Every few weeks, William Johnson, the chairman of the white nationalist American Freedom Party (AFP), holds a lunch for members, the goal being to make America a white ethnostate, a project that begins with electing Donald Trump. This week, it’s at a grand old French restaurant called Taix, in Echo Park, Los Angeles – an odd choice on the face of it. Echo Park is a trendy hood. It’s hipster and heavily Hispanic. In fact, given the predominance of Latino kitchen staff in this city, it may be wise to hold off on the Trump talk until the food arrives.
“About three months ago,” Johnson begins, “I was talking to Richard Spencer about how we need to plan for a Trump victory.” Spencer is another prominent white nationalist – he heads the generic-sounding National Policy Institute. “I said: ‘I want Jared Taylor [of American Renaissance] as UN Ambassador, and Kevin MacDonald [an evolutionary psychologist] as secretary of health and Ann Coulter as homeland security!’ And Spencer said: ‘Oh Johnson, that’s a pipe dream!’ But today, he’d no longer say that, because if Trump wins, all the establishment Republicans, they’re gone… They hate him! So who’s left? If we can lobby, we can put our people in there.”
Around the table five young men, roughly half Johnson’s age (he’s 61), nod and lean in. They all wear suits and ties, address the waiter as “sir” and identify as the “alt right”, the much-discussed nouvelle vague of racism. “Are you guys familiar with the Plum Book?” Johnson asks. “It’s plum because of the colour, but also because of the plum positions – there are 20,000 jobs in that book that are open to a new administration.”
“So we need to identify our top people!” says Eric, one of the men at the table.
“Just anyone with a college degree!” Johnson says.
“Right.” Eric is practically bouncing in his seat with excitement. “We need to get the word out. We are the new GOP!”
It’s not every day that a brown journalist gets to sit in on a white-nationalist strategy meeting. But these are strange times. Racism is trending. Like Brexit, Trump has normalised views that were once beyond the pale, and groups like the AFP have grown bold. Their man’s stubby orange fingers are within reach of actual power, so maybe it’s time to emerge from the shadows at last.
I first met Johnson in May after he signed up as a Trump delegate before being swiftly struck off by the campaign when the press found out. He’s a surprising figure. An avid environmentalist, fluent in Japanese and, in person, not the bitter old racist I’d expected but rather a jolly Mormon grandfather, bright eyed and chuckling, a Wind in the Willows character. Eric is even more unexpected. Tall and impassioned, he came to racism via hypnotherapy, of all things. He sells solar panels for a living and practises yoga. Together with his friends Matt and Nathan, who are also here at lunch, he runs an alt-right fraternity in Manhattan Beach – “a beer and barbecues thing”. They’re called the Beach Goys. “We’re starting a parody band,” he beams. “We’ve found a drummer!”
Between them they represent two poles of a racist spectrum, young and old. And judging from this lunch, it’s the millennials who are the more extreme. Johnson wants white nationalists to appear less mean and he finds the “JQ”, the Jewish Question, archaic. But Eric loves the meanness of the alt right. “We’re the troll army!” he says. “We’re here to win. We’re savage!” And antisemitism is non-negotiable. In fact, he’d like to clear up a misnomer about the alt right, propagated by the Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos, who is often described, mistakenly, as the movement’s leader. Milo casts the alt right as principally a trolling enterprise, dedicated to attacking liberal shibboleths for the “lulz”– there’s precious little actual bigotry. But Eric insists otherwise. Yes, they like to joke, they have memes, they’re just as funny as liberals – have I heard of their satirical news podcasts, the Daily Shoah and Fash the Nation? But make no mistake, the racism is real. Eric especially enjoys The Daily Stormer, a leading alt-right news site, which is unashamedly pro-Hitler.
What unites Johnson and Eric is what they describe as “the systematic browbeating of the white male” – namely all this talk of privilege, the Confederate flag, Black Lives Matter and mansplaining. But beyond that, it’s the “looming extinction of the white race”. This is the language they use. Also: “Diversity equals white genocide.” The alt right loves to evoke genocide while harbouring Holocaust deniers. Their point is that white people are melting away like the icecaps, and they have a primal drive to stop it. In 2044, non-Hispanic whites will drop below 50% of the US population. “The generation of the white minority has already been born,” Eric says. “Look at South Africa and Rhodesia. That’s where we’re headed. Total disenfranchisement.”
It’s definitely worth clicking over and reading the in-depth article at The Guardian. It’s unpleasant, it’s upsetting, and it’s scary. There’s no point ignoring this though, we do that at our peril.