WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the end, Sunday’s Unite the Right rally in Washington, D.C. could only be described as a dud.
After months of arguing over permits, fundraising failures and persistent infighting within the far-right, lonely white supremacist Jason Kessler finally got his wish to hold a “white civil rights” rally outside the White House. In response, hundreds of law enforcement officers shut down the streets to the west of the White House. Counter-protesters and what seemed like the entirety of America’s press corps lined the streets outside Foggy Bottom Metro Station, waiting for Kessler & co. to finally appear.
When they did finally show their faces, it was a complete anti-climax. The National Parks Service’s permit stated that as many as 400 white nationalists were expected, but barely 30 actually showed. When they finally reached Lafayette Square, the scale of how badly they were outnumbered — by Antifa, by Black Lives Matter, by tourists passing by who were vaguely curious in what was happening — became cripplingly apparent.
When Unite the Right 2 actually “started,” Jason Kessler immediately admitted the rally was a failure, blaming the infighting within the far-right and “neo-Nazi tough guys” who live in their mother’s basement.
— Luke Barnes (@LukeBarnes_92) August 12, 2018
Jason Kessler is now giving his speech, which he began by admitting his rally is a flop pic.twitter.com/lL0p41Wj5U
— Caleb Ecarma (@calebecarma) August 12, 2018
Bearing all this in mind, it would be easy to believe that Kessler and his type of extremism had petered-out. But it would be a complete mistake to believe that the far-right is done for.
The catastrophe of last year’s Unite the Right, and the abject failure of Richard Spencer’s college tour showed those on the far-right that stepping out into the mainstream with an obvious white supremacist message means that they will be targeted by activists and cracked down upon by tech and finance companies.
Even Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer recently warned against attending far-right rallies. “If you show up and are identified your life will be ruined,” he said. “You won’t be able to get into university or get a good job.”
Instead, some of the far-right has started to adopt more mainstream right-wing positions as a front for their much more dangerous (and less immediately popular) white supremacist and fascists beliefs. This can be seen in the case of James Allsup, who marched through Charlottesville last year with the white supremacist group Identity Evropa. Allsup now serves as a precinct committee officer for the Spokane County GOP in Washington State, and recently gave a talk to local conservatives about “label lynching” and being unfairly tarnished as a white supremacist.
Then there’s the case of Resist Marxism, a group in Boston which markets itself as a harmless mix of conservatives and libertarians, dedicated to upholding free speech. As ThinkProgress has previously documented, however, behind the veneer of free speech activism, the group holds numerous connections to more far-right groups, including ties with documented white supremacists and members of the far-right Patriot Front — which was a direct offshoot of Vanguard America, a group with which alleged murderer James Alex Fields Jr. was pictured in Charlottesville last year.
the loyal 4chan constituents of the Republican party are worried that throwing their racist Charlottesville 2.0 rally so close to midterm elections might hurt them politically pic.twitter.com/Ivynl2s3DV
— cristina lópez g. (@crislopezg) July 3, 2018
Meanwhile in the last few months, the city of Portland, Oregon has been forced to deal with a series of often-violent rallies from the far-right group Patriot Prayer, which have repeatedly clashed with counter-protesters throughout the city — often with assistance from the “Western Chauvinist” Proud Boys group. Patriot Prayer, however, are keen to emphasize their racial diversity, pointing to members like Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who is of Samoan descent.
“Less vigorously ideological groups … observed [Richard] Spencer and [Matthew] Heimbach’s mistakes,” Nation journalist Brendan O’Connor observed in Portland last week. “Their more moderate strategies have, in turn, won them greater appeal by foregrounding ultranationalism and a vicious opposition to left-wing politics.”
In Washington on Sunday, Kessler himself tried a similar tactic. As he led his group from Foggy Bottom metro to the White House, he was conspicuously flanked by a Black man who said he was there to support “free speech.” A couple of feet behind him, though, another one of Kessler’s followers conspicuously had a white nationalist “1488” tattoo.
If there’s any doubt that this sort of less obvious far-right rhetoric is seeping into the mainstream, one only needs to listen to the rhetoric of Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson. Last Wednesday, for instance, Ingraham delivered a monologue about how “The America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore,” thanks to “massive demographic change…that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like…this is related to both illegal and legal immigration.” Former leader of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke called the message “one of the most important (truthful) monologues in the history of the [mainstream media].”
This is what a white nationalist TV segment looks like: pic.twitter.com/mI24FJ2OBE
— Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) March 21, 2018
In the late afternoon, as the rally wrapped up, counter-protesters lined 17th street, eager to finally have the chance to confront Kessler. But word trickled down; Kessler and his cohorts had high-tailed it out of town in a van. While their attempt to march for “white civil rights” was a complete failure on Sunday, however, their dream to see white hegemony preserved as the dominant political and cultural force in America is still very much alive.