While the media has heavily covered Islamist terrorist activity and the recent deadly ambushes on police, it has largely overlooked increasingly brazen demonstrations and violence by the Far Right. In the last year, the level of violence has ramped up dramatically and is only now hitting its stride.
On July 7, Michael Strickland, a right-wing journalist who videotapes left-leaning protests and puts participants’ photos on the Internet, was arrested after waving a gun at a Portland Black Lives Matter rally. He claimed that he feared for his life because someone allegedly shoved him while he was taping the peaceful demonstration.
After a late June confrontation with fascists who had secured a permit to rally at the California state courthouse, nine counter-protestors were hospitalized, with five of them stabbed. The fascists, operating under the banner of the Traditionalist Worker Party (but comprised mostly of members of the neo-Nazi Golden State Skinheads), fled after the clash with protestors. A loaded gun was left at the scene, which anti-fascists claimed neo-Nazis had dropped as they ran away.
Four months before, on February 28, three anti-racist activists were stabbed while confronting Ku Klux Klan members who were attempting to rally in Anaheim, California.
Patriot Movement paramilitaries took over an Oregon wildlife refuge for 41 days in January, their fourth armed encampment in two years.
And all of this has happened barely a year after 21-year-old White supremacist Dylann Roof attended a bible study session at Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel AME Church, and then fatally shot nine Black worshippers.
This violence needs to serve as a wake-up call.
The media is not hiding these incidents, but they are reported in isolation from each other. Taken together, they paint a picture of a resurgent, armed radical right-wing movement, which ranges from Patriot Movement paramilitaries to neo-Nazis. In the last year, this part of the Right has become brazen in ways not seen in years. They have lost their fear of seizing federal facilities at gunpoint, stabbing anti-fascist protestors, and shooting at Black Lives Matter rallies.
While Donald Trump has “disavowed and will continue to disavow the support of any such groups associated with a message of hate,” the Republican presidential nominee has inspired and energized White supremacist organizers. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that prominent fascist Andrew Anglin calls Trump “the Glorious Leader.” As Trump won multiple primaries in May, Anglin wrote on his Daily Stormer website, ”White men in America and across the planet are partying like it’s 1999 following Trump’s decisive victory over the evil enemies of our race.” Mother Jones reports that William Johnson, the American Freedom Party leader whom Trump named as a delegate then rescinded the offer, has funded paranoid robocalls including one that decries how “the White race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called ‘racist.’” “Trump’s candidacy has absolutely electrified the radical right,“ Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center has told The Wall Street Journal.
At the beginning of the Republican primary race, many media outlets treated the developer and reality TV star as comic relief for Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. The Huffington Post even put their coverage of Trump’s campaign in their entertainment section. But by last fall, that laughter had turned into fear, and a heated debate broke out amongst certain left-leaning intellectuals about whether Trump fit the criteria for being an actual fascist.
The period we’re in now reminds me of the 1980s and early ‘90s, when the Georgia town I grew up in became flush with neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan organizing. There and in the surrounding communities racist rallies drew hundreds of participants; in 1987, 5,000 showed up to a pro-segregation rally in neighboring Forsyth County.
Around this time, The Order, an underground White Power group, blazed a cross-country trail of murder and armed robbery. Their most famous victim was Denver talk show host Alan Berg killed in 1984.
Nazi skinhead activity became a youth fad in cities like Portland, Chicago and Atlanta. In the latter, they overran the punk scene, becoming the only organized political faction. Attacks on queer folks, people of color, anti-racists, and the homeless became common.
Louisiana elected David Duke, a former neo-Nazi and founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, as a state representative. Between 1987 and 1995, thousands of people were attacked, and many were murdered by members of the organized racist movement. In the early 1990s, the militias—themselves an outgrowth of this movement—joined in as another armed faction on the Right.
The violence topped out in 1995 when 168 people were killed in a truck bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Two militia movement members, one of whom was influenced by neo-Nazism, were convicted.
It’s starting to feel like the bad old days again. Cynical as this may sound, Roof’s massacre was not surprising to those of us who monitor the Far Right. Racist mass shootings are like clockwork; every two or three years, another massacre happens. In August 2012, a Nazi skinhead murdered six Sikh people at an Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara. In April 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr., a longtime racist leader, killed three people at Jewish centers in Overland Park, Kansas.
The list grows longer if you factor in mass shootings by neo-Nazis which don’t seem to be politically motivated. In July, a neo-Nazi in southern Washington state allegedly killed three people. In March 2015, a man affiliated with the violent Hammerskins group killed one and wounded five people in Mesa, Arizona.
But in the months after the Charleston massacre, the Far Right increased its public displays of provocation and violence dramatically. In November 2015, a Patriot Movement sympathizer shot five Black Lives Matter protestors in Minneapolis. In December, the Hammerskins—the most dangerous of the Nazi skinhead gangs—announced they were holding a march in Seattle. (They ended up not showing after hundreds took to the streets in opposition.)
The Far Right movement has retooled its image and ideology since the last big wave ended in the late 1990s. It’s no longer simply made up of Klan and Nazi thugs on one end, and “suit-and-tie Nazis” like David Duke on the other.
Intellectuals such as Richard Spencer and Kevin MacDonald have come into the movement, helping to expand its appeal. At the same time, neo-Nazi prison gangs flourish, with members both on the inside and outside.
U.S. groups have been influenced by European variants of fascism, giving them a new tone and approach. For example, the Traditionalist Worker Party borrows from European Third Positionism, which stresses racial separatism and hostility to global capitalism. And for those to whom Trump is too moderate, but fascism too extreme, there is a whole field of reactionary movements between the two to choose from, including neo-Confederates, anti-immigrant activists, vigilante border patrols, Islamophobes, and the Men’s Rights Movement.
But the most important new trend is the “alternative right,” embraced by racist millennials, and disturbingly now championed by the website Breitbart. The alternative right are racists who have finally figured out how to use the internet, and have injected catch-phrases and slogans—like “cuckservative”—into the mainstream Right.
The Sacramento rally where five protestors were stabbed was sponsored by Matthew Heimbach, one of the Far Right’s bright new faces. Politically he is old wine in a new bottle, but Heimbach has helped give the movement a makeover for those who think Klan hoods and oxblood Doc Martins are relics of their parents’ or grandparents’ generation of racists.
Heimbach is able to maneuver between factions in a movement famous for infighting, and get various groups to cooperate with him. For example, the Sacramento rally was attended by members of the Golden State Skinheads who were apparently rechristened as members of the Traditionalist Worker Party for the occasion. Heimbach didn’t even bother to show up.
Conflicts between anti-fascists and fascists tend to be ritualized, mediated by a large police presence that keeps the two groups apart. Clashes, when they do happen, rarely involve more than fists and clubs. The multiple stabbings and the presence of firearms at these conflicts is a new change. So is the policing strategy. Although the reason for this is unclear, law enforcement was completely absent in Anaheim and incompetent in Sacramento.
What is clear, however, is that authorities have only charged anti-fascists in these incidents. At the Anaheim rally, seven counter-protestors received charges for assault, battery, or resisting arrest—while no Klan members have been charged in the three stabbings.
Heimbach himself was caught on video assaulting a Black woman at a Trump rally in March in Kentucky. He, too, has not been charged.
Heimbach’s group said their next move would be to join the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, but then publicly canceled saying they could not secure permits. They showed up anyway. I suspect their feint was probably to prevent a more robust antifascist presence from being organized. It looks like even Heimbach is not prepared for the results of what he seems to be so keen to provoke.
There is no sign this violence will stop anytime soon, not even after the November presidential election. By using blatantly anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim language that had previously been taboo to use in public, Trump has removed the cork in the genie’s bottle of White resentment—just as right-wing populists have done all over Europe.
If he wins, it’s possible Trump will continue to condone racially charged violence, as he’s done at his rallies. If he loses, the violent rage that he has awoken among reactionaries may look for a more radical vehicle. It seems like only a matter a time before somebody dies in these clashes.
Law enforcement around the country has shown little interest in reining in the new White nationalist movement. Federal authorities have consistently blocked attempts to redirect counterterrorism resources on the domestic Far Right, instead continuing to focus on Islamists.
The rest of us need to be prepared to respond to this violence from the Far Right. If you are going to protest a Klan or Nazi rally, police may not be there to separate the two groups, and the racists may be armed, at the least, with knives. We need to have plans ready to respond if businesses, community centers, and mosques are vandalized or burned. Support systems, including safehouses, should be arranged if people are attacked in their homes. And we need to send a strong public message that vigilante “street patrols,” designed to harass immigrants and Muslims, are not welcome in our communities. It is better to be prepared for these emergencies ahead of time instead of scrambling to set them up afterwards.