Far-right extremists have threatened protesters with violence, spread racist propaganda and screamed racist slurs at recent racial justice protests throughout the country.
Nationwide protests in response to the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed and Breonna Taylor and so many others have arisen throughout the U.S. in recent weeks. As public support for Black Lives Matter has risen rapidly, far-right extremists have sought to respond in turn. Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s insistence to spread misinformation about and encourage violence against protesters and ongoing vicious police crackdowns, these extremists are using the protests to direct attention to themselves online. In so doing, they further an agenda in support of systemic white supremacy.
“No more LARPing Trump. Put up or shut up,” one racist skinhead group posted on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.
The turnout of militarized police forces has alarmed even the most staid critics. But Trump’s leadership is not the only thing that has been called into question. Others have pointed to our present quandary as the result of an effort to protect and enforce white supremacy and hegemony. “Too many citizens prefer to cling to brutal and unjust systems than to give up political power, the perceived benefits of white supremacy and an exploitative economic system,” observed Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, in The New York Times on June 8. As in decades past, these efforts have encouraged far-right groups and white extremists to take part in the moment.
Hatewatch has found that far-right extremists’ on-the-ground involvement in these protests has been both fragmented and limited. Many groups have instead sought to use these events to signal their online presence. Among those who have appeared at protests sporadically, their presence at these events has often been broadcasted either in real time or after the fact for their particular audience.
White nationalists and neo-Nazis appear sporadically at protests
Hatewatch identified white nationalists and neo-Nazis attending protests in Dallas, Texas, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., beginning on May 29. Most appear to have attended as individuals, and not as members of larger groups.
There have, however, been a few exceptions. Since the protests began, members of the Nationalist Social Club (aka NSC-131) have taken to an encrypted social media network to post numerous photos of their members engaged in flyering and banner drops related to the protests in Massachusetts and Tennessee.
On May 29, at least one member of NSC-131 put up stickers in Boston during a protest there. Other members of the group placed a sign on the Alex Haley statue in Knoxville, Tennessee, mocking the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. NSC members in Tennessee posted a photo of “WHITE LIVES MATTER” spray painted on the Rock, an iconic landmark at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, that evening.
Then, on June 5, NSC posted photos of two of its members holding a banner that read “MAKE AMERICAN WHITE AGAIN, 1488” at a number of Confederate monument sites in and around Nashville, Tennessee. The “14” refers to the “14 Words,” a slogan penned by white nationalist David Lane, a former member of the terrorist group the Order; the “88” stands for “HH,” or “Heil Hitler.” Both terms are popular with white supremacists.
NSC also posted a photo on the same social network showing members standing near a statue that was taken down by protesters outside the state capitol building. The statue portrayed Edward Carmack, a former Tennessee lawmaker of the early 1900s and newspaper editor who was also an advocate of lynching. In 1892, Carmack penned a racist screed against Ida B. Wells, an early civil rights advocate and cofounder of the NAACP, that resulted in an angry mob destroying the offices of a paper partially owned by Wells.
NSC also posted an undated photo of five of their members engaging in a banner drop in Boston on May 30. On June 1, the group posted photos online of one member placing stickers and flyers promoting the group throughout the central Massachusetts town of Worcester in anticipation of a Black Lives Matter protest there.
In Texas, the California-based news site Left Coast Right Watch posted on Twitter that they had spotted an administrator of a neo-Nazi Telegram channel on his way to a demonstration on May 29. He was confronted by anti-fascists, one of whom later posted a video of him driving off in a red Mini Cooper. According to the blog Angry White Men, an activist with South Dallas Anti-Fascist Activists traced the Mini Cooper’s license plate to a Dalton Dixon of McKinney, Texas.
Based on a video of the car posted to SDAFA’s Twitter account on May 29, Hatewatch verified that Dixon was the owner of the vehicle in question.
Patrick Casey, leader of the white nationalist group American Identity Movement (AIM) (formerly Identity Evropa), stated online that he had attended numerous protests in the Washington, D.C. area beginning Friday, May 29. On May 31, the third day of protests in the nation’s capital, he told viewers on a live stream of the protests that it was time for officers firing rubber bullets and tear gas to “aim for the face.”
Casey’s racist rant continued with a call for segregation – from both non-whites and the left.
“This whole thing is really revealing the cracks in our society. These things shouldn’t happen in a sane society. And the level of animosity on behalf of protesters toward white people, our history, our culture, our civilization. . . . I don’t think we can coexist with these people,” he noted.
One of Casey’s associates, white nationalist podcaster Nick Fuentes, attended a Black Lives Matter protest on May 30 as well, albeit in Tampa, Florida. He was caught on a segment recorded by WFTS, a local ABC affiliate. Fuentes, who organized a white nationalist conference with Casey as recently as February 2020, appeared in a local newscast chanting “groyper” over and over again. The term is a reference to the so-called “Groyper army” — a group of young white nationalists who have sought to revive a movement not dissimilar to the “alt-right” in 2016-17.
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, a local news and culture website, reported that Fuentes and his friends mostly spent their time “strolling around saying racist jokes at the expense of Black protesters.” Fuentes recorded his time at the protest for his followers on the streaming service DLive. According to a stream seen by Creative Loafing, Fuentes at one point singled out an interracial couple and noted that there was “race mixing” at the protest.
Finally, videos posted to Telegram and YouTube on June 7 depicted a group of far-right extremists threatening protesters in Knoxville, Tennessee. Based on social media posts from protesters and journalists on the ground, Hatewatch was able to date these videos to a protest on June 5. Though Hatewatch was not able to find a video with any of the vehicle’s identifying information, including a license plate, it was able to identify the driver as Craig Spaulding. Spaulding’s distinctive neck tattoos were apparent in the video. He is also the owner of a Hyundai Entourage. The Hyundai logo is apparent in parts of the video on the steering wheel, and at least one local activist warned on Twitter that a group of white males were accosting protesters while driving around in a Hyundai Entourage. Some protesters who were on site at the time who preferred to remain anonymous told Hatewatch in an email that they had seen videos of the men in the van that were captured by others at the rally. They were able to count a total of five people in the car.
In a clip filmed by another one of the men outside of the Knoxville Community Center, one man can be heard screaming at protesters through a megaphone: “You wanna die? We can do that for you. You wanna die? Come on over.”
“If you want to die today, come attack the van. You wanna die? Come on in. 9mm with your name on it,” he continued.
The men continued to drive down the street. According to a video posted to YouTube, the group stopped again near an intersection to harass protesters by screaming racial and homophobic slurs at them, though the group remained in the van. At one point, a protester can be heard asking, “What are you going to do, Craig?” through what appears to be the front passenger window of the vehicle.
Scott Erland, the Knoxville Police Department’s public information officer, told Hatewatch that officers had encountered Spaulding others that day. When officers told Spaulding and his crew to leave, they complied.
Though the man with the megaphone was not named in the video and was often off camera, Hatewatch was able to tie him to one of the owners of a neo-Nazi Telegram channel based on his distinctive kilt and skull mask.
A Facebook post on Roane County News’ page from June 6 showed what appeared to be the same group of men, including Spaulding, outside of a the Roane County Courthouse about 35 miles away from Knoxville. Images of the same gathering also were posted on white nationalist and neo-Nazi Telegram channels on June 8 and June 9. One depicts eight men, seven of whom are in skull masks, performing Nazi salutes. They also are holding racist signs, one of which read, “Black Crimes Matter.”
Dozens of antigovernment extremists appear at protests
Antigovernment extremists and militia groups turned up by the dozens at some protests.
Reports of militia groups in Minnesota began early on. An article published May 30 by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) News described a number of firsthand accounts of residents observing vehicles with stickers and other symbols associated with extremist groups. A few residents told MPR News that they had seen a few vehicles with stickers supporting antigovernment philosophy such as Three Percenter-ism. (The Three Percenters movement is based around the dubious claim that three percent of Americans fought against the British in the Revolutionary War, but it has evolved into a symbol of participation in the antigovernment movement by people who see themselves as contemporary revolutionaries, ready to fight perceived tyranny in the form of the American government.)
According to social media posts, militia groups figured prominently in a number of protests in Texas, Virginia, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Some, such as those in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, patrolled the protest areas. In Dallas, the Oath Keepers turned out to “protect” local businesses. Elsewhere in the state, so-called “boogaloo boys” — a loose group of antigovernment activists united by their calls for civil war — teamed up with a group known as the Texas Freedom Force in an effort to act as “peacekeepers” near the Alamo Cenotaph Memorial in San Antonio. In a video posted on Texas Freedom Force’s Facebook page on May 30, one protester with a megaphone can be seen asking one of the armed men to “put your gun down, sir.”
But not all set themselves up in explicit opposition, though many have tried to co-opt attention for their own movement. As early as May 26, images on social media of a “boogaloo boy” holding a flag associated with the movement appeared in Minneapolis. One member, according to screenshots of comments from a “boogaloo” Facebook group posted on Twitter on May 27, claimed that he was at the protest with a group of 16 other “boogaloo boys.”
In Athens, Georgia, a local antifascist group posted several photos of “boogaloo boys” dressed in Hawaiian shirts and carrying assault rifles attempting to join the protests.
Extremists respond to protests as a means of enforcing white hegemony
The militarized response to ongoing racial justice protests has animated white extremists of all stripes, regardless of whether they belong to hate or antigovernment extremist groups. These individuals’ worldviews show a compulsion to defend all remaining vestiges of white hegemony. They have, as a result, sought to protect their power through a variety of means.
On June 1, for instance, numerous reporters and activists documented a large mob of white men armed with sticks and other weapons engaging in violence in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown. WHYY producer Jon Ehrens, who later described being beaten by one of the men, reported on Twitter that he heard anti-black racial slurs among those in the crowd. One man, Ehrens noted, announced: “I’m ready to f--- shit up. you know ive been looking for a fight for the past 6 months.”
The men did not immediately appear to be with any known extremist group, though others have used videos of the mob in Fishtown for their own purposes. The Rise Above Movement, a violent white nationalist group known for attacking counter-demonstrators and fighting with antifa groups at political rallies, posted a clip of the men on June 3 online. The video was overlaid with the text “defend your neighborhood whiteman.”
Anonymous threats arose in the wake of the protests, too. According to images provided to Hatewatch from a social media page used by residents of a suburban neighborhood in the Twin Cities area, several households reported receiving notes promising “payback” or threatening to “torch” their homes because of Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns.
Trump, whose May 29 pronouncement on Twitter that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” has simply encouraged these racist acts to proliferate. Not long after the president’s tweet, one white nationalist channel proclaimed the president “just gave Americans tacit permission to fire on n*****s looting.”
The use of violent military force against protesters feeds into a paradigm that has caused these racist acts to proliferate. Though a June 1 report from the Department of Homeland Security asserted that much of the violence in the streets stemmed from “opportunists,” the president’s rhetoric — combined with countless examples of police brutality throughout the nation — has created space where far-right extremists feel safe to operate with impunity.