack Obama is the featured guest, although in a lot of cases, the issue is the volume, not necessarily the content.

Trump, however, went his own way, accepting an invitation from an online community that, along with 4Chan and 8Chan, has been largely associated with the recent boom in white nationalist activity online. /r/The_Donald is, as one user told Wired, “like a 24/7 Trump rally.” And as in a real-life Trump rally, the candidate’s appeal to Reddit’s denizens was repetitive and dull. It showed, though, the campaign’s desire to use these self-governed online communities to amplify its message.

“Trump,” and presumably the big names affiliated with him, “cares about his people, and we are his people.”

That’s not to say any of this new media experimentation comes naturally for Trump. Despite apparently being seated in front of an actual laptop, his answers were brief and slow coming. Chicken pecking is a tedious process, and we can only imagine that Trump—like most businessmen who rely on personal assistants to do even the most basic of tasks—has been slow to adopt new technologies. (“New” obviously has a loose meaning here, as the PC has been around for decades.) Indeed, a close look at the photo verifying Trump was the one answering Redditors’ questions indicates that, while the computer is turned on, the man himself appears absolutely befuddled by the presence of this alien technology. He isn’t touching the keyboard; his expression is one of frustrated bemusement.

Aside from a few attempts to woo libertarian-leaning independents and former Bernie Sanders supporters into voting for him in November, Trump’s outreach was oddly devoid of substantive campaign pitches. Of the few questions Trump managed to hammer out a response to, two were on undecided voters, one was on whether he got sick of “winning,” and the rest were on issues the campaign has been forcing down voters’ throats for the past year—with the notable exception of an answer on NASA’s role in “Making America Great Again.” Although Trump hasn’t said much about space travel, it turns out the federal agency, which celebrated its 58th birthday this week, does have a role in returning the country to greatness.

Instead, Trump focused on lackadaisical base-building, pressing his views on immigration (“I have put forward a detailed plan for H-1B reform to protect American workers which can viewed on the immigration paper on my website”); money in politics (“[Keep] Crooked Hillary Clinton out of the White House!”); and the press’s dishonesty. For an added bonus, the phrase “crooked Hillary” made enough appearances that it’s tempting to wonder if Trump has access to a thesaurus. (May we suggest: “Duplicitous Hillary,” “Unscrupulous Hillary,” “Treacherous Hillary”?)

Meanwhile, unfriendly members of the media and anti-Trumpers found their questions either deleted—or their account permanently banned. One question on Donald Trump’s tax returns, which was posted by Daily Beast reporters, was deleted within 15 minutes.

Despite the low-energy performance, the Trump persona was certainly present, and was in keeping with the fact-free fun-fest that’s been the campaign since the beginning. Trump’s “big tent” approach doesn’t differ much from the subreddit’s freewheeling experimentation with alt-right ideals. Plus, these are the same people his campaign has drawn upon—directly or indirectly—to craft its message online. It’s no accident that some of the more questionable memes used by Trump on Twitter have come from places like Reddit, 4Chan, and the even more virulently racist 8Chan.

Unlike the latter two platforms—which are more or less free-for-alls—moderators have made the occasional attempt to rid /r/The_Donald of overt racism and anti-Semitism. Unsurprisingly, they rely on a different interpretation of proper behavior than your average internet user—frequent use of the term “cuck,” short for “cuckservative,” wouldn’t be tolerated in a number of internet subcultures. Coded racism—think “I’m not a racist but a race realist”—is abundant, however, and it doesn’t take a ton of digging to find instances of it.

That semblance of order has made it easier for public figures to associate themselves with /r/The_Donald: the subreddit’s third rule, “no racism/anti-semitism,” lends a little plausible deniability. As a result, the network has been able to rope in some big names, including the Nixon-branded former campaign adviser Roger Stone, Breitbart tech columnist Milo Yiannopoulos, former MLB player Curt Schilling, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, and—of course—writer and pundit Ann Coulter. With the exception of Yiannopoulos, who became a moderator two months ago, most have kept enough distance to separate themselves from the more controversial happenings.

Keeping that buffer as thin as possible is in the interest of all parties. After all, as Andrew Anglin, publisher of the white nationalist site Daily Stormer, wrote: “Trump,” and presumably the big names affiliated with him, “cares about his people, and we are his people.”

Even if Trump doesn’t, he’s not going to make that fact known, now is he?


Hannah Gais is The Washington Spectator’s associate digital editor.

Photo Credit: Darron Birgenheier

Alt-Right Emboldened

Published with permission from the Washington Spectator.

While it’s too soon to tell what effect Brexit will have on the U.S. election in November, it’ll undoubtedly act as a shot in the arm for a resurgent far-right. Trump’s campaign has already energized the once-struggling white nationalist movement. Brexit—living proof that virulently nativist politics can find their way into the mainstream and can deal a severe blow to the global order within the confines of the democratic process—can only embolden them.

America’s younger white nationalists have embraced the European far-right as a model for their own movement. The American alt-right—a term devised by National Policy Institute director and noted white nationalist, Richard Spencer—has strong European connections, largely through its embrace of “identitarianism.” The term, borrowed from the French Nouvelle Droit (“New Right”), places race at the center of any political calculus. Racial calculations here tend to be broader than those of some long-standing white power groups; “whiteness” can encompass groups, such as Eastern Europeans, once scorned by, say, the Nazis or the KKK.

The alt-right has rallied, with varying enthusiasm, around Trump, citing his focus on non-white immigration. (See “White Power Meets Business Casual,” WS, May 2, 2016.) That’s not to say that American white nationalists and their fellow travelers are uniformly pro-Brexit or, for that matter, care deeply about an “independent Britain.” Spencer, in a podcast several days prior to the referendum, said he’s a “euro-skeptic skeptic”—after all, “being pro-EU and being ethnonationalist is not a contradiction.”

The anti-Brexit blowback from the “elites” offers a convenient rallying cry, even across the pond.

In other words, Europe can be united against a racialized “other.” “Internal immigration within the European Union—the so-called Polish plumber—is arguably a real instance of cultural enrichment,” Spencer said in a video shortly after the vote. A unified Europe isn’t necessarily off the table. But as James Lawrence, writing at Alternative Right, argues, efforts toward “true and positive” European unity would have to wait until “after the anti-European political establishments oppressing us have suffered death by a thousand cuts.” In some respects, it’s not a far cry from Nigel Farage’s call for a Europe consisting of “sovereign states” that trade together, do business with one another—all while (somehow) insisting that freedom of movement must come to an end.

Still, Spencer emphasized, “The Brexit referendum is a kind of metaphor for nationalism and identity.” It’s, as Farage proclaimed in his ludicrous victory speech in the early hours of June 23, a victory for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people”—a victory, that is, for those who fit comfortably into the confines of British nationalism.

Others, such as The Occidental Observer—a publication edited by Kevin MacDonald, a former professor of psychology whose research focused largely on Judaism from an “evolutionary perspective”—noted that “the fault lines in British society are now in clear view and undeniable.”

The anti-Brexit blowback from the “elites” offers a convenient rallying cry, even across the pond. Those white nationalists determined to fight the scourge of so-called globalism (i.e., the ideology bolstering those leftist minions of “empire-building . . . corporations” who advocate for “multiculturalism and diversity, and that is killing the white race”) have already embraced Brexit as evidence their agenda can catch on. The fact that popular agitation—framed as a grassroots struggle against an “incursion” of non-white immigrants—could have such a profound effect on the global economy is offered as evidence that the shakedown is working.

“Nothing can shake the arrogant complacency of our globalist ruling class,” wrote Peter Brimlow on, an anti-immigration publication once designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But, as the Brexit vote shows, they can be broken. And the immigration issue is playing a key role in that breaking.”

Trump—whose half-assed attempts to distance himself from the racists of the far-right has had little effect on his race-baiting rhetoric—praised England’s vote along similar lines. “Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence,” he said in a Facebook statement. “They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”

There are those who have lambasted Brexit—and Trump, for that matter—as the result of a society that’s become “too democratic.” “I do believe that the Brexit vote raises and puts front and center the entire question of the role of referenda in democratic societies,” Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haas said on a media call the day after the vote, echoing a sentiment that has proliferated rapidly among policy elites. But while Cameron’s idea that EU membership should be put up to a vote was nothing short of absurd, blaming the democratic process is disingenuous. British elites have been engaging in dog-whistle politics for years. And with the United States going down a similar road, it may be high time we learned from the mistakes of our friends across the pond.


Photo: A Brexit supporter holds a Union Flag at a Vote Leave rally in London, Britain June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

White Power Meets Business Casual: Inside the Effort to ‘Make White Nationalism Great Again’

Published with permission from The Washington Spectator.

“Thank God for Donald J. Trump,” cried National Policy Institute director Richard Spencer into the microphone.

Spencer, 37, has a boyish, straitlaced look about him. With his well-tailored suit and a nicely kempt undercut, he’d meld perfectly into the swarms of youthful think tank employees trotting down Massachusetts Avenue. But NPI is no ordinary Washington think tank. Founded by an heir to a conservative publishing fortune, it drew white nationalists and sympathizers from around the country—and at least one from Canada—to its innocuously named “Identity Politics” conference a couple of days after Donald Trump dominated the field on Super Tuesday. For $45, I snagged the last ticket designated for millennials.

It is the rise of the bombastic Republican frontrunner that brought this amalgam of aggrieved crusaders together for an evening of cocktails, appetizers, and songs of praise to the candidate who’s inspired them to dip a toe into the stream of establishment politics.

To get in, I waded through a throng of protesters gathered around the entrance of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, yelling “Nazi,” “racist,” and “KKK” at attendees. A few protestors got close enough to snap pictures.

The ambience among the crowd upstairs was more staid. A quick glance around the room confirmed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s description of the NPI as a “suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Aside from a few conspicuously shaved heads, conference attendees appeared to be a clan of “professional racist[s] in khakis,” as a SPLC writer described Spencer, rather than heavily tattooed, Swastika-donning brownshirts.

Most of the attendees were men. Most, but not all, were white.

Spencer kicked off a night of talks with a demographic analysis of the group—a welcome relief from an awkward conversation I had been trapped in a few minutes earlier with a few attendees, about whether it was good (or not) to describe one’s self as a racist. When Spencer asked who is under 30, at least 20 people raised their hands—myself included. He seemed delighted. The movement, he said, needs that “youthful” energy.

Spencer told the crowd to ignore the protesters outside the doors of the Reagan Building. Engagement, we were told, is what they want, so it’s best to ignore them.

Most, of course, had already done so. “Almost none of them interacted with us at all, and I recall them often trying to avert their eyes as they made for the entrance,” Scott Green, an activist who had also protested NPI’s conference in November, told me.

Spencer, however, didn’t appear to be bothered.

“I never thought I had such a fan club,” Spencer continued, referring to three protesters holding effigies of him and the two other conference speakers. The crowd was amused.

Then he hopped off the stage as blaring rock music and a slideshow of various right-wing memes welcomed self-described “shitlord” and video-blogger, Paul Ramsey. Among this crowd, he is better known by his pseudonym, Ramzpaul.

The gregarious blogger outlined his three-point plan for the amorphous, mostly web-based movement known as the alt-right, or alternative right, a reactionary form of conservatism that views itself in contradistinction to mainstream politics. “Identity,” the bedrock of the alt-right agenda, rests upon three pillars: sex realism (“men and women are suited for different roles”), race (inexplicably broken up into “race realism, nationalism, and Jews”), and natural order (a nebulous and quasi-mythical construct that appears to amount to the naïve, tautological, and politically irrelevant idea that society should resist acting against what is deemed “natural”).

Ramzpaul proceeded to identify several cultural scapegoats. The latest Star Wars is bad because it shows that women can be epic warriors and have better command of a fictional psycho-spiritual “force.” The military is bad because it’s putting dainty lil’ ladies right up against tough guy machismo. The media is bad because it dubs all adherents to race-conscious ideologies white “supreeeeeeeeeemists,” without considering the nuances of their high-minded intellectual exercise!

A man with a Confederate-flag tie nodded to the small press pool on the opposite side of the room and whispered into a woman’s ear, “The photographer with the black hair is Jewish.” He stared knowingly at the woman and took a seat.

I was slightly taken aback when Ramzpaul broke up his Powerpoint-heavy presentation to tell us it was time to make friends. We were encouraged to turn to our neighbor and give him a gift. Mein Kampf was mentioned as a possible option. I ended up with a printout bearing the image of a red pill, a metaphor used by right-wing movements, from men’s rights activists to the alt-right, to describe a moment of “awakening,” a la Neo in The Matrix.


The National Policy Institute was founded in 2005 by William Regnery II who, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a “prime mover and shaker” within academic white nationalist circles. As an heir to the conservative Regnery Publishing, which brought us Trump’s campaign screed Time to Get Tough in 2011, Regnery has thrown his fortune behind a number of white nationalist causes. In 2001, he founded the Occidental Quarterly, whose pseudo-scientific agitprop makes it “sort of the Nature of academic racism,” according to Mother Jones. Indeed, NPI’s Identity Politics conference featured one of the Quarterly’s higher profile contributors—Kevin MacDonald, a disgraced former academic who maintains that Jews are responsible for an influx of non-white immigrants to the United States. (MacDonald also sits on the institute’s advisory committee.)

Richard Spencer came onto the scene after a stint at the American Conservative, where he was fired, and later, Taki’s Magazine, a paleoconservative online site created by AmCon cofounder Taki Theodoracopulos. Spencer left in 2010 to start his own webzine, Alternative Right, which helped bring the term “alt-right” to the Internet’s attention and provided a sort of intellectual center for the budding alt-right movement. Contributors ranged from Matt Forney, who now writes for the men’s rights activism site, Return of Kings, to Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian fascist, writer, and academic who provided much of the intellectual foundation for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Ukraine.

About a year later, Spencer took over as president after the death of Louis R. Andrews (who once claimed he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 to destroy the Republican Party so it could be reborn as a party supporting the “interests of white people”). According to the organization’s most recent publicly available Internal Revenue Service Form 990 (NPI is registered as a 501(c)3, as most of its activities are “educational”), Spencer receives no compensation for his work at NPI. (Some have speculated he’s independently wealthy.) Most of the institute’s money goes to events and conferences, many of which have taken place in the D.C. area, despite the fact that Spencer spends most of his time in rural Montana.

Under Spencer’s guidance, NPI has helped lead the North American crusade for what Spencer calls “identitarianism”—an ideology that has its roots in the French far-right and posits that identity (in this case, racial) is the crux of any political, religious, or political movement.

“It’s about saying, ‘What is your identity?’ Basically, saying that [identity] must be the basis for any sort of political action . . . foreign policy, social policy,” Spencer told me. Race is the building block on which all else rests, largely because it’s the only aspect of our identity that can connect a community through multiple generations.

“Identitarianism is something that’s shocking and new for America. It’s something that we don’t take to naturally; it’s something that almost strikes us as foreign. But the fact is that we do have these identities. If you’re a white American, you’re connected to something much older than 1776. You’re connected to something much older than our people’s experience on the North American continent,” he continued. “You’re connected to it through blood. Through your mentality, the way you look at the world, the things you love, the things you’re proud of, the things you value. . . . You can find your identity by looking into yourself.”

It’s tempting to brush off Spencer and his ethno-racial identity-first argument as highfalutin but web-friendly racist blather. Spencer’s vision for the alt-right isn’t a revived Ku Klux Klan, and it’s, oddly, too inclusive for regulars on some neo-Nazi platforms, such as Stormfront and Daily Stormer. Although Spencer is delighted that some more mainstream conservatives—such asBreitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos—have undergone some degree of “alt-right-ification,” other allies have been less enthused. When Yiannopoulos published an explanatory piece on the movement, the Daily Stormer (“the world’s most visited alt-right site!”) followed up with a meme-laden takedown entitled, “Breitbart’s Alt-Right Analysis is the Product of a Degenerate Homosexual and an Ethnic Mongrel.” In a similar vein, the article’s author, Andrew Anglin, retracted his support for NPI’s November conference upon discovering one of the speakers was “an open homosexual.”

That’s not to say Spencer’s strain of white nationalism is any less insidious or divisive. Rather, it highlights NPI’s role in acting as a unifying “center” for a more far-flung alt-right movement.

“NPI is playing the role of being one of the big institutions and one of the essential institutions,” Spencer told me. “It’s going to be the one hosting the conferences where people meet each other. It’s going to be publishing some of the best work.”

“The alt-right is really big, and what we’re doing is right at the center of it,” he said.


After that startling exchange of gifts among the identity-conscious agitators, Kevin MacDonald took the stage. Applause filled the room as the 72-year-old stepped to the podium. The guy’s some fucking hero, I noted. This is a standing ovation.

MacDonald—true to his RateMyProfessor assessment—is dry. Yet he sounded more like a disgruntled uncle reflecting on the good ol’ days of white supremacy than an academic.

He appears too staid to be capable of feeling awe, but if he’s ever had a sense of wonder it’s a result of Trump’s immigration proposals and apparent unwillingness to kowtow to a Jewish lobby. Contrary to some anti-Semitic canards, MacDonald’s secret Jewish cabal can be defeated through political activism.

With as much glee as a crusty old racist can muster, MacDonald told the room, “There’s something about crowds of cheering white people that terrifies America’s elites, especially when the speaker is criticizing their long-standing immigration policies.”

Trump, the engrossed crowd was told, intends to smash an oligarchic system “stacked” against white America. The only way to break free from the system that blocks ordinary white Americans from fighting against the “disease” of multiculturalism and the unilateral rule of the American elite is to get behind a candidate with tremendous cultural capital who is also capable of funding his own campaign in full. (Despite these frequent claims, Trump does not fund his own campaign in toto. In fact, most of his campaign is funded by zero-interest loans, which he’ll likely pay off using funds raised on the campaign trail.) Trump’s refusal to grovel before the Anti-Defamation League (a favorite MacDonald target) or the neoconservative establishment allows him the freedom to “[cut] to the core issues—issues like immigration—which are implicitly white issues.” If we listen and abide, MacDonald continues, we, too, can “Make America Great Again.”

The room went wild.

Spencer closed the evening with an ode to the “gold-plated fascism” of the Trump campaign. Under a Trump presidency, Putin would triumphantly walk the streets; neoconservatives would tremble in their boots as the Republican Party they worked so hard to build comes crashing down around them. Trump—the outrageous, egomaniacal celebrity that he is—may not be the ideal vessel for America’s identitarian shock treatment, but underneath all his “vulgarity and lies,” he’s providing what America needs.

He’s more than a presidential candidate. “Trump is a thing in itself,” Spencer said. “Trump represents that will to thrive to be great, to be something more than a man.”

This message is not for everyone. But if you believe MacDonald’s claim that white Americans aren’t going to public swimming pools because of the hoards of multiethnic rapists, and that waves of lawless people are coming over our Southern border, then Trump’s appeal isn’t first and foremost his promise to make America great again. Instead, the brash, orange-tinted billionaire “is showing white men how to be strong again,” as conference attendee Angelo John Gage, a former Marine and American Freedom Party activist, said in a video on his YouTube channel. On a deeper level, Trump is a bulwark against a calamitous decline—in which faceless, nameless, stateless immigrants will once and for all undermine the economic stability of white Americans.

What then? “If the government, especially at the federal level, is no longer as reliable an enforcer of white privilege,” Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in The Nation this winter, “then it’s grassroots initiatives by individuals and small groups that are helping to fill the gap—perpetrating the micro-aggressions that roil college campuses, the racial slurs yelled from pickup trucks, or, at a deadly extreme, the shooting up of a black church renowned for its efforts in the Civil Rights era.”

This time, they might be wearing suits and ties.

Hannah Gais is The Washington Spectator’s associate digital editor.

Photo: Edel Rodríguez/ The Washington Spectator