I have been following Far Right movements for more than a decade as a researcher and journalist. Over the past few months, I’ve seen an increase in the visibility of a new, violent, right-wing street protest movement that I call “Independent Trumpism.” It unites neo-Nazis, members of the alt-right, Patriot movement paramilitaries and Trumpist Republicans.
Two things set Independent Trumpism apart from usual right-wing politics. First, the group’s rallies are in support of the president, but are organized outside of the Republican Party structure. Second, mainstream Republicans are appearing alongside open White supremacists, especially at events billed as “Free Speech” marches.
Independent Trumpists will hit the streets tomorrow (June 10) for a national March Against Sharia, organized by the large anti-Islam group ACT America. Saturday’s events are expected to draw thousands of people in 28 cities, in 20 states. Here is a six-month chronology of major Independent Trumpist moments that led to this one:
January 20, 2017: Alt-Right Violence at the University of Washington in Seattle
A University of Washington talk by Milo Yiannopoulos—the notorious Twitter troll, ardent Trump supporter and former Breitbart editor credited with mainstreaming the alt-right—draws a large protest. A married couple, Marc and Elizabeth Hokoana, come to the event armed with pepper spray and a handgun to antagonize opponents. After protester Joshua Dukes confronts Marc about using the pepper spray, Elizabeth allegedly fires a single round into his stomach.
February 1, 2017: University of California, Berkeley Cancels Milo Yiannopoulos Speech Amid Violent Opposition
After hearing that Yiannopoulos is planning to name undocumented students at a February 1 speech sponsored by Berkeley College Republicans, thousands of students hold a peaceful protest. But about two hours before the event, some 150 black bloc anarchists arrive and begin throwing powerful fireworks and rocks, smashing windows and attacking Yiannopoulos supporters. Citing public safety, University police cancel the event. On Twitter, President Donald Trump threatens to withhold federal funding from the school because it “does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view.”
March 4, 2017: Independent Trumpists Hold March 4 Trump Rallies Nationwide
March 4 Trump events represent the first major post-election attempt by various Independent Trumpists to organize their street presence. In the past, the social taboo against collaborating with organized White supremacists was strong enough that merely outing them was enough to get most Republicans to break links with them. But the atmosphere Trump has created—especially his embrace of the alt-right—has helped weaken this taboo. So Trumpist Republicans join with open White supremacists at multiple March 4 Trump events. In Lake Oswego, Oregon, KKK Imperial Wizard Steven Shane Howard attends alongside III%ers, a decentralized right-wing paramilitary group that typically does not collaborate with avowed White supremacists. In Denver, neo-Nazis join III%ers and two Islamophobic groups—the Soldiers of Odin and Bikers Against Radical Islam—at a March 4 Trump rally at the Capitol building.
The Berkeley March 4 Trump rally does not involve open White supremacists, but it helps galvanize the Independent Trumpist movement. Seeking revenge over the cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ February speech, Trumpists come dressed for a fight. They include Kyle Chapman, who—after being photographed armored in a shield and helmet while swinging a stick—is turned into the meme “Based Stick Man.” This inspires more militant action, as well as what becomes the alt-right street-fighting uniform.
March 25, 2017: Independent Trumpists Hold Make America Great Again Marches
Independent Trumpists in dozens of cities march using the president’s campaign slogan “Make America great again.” One event in Huntington Beach, California, turns into a brawl after vastly outnumbered anti-fascist protesters try unsuccessfully to block the Trump supporters from demonstrating. Reporters identify a number of Nazi skinheads participating in the pro-Trump march.
April 15, 2017: Independent Trumpists Hold Patriots Day Free Speech Rally in Berkeley
The Patriots Day Free Speech Rally is a national mobilization of right-wing activists, including a variety of alt-right figures and the paramilitary group the Oath Keepers, whose leader, Stewart Rhodes, speaks at the event. (The Oath Keepers recruit current and former military, police and first responders and promote a variety of conspiracy theories.) Neo-Nazis spend the day sieg heiling alongside their more moderate counterparts. Nathan Damigo, a White supremacist leader, is filmed punching a female anti-fascist activist, and the video becomes another alt-right Internet hit. Showing the complexity of this moment, a substantial number of people of color are also present in the pro-Trump crowd. Hundreds of anti-fascists try to stop hundreds of Trumpists from marching in downtown Berkeley, but fail. The Oath Keepers declare the day a “total epic victory” on their website.
April 21, 2017: Kyle Chapman Announces the Formation of the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights
On Facebook, Kyle “Based Stick Man” Chapman announces the formation of the Fraternal Order of the Alt Knights (FOAK). The Southern Poverty Law Center has described it as a “fight club.” FOAK is affiliated with another violent alt-right organization, the Proud Boys, which is led by Vice magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes. As part of the group’s internal system of advancement, they have to fight with an anti-fascist. On June 1, in the run-up to a Portland Independent Trumpist rally, Chapman tweets “I officially decree open season on antifa. Smash on sight!”
April 29, 2017: Independent Trumpists Hold Another Free Speech Rally in Portland
An anonymous threat against the Republican Party float in the annual Avenue of Roses Parade leads organizers to cancel the event. In its place, alt-right members and open White supremacists hold what they call the March for Free Speech. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler briefly attends the demonstration. Also in attendance—wielding a baseball bat, giving sieg heil salutes and yelling “Fuck all you ni**ers”—is Jeremy Christian, who is alleged to have fatally slashed two White men on a light rail train in May. Christian allegedly kills the men after they try to protect two young women who appear to be Muslim from harassment.
April 29, 2017: Neo-Nazis Hold a Demonstration in Pikeville, Kentucky
Neo-Nazis march in Pikeville as part of a two-day recruitment event in eastern Kentucky. Although they do not join the demonstration itself, Oath Keepers are there to protect “free speech.” They position themselves across from anti-fascist protestors and even stand next to riot police to protect the Nazis as they depart.
The Oath Keepers perform the same job at a Portland rally featuring neo-Nazi groups on June 4. The group also used the strategy when armed members were deployed to rooftops in Ferguson, Missouri, in December 2014, and in January 2016 when they served as a “buffer” to protect the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Oath Keepers consistently portray themselves as neutral actors.
May 2017: Various Groups Hold Rallies to Protest the Removal of Confederate Memorials
Throughout May, there are demonstrations by various rightists to oppose the removal of Confederate statues. They are somewhat of a shift away from the more choreographed “free speech rallies” designed as battles with anti-fascists.
Dueling demonstrations over the removal of statues of Confederate leaders occur in New Orleans on May 1, where pro-Confederate statue demonstrators are armed. The Oath Keepers mobilize their supporters for a follow-up rally on May 7, where they appear alongside alt-rightists and open White supremacists.
May 1, 2017: Independent Trumpists Disrupt May Day Demonstrations
May Day—which since 2006 has also been celebrated as an immigrants rights day in the U.S.—is a target for counter-protests. In Nashville, May Day organizers report multiple death threats, and they are outnumbered five-to-one at their rally. One report from an anti-fascist website says that some of the White nationalists are “dressed as ‘stick men’ wearing helmets, pads, respirators and shields and carrying hockey sticks, bats and firearms.” In Austin, the Maoist Red Guards Austin admit defeat after a larger group of armed Trumpists confront them.
In New York City, alt-rightists attend the May Day rally at Union Square and disrupt speakers and start fights. Later in the evening, Trumpist counter-protestors at Foley Square are joined by Far Right skinheads, III%ers and neo-Nazis. Many of the same activists also attend a rally against Muslim feminist Linda Sarsour on May 25.
May 26, 2017: Jeremy Christian Allegedly Kills Two People on a Portland Train
Three men have their throats slashed after they intervene against a man who was yelling Islamophobic and racist slurs at two women on a Portland light-rail train. Two of the men, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best, die. Micah David-Cole Fletcher survives. Jeremy Christian is arrested. In court, he yells, “Free speech or die. Get out if you don't like free speech...you call it terrorism, I call it patriotism.”
June 4, 2017: Another Free Speech Rally in Portland
Even in the wake of the Portland murders, Independent Trumpists there refuse to cancel their Free Speech rally. A few hundred people attend, but they are surrounded by a much larger group of counter-protestors. Among the Independent Trumpists are at least two neo-Nazi groups, the Oath Keepers, III%ers and various alt-right figures. The county Republican Party chairman gives a speech asking that the marchers get involved in the local party.
June 10, 2017: March Against Sharia Events Scheduled in 28 Cities
The influential Islamophobic group ACT for America plans to march against what they describe as sharia law in twenty-eight cities. Cast as a “march for human rights,” the events are expected to be attended by a coalition of Independent Trumpists. In New York City, for example, McInnes of the Proud Boys and the vice president of the state chapter of the Oath Keepers will be speaking.
The future of this coalition is unclear, but support for Trump and his anti-immigrant, Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ policies ties these factions together. As they exercise their shared opposition to anti-fascist and anti-racist ideologies and demonstrations, it may be that the taboo against conservatives working with outright White supremacists is coming to an end.
*Photo caption has been updated since publication to correct an identification error by Getty Images. The image does not show Kyle "Based Stickman" Chapman.