The Bigot in Chief: the right-wing rats and their ringleader

August 18, 2017
Clockwise from top left: Donald Trump, David Duke, Matthew Heimbach and Richard Spencer

AFTER Charlottesville, we know the truth: The supposedly respectable "alt-right" isn't so "alternative." They're a new generation of the same violent, racist reactionaries of yesteryear.

And from the days after Charlottesville, we know another truth: They are being aided and abetted by none other than the current occupant of the White House.

On Tuesday, Donald Trump held a press conference in which he attacked left-wing and anti-racist groups as being complicit in the bloodshed in Charlottesville, Virginia, caused by a rampage of the filthiest of the far right during their demonstrations against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The reign of far-right terror culminated in a neo-Nazi mowing down anti-racist protesters with a car, killing one and injuring 19 more.

The events in Charlottesville exposed the far right's noxious stew of racism and violence for the world to see. But Trump wouldn't condemn the white supremacists outright at first--initially describing the violence as a result of "all sides."

Trump later retreated somewhat in the face of widespread condemnation, including from members of his own party. But the very next day, he returned full force to his pandering to the racist right, and then some.

"Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch," Trump said, adding that blame for the violence also belonged to those on "the left" who opposed the white supremacists.

"There is another side," Trump ranted. "There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You have just called them the left, that came violently attacking the other group."

Apparently, Trump missed what the whole world saw: torch-wielding proponents of white supremacy marching on a college campus; followed the next day by a rally in which open supporters of Hitler chanted Nazi-inspired slogans; and gangs of thugs roamed the street looking for peaceful opposing demonstrators to beat up.

Trump went on to explicitly side with the far right's cause in Charlottesville: "Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

Trump's words aren't merely ignorant. They echo some of the prime talking points of today's surging alt-right, who deflect attention from their violence and hate by claiming to be victims of a leftist conspiracy to silence them and take away their rights.

They just got a big boost from the president of the United States.

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THE ACTIONS of the right-wingers themselves in Charlottesville--the Nazi salutes, the T-shirts bearing quotes from Adolph Hitler, the fascist chants, the multiple incidents of violence against anti-racist protesters--should leave no doubt about the motives of those who organized and turned out for the "Unite the Right" rally.

One of the main organizers was Charlottesville native Jason Kessler.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Kessler got his start in far-right organizing as a student before branching out. In Charlottesville, one main focus for him has been attacking local figures like Wes Bellamy, the city's vice mayor and only Black City Council member, who has pushed for the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

Earlier this year, Kessler created a far-right white nationalist group called "Unity & Security for America," which describes itself as "a vanguard grassroots organization dedicated to defending Western Civilization" from "rampant immigration" and other evils.

Kessler's connection to violence isn't surprising. He was arrested for assault earlier this year and pleaded guilty--video showed him punching a man while gathering signatures on a petition to remove Wes Bellamy from office.

While they are now trying to distance themselves, Kessler has had plenty of support from Republican officials. In March, Kessler and members of his group met with Republican Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett, where Kessler reportedly touted anti-immigrant legislation later pushed by Trump.

When white supremacists marched on Charlottesville to "defend" the Lee statue back in May, Kessler and his group were front and center, with Kessler giving a speech to protesters "in which he praised fascist and racist organizations, thanked a prominent Holocaust denier, and declared the beginnings of a cultural 'civil war,'" according to one report.

Kessler couldn't have been more explicit about his goals for the march: "We're trying to do a pro-white demonstration. We're trying to show that folks can stand up for white people."

For Kessler and his followers, "standing up" means lashing out--at anti-racists, at Blacks, at anyone different who dares to oppose their bigotry.

That's why watching Kessler be run off from his attempted press conference the day after the killing of anti-racist Heather Heyer and the injuring of 19 others was so satisfying. As anti-racist activists began shouting and heckling Kessler, he was forced to duck through bushes and trees to escape--scurrying away like the rat he is.

"Her name was Heather, sir," one protester yelled as Kessler turned tail and ran. "Her name was Heather, Jason. Her blood is on your hands."

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WITH MANY repugnant far-right figures feeling confident after Charlottesville--and even more so after Trump's Tuesday tirade--they will redouble their efforts to spread their hate on our campuses and in our communities.

Take Richard Spencer, one of the most prominent figures of the current "alt-right" movement, who was also on the ground in Charlottesville.

The leader of the white nationalist "think tank," the National Policy Institute, Spencer prefers to call himself an "identitarian"--but that's just semantics. When promotion of your "identity" includes advocating for a white nation for the supposedly "dispossessed white race" and calling for "peaceful ethnic cleansing" to halt the "deconstruction" of European culture, there's really no difference.

Spencer is one of a number of racist alt-right figures who stepped forward during the election to advocate support for Trump and push for a mainstream revival of white supremacist organizing.

At a November gathering of his National Policy Institute following Trump's election, he denounced Jews and quoted Nazi propaganda--referring to the media as the supposedly Jewish-controlled "Lügenpresse," or "lying press," a term used by the Nazis. He went on to yell, "Hail Trump! Hail our people!" and "Hail victory!" (the English translation of "Sieg Heil"), as many in the crowd threw up Nazi salutes.

As a Politico profile of Spencer and other alt-right figures noted, Trump's election helped put the wind in their racist sails, allowing Spencer in particular to embark on a planned tour of college campuses--and feel right at home in Washington, D.C., where he was looking to expand operations and "push white nationalism out of the shadows of the internet." Spencer explained the goal: "We need to enter the world. We've hit our limit in terms of being a virtual institution."

That's why Charlottesville was important for the far-right racists. Spencer gloated afterward to the New York Times, Charlottesville "was a huge moral victory in terms of the show of force."

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YOU CAN count Matthew Heimbach as another of the racists on the ground in Charlottesville who saw the day as an unqualified victory for their side. "We achieved all of our objectives," Heimbach told the New York Times, adding, "We showed that our movement is not just online, but growing physically. We asserted ourselves as the voice of white America."

Heimbach is a founder of the Nationalist Front, a neo-Nazi group that bills itself as an umbrella organization for white nationalists. According to the SPLC, Heimbach is "considered by many to be the face of a new generation."

He also has his roots in campus activism, having started a "Youth for Western Civilization" chapter and "White Student Union" at Towson University. Today, Heimbach is known as a leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party and its youth offshoot, the Traditionalist Youth Network, but he also has ties to several other hate groups.

Heimbach's targets are familiar--anyone non-white, non-Christian and LGBTQ, for starters--but he also attempts to appeal to younger disaffected working-class people by criticizing capitalism and touting a kind of environmentalism, while posing white nationalism as a solution to the failures of the system.

His writings and speeches are saturated with bigotry and a frightening vision of an America in which homosexuality and interracial marriage are forbidden, and Jews and other religious minorities can be expelled. In 2013, for example, he said, "Those who promote miscegenation, usury, or any other forms of racial suicide should be sent to re-education centers, not tolerated."

On the ground in Charlottesville, he and his followers were central in escalating the violence. They came dressed in combat gear and attacked counterprotesters who attempted to prevent them from entering the right's rally site. At one point, Heimbach reportedly "ordered his followers to push down the metal police barricades that cut the park into separate zones."

"The biggest thing," he declared prior to the rally, "is a show of strength: To show that our organizations that have been divided on class, been divided on religious issues, divided on ideological grounds, can put 14 words--'We must secure the existence of our people and the future for white children'--as our primary motivating factor."

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IF HEIMBACH and his ilk represent a "new generation" of white supremacists, that doesn't mean the crusty old fascists weren't on hand--providing the ideological bridge between racists of decades past and today's alt-right.

One of the most prominent figures in Charlottesville rally was the grand (dragon) daddy of them all: David Duke.

Duke has been waiting for this moment for decades. After a long career spent trying to make his abhorrent views part of mainstream politics, the former Grand Dragon of the KKK in Louisiana was feeling smug as he marched in Charlottesville.

"This represents a turning point for the people of this country," he told one reporter on the scene. "We are determined to take our country back. We're going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he's going to take our country back, and that's what we've got to do."

Duke got his start in the National Socialist White People's Party before launching the Louisiana Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1974. A Holocaust denier who used to celebrate Hitler's birthday, complete with a cake, each year, Duke also attempted to make the messaging of the Klan's racist terrorism more palatable and media-friendly. As a 1976 Newsweek article about Duke reported:

"We've got to get out of the cow pasture and into the hotel meeting rooms," says Grand Dragon Duke of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. "But it's all window dressing, the substance is still the same."

Duke and his Louisiana-based Knights, however, try publicly to blunt that old-time substance with a singular passion for the window dressing. The Grand Dragon is a 24-year-old LSU graduate who has taken to working the college lecture circuit at campuses like Vanderbilt, Stanford, Indiana and Tulane. He pays full-time organizers to raise Klan consciousness in the universities, and he plugs rallies with a hard-sell radio spot aired on top-40 rock stations.

But "for all Duke's public agonizing over image," Newsweek reported, "the Klan's underlying appeal to racism remains--and there is no indication that the Klan will change its ways soon, no matter how cleaned and pressed the bedsheets may become."

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DUKE TRIED to take his hate to the polls, entering into mainstream politics and serving in the Louisiana state House of Representatives. He ran frequently for political office in the 1990s--making unsuccessful bids for the senate, governor and the Republican presidential nomination.

But in the last presidential election, Duke was a staunch Trump supporter, finding common cause with the billionaire bigot over issues like immigration. "The reason we have this incredible destruction of both Europe and America," he said on the radio, "is because we have an alien race, an alien people who have taken over our countries, taken over our media, taken over our banking, and only Donald Trump of any Republican has spoken up against Wall Street and the Jewish banks like Goldman Sachs."

For his part, the current occupant of the White House initially refused to disavow Duke's support, saying he would "do more research" before deciding.

It's no wonder then that within minutes of Trump's August 15 press conference blaming the left for the violence in Charlottesville, David Duke tweeted at him approvingly: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa."

In 2016, Duke's biographer Tyler Bridges raised the alarm about the especially toxic racism on display in the election--and its parallels to the bigots like Duke from generations past:

After Duke's election to the Louisiana House in 1989, novelist Walker Percy offered this insightful perspective to the New York Times. "If I had anything to say to people outside the state," Percy said, "I'd tell them, 'Don't make the mistake of thinking David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He's not. He's not just appealing to the old Klan constituency, he's appealing to the white middle. And don't think that he or somebody like him won't appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens."

The left can't afford to see the alt-right bigots and their audience as confined to "rednecks and yahoos." They are organizing and marching, coming onto our campus and into our communities. They want to inspire terror--and they are being bolstered in their cause by the orange stain sitting in the White House.

We have to oppose them at every turn--by mobilizing and building the biggest resistance possible any time they attempt to rear their heads.

[Reposted from US Socialist Worker.]

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