Spencer isn’t alone in his souring on President Trump, whom he once toasted while supporters threw Nazi salutes. Leaders from across the white nationalist movement are vocally condemning the president for his performance through his first two years in office in the wake of what is widely considered to be a midterm rebuke from voters.
Meanwhile, right-wing violence has surged, most recently with a shooting in a Pittsburgh-area synagogue that left 11 dead and six wounded. The alleged perpetrator, 46-year-old white supremacist Robert G. Bowers, told authorities that he opened fire because “they [Jews] were committing genocide to his people.”
A CNN exit poll found that three-quarters of voters said that Bowers’ violent rampage, as well as two other attacks that preceded it in the days leading up to the election, were an important factor in their vote.
Bowers was an avid user of the social media platform Gab, where he railed against President Trump in the days preceding the shooting. “Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist,” he wrote. “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a k--- infestation.”
Bowers’ conspiratorial assertions and ultimate disappointment with the president are not isolated. On the contrary, his attitude raises troubling questions about what happens to this violence-minded ideological movement as it comes unmoored from mainstream politics in a way it hasn’t since before the 2016 election.
“We should know by now that we can’t depend upon Republicans. And Trump himself is at best on probation. We can only depend on ourselves. … Trump is not the last chance for the white race in North America. He is merely the last chance to save the present American system. He is their last chance, not ours. But the establishment is too stupid to realize that, so they want him gone. A lot of them want him dead. By opposing him, they only hasten their own end.”
Patrick Casey, leader of the white nationalist organization Identity Evropa, offered a similarly apocalyptic reading of Trump’s first two years. He wrote on Twitter, “Trump has, to be fair, racked up some achievements: Supreme Court nominations, other judicial appointments, Korean peace, killing TPP, etc. However significant these may be, they’re ultimately overshadowed by a lack of progress on the definitive Trumpian issue: immigration.”
“In conclusion,” Casey continued, “I’ll leave you with an uncomfortable question to ponder: If Donald Trump, billionaire and expert dealmaker, can’t make it happen, can we expected [sic] any elected official to do so? If the Trump administration does fail, faith in the American political system may be permanently damaged on the right—and as to where such disillusionment will lead, your guess is as good as mine.”
While white nationalists expressed occasional disappointment throughout Trump’s presidency, the movement now appears to share a general sense of disillusionment. His victory was widely viewed as the last stand for white nationalism within mainstream politics — and with Trump doing little to satisfy them, the question is what channel they’ll choose to pursue now.
Not even two months after the elections, Bradley Dean Griffin of the white nationalist website Occidental Dissent wrote an article titled, “The Trump Honeymoon Is Already Over,” in which he declared, “We’re still several weeks away from the inaugurations, but now the bloom is already off the rose.” According to Griffin, a labored Nov. 22, 2016, disavowal of the racist so-called “alt-right” by the president-elect, and President Trump’s selection of establishment conservatives for cabinet positions were the first signs of discontent.
Missile strikes against Syria in April 2017 created another massive rift for the white nationalist movement, which is largely isolationist. Richard Spencer and other white nationalist leaders, including Mike Peinovich of white nationalist radio network The Right Stuff, held a protest outside of the White House over the strikes. Griffin called the intervention, “the final straw.”
Four months later came President Trump’s initial statement on the deadly “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, that left three dead and at least 38 injured. In his remarks, Trump condemned hatred, bigotry and violence on “both sides” in Charlottesville.
“I feel like vomiting after watching this video [of the President Trump’s condemnation],” Griffin wrote at the time. The ambiguity of Trump’s statement made it appear that his administration was “more interested in moving forward with its agenda of massive tax cuts for the wealthy” than defending his supporters within the alt-right.
Andrew Anglin, of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, cheered the remarks, writing, “Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. He said that we need to study why people are so angry, and implied that there was hate… on both sides! … There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all. He said he loves us all. …. Really, really good. God bless him.”
Two days later, President Trump reiterated his earlier remarks and electrified the alt-right by telling reporters, “there were very fine people on both sides.”
These breakneck reversals of loyalty have defined the racist right in the era of Trump.
On Oct. 22, 2018, President Trump told a campaign rally for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in Houston, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.” Anglin took to the Daily Stormer to celebrate. “He is /ourguy/,” Anglin declared. “He is pushing the edges of the limits. He will crush his enemies and he will MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.”
Anglin is likely seeking page views with his full-throated enthusiasm for President Trump. The Daily Stormer’s proprietor became somewhat of a pariah, despite a sustained audience, in the white supremacist movement for his role in fomenting infighting over “optics” during the prolonged internal fallout from the violence that unfolded in Charlottesville.
The pendulum of white nationalist support appears to have finally stopped with the midterm elections, however, some of Trump’s most vocal supporters appear to have reached a breaking point with the one-time “god emperor.”
On Nov. 7, 2018, a group of roughly 20 protesters gathered outside the Washington, D.C., home of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. In an interview several days later with The Daily Caller — a right-wing news outlet cofounded by Carlson — Trump called the night’s events “terrible” and issued a warning to left-wing protesters. “These people, like the antifa—they better hope that the opposition to antifa decides not to mobilize. Because if they do, they’re much tougher. Much stronger. Potentially much more violent.”
While the far-right shares Trump’s enmity toward antifa, many of the movement’s adherents have become bored of Trump simply repeating their rhetoric while failing to take action. On the white nationalist podcast Fash the Nation, host Jazzhands McFeels called Trump’s comments about the protest at Carlson’s house “enraging.”
“Mr. President, you’re not doing anything to protect the opposition that opposes antifa and you’re not doing anything about antifa themselves,” he complained. “So why don’t you f------ save it and show us where it counts by having [acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew] Whitaker start indicting f------ people.”
Even Anglin’s running out of optimism.
“We’ve got the Russia probe still going, we’ve got twenty miles of barbed wire on the border and the troops disobeying Trump’s direct orders and planning to leave, we’ve got a judge ruling that Trump doesn’t have any form of executive authority to decide who enters the country and the Hondurans in Mexico are protected by the US Constitution, and now we have the traitor Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in open revolt,” Anglin wrote on November 22, 2018. “Meanwhile, Trump’s most ardent supporters are being kicked off of the internet and rounded-up as terrorists.”
Anglin concluded, “All signs point to the President being completely and totally impotent.”