While post-Charlottesville setbacks have prompted some right-watchers prematurely to proclaim the demise of the alt right, its adherents have not yet lost their hateful energy and enthusiasm.
Many of these challenges have primarily affected prominent individuals like Richard Spencer, but have had little or no effect on rank and file white supremacists. In many cases, white supremacists have been able to compensate for some of the de-platforming that has occurred. The alt right in particular has embraced podcasts as a way to reach followers. Podcasting platforms have not yet effectively responded to white supremacist exploitation.
White supremacist podcast audiences are not large by the standards of mainstream podcasts but represent significant audiences for white supremacists. Some alt right websites, such as The Right Stuff, run by Mike Peinovich (using the pseudonym “Mike Enoch”), are virtual networks that feature many alt right podcasts, with the most popular having tens of thousands of subscribers.
Some white supremacists continue to show up at protests – since August 12, 2017, ADL has tracked 54 public events attended by white supremacists. In the past several months, approximately two dozen League of the South members held a flash demonstration on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; and roughly 50 Identity Evropa members and associates gathered for a flash demonstration at the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee.
But in many cases, white supremacists have responded to increased pressure and public derision by shifting tactics. Alt right activists who might not be interested in showing themselves at a large public event can still anonymously visit a university campus at night and put up white supremacist flyers. Others might drape a white supremacist banner over a freeway overpass. Charlottesville seems to have had no negative impact on these types of tactics. In fact, propaganda efforts have only increased in the past year.
Since the beginning of 2017, ADL’s Center on Extremism has tracked more than 900 white supremacist propaganda incidents, from distributions of white supremacist literature to display of white supremacist handbills and posters and more. Of these incidents, 420 occurred in 2017 (293 of them on college campuses during the 2016-17 or 2017-18 school years), while 482 have taken place so far in 2018 (including 152 campus incidents during the second half of the 2017-18 school year). Non-campus incidents have significantly increased in recent months.
White supremacists have also increased their visibility over the past year by running for office, particularly in off-year congressional contests. While at least some white supremacists run for office every campaign season, often as third-party, independent or write-in candidates, the 2018 election cycle has seen a number of white supremacists seek Republican Party nominations for major office. While the GOP, especially at the state level, has publicly denounced almost all of its extremist candidates, most continue to campaign as “Republicans.”
These candidates include longstanding white supremacists like neo-Nazi Art Jones, who actually won the Republican nomination for Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District (Jones ran unopposed because the seat is considered a “safe” seat for Democrats), as well as younger white supremacists like Paul Nehlen, who is running for outgoing Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan’s congressional seat. Nehlen, in particular, is a darling among the alt right.
In California, white supremacist Patrick Little hoped to challenge U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, but was defeated in the state’s party-blind primary. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist John Fitzgerald actually won enough votes in California’s 11th Congressional District primary to advance to the general election. In Virginia, Corey Stewart is the Republican Party nominee for U.S. Senate despite his ties to white supremacy, including a number of public appearances with Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler.
In some instances, candidates have attempted to deny or minimize any evidence of white supremacy or connections to white supremacists, but other candidates have been quite comfortable embracing overtly white supremacist ideology. Russell Walker, running for state representative in North Carolina, openly discusses the “superiority” of white people on his campaign website.
Some of these candidates may have felt emboldened to run for office this election cycle, just as other white supremacists have been emboldened to stage public events or engage in hate incidents. While most Americans loudly rejected the white supremacists’ message, not everyone was as forceful, creating a void white supremacists seem determined to exploit.
A year ago, President Trump refused to unambiguously denounce the hateful violence at Charlottesville, proclaiming that there was “blame on both sides” and “very fine people on both sides.” Even after the outcry that met the President’s equivocation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen doubled down at a public event in July, stressing that “what’s important” about Charlottesville is that “it’s not that one side is right and one side is wrong.”