Neo-Nazi Group Unravelling, Spencer Backing Off: Positive Steps in the Battle against Racism and Bigotry

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A group that few of us have heard of, which “advocates for racially pure nations and communities and blames Jews for many of the world’s problems,” is having some problems lately. The neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) lost both its primary spokesperson and its leader in mid-March. [SPLC “Weekend Read/ Issue 71,” March 17, 2018] TWP leader Matthew Heimbach was arrested and charged with battery of his wife and his father-in-law, Matt Parrott. (Heimbach is married to Parrott’s step-daughter.) Parrott, TWP’s chief spokesperson, announced his resignation from the group shortly after Heimbach’s arrest, citing in part the role of the Southern Poverty Law Center in TWP’s demise. (Another reason for Parrott’s resignation may have had something to do with the fact that Heimbach had had an affair with Parrott’s wife…) After these events, “Parrott shut down the TWP’s websites and deleted membership data, citing privacy concerns.” Thus, for all intents and purposes, the TWP no longer exists, and this is very good news.

Around the same time, white nationalist Richard Spencer – whom many of us have heard of – says he will stop giving speeches on college campuses, at least for the moment (because, he says, they have stopped “being fun…”). Those speeches have long spouted the racist ideology of the so-called “alt-right.” Spencer is president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, and he was among many on the far right who hailed the election of Donald Trump in glowing terms. The “alt-right” (“alternative right”), a term coined by Spencer, is a philosophy that advocates a “white ethnostate for a ‘dispossessed white race’ and called for ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ of non-whites in Europe to halt . . . the deconstruction of European culture.” Spencer’s pulling back is also good news. (And it can be noted that another reason that he might be stopping his college speeches for now is that he has been banned in 26 European nations, which undoubtedly would cramp his style.)

President Donald Trump is directly or indirectly linked to both the TWP and Richard Spencer – and that cannot be good news. “Despite the TWP’s talk of nonviolence, [Matthew] Heimbach attended a Trump rally in Louisville, Ky., where he was seen repeatedly shoving a black woman, 21-year-old Kashiya Nwanguma. In April 2016, Nwanguma joined two others in suing Trump for inciting violence at his rallies; Heimbach was also named as a defendant. In July, the authorities charged Heimbach with misdemeanor harassment in the incident.” Further, “Heimbach, who is representing himself, said that he ‘relied on Trump’s authority’ in order to oust the woman from the rally, citing Trump’s directive to ‘Get ‘em out of here’ and promise to ‘pay for the legal fees’ of supporters who expelled dissidents from rallies. On this basis, Heimbach has filed court papers seeking indemnity from Trump.”

The other link between Spencer and Trump comes in the persons of Stephen Miller, senior advisor for policy at the White House, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Even though Miller has disavowed knowing Spencer and supposedly repudiates his views, he in fact “engineered the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and has used his platform to inject radical white ethno-nationalism into the country’s immigration debate.” He also uses terms like “globalist” in a negative context, such as “smear[ing] Jewish people as disloyal to a nation,” and “cosmopolitan,” “which seems exceedingly innocent to the untrained ear, but is, in fact, an egregious wink and a nod to white supremacists everywhere. The term is used to label the ‘other,’ the internationalist who undermines the ultra-nationalist project.”

Banner, as we know, turned conservative Breitbart News into an incendiary web outlet that embraced birtherism and blatantly racist notions of black criminality. Breitbart under Bannon’s direction had no interest in facts but rather invented narratives that promoted an extreme conservative ethos and maligned the left. A major goal of the Bannon White House was to dismantle the administrative state – in other words, do away with most government entities, because they view the federal government as too large, a waste of resources, contrary to the basic goals of the Constitution, and an “overreach” with regard to states’ prerogatives.

The confluence of Spencer’s backing off from some of his activities and the demise of the TWP is a small step in a positive direction (as is the April move of Facebook to shut down two of Spencer’s websites). Even though the White House under Trump, Miller, Bannon and others has given shelter and a veneer of legitimacy to white supremacy, it is always note-worthy when a radical, hateful group or individual loses some of its potency. It shows, among other things, that vitriol and bigotry can be successfully combated – by enforcing laws already on the books and by public pressure.

We must constantly remain vigilant about the existence of groups and philosophies that seek to undermine our “better angels;” breathe a sigh of relief when bigotry and white supremacy are foiled, at least for a time; and continue to support our laws and organizations that promote diversity, fairness, and justice for all.