Former leader of racist skinhead organisation and lead singer of hate-metal band explains why he left hate behind.
Amarillo, Texas – In the rural Texas Panhandle, the night of the United States presidential elections was joyous. This is Trump country and one of the most conservative regions in the US. All the polls were wrong, and unlike the images of those at Clinton headquarters on Tuesday night, faces here were bright and cheerful.
Behind the happiness, there is, however, a question on many minds: what will happen with the re-energised far-right movements?
Cody Nevels, a self-asserted “white nationalist” with nearly 20 years of far-right activism under his belt, told Al Jazeera that he supported Trump “heavily”, and was elated to see him win the election. Trump’s win is “a validation for us”.
“It’s almost a weight off our shoulders because we fight so hard just to be heard.”
Nevels recently became involved with White Lives Matter (WLM), a reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests. The group’s popularity has increased over the past few months as they have adopted an internet-friendly approach to organising. “We recently kicked off WLM in the UK,” he says.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated WLM a racist hate group. Nevels disagrees, saying the far-right movement is against “taking away” white history. “For us, that’s not OK,” he said, going on to stress that their protests have been entirely legal.
His brand of white nationalism isn’t necessarily racist, he claimed. Nevels wants to preserve endangered “cultures” and “different historical events” for whites. He said he wants equal rights for all, but feels that whites are frequently losing these rights.
The WLM activist explained that putting forth their views will become more difficult with Trump’s victory because the US political left will put up even more resistance.
Nevertheless, “we’re going to keep pushing our White Lives Matter,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing our nationalist views … Is it racist in a sense? Somewhat. But it’s not a racist view.”
George Michael, associate professor at Westfield State University who has studied right-wing extremism in the US for decades and written several books on the subject, says that the general concessus in the US disagrees with Nevels and “white nationalists”.
Michael told Al Jazeera that WLM has many neo-Nazi members, and while they have yet to break any laws, he is reluctant to say they are a “softer version of white nationalism”.
Michael says their momentum owes much to Trump: “I think his election gave the far-right a lot of confidence. They were very energised by the Trump candidacy. This signals to them that they’re able to have an impact on American politics.”
Part of the energy comes from the fact that pro-Trump events gave those on the extreme and far-right the chance to meet each other face-to-face for the first time in years.
“Over the last decades, they could get involved in chatrooms and writing in blogs – rarely in person. That changed, and I think it will embolden them in the future,” says the professor.
Michael has also studied the convergence of the far-right and populist figures. His 2008 book entitled Willis Carto and the American Far Right detailed the raise of Carto, an important figure in the US populist movement.
Carto was known for espousing anti-Semitic and racist views through the now-defunct Liberty Lobby , a far-right lobbying organisation he founded.
“Trump is certainly in that long tradition of populist figures. His rhetoric on controlling immigration animated that nativist, isolationist current in the US,” Peter Montgomery, a researcher for the left-leaning pressure group People for the American Way, explained.
“Not only that, but he’s attacked this notion of political correctness and survived,” he said. “That’s something we really haven’t seen for many years.”
Montgomery told Al Jazeera that Trump has primed supporters for alt-right media, a new branch of the far-right movement that has strongly supported Trump.
Alex Jones, the host of far-right radio programme Infowars that deals in conspiracy theories has gained legitimacy due to Trump, Montgomery noted.
“He [Jones] has been a marginal voice. But Trump, by going on his show, gives him a huge boost in credibility.”
The Infowars host has depicted terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings as “false flag” operations carried out by the US government to distract from their nefarious doings, according to the SPLC.
Along with Jones, Montgomery pointed to Milo Yiannopoulos, a figure who has gained notoriety for his ban from Twitter due to online bullying, and Stephen Bannon, both Trump supporters of the alt-right outlet Breitbart, as examples. Bannon oversaw Breitbart’s content for years before being named the executive officer of Trump’s campaign in August 2016.
With the election of Trump, Montgomery says, “these people aren’t going away, they’ve been elevated”.
READ MORE: Donald Trump – The Rise of right-wing politics in America
Alt-right media, along with far-right groups such as WLM, will continue finding ways to “propagandise,” Montgomery concluded.
Trump’s supporters both in the mainstream Republican party and far-right movements, his detractors, and academics all seem to agree on one thing: the Republican candidate will have a lasting effect on the US political landscape for years to come.
The far-right’s re-energisation in political organising and media signals a reckoning for the future of the Republican Party according to Brennan Leggett, a Republican with years of involvement in local politics who assisted the Trump campaign in northern Texas.
“It literally could be a civil war like no other within this party. There won’t be two sides, but three,” Leggett told Al Jazeera.
These three sides would include: “establishment Republicans, like the Bush family; the Tea Party, which has more of a Libertarian leaning; and the Trump people,” he explained.
With his victory, Trump’s camp – white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and mainstream Republicans like Leggett who are disenchanted with the establishment – seem to be on top.
Expert professor Michael said that “a movement has been created. Issues like immigration and trade policy – serious issues that really revived the far-right – are not going away.”
Yet, Michael was quick to say that people must keep in mind the history and nature of the US government.
“The American political system has a moderating effect,” he says, thanks to a system of checks and balances of the three separate branches, the professor said.
“Trump will have to work with Congress and the Supreme Court. They won’t always agree, as we’ve seen during this election season,” Michael said.
“Not unlike some elements of the far-left were a disappointment with Obama after his 2008 election, the same could happen with Trump and the far-right,” he concluded.
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