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How Kevin DeAnna Orchestrated the Alt-Right’s Approach to Conservative Institutions

Months after the loosely bound white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right” began to coalesce around then-candidate Donald Trump, Kevin DeAnna won the attention he felt he long deserved.

When WorldNetDaily (WND) named Trump “Man of the Year” in an unbylined article penned by DeAnna that he sent to his then-girlfriend Katie McHugh with the subject line “My Tribute to the God-Emperor,” the future president wrote in a Jan. 1, 2016, tweet: “Thank you so much to for naming me the 2015 Man of the Year. This is indeed a great honor for me!”

The “God-Emperor” – as some on the alt-right called Trump – had honored DeAnna with a digital homage.

Trump named WND "Man of the Year"
President Donald Trump was named WorldNetDaily's "Man of the Year" in 2016, inspiring Kevin DeAnna to refer to him as "the God-Emperor." (Screenshot via WorldNetDaily.)

DeAnna, a longtime white nationalist activist and blogger who had kept his more extremist affiliations veiled to hold down his job at WND, boosted then-candidate Trump from the safety of various pseudonyms.

As “Gregory Hood,” DeAnna contributed to a variety of sites that would become crucial to the alt-right’s rise, including the National Policy Institute’s Radix Journal, Counter-Currents, and American Renaissance; meanwhile, as “James Kirkpatrick,” DeAnna served as a frequent contributor to the white nationalist, anti-immigration site VDARE. His connections to these pen names were unveiled by a trove of emails from former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh — who also dated DeAnna from 2013 to 2016, and, again, briefly in 2017 — that were leaked to Hatewatch. (McHugh, once a part of this world, has since denounced her ties to white nationalism.) Throughout the course of their relationship, DeAnna often asked McHugh to edit his essays under the “Kirkpatrick” and “Hood” bylines, as well as sent her links to published articles.

DeAnna was an earlier Trump booster under both pen names as well. Writing as “Gregory Hood” for white nationalist publication Radix Journal in July 2015, he implored his fellow extremists to support Trump, arguing that the future leader had shifted the “Overton window” in the movement’s favor.

But Trump’s tweet was important for another reason: it was evidence that DeAnna, a longtime white nationalist, had managed to hide in plain sight. DeAnna’s political cleverness permitted him to cycle between extremist movements and his various positions within the conservative mainstream. This allowed him to form a youth movement, the Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), that would provide the basis for the budding alt-right and radicalize some of its most prominent leaders while nestled safely in the conservative machine.

DeAnna’s own career trajectory ­­– which has led him from one of the most powerful right-wing political institutions into the belly of the alt-right –illuminates how devout white nationalists creep into some of the same institutions that pride themselves on the myth that William F. Buckley and other conservative stalwarts purged antisemites and racists from the conservative movement.

Neither DeAnna nor his various editors and coworkers throughout the years – including American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, the National Policy Institute’s Richard Spencer and Counter-Currents’ Gregory Johnson – responded to repeated requests for comment via email.

YWC and dreams of “Total Aryan Victory”

DeAnna’s career as one of the most prominent, pseudonymous thinkers on the alt-right was no accident. In fact, it fits with his previous work as a youth organizer. He plunged into the world of far-right organizing in the early 2000s while a student at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

DeAnna’s foray into campus activism began with his involvement with the libertarian-leaning student paper, The Remnant, in 2001. He and fellow student Marcus Epstein served as managing editor and editor-in-chief, respectively, in 2003 using their platform to bring far-right academic Paul Gottfried to campus for a speech slamming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The event was sponsored by the Rockford Institute, an ultra-conservative institution founded in 1976. For decades, it was best known for publishing the conservative magazine Chronicles, which featured writing from an array of far-right figures, including Pat Buchanan, as well as white nationalist-connected essayist Sam Francis and The Social Contract editor Wayne Lutton.

Marcus Epstein
Marcus Epstein

Epstein wasn’t the only person DeAnna found through campus activities who became involved with YWC. In 2005, DeAnna met Craig Burgers after he started blogging for the website Smash Left-Wing Scum. Burgers and DeAnna were affiliated with their schools’ respective branches of the right-wing, libertarian-leaning Young Americans for Freedom – DeAnna as a group leader on his campus and Burgers as a member at Michigan State University.

After graduation, DeAnna was hired at the right-wing Leadership Institute (LI) as a field representative. The institute, founded in 1979, has been home to a number of prominent politicians and activists on the American right, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist and “conservative provocateur” James O’Keefe.

YWC was founded shortly thereafter in 2006. Whether LI staff were aware of DeAnna’s views is unclear. When Hatewatch first reported on the connections between LI and DeAnna’s activities with the YWC in 2011, the Leadership Institute declined to comment. LI founder Morton C. Blackwell told NBC News in a report published May 12, 2011, “There is no formal connection” between the two groups, emphasizing that it was “one of the smallest of the more than 1,400 conservative campus groups that receive organizational help and training from the institute.”

The Leadership Institute did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

But DeAnna, at least, seemed to view the two as connected. A satirical autobiography, which DeAnna told McHugh he wrote while he was at the institute in 2010, sent to her by DeAnna in 2014, illustrated how he viewed his role.

April 10, 2014, 2:26 PM: DeAnna . . . was told he must travel to the capitol of the Empire, a land of marble and Negroes. There he would form an alliance with “the Conservative Movement” a mighty force that had harnessed all those who still cared about the fate of their nation into a great political coalition. . . .

Upon arriving, he found that he was enlisted in a far different enterprise than he had once thought. He found that the movement only had three goals – tax cuts for millionaires, cheap labor for corporations, and never ending warfare on behalf of a far away land known as Zion. . . .

He grew in wisdom and experience – each word let [sic] to another word, each deed to another deed. Soon, he found he could lead these students in greater causes. No campus was safe from the beauty of his words and the power of his charisma, no idiotic conservative idea could not be co-opted, no homely female college Republican chair could resist his patented technique of getting her really drunk and bragging he had a free hotel room. Comrades came and went, many betrayed and many proved their loyalty. In time, a movement began to be formed.

In the completely logical location of Lynchburg, VA, a small group of Odinic warriors adopted the half breed German into their midst. . . . DeAnna proclaimed the birth of a new organization, Youth for Western Civilization, which would realize the lost promise of the conservative movement and reclaim Vinland once and for all. Under the banner of the warhammer, YWC forces spread out across the content [sic], lacking in weapons but mighty in willpower. Sure of his destiny, but not of how he would pay the rent, DeAnna fights every day to achieve his destiny of total Aryan victory and somehow getting out of debt.

DeAnna’s declaration that his goal of “total Aryan victory” contradicted his efforts in articles published by NBC News and elsewhere to downplay YWC’s “racialist” overtones.

DeAnna spoke to McHugh candidly about how he believed the more mainstream conservatives at the institute perceived his politics. Writing to McHugh in September 2017, a few weeks after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, he expressed surprise that LI employees had been dismayed by McHugh’s anti-Muslim tweets. These same tweets resulted in McHugh’s firing from Breitbart in May 2017.

McHugh, Sept. 8, 2017, 4:26 pm: LI staffers were furious at me over some tweets about Muslim immigration after I gave a speech there. . . .

DeAnna, Sept. 8, 2017, 4:40 pm: That’s utterly bizarre. I was just talking to LI staff[.] I jokingly said I was Alt Right before there was an Alt Right, they all did the old ‘oh, that’s our Kevin’ laugh and then we talked about campus programming and they said how good it was to see me. . . . What did they do, send an email saying you aren’t welcome? I don’t think they are even allowed to ban you from programs. Maybe as faculty, but for God’s sake, even Matt Heimbach is a YLS [Youth Leadership School – a two-day training for young activists sponsored by LI] graduate.

Tim Dionisopoulos
Tim Dionisopoulos, former Youth for Western Civilization member. (Photo via Facebook)

DeAnna wasn’t the only YWC member to settle at LI. Tim Dionisopoulos, the group’s former Providence-based head of the region’s unofficial YWC chapter, wrote for LI’s Campus Reform blog until he left for a job at the conservative Media Research Center in early 2014. Likewise, as Hatewatch reported in 2011, Epstein also allegedly held an internship at the institute. Others – including Heimbach, who founded YWC’s Towson University chapter, and Devin Saucier – took part in institute training.

“They trained this entire next generation of white nationalists,” Heimbach told Luke O’Brien at HuffPost in 2016.

DeAnna’s position at the institute gave him time to take part in other far-right activities. In 2006, Epstein and DeAnna co-founded the ultra-conservative discussion group, the Robert A. Taft Club, alongside Richard Spencer, then an editor at The American Conservative. The club served as a discussion group for like-minded far-right personalities, and it featured a plethora of speakers throughout the years including more mainstream figures such as Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. It also provided a space for extremists to gather, socialize and strategize in a manner that was publicly frowned upon by the conservative mainstream.

But LI was far from the only mainstream conservative institution that made YWC’s growth possible. The group’s presence at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, provided it with a large platform.

In 2011, DeAnna came to CPAC for a panel called “Will Immigration Kill the GOP?” Jared Taylor, head of the white nationalist think tank American Renaissance, praised the event as one of the “most pointed discussions” of immigration at an event that often tried to avoid the subject.

The same April 2011 issue of American Renaissance’s now-defunct print newsletter that included Taylor’s report on CPAC contained an appeal to subscribers to donate to YWC. DeAnna, Taylor wrote, was “an eloquent and distinguished young man who knows how important our cultural identity is.” Despite YWC’s almost studious avoidance of describing the “Western civilization” that it sought to protect as a “white” one, Taylor’s reference to “our cultural identity” clearly had one group in mind: white Americans.

From YWC to “birther” central

DeAnna’s departure from the YWC to, in his words, move onto “different things” coincided with his blossoming career as a pseudonymous white nationalist blogger under the pen names “Gregory Hood” and “James Kirkpatrick.” He also took a new job at Joseph Farah’s ultra-conservative online publication, WorldNetDaily.

WND was one of the primary conduits for conservative conspiracy theories, including the “birther theory” that President Obama was not born in the United States. It’s unclear whether WND was aware of DeAnna’s side gig as a blogger for several white nationalist websites. Recent reporting on “Paul Kersey,” aka WND marketing coordinator Michael Thompson, demonstrates he was not the only one. On May 25, 2012, WND published a lengthy response to an article in the SPLC’s Intelligence Report on the 30 most prominent activists in the radical right. Titled “4 from WND on Most Dangerous List,” the piece highlighted DeAnna and Farah, among others, for their presence on the list.

In emails, Farah’s relationship with DeAnna seems amicable and Farah seems either unaware or willing to overlook some of DeAnna’s more radical connections – perhaps because DeAnna attracted minimal attention otherwise. Most of his contributions to the site — where he worked from 2012 to sometime in 2018, with a brief break starting in late 2013 and extending into part of 2014 — lacked a byline, and articles he wrote under his own name up until 2013 were par for the course for WND. Among them was an interview with an author who called conspiracies around the Bilderberg Group a “reality”; an op-ed that posited without evidence that “mass Islamic immigration is transforming the Western character of [Europe]”; and a defense of Russia’s crackdown on the dissident punk rock group Pussy Riot.

According to a BuzzFeed profile on McHugh published in May 2019, DeAnna and McHugh started dating in 2013, after the two met at a party in Virginia. A few months later, in December 2013, DeAnna made a reference to McHugh that he had ended his employment with WND. He tried to continue contributing to the website on at least one occasion. “I’m not sure why WND won’t publish me anymore. Probably because I up and quit,” DeAnna wrote to McHugh on Dec. 30, 2013, attaching a column on “Duck Dynasty” that he hoped the Daily Caller – then McHugh’s employer – could publish.

That same year, DeAnna began to push forward on a plan to join the U.S. Marine Corps. While living in Lynchburg, Virginia, DeAnna used his newfound free time to prepare for boot camp.

DeAnna, Jan. 16, 2014, 4:30 pm: When I came to Lynchburg, all I wanted was quiet training to get ready for the USMC, not a million things and new commitments. Once I get a ship date in stone I may just have to tell everyone in politics to shut up and leave me alone, as the USMC comes first.

Writing again to McHugh in early June 2014 – not long before he was supposed to head to boot camp – he noted:

I already have the kind of Prince of the Alt Right type life as a backup – the USMC is a way for me to break into the mainstream at least somewhat, which has greater returns, at least economically.

But in the end, it was DeAnna’s “Prince of the Alt Right” life that won out. The specifics of DeAnna and what happened with the Marines are unclear.

His work with Farah’s site, combined with his growing responsibilities as a freelancer for several white nationalist publications, took a toll. “Between salvaging VDARE crap, WND articles, and actually trying to fit in some important work,” he wrote in a Jan. 12, 2016, email to McHugh.

Still, working at WND had its perks.

DeAnna could push his white nationalist work into the mainstream. In a March 15, 2016, email, American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor implored WND and Breitbart to boost an updated version of his organization’s “Color of Crime” report:

We are about to release the updated Color of Crime and I thought you might want to look at an advanced copy. . . [I]t would, of course, be great if WND or Breitbart could mention it.

This is all based on very sober analysis of government statistics, and I think the data and conclusions are bullet proof. The report is by New Century Foundation and doesn’t say AmRen on it anywhere, though the link to us is easy to find.

I think it’s damn good and I just wish it could break into the mainstream.

Alongside McHugh and DeAnna, Taylor messaged DeAnna’s WND coworker, Michael Thompson, who worked in marketing. Thompson had been writing for American Renaissance and other white nationalist publications under the pseudonym “Paul Kersey.”

One of DeAnna’s biggest successes at WND—aside from getting the “God-Emperor’s” attention, of course—was publishing a nearly-100-page report on the dangers of anti-fascism. The unbylined report, titled “Antifa: What Americans Need to Know About the Alt-Left,” was released Sept. 25, 2017. DeAnna sent excerpts of an early draft for friends, including McHugh, to review.

The introduction painted antifascists as members of “America’s most dangerous domestic terrorist group.” DeAnna argued that “Antifa didn’t arise in opposition to the fascists”; rather, it “was there first.”

Antifa aren’t the real fascists or the real racists. They aren’t militant Hillary Clinton supporters or Nazis in disguise. Nor are they anything new. They are simply the same leftists who have drowned the world in blood under the cover of egalitarian slogans since the days of Lenin.

To understand what happened in Charlottesville, what’s happening in the United States today, and what is going to happen to our country in the near future, it’s time for all Americans to see these violent extremists as they really are, in their own words.

While none of these talking points were out of step with the conservative machine’s hyperbolic coverage of left-wing activism, DeAnna made at least one goal clear in a Sept. 1, 2017, email to McHugh:

Incidentally, I pretty much defend fascism in chapter 3. But then again, so did [Austrian economist Ludwig von] Mises.

DeAnna’s invocation of Mises likely refers to the thinker’s proclamation in 1927 – six years before Hitler seized control of the Reichstag – that “it cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization.”

DeAnna boosted his own work under the safety of his pseudonyms. Writing as “James Kirkpatrick,” he reviewed the report for VDARE, observing that “the book oddly lists no author.” Furthermore, “Kirkpatrick” contended, “Antifa demonstrates that ‘anti-fascism’ is not merely Left Totalitarianism, but now [also] deeply ‘anti-white.’”

The fact that such a report, “Kirkpatrick” concluded, was published by WND demonstrates that “mainstream conservatives are finally waking up to the terrifying reality of the American Left’s paramilitaries.”

YWC and the origins of the alt-right

Most works focused on the rise of the alt-right have zeroed in on the work of far-right academic Paul Gottfried, whose 2008 address at the H.L. Mencken Club’s first annual meeting lay out an early vision for the “alternative right.” Gottfried’s vision of a conservative movement distinct from the hegemony of the neoconservative establishment was, in some ways, actualized in YWC long before he emerged on the scene.

Kevin DeAnna
Kevin DeAnna speaks at a 2009 conference of the H.L. Mencken Club. (Photo via Facebook)

Gottfried argued that the new “right” that the H.L. Mencken Club sought to embolden had “youth and exuberance on our side.” These youthful “post-paleos” were “well-educated young professionals, who consider themselves to be on the right, but not of the current conservative movement.” But while Gottfried argued in favor of seizing control of conservative institutions, he did not elaborate on how these “young professionals” ought to interact with the conservative establishment in detail.

YWC, which arguably represented the most viable option for bridging the chasm between the extreme, white nationalist right and the mainstream, officially disintegrated in 2013, and its members took various paths. Some, such as Heimbach, leaning into accusations that YWC’s racial chauvinism was too extreme. As journalist Vegas Tenold documented in his book "Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America," Heimbach, who met DeAnna in 2010 at CPAC, was almost instantly engrossed by the latter’s project. YWC served as the basis for Heimbach’s White Student Union at Towson University and, later, his Traditionalist Youth Network, which was explicit in its white nationalist tendencies.

But others, such as DeAnna, sought refuge in the conservative establishment while keeping their white nationalist views veiled.

DeAnna, for example, did not take kindly to Heimbach’s grandiose displays. Writing to McHugh on Feb. 26, 2015, he referred to Heimbach, then head of TYN, as an “anti-activist” – the sort of person who “self-discredits all his own ideas.”

Unlike Heimbach, DeAnna and his peers traveled in both circles. YWC’s ties to the mainstream conservative world had prepared its most active participants well for these dual identities. As DeAnna observed in a 2009 Taki’s Magazine article titled “The Alternative Right,” YWC was not outside of the mainstream – it just took what the GOP was saying to its natural conclusion. YWC, he wrote, merely “echo[ed] standard conservative rhetoric on immigration, multiculturalism, and American identity.” The main distinction between YWC and the mainstream GOP, he continued, was that “we actually back it up.”

And this extended to their personal lives. As Rosie Gray observed in BuzzFeed’s May 2019 profile of McHugh, the circle she and DeAnna ran in was seemingly unremarkable. Surrounding McHugh was a “tight, insular group of friends . . . living and working in DC” – one not dissimilar to other groups of 20- and 30-somethings in media and politics, Gray continued, “except [that] some of them were committed extremists.” Their friendships served as networks of trust. After all, extremist groups are insular.

Still, those within DeAnna’s social circle were not simply “extremists,” they were white nationalists with years of experience organizing from within the conservative movement.

Scott Greer
Former Daily Caller editor Scott Greer. (Photo via Facebook)

One thread from 2014 about CPAC between former YWCers Dionisopoulos, Burgers, Saucier, and DeAnna and then-Daily Caller editor Scott Greer, sheds light on this connection. Not only does it show just how comfortable some members of the the alt-right were in navigating mainstream conservative circles in its early days, but it also demonstrates how these friendships shaped the trajectory of the movement by building networks of trust and cooperation.

Burgers, Feb. 17, 2014, 12:08 pm: What are your plans, if any, for CPAC? I assume DeAnna will be manning the Heathens for Economic Freedom booth, but other than that? . . .

Dionisopoulos, Feb. 17, 2014, 12:16 pm: I’ll be there for the MRC [Media Research Center], but no concrete plans as to what I’m actually asked with doing. I think it’s sort of a wander around the media area and hang out type of thing . . .

Burgers, Feb. 20, 2014, 8:41 pm: Alright, I guess I will plan on attending as well then. I assume Katie, Tim, and Scott are covered by work, but are you registering[,] Devin and Kevin? I have to figure out whether or not I should.

Also, I found out today Chulski [of Americans for Prosperity] will be hosting a well-funded open bar party on behalf of Michigan AFP. We’ll have VIP treatment there should we choose to attend.

Saucier, Feb. 20, 2014, 11:25 pm: I probably won’t register, but will be there to help Richard.

Saucier appears to be referring to Richard Spencer. Another email from Saucier on March 6, 2014 – the first day of CPAC – alerted the group that “Jared,” presumably Jared Taylor, would be at the conference.

Amid innocuous dinner plans and vineyard excursions, the group organized a gaggle of invite-only white nationalist gatherings in the heart of D.C. Epstein hosted one series, known as the “Alt-Right Toastmasters,” that brought together journalists, open white nationalists, anti-immigrant stalwarts and a former DHS official for discussions related to the far right. The meetings, which have been reported on by The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and Splinter, served as a vehicle for bringing together the broader D.C. circle DeAnna was a part of. Though Epstein usually blind-copied all participants, the list of invitees to a June 6, 2016, get-together discussing, among other things, “The Pros and Cons of Anonymity,” includes an array of extremists.

At times, their affiliations were barely veiled. A July 2015 email from Saucier introduces the prospect of inviting Evan Osnos, a reporter for The New Yorker who first reported on the alt-right’s loose coalition for Trump in 2015, to a private gathering. Osnos would be “wearing a conspicuous name tag” and had “sworn not to give away any names or specific details about each person,” wrote Saucier. While Saucier noted he intended to be conscientious of attendees’ security concerns, inviting an outsider in would, he continued, be “a good opportunity to give this guy an impression of who we are.”

Their shared beliefs and mutual concerns about expressing their more radical views held DeAnna’s circle together after the collapse of YWC. Without the aura of respectability provided by YWC, however, group members scattered.

“We want to have people spread as widely as possible,” DeAnna wrote on a March 14, 2016, thread. Of those on the thread – which included Epstein, Thompson, McHugh, Dionisopoulos, Greer and Saucier – only two, DeAnna and Thompson, worked at the same organization at that time.

Having white nationalists spread across the Beltway wasn’t just pragmatic in the sense that it allowed the movement to establish connections with as many institutions as possible ­– it was practical for everyone involved. Said DeAnna in one email: “It’s a kind of insurance policy for each other.”

Photo illustration by SPLC. (Original photo by Jeff Malet)

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