Also in this week’s roundup: The curious case of an adoption ad on a far-right podcast, a Middle Eastern conservative reflects on the Trump administration’s Islamophobia, and a country music star fights back against hate.
The alt-right, as we know it, looks to be in serious trouble.
Richard Spencer is beset on all sides by lawsuits and begging for money. Milo Yiannopoulos, who toured U.S. campuses and incited riots, has seemingly disappeared from public view. Andrew Anglin, once arguably the world’s most powerful neo-Nazi, is running from lawsuits.
It’s tempting to draw grand conclusions from the predicaments of America’s racists and bigots: The legal pressure has shut them down; campaigns to pressure social media and web hosting companies to ban the movement have worked; and the antifa’s tactics of confronting the far-right with fists, sticks and pepper spray have them running scared.
Indeed, several stories recently have pondered the future of the alt-right movement.
On March 22, Newsweek asked: “Why Is the Alt-Right Falling Apart?” A week later, the Daily Beast proclaimed “Less Than a Year After Charlottesville, the Alt-Right Is Self-Destructing.” And on April 20, The Washington Post asked: “ ‘Imploding’: Financial troubles. Lawsuits. Trailer park brawls. Has the alt-right peaked?”
The alt-right is in trouble, sure. But those who closely monitor the far-right, in all its incarnations, have a warning for anyone who thinks the broader movement is dying: The far-right is just suffering a temporary setback. It’s here for the long term and the lasting effects of the alt-right aren’t going anywhere.
Here’s how Daily Beast reporter and far-right expert Will Sommer sees it:
“There’s a lot of chaos in … (the alt-right) now, obviously, but I think they’ve successfully implanted in a lot of white people, especially angry white young men on the internet, the idea that white identity politics is acceptable. They’ve been derailed by a lot of personal issues among their leaders, but hard to imagine that idea going away.”
That idea is one that’s not just inspiring political activity, but violence too. A report from the Southern Poverty Law Center this year outlined how young men associated with the alt-right have killed 43 people and injured more than 60 since 2014.
Jack Smith IV, who covers the far-right for Mic, views the alt-right as merely the latest incarnation of racist ideas that have been circulating since the foundation of the Republic.
Just because the most vocal elements of the alt-right have been all but shut down doesn’t mean the legions who supported the movement and sent it money have had a sudden change of heart, he said. The underlying messages of racism, white supremacy and misogyny are still concepts a lot of people believe in.
“We cut the head off the iceberg but the rest of the iceberg is still there and ships can still hit it,” Smith said.
He compared the alt-right with Gamergate, a virulent rising up of men’s rights and anti-feminists that harassed female and nonwhite members of the gaming community. Both represents a very visible political force tapping into sentiments shared by possibly millions of people who keep those beliefs hidden from view, Smith said.
Jake Hanrahan, a freelance journalist who covers militant youth groups and worked with ProPublica on a recent string of exposés of the violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, worries about who will step into the vacuum left by flailing leaders.
The far-right, especially disaffected angry young white men, is a demographic easily fueled by conspiracy theories. That the alt-right leaders have been brought to their knees by institutions like the Southern Poverty Law Center (which is suing Anglin) and by pressure from the mainstream media, could serve to push young people who identify with the alt-right even further to the right, Hanrahan said.
“What I do think might happen is you’ll see a lot of these alt-right kids moving toward more extremist, militant ideology like Atomwaffen,” Hanrahan said. “I think you’re going to find a lot of people that ended up in the alt-right scene will drift more extreme and start joining these hard far-right groups.”
And it’s not just journalists who cover the alt-right and its supporters who see longevity in the ideas and philosophy of the movement.
Steve Bannon recognized the power of this demographic years ago. In an extraordinary report in October, BuzzFeed News laid out how Bannon gleefully courted alt-right characters such as Yiannopoulos, who in turn were feeding off the ideas of Gamergate and neo-Nazis, to draw in disaffected young white people via Breitbart News, which Bannon was then running.
On the other side of the pond, at around the same time, British journalist Damien Walter was covering the rise of Gamergate. Last week, Walter reflected on what he learned at the time in a piece titled, “How white male victimhood got monetised:”
Back when Gamergate was still burrowing its way, maggot-like, up out of the rotting body of online misogyny, a bunch of well-meaning folks asked me: ‘Why are you writing about this?’ And my answer at the time was: this is the future of politics.
Help wanted: Speaking of Gamergate
Over the last few months, we’ve been tracking hate groups operating on online gaming platforms. Now we want to see how this hate is affecting gamers who use these platforms.
We’ve heard stories from gamers about omnipresent harassment that’s caused many of them to rethink playing the games they love. But we’re interested in learning more.
Have you experienced racist, misogynistic or otherwise bigoted harassment while gaming online? We want to hear from you. If you’re interested in sharing your story, send us an email.
This is a public service announcement
We were surprised this week to hear an ad from LDS Family Services, a nonprofit organization owned by the Mormon church, on the radio show “The Political Cesspool.” The SPLC has labeled the show’s host, James Edwards, a white nationalist.
The ad, about the group’s adoption program, featured a conversation between two parents writing a letter to the birth mother of their adopted daughter. “I don’t have the words to thank you for having the courage to give us our most precious gift,” the mom says. “We can only thank you by raising her the way you always hoped.”
We called the Mormon church to ask about it. According to a spokesperson for the church, LDS Family Services didn’t choose to run the spot on “The Political Cesspool.” In fact, LDS Family Services isn’t actively running radio ads at all. The clip is about two decades old and LDS Family Services stopped functioning as a full-service adoption agency back in 2014.
So we wanted to know why the podcast was running the ads. Sam Bushman, who runs the Liberty News Radio Network, which syndicates the show, insisted the spot was an unpaid public service announcement that runs on multiple shows across his network. Even though the segment’s content is outdated, Bushman said he doesn’t plan to stop running it because it advocates for an implicitly anti-abortion message, which he supports.
Bushman also pushed back against the SPLC’s designation. “I do not believe that James Edwards or I are racists. Edwards is a good, honest Christian,” Bushman told us over the phone. “I am white and proud of my heritage, but I do not hate anyone.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Edwards was granted press credentials to a Trump campaign rally in Memphis. After this became public, the Trump campaign blasted Edwards. “The campaign had no knowledge of his personal views and strongly condemns them,” then-campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told The Hill.
A few months later, Trump’s son, Eric, did an interview with Bushman, re-igniting the controversy.
Trump’s Islamophobic appointment
This week, the White House announced the appointment of Fred Fleitz as the chief of staff for National Security Adviser John Bolton. Fleitz has spent recent years as the senior vice president at the Center for Security Policy, a group known for spreading Islamophobic conspiracy theories.
David Ramadan, a Lebanese immigrant who served as a state representative in Virginia’s House of Delegates, knows the Center for Security Policy all too well. Despite being a lifelong conservative and GOP activist, Ramadan was personally targeted in a smear campaign by the center’s founder Frank Gaffney when he first campaigned for office as a Republican in 2012.
Gaffney charged Ramadan was running for office – with the support of radical Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood – with the intention of imposing Sharia in the United States. Ramadan categorized the allegations as categorically false.
The Center for Security Policy has leveled similar accusations against longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Suhail Khan, the wife of anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist.
Those attacks were enough to get Gaffney banned from the influential Conservative Political Action Committee conference in 2011, but not enough to stop Trump from appointing Gaffney to his presidential transition team in 2016.
Ramadan ultimately won the race, receiving the backing of prominent Republicans such as then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Reagan administration Attorney General Edwin Meese. But Gaffney’s Islamophobic attacks still sting.
“This is a fear-mongering hate group that targeted me simply based on my last name,” Ramadan told us.
Ramadan says Fleitz’s appointment sends the message that Middle Eastern conservatives are no longer welcome in the party he left after Trump’s election.
“This appointment of Fred Fleitz is disgusting. There’s no other way to describe it,” he said. “Trump used these guys to win the election. He peddled these conspiracy theories during his campaign and continues to do this race-baiting during his presidency.”
Bucking a trend, a country musician wrote a protest song about Charlottesville
Last August, in the wake of Virginia’s deadly Charlottesville rally, Rolling Stone magazine posed a question:
(W)hy is it so hard for artists in country music – a genre with a rich history of giving a voice to the downtrodden – to share a few words of sympathy and solidarity; to offer, at the very least, an acknowledgement of the violent, uncertain, increasingly turbulent state of the nation? A simple “Hey y’all, white supremacy is bad” – far less than 140 characters – would suffice.
The question was in response to a deafening silence from country music stars in the week following the Charlottesville tragedy.
Now, almost a year later, country musician Jesse Dayton has answered the call. Dayton just released a protest song titled, “Charlottesville:”
“I saw white men marching, chanting racist slogans, carrying torches and Nazi flags on my TV in 2017 America and had to write this song,” Dayton told Rolling Stone. “I’m shocked we’re not hearing more of these songs. We need them now more than ever.”
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Correction on Jun 1, 2018:
An earlier version of this story misstated which radio show featured an interview with Eric Trump.