Racist troll-turned-movement attorney Kyle Bristow finds a second wind and a new audience for his activism.
Earlier this year, a bearded man wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap was caught on video shoving a young black woman, a protester, at a rally for Donald Trump in Louisville, Ky. He shouted racial slurs and repeatedly yelled “leftist scum” as he and others pushed the woman through the crowd.
The young man in the video was Matthew Heimbach, the head of the white nationalist Traditionalist Youth Network (TYN), an “Alternative Right” organization that works to recruit racist college students. The woman he shoved, a student named Shiya Nwanguma, posted a cell phone video later 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.”
Now the case is heading for the courts. On March 31, Nwanguma filed a lawsuit alleging that Heimbach and another man shoved and struck her after Trump urged supporters in the Louisville crowd to “get ’em out of here.” Heimbach also was criminally charged with harassment with physical contact.
And representing Heimbach will be Kyle Bristow, a soft-spoken but viciously opinionated racist activist, a recently minted lawyer who entered the movement while an undergraduate at Michigan State University. Like Heimbach, Bristow in the last couple of years has become one of the white supremacist movement’s most visible young activists — and he is doing his best to become even more so.
Since earning his law degree from the University of Toledo in 2012, Bristow has become the go-to attorney for a growing cast of racists –– young and old. In addition to Heimbach, an old friend, Bristow has advised the National Alliance Reform & Restoration Group, a radical faction trying to seize control of the remnants of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. Earlier this year, he formed the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas (FMI) “to promote the United States Constitution and to oppose people who and organizations which strive to usurp the freedoms it guarantees” — and to target so-called “social justice warriors.” Bristow has also made a considerably less controversial name for himself by successfully representing several women who were subjected to online “revenge porn.”
It has been a remarkable trajectory for Bristow, who once wrote and self-published a poorly written, crude novel about a future race war. As a student, he was known for sophomoric and racist stunts like his “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day.” In 2014, his wife divorced him, giving an interview this summer to Hatewatch in which she described her growing horror at his neo-Nazi antics. But he soldiered on.
Today, Kyle Bristow is a fairly major figure on the American radical right, propelled in part by the rise of the Alt-Right and its hero, Donald Trump.
This month, Bristow is hosting a private function near Lansing, Mich., to celebrate the Alt-Right, which has become nationally known since Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called out the movement by name. Another movement star, James Edwards of the radio show “The Political Cesspool,” will be speaking. In a news release for the event, Bristow wrote, “We are excited to host James Edwards and to hear his thoughts of the Alt-Right phenomenon not long before the election of Donald Trump occurs and he ascends to his throne at the White House.”
Birth of a Nationalist
The Alt-Right today is white supremacy rebranded for the digital age — a kind of army of racist Internet trolls who take after their enemies with incredibly vitriolic and often frightening online attacks. And Kyle Bristow has been playing that same kind of game for many years. It began when he was a college student.
At MSU, Bristow became president of the school’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (MSU-YAF), a campus youth group founded in 1960 to advocate for conservative public policies. He also won an uncontested seat on the student government council. The kid classmates remembered as a coin-collecting, bookish blond wasted no time in showing what his politics were all about.
As a student representative, Bristow issued a 13-point program for the school that called for capturing undocumented immigrants in the area, cutting school funding for non-heterosexual groups, and giving more representation to men and whites on the student council than others. And as the chief of MSU-YAF, he tried to organize a “Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day,” held a “Koran Desecration” competition, joked about giving smallpox-infested blankets to Native American students, and hosted lectures by well-known racist leaders like Jared Taylor of the American Renaissance publishing operation and Nick Griffin of the whites-only British National Party.
But it wasn’t long before MSU had had enough of Bristow. He suffered a landslide recall vote after he refused to resign or recant his 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 and was attending law school at the University of Toledo, Bristow found time amid his studies to turn his attention to creative writing. He self-published a novel through Amazon called White Apocalypse, a vicious revenge fantasy that depicted what were obviously two officials of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok. (The Potok character was assassinated in the text.) The novel, and a later collection of essays called The Conscience of a Right Winger, received widespread support from many white nationalist leaders, including William Johnson, the chairman of the racist 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,” wrote Johnson, who once proposed a constitutional amendment to deport every American citizen with “an ascertainable trace of Negro blood.” “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.”
Fitness and Character
Bristow may or may not be “detailed and insightful,” but he is certainly crude. Asked for an interview by Hatewatch, he responded with name-calling and a threat to sue if he were contacted again by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“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 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.
Last year, Ashley Bristow, in the middle of a contentious legal battle over custody of the divorced couple’s daughter, published an essay describing her married life. She said that Kyle Bristow, who has posted menacing pictures of himself posing with heavy weapons online since he was young, 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, even as he was making a career as an attorney in suburban Detroit, Bristow continued his racist activism — even though the state bar association could conceivably discipline him on grounds of character and fitness. Last year, that group ran headlong into Bristow and his ideology in a bizarre set of circumstances.
The State Bar of Michigan had long been running a short-story contest, and Bristow, whose name apparently wasn’t well known to the organization, won an honorable mention for a story he entered in the biennial contest. Titled “Post-Conviction Relief,” it was about a “soft-spoken and introverted” Michigan criminal defense attorney 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 appeal attorney. He kills Washington with a sharpened pen.
When Bristow’s past was publicized, 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 short-story contest would be discontinued. “The short story contest has been popular with many [attorney] members. … But if this result could occur even with the high caliber of the judges who conferred the award, the contest should be discontinued.”
As Bristow’s name has become better known on the radical right, along with the rising recognition of the larger Alt-Right movement, he has moved to consolidate his position as a racist leader. His new think tank, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, is a thoroughly racist institution despite its anodyne name.
Joining Bristow on that group’s board of directors are leading activists of the radical right, including the American Freedom Party’s William Daniel Johnson; Ryan Sorba of California Young Americans for Freedom, an anti-LGBT activist who wrote The Born Gay Hoax in 2007; and attorney Jason Robb, the son of Thom Robb, who is the longtime leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas.
The foundation’s mission is ostensibly “to educate the public about the freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and people and organizations which strive to usurp said freedoms.” Translated, that means that it will likely focus on entities that Bristow sees as the enemies of white supremacy. In recent months, he has begun a research project digging into Supreme Court cases he claims will pull back the veil on 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 said this month. “The battle where the debates on the issues most palpably occurred has been—and is still today—waged at the Supreme Court of the United States.”
One such instance, the foundation asserts, is the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, in which the court struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Bristow cited with approval an amicus brief filed by then-North Carolina Attorney General T.W. Burton supporting such racist laws. “There is no equalitarianism in the field of biology, anthropology and geneticism,” Burton wrote. “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.”
Despite his prolific racist activism, Bristow also has become known for successfully representing victims of revenge porn — photos of nude or semi-nude women posted by former boyfriends or lovers to the Internet. In one case, he won $500,000 for such a victim, and his law practice is thriving, apparently as a result of this work.
But it is unclear where Bristow intends to go next with his activism. The one point that he makes clear is that he plans to spend the remainder of his life fighting for the racist cause. As Bristow said about himself and his comrades in the movement, “We sleep, eat, breathe, work and live Alt-Right.” And Bristow doesn’t seem destined to the dustbin. Not yet. Not with the Alt-Right thriving in an election season.
At this year’s Alt-Right Conference in Detroit, sponsored by Bristow’s new foundation and drawing extremists such as the National Policy Institute’s Richard Spencer and Nathan Damigo of Identity Evropa, a smiling Bristow took the stage with a crude barrage of racist jokes before promising a future for them all.
“We are eager to make a last stand,” Bristow said. “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, and that we have a moral obligation to seek the realization of our people’s destiny.”