“A Brown Brother for Donald Trump”
The Multiculturalism of the Far Right
In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017, far-right and white-nationalist groups organized militant pro-Trump and “free speech” rallies in cities around the United States. A few figures in this scene became celebrities in alt-right circles for bloodying counter-protesters who came to oppose them. Some were open white supremacists like Identity Evropa’s Nathan Damigo or Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman. Among the most notorious of them, though, was a brawler who was neither a member of a white-supremacist group nor even white. Rather, he was a Samoan with an ironic nickname: Tusitala “Tiny” Toese. How did this native Pacific Islander become, in his words, a “brown brother for Donald Trump,” and why was he so enthusiastically embraced by the far right? Actually, Tiny’s story is not unique. On the contemporary far right we find an increasing presence of people of color and even a celebration of non-white ethnicity and culture. There is a growing, tangled relationship between renewed forms of authoritarian nationalism and a masculinized version of multiculturalism, one that selectively incorporates some people of color into a nationalist framework.
The emergent and contradictory phenomenon we examine in this chapter blurs the putative distinction between an exclusionary racial nationalism and an inclusionary civic nationalism made by scholars of race in U.S. political history such as Rogers Smith and Gary Gerstle. Reaching back to the nation’s founding, it is clear that the form of white supremacy peculiar to the United States is oriented not simply toward commitments to racial purity and stock but also toward a vision of a multiracial nation premised on racial hierarchy and white domination. This vision, paradoxically, depends on the visibility and participation of non-white racialized subjects as it advances forms of authoritarianism and exclusion that facilitate racist attacks on specific groups today: Muslims, undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, and the Black and brown poor more generally.
In explicating the complicated dynamics of race within the far right, we do not seek to downplay the hard kernel of white supremacy at its heart. Instead, we aim to demonstrate how a logic of multiculturalism has served to reproduce white nationalism. The presence of some people of color within the alt-right, alt-lite, and Trumpist folds does not diminish or qualify the racist commitments of these efforts. Paradoxically, the incorporation of people of color by the far right makes white supremacy a more durable force. Gender and sexuality are always fundamental to the production of far-right politics, working as a fulcrum for these racially transpositive politics. Performed as patriarchal traditionalism, online ultra-misogyny, or street-brawling bravado, masculinity bridges racial difference for populist, fascist, and even white-nationalist politics.
The contemporary far right is diverse and under continual renovation, particularly in regard to race. Seen one way, the far right’s definitional instability makes it difficult to analyze in a concrete fashion. But we argue that it is precisely this racial ambiguity that generates power and meaning for this broad formation. Disavowal of open white supremacy allows the far right to draw in more recruits and allows participants a certain racial innocence—a plausible deniability of open racism. Moreover, it allows a deepening commitment to racialized concepts that can, on their face, be denied to be racist. And finally, we argue, it is often the powerful symbolism of subaltern figures that gives the far right some of its constitutive force. The uncertain racial boundaries of the far right allow its participants to draw from racial narratives about people of color to bolster certain forms of whiteness, particularly through nationalism and gender. Thus while the use of the terms alt-right and alt-lite today are meant to distinguish between the embrace of open white racism on the one hand and the rejection of racial identitarianism on the other, this border cannot withstand close scrutiny. This racially protean character of the far right is precisely the quality that ultimately bolsters white supremacy.
Steve Bannon: White Nationalism versus Economic Nationalism
In August 2017, following a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, at which an antiracist activist was killed by a neofascist, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, made a surprising statement: “Ethno-nationalism—it’s losers. It’s a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it. These guys are a collection of clowns.” Bannon’s hard dismissal of the white supremacists at the forefront of the Charlottesville demonstrations seems surprising. Bannon, after all, launched himself into the national spotlight and Trump’s inner circle while serving as the executive editor of Breitbart News, a venue he described as the “platform for the Alt-Right.” Bannon extolled openly racist tracts such as The Camp of the Saints (Le camp des saints), an apocalyptic French novel written in 1973 by Jean Raspail that portrayed the fall of Western Europe and ultimately all so-called white nations at the hands of a massive tide of immigrants from the Global South. Bannon’s appointment to the White House was celebrated by white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who described his appointment as “excellent,” anticipating that Bannon was “basically creating the ideological aspects of where we’re going.”
Together with senior adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Bannon represented the racist, nativist, and populist wing of the Trump White House and was a key figure in the Trump administration’s early attempts to enact a travel ban targeting visitors to the United States from Muslim-majority countries and to “build a wall” on the U.S. border with Mexico. Yet in response to a question about popular perception of him as a white nationalist, Bannon told the New York Times in November 2017, “The people who have been most affected negatively by globalism in this country are the working-class Hispanics and blacks in this country, which has really taken opportunities away. That is why,” he went on, “if you start bringing jobs back to the Midwest, if you stop illegal immigration—I’ve said this from day one in our movement—when we get to 25 and 30 percent of the black working class and the Hispanic working class voting for us, we will have a realignment like 1932.”
Soon after the New York Times interview, Bannon spoke at a meeting of the South Carolina Black Chamber of Commerce to elaborate his idea of economic nationalism. Linking racial exclusion to economic exclusion, Bannon told his audience, “Minority entrepreneurs are the biggest customers of community banks. And you know why they didn’t get recapitalized? Because nobody cares. When it comes time to make the deals, you’re not in the room.” Bannon also spoke to the Washington, D.C.–based conservative organization Black Americans for a Better Future, where he told his audience, “The central part of economic nationalism depends upon you. It depends upon us empowering the black and Hispanic entrepreneurial community with one thing: Access to capital.” Reynard Jackson, founder of the group, said in an interview about Bannon afterward, “If you were Stevie Wonder, being blind, and you could sit and talk with Steve and didn’t know his color, you would swear he’s from the black community because of his understanding of the dynamic, the business and community dynamic.”
But is economic nationalism actually the repudiation of white nationalism that Bannon claims it is? There are distinct principles shared by both positions, such as opposition to immigration and opposition to free trade, and then there are the broader ideas that pervade both Bannon’s politics and those of white nationalists: a commitment to “Western values and culture” that is stridently anti-Islam and anti-Chinese, a fear that majority-white countries will be overwhelmed and destroyed by invaders from the Global South, and an anti-“globalism” that carries the strong taint of anti-Semitism.
Yet the xenophobia, anti-Islamic bigotry, and anti-Semitism expressed or implied by economic nationalism is not softened by a domestic multiracial embrace but actually bolstered by it. As Bannon explains it, any future electoral calculation for his political vision in a multiracial polity depends on inclusion of Black and Hispanic citizens. But such inclusion does other work here as well. Exclusion and economic oppression as he explains them are not the result of institutional racism in the United States but rather of “globalism” and illegal immigration. Bannon’s appeal to “the working-class Hispanics and blacks in this country” provides moral underpinning to his claims that immigration (both authorized and unauthorized) destroys jobs and that free-trade agreements favor the rich over everyone else. Thus he describes a kind of class solidarity and interest quite different from that of neoliberal multiculturalists, and this assemblage of Black and Latino/a citizens along with whites gives his proposed coalition historic significance. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over. If [the Trump White House delivers], we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, and we’ll govern for fifty years.” Here is a portrait of American national identity whose contours are enhanced by counterposing a multiracial working class within against antagonistic global forces without. To reduce this identity to white racial terms alone would be to diminish its identificatory power.
Racial Transposition on the Far Right
The tendency to imagine the contemporary far right as functioning outside the boundaries of U.S. liberalism and pluralism (or perhaps, more specifically, as a backlash against the inclusionary commitments of the civic-nationalist tradition) misses the dynamic play between American civic nationalism and white-racial nationalism. The contemporary far right in the United States demonstrates the ways that the politically inclusionary symbols, claims, and logics of civic nationalism draw on the culturally hierarchical commitments of racial nationalism. Civic and racial nationalism here are more productively understood as mutually constitutive.
The Trump campaign’s claims, in Nixonian tones, to speak for the Silent Majority or Middle America, to enforce law and order, and to build a border wall are all inexorably tied to an imagining of the United States as a white, colonial nation. But explicit calls to defend the white race are too concrete and abandon the fantasy of American universalism on which the national project depends. Although this unapologetically closed vision of national identity has been an enduring presence in U.S. political history, it has always been contested. An open commitment to white supremacy abandons many of the meanings invested in American national identity that valorize and legitimate the exceptional qualities and standing of the nation. These meanings have diverse historical touchstones; they are evident in the texts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, icons such as the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial, and moments of national sacrifice that include the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. Such markers of American identity can be and have been interpreted in ways that secure white racial dominance, but only by evasion. The broad ideals that make up American exceptionalism must deny racial distinction in order to have resonance. In this sense, racialized civic nationalism imagines national subjects not through biological fantasies of whiteness but as people who aspire to the ideals of the nation through competition in the marketplace, shared civic values, respect for law, militarism, and individual freedom.
The political theorist Michael Rogin wrote that “whereas the political Declaration of Independence made an anticolonial revolution in the name of the equality of all men, the declaration of cultural independence [from the strictures of the Old World] emerged not to free oppressed folk but to constitute national identity out of their subjugation.” Rogin argued that while “white supremacy, white over black and red, was the content of this national culture,” “its form was black and red over white, blacking up and Indianization.” Thus, American nationalists can claim to stand for deportation of the undocumented, the construction of a border wall, increased policing in poor communities, and a Muslim ban in the name of an America that is multiracial, egalitarian, and freedom loving. Emphasizing cultural notions of nationalism over explicit references to race allows for the use of antiracist language to work on behalf of white nationalism.
Scholars such as Richard Slotkin and Philip Deloria have demonstrated that an emergent American identity from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries depended on “playing Indian”—a kind of racialized cross-dressing that selectively incorporated characteristics attributed to indigenous people, such as incorruptability, aversion to foreign rule, autonomy, ferocity, and a tie to the natural world. The mythologization of Native people was expressed in place-names, on coins, in the literature of James Fenimore Cooper, in John Filson’s Daniel Boone dime novels, which featured a racially cross-dressing settler hero, and even in historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous thesis on the relationship between Indian identification and the durability of American democratic institutions. Such myths did not run counter to the imperatives of settler colonialism. Indeed, they were often intertwined with the belief that Euro-Americans were destined to conquer and rule North America.
Similarly, the enslavement of Africans and the theft of Black labor was fundamental to the making of the American nation not just materially but politically and culturally. Toni Morrison and James Baldwin have argued that the very meanings of white American freedom and progress have rested on the uses and abuses of Blackness, in texts that range from the Declaration of Independence to the writings of Norman Mailer, from blackface minstrelsy through jazz to hip hop. This relationship of “love and theft,” as Eric Lott called it, demonstrates the degree to which any meaningful notion of American national identity in the world’s “first new nation” requires racialized amalgamation and symbolic borrowing. As one member of the neo-Nazi internet forum Stormfront posted its message board: “I sometimes listen to Bob Marley and when he sings about black liberation I pretend he is singing about white liberation instead.”
Historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg described the production of homo nationalis in early American history in which a secure national subjectivity of white men was achieved in a triangulated relationship of selective incorporation and abjection with “the white middle-class woman, the American Indian warrior, and the enslaved African American.” As she put it, “internal contradictions, rejected or hated aspects of the subject, are projected outward onto negatively constructed others who exist in ‘Manichaean’ opposition to a now empowered and purified self, serving as foils against which the uncertain subject is consolidated and mobilized. At the same time, more positive aspects of those others may be appropriated in a process we might call selective identification or symbiosis.”
A related claim could be made today about the reproduction of a historically racialized national identity in an increasingly multicultural society. On the contemporary far right we can see both the construction of negative racialized others and selective identification of aspects of figures of color that shore up the national subject, particularly in regard to gender. To be sure, the contemporary groups that explicitly champion a specifically white racial-nationalist framework reject any association with people of color. For example, Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” and is president of the white-supremacist National Policy Institute, has called for “an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans.” The “race realist” journal American Renaissance, the neo-Nazi internet forum Stormfront, and other racists associated with the alt-right similarly envision a “pure” white racial polity. These groups parallel the rise of more openly racist formations in Europe built on explicit visions of ethnonationalism.
By contrast, several far-right formations that have accompanied Trump’s rise have integrated civic-nationalist and racial-nationalist discourses in ways that have openly facilitated the participation of some people of color in these movements. In this context, calls to defend “civilization,” “culture,” “the West,” or (Bannon’s oft-deployed term) “Judeo-Christian values” can be used to legitimate and reproduce a nationalist project that is at once inclusionary and hierarchical. It creates room for political actors on the far right to enlist some people of color, or at least to selectively appropriate language and symbols associated with multiculturalism. In the next section we turn to various instances of the multicultural far right at work. As we will see, its rising tide draws on diverse formulas of race, gender, class, and nation to generate an authoritarian nationalist politics.
“If Bill Clinton Can Do Mass Incarceration, We Can Do Mass Deportation!”
Just as Steve Bannon used Black and Latino/a citizens to provide moral authority for his economic nationalism, the Trump campaign situated African Americans symbolically against immigrants from Latin America. In this expression of multicultural right-wing populism, African Americans are held up as law-abiding citizens preyed upon by undocumented immigrants—even through the use of the same scripts of criminality and incorrigibility that have fueled Black mass incarceration. Making Black Americans victims of immigration serves to strengthen the case for deportation and border security in a way that simple race rhetoric could not.
The most exemplary figures of this trope were the African American video bloggers Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, a.k.a. Diamond and Silk. Fixtures on the campaign trail as the “Stump for Trump Girls,” Hardaway and Richardson were popular at rallies, even in the Deep South, where Trump voters’ racial animus was particularly pronounced.
As African Americans, Diamond and Silk were uniquely positioned both to claim color blindness to a white Mississippian audience and then to make a veiled criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a kind of talisman used to repel charges of racism among Trump supporters, the duo could safely attack Black activism on their behalf. For example, at a nearly all-white rally of fifteen thousand people in Biloxi, Mississippi, in January 2016, the pair told a cheering crowd, “That’s right baby, we’re stumpin’ for Trump up in here . . . and listen, let me tell you something. There is only one race! That’s right. And that’s the human race. And all of our lives matter in this room!” During his own speech at the rally, Trump said he felt “surrounded by love” and then brought Diamond and Silk onstage for a second time to stand with him. Referring to Obama, Hardaway shouted to the roaring crowd, “This time, we’re going to have real change!” Finally, in a signature campaign gesture meant to invoke the thrill of assaults on Black demonstrators these rallies became known for, Trump stood next to Diamond and Silk and asked the crowd, “Do we have a protester available? . . . It would be good television.” In this performance, as in others, the embrace of right-wing nativist African Americans was tied directly to an attack on Black protestors.
One of the most frequently repeated Diamond and Silk themes during the campaign was the unfair criminalization of Black people in contrast to the supposed real criminality of the undocumented. At an “America First” rally outside the Republican National Convention in July 2016, Diamond and Silk told the crowd, “If we go to someone’s house uninvited, and we go right up in their house, they call that breaking and entering! It’s just wrong to go into someone’s house and take their things!” Depicting undocumented immigrants as burglars makes law-abiding African Americans members of the American household. Yet here again, theirs is not a color-blind claim about American citizenship. It is the articulation of a Black subaltern position that authorizes a harsh anti-immigrant stance. “If Bill Clinton can do mass incarceration,” they say on one of their YouTube videos, “we can do mass deportation!”
The Trump campaign continually pushed the notion that undocumented immigrants endanger both the lives and livelihoods of Black Americans. During the Republican primaries, the campaign began running a television spot about Jamiel Shaw Jr., a Black high school student and professional football hopeful who had been murdered by an undocumented immigrant in 2008. From the stage on the first night of the Republican National Convention, Jamiel Shaw Sr. addressed the audience to say that his son had been killed because he was Black. Here again, anti-immigrant nativism was expressed as a form of antiracist nationalism. After describing the gruesome details of his son’s murder in a primetime speaking slot, Jamiel Shaw Sr. said, “For two weeks, local politicians supported us. And every black politician in L.A. did too. . . . Two weeks later, everything changed. We learned that the killer was an illegal alien gangbanger from Mexico. Released from jail on a deportation hold, three gun charges, and an assault and battery on a police officer. And the politicians disappeared. . . . It was also proved that the killer’s gang targeted black males. You’d think Obama cared, and black lives mattered. No. . . . Only Trump called me on the phone one day to see how I was doing. Only Trump will stand against terrorists and end illegal immigration. The wall. . . . Build the wall.”
Shaw’s status as an African American is central to the arguments he makes against undocumented immigrants and for his support for Trump. In Shaw Sr.’s story, his son is targeted because he is Black. And yet neither a Black social movement nor Black elected officials will support him, because, Shaw implies, they do not want to alienate Latino/a constituents. For Shaw, only Trump can offer protection to Black people in the American nation. We can see here how Blackness is used to reinforce the xenophobic nationalism of the Trump campaign but in a way that simultaneously discredits Black political agency.
It is important to remember that Shaw’s and Diamond and Silk’s nativist politics do not represent the broader contours of African American political opinion related to immigration. A 2018 poll found African American respondents opposed Trump’s “border wall” by a margin of 87 to 13 percent, higher than the rate of 71 to 25 percent among Latino/a respondents. While other surveys have recorded more ambivalent attitudes, the efforts to incorporate African American voters and political blocs into restrictionist formations has largely been a failure. Immigration restrictionist groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) have attempted to organize “independent” Black formations to make the claim that immigration restriction is a top civil rights and economic justice issue for African Americans. These groups rarely lasted more than a few months or involved more than a handful of spokespersons.
Shaw and Diamond and Silk, by contrast, emerged independent of mainstream restrictionist formations. But the dynamic goes deeper. Black nativism has a narrow but distinct legacy, stretching back from the Black-led boycott of Korean groceries in New York City in the 1990s to tensions between Black citizenship and immigrant incorporation at the turn of the twentieth century—tensions that, as political scientist Claire Jean Kim has demonstrated, ultimately reward white supremacy.
Race, Class, and Nation: Uncle Chang and Little Britney
Far-right multiculturalism has also been used to connect Trumpism to the online world of the alt-right. For one example, in early January 2017, actor Shia LaBeouf opened his “He Will Not Divide Us” (HWNDU) livestream exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Set up in response to Trump’s inauguration, the interactive exhibit was meant to be an open invitation for anyone who wished to register his or her opposition to the new president. Soon after the exhibit was opened, however, it became a target for far-right counterpoint. On January 31, a young Asian American man who later adopted the nom de internet “Uncle Chang” delivered a short monologue at HWNDU. Saying “This is why you lost,” Uncle Chang argued to the liberal-leaning HWNDU audience that Hillary Clinton was defeated because liberal voters embraced “identity politics” and treated Asian Americans as “voting blocs instead of people.” After stating that he came from a working-class family, Uncle Chang declared, “This is why I voted for Trump. Fuck you. Suck my big Asian cock. . . . If I’m a Nazi then Sieg Heil, motherfucker!”
Uncle Chang came back to the HWNDU livestream three days later, this time with a multiracial group of supporters around him to more fully explain why Democrats had lost the 2016 presidential election. This second video was edited and uploaded to the website of former Breitbart tech editor and alt-lite media provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, where it quickly garnered tens of millions of views. In the second video, Uncle Chang further elaborates his account. “You lost because you told the poor, white, working-class families in rural Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that they were the privileged ones. That despite losing their jobs, despite their factories shipping to China and Mexico, and despite barely being able to put food on the table, that they were privileged ones because of the color of their skin. I come from a working-class family and let me tell you, the struggle doesn’t discriminate. Working-class parents work their hands to the bone in the hopes that their children will have better lives than them. When their jobs get shipped overseas, so do their hopes and dreams.” He went on, “They’re not privileged. You’re privileged. You sit in your big comfy chairs in your fancy offices up in the ivory towers of university sociology departments and you expect us to give two shits and a fuck about your identity politics? The first thing we think of when we wake up isn’t intersectional transfeminism. It’s whether or not we’ll be able to make this month’s rent. It’s whether or not our bronze-tier Obamacare plan will cover little Britney’s weird cough. Britney is sick. So sick. And we don’t know what’s wrong with her. It might be because we don’t have enough money. We can only afford to feed her cold chicken tendies.”
At one level, Uncle Chang’s argument is the same as that of color-blind conservatives: Trump supporters care about economics, not race, and liberals see everything in racial terms, thereby reducing individuals to group status. But the melodramatic affective work here is more complex and more powerful. For Uncle Chang, not only is “identity politics” illegitimate, but liberals who subscribe to them are blinded to the social pain he depicts. Little Britney is “so sick,” and her “weird cough” may not be covered under the health-care plan that liberals so love. Indeed, there isn’t even an available energy source to heat her chicken tendies.
Like Tiny Tim in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, little Britney has an unspecified disease, but one that remains untreatable “if,” as the Ghost of Christmas Present puts it, “these shadows remain unaltered” and the hearts of the privileged remain unmoved by suffering. But who is Britney? A relative of Uncle Chang? A neighbor? A member of one of “the poor, white, working class families in rural Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan” that he describes? Her identity is never made clear except as a child marked by economic oppression, as an excluded figure that liberals cannot even see. She stands in as a synecdoche for the vulnerable working-class base of Trump support for whom Uncle Chang claims to speak.
In a later interview posted to YouTube, Uncle Chang revealed that he is a computer science student at New York University, the son of Chinese immigrants, and a native of Brooklyn. As Uncle Chang describes it, working-class identity and nationalism animate his support for Trump. Yet central to these politics are their proximity to a whiteness that he wants to defend. He told the online Asian American youth magazine Nextshark, “Right now, in the social climate, straight white men are on the bottom. Anyone above them can talk trash about them and it’s socially acceptable. That’s what I don’t like. That’s not equality. That’s definitely not the equality that I was raised with.” His strong identification with nation and class need not, in itself, be raced. Yet it is through white grievance that he chooses to express this identification.
Here, then, is how multicultural far-right logic works in the case of Uncle Chang: he claims an identity that is non-white, meant to make liberalism ring hollow by virtue of his racial positioning (“You’re the real racist ones,” he tells Clinton supporters). He then goes on to affirm working-class identity and U.S. patriotism against the race-obsessed liberalism he attacks. Yet he ultimately returns to defend white men—demonstrating that race and gender remain the ultimate mediators of far-right identity. “Uncle Chang” is a term meant to denote subservience to the white race. Even if meant ironically, it underscores the centrality of racial hierarchies to his message and persona. Nothing about the far right’s racist commitments is disrupted here. Rather, they are secured by the speaker’s Chinese American identity.
Multicultural Masculinity and the Protofascist Right
Perhaps the least likely place one would expect to find far-right multiculturalism would be in its most violent spaces. During and after the 2016 Trump campaign, militant right-wing street demonstrations became increasingly frequent. White-nationalist and openly fascist organizations acted as the advance guard of pro-Trump and “free speech” demonstrations, including Identity Evropa, the Traditional Workers Party, the League of the South, and Ku Klux Klan groups. The man who smashed a car into a crowd of antiracists, killing Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, was a member of the fascist National Vanguard.
Yet one of the most notorious streetfighters to emerge from this milieu is not a white supremacist but a Samoan who is a self-proclaimed antiracist and former Trump opponent. Tiny Toese, introduced at the beginning of this chapter, considered Trump supporters to be racists worthy of attack during the 2016 campaign. “I’d drive around and beat them up,” he says, or watch online videos of Trump supporters getting assaulted. “It made me happy. F—in’ racists getting beaten up,” he said. One day, Toese came across a video of alt-right persona and leader of the group Patriot Prayer, Joey Gibson, who talked about love and unity. Toese said this made him question his assumptions. Toese reached out to Gibson, who is Japanese American, and through him met other alt-right activists, began attending “free speech” rallies, and getting into violent altercations with antifascists.
In a speech he gave at a Patriot Prayer “freedom rally” in Seattle in August 2017, Toese recounted his personal efforts coming to terms with the perceived racism of the Trump campaign and the patriot movement and his identity as a person of color. He described his first experience with Patriot Prayer—a road trip from Portland to a rally in Berkeley—and explained, “it was just the Brown guy in the car [himself], and three white dudes.” As the trip began he found himself thinking that “these guys are really racist.” But when they stopped to eat along the way, he continued, they encountered an older Latino man with a flat tire. He thought, “let me see if these white dudes are really racist . . . if they’re going to go help, or if they’re going to leave the guy there.” When one of the others in the car insisted on helping the motorist, Toese explained, he “became more confused. Are they really racist or not?” This conversion experience on the road to Damascus—or rather Berkeley—released him to join confrontations with Antifa protesters, whom he now saw as the real aggressors.
When Toese and other Patriot Prayer members went to Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington, that summer to confront antiracist student protesters, they posted a photo on social media with the title “White Supremacists Coming to Evergreen State. Patriot Prayer—A Racist Group That Accepts Members of All Races.” The title, meant to be facetious, suggested that by definition, a group that included people of color could not be racist. The accompanying photo showed Toese and four others wearing shirts that read “ISIS Hunting Permit.” Here, a reference to civic nationalism (a group that “accepts members of all races”) is merged explicitly with racial nationalism (an open celebration of anti-Islamic violence).
Toese’s embrace of the far right has been returned by a burgeoning scene that is clearly infatuated with the presence of an American Samoan streetfighter. But is not merely the “Antifa Destroyer’s” size and pugilism that alt-righters love. Toese also quite literally performs non-white masculinity. At a Patriot Prayer rally in downtown Portland on June 4, 2017, he led participants in the Siva Tau haka, a Samoan war dance.
The rally occurred just a week after avowed white supremacist Jeremy Christian stabbed two people to death and severely injured a third who had intervened to stop Christian from threatening two young Muslim women on the Portland Max train. The trauma of the attack brought thousands of people out to the streets to oppose the “Trump Free Speech Rally” that organizer Joey Gibson insisted on holding.
But why would far-right protesters find Toese’s haka ritual so compelling? The cultural anthropologist Brendan Hokowhitu has argued that the performance of the haka in popular culture evokes heteropatriarchal nationalism in settler-colonial contexts even while maintaining racial difference and hierarchy. Here a colonial subject of a U.S. territory proclaims his allegiance to American freedom before leading white members of the colonizing nation in a traditional war dance at the rally. The demonstrators, surrounded by a much larger number of Portlanders outraged that such a rally would take place mere days after a white-supremacist double murder in their city, clearly revel in the martial ritual as they prepare to confront their opponents on the streets.
Yet for all of his Samoan gestures to multiracial inclusion on the right, Toese, like Uncle Chang, explicitly defends white people, whom he sees as under siege. In one of his Facebook livestreams from an “It’s Okay to Be White” rally on an overpass bridge outside Portland, Toese wears the iconic white-nationalist Pepe the Frog mask and tells viewers, “A lot of people don’t know but if you really look at it, white people are under attack in this country. If it’s okay to be black, if it’s okay to be brown, then it’s okay to be white too.” The “It’s Okay to Be White” slogan, meant to sound benign, was actually hatched by neo-Nazis, spread virally across social media and onto posters on campuses across the country, and finally endorsed by conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson on Fox News in late 2017.
Toese’s comrade Joey Gibson also exemplifies the relationship between a racially inclusionary authoritarian nationalism and the far right, as discussed in this book’s Introduction. The confrontational rallies he has organized under the names Patriot Prayer and Warriors for Freedom in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, as well as the one he attempted in San Francisco, have drawn openly white-nationalist groups such as Identity Evropa and have featured white-supremacist speakers such as Tim Gionet (aka “Baked Alaska”). Gibson has frequently denounced white supremacists and Nazis (even as they populate his rallies), yet he glorifies violent street confrontations with leftwing radicals and antifascists in defense of Trump and free speech.
Violent masculinity is the identity and practice that brings together explicit racists with fascist people of color. Much of what is now called the alt-right came out of the men’s-rights and male-supremacy movements that have proliferated in the last few years among young men, particularly in online imageboard communities such as 4chan and 8chan. As this culture developed, many of its proponents were increasingly drawn to white-supremacist groups. The most prominent men’s-rights proponent on the right is media figure Gavin McInnes, co-founder of Vice magazine and founder of a group called the Proud Boys, a “pro-Western fraternal organization.” Indeed, even the term McInnes uses to describe the orienting identity of the Proud Boys, “Western chauvinism,” suggests the link between racism and patriarchy. Along with the endorsement of “traditional” gender roles and male supremacy, the Proud Boys are animated by anti-immigrant restrictionism and hostility to Islam.
McInnes has taken pains to distance himself and his group from white supremacists. He has rejected open racists from the Proud Boys and denounced them on his radio show. He publicly discouraged Proud Boys from attending the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, and subsequently blamed the organizers of the rally for Heather Heyer’s death. Writing in Proud Boy Magazine after Charlottesville, McInnes stated flatly that alt-rightists cannot be Proud Boys: “The two big differences we have with them is the ‘JQ’ [Jewish Question] and racial identity politics. They think the Jews are responsible for America’s problems, and they think ‘Western’ is inseparable from ‘white.’ They don’t see a future for non-whites in America. FUCK THAT. . . . We openly encourage Jewish and non-white members and want them to know they’re at home with us. There are NO racial requirements to be in the Proud Boys. There are no special rules for black Proud Boys (this overrides anything previously published about black PBs) or any other non-white PBs.”
In fact, the Proud Boys ritualistically engage in racial borrowing. Uhuru, the Swahili word for “freedom” and a term associated with African liberation struggles, is ubiquitous in Proud Boy, culture—on their Facebook page, on T-shirts, and as a tag line on McInnes’s show, always uttered as an affirmation. Perhaps meant ironically, it is nevertheless omnipresent in their culture. Yet there is plenty of connective tissue between McInnes, the Proud Boys, and racist organizations, including views on immigration and against Islam shared with other openly racist groups, and racist statements made over time by McInnes himself.
Watchdog organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have worked to expose McInnes and the Proud Boys as racists hiding behind more neutral language. But what do such exposures actually tell us? Is a clear line crossed when a group or its figurehead makes explicitly racist statements as opposed to anti-Islamic or anti-immigration statements? Indeed, is there any legacy of far-right politics in the United States that has not ultimately been fastened to white supremacy? Would anyone likely to join the Proud Boys, a group that champions “the West” and makes attacking antifascists its most prized activity, not be aware of its adjacency to racist groups and ideas?
One good example of this dynamic juxtaposition of racism and antiracism is captured in a photograph of counter-demonstrating Proud Boys at a “March for Our Lives” gun-control protest in Orlando just after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in March 2018. The Proud Boys carry a banner depicting a photograph of captured Apache leader Geronimo and fellow warriors wielding rifles with the caption “TURN IN YOUR ARMS. THE STATE WILL PROTECT YOU.” The banner is meant to persuade U.S. citizens to oppose gun-control laws by encouraging an identification with Native Americans forced to surrender to the U.S. state. The equation between gun control for U.S. citizens and the destruction of Apache sovereignty only makes sense at the level of bare affect. But the statement is rendered even more paradoxical in the photograph as the Proud Boy on the left makes a “white power” gesture for the camera. Again, we argue that the important question is not whether a group like the Proud Boys is multiracial, as McInnes claims, or is a racist organization in sheep’s clothing, for it is both. The question, then, is how symbols of Blackness and multiculturalism ultimately bolster white supremacy.
The Alt-Right, the Alt-Lite, and the Space of Multiculturalism
Openly racist critics of McInnes have seen the Proud Boys as essentially a stopover on the way to white nationalism. As Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, white-nationalist blogger, founder of The Right Stuff, and co-host of the podcast Daily Shoah put it: “Let’s break down the Proud Boy constituency. . . . If you’re a white guy with a white girlfriend or no girlfriend . . . you’re just a hair’s breath away from jumping into the Alt-Right and just being one of us—being a white nationalist. The other people have certain hang-ups, and it’s personal issues. . . . It’s that they’re Jewish. They’re half-white. They’re mixed race or they have a non-white girlfriend or wife. . . . So, at the end of the day, and I predict that a year from now Proud Boys are going to be Jews, off-whites, and race-mixers.”
As an explicit white nationalist, Peinovich can tolerate mixed-race far-right groups only insofar as they function as a gateway to his vision of a pure white racial state. As Hunter Wallace, a white nationalist writer, similarly noted, the “average ‘normie’ is more receptive to hearing these messages from Milo Yiannopoulos than from [American Renaissance editor] Jared Taylor, much less from @Pepe_Stormtrooper1488.”
The alt-lite might act as a gateway drug for some people who eventually crave the more intense rush of uncut white supremacy advertised by the alt-right. But we argue that it is the liminal space in which white supremacy and multiculturalism interact that generates meaning and power for the far right. As we have argued, U.S. politics has always simultaneously toggled between deep fantasies of racial hierarchy and stated commitments to universal ideals in a mutually supporting dynamic. Movement between these positions has always given cultural meaning and material benefits to whites even as it allows for hegemonic legitimacy in a multiracial society. On the contemporary far right, the potency of white supremacy fuels authoritarian, masculinist notions of national identity for a broader group.
In the coming years, right-wing nationalism is likely to grow in the United States. Massive economic disparity and increasing demographic change are contributing factors, and each makes multiculturalism critical to its growth in distinct ways. The Republican Party has continued a trajectory toward the racist right in terms of its commitment to nativism, anti-Islamism, voter suppression, and “law and order.” But the growth of the far right also takes place independently through everything from internet message boards to policy institutes, from street protest to organization building, from small acts of violence to large acts of terror. Its anchored commitments are to “Western civilization,” the white race, and patriarchal rule. Such a nationalism will continue to target and demonize certain groups—Muslims, undocumented immigrants, Black protesters, and leftist activists, among others. The main currents of racism in the United States have always been nurtured by a vision of the American nation as already white-dominated.
Samuel Francis, former Washington Times editor and columnist, campaign adviser to Pat Buchanan, and intellectual ur-father of the contemporary U.S. far right, put it this way in 1995: “Most white Americans retain too much sense of nationality and too much allegiance to their country and their own communities to accept the proposal of giving up large parts of the US to others (racially different or not). . . . By embracing a strategy that involved breaking up the United States, not only would whites be giving up their own country but also they would be forced to give up appeals to its history, its traditions, and its interests as a nation. . . . [I]n short, we would have to start all over in the project of constructing a culture, a country and a political order.”
Francis calls for white racial dominance, but within the confines of the present U.S. state. Such a project requires an embrace of a national identity that unavoidably includes racial difference. And clearly such a vision is built from ambivalent materials in regard to race, from the text of the Constitution to the words of Lincoln, from geographical space shared with increasingly nonwhite others to the conquest that produced that space. Indeed, one can use both the text of the Constitution and the words of Lincoln to either authorize antiracist universalism or to demonstrate that the United States has been chiefly a racist enterprise historically. But whereas European ethnonationalists like the National Rally in France, the Hungarian Jobbik party, or the Swedish Democrats can—for the time being—indulge national fantasies of white racial purity, the United States is, as a nation, inescapably multiracial from the beginning.
Thus as it continues to vie for hegemony, this right will require selective incorporation. Like longtime racist, paleoconservative commentator, and presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan’s choice of African American schoolteacher Ezola Foster as his running mate in his independent run for president in 2000, white American dreams and racial inclusion exist in an uneasy but necessary tension for far-right nationalists. Diehard white supremacists will of course continue to reject multiculturalism, but they exist in a larger ecosystem of the far right. Ethnonationalists such as Richard Spencer, Identity Evropa’s Nathan Damigo, and various other white-nationalist groups insist that a separate racial state is necessary to preserve the white race. But this will likely remain a minority position within the populist far right even as it orients the larger movement through anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black discourse and organization. In some cases, it will continue to require both the symbolic uses of and concrete recruitment of people of color, and at the very least accept the demographic reality of the United States as a multiracial state.
In April 2018, Federal Elections Commission reports revealed that a Wisconsin congressional candidate named Paul Nehlen with ties to white-supremacist groups had paid more than $7,000 to Diamond and Silk to produce an online ad in support of Nehlen’s 2016 primary challenge for Paul Ryan’s congressional seat. In the ad, Diamond blasts “a.k.a. Lyin’ Ryan” for “crippling the American people and the middle class by shipping our jobs overseas. Jobs like GM, Chrysler, and Oscar Mayer wiener,” as Silk waves a hot dog at the camera and asks, “What? Oscar?” Nehlen, who later would be described by the Daily Beast as “the most prominent white nationalist in U.S. politics,” was banned by Facebook in 2018 for his racist and anti-Semitic postings and also disavowed by both the Wisconsin Republican Party and senior editors at Breitbart News.
For Diamond and Silk, the decision to record a video for a candidate who espoused white-supremacist views likely represented a straightforward financial transaction—what they explained in another context as “monetizing their platform.” But more important for our analysis is Nehlen’s interest in seeking the endorsement of two Black women for a campaign located so unapologetically on the far right. On Nehlen’s Facebook page, he posted the video with a comment: “Diamond and Silk are simply the best!” The hundreds of posts from his followers about the video were overwhelmingly enthusiastic—many dozens of recitations of “Love these ladies!”
That supporters of a racist candidate on the far right would rave about the endorsement of two Black women exemplifies the complicated labor of race in the current conjuncture. In the context of the history traced within the last two chapters, even these most unlikely invocations of race should not seem surprising. For a candidate who wishes to position himself as the ethical representative of the abandoned American worker angry at the political establishment’s betrayals and infidelities, the invocation of Diamond and Silk makes perfect sense. Just as John McCain’s “Joe the Plumber” invoked the hardworking producerist subject in 2008 through his whiteness, Diamond and Silk perform an anti-elitism and irreverence toward established authority through their Blackness. Such incorporations of multiculturalism on the far right will likely increase in the future, and grow in their sophistication and effectiveness.