This was the unveiling of the alt-right, this was its moment, its confident stride onto the national stage, and there was unity — until there was internal dissent, until there was pronounced disagreement, until there was (almost) a voice raised against one’s white European kith and kin.
And, of course, it was about the Jews.
The email said the alt-right guy would meet me in front of Old Ebbitt Grill, the hoary Washington eatery beloved by tourists and hard by the White House. He would “be wearing a charcoal suit and brown tie,” the email said, but these details weren’t necessary. The crew cut, the sunglasses, the tight, thin frown, the pacing: This was the alt-right guy.
“It’s at the Willard Hotel,” he said, directing me around the corner to the historic hostelry where Abraham Lincoln, destroyer of the Confederacy, spent the night, and where Julia Ward Howe wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the anthem that inspired destroyers of the Confederacy.
This is where three alt-right luminaries were convening a Sept. 9 news conference that they had planned to hold at the nearby National Press Club, where they would at last explain to the benighted media the movement that has embraced Republican nominee Donald Trump — a movement that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton hopes to attach like a carbuncle to her rival, along with its viciousness and its racial preening. (Trump has adopted some of the movement’s symbols, and at first was reluctant to renounce them; in recent weeks he has renounced groups associated with the movement.)
According to the conveners, threats against the National Press Club led the institution’s leadership to shut them out, hence the need to keep the new location a secret.
“I don’t think the National Press Club is ever going to censor the Flat Earth Society or some bizarre space-age ‘Star Trek’ convention,” Richard Spencer, who favored dramatic stage whispers, said at the outset. “They’re censoring us and there is a reason for that, and that is because we are right.”
There were maybe 50 people in the room at the Willard, including a woman with long gray hair, wrapped in a tallit, weaving about in the back. Was she a confused alt-righter? A protester? A bat mitzvah guest escaped from the ballroom down the hall?
“We talk about the things people are afraid to talk about, and that is because they are true,” said Spencer, who is president of something called the National Policy Institute and who, beaming, claimed to be progenitor of the term “alt-right.”
The movement’s recent prominence is linked to its role in propelling Trump, whom Spencer said is not so much admired for his positions — although his foreign and immigration policy are appealing — but for his style.
“It’s about style over substance, the fact that he doesn’t back down, the fact that he’s willing to confront his enemies on the left,” he said. “This is what a leader looks like.”
Spencer and the two other movement leaders who convened the conference — Jared Taylor, the editor of the American Renaissance, which spotlights race and immigration, and Peter Brimelow, editor of VDare.com, which focuses on immigration and race — agreed on their joy in Trump’s triumphant rise. And plenty of other stuff, too: the celebration of whiteness, and the weird insistence that while whites outsmart blacks and Hispanics, Asians outsmart us all, so how could we, the media, call these three musketeers white supremacists? Call them Asian supremacists!
That got a big guffaw.
There were outbursts like “Gas the kikes!” by Taylor, quickly followed by an explanation that this is the kind of expectoration unacceptable even on the alt-right.
There were the inside jokes that transitioned from weird to disturbing: Brimelow describing the pending dystopia he believed inevitable and saying he was glad his wife allowed him to teach his three little girls to shoot.
There was the insistent, unapologetic embrace of the retrograde. A journalist asked if there were women among the alt-right leadership. There were a few, Taylor said, but male leadership was likelier. Spencer said there are plenty of women “fans” — not activists or contributors, mind you, but “fans,” in all its intimations of ebullience and unalloyed groupie-love.
There were mild disagreements. Taylor wants the instruments of government removed as a means of encouraging like races to gravitate toward one another and self-sovereignty, believing that outcome was a natural evolution. Spencer wants to formally establish a white ethno-state.
And then there was the Jewish question.
“I tend to believe that European Jews are part of our movement,” Taylor said. “I think it is unquestionable there has been an overrepresentation by Jews [among] individuals that have tried to undermine white legitimacy.”
But, he noted, the same is true of Episcopalians.
Spencer insisted there would be no room for Jews in his white ethno-state. He was happy to work with the Jewish ethno-state, he said, a tiresome reduction of what Israel signifies, but Jews would not assimilate.
“I think most on the alt-right recognize that Jews have their identity and they’re not European,” he said. “Jews have a very different history. Europeans are Europeans and Jews are Jews. To call Jews European is to insult them.”
Brimelow tried to mediate between Spencer and Taylor, saying that Jews seem all right, but that Jewish organizations are on “the wrong side.” Soon, however, he was digressing back to his imagined dystopia.
“Jews are disproportionately represented in every kind of craziness,” he said, apparently referring to Jewish organizations, and “if my pessimism about the future of the country is correct, they will pay for it.” Presumably at the hands of his three armed little girls.