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When the big tent collapses: private Discord posts offer an honest look at a perpetually dishonest movement

The collapse of the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) earlier this month, following the arrest of chairman Matthew Heimbach for the battery of his wife and father-in-law, turned the white supremacist movement’s months-long optics debate on its head.

The stalwart misfits of TWP were forced to recognize months of criticisms lobbed at them from both flanks.

Heimbach’s arrest amounted to a funhouse mirror being held up to one of the far right’s most cartoonish and bleak incarnations in recent memory. 

TWP, the costumed wing of the racist “alt-right,” marched in all black, with tucked-in shirts, boots and armbands emblazoned with the four-pronged TWP insignia reminiscent of the Nazi Party. The group refused to compromise its flamboyant presentation, despite widespread pleas for moderation from those in the alt-right who preferred a subdued approach.

Seeking to distance themselves from the jarring image cut by the TWP membership at public demonstrations, its detractors feared that TWP’s image and refusal to temper its message — “national socialism or death” — was alienating potential “normie” recruits and dampening any chance to generate support for a mass movement.  They opted instead for the “edgy patriotism” of groups like Patriot Front (PF) and Identity Evropa (IE), dressed in khakis and polos and favoring racist slogans cloaked in Americana.

With TWP’s charismatic leader facing several serious charges and the possibility of jail time, the fate of its membership remains an open question. TWP was once one of the most aggressive recruiters in organized white supremacy. It is now poised to be absorbed by competitors, since enthusiasm has been muted for rebranding TWP as the Nationalist Initiative under two of its more controversial leaders, Tony Hovater and Derrick Davis.

On the March 9, 2018, episode of the radio show “Action!” — an episode that resulted in TWP’s expulsion from The Right Stuff radio network, ostensibly over ideological differences — Heimbach shamelessly pandered to potentially disgruntled IE members after several were expelled for their role in organizing Richard Spencer’s recent speaking engagement at Michigan State University.

“I met some IE guys over this last weekend — and I know plenty of them around here and around the country that are just good dudes. They’re solid nationalists that put themselves on the line. I think it’s a problem of leadership. And right now, the leadership is doing everything from counter-signaling Richard Spencer to the rest of us,” Heimbach told his co-host Hovater.

“We’ve got a lot of former IE members that are party members and things like that. But of the guys that are still in it, I was very impressed this weekend by the few IE guys that were there, that did a really impressive job.”

It is hardly surprising to see the recruit-hungry Heimbach praising IE’s growing membership while casting aspersions on its leadership. When IE’s newly appointed executive director, Patrick Casey, waded into the optics debate in late January with a tweet disparaging TWP’s shrill presentation, Heimbach responded in the TWP Discord server with, “omg. F--- THIS N-----.”

Heimbach and Hovater’s mock outrage over alleged counter-signaling of Richard Spencer is also suspect, given that Heimbach initially banned TWP members from attending the Michigan State event after he was personally disinvited. He was later allowed to attend but did not share the stage with Spencer.

“So Spencer won’t speak at the same place as me apparently,” Heimbach wrote in a Discord post in February. “We’re good enough to protect him at rallies, but I’m not highbrow enough for his reputation.”

The theme of TWP as muscle at alt-right events was a common source of pride among its constituents. “I’m not totally not shit talking IE when I say this,” “Fevs” wrote on November 1, 2017. “They’re going to change their mind the first rally they get their asses kicked because NF [Nationalist Front] isn’t there to protect them.”

Even with TWP disbanded, its absorption into IE seems unlikely if TWP members’ own statements are any indication. IE prides itself on its selectivity and its manicured image — two qualities notably absent from TWP, which stressed extreme vanguardism in both image and message. TWP was willing to accept virtually all newcomers.

Disdain for IE, even from marginal TWP members, was a constant theme in their internal communications.

“Almost everyone in IE is gay, too,” “The Inquisitor” wrote on November 1, 2017. “And they tend to die much younger, skewing IE’s membership much younger.”

Nonetheless, IE outlasted TWP and is even being promoted by the white supremacist movement’s most prominent voices, like Mike Peinovich of the Right Stuff radio network. In a March 14 episode of the “Daily Shoah,” Peinovich contrasted the two organizations.

"The thing I would always describe about being around TWP and some of the other groups that they would invite to these rallies, it's like an uncanny valley feel. You're like, ‘Is this real? Am I in America? What is this?’ Whereas, if I'm around, frankly, Identity Evropa in polos and khakis, I felt much more comfortable even though I guess there's the bourgeois thing going on.”

Peinovich continued, “Patriot Front guys, I'm like, whatever, no problem.”

Even the nascent PF, formed following the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia last August, wasn’t free from criticism by TWP leadership. Colton Williams, once a leader in TWP, disputed PF’s model in a January 2018 Discord post stating, “I can’t even imagine the scenario where some bluepilled normie joins Patriot Front and realizes they’re Nazis immediately and is fine with it.”

Nonetheless, PF is shaping up to be a waypoint for displaced TWP members. In the final episode of “Action!” Hovater accused Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer of attempting to recruit him into PF immediately prior to TWP’s speech at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. After the event, Hovater alleged that Anglin admonished him for not attacking the police.

“When we went to Knoxville to the feminist thing, a few days before that, Anglin was messaging me trying to poach me to join Patriot Front,” Hovater recounted. “After the Knoxville thing, he was telling me that we should have jumped all of the police barricades, fought with the police and fought with the protestors.”

The allegation — vehemently denied by Anglin — inflamed an ongoing dispute between TWP and the Daily Stormer, one of TWP’s loudest detractors in the optics debate. Anglin is a favorite target of TWP’s leadership. Davis, for his part, refers to Anglin as a “little b----.” Williams offered similar sentiments in Discord, announcing, “Azzmador and Anglin are basically boomers. Anglin looks like a white albino n----- Putin.”

Even Jessica Parrott, the alleged mistress in Heimbach’s affair, took aim at the entire Daily Stormer project, calling it “an internet playpen that herds up angry young white men and keeps them off the street.”

The League of the South (LOS), one probable destination for TWP refugees based in the South, invited former members into its ranks. Vanguard America (VA), another of TWP’s allies, is another likely destination, despite the group’s public silence following TWP’s implosion.

Both LOS and VA paid a heavy price in recent months for their alliance with TWP and its lenient membership criteria. With the future of the Nationalist Front in doubt, VA will look to shore up its foundations as it competes with its defectors in PF. 

TWP’s membership — full of ruthless contrarians and movement gossips — now finds itself in a precarious position. Once secure under the TWP banner with Heimbach as a magnetic leader, its members are now outcasts. The collapse of Heimbach’s big tent strategy leaves his desperate discontents relying on the charity of those they formerly undermined and mocked. 

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