This weekend’s Unite the Right rally in Washington, D.C., drew a crowd of tens and ended in a whimper, not a bang. A far cry from the terrifying August 2017 Nazi uprising in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, it showed a core band of white supremacists outnumbered and shouted down by peaceful anti-fascist counter-protesters — a far cry from last year’s mayhem.
It also came a few days after YouTube and Facebook — and now Vimeo — deplatformed the conspiracy fantasist and gay-frogs-obsessive Alex Jones for violating their respective terms of service. While Jones has somehow managed to stay in Twitter’s good graces, Jack Dorsey’s little blue bird banned the Proud Boys, Vice founder Gavin McInnes’ group of self-described male chauvinists who think masturbation saps a man’s virility. (It’s not enough for some Proud Boys, though, since some can’t even tear up a sign.) The Twitter ban is ostensibly because the Proud Boys participated in a recent rally in Portland, which categorizes them an extremist group while Jones remains a showman.
So maybe the outburst of alt-right and Nazi fervor in summer 2017 was a freak occurrence, then? Definitely not.
Instead, white supremacists, open racists, and outright Nazis have greater exposure than ever, and decent people everywhere will have to remain vigilant for a long time to come. They’re particularly good at weaponizing a misconception of the First Amendment to make themselves look like victims of a censorious liberal conspiracy executed by Big Tech. And of course, they can stoke white-conservative paranoia about demographic suicide. Witness Laura Ingraham‘s astounding rant about America’s shifting ethnic composition (as if that weren’t the one constant about this country since even before its founding).
To her, it constitutes a national emergency — and while this kind of rhetoric has always been with us, it’s become smuggled into Fox News’ primetime lineup. Tucker Carlson is guilty of the same thing: fomenting terror among Fox’s elderly viewership in the hopes of turning out the vote in the face of a Blue Wave. Carlson only finds time for this when he’s not claiming Sarah Jeong’s tweets will set in motion a chain of events leading to the White Holocaust.
In the long run, the way to beat Nazis, white supremacists, and the patriarchy is for good people to win elections. But while there’s lots of inspiring talk about a resurgence of democratic socialism and the enormous number of women seeking elective office, many horrible people are running, too.
In Illinois, state Republicans have tried its best to distance themselves from Arthur Jones, an anti-Trump figure who once led the American Nazi Party and who “snookered” party leaders to win a low-turnout primary. (Jones has no chance to win this overwhelmingly Democratic Chicago-centered seat— although it’s worth noting that many Democrats aren’t happy with their antichoice nominee, longtime Rep. Dan Lipinski, who was the target of an unsuccessful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-style insurgent campaign this year.)
But he’s way better than an outright Nazi, and better than many other Republicans running around the country. In New Jersey’s second district, Seth Grossman has turned off so many people with talk about how diversity is “a bunch of crap and un-American” that the state GOP has all but written off the race for a seat they’ve held for 24 years. In North Carolina, Russell Walker thinks God is a white supremacist and Jews are descended from Satan — and while the local Republicans don’t want people to vote for him, he’s still on the ballot.
In Missouri, Hitler admirer and radio shock jock Steve West won a Republican primary last week in spite of denouncing “Jewish cabals” on air. Over in Arizona, 86-year-old former Maricopa County sheriff and Trump pardon recipient Joe Arpaio is running for the Senate seat held by occasional Trump critic Jeff Flake. Although Arpaio’s bid is considered a long shot, he terrorized Latinos in Arizona’s most populous county with a decades-long campaign of racial profiling and the brutal treatment of individuals held in his jail. Speaker Paul Ryan‘s departure from Congress gave an opening to “pro-white” candidate Paul Nehlen, whose primary happens to be tomorrow, Aug. 14. (He, too, is unlikely to win.)
But in Northern California, we have John Fitzgerald, who’s using anti-Semitic robocalls in his quest to unseat state Senator Mark DeSaulnier. (Fitzgerald took a distant second in the primary, but under the structure of California’s open elections, he nonetheless advances to the general in November.)
So the horrors extend from coast to coast. One thing to keep in mind is that, although connected by moral reprehensibility, these right-wing figures tend not to like one another very much. For instance, Breitbart claims to hate Paul Nehlen, although that might be scheming Steve Bannon cutting his losses, and transphobic arch-troll Ben Shapiro famously left Breitbart in 2016 after Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted a fellow correspondent. Then there’s the whole alt-right-versus-alt-lite debate, which occasionally feels rooted in petty interpersonal conflicts and granular doctrinal disputes no outsider could comprehend. But the enmity is real.
The other thing to keep foremost in mind is that — especially for figures with a large online following — the entire thing may be a performance. It’s never been established to what degree Jones even believes his paranoid delusions about false-flag terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook shooting being a hoax. He apologized for Pizzagate, and his ugly child-custody legal proceedings included this nugget about how he might actually be playing an irascible, highly emotive character. Whether this is a giant bit of fun that got out of hand once it became lucrative and the fame grew addicting is hard to say. At heart, Jones is probably a true believer who started to exaggerate a little more all the time and then, on seeing his audience grow, came to believe his own fantasies. But nobody knows who the deep-state figure Q, as in #QAnon, even is — or if they exist at all. It hardly matters, as the entire architecture of the alt-right-inflected internet exists to conjure untruths into existence through sheer force of repetition until the real world must contend with their consequences.
We can take comfort in the right’s tendency to cannibalize itself. While Berkeley lefties want to banish a chef from the farmers market because of his relentlessly abusive, creepy behavior, conservatives tolerate horrendous personal conduct yet excommunicate one another far more flamboyantly. For instance, Gateway Pundit, the fake-news website founded “homocon” and dumbest man on the internet Jim Hoft, fired mischief-prone and truth-averse contributor Lucian Wintrich for appearing on a white-nationalist podcast. It’s surprising, as Wintrich is a sort of lesser Milo Yiannopoulos, a provocateur who seemed only to want to disrupt the D.C. press corps as some kind of own-the-libs stunt. (He responded to his termination by boiling his enemies alive in effigy — as lobsters, including one named after his former boss.)
These people are sociopaths. But only in November — and then again in 2020 — we will have the nation’s verdict on the Nazism in our midst. It’s terrifying how close to the edge we’ve gotten. Meanwhile, Queen of Soul and civil rights icon Aretha Franklin is reportedly gravely ill. Among her many dizzying accomplishments, the 76-year-old daughter of a famous and well-respected preacher sang Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” at the Kennedy Center in December 2015, to honor King for her contributions to American culture. The five-minute video will leave you floored — if only because of what the state of the country was like less than three years ago. Watch it and see Franklin play the piano in a fur coat, sending King into a fit of joy and making President Barack Obama cry. How things have changed.