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Identity Evropa holds its first national conference setting off a dispute over who represents the future of the alt-right

Last weekend, the white nationalist group Identity Evropa (IE) held its first national conference, called “Leading our People Forward 2018,” followed by a large banner drop at the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee.

The well-ordered event exemplified IE CEO Patrick Casey’s effort to tightly control the organization’s public image and to create distance between his followers and the increasingly disarrayed racist “alt-right.”      

Despite Casey’s efforts, the bickering that’s overtaken the alt-right in recent days — precipitated by Richard Spencer’s chaotic weekend in Michigan — still managed to ensnare IE. White nationalist social media platforms descended into gossip and arguments over movement “optics” after Spencer and Evan McLaren, the executive director of Spencer’s National Policy Institute, publically criticized IE for its insularity.  

IE brands itself at an identitarian organization, or one that advocates for the preservation of Western (read: white) culture, works in pursuit of a white ethnostate and opposes multiculturalism. Its style and ideology are inspired by the European identitarian movement. IE recruits primarily on college campuses through flyering campaigns, and members are heavily vetted in order to filter out applicants with felonies, visible tattoos and those not of “European, non-Semitic heritage.”

True to IE’s polished and collegiate image, attendees at this weekend’s conference wore suits and ties as they listened to the organization’s leaders describe the work being done within local chapters. A photo showed nearly 70 members were in attendance. All but two were men.   

Older members of the racist alt-right also spoke, including American Renaissance editor Jared Taylor and former Ku Klux Klan lawyer Sam Dickson, both of whom are members of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the white nationalist hate group that inspired Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof. Taylor praised IE members for as being “smart, committed, sensible, and impressive in every way.”

After the conference, some 50 members travelled to the Parthenon in Nashville where they unfurled a banner that read “European Roots/American Greatness” while others waved flags with the IE logo and set off flares. It was similar to other “flash mob” style demonstrations the organizations favors, like a recent candlelight memorial they created in Memphis after a statue of the Confederate general and early KKK member Nathan Bedford Forrest was removed from one of the city’s parks, or when they surreptitiously hung a banner from a tunnel leading into San Francisco that read “Danger Sanctuary City Ahead.”     

Across alt-right Twitter, IE’s actions received widespread praise. “I love this,” one user wrote in response, “You guys are clearly doing it right. No violence. No cringe.” Martin Sellner, a leader within the Austrian identitarian movement, tweeted “Nice slogan!”

But not everyone was as enthusiastic about the weekend’s events. Spencer congratulated IE on their conference and demonstration, but continued, “That said, I’m baffled and shocked at the behavior of its board and new leader.”

According to Spencer, several members of IE were expelled from the organizations because they had assisted him in organizing events this past weekend in Michigan. Those included a far-right conference hosted by the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas and a speech by Spencer at Michigan State University’s (MSU) agricultural pavilion.

The weekend in East Lansing was marred by violence, as members of the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) — a black-clad white nationalist hate group that provided “security” for Spencer — faced off against counter protesters. Twenty-five people were arrested, including NPI’s director of operations, Greg Conte. As a result of the debacle, Spencer announced that he is ending his college speaking tour.    

Spencer took offense to IE’s move to separate themselves from the events in Michigan and, by implication, Spencer and the alt-right. IE claimed in a recent twitter post that they are only interested in “peacefully effecting cultural change” and are “explicitly non-violent.” Casey, who took the reins at IE late last year, has said that while there is no official break between his organization and the alt-right, he would prefer to emphasize their identitarian label. An alliance with Spencer — whose recent tour of college campuses has drawn large crowds of counter protesters and frequently descended into violence — doesn’t necessarily fit into his vision for the organization.

“I’m all for letting thousands of flowers bloom – indeed, I encourage different manifestations of the Identitarian idea – but this kind of behavior is detrimental to a functioning movement,” Spencer complained. NPI’s McLaren concurred, writing that IE’s “branding as ethno-pluralists rather than radicals disappoints me.” He called the organization’s leadership “foolish and negligent.”  

“The [alt-right] isn’t a serious movement anymore,” a Twitter user wrote in response to Spencer’s criticisms. “Groups like IE *will* be the way forward as far as activism goes. Also, questioning anyone’s detriment to the movement while associating with fat, goofy LARPERS (TWP), is ironic at best.”

Casey’s slight appears to be especially painful for Spencer because, in his words, he “helped foster IE at its inception” in March 2016, when the organization was founded by Iraq war vet Nathan Damigo. Spencer and Damigo jointly held campus “open dialogue” events and stood by one another after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. Both men attended and helped plan the August 2017 rally, and – after it ended with the death of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer – Damigo was at his side as Spencer held a press conference (held in Spencer’s living room) arguing that the city’s police force was responsible for the chaos that enveloped the event.

Due to personal issues, Damigo left IE shortly after Charlottesville. Elliot Kline, an alt-right activist who had recently entered the movement and worked his way to the top by helping Spencer’s organize his college tour, stepped in as his replacement.

Kline, who goes by the moniker Eli Mosley, retained his loyalty to Spencer, spending only a few months as the leader of IE before leaving in November to start an organization called Operation Homeland with the NPI leader and several other alt-right figures. The move marked the beginning of tensions between Spencer and IE: Operation Homeland — an organization “dedicated to building a professional identitarian activist movement” — competed directly with IE for membership and media attention.

Unfortunately for Spencer’s new organization, in February 2018 The New York Times released the findings of a months-long investigation into Kline, which found that he had never served in Iraq as he publicly claimed. Operation Homeland has since had trouble getting off the ground. Their website remains nothing but a logo, and their only actions beside an appearance this weekend at MSU involve leaving flyers around Washington, D.C., ahead of the meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and hanging a banner that read “AIPAC is Gay.”  

Spencer’s image was further wounded when Matthew Heimbach, the TWP leader who accompanied Spencer at his Michigan event, was arrested on one charge of battery and another of domestic battery committed in the presence of a child under 16 years old after assaulting both his wife and TWP cofounder Matt Parrott after the two confronted him about an affair he was having with Parrott’s wife. TWP appears to have dissolved as a result of the brawl.

“Oh man I can’t believe [Casey] wouldn’t want members of his organization to associate with you,” someone tweeted at Spencer alongside a picture of a TWP member doing a Nazi salute.

Many others chastised Spencer for publicly airing his frustrations with IE and accused him of being “needy.” “Your craving attention doesn’t do NPI or the movement any favors,” someone tweeted at McLaren, “Just drop it and move on man.” They also defended Identity Evropa. “It's outrageous that a group that heavily relies on their optics to gain legitimacy in universities, where they do their recruiting and a lot of activism,” a person the alt-right forum The Right Stuff sarcastically wrote, “would expect members not to muddy their brand by doing events like MSU with the TWP against the orders of IE.”

Some criticized IE for ousting members, seeing it as a useless gesture. “What the f--- is wrong with you guys for banning members helping Spencer? Some optics c------? You realize everyone hates us regardless of optics?” a user with the name Ban Goob posted on Gab. 

Casey has attempted to remain above the fray, tweeting a picture of himself with the caption “I’m having a great night, how’s everyone doing?” after Spencer and McLaren publically criticized him. The next day he tweeted that he had gained 100 new followers in the last 24 hours.    

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