2018 was another violent year for the U.S. radical right.
Extremists beat up their political opponents in the streets, right-wing provocateurs and opportunists encouraged vigilante violence against the press and minorities, and lone-wolf fanatics radicalized by racist conspiracies took matters into their own hands, murdering innocent people — or trying to — in service of warped and bigoted worldviews. Hatewatch recorded these grim events as they happened, and here are our most-read stories throughout the year.
Last June, right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos told a reporter he “couldn’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” Two days after Yiannopoulos’ remarks, a man entered the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and opened fire, killing five. After the attack, which was motivated by a personal dispute the shooter had with the paper, Yiannopoulos defended his remarks as a “joke.” This Hatewatch article, published a day before the shooting, traced a long history of similar comments from Yiannopoulos that belie his claims of harmless irony. Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer in particular praised his new talking points. “Killing journalists is an awesome position to promote,” Anglin wrote. “Now that is a sentiment I can get behind.”
The “OK” hand sign has been used by Trump supporters since 2015, but its use by people on the right wing accelerated after it was the subject of a 2017 4chan hoax. It remains popular among right-wing provocateurs as a way to troll people. But it has also increasingly gained currency among the more serious elements of the racist “alt-right” as a way to signal a legitimate belief in a hateful ideology. Hatewatch published this explainer on the origins and many possible meanings — benign and otherwise — of the hand gesture.
An analysis of statistics from the Global Terrorism Database showed right-wing extremism influenced more terror attacks in the U.S. than any other ideology from 1970 until the present. For more information on right-wing extremist terrorism, check out Terror from the Right, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s directory of major terrorist plots and right-wing political violence from 1995 to now.
The Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), led by Matthew Heimbach, was one of the most influential neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. in 2017. In March 2018, it was hobbled by a scandal after Heimbach was arrested on charges of domestic violence. Police records surrounding the arrest revealed Heimbach was having an affair with the wife of his chief of staff, benefactor Matt Parrott. Parrott is also the stepfather of Heimbach’s wife. TWP collapsed shortly thereafter. Heimbach never recovered from the scandal. A recent stint with the National Socialist movement ended with a very public ouster at the end of 2018.
One of the most popular right-wing forums on the social media site Reddit is a mouthpiece for racist and antisemitic “alt-right” memes, an analysis by Hatewatch found. Subreddit r/The_Donald, a “never-ending rally” ostensibly dedicated to celebrating President Trump, traffics in white nationalist slang and is peppered with calls to violence, some cloaked in obscure euphemisms and others wide out in the open. Users post wistfully of the coming “Day of the Rope,” a reference to a mass execution in the white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries. They talk about the need for “Right-Wing Death Squads” and trade memes featuring ugly racist caricatures. Despite Reddit’s recent efforts to purge the platform of its most egregious content, r/The_Donald continues to thrive.
In April, a man drove a van through a business district in Toronto, deliberately targeting pedestrians. He killed 10 and injured 16 more. The suspect, Alek Minassian, posted on Facebook before the attack: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!” Minassian’s apparent affiliation with the incel subculture, an outgrowth of the male supremacist online “manosphere,” delighted the young men who identify as “involuntarily celibate.” Hatewatch explained the core tenets of the incel ideology, which holds that men are entitled to sex as a basic human right. Incels see the fact that they don’t have sex as an unbearable injustice, on which they blame women’s cruelty, superficiality and fickleness. The “Incel Rebellion,” also called the “Beta Uprising,” refers to incels’ hoped-for vengeance against society, in particular those who are having sex.
In early August, Portland, Oregon, braced for another visit from the right-wing street agitators of Patriot Prayer. Patriot Prayer, in concert with SPLC-designated hate group the Proud Boys, held regular rallies in the Pacific Northwest designed to draw out resistance from left-wing counterprotesters and provoke fights. A month before the planned August rally, an event in Portland turned violent. A counterprotester reportedly went to the hospital with a brain hemorrhage, and video of a gang of Proud Boys surrounding and beating a single man went viral. Images and video of the violence were used as propaganda to recruit new members keen to fight. In the lead-up to the August rally, Portland was a powder keg. Hatewatch reported on Patriot Prayer’s history of violence in the city, and the momentum swirling around the August event. Portland police came out in force the day of the rally, and violence was mostly kept to a minimum, though the tactics police wielded against counterprotesters sent some to the hospital with serious injuries. In October, authorities in Portland revealed that members of Patriot Prayer had brought a cache of rifles up to a roof overlooking the rally, where they were positioned until police found them and asked them to lock away their weapons.
An attack at a Washington state bar ended in arrests on suspicion of federal hate crimes for a group of people, seven men and one woman, in the early morning hours of Dec. 8. According to search warrants later obtained by Hatewatch, five of the eight people were wearing gear for Crew 38, which is made up of racist skinheads who pledge their support to Hammerskin Nation, an ultraviolent racist skinhead group with chapters throughout the nation. One of the most infamous Hammerskins is Wade Michael Page, who killed six worshippers in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012. The Washington bar assault occurred on Martyr’s Day, the anniversary of the death of white supremacist terrorist Robert J. Mathews.
The Oath Keepers, one of the largest radical antigovernment groups currently operating in the U.S., announced a national training program in August to prepare its members to use “lethal force” against their ideological enemies. The announcement came following a number of right-wing rallies in cities across the country. Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes went on Infowars to announce the program, where Owen Shroyer (himself a participant in some of these rallies who recently made his own announcement about an Infowars “street army”) cheered the program and demonized the “violent left.” The rhetoric from Rhodes and Shroyer about leftist violence was popular in 2018, used to distract from and justify violence perpetrated by the radical right.
In October, the founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, gave a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan. During his remarks, he venerated the 1960s assassination of a left-wing political leader by a right-wing radical as a justified and courageous act. Shortly after his speech was finished, a group of Proud Boys began assaulting people outside the venue. Among the Proud Boys were three men active in the far-right skinhead and hate music scene near New York City. During the attack, the assailants berated their victims, screaming “Faggot!” at one. Following the assault, a Proud Boy called another “a fucking foreigner.” A month after the assault, news broke that the FBI had advised law enforcement leaders of the Proud Boys’ ties to extremist and white nationalist groups. McInnes stepped down after those revelations, a move he characterized as a “100% legal gesture.”
Photo illustration by SPLC