If you’ve been anywhere near the internet this week, you’ve probably heard about The New York Times profile of neo-Nazi Tony Hovater. “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland” contrasted Hovater’s presence at the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist march and extreme views on whether or not Adolf Hitler did anything wrong with his upcoming nuptials and love of “Seinfeld.”
The piece triggered a massive public backlash. Critics slammed the paper for “normalizing” Hovater and his neo-Nazi ilk. New York Times national editor Marc Lacey responded to the criticism, acknowledging some missteps and insisting this type of coverage is important. The story’s author, Richard Fausset, issued his own follow-up, writing he intended to pinpoint why Hovater took up the mantle of far-right identitarianism, but ultimately was left with more questions than answers.
Here at the Hate Report, we spend a lot of time engaging with, observing and reading the thoughts, hopes and rants of white supremacists. We spend hours and hours on neo-Nazi message boards and perusing white supremacist websites and Facebook pages. We interview these people, over the phone, online and in person.
While The Times’ piece is at times tone-deaf (did it really have to mention him cooking with minced garlic?), it does illustrate the way many of America’s neo-Nazis and white supremacists present themselves today.
The stereotype of the average neo-Nazi as a jackbooted skinhead is outdated. Robert Futrell, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who interviewed hundreds of white supremacists for his book “American Swastika,” said the movement has deliberately shaved off the traditional identifiers of white supremacy in recent years. Their goal is to blur the line between mainstream conservative politics and open white nationalism by erasing the obvious cultural signifiers separating the neo-Nazis from everyone else.
“They grew their hair out and covered their tattoos up,” Futrell said. “They started talking about the need to infiltrate institutions, get an education and get a good job. When their race war comes, they’ll already control those powerful institutions.”
That’s why Futrell didn’t find it surprising that Hovater worked to present himself as unremarkable. And it’s apparently why The Times ultimately decided to profile Hovater in such a seemingly benign way. The message being conveyed is: These people are out there, in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions – and they’re just like you and me.
Certainly, Fausset’s piece could have delved deeper into Hovater’s beliefs, though. While portraying Hovater as a “regular Joe” white supremacist, Fausset casually mentions that his subject co-founded the neo-fascist Traditionalist Workers Party. This organization is an important pillar of the modern white power infrastructure. You may remember it from when seven people were stabbed during clashes at a Traditionalist Workers Party demonstration in Sacramento, California, earlier this year.
And the story contained precious little evidence that Fausset really pressed Hovater on his racist views – challenging him to justify them or provide evidence for what he believes. (For a good example of this, check out “Reveal” host Al Letson grilling white supremacist Richard Spencer late last year.)
Backlash from the story didn’t just hit The New York Times. Shortly after publication, both Hovater and his wife were reportedly fired from their jobs. The white supremacist told The Washington Post he’s been forced to move out of his home, both for financial reasons and fears about personal safety.
A campaign to support Hovater on the far-right crowdfunding platform GoyFundMe (a racist play on GoFundMe, incorporating the meme “Goy,” which white supremacists use in an effort to antagonize the Jewish community) had raised more than $7,500.
Hate crimes redux: Charges in one case, but not in another
Overall, it’s been a mercifully slow couple of weeks in the world of American hate crimes. While incidents of racist abuse and graffiti continued around the country, we only spotted one violent incident since our last Hate Report.
A 69-year-old man in DeKalb, Illinois, was charged with a hate crime last week after he attacked a Muslim woman in a Walmart and tried to pull off her headscarf.
Michael E. Dickey was charged with two counts of hate crime for the attack, in which he allegedly yelled that “Americans don’t want” Muslims here.
Hate crime charges were not among the charges, however, for a Connecticut college student who allegedly bragged about soiling her black roommate’s possessions. (You may remember this case from our Hate Report a couple of weeks back.)
What is a ‘Proud Boy,’ really?
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism published a fascinating story this week about the Proud Boys, a “Western chauvinist” men’s group created by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes.
While the group, which has non-white members, has denied accusations of racism, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Ryan Lenz said its rhetoric carries a tinge of white supremacy:
“When you talk about Western ideals … what you’re talking about is European ideals and the descendants of Europe. America for that matter, as many in the alt-right and many racists argue, is the natural successor to Europe, which was a great ‘civilization,’ ” Lenz said.
“It was only when immigration from other continents started to infuse in Europe and then ultimately in the United States that they would argue the greatness of that continent and this country were undermined.
“Western values,” he added, “are the values of whiteness.”
Even simply getting the story proved hazardous, as the Proud Boys were difficult subjects to wrangle.
A female reporter arranging an interview for this story with Wisconsin Proud Boy members in September was asked by the interview subject whether he should bring condoms. In a later interview, McInnes told the reporter she should give up her career, that “you need to find a man,” and that she would run out of eggs if she did not get pregnant soon.
Trump did some tweets
Early Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump retweeted a series of videos depicting Muslims committing acts of violence.
One of the videos came with the tagline “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches.” However, in a response to the tweet, the Netherlands Embassy noted:
.@realDonaldTrump Facts do matter. The perpetrator of the violent act in this video was born and raised in the Netherlands. He received and completed his sentence under Dutch law.
Outside of just the factual inaccuracies, Trump’s tweets draw widespread criticism.
The tweets were originally from Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant U.K. political party Britain First. Shortly before England voted for Brexit, a man yelled “Britain First!” before fatally stabbing U.K. MP Jo Cox over her pro-EU stance. Cox’s husband criticized Trump for sharing the tweets.
Last year, Fransen was convicted of harassing a Muslim woman on the street in front of her four young children:
Fransen admitted telling Ms Sharpe that Muslim men force women to cover up to avoid being raped “because they cannot control their sexual urges,” adding “that’s why they are coming into my country raping women across the continent.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who Trump once challenged to an IQ test while defending against criticism of his own travel ban, called on the U.K. to cancel any future state visits to the country by Trump over the tweets.
A spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the tweets, but fell short of disinviting him completely.
“British people overwhelmingly reject the prejudiced rhetoric of the far right which is the antithesis of the values this country represents, decency, tolerance and respect,” the spokesman said.
However, the Telegraph reports that American diplomats have scrapped plans for Trump to cross the pond early next year for the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in London.
Trump hit back at May on Twitter on Wednesday evening, insisting she should focus on her own nation’s problem with “Islamic Radical Terrorism.” However, the blow may have failed to land. The account Trump tagged in the tweet belonged to a private citizen and not the U.K. leader.
The Good News: A couple of bad weeks for white supremacist Richard Spencer
White supremacist leader Richard Spencer has had a few upsets of late. Following an embarrassing performance at the University of Florida last month, in which he was booed by most of the audience and told, “Go home, racist!” Spencer reconvened with his followers at a farm in Maryland just before Thanksgiving for a conference.
Halfway through the event, the group was unceremoniously kicked out after the owners of the farm realized they were playing host to racists.
A few days later, Spencer got the news that he has been banned from visiting 26 countries in Europe, including France and Germany. Ironic for someone who spends so much time focusing on his European heritage.
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