Next week, white nationalists like Jared Taylor will celebrate a moment they’ve been waiting decades to see, when Donald Trump is inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Members of the white nationalist movement were among the first to embrace Trump’s candidacy, and they celebrated after his election.
“Jan. 20 reflects a significant defeat for egalitarian orthodoxy,” Taylor says.
Taylor promotes a very different orthodoxy, one in which race is central to innate abilities and national success. He is working to build a United States explicitly for white people. Trump arguably helps this by telling supporters that they’re the victims of a system rigged against them.
“I see Donald Trump as a kind of steppingstone. He is a step in the right direction in terms of understanding America and history and the world in essentially racial terms,” Taylor says.
But white nationalist enthusiasm for Trump has fallen off substantially. Since the election, the so-called alt-right has splintered, and the movement now looks a lot less potent than it once appeared.
To understand that, it helps to go back to the heady days just after the election.
“It’s too much winning! Could someone please just stop winning, I don’t want to win anymore,” Richard Spencer, who coined the term alt-right, told a room full of fellow radicals in November. Spencer said that Trump’s victory had just slingshot white nationalism into the mainstream.
“And even if we’re not quite in power yet we should act like it,” he said.
But later that day, Spencer gave another speech, a fiery one that ended with some of the audience casting off any pretense of being mainstream.
“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” Spencer shouted, raising his glass in a straight-arm toast to the audience.
Some in the crowd responded with enthusiastic Nazi salutes, which captured media attention.
“Right after the election, I think it was euphoria,” says Kevin MacDonald, a retired evolutionary psychology professor at California State, Long Beach and another white nationalist mainstay. “But as we get into it now, there’s more trepidation.”
MacDonald says Trump’s appointments also have rattled the movement, especially his propensity for tapping rich Wall Street bankers.
“These are globalists in general. They love free trade, they love immigration — big red flags for us,” he says.
And MacDonald says he is concerned about the reliance on generals and hawkish policy leading America into another Middle East war.
“Lot of trepidation, but the big silver lining is Jeff Sessions,” he says.
MacDonald hopes Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, will clamp down on immigration. White nationalists also like the nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is seen as being close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, a darling of the alt-right.
But despite its high hopes for the Trump administration, the radical right has largely gone to war with itself. Mark Potok, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, says much of what was once called the alt-right has peeled away.
“I mean look, we are talking about a movement which spends literally more time attacking one another than they do attacking their enemies,” Potok says.
No one has taken more fire from his ideological kinsmen than Spencer. Like-minded radicals have disavowed the alt-right, even called Spencer an operative bent on the movement’s destruction. In the media, he is always tied to those Nazi salutes.
“I think it’s good to be the person talked about, even when it’s negative,” Spencer tells NPR. “Our ideas are entering the discourse.”
But Marilyn Mayo with the Anti-Defamation League argues that the alt-right is watching its illusion of real world influence whither.
“At some point, they may have felt that they could influence policy in some way, but I think that was really a pipe dream for them because they really are a fringe movement, and they’re still a fringe movement,” Mayo says.
A movement that sprang from obscurity with Trump’s election seems to be dropping back into the shadows even before Trump takes power.