In their attempt to reorient and rebrand after the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, white nationalist hate groups have largely retreated from public activism. Amid infighting following the rally, many groups splintered, accounting for some of the increase in white nationalist hate groups in 2018. Some leaders have urged followers to focus their energy on private meetups and internet recruiting. But the movement has struggled to secure meeting venues and to maintain a stable web presence as various online payment processors and social media platforms have begun enforcing terms of service violations and removing those who propagate hate speech or threaten violence. In 2018, white nationalists feuded internally over whether they should openly espouse violence or hide their genocidal ambitions behind more banal aesthetics like Americana or meme-laden ironic detachment. Harried by lawsuits, fracturing alliances and public embarrassment, movement figureheads largely settled in favor of putting forward as inoffensive a public presentation as possible.
Richard Spencer’s college tour came to an end, and Jason Kessler’s attempt at a second “Unite the Right” rally was a dismal failure. However, other groups such as Identity Evropa, Patriot Front and the League of the South continued to hold rallies and banner drops. But more than ever, 2018 was the year white nationalists drew blood. From the Parkland, Florida, shooting of 17 students in February, to the massacre of 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, white nationalists or those inspired by white nationalism have committed violence at an alarming rate, killing at least 40 people in North America this year alone.
Despite pressure on law enforcement and Silicon Valley to seriously counter the rise in violent extremism perpetrated by white nationalists, the far right shows no signs of letting up. White nationalist leaders will continue to explain away the violence in their movement as a regrettable but understandable reaction to demographic change.
Adherents of white nationalist groups believe that white identity should be the organizing principle of the countries that make up Western civilization. White nationalists advocate for policies to reverse changing demographics and the loss of an absolute, white majority. Ending non-white immigration, both legal and illegal, is an urgent priority — frequently elevated over other racist projects, such as ending multiculturalism and miscegenation — for white nationalists seeking to preserve white, racial hegemony.
White nationalists seek to return to an America that predates the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Both landmark pieces of legislation are cited as the harbingers of white dispossession and so-called “white genocide” — the idea that whites in the United States are being systematically replaced and destroyed.
These racist aspirations are most commonly articulated as the desire to form a white ethnostate — a calculated idiom favored by white nationalists in order to obscure the inherent violence of such a radical project. Appeals for the white ethnostate are often disingenuously couched in proclamations of love for members of their own race, rather than hatred for others.
This platitude collapses under scrutiny. Two favorite animating myths of white nationalists are the victimhood narrative of black-on-white crime — the idea that the dominant white majority is under assault by supposedly violent people of color — and the deceptively titled “human biodiversity,” the pseudo-scientific ascription of human behaviors, in this case along racial lines, to “non-negligible” genetic difference among humans. Appeals to the “empirical science” of human biodiversity are frequently coupled with thinly veiled nods to white, racial superiority.
In addition to their obsession with declining white birth rates, these themes comprise some of the most powerful propaganda that animates and drives the white nationalist movement. Adherents frequently cite Pat Buchanan’s 2001 book, The Death of the West, which argues that these declining white birth rates and an “immigrant invasion” will transform the United States into a third world nation by 2050, as the text responsible for their awakening, or “red pill.”
White nationalists also frequently cite American Renaissance, a pseudo-academic organization dedicated to spreading the myth of black criminality, scientific racism and eugenic theories. Its annual conference, a multi-day symposium with a suit-and-tie dress code, is a typical early stop for new white nationalists.
Although it isn’t ubiquitous, there is a current of antisemitism in the modern day white nationalist movement. Jews are common scapegoats for the perceived cultural and political grievances of white nationalists. White nationalist and antisemitic literature and conferences also have frequent author and speaker overlap. Kevin MacDonald, the author of The Culture of Critique — a trilogy of books alleging a Jewish control of culture and politics with evolutionary psychology — is a frequent guest in white nationalist media and at events. His writing is frequently cited as what introduces white nationalists to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy
White nationalists also commonly pass through paleoconservatism — an anti-interventionist strand of libertarianism that seeks to limit government, restrict immigration, reverse multicultural programs and deconstruct the social welfare programs. Some of white nationalism’s most prominent voices, including Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimelow did stints at Taki’s Magazine, the most prominent paleoconservative journal.
Strategies for pursuing the white ethnostate fall into two major categories: mainstreaming and vanguardism. Mainstreamers believe that infiltrating and subverting the existing political institutions is the only realistic path to power. They aspire to convert disaffected “normies” to their politics and advocate for white nationalists to seek positions — in politics and society — that have access to resources otherwise unavailable to avowed racists. These resources often require that white nationalists disguise their politics and compromise on their most extreme positions. Mainstreaming allows those sympathetic to white nationalism to pursue or enact policies furthering white nationalist priorities. These aren’t always exclusive to white nationalism, such as immigration restriction or the elimination of social welfare programs.
Vanguardists believe that revolution is the only viable path toward a white ethnostate. They believe that reforming the system is impossible and therefore refuse to soften their rhetoric. They typically seek to reform what they believe to be an “anti-white” establishment through radical action. Vanguardists favor public demonstrations to anonymous, online activism and hope that by turning out in numbers at protests they can defy so-called political correctness, polarize politics and accelerate what they view as the inevitable collapse of America.
The racist so-called “alt-right,” which came to prominence in late 2015, is white nationalism’s most recent formulation. While the themes of white dispossession, nostalgia for pre-1960s America and the desire for separatism remain central to the ideology, its edges are softer and porous, allowing for the influence and inclusion of more radical elements, including a suite of neo-Nazi organizations. It also welcomed an unsavory ecosystem of internet trolls. These chaos agents contribute a distinct style of discourse that include a notable lack of empathy, extreme, often violence-tinged, rhetoric, and willingness to dehumanize their enemies in service of political goals. Throughout 2016, with the contentious presidential campaign as a unique backdrop, the nascent alt-right launched a novel campaign of “cultural vanguardism,” tightly focused on radically altering culture — in the form of a total war on “political correctness” — rather than politics. This third style of activism, which borrowed from both the mainstreamers and the vanguardists, primarily took place online in the form of “shitposting,” meme making and online harassment.
As momentum dissipated post presidential election and online activism began to yield diminishing returns, white nationalists reverted to tried tactics such as public demonstrations, including college speaking engagements and propaganda distribution, primarily in the form of anonymous flyerings and banner drops — also on college campuses. Universities, with their impressionable and at times combustible student bodies provide easy targets for the newly trollish tactics of an alt-right obsessed with youth recruitment.
Groups listed in a variety of other categories — Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, racist skinhead and Christian Identity — can also be fairly described as "white nationalist." Although, as organizational loyalty has dwindled and the internet has become white nationalism’s organizing principle, the ideology is best understood as a loose coalition of social networks orbiting online propaganda hubs and forums.