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White Nationalists' Enthusiasm For Trump Cools

Jan 13, 2017
Originally published on January 13, 2017 6:32 pm

Next week, white nationalists like Jared Taylor will celebrate a moment they've been waiting decades to see, when Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Members of the white nationalist movement were among the first to embrace Trump's candidacy, and they celebrated after his election.

"Jan. 20 reflects a significant defeat for egalitarian orthodoxy," Taylor says.

Taylor promotes a very different orthodoxy, one in which race is central to innate abilities and national success. He is working to build a United States explicitly for white people. Trump arguably helps this by telling supporters that they're the victims of a system rigged against them.

"I see Donald Trump as a kind of steppingstone. He is a step in the right direction in terms of understanding America and history and the world in essentially racial terms," Taylor says.

But white nationalist enthusiasm for Trump has fallen off substantially. Since the election, the so-called alt-right has splintered, and the movement now looks a lot less potent than it once appeared.

To understand that, it helps to go back to the heady days just after the election.

"It's too much winning! Could someone please just stop winning, I don't want to win anymore," Richard Spencer, who coined the term alt-right, told a room full of fellow radicals in November. Spencer said that Trump's victory had just slingshot white nationalism into the mainstream.

"And even if we're not quite in power yet we should act like it," he said.

But later that day, Spencer gave another speech, a fiery one that ended with some of the audience casting off any pretense of being mainstream.

"Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!" Spencer shouted, raising his glass in a straight-arm toast to the audience.

Some in the crowd responded with enthusiastic Nazi salutes, which captured media attention.

"Right after the election, I think it was euphoria," says Kevin MacDonald, a retired evolutionary psychology professor at California State, Long Beach and another white nationalist mainstay. "But as we get into it now, there's more trepidation."

MacDonald says Trump's appointments also have rattled the movement, especially his propensity for tapping rich Wall Street bankers.

"These are globalists in general. They love free trade, they love immigration — big red flags for us," he says.

And MacDonald says he is concerned about the reliance on generals and hawkish policy leading America into another Middle East war.

"Lot of trepidation, but the big silver lining is Jeff Sessions," he says.

MacDonald hopes Sessions, Trump's nominee for attorney general, will clamp down on immigration. White nationalists also like the nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is seen as being close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a darling of the alt-right.

But despite its high hopes for the Trump administration, the radical right has largely gone to war with itself. Mark Potok, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, says much of what was once called the alt-right has peeled away.

"I mean look, we are talking about a movement which spends literally more time attacking one another than they do attacking their enemies," Potok says.

No one has taken more fire from his ideological kinsmen than Spencer. Like-minded radicals have disavowed the alt-right, even called Spencer an operative bent on the movement's destruction. In the media, he is always tied to those Nazi salutes.

"I think it's good to be the person talked about, even when it's negative," Spencer tells NPR. "Our ideas are entering the discourse."

But Marilyn Mayo with the Anti-Defamation League argues that the alt-right is watching its illusion of real world influence whither.

"At some point, they may have felt that they could influence policy in some way, but I think that was really a pipe dream for them because they really are a fringe movement, and they're still a fringe movement," Mayo says.

A movement that sprang from obscurity with Trump's election seems to be dropping back into the shadows even before Trump takes power.

Copyright 2017 KCUR-FM. To see more, visit KCUR-FM.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

White nationalists were among the first to embrace Donald Trump's candidacy, and they celebrated after his election. Since then, the so-called alt-right has splintered. As Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, the movement now looks a lot less potent than it once did.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Next week, white nationalists like Jared Taylor will celebrate a moment they've been waiting decades to see.

JARED TAYLOR: January 20 reflects a significant defeat for egalitarian orthodoxy.

MORRIS: Taylor promotes a very different orthodoxy, one in which race is central to innate abilities and national success. He's working to build a United States explicitly for white people. Trump arguably helps this by telling supporters that they're victims of a system that's rigged against them.

TAYLOR: I see Donald Trump as a kind of stepping stone. He is a step in the right direction in terms of understanding America and history and the world in essentially racial terms.

MORRIS: But white nationalist enthusiasm for Trump has fallen off substantially. And to understand that, it helps to go back to the heady days just after the election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHARD SPENCER: It's too much winning. Can someone please just stop winning? I don't want to win anymore, all right (laughter).

MORRIS: That's Richard Spencer, the guy who coined the term alt-right, telling a roomful of fellow radicals that Trump's victory has just sling-shotted white nationalism into the mainstream.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPENCER: And even if we're not quite in power yet, we should act like it.

MORRIS: But later that day, some of the audience responded to a speech by enthusiastically throwing up Nazi salutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SPENCER: Hail Trump. Hail our people. Hail victory.

MORRIS: And that's what got all the media attention.

KEVIN MACDONALD: Right after the election, I think there was euphoria. But as we get into it now, I think that there's more trepidation.

MORRIS: Kevin MacDonald is a retired evolutionary psychology professor at California State Long Beach and another white nationalist mainstay. He says Trump's appointments have also rattled the movement, especially his propensity for tapping rich Wall Street bankers.

MACDONALD: These are globalists in general. They love free trade. They love immigration - big red flags for us.

MORRIS: And MacDonald says he's concerned about the reliance on generals and hawkish policy leading America into another Middle East war.

MACDONALD: A lot of trepidation. But the big silver lining is Jeff Sessions.

MORRIS: Referring to Trump's nominee for attorney general, Macdonald hopes Sessions will clamp down on immigration. White nationalists also like secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson, who's seen as being close to Putin, a darling of the alt-right.

But despite its high hopes for the Trump administration, the radical right has largely gone to war with itself. And Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center says much of what was once called the alt-right has peeled away.

MARK POTOK: I mean, look; we are talking about a movement which spends literally more time attacking one another than they do their enemies.

MORRIS: No one has taken more fire from his ideological kinsmen lately than Richard Spencer. Like-minded radicals have disavowed the alt-right, even called Spencer an operative bent on the movement's destruction. In the media, he's always tied to those Nazi salutes.

SPENCER: I think it's good to be that person talked about even when it's negative. Our ideas are entering the discourse.

MORRIS: But Marilyn Mayo with the Anti-Defamation League argues that the so-called alt-right is watching its illusion of real world influence wither.

MARILYN MAYO: At some point, they may have felt that they could influence policy in some way. But I think that was really more of a pipe dream for them because they really are a fringe movement, and they're still a fringe movement.

MORRIS: So a movement that sprang from obscurity with Donald Trump's election seems to be dropping back into the shadows even before Trump takes power. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.