El Paso exposes the right-wing plot to normalise white supremacy in the US

Since Charlottesville, the US far right has changed its tactics

Nick Brown
Friday 16 August 2019 19:09
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Two years ago, America’s white nationalist movement stunned the country. Neo-Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, had turned deadly when a far-right protester drove a car through a crowd, killing one and injuring dozens. Some movement leaders regrouped. Instead of stoking outrage, they set out to build support with another tack: Looking normal.

The larger goal was what many white nationalists call “Phase 2” – gaining mainstream acceptance for far-right ideas widely rejected as repugnant and getting white nationalists into positions of influence. The normalisation effort included softened rhetoric and social gatherings that, for many groups, would increasingly replace confrontational rallies.

“The strategy is internally focused now – having families get together,” says alt-right blogger Brad Griffin, a self-avowed white nationalist from Montgomery, Alabama. He recalls a river-tubing trip he organised in 2018 for friends who had attended a local white nationalist conference. The goal of such low-key gatherings, he says, is to spread far-right ideology away from the public spectacle of a public protest. “It’s a lot more fun to do that than to go out and tangle with Antifa” – members of America’s far-left “anti-fascist” movement – “and get hit with piss balloons in the street.”

Griffin is speaking before the massacre in El Paso, Texas – an event that has scrambled the calculus for the movement’s aspiring normalisers.

After Charlottesville, the lie-low approach was seen as a necessity by some in the movement. Many white nationalist groups were sued and lost access to social media, which has caused them to avoid public confrontations, says Heidi Beirich, who studies far-right groups for the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a nonprofit civil rights organisation that tracks extremists.

“We haven’t seen many rallies since Charlottesville,” she says. The combination of bad press, prosecutions and lost access to social media, has “depressed people in the movement” and created a sense that “maybe the softer approach is the way to go”.

The shootings, and Trump’s repudiation, leave the normalisers in a difficult, perhaps impossible spot. Their gambit was always a stretch.

The normalisation effort is also not universal. Some far-right groups are still known for confrontation, including the Proud Boys, who last October fought with people protesting a Republican Club event in New York City.

In Draketown, Georgia, Pat Lanzo runs a restaurant-and-bar that white supremacists have claimed as their own. Lanzo insists the Georgia Peach Oyster Bar is merely a celebration of free speech.

“We’re not racist,” he says. “We hate everyone equally.”

Reuters

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