News & Politics

The 'Alt-Right' Is Building a White Nationalist Mass Movement With 'Operation Homeland'

It's trying to build membership with a hateful, anti-immigrant message.

Photo Credit: Screenshot / YouTube

The "alt-right" didn't really enter the spotlight of mainstream US culture until it dropped back into the gutter. For the first years of its infancy, from the founding of "AlternativeRight.com" in 2010 until the popularization of the #AltRight hashtag in early 2015, members had focused on trying to rehabilitate the image of white nationalism.

A bad public image, terrorist violence, a history of mass genocide and vulgar racism had understandably made white nationalists pariahs, and Richard Spencer, the essential founder of the movement, wanted to wash all that away. Instead, the "alt-right" would take the example of the European New Right and focus on making a pseudo-academic movement that could influence what Spencer identified as "meta-politics" -- ideas and identities that are "pre-political." 

It wasn't until the slew of trolls, podcasters and hashtags flowed into their world that the "alt-right" was able to expand, although it came at the cost of their previous base-building "intellectual" work. Now, their major publications have returned to their white supremacist roots, filled with expletive-laced vitriol toward non-white people.

As the "alt-right" movement tries to move from its online world, which has largely kicked members off of their web platforms and into real-world activism, members are having a tough time reconciling their online persona with practical organizing. Spencer is trying to repair that with a new project coming out of his National Policy Institute nonprofit and its tabloid "AltRight.com." This project, aptly titled "Operation Homeland," was launched in the beginning of December 2017 by Spencer and is taking its inspiration from the "identitarian" movement in Europe.

"Identity Is Our Movement"

The European New Right helped build a philosophical fascist system that was more appealing to Baby Boomers raised on New Left and post-colonial rhetoric, but it was usually separated from practical political organizing. Starting in the late 1960s, far-right philosophers led by Alain de Benoist worked decided to reframe fascist values and ideas in the language of popular national liberation struggles that were erupting across the colonized Global South.

Instead of vulgar racism, they would talk about the "right to difference," and argue for "Ethno-pluralism," which they called a "nationalism for all people." Nationalist politics in France has been dominated by Le Pen's Front National party that, while still marginal, came close to winning the presidential election last year. Marine Le Pen's second place at the finish line is a high-water mark for a party constantly muddled in controversy, but shows the power they are truly gaining. The European New Right's conception of politics, on the other hand, is revolutionary, not reformist, and its meta-political vision was more about building a sense of identity and counter-power.

The European New Right opposes wars because of isolationist views that reject intervention in foreign nations. This fascist movement is anti-capitalist, as members view international trade as culturally homogenizing, and have a vision of communities trading and living in mono-racial exclusivity. They even buck Europe's historically Christian character for its distant pagan roots -- all in an effort to reclaim a romantic mythology about their own heritage and identity.

Out of that philosophical tradition emerged a movement that was more radical than the nationalist parties known throughout Europe, and looking to build a ground-up grassroots movement rather than winning seats in parliament. This has broadly been called the "identitarian" movement; a well-crafted brand name for a movement that members claim is about identity rather than racial animus.

The best known piece of this movement is "Generation Identity" in France, which has banked its success on opposing refugee resettlement in Western Europe, going as far as blocking refugee boats and risking the lives of Syrian children. Generation Identity started as the youth wing of the nationalist Bloc Identitaire movement, bringing together young French people around the amorphous concept of "identity" as a unifying motivator. Immigration -- specifically in regard to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries -- has been Generation Identity's focus, taking the call from European New Right author Guillaume Faye that there is a battle with Islam for the fate of Western Civilization.

"Identity America"

The "alt-right's" Operation Homeland will be a further attempt at reviving the "identitarian" movement in the US, bringing Generation Identity's format to a broad-based far-right US audience. Operation Homeland will stake its claim on immigration, just as Generation Identity has -- an issue the US far right pursues since it has popularity with the mainstream GOP electorate.

"Our positions are clear: we support immigration restriction and free speech, and we resolutely oppose more wars fought in the interest of foreigners," wrote Richard Spencer in his announcement on AltRight.com. "Homeland is not a broad-based membership organization or social club. Rather, it is a core of part- and full-time activists who provide leadership to the movement as a whole."

From here, the "alt-right" wants to take the atomized world of young, mostly anonymous activists and train them to be leaders in the movement. Organizations like Identity Evropa have already been doing this for almost two years, focusing primarily on college-aged men in a fraternally modeled organization. Operation Homeland will expand that pool, becoming another organization that will work as an independent organization and movement.

Spencer has been building this cadre ever since the creation of AltRight.com and his push into public protests and college speeches. He has brought over a whole new host of young people to support his podcast, security teams and National Policy Institute operations -- many of whom have been publicly doxxed and fired from their previous careers because of their white nationalist views.

It is this group that has helped to organize many of Spencer's events over the past 18 months, including the disaster at Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, and the "alt-right" wants to employ those skills into a professionalized setting. This includes new "alt-right" figures like podcaster Gregory Conte, AltRight.com contributor Christoffer Dulny, Spencer's event-organizer Cameron Padgett, and Eli Mosley, who had a very brief tenure as leader of Identity Evropa. All of these figures publicly signed a letter of declaration on AltRight.com, showing a new willingness to be public with their white nationalism.

Spencer has always had an entourage around him, usually lesser-known commentators and writers in the white nationalist scene. His newest class has aged down significantly, most in their early to mid-20s, and who have given up careers and normal social lives to support his racialist mission. This newest formation owes more to Milo Yiannopoulos's inner circle's inner circle than Spencer's previous efforts, as well as to Spencer's renewed focus on college campuses.

Spencer has staked his claim on forcing state schools to allow him to use their spaces for public speeches and recruitment events. This has been supported by successful lawsuits from his attorney, white nationalist Kyle Bristow, and Bristow's organization, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas. The most recent success has been forcing Michigan State University, of which Bristow is an alumnus, to allow an "alt-right" conference on March 4 and 5. This will allow Operation Homeland, along with Identity Evropa, to continue to recruit, which will likely pull from dissident college Republican types and from crossover "alt-light" organizations like Turning Point USA.

While Operation Homeland actually held its first public action on December 3, 2017, along with the neo-Nazi allied Traditionalist Workers Party, it has remained relatively silent since then. The rally, held at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, focused on Trump's border wall promise, and toed the line on immigration restrictionism. This acted as more of a "coming out" event rather than a part of the organizational program.

Instead, March could signal the real blitz from Operation Homeland, using the hype from campus appearances to start a wave of recruitment and public outreach. This gives an even larger impetus to student-faculty alliances like the Campus Antifascist Network, as well as other student-based antifascist organizing efforts that are seeing the effects of far-right growth on campus.

While the "alt-right" is seeing some level of decline, this may be a way for members to continue bringing new blood into a movement that needs a youth base to stay alive. If they are not challenged, they could become as large as Generation Identity, mobilizing reactionary anger into the kind of violent edge that can cost real lives.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted with permission

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Shane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It (AK Press). His work has appeared in Jacobin, AlterNet, In These Times, Political Research Associates, and other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @shane_burley1.