Some people need to become who they are. Others need to overcome who they are. On Saturday, November 19, 2016, about 250 of the latter convened at the National Policy Institute (the Alt-Right movement’s HQ) for Become Who We Are/2016.
Officially, this was a post-election conference, but was described by at least one attendee as a “victory party” to celebrate the fact that, so far as the group is concerned, Donald Trump’s ascension to the Presidency has effectively created a realistic pathway into the political, social and cultural mainstream after their decades-long and much-deserved banishment to the fringes.
Outside the Ronald Reagan Building at the NPI, protesters gathered to voice their opposition to the group’s virulent anti-multiculturalism, racism and xenophobia.
Inside the conference, attendees like Tila Tequila apparently passed the time networking and making light of what is arguably the single most odious physical gesture in the modern world.
Seig heil! ✋ pic.twitter.com/FhuFuZq6Sc
Even more alarming than the casual recourse to the Nazi salute is the fact that the Alt-Right has, with whiplash-inducing velocity, moved to capitalize on the fact that the current political moment favors them like none other in recent memory. As reported by The New York Times,
“Intellectual leaders of the movement argue that they are merely trying to realize their desire for a white ‘ethno-state’ where they can be left alone. Mr. Trump, with his divisive language about immigrants and Muslims, has given them hope that these dreams can come true.”
So many things are staggering about this sentence, starting with the fact that it’s not from an article in The Onion, but the use of the word “merely” stands out as perhaps the most terrifying. When did we get to the point that white supremacists, speaking from their national headquarters just a few blocks from the White House, can openly call for a white nationalist ‘ethno-state’ and have this be a matter of ‘merely’!?!? How is it that every elected official, regardless of party affiliation, is not in front of a news camera denouncing this group as a national disgrace?!?
Fear, silence, cowardice and opportunism have always found purchase in American politics, but they are rapidly becoming coins of the realm in Donald Trump’s America.
To be fair, we can’t blame Donald Trump for the existence of white supremacy. But neither can we ignore some irrefutable truths:
- As a candidate, Trump actively pandered to and stoked white nationalism (which, just to be clear, is white supremacy) on the campaign trail.
- As President-elect, his refusal to denounce acts of verbal and physical racial intimidation, harassment, derogation and violence sanctions white supremacy.
- His appointment of Steve Bannon to a key position in the White House normalizes white supremacy.
- His nomination of Jeff Sessions to be the Attorney General indicates an intention to protect and strengthen white supremacy through the courts and through legal action and inaction.
- His addiction to spectacle and being the center of attention, combined with the virtually unchecked power to legislate his warped sense of iconoclasm compels us to take him seriously about creating a national registry for Muslims, deporting millions of immigrants, and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. And that’s to say nothing of the likely dismantling of Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act, marriage equality, federal hate crime statutes, etc.
We are in for a long and difficult fight, but the stakes are simply too high for too many for any of us to sit idly by while evil men threaten the very things that make and have made America great: our diversity, our compassion, our sense of social justice and economic opportunity, our commitment to freedom and our rejection of tyranny. All of these things have been threatened before and they will be again if we do not stand fast, stand strong, stand together. If the forces of hate cannot overcome who they are, we will have to do it for them.