Radical lawyer Kyle Bristow has started a new foundation that aims to become the legal arm of the racist radical right
At last July’s Alt-Right Conference in Detroit, the first such gathering to use the racist right’s new and misleadingly bland name for itself, a 30-year-old attorney took to the stage with a barrage of extremist propaganda.
“We are eager to make a last stand,” Kyle Bristow, defiant and snappy in a suit and tie, said amid jibes aimed at Jews and black people. “We are not doing this to make money or to advance our careers. We are doing it because we truly believe that we are right and that what we are doing is in the interest of our people.”
In fact, the event was more than a “last stand.” While it might have appeared that way at the time, it actually amounted to a coming-out party for the “alternative right” — a rebranding for public relations purposes of the extreme racist right, albeit one that emphasizes youth, savvy Internet organizing, and the basic idea that “our people,” white people, are the ones to whom America belongs.
By the following month, the so-called Alt-Right was on the lips of millions of Americans, particularly after Hillary Clinton pilloried it in an August speech. When Donald Trump won the presidential election in November, after a campaign in which he repeatedly avoided condemning racist activists who supported him, the Alt-Right, at least in the minds of its leaders, had come into its own.
The event at which Bristow spoke was sponsored by three organizations that are central to the Alt-Right — the National Policy Institute, a racist think tank brought back from obscurity in recent years by leader Richard Spencer; Identity Evropa, a campus-oriented group formed by Nathan Damigo in March 2016; and the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, started the same month by Bristow.
If it wasn’t obvious that the Alt-Right is pretty much the same thing as the old white supremacist right — even if it does favor suits and ties over Klan robes or faux Nazi uniforms — that was cleared up just 11 days after Trump’s election, when an Alt-Right conference sponsored by the National Policy Institute concluded with several audience members sieg-heiling Spencer during his speech.
Now, Bristow’s foundation appears poised to become, in effect, the legal arm of the Alt-Right. In the past year, its five attorneys and other associates led by Bristow have pushed it into the forefront of the American radical right.
What led Bristow from a quiet Roman Catholic upbringing in Clinton Township, Mich., about 25 miles outside Detroit, to the lectern that day is, in many ways, the story of the birth of the Alt-Right. But it is also very much the story of how a bookish and shy young man angry with what he saw as “leftist nonsense” became the kind of leader that wannabe Nazis admire.
No doubt, the ascent of the Alt-Right and its hero, President-elect Donald Trump, have only served to bolster Bristow’s ambition and focus his drive. And Bristow has big plans for the movement, his organization and even his own career with Trump in the White House. But his rise on the radical right began as a student with racist stunts like “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.”
And what a rise it has been.
Since earning his law degree from the University of Toledo in 2012, Bristow had become a go-to attorney for a growing cast of racists. He represented Matthew Heimbach of the racist Traditionalist Worker Party after Heimbach assaulted a black protester at a Trump rally last year in Louisville. He advised the National Alliance Reform & Restoration Group, a radical faction trying through legal action to seize control of what remains of the once-powerful National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group. His foundation promises to defend racist activists against “social justice warriors,” depicting itself as the legal “muscle behind the Alt-Right phenomenon.”
But, if you take Bristow’s word for it, he is only beginning.
Birth of a Nationalist
Bristow is not alone in what has materialized in the United States as the Alt-Right — in part, a kind of army of racist Internet trolls who take after their enemies with incredibly vitriolic and often frightening online attacks. Like many others, he has been playing that game for years.
At Michigan State University, Bristow was quick to make a name for himself as the campus racist — or, as he puts it, “a shitlord before there was a word for it.” He was president of the school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (MSU-YAF), a national campus youth group founded in 1960 to advocate for conservative public policies, and won an uncontested seat on the student government council.
But the student classmates remember as a coin-collecting, bookish conservative was already a little more radical than almost anyone had yet realized.
“From an early age I was subjected to leftist nonsense to varying degrees, and being a shy bookworm throughout middle school, I found myself holed up in my room reading books that dealt with philosophy, politics, and history,” Bristow said in a 2011 interview. “I very vocally participated in political discourse and advocated positions that are antithetical to the leftist dogma that permeates college campuses today.”
Such “political discourse” challenged most concepts of government decorum, even for a student government. As a student, Bristow issued a 13-point program to govern student life that called for capturing undocumented immigrants in the area, cutting school funding for non-heterosexual student groups, and giving more representation to men and whites on the student council than others.
As chief of MSU-YAF, he also tried to organize a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” held a “Koran Desecration” competition, joked about giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native American students, and hosted lectures by well-known racist leaders like Jared Taylor of American Renaissance and Nick Griffin of the whites-only British National Party.
But it wasn’t long before Bristow’s classmates had had enough.
In a landslide vote, MSU students recalled Bristow from office after he refused to resign or recant his 13-point agenda. “I have no regrets as to what I did, said, or planned to do while serving as chairman of MSU-YAF,” he boasted in a self-congratulatory letter of resignation. “I am very proud of my exploits.”
After he graduated from MSU with a degree in international relations, Bristow enrolled in law school at the University of Toledo. There, he found time amid his studies to turn his attention to creative writing. In 2010, he self-published a novel, White Apocalypse, that depicted a race war set off by the discovery of the “Solutrean Hypothesis.” First proposed in 1998, that hypothesis claims that people from Europe may have been among the earliest settlers of the Americas. Although most anthropologists reject it, it remains a favorite claim of American white nationalists.
The book also depicted in contemptuous terms two characters obviously based on two officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok. (The assassination of Potok’s character is depicted in gruesome detail in the text.) The novel, and a later collection of essays called The Conscience of a Right Winger, received enthusiastic support from many white nationalist leaders, including William D. Johnson, head of the American Freedom Party.
“Kyle Bristow’s analysis is detailed and insightful. He focuses on some of the main fallacies in law and society that have contributed to the decline and fall of Western civilization,” Johnson, who once proposed a constitutional amendment to deport every American citizen with “an ascertainable trace of Negro blood,” said of Bristow’s second volume.
“It is essays like the ones contained in this compilation that help lead Western Man from the darkness that grips him in every country where he resides.”
Threats and Insults
Bristow may or may not be “detailed and insightful,” but he certainly has proven to be crude. He responded to a request for an interview from the Intelligence Report with a threat to sue if he were contacted again, along with a megalomaniacal view of what the future held for him under a Trump administration.
“I cannot imagine any reason — much less a good one — for which I would want to be subjected to an ‘interview’ by you or any other mental-moral defective associated with the vile, degenerate, repugnant and leftist Southern Poverty Law Center,” Bristow wrote. “The next time I hope to hear from you will be when I am appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as his czar of the forthcoming inquisition so as to make America great again and you contact me to beg for forgiveness for having undermined Western civilization as an agent of the SPLC.
“If you are lucky following the Trump-Bristow Inquisition, you will only end up in a locked room in which you spend your time smearing your feces in the shape of Pepe the Frog on its padded walls. [Pepe the Frog is a cartoon character that has been hijacked by the radical right as a racist symbol in the last year or so.] I suspect that Torquemada [an infamous 15th century leader of the Spanish Inquisition] will be considered a lightweight compared to me when historians compare the two of us in the future when all is said and done.”
Bristow apparently wasn’t much nicer to his wife.
In 2015, Ashley Bristow, then in the middle of a contentious legal battle over custody of the divorced couple’s daughter, posted an essay on the Internet describing her life while married to Kyle. She said that Bristow posted menacing pictures of himself posing with heavy weapons, had started stockpiling ammunition for his AR-15, and openly fantasized about a coming race war.
But she stayed with him, she said, until attending a meeting in 2014 of the Charles Martel Society, which publishes Occidental Quarterly, a racist, pseudo-intellectual journal. She recounted an after-party at the conference where attendees burst into song. “And by ‘sing,’ I mean it was a bone-chilling, guttural chant in a foreign language,” she wrote. “The only words I recognized were ‘Sieg Heil,’ punctuated with a raised fist.”
Her conclusion was stark: “If my precious daughter grows up with Kyle Bristow, she’ll have plenty of fear, and plenty of hate.” She left him a short time later.
Through it all, Bristow was making a career as an attorney in suburban Detroit. But he wasn’t your typical attorney, as the State Bar of Michigan found out last year in a bizarre encounter.
The bar association had long been running a biennial short-story contest, and a Bristow entry won an honorable mention. Titled “Post-Conviction Relief,” Bristow’s story was about a “soft-spoken and introverted” Michigan criminal defense attorney — not unlike Bristow — whose daughter, Caroline, is murdered by an 18-year-old “tattoo-covered, drug-abusing gangbanger named Tyrone Washington.” After the trial, the lawyer, who is white, goes to the prison to visit Washington, who is black, under the guise of being an appeals attorney. He kills Washington with a sharpened pen.
When Bristow’s past was publicized after the winners were announced, the bar association reacted in horror and embarrassment, saying that a second look at Bristow’s story found it “to be embedded with racist cues and symbolism.” One bar official characterized the story as a “potential ideological manifesto.”
“We cannot apologize enough,” said Michigan Bar President Thomas C. Rombach, adding that the contest would be discontinued. “The short story contest has been popular with many members. … But if this result could occur even with the high-caliber of the judges who conferred the award, the contest should be discontinued.”
Bristow reacted with unvarnished contempt. “If the State Bar officials are now getting their panties in a bunch over a mere fictional story, then I submit that it is probably a good idea that they canceled the annual contest so that they are not triggered in the future by politically incorrect thought-crimes,” he told the Lansing State Journal.
As his stature has grown on the radical right, Bristow has moved to consolidate his position as a racist leader. Despite its anodyne name, his new think tank, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, is preparing to go to war.
In its first eight months, the foundation has offered pro bono legal advice to “Alt-Right guerrilla activists” on college campuses and defended their right to distribute personal information about anti-racists. He has supported students bringing racists to college campuses, including Texas A&M, where Preston Wiginton, an old-hand white nationalist, invited the National Policy Institute’s Richard Spencer to speak in December. He has counseled neo-Nazis and white nationalists in various legal matters.
The foundation is growing quickly. Joining Bristow on the foundation’s board of directors in recent months have been notable racist leaders and pundits, including Mike Enoch, who publishes the Alt-Right blog The Right Stuff and claims to have coined the term “c---servative.” (The term is a portmanteau joining the words “cuckold” and “conservative.” Often shortened to “c---,” it is a pejorative that suggests that mainstream conservatives have sold their race out.)
Others on the foundation’s board of directors include the American Freedom Party’s William Johnson; the California Young Americans for Freedom’s Ryan Sorba, an anti-LGBT activist who wrote The Born Gay Hoax and secretly recorded hours of video in gay bars to prove that homosexuality is the product of a traumatic childhood; and attorney Jason Robb, the son of Thom Robb, the longtime leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas.
The foundation’s mission statement says it works to educate “the public about the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and people and organizations which strive to usurp said freedoms.” In recent months, it has begun researching U.S. Supreme Court cases in the hope of explaining how “social justice warriors” and their allies have manipulated culture and public opinion to define the “zeitgeist” of civil rights. “Positions on certain issues — such as civil rights — that are accepted as absolute truths today, however, were hotly contested issues yesteryear,” the foundation says.
One such instance, Bristow’s foundation asserts, is the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. In discussing the case, Bristow cited with approval an amicus brief filed by then-North Carolina Attorney General T.W. Burton supporting such laws.
“There is no equalitarianism in the field of biology, anthropology and geneticism,” Burton wrote then. “If a state feels like the life of its people is better protected by a policy of racial integrity as to both races, or for any other race for that matter, then it has the right to legislate in such field.”
But that theoretical work seems like a mere backdrop to the foundation’s real purpose — to serve and protect white nationalists and their ilk as they try to penetrate the political mainstream.
One example of that came last year, after Matthew Heimbach, head of the Traditionalist Youth Network that seeks to recruit racist college students, was caught on video shoving a young black woman protesting a Trump rally in Louisville, Ky. Wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, Heimbach shouted racist slurs and “leftist scum” as he and others manhandled the woman. The woman, a student named Shiya Nwanguma, later posted a cell phone video saying she was called a “n-----” and a “c---” as the hostile crowd swarmed around her.
Heimbach, who later boasted publicly of his role in the attack, painted a different picture. The video, he wrote in a self-congratulatory post to the TYN website, “features yours truly helping the crowd drive out one of the women who had been pushing, shoving, barking, and screaming at the attendees for the better part of an hour. It won’t be me next time, but White Americans are getting fed up and they’re learning that they must either push back or be pushed down.”
Heimbach was criminally charged with harassment with physical contact. In addition, Nwanguma filed a lawsuit alleging that Heimbach and another man shoved and struck her after Trump urged the crowd to “get ’em out of here.”
Bristow has taken cases other than those of racist activists, notably several representing women victimized by “revenge porn” — naked photos of them posted on the Internet by former lovers. But despite these efforts to actually help real victims, what truly defines Bristow is his furious and unapologetic racism.
It’s unclear where Bristow, now in command of a legal foundation that he uses as a political weapon, will go next. Like other Alt-Righters, he seems focused on helping to grow the next generation of activists. He obviously intends to use the Trump presidential victory to try to spread his ideas as widely as possible. He has recruited some key racist ideologues and may well bring in others, too.
While it seems unlikely that Bristow will ever be taken seriously in the American political mainstream, it is possible, especially with the election of Donald Trump, that he will make inroads. And that should worry every one of us.