‘Alt-Right’ Fears ‘Deep State’ Retribution Against Trump

As the so-called 'Deep State' turns into a real point of political discussion, the white nationalist 'Alt-Right' sees in its shadow an effort to undermine an administration whose ear they feel they have. 

At last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), the annual conservative confab that in recent years has hosted a growing number of American extremists, organizers made the unexpected step to take a hard stance on the white nationalist “Alt-Right” seeking to inject itself into the conservative mainstream.

Organizers disinvited gadfly provocateur Milo Yiannopolous before the conference began when video surfaced showing the former Breitbart tech editor casually dismissing pedophilia. Then, on Sunday, as Richard Spencer was speaking with reporters about the so-called “deep state” being “opposed to the president” and creating “something like a civil war,” security guards interrupted, stripped Spencer of his credentials and escorted him from the building.

Spencer was quick to attack the conservative establishment as out of touch with the rising Alt-Right. But tucked in his comments was that mysterious phrase –– the deep state.

Spencer was tapping into a term that has grown in popularity in news coverage over the last month, as well as on the radical right, as the Trump administration appears to make good on chief strategist Steve Bannon’s promise to “destroy all of today’s establishment.” Foreign PolicySalon, and Glenn Greenwald’s investigative website The Intercept have all discussed the idea. Even neoconservative Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, recently referenced the deep state. 

Perhaps it is no surprise, but many of the Alt-Right figures –– even if they feel they are increasingly at odds with the GOP –– now point to the deep state as the principal enemy of Trump’s America.

The concept of the deep state is not new. Historically associated with countries such as Turkey, and sometimes called a “state within a state,” the term refers to government bodies like the armed forces, political foundations, police and administrative agencies that work to undermine a country’s civilian leadership, regardless of party affiliation.

The entire idea took root when the Trump administration, stumbling amid leaks to a news media it has named as the “opposition party,” accepted the resignation of retired Army Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who had been named national security adviser. It was revealed that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. 

Within days, pundits and extremists alike responded. Global affairs journals like Foreign Policy declared, “The Deep State Comes to America,” while extremists, including Eric Striker on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, sounded an age-old racist alarm.  

In an article titled “America vs [sic] ZOG: Ex-NSA Official Promises Rogue Agents Will Overthrow Donald Trump,” Striker defined the deep state as a Jewish attempt to attack the president. And mirroring the style of site founder Andrew Anglin’s increasingly bold requests of Trump, Striker called on the administration to respond with force.

"Will the deviants and Jews in the deep state succeed? Trump must immediately start cleaning house with grand juries, massive purges, and make examples of Jew journalists like Michael S. Schmidt and Adam Entous currently making the cable news rounds bragging about committing a felony (publishing illegally procured intelligence). The only way the people of America can take back control of our government is through Trump taking an iron fist to the criminal network that wishes to retain its rule over some evil globalist mongrel empire, and restoring power to the executive branch as it was meant to be. If the President relents for even five minutes, they will destroy him."

Even in the paranoid universe of conspiracy theories on the far right, the deep state is now being referred to by progressive and conservative commentators as a known reality in Trump’s America. It is a simultaneous faith in the future and fear of the present. As southern white nationalist Brad Griffin summarized the idea on Occidental Dissent, “We have two governments, one elected and the other unelected, which are at war with each other.”

In his 2016 book, The Deep State: the fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, veteran congressional staffer Mike Lofgren warned that the deep state was rising in the United States and argued it was the “big story of our time.” The deep state, he said, was “the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism and the militarization of the American economy.”

In a separate essay “Anatomy of a Deep State” published last week, Lofgren added:

There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.

It is difficult to say what will come of such a bizarre political theory as the Trump administration enters its second month in office. The progressive left, and even some conservatives, hope the deep state will be the ultimate guardrail to slow Trump’s unique brand of scorched earth politics. But to dismiss the deep state in America as merely a passing fad is to dismiss just how deep the idea has migrated into the mainstream. 

It is there, after all, that the idea is increasingly pitting the radical right and the slowly acquiescing conservative mainstream against anyone who disagrees.

As Republican consultant Ed Rogers, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses, warned in an op-ed published in The Washington Post, “To me, the deep state is real. The alt-right is not.”

“[A]s best I can tell, the alt-right is just a new way for the left to call Republicans racists and Nazis without actually having to say those terms out loud. To me, the deep state is real. The alt-right is not. The deep state may not be fully developed quite yet, but as the Democrats regain their footing and begin to coordinate and try to further and further damage the president’s credibility, it will have a detrimental impact on how our democracy functions and will further erode the public’s trust in government.”