Nazi salutes. White people demanding a white “homeland.” A speaker talking about how women like to be assaulted. Glowing remarks about Adolf Hitler. Reporters getting booed for asking tough questions. This was the scene inside a conference held at a downtown Washington DC government building this past weekend and at a local restaurant.
White supremacists drank champagne this weekend in our nation’s capital to celebrate Trump’s presidential victory. The mostly-male group, part of the “Alt Right” movement, wore suits, ties, and dubious smiles. I wondered if any of them also had white robes at home.
I was outside the building with a crowd of about 500 protesters. Our chants included, “Racists eating creme brûlée? You’re still the KKK,” and, “Fascists, we will shut you down.” We also chanted, “Love will prevail.” It was a diverse group of people from many backgrounds, identities, and ideologies. We held a dance protest on the sidewalk outside the restaurant hosting their meet-and-greet on Friday, after about 30 people protested inside the restaurant. We also occupied the street in an energized, spontaneous march outside of their conference on Saturday.
The conference was organized by the blandly-named “National Policy Institute,” a white supremacist organization that has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It featured many white guys, such as neo-Nazi “academic” Kevin MacDonald, anti-immigration writer Peter Brimelow, and the head of the institute, professional racist Richard Spencer. Also, former TV personality Tila Tequila.
The institute’s flashy, meme-heavy materials call for a moratorium of up to 50 years on immigration from countries that are not European or white enough. They promote forced sterilization, which they’ve creepily called “programatic” contraception for "positive, eugenic effect," to deny people of color the choice to have children. Their might-makes-right approach blends with their sexist views of a patriarchal society. They hype a whites-only nation, so that no white person will need to see a person of color. Their materials discuss eugenics and false, debunked science that is supposed to show the genetic superiority of people who are white. Their website reviews books written by actual Nazis. This organization and its members are fully fascist, fully racist, and not hiding it.
If anyone were looking for overt signs that fascists are coming out of the closet, this is it. The white supremacists celebrated Trump’s victory last week, and are taking a threatening victory lap. We are living in a dangerous time when they feel comfortable enough to bring their ideology of hate straight into our government buildings. And now that they have “fascie” haircuts and aren’t using so many slurs, have acquired some minor graphic design skills, and are trying their best to dress sharp, they are getting profiled by news outlets from Mother Jones to Rolling Stone. News outlets such as Vice News to The Atlantic were present for the conference.
These white supremacists may have new haircuts, but their thinking is old and tired.
During the weekend conference, I had a cringe-worthy encounter with Spencer, head of the institute, and two other conference attendees. The three, accompanied by a small entourage, had burst out the doors of their Friday night event in the same way a gunslinging band of cattle thieves walks into a saloon in a cowboy movie. They were looking for a fight. What ensued was a ridiculous argument of sorts. They proceeded to call all of us communists (some of us were, some weren’t). They insisted that I was “self-hating” because I, a white woman, don’t want to live in an isolated whites-only world. They yelled over us, mostly, pausing only long enough to catch a phrase or two so that they could jump to their conclusions.
Richard Spencer, whose name is often accompanied by the fact that he has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, was displaying tactics he likely learned bullying other children on the playground, not in his graduate classes. (I suppose news outlets think it is fascinating that he is a white supremacist with a college education? They didn’t pause to consider the credentials of the protesters outside. I personally could have referred them to several people standing with me with master’s degrees and two with PhDs.) After the three had yelled and yelled for several minutes, as playground bullies are inclined to do, they insulted the physical appearance of all of us, calling us fat, ugly, or both, declared that they had “won,” and walked away. We laughed it off, but it was an interesting encounter that only illustrated the brutal ideology of force that we are up against.
I had started organizing the weekend’s protests months ago with a small group of committed antifascists. None of us thought then that we would be facing a Trump presidency. None of us thought then that a person who was so openly racist and sexist could be elected. None of us would have expected that Steve Bannon, who has said that his website Breitbart has been a platform for the Alt Right, could wind up a close advisor to president. None of us expected this deplorable conference to be some sort of celebration of victory. But now, that is what we’ve got.
Now, more than ever, the Alt Right, the white supremacists, and the fascists, are coming out of the woodwork to try to gain currency in the policy circles in Washington DC.
And now, more than ever, we must stand up to oppose them.
Standing up to fascism means standing for a world in which we celebrate diversity. We embrace the awesome symphony of differences that make the world a beautiful, colorful, engaging place to be. We do not wish to live in a world in which all of us are the same, because that is not only oppressive, it is boring. We wish to live in a world of creative expression, openness, and support for each other.
The philosophy that the National Policy Institute promotes sounds to me like the worldview of an antisocial, insecure hermit. Spencer, who coined the term Alt Right, promotes separating people based upon their identity, as if he were sorting laundry. The worldview he articulates is one of genetic determinism. It is a view that says that people who identify as white have genes that are somehow better than those of people of color. Using previously-debunked science on IQ test results and racial identity, books promoted on the institute’s site claim that white people are more intelligent than people of color. An article by Spencer on his own site depicts white culture as embattled, and says that “white culture” should have “the right to maintain its traditions, culture, and heritage.” And, in his own words, Spencer proposes doing all of this by force.
I’ve never seen anyone in the Alt Right mention the rights of American Indians or previously-enslaved black Americans, who were unwilling participants in the “American experiment.” The Alt Right seems to feel threatened by the freedom of the people who they previously enslaved. They seem to ignore the rights of indigenous people who have borne the brunt of imperialist foreign policy, who by the way are often the ones who immigrate here.
I have also never seen any discussion of how many cultural contributions people from other societies actually made to the cultures that surround us in the US. The food, technology, entertainment, and other cultural practices that the white boys of the Alt Right grew up in have been a product of a cultural milieu of globalization for a long time now.
Their meat and potatoes? Those potatoes were originally indigenous to the Andes mountains. Their salt and pepper? That pepper came from south India via the Mediterranean spice trade. Their numbers? Invented by Persians. Their bluegrass music? Developed by African slaves and indentured Celtic servants. Their aspirin? A medicine adopted from American Indians. Their Fourth of July fireworks? China. Their corn? Mexico. And the list goes on.
It is a fallacy that “white culture” was developed in a vacuum in the first place. But Spencer’s organization wants to pretend that genes made our culture, not the interconnected reality that we all exist in.
But like the self-entitled white boys that they are, the Alt Right wants to make a grab for a country that they think they built, that they think they own. No. We immigrants, we women, we artistic culture-makers, we are the ones who built our communities.
And if racist imperialism weren’t enough, these white supremacists have plenty of sexism to deliver up. The movement has strong ties to the so-called “manosphere,” which holds the false, ugly notion that women actually want be dominated by men because of genetics. Many “manosphere” adherents don’t think a woman should have a right to divorce. When a reporter from The Guardian asked about the lack of women present at the conference this past weekend, the crowd booed. Then they cheered when Spencer responded with some comments about how women want a “strong” man.
Gross. He has also said, “At some part of every woman's soul," he said, "they want to be taken by a strong man.” What gives him this wisdom? He actually cited romance novels as evidence: “I’ve looked at a lot of romance novels that women read and I’ve noticed a distinct pattern,” Spencer said, according to The Guardian.
He also animatedly told the Rolling Stone, "I love empire, I love power, I love achievement,” and admitted to getting a “boner” when reading about Napolean.
So women, definitely don’t get stuck alone in an elevator with this person, especially if he has imperialist literature tucked under his arm. Or a romance novel that I am sure he is just looking at for research.
Womens rights are in a sad state of affairs in our country when the men who think they are qualified to make our policy — Trump, Bannon, and lurking predators like Spencer — don’t even show respect for a woman’s agency over her own body, let alone our agency in the government we are subject to. As a survivor of sexual assault and violence, I empathize with women who are triggered and bewildered right now by the state of our nation.
That is why we need to oppose fascism now. We all stand to lose our freedom if this hateful movement goes any further.
Their worldview holds that people have an innate fear of each other, especially those that are different, and that the politics of power are the only way. They believe that people should live in isolated communities in which everyone looks the same, acts the same, and has the same culture. I don’t think so.
I believe in the part of the human spirit based on love, inclusion, and acceptance. I believe in that impulse that all of us have, of compassionate curiosity towards each other. I believe in our shared humanity and our ability to find common ground. I believe that, in the end, we all want to live in a world of collaboration, not competition. I believe that we all want to live in a world of kindness, caring, and celebration of difference.
Many of us learned of the Holocaust and thought, “If I had been in Nazi Germany, I would have stood up against injustice.” Well, now is our chance to do that in the real world. All of us are needed to counter their fascist agenda. This kind of wild-eyed fascism will not go away by magic. It will go away thanks to you, your shoes marching for freedom, your voice speaking up for justice, and your words helping build political will. You cannot leave this to someone else. This is your problem too. Now is the time to get involved and start meeting in person to stand up for freedom.
After all, what did our cultural heroes Indiana Jones, Captain America, and Superman all have in common? They all fought Nazis. So be a hero, and join us.