In wake of Richard Spencer’s Michigan rally, the racist alt-right’s infighting over optics comes to a head

The white nationalist movement has been embroiled in a war over optics since last year’s Unite the Rally in Charlottesville, and Richard Spencer’s disastrous event at Michigan State University last weekend only increased tensions between those dedicated to street action and others who worry that high-profile confrontations will damage the movement’s image.

Last Thursday, the infighting came to a head when The Right Stuff (TRS) removed “Action!” — a podcast produced by Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) — from their platform.

The removal came two days after TRS host Jesse Craig Dunstan (a.k.a Seventh Son or Sven) announced he would be removing podcasts he didn’t feel belonged on the site. Heimbach responded on Gab by making reference to the Night of the Long Knives — when Hitler purged members of the Nazi paramilitary wing.   

Unlike Dunstan and other alt-right adherent associated with TRS, the neo-Nazi TWP places an emphasis on engaging in protests and street brawls. They provided “security” for last weekend’s events, which included a far-right conference hosted by the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas and a sparsely attended speech by Spencer at Michigan State University last Monday evening, during which 25 people were arrested.

The Michigan events were one flashpoint in a long stream of squabbles over tactics and optics within the alt-right. And the decision to remove Heimbach’s podcast from the TRS platform signaled a possible final break between the two alt-right factions.

The episode of “Action!” that was to be the last posted on the TRS site, titled “Optics, TWP, and You,” delved into the infighting that defined the previous year. 

Predictably, hell broke loose across alt-right social media, and especially the TRS forum.

“You know that all of us on their side aren’t going to just disappear, right?” one poster wrote in response to Dunstan. “You know that TWP won’t stop doing real-life activism because of optics cucks like yourself, right? Even if all of TWP and TWP supporters get banned from TRS, it won’t matter. Your efforts are in vain. TWP is here to stay in the pro-white movement.”

Heimbach used the events at Michigan to present himself and TWP as the leading players in today’s white nationalist movement. While the meme warriors stayed home, men in TWP’s black uniforms made a show of strength in East Lansing’s streets — images that endlessly circulated in the media in the days that followed. 

Matthew Parrott, one of TWP’s leaders, declared the weekend a success. “[O]nce again, we ended up with even more footage of ourselves defeating the hard left despite being wildly outnumbered,” he wrote on the organization’s website. In his mind, the images of men willing to risk their lives for the cause helped to fulfill TWP’s goal of providing a “radical alternative to the familiar” that would attract more people to their movement.    

But not everyone in the alt-right agreed with Parrott’s interpretation. “Look. Here’s the real thing about IRL activism,” wrote Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, before advocating for an emphasis on alt-right community building — both online and off — rather than “performance activism.” “Watching a bunch of ‘Alt-Right’ fat guys in costumes get shouted down in the street and laughed at…hurts the morale of our own guys,” he wrote on Gab, and “takes away from things that we've been doing successfully in the propaganda sphere.”

Dunstan, who hosts the TRS podcast “The Daily Shoah,” offered a similar perspective. He insisted his quibbles with the current state of the alt-right weren’t about “optics” – the “uniforms, helmets, polo shirts, torches, banner drops or monuments” — but the efficacy of “activism” itself. “[I]n the bigger picture, fighting with Antifa is an energy siphon GloboHomo set up to entrap us and waste our time.” He argued that their effort should be spent growing platforms like TRS, which hosts a blog, popular alt-right forum, and dozens of podcasts.

“I want to replace the jewry that runs news and entertainment media,” Dunstan wrote.

Anglin and TRS have worked together closely, and their alliance was solidified when Anglin came to TRS’s defense after several of their most prominent voices were doxed in January of 2017 — even though it was revealed that the wife of TRS founder Mike Peinovich was Jewish. And the cracks between propagandists like Anglin and TRS and the street activists of TWP have been growing for some time.

According to Parrott, it began after Charlottesville, when Anglin, who had been the “movement’s foremost polemicist,” turned on other alt-right organizations he deemed “obstacles to his vision” — especially ones like the Traditionalist Worker Party that had been tarnished by their attendance at Unite the Right.

Even generational divides have driven members of the movement apart. TWP loyalists like Brad Griffin of Occidental Dissent criticized the “White Nationalism 2.0” spearheaded by Anglin and TRS as one made up of “post-literate anonymous shitposters” who were too preoccupied with aesthetics and mocking “boomers” — whom Griffin credits with creating fundamental ideological underpinnings of the white nationalist movement — for being out of touch.

The tensions between the street fighters and “shitposters” came to the forefront again during the November 2017 White Lives Matter rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where both Mike Peinovich and Matt Heimbach spoke. Anglin refused to endorse the rally. “How many normal middle class young guys are we turning away by inviting a few ‘80s neo-Nazis?” he wondered. “I don’t think anyone on earth thinks neo-Nazis [like TWP] are cool. It is cringy and silly.”

TRS’s Ricky Vaughn concurred, and wrote on Twitter that “The alt-right LARP patrol is actually shifting the Overton Window...leftward.”