The U.S. far right continued to be very active in 2019. The good news is that, surveying their actions for the year, those far rightists outside of the GOP have had less growth and street presence than in 2018. Doxxing, lawsuits, a loss in interest from conservatives and state repression have all taken their toll. The far right’s boom years of 2016 and 2017 are starting to fade away, but it remains an energized movement. The white nationalist wing was still far more active in 2019 than it was for almost two decades, since its last boom period in the 1990s until its recent revival. Meanwhile, the most militant part of it has crystallized into a neo-Nazi, pro-terrorism faction.
What the Far Right Did in 2019
A string of massacres attest to this fact. 2019 saw continued attacks by the far right, and many of them followed a pattern: the perpetrator would write a racist manifesto, post it on a social media platform like 8chan and attempt to livestream their massacre. Afterward, they hoped to be praised as a “saint” on fascist media. Eighty-eight people were killed in six related massacres. The largest of these attacks in 2019 was an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 were killed. But there was also an attack in El Paso, Texas, which targeted immigrants and killed 22. In addition, four were killed in three separate attacks on synagogues, mosques and a restaurant in Poway, California; Halle, Germany; and outside Oslo, Norway.
These attacks helped push social media platforms, which for years had dragged their feet, into more aggressive policing of white nationalist content. 8chan, where three attack manifestos were posted, was forced offline, although its owners attempted to bring it back in a new version called 8kun. Militant neo-Nazis, including U.S. groups like Atomwaffen Division and The Base, migrated to the app Telegram, where they promote “accelerationism.” This strategy advocates using terrorism to destabilize societies and usher in a fascist revolution.
In addition to continued social media deplatforming (although often only after pressure), a spate of far-right infighting also broke out. Followers of the “alt-right” figure Nick Fuentes disrupted some Turning Point USA events — including a Donald Trump Jr. talk — for not being racist and anti-Semitic enough.
This year’s most bizarre story, however, involves an attempt to avoid the main Charlottesville lawsuit. The leader of the National Socialist Movement (NSM) — the largest public U.S. neo-Nazi party — signed over control to a Black activist named James Stern. Announcing he had conned the Nazis by convincing their old leader that Stern would take the responsibility for a lawsuit, he instead attempted to dismantle the party. But in a tragic turn of events, Stern died of cancer in October.
The NSM, however, has not gone away. It held what apparently was the only openly white nationalist rally of the year, with 10 armed people protesting Detroit’s Pride celebration.
This was part of the alt-right’s larger turn to anti-LGBTQ issues in 2019. In several cities, they attempted to disrupt “Drag Queen Story Hour” readings, a popular series of events where drag queens read stories to children, often in public libraries. A “Straight Pride” parade was held in Boston, and while police protected the participants, counterprotesters outnumbered them.
Some of these anti-LGBTQ actions went under the rubric of “clown world”. What started as a meme ended with alt-right activists dressing up as clowns to anti-LGBTQ protests. But none of these actions proved to be particularly popular organizing strategies.
Outside of Portland, the largest rally — “Demand Free Speech” in DC — drew 250 people. Amber Cummings, who organized many of the Berkeley “alt-lite” rallies, could only draw about a dozen people to a September event. (Alt-lite is the more “moderate” wing of the alt-right; while still promoting xenophobia, Islamophobia and misogyny, they allow people of color, gay men and Jews to be members.)
Two major information dumps created havoc among white nationalists, resulting in many of their activists being identified and doxxed. This would be followed by pressure campaigns to have white nationalists removed from jobs and other positions. These included two chat log leaks from Identity Evropa (which, after the first leak, rebranded as the American Identity Movement), and the complete digital records of Iron March — a now-shuttered platform where groups like Atomwaffen Division formed.
Other leaks harmed the Trump administration. The Southern Poverty Law Center released emails from Trump adviser Stephen Miller, in which he promoted white nationalist websites and directed content to Breitbart. Provided with direct evidence of white nationalist influence on the Trump administration’s policies, over 100 members of Congress called for Miller’s resignation.
And a new leak of a racist and anti-Semitic rant by alt-right leader Richard Spencer after Charlottesville will hopefully ensure he is not invited back on CNN, where he appeared as a commentator in July.
The State Begins to Target Fascists as Well as Antifa
In January, the Anti-Defamation League reported that all 50 murders in 2018 by U.S. political extremists had far-right links. And in 2019, federal law enforcement finally started to crack down on white nationalism. A Department of Homeland Security report named “White supremacist violent extremism” as a primary threat, and the FBI director said most recent domestic terrorism arrests were of white supremacists.
Eleven Atomwaffen Division members have been arrested since 2017; this militant neo-Nazi group openly encourages terrorism and has been linked to five murders. Many other white nationalists have been arrested, including online stalker Daniel McMahon; Conor Climo, who wanted to bomb a synagogue and gay club; and Michael Zaremski, who planned a mass shooting in a hospital. Tyler Tenbrink was sentenced to 15 years for aggravated assault and illegal firearm possession, and William Scott Planer received a four-year sentence for a 2016 clash with antifascists in Sacramento.
Others on the far right also received sentences as well, including three militia members who got between 25 and 30 years for planning attacks on Muslims. Roger Stone, Trump confidant and ally of the far-right group the Proud Boys, was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry. However, Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana — involved in a 2017 near-fatal shooting of an antifascist — had charges dropped after a hung jury.
The state has found a new resolve to crack down on street conflicts pitting antifascists against the alt-lite. In New York City, two Proud Boys received four-year sentences for a 2018 gang attack; the sentencing judge saying he wanted to prevent 1930s-style “political street brawls.” But this has meant U.S. antifascists are also getting significant prison sentences. These included one year for a New York City antifascist, and six years for one in Oregon.
This new change has slowly started to affect Portland, Oregon, as well. The year’s largest far-right demonstration was on August 17 in Portland; the Proud Boys attracted 300 people, while counterdemonstrators numbered around 1,000. But beforehand, several local far-right activists were visited by law enforcement or arrested. That morning, Donald Trump even tweeted, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely.” (This was part of a larger push by figures like Sen. Ted Cruz to have antifa declared “domestic terrorists.”)
The clashes in Portland also led to Andy Ngo’s popularity. He is a far-right propagandist that some mainstream media platforms inexplicably treat as a legitimate journalist. Ngo was roughed up after wading into a Portland antifascist counterprotest in July, and used this to fundraise almost $200,000 for his alleged injuries. While he was briefly an editor at Quillette, Ngo was attributed with publishing a “study” — its data was never verified — which alleged that a number of liberal journalists were “closely associated” with antifascists, and therefore were biased and mainstreaming partisan, extremist views. It inspired the Atomwaffen Division to make two videos that threatened many of the same journalists by name, and gave rise to the antifascist slogan, “Andy Ngo is a threat to our community and provides kill lists to Atomwaffen.”
There were also smaller conflicts in Portland, including an attack on antifascists outside the Cider Riot bar on May 1. This has led to a major lawsuit against Joey Gibson, an alt-lite leader who has been at the center of many of the ongoing street conflicts in Portland, Oregon. Several of his associates have also been arrested on separate charges, including felony assault charges.
Many lawsuits also continue to dog the far right. In one, Andrew Anglin of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer was ordered to pay $14 million. Anglin had encouraged his followers to harass a Jewish family, who were then flooded with death threats and other abuse. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is being sued by nine families for his claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. And new lawsuits joined existing ones against the far-right organizers of the 2017 Charlottesville demonstration.
Prospects for 2020
U.S. fascists and far rightists have not regained their momentum, but they still have wind beneath their sails and many options. The presidential election will undoubtedly be an opportunity for far-right groups to take action and recruit. Any attempt to actually either start building Trump’s wall on the Mexican border, or to remove Trump from office before his term is over, will also allow the far right to flex their muscles in the streets. Neo-Nazi groups advocating terrorism may inspire more attacks like in El Paso. The mounting environmental crisis will allow pro-environmental fascist groups future opportunities to sell their movement to new audiences. As migration by climate refugees increases, eco-fascists will undoubtedly push the environmental movement to incorporate open xenophobia and racism.
As long as Trump remains in power, he will ensure a political climate in which these groups can proliferate.
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