As they struggle, others step in and take their place.
Matthew Heimbach was the youthful face of white nationalism — a character just as comfortable kissing the rings of racist right luminaries as he was touting the glories of a white homeland to violent Golden State Skins, or his ideological brethren abroad.
For many, he was indispensable as the racist “alt-right” sought mainstream prominence in the era of President Trump — an era that has seen the ideologies of hate and extremism move swiftly from the margins to the mainstream. But all that changed in March when, confronted with allegations he was having an affair with his mother-in-law, Heimbach attacked his wife and long-time associate Matthew Parrott, with whom he founded the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP).
The whole thing was a tawdry affair, even for a movement that has been no stranger to scandal. But in the weeks and months that followed, the racist boy wonder who was dubbed “The Little Führer” quickly lost allies and friends. TWP disbanded and Heimbach, once an ever-present fixture at public alt-right events, went into hiding.
Earlier that month Richard Spencer, head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, visited the Michigan State University campus to deliver a speech — another provocative testament to white nationalism designed to “rustle the jimmies” of liberal students. While attendance was sparse, the scene outside the venue erupted into violent skirmishes.
The violence wasn’t new, and the interest in what Spencer had to say on March 5 was lackluster at best. A week later, Spencer announced he would stop giving speeches altogether.
“They aren’t fun,” Spencer said in a video announcing the cancellations. “Until the situation changes, we are up a creek without a paddle.”
While Spencer was characterizing the state of the racist “alt-right” in the wake of dozens of appearances marked by violence that rocked college campuses nationwide – a dynamic that had been developing for more than a year as anti-fascist protesters and alt-right extremists engaged in violent skirmishes — Spencer’s assessment had far-reaching implications.
In fact, since the fatal “Unite the Right” rally last August — an event organized by white nationalist Jason Kessler — the alt-right has been afflicted with widespread problems. There were financial difficulties as big tech began cracking down on the alt-right’s use of online platforms. Numerous influential figures have abandoned the movement, sometimes after their identities have been revealed through dozens of high-profile doxxings. There have been several arrests stemming from Unite the Right, including those who participated in a brutal attack on Deandre Harris in a parking garage during the rally. Perhaps most damaging, a lawsuit filed against Spencer, Kessler and many others for their roles organizing the rally.
For any observer, the irony is apparent: a rally intended to show the world that white nationalists could unite in the public square now stands as a testament to the violent nature of the alt-right — a movement built on contrarianism and conflict. What’s more, the rally seems to represent a zenith in the rise of the alt-right, and the beginning of a shift.
Not quite two years after declaring victory with the election of President Trump, the original cast of racist extremist characters who were determined to capitalize on the Trump era seem hobbled. But as these racist “alt-right” leaders struggle in the aftermath of “Unite the Right,” other new faces and movements have begun to take shape — and have taken to the streets in Washington and Oregon.
Since early last year, the far-right groups Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys (an SPLC-designated hate group) have held more than a dozen rallies throughout the Pacific Northwest under the banner of “freedom.” These events have always been about exhibiting machismo, but — as political divisions in the country have grown — they’ve developed a more targeted purpose: far-right activists taking out their aggression on political opponents. As Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes once put it, “Fighting solves everything.”
Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Washington state, and his followers claim they are standing up for "conservative speech," which has always translated into a lot of immigrant-bashing, Islamophobia, "constitutionalist" gun nuttery straight from the Bundy Bunch and a heavy dose of Deep State/globalist conspiracy theorizing.
What is clear is that although the battleground and the players may have changed, the radical right still has considerable energy.
The division, defection and infighting playing out in the real world of the alt-right reflects a larger existential struggle the movement faces online, where it began.
After Charlottesville, Silicon Valley responded, pushing extremist sites off the web and deleting PayPal accounts in what the movement quickly identified as its greatest threat: denial of access to the internet’s expansive social media platforms, also known as “deplatforming.” That response continued in the opening months of 2018, most surprisingly with the slow demise of the internet’s oldest and most notorious forum for hate, Stormfront.
The first signs came on April 6, when Stormfront founder and former Klansman Don Black announced the forum would temporarily restrict access to “sustaining members,” users who donate at least $5 a month — and would be archiving and shuttering its main server on April 6 due to a “financial crisis.”
The notice wasn’t a surprise. Three days earlier, on an episode of Stormfront Radio, Black told his cohost Patrick Slattery, “The [radio] show will continue, but, Stormfront the website suffers from a financial shortfall.” He continued, “Contrary to rumors that circulate around that say, ‘Oh, Don Black could run that website for fifteen dollars a month.' Well, I would welcome anybody to try that. …We'll be back, I just, I need to reduce expenses, considerably.”
A month later, Black’s troubles compounded when his Stormfront Radio co-host Freeland “Truck Roy” Dunscombe, and longtime chief of staff James “Jack Boot” Baker abandoned Black to struggle alone with his increasingly Sisyphean endeavor.
Stormfront’s troubles remaining online are shared by other sites, too. Daily Stormer, the once-powerful successor to Stormfront, has bounced across domains as web hosts after Charlottesville have grown increasingly unwilling to host racist content.
Domain registrar GoDaddy in May, for example, pulled the plug on AltRight.com, giving Spencer 48 hours to find a new home. While often citing freedom of expression in allowing sites like Spencer’s to use their services, GoDaddy said the site had crossed a line.
“In instances where a site goes beyond the mere exercise of these freedoms, however, and crosses over to promoting, encouraging, or otherwise engaging in specific acts of violence against any person, we will take action,” the company said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “It is our determination that altright.com crossed the line and encouraged and promoted violence in a direct and threatening manner.”
What’s more, websites that helped the alt-right fundraise have dissolved. GoyFundMe.com and WeSearchr are down, and Hatreon has not accepted pledges since February. WeSearchr, the crowdsourcing platform founded by far-right trolls Chuck Johnson and Pax Dixon, went dark after Johnson failed to pay hosting fees. Johnson and Dixon have since parted ways, but not before helping the movement considerably. Andrew Anglin, who runs Daily Stormer, raised more than $150,000 on the site to fund his defense against a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit.
And just as surely as alt-right sites continue to pop up, they go down in a 21st century game of cyber whack-a-mole. But some have refused to go away quietly.
In February, Jared Taylor, the founder of the infamous white nationalist website American Renaissance, filed a lawsuit in superior court in San Francisco. Conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, who was banned from the publishing platform Medium in February along with Jack Posobiec and others, has said he plans to file a lawsuit to protest his ban.
And the new kids on the block are facing little to no pushback from major social media sites. For example, the fraternity of “Western chauvinists” known as the Proud Boys finds its recruits, organizes its rallies and riles up its members on Facebook. Six of the Proud Boys’ largest private “vetting pages” on Facebook — groups where administrators review applicants for approval into a private chatroom where local chapters are organized — have experienced an explosion in recruits in recent months.
These private vetting pages serve as ideological echo chambers and spaces for planning and putting out calls for action, helping place Proud Boys on the ground.
“Seeing that soy boy antifa scum get knocked the fuck out has been the highlight of my year. Ive [sic] watched it over and over,” wrote one new member in a vetting page on Facebook. “[If] you want to find out about the Proud Boys, looks [sic] at the dozens of videos of the Portland Rally when antifa attached the March and got steamrolled and some of them put in the hospital," wrote another member. "Here's a slogan for you, fuck around and find out."
This escalating rhetoric should be a concern for Facebook. While Twitter has received significant criticism for verifying Proud Boys’ accounts, it’s Facebook that appears to provide the recruitment machinery for the group.
Matthew Parrott, who co-founded TWP with Heimbach, noted that problems may have begun when Anglin, who he cited as the “movement’s foremost polemicist,” turned on other alt-right organizations he deemed “obstacles to his vision,” especially those tarnished for their involvement in Charlottesville, where one woman was allegedly killed by a Vanguard America sympathizer.
While evidence shows clear lines of division and signs of collapse across the alt-right, the forces that have always driven the radical right in America — immigration, predictions that whites will be a minority in the coming decades and now, the stamp of presidential approval for fringe ideas coming from the white house — are not falling away with the movement’s troubles. The momentum that the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer are experiencing is evidence of this.
The fact remains that the alt-right — even before it adopted the moniker — was always violent. Throughout Obama’s presidency, extremists motivated by far-right ideologies either plotted or carried out acts of domestic terrorism every 34 days, the Intelligence Report documented. The majority of those attacks were associated with lone wolf extremists — what FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress in May was the bureau’s “highest counterterrorism priority at the moment.” Wray said the agency has more than 1,000 investigations into suspected lone wolf actors in all 50 states.
Extremists who now call themselves members of the alt-right are killing people, too. Earlier this year, the Report found the alt-right had influenced alleged perpetrators responsible for killing or injuring more than 100 people since 2014.
The tragic fact remains that, even if the alt-right falls apart completely, violence associated with the radical right ideas will likely continue. That is especially true given the arrival of groups such as Attomwaffen — an underground domestic terrorism organization expressly dedicated to waging a bloody race war.
Amid this backdrop, some of the organizers of last year’s deadly rally in Charlottesville have moved apace toward holding a second rally in August, ideally in Charlottesville again. Kessler, in fact, has claimed that if the city denies him a permit, he will move the rally.
“If Charlottesville denies our permit for any reason, it’s not safe, we’re going to get in vans and we’re going to go to Lafayette Park in front of the White House,” Kessler said in a YouTube video. But given the state of the alt-right in early 2018, the rally seemed like a longshot. Even those who eagerly joined the rally in 2017 have kept Kessler and the idea of a second Unite the Right at a distance.
Spencer and Brad Griffin, who runs the white nationalist website Occidental Dissent, told Newsweek earlier this year that neither would attend. Michael Hill, president of the neo-Confederate League of the South, told Raw Story that the League didn’t have anything to gain by going back.
Peinovich, too, has voiced extreme reluctance to revisit the idea of Charlottesville 2.0. He blamed the fatal outcome of last year’s rally on “Antifa thugs,” with no mention of James Fields, who faces charges of second-degree murder in the death of Heather D. Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal from Charlottesville.
“I have no plans to attend this rally, nor am I involved in any of the planning. I was not involved in the planning of the last event, either, just an invited speaker. After the unfortunate events and the violent attacks we suffered, I am reluctant to return to Charlottesville,” he told Newsweek. “I hope the event, if it happens, is peaceful and that Antifa thugs do not disrupt it with violence as they did the last one.”
In March, the host of the radio show the “Daily Shoah” aired his frustrations with the hard-right vanguard and offered a dire read of the situation — and maybe some tough love for himself and others on the alt-right.
“We definitely put ourselves off in this ghetto where we are now this thing [sic], and we burned any bridges that we had to the wider right,” Peinovich said. “And we're going to have to spend some time rebuilding that.”