At the time, the news of the shooting went largely ignored, but the online activity of the alleged killer, William Edward Atchison, bore all the hallmarks of the “alt-right” — the now infamous subculture and political movement consisting of vicious trolls, racist activists, and bitter misogynists.
But Atchison wasn’t the first to fit the profile of alt-right killer — that morbid milestone belongs to Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old who in 2014 killed six in Isla Vista, California, after uploading a sprawling manifesto filled with hatred of young women and interracial couples (Atchison went by “Elliot Rodger” in one of his many online personas and lauded the “supreme gentleman,” a title Rodger gave himself and has since become a meme on the alt-right).
Including Rodger’s murderous rampage there have been at least 13 alt-right related fatal episodes, leaving 43 dead. And more than 60 injured in these incidents (see list). Nine of the 12 incidents counted here occurred in 2017 alone, making last year the most violent year for the movement.
Like Atchison and Rodger, these perpetrators were all male and, with the exception of three men, all under the age of 30 at the time they are alleged to have killed. The average age of the alt-right killers is 26. The youngest was 17. One, Alexandre Bissonnette, is Canadian, but the rest are American. While some certainly displayed signs of mental illness, all share a history of consuming and/or participating in the type of far-right ecosystem that defines the alt-right.
The “alternative right” was coined in part by white nationalist leader Richard Bertrand Spencer in 2008, but the movement as it’s known today can largely be traced back to 2012 and 2013 when two major events occurred: the killing of the black teenager Trayvon Martin and the so-called Gamergate controversy where female game developers and journalists were systematically threatened with rape and death. Both were formative moments for a young generation of far-right activists raised on the internet and who found community on chaotic forums like 4chan and Reddit where the classic tenets of white nationalism — most notably the belief that white identity is under attack by multiculturalism and political correctness — flourish under dizzying layers of toxic irony.
Significantly, Gamergate also launched the career of Milo Yiannopolous who later used his perch at Breitbart News to whitewash the movement and push it further into the mainstream (former senior adviser to President Donald Trump and Breitbart executive editor Stephen Bannon infamously called the site “the platform for the alt-right.”).
Today, the audience available to alt-right propaganda remains “phenomenally larger” than that available to ISIS-type recruiters, according to MoonshotCVE, a London-based group that counters online radicalization. This accessibility makes it easy for gradual indoctrination, particularly on social media platforms where tech companies long ignored the warning signs that their platforms were contributing to the radicalization of far-right extremists. That so much violence has taken on the shades of a specific subculture like the alt-right quickly shows just how critical these wide-open platforms have been to the growth of the movement.
But the dark engine of the movement is reactionary white male resentment. Alt-right propaganda is designed to nourish the precise grievances recited by the disillusioned and indignant young men that dominate its ranks. It provides a coherent — but malicious — worldview. For a recruit, the alt-right helps explain why they don’t have the jobs or the sexual partners or the overall societal and cultural respect that they believe (and are told) to be rightfully theirs. This appeal is resonating at a moment in the United States when economic inequality is worsening and a majority-minority United States is forecasted for 2044 — developments exploited by racist propagandists. As a writer on Spencer’s AltRight.com wrote this past December:
And all of modern society seems to offer literally nothing to young White men. It’s as if society doesn’t want them to tune in, show up and have a stake in the future of that institution.
As a result, new institutions step up to pick up the slack.
PUA [Pick Up Artists] meet-ups help them learn the skills to get girls. In the place of a gentleman’s club, or underground boxing ring, or boy scouts-type activity, the Alt-Right has stepped up to give camaraderie and a sense of purpose. The internet gives them their entertainment and a place to intellectually grow.
As all the old institutions die, new ones rise to meet the demand and fill the vacuum. Till the perks come back, young White men are going to keep tuning out of society, cast adrift by previous generations that just don’t give a damn.
The lucky ones will wash up on our shores. The unlucky ones…well.
The violence that left one dead at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer should not be understood as the high-water mark for the movement as some analysts have argued. The alt-right worldview, this rebranding of old hatreds, will remain compelling to disaffected white males and those who claim to speak for them for the foreseeable future. Worse, as this study suggests, punctuated violence will continue. For the same vision of society that the alt-right promulgates—its externalization of blame that lands on a host of enemies seen to be in the ascendancy—also aligns with the indicators of mass violence.
Meanwhile, the alt-right is redoubling its efforts at youth recruitment, intensifying its rhetoric and calling for radical, individual action.
On that day, college sophomore Elliot Rodger stabbed his three roommates to death before driving to a sorority house at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and shooting several women. He then killed or injured several pedestrians with both gunfire and his vehicle before exchanging fire with police and eventually taking his own life. He ultimately killed six and wounded 14.
Rodger left behind a sprawling 107,000-word manifesto titled, “My Twisted World: The Story of Elliot Rodger,” which contained passages lamenting his inability to find a girlfriend, expressing extreme misogyny and various racist positions including disgust for interracial couples (despite the fact that he was multi-racial himself).
“How could an inferior, ugly black boy be able to get a white girl and not me? I am beautiful, and I am half white myself,” Rodger wrote. “I am descended from British aristocracy. He is descended from slaves.”
In a video, uploaded to YouTube just prior to his violent rampage titled, “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” Rodger tells his audience, “Well, this is my last video, it all has to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you. … College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. Within those years, I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair.”
Rodger frequented PUAhate, a deeply misogynistic forum populated by failed “pick up artists” dedicated to revealing, “the scams, deception, and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to deceive men and profit from them.” Discussions about women on the forum are at best objectifying and at worst, violent.
In his manifesto, Rodger fantasized about putting all women in concentration camps to starve while he watched “gleefully” from a tower. It is celebrated on some alt-right sites, like The Right Stuff’s 504um.
User “Doctor Mayhem” annotates excerpts from Rodger’s manifesto in a thread titled, “Elliot Rodger Did Nothing Wrong: Why Yellow Fever is Okay.”
“Basically, all you need to know is that seeing blonde girls with niggers made Elliot RRRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEEE like a billion pissed off Pepes,” Mayhem writes towards the end of his post. “We all know the end result. DEAD SLUTS! So White men of all kinds! No need to fear creating hapas! [a term denoting someone of partial Asian or Pacific Islander descent] In fact, you are a much superior man for the creation of them! LET ALL NEGLECTED HAPA BOYS KILL SLUTS IN THE NAME OF WHITE SHARIA!”
He concludes, “ALL HAIL THE PATRON SAINT OF WHITE SHARIA!”
The term, “white sharia,” allegedly coined by Sacco Vandal of the popular alt-right site Vandal Void, is a radical response to Patrick Buchanan’s argument in Death of the West: that the increase in immigration and decline of white birthrates is leading to the end of Western civilization.
Vandal argues for an end to women’s suffrage and stripping them of all political, legal, and economic power. “Our men need harems, and the members of those harems need to be baby factories,” Vandal writes. “This is not about muh dicking nor beta revenge uprisings. These are cold, calculated plans to save our dying race. … White Sharia is a blueprint for salvation.”
Rodger’s celebration at the 504um, one of the premier alt-right forums, is the rule rather than the exception, and locates misogyny at the core of the alt-right.
Take for instance “Just what are traditional gender roles?,” an article written by notorious hacker and troll Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer at the Daily Stormer — one of the alt-right’s most repugnant and successful propaganda engines — in response to those “counter signaling” the “white sharia.”
“Rape is a property crime and nothing more,” Auernheimer writes. “Regular slapping and the occasional vicious beating of a woman was a necessity in every household. Women need to be regularly disciplined to keep their heads about them.”
Auernheimer continues, “Man up, put women under your heel, throw away their birth control and make them bear your children and take care of your house. If they resist, discipline them … All we are pushing for is a return to the status of women we had in the early 19th century before Jews and their feminism ruined our civilization. This should not be controversial. If you are opposing WHITE SHARIA because you disagree with women being reduced to the status of property to be beaten and fucked at the whims of her husband, you are a faggot and a cuckold and have no place in any right-wing site, and instead belong at the bottom of festering bogs like Reddit and Voat.”
Andrew Anglin, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer’s founder and chief propagandist, has his own troubling history of vicious misogyny, tracking all the way back to high school.
According to an account published by The Atlantic, Anglin’s high school girlfriend told him that she was raped by a friend’s older brother while passed out at a party. He allegedly responded by calling her a “slut” and encouraged girls from another high school to harass her for weeks. Both the misogyny and harassing behaviors are recognizable on the present-day Daily Stormer.
In the aftermath of Rodger’s killing spree, a user at 4chan/b/ posted a photo from Rodger’s Facebook page with the note, “Elliot Rodger, the supreme gentleman, was part of /b/. Discuss.” This sentiment was echoed by other /b/ users who found similarities between his lexicon and that of the noxious board, including the term “beta,” used by men online to describe themselves as lacking the physicality, charisma and confidence associated with alpha males. It also denotes a level of isolation or withdrawal.
The term resurfaced on 4chan/r9k/ in the wake of a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, by Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed nine and wounded at least seven others at the college on October 1, 2015.
“This is only the beginning. The Beta Rebellion has begun,” one anonymous user wrote. “Soon, more of our brothers will take up arms to become martyrs to this revolution.”
Although never proven, it is widely speculated that Harper-Mercer was a user on the board as warnings against attending school the following day that circulated on the eve of the shooting. Authorities believe Harper-Mercer, who like Rodger was multi-racial, was also motivated by white supremacist ideas. The Government Accountability Office categorized the Roseburg killings as “white supremacist” in an April 2017 report.
Many on the alt-right, including some of its most notorious leaders, like Anglin, spent their early ideological years submerged in extreme image and message boards like 4chan and 8chan. Many credit them with their “red pilling” — a reference to a scene from The Matrix in which the main character chooses between remaining in a comfortable illusion or facing a harsh, but true, reality — which requires taking a red pill.
As the alt-right spread, the subculture had another effect on its adherents: the inculcation of cruelty. As Angela Nagle and Jacob Siegel wrote:
The far right knew what progressives are only beginning to realize: “Lulz” wasn’t just an amoral defiance of moral categories, it was an ethical claim. Through years of pre-political collective bullying, it trained those who would go on to become alt-right to deprogram the moral codes that might cause feelings of guilt and empathy by aestheticizing the collective dehumanization of enemies.
Anonymous and disparate interaction with online extremist content, frequently without any real-world connection to hate groups or far-right extremism, is becoming an established pattern for those on the alt-right who have gone on to commit acts violence.
Fellow students characterized Bissonnette as anti-social but was known to maintain a lively life online. Bissonnette was a Facebook fan of Donald Trump and the Muslim-bashing French politician Marine Le Pen on Facebook. François Deschamps, an employment counselor who manages a Facebook page that assists refugees said that he frequently encountered Bissonnette online.
"He was someone who made frequent extreme comments in social media denigrating refugees and feminism … It wasn't outright hate, rather part of this new nationalist conservative identity movement that is more intolerant than hateful," Deschamps said. One report said that Bissonnette “did not hide his hatred for Muslims when he was questioned following his arrest.”
Breitbart News and a host of other right-wing websites were quick to suggest that the shooting was carried out by a Muslim. Ironically, Bissonnette’s account on Disqus — an online commenting system — registered just two comments: one at the website of ABC News and another at Breitbart News about a story attacking Pope Francis for his pro-refugee advocacy. Bissonnette commented: “the latino pope should keep his noose [sic] out of american politics.”
On May 20, 2017, Sean Urbanski, a 22-year-old University of Maryland student, allegedly stabbed and killed newly commissioned Lt. Richard Collins, III. Authorities described the attack as “totally unprovoked.”
Urbanski approached Collins, who was black, and two friends at 3 a.m., seemingly intoxicated, and said, “Step left, step left if you know what’s best for you.” When Collins refused, Urbanski stabbed him.
Urbanski, however, was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt Reich: Nation” that was filled with the racist propaganda that embodies the alt-right. The group, which didn’t appear to be affiliated with any known hate group or major alt-right figure, nonetheless had over 1,100 members before it was deleted after the attack — demonstrating how pervasive the alt-right’s brand is online.
Screenshots of Urbanski’s Facebook page show the ease with which a user can inject racist and misogynistic content into his or her social media feeds alongside otherwise banal, personal content. Adjacent to “Alt Reich: Nation” on his Facebook page were bland groups like “Free & For Sale,” “University of Maryland Class of 2022,” and “Little Inspirational Quotes.”
Less than a week later, Jeremy Christian, a 35-year-old Portland resident, allegedly stabbed and killed two people and severely wounded another passenger on a train while they were defending two young women from his anti-Muslim and racist remarks. Christian, who identified as a white nationalist and had a history of violence and mental illness, had a Facebook page filled with racist and bizarre political content, including screeds about circumcision and Hillary Clinton.
Christian also trafficked in conspiratorial Alex Jones memes and called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, “a TRUE PATRIOT!!!”
Witnesses at an alt-right free speech rally in the month preceding the stabbing saw Christian wearing an American flag cape, yelling racial slurs and making Nazi salutes. In a post before the rally he described himself as a political nihilist, expressing his desire to “unmask” the “right” and the “left.”
Two months later, on July 14, 2017, Lane Maurice Davis, 33, allegedly stabbed his father, Charles Davis, to death at the family home in Skagit County, Washington, after accusing his father of pedophilia. Davis, a conspiracy theory obsessive who went by the name ‘Seattle4Truth’ online and accused his father, not based on his own experience, but instead on his belief that liberals around the world are participating in secret pedophilia rings. This included #Pizzagate, a conspiracy promoted by figures like Mike Cernovich who has attempted to scrub his own history in the alt-right.
Davis was reportedly a researcher for Milo Yiannopoulos and claimed to have ghost written pieces on Breitbart News for the former tech editor. He also released a three-hour “documentary” on “Gamergate.” Davis accused Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates of orchestrating the controversy to brainwash children.
This conspiratorial, and often violence-tinged rhetoric is typical of most online, alt-right networks.
In the months leading up to Unite the Right, members of the alt-right colonized and organized themselves on the gaming chat platform Discord. This includes Auernheimer who was a frequent participant in the Daily Stormer’s server, “Thunderdome,” where he regularly interacted with site readers and put out calls for action.
“Peroxides make good improvised explosives too,” Auernheimer observed in June.
User “Murometics,”who previously claimed to be “a biochemist/genetics university product and a major chemistry nerd,” replied, “i won’t get into specifics, but i know how to make some potent things, and one is the most commonly used thing by the military across the world today still and that’s an easy one … but i encourage no illegal activity and do not condone such.”
A separate conversation later that same month centered on manufacturing RDX, an explosive compound used primarily in World War II.
“Breaches would not be performed with charge in rahowa [Racial Holy War],” user “Volksdeutsche” wrote. “Making your own is a bad idea. Seriously don’t try to make your own breaching charges.”
“Well there are other non RDX formulations out there. But yes. Just don’t. Especially since it’s hard AF [as fuck] to produce large amounts of RDX,” user “B1488” replied before another user counseled both to stop talking about explosives all together.
These conversations, which could be the bluster of sleep-deprived far-right trolls, still underscores the extremity of these online communities.
The recent spate of violence hasn’t tempered the rhetoric.
“Jews have cornered the whole Internet, and I really think the only way we’ll have any freedom of speech here is if someone teaches them a lesson,” Auernheimer wrote on Gab in September. “Remember how there wasn’t another Ruby Ridge or Waco after Timmy [Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh] lit up the Murrah building? People in power only learn one way.”
He was banned from the “free speech” and “individual liberty” platform days later, a rare step for Gab to take.
Anglin picked up the torch. Less than a week after Las Vegas, the deadliest shooting in United States history which left 58 dead and at least 489 injured, he referred to American nationalism as “Bump Stock Nationalism,” a reference to the device used by the perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, to allow his semi-automatic rifles to fire as if fully automatic.
“We have stopped giving fucks.”
Alt-right propaganda is intentionally designed to foster feelings of grievance, injustice, and animosity, particularly against those considered threats to "western civilization" — otherwise known as people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities.
The alt-right is giving a growing population of aggrieved young, white men a worldview that experts find is ripe for violence. The externalization of blame for one’s own disappointing circumstances in life — and particularly its offloading onto minority communities — is one of several indicators of mass violence.
According to Dr. Eric Madfis, author of a 2014 paper on the intersectional identities of American mass murderers, young, white, middle class, heterosexual males commit mass murder at a disproportionately high rate relative to their population size in the United States.
The rate of mass murders spiked in the 1970s and 1990s. Between 1966 and 1999, there were 95 cases of mass public shootings. Between 1976 and 2008, mass murders occurred roughly twice per month, claiming an average of 125 deaths each month. A more recent study published by Mother Jones identifies 95 mass shootings in the United States since 1982. Of those, 55 (59%) were committed by white men.
FBI crime data suggests that ages 16 to 24 are peak time for violent crime. According to Dr. Pete Simi, Director of the Earl Babbie Research Center at Chapman University, "This is a period of substantial transition in an individual's life, when they're less likely to have significant attachments in their life that deter them from criminal violence."
Madfis’s 2014 paper from the University of Washington investigates the role of intersectional identities in mass murder incidents and argues that young, white males' unique downward social mobility, relative to his expectations, accounts for their overrepresentation as perpetrators of mass murder.
Today's typical mass murderer is not simply a white man with all the trappings of pride and privilege granted within the context of gender and race relations in the United States. His privileged white racial identity does not necessarily save him from the diminished socioeconomic status of downward mobility, nor does his privileged male gender guarantee the dominance of hegemonic masculinity over others. In fact, it is the very entitlements of his race and gender which make any subsequent life-course struggles and failures all the more unexpected, and thus all the more painful and humiliating.
Madfis also points out that privileged white males are often the least equipped to deal with unexpected setbacks in life. A lack of experience with failure due to relative privilege leaves young, white, middle class males uniquely unprepared to cope with difficulty or loss in life.
Only one in five mass murderers are “likely psychotic or delusional,” however, according to Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University.
Many are "wound collectors," a term coined by former FBI agent Joe Navarro to describe, "individuals who go out of their way to collect social slights, historical grievances, injustices, unfair or disparate treatment or wrongs — whether real or imagined."
"They wallow in the actual or often perceived transgressions of others and they allow sentiments of animosity and vengeance to percolate and froth at the surface by their constant and attentive nurturing of those perceived wounds," Navarro explains. "As you can imagine, in an imperfect world where there are real injustices, where people make mistakes, and stupid things are said and done, the wound collector never has to go far to feel victimized."
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist who has worked with the FBI, uses a similar term: “injustice collectors” — noting that these cumulative grievances are often blamed on one person or a group. “If you have this paranoid streak, this vigilance, this sense that other have been persecuting you for years, there’s an accumulation of maltreatment and an intense urge to stop that persecution” Meloy told the New York Times.
A 2001 study conducted by Meloy examining 34 adolescent perpetrators of mass murder found that 59% were the direct result of a triggering event. That rate jumped to 90% among adult mass murders.
Dr. Elliott Leyton, an expert on serial homicide, argues that contemporary mass murderers often target the perceived source of lost financial stability or class prestige. The alt-right, which couches its mission in terms of surviving literal extinction, routinely laments so-called reverse racism and affirmative action as well as immigration in all its forms.
The grievances collected by those motivated by the white nationalist ideology at the heart of the alt-right often do not begin with racist propaganda, but rather in the toxic communities of the men's rights movement. While driven by distinct ideologies, the style of grievances nursed by the men's rights and white nationalist communities are similarly constructed around a privileged group threatened by the visible social mobility of those that were formerly oppressed (women and minorities, respectively). The continued rise of social media has only inflamed this tension.
"Neofascists treat these [men's rights] websites as recruitment grounds. They find angry, frustrated young men and groom then in their own image," Abi Wilkinson observed in The Guardian soon after the 2016 presidential election. "The community seems to be largely white. And that's evident because race comes up, a lot. Sometimes, in the form of a kind of racial pseudo-science that advocates use to explain the dynamics of heterosexual relations. The age-old racist argument - that black men are 'taking our women' — is made regularly. Racist slurs are chucked around casually. There seems to be a significant overlap with organised white supremacy."
The perception of lost status, stolen inheritance and similar resentments, proliferates in an age where social media can be fine-tuned by a newly aggrieved individual to accelerate wound collection. Members of the far-right, prolific content creators with a semi-sophisticated propaganda dissemination strategy — most accurately described as managed chaos — recognized social media's potential early and are reaping the rewards.
The UW study also posits that, "The performance of a violent massacre provides an illegitimate opportunity for entitled white men to regain lost status and forge a powerful, successful, masculine identity through infamy." Social media may exacerbate this historical motivation behind mass murders, according to forensic scientist Dr. Reid Meloy: "Now we have a setting, a cultural and social setting, where your act of multiple homicides will be known about internationally within moments."
The alt-right makes no attempt to conceal its aspirations in recruitment: young, white men.
“Our target audience is white males between the ages of 10 and 30,” Anglin wrote in his “PSA: When the Alt-Right Hits the Street, You Wanna be Ready.” “I include children as young a ten, because an element of this is that we want to look like superheroes. We want to be something that boys fantasize about being a part of. That is a core element to this. I don’t include men over the age of 30, because after that point, you are largely fixed in your thinking. We will certainly reach some older men, but they should not be a focus.”
From the most vitriolic propagandists, such as Anglin, who rely on racist messaging so abhorrent and violent that it was once mistaken for hyperbole, to the more polished messengers like Richard Spencer who are still fighting to legitimize their pseudo-intellectual and race fiction, the target is the same: youth.
“People in college are at this point in their lives where they are actually open to alternative perspectives, for better and for worse,” Spencer told Mother Jones in December of 2016 before a contentious speaking engagement at Texas A&M University. “I think you do need to get them while they are young. I think rewiring the neurons of someone over 50 is effectively impossible.”
Undeniably, their efforts have had success. Mainstay racist conferences, like the annual gatherings of American Renaissance and the National Policy Institute, are attracting larger audiences, no longer dominated by their once singular demographic of middle-aged white men.
On a panel at Harvard University in October, Derek Black, son of longtime white supremacist Don Black, who once represented the future of the movement until he renounced racism during college, described his surprise at seeing so many young participants in Charlottesville:
I can say for sure my entire life in white nationalism I went to conferences many times a year. I spoke at them. I tried to organize them. I organized online through my dad's site [Stormfront] through organizations whether Jared [Taylor]'s AmRen or David [Duke]'s EURO or Council of Conservative Citizens … Everybody at these things is gray-haired. Me and two other people would be under 40. That was it. Which is partly why I took this impression that this is not gonna last. And a lot of that is because young people have a lot to lose … Young people who show up to a rally like that are going to get their identities exposed online and then it's gonna be hard for them to get jobs … I cannot actually explain what changed. The one striking thing about Charlottesville…was there's a ton of young kids like college-age or actual college students who got on buses and went to this who I don't think had been to an event like that before.
Alt-right groups such as Identity Evropa and Vanguard America are marketing themselves exclusively to college and high school-aged individuals.
In addition to Texas A&M University, Spencer spoke at Auburn University in April 2017, after successfully filing a motion in federal court to overturn the university’s decision to cancel the event. Three were arrested for disorderly conduct as anti-fascist protestors clashed with Spencer supporters outside of the event.
Then, on October 19, barely two months after the chaos of Charlottesville, the University of Florida was forced to host a Spencer speaking engagement under threat of a lawsuit. The University estimated that it spent $600,000 on security for the event, which featured a visibly frustrated Spencer attempting to speak over an auditorium dominated by protestors.
During the Q&A portion of the event, a UF alumnus asked Spencer to take responsibility for the violence that his words have inspired from supporters. Spencer adamantly denied any connection, went on to cast doubt on the circumstances of Heather Heyer’s death at the Unite the Right event and instead called for justice for her accused killer.
Hours later, three of his supporters were arrested for attempted murder after an alleged confrontation with protestors in which Spencer’s supporters threw stiff-armed salutes and one fired a shot at the urging of his accomplices.
All three were present in the run-up to the event earlier that day.
With help from his proxy, Cameron Padgett, a graduate student at Georgia State University, and white nationalist attorney, Kyle Bristow, of the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas, Spencer is planning future events at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, Penn State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
These events allow Spencer a platform to directly speak to young, potential recruits and tend to be contentious and easy opportunities for widespread press coverage.
In addition to speaking events, college campuses have become the preferred targets of alt-right fliering campaigns. These typically anonymous campaigns are a low risk opportunity for new adherents to garner easy media attention and bond with their fellow racists offline — a perennial struggle faced by white nationalists who are timid when it comes to airing their beliefs publicly.
In 2016, there were at least 125 fliering incidents on US college campuses. In 2017, there were over 300.
As recruits have become younger, so, too, have those involved in violence.
Of the 12 alleged or convicted killers connected to the nebulous, extremist politics of the alt-right in the last four years, the average age of perpetrators is 26 years old. Only three have been older than 30 with the youngest being just 17.
James Alex Fields was only 20 years-old when he drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of attendees and protestors during August’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Fields stood with members of Vanguard America during the rally and carried a shield with the militaristic, alt-right group’s insignia on it.
Vanguard America denied that Fields was a member in the aftermath of the event, issuing a statement that read, “The driver of the vehicle that hit counter protestors today was, in no way, a member of Vanguard America. All our members had been safely evacuated by the time of the incident. The shields seen do not denote membership, nor does the white shirt. The shields were freely handed out to anyone in attendance. All our members are safe an [sic] accounted for, with no arrests or charges.”
Fields clearly had some level of exposure to Vanguard America and their materials prior to the event, given his adherence to the group’s dress code and chosen affiliation among many alt-right groups present.
His interest in white nationalism dates back to his freshman year of high school. Fields’ former history teacher Derek Weimar, described Fields as “a very bright kid but very misguided and disillusioned.” According to Weimar, Fields had a fascination with neo-Nazis Fields' mother. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer that, “A lot of boys get interested in the Germans and Nazi because they’re interested in World War II. But James took it to another level. He researched everything and had an intellectual argument for all his points, which is something you just don’t see that often.”
After high school, Fields enlisted in the military; however, after only four months, he was no longer listed as active duty.
According to police records, Fields also had a troubling history of childhood domestic violence — which experts see in about 1 in 6 mass killers. In 2010, Field’s mother called 911 after he attacked her for telling him to stop playing a video game. Other records reveal that he brandished a 12-inch knife at her on a separate occasion. His disabled mother uses a wheelchair.
Just three months prior to Unite the Right, another young, white man with a history in the alt-right, 18-year-old Devon Arthurs, allegedly killed two of his roommates, Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuck, 18, in Tampa, Florida. Arthurs, who was taken into custody by authorities after holding employees of a tobacco shop hostage, had converted to Salafism, an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam, and begun defending ISIS online a year prior. He was previously a leader of a National Socialist group known as the Atomwaffen (“Atomic Weapon”) Division which formed on the fascist forum Iron March.
Arthurs’s fourth roommate, Brandon Russell was also a leader of Attomwaffen. Russell wasn’t home at the time of the shooting, but was later arrested on explosives charges after police discovered explosive materials and a device that could be used as a detonator in the apartment that he and Arthurs' victims shared. Arthurs told police that in the internet chat rooms that the two frequently cohabited, Russell threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure.
In addition to Iron March, Arthurs, Russell, Himmelman and Oneschuck became friends through playing video games online and spending time together in chat rooms such as Tinychat, Discord and Skype. Another member of their Tinychat group named Catherine told Vice News, “We all connected in the sense that we were introverts that didn’t really connect with the ‘outside world.’”
Another Atomwaffen member told VICE that he “shitposted” — a term for desultory online chat — with Arthurs online within 12 hours of the shooting.
In the year leading up to the shooting, Arthurs appeared to be blending his alt-right beliefs with his newfound adherence to extremist forms of Islam. His username changed from Weissewolfe to Kekman Al-Amriki, a combination of the trollish god of “meme magic” common to 4chan and the name of an American member of al-Shabab, an Islamic militant organization.
According to VICE, Arthurs also spoke of “white sharia,” a concept exemplifying the brutal, misogynistic core attitudes of the alt-right and those it has inspired to violence.
In the aftermath of Unite the Right, the alt-right finds itself at a crossroads.
The alt-right thrived on the edges of the mainstream during the 2016 presidential campaign, finding a home in places like Breitbart News, which openly welcomed the alt-right audience. With Steve Bannon and other extremists in the White House, it felt it had high-powered allies. But Charlottesville destroyed any mainstream sympathy for the alt-right. The movement has now been outed for its explicitly racist and antisemitic constituency — one impossible to camouflage after images from Charlottesville saturated the news cycle. And the alt-right now is facing the blowback.
“If you haven’t noticed, the political climate has changed since Charlottesville. There’s been a crackdown. Who knows what comes next. As a movement, the Alt-Right has to face the reality that the State is hostile to us,” writes “Vincent Law” at AltRight.com:
In such conditions, we cannot rely on pyramid structures of authority. You the individual have to pick up the slack. Every single one of you has to become an officer capable of independent activism. Our movement needs to start resembling a Leaderless Resistance.
Law goes on to cite a passage of an essay published by Klansman and Aryan Nationsassociate Louis Beam in The Seditionist titled, “Leaderless Resistance.” The section isolated by Law encourages members of a “resistance movement against state tyranny” to decentralize command and organizational structures to avoid infiltration.
A second block quote from Beam’s essay advises the “truly committed” that if they “put it to use for themselves, it will work now.”
“If you are reading this,” Law concludes, “You are the vanguard now.”
Beam and the editorial voices of AltRight.com may once have made an unlikely pairing. Spencer has worked tirelessly to discourage associations with the white supremacist movement’s most unsavory elements, such as Klansmen and neo-Nazis, at least publicly.
However, Beam’s encouragement of radical, independent action is echoed in the final point of Spencer’s “meta-political manifesto for the Alt-Right” published on the eve of the disastrous, and ultimately deadly, Unite the Right rally:
A man distinguishes himself by his deeds. And every man, in his own way, must strive to be something more than a man: to be honored by his heirs; to be part of something greater than his self.
Spencer’s platitudes are grim in the context of the steady tide of ideologically motivated violence associated with the white nationalist movement.
In 2014, after longtime Klansman Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. killed three at a Jewish community center and a retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas, Brad Griffin of Occidental Dissent published an article on the topic of “self detonating lone wolf vanguardists.”
According to Griffin, “a ‘self detonating lone wolf vanguardist’ is someone who is radically alienated from society and who has given up on persuasion, a fanatacist who is inclined toward violent methods of bringing about eschatological political change, who usually acts alone or with an accomplice in the name of a movement without the support of assistance of any group, and who typically explodes, lashes out, or ‘self detonates’ without warning in rampage shootings, murder-suicides, and bombing campaigns.”
Griffin, who has long been a member of various white nationalist organizations, most recently the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens, was, at the time of writing, in damage control mode. However, his essay makes several important observations on violence that remain relevant in the age of the alt-right.
Glenn Miller, like many adherents of the alt-right, spent inordinate amounts of time posting online — in his case at the rabidly antisemitic and ultra-violent Vanguard News Network Forum.
Law, in his invocation of “Leaderless Resistance,” nods to this phenomenon when he writes, “Like it or not, the period of passive red-pilling is coming to a close.”
He is imploring his readers to step out from behind their screens and into the physical world.
“The internet tends to bring out the worst in isolated, marginalized people,” Griffin writes. “In order to avoid this problem, the Southern Nationalist movement needs to stay tightly organized with established leaders who can emphasize that resorting to violence should be a collective decision, not an individual one.”
He continues, “The White Nationalist movement is diffuse, disorganized, anonymous and internet based. The movement as a whole lacks structure, leadership, and organization.” Griffin’s prescription to avoid future, ideologically-motivated violence is precisely the opposite of where Law is steering his readers — the newly appointed “vanguard.”
The alt-right’s success at injecting extremist ideas into the mainstream since Griffin made his observations in 2014 has been driven by the white nationalist movement’s sprawling online presence which metastasized, drawing in more — and at times less stable — adherents. Now, they have moved into the streets.
In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, the alt-right enjoyed an unprecedented level of mainstream penetration and a correspondingly large audience through a series of opportunistic, media-manipulation campaigns.
The cornerstone of the alt-right’s tactics was an explicitly stated goal of shifting the Overton window through extreme rhetoric online. The Daily Stormer exemplified the style that came to represent the alt-right and its adherents online, both on their own sites and in the comment sections of those in the mainstream, with its vicious slogan, “Gas the kikes, race war now.”
The old white nationalist guard — a group familiar with the carnage that its most extreme adherents are capable of — met the Stormer’s radical rhetoric with equal parts skepticism and scorn. Three days after the Frazier Glenn Miller shooting, Griffin acknowledged that the white nationalist movement attracts isolated and marginalized individuals and openly worried about the potential of anonymous internet forums for breeding “self detonating lone wolf vanguardists.” Griffin, whose first recommendations was to stay grounded in reality, ended his critique by chastising the rhetoric of VNN’s founder, Alex Linder:
I’ve told [Linder] for 10 years now, publicly, that “exterminating the Jews” was a terrible idea, and I never backed away from that position. It was sound advice. Now [Glenn-Miller] has acted on his terrible idea, will probably get the death penalty, destroyed his own family, has killed three innocent people, and destroyed the lives of their families. I’m not the one who is going to have to live with that though.
The rhetorical parallels are clear between Linder and Anglin, who introduced Linder in an interview at the Daily Stormer as, “a big inspiration to me personally. He is, in a sense, the original Nazi troll. He was the first person I ever heard openly call for the extermination of Jews — this was a long, long time before we started saying ‘gas the kikes.’
Colin Liddell, who publishes what remains of Richard Spencer’s original Alternative Right blog made a vendetta out of Anglin’s tactics.
“The main function that the repetitive memes pumped out daily at the Daily Stormer serve is to isolate those who take them up from their fellow Whites,” he wrote in a September 2014 piece titled “Stormer in a Teacup.” “The racially awakened are therefore placed in cultural quarantine.”
The isolation that Liddell references echoes Griffin about the Internet bringing out the worst in those that are isolated and marginalized — two charges leveled against Anglin by Liddell in his diagnosis of the Stormer’s publishing strategy.
Anglin’s site has always carried a disclaimer that, “We here at the Daily Stormer are opposed to violence. We seek revolution through the education of the masses. When the information is available to the people, systemic change will be inevitable and unavoidable. Anyone suggesting or promoting violence in the comments section will be immediately banned permanently.”
However, the disclaimer is difficult to reconcile with content like Anglin’s June 5, 2017, “PSA: An Age of Ultraviolence is Coming,” which reads:
This is just a quick PSA for all white men. … An age of ultraviolence is coming. I do not know when, but I do know that most of you will live to see it. There is rapidly approaching a time when in every White Western city, corpses will be stacked in the streets as high as men can stack them. And you are either going to be stacking or getting stacked. … There will be leaders. You need to be prepared to recognize them for who they are, and you need to be prepared to do whatever they tell you to do, exactly as they tell you to do it. You are going to be required to do things that you cannot possibly imagine yourself doing right now. And if you do not do these things, you will die.
In its just over four years of operation, the Stormer’s audience included at least three readers who were either convicted of or indicted for murder.
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Storm Roof killed nine African-American worshipers and wounded one while attending a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof, then 21, told his victims, including Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pickney, that, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”
In a manifesto posted to his website, lastrhodesian.com, Roof cited the Trayvon Martin case as his inspiration for searching on Google for “black on White crime.” According to Roof, “I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief.”
Roof, who had no real-world connections to known hate groups, complained that, “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
Passages from Roof’s manifesto were found almost verbatim in the comment section of the Daily Stormer by user “AryanBlood1488.”
In the years since Roof’s Charleston massacre, he has become a favorite meme of Stormer users, who frequently affix bowl haircuts —similar to Roof’s — to their avatars and refer to him endearingly as “DyRo.”
Anglin even went so far as to suggest in the Stormer’s since deleted Discord server, “The Thunderdome,” that he was giving Roof a column at the Daily Stormer.
On March 22, 2017, another Daily Stormer reader, James Harris Jackson, was arrested after stabbing 66-year-old black man Timothy Caughman with a sword in Manhattan. Jackson, an army veteran, was 28 at the time of the alleged stabbing. He traveled to New York from Baltimore, Maryland, to conduct a “practice run” for what was intended to deter white women from race-mixing. He told a media source after his arrest that, “the white race is being eroded.”
In a post titled, “Real Swordsman Hours: Daily Stormer Gets Blamed for Sword Attack!” Anglin dismissed the connection between his website and Jackson’s murder before directing his readers to the “Race War” section of the Stormer.
“I’d rather this have not happened. I don’t really see that any point of value was proved by this slicing/dicing. This is why I so adamantly discourage violence. It’s bad propaganda,” Anglin wrote. “That said, I’m not going to go out of my way to condemn this guy. Why should I? Black people are killing us ‘randomly’ every single day - except it isn’t actually random, it is the exact same thing as here — these are attacks because of our race.”
Jackson told investigators that he travelled to New York to carry out the attack precisely because it is the “media capital of the world” and he wanted maximum exposure. The day after the attack, he went to a public library in the city to read about his actions before turning himself in.
After posting dozens of montages of alleged victims of a black-on-white crime epidemic — the type of images that regularly accompanied the propaganda Roof found on the Council of Conservative Citizens website — Anglin wrote, “Look at those, then ask me again if I give a single molecule of a fuck about this plastic bottles nigger [Caughman].”
Unlike Roof, Jackson claims he was involved in a white supremacist group, although the name of the group has yet to be released.
Take for instance Daily Stormer “Book Clubs,” which Anglin defined last July as, “a real life meetup group, intended to organize people locally in the real world. This is both for the purpose of human interaction with like minded people, helping one another build character and life skills, and for political organization purposes.”
The clubs are organized on the Stormer’s BBS commenting forum first before moving to more diffuse platforms like Discord and now Tor Forums. Membership lists are banned, along with last names.
“The basic structure is going to be anonymous leaders of local groups with no real names,” Anglin wrote in September. “There will be no direct communication between groups with real names, and groups will only meet during national events … I am going to advise, but I am not going to run any of your affairs and I do not want to know who any of you are in real life. Chapters will be designed to spawn new chapters.”
Anglin’s advocating for a version of leaderless resistance for the same reasons that he denounces violence before making statements such as, “There is a [sic] atavistic rage in us, deep in us, that is ready to boil over. There is a craving to return to an age of violence. We want a war.”
The Right Stuff, which calls its almost identical meet up groups “pool parties” have been similarly cautious in isolating themselves from the potential of violence from their largely anonymous, online audience.
Like Griffin, they see their pool parties as antidotes to the violence. Speaking on a November 2017 episode of The Daily Shoah, Mike Peinovich, one of the founding hosts, claimed that, “I know that’s a thing [mass murders] that people want to avoid association with. It’s true though. If this kid [Dylann Roof] or if somebody like that had been involved with a community and wasn’t completely isolated, these things are less likely to happen.”
The sprawling networks the alt-right has built around its poisonous, racist ideology have violence at its core in its pursuit of a white ethnostate. The white, male grievance culture that the leaders of the alt-right are incubating has already inspired more than 40 deaths and left more than 60 people injured.
And unfortunately, the alt-right seems likely to inspire more, as it moves farther into the real world. Its leaders continue to abdicate all responsibility for the violence their ideology inspires and are becoming increasingly recalcitrant in the face of widespread condemnation.
Unfortunately, leaderless does not mean victimless.
On Friday, December 27, a 17-year-old white male, reported to be Nicholas Giampa, allegedly shot and killed the parents of his ex-girlfriend in Reston, Virginia, before turning the gun on himself.
According to reports, the parents had facilitated the break-up after learning that Giampa held neo-Nazi beliefs. Giampa was known in the neighborhood as the person who mowed a swastika into a community field.
A Huffington Post investigation confirmed Giampa’s neo-Nazi beliefs after uncovering his Twitter profile. The report found:
When Giampa first started tweeting from the @doctorpepper35 account in May 2016, he already espoused far-right views. An enthusiastic supporter of then-candidate Donald Trump, he often used racist slurs to attack Trump’s critics. In the summer of 2016, Giampa told one Twitter user to “go back to the gas chamber,” called another a “kike” and labeled several users whom he disagreed with as “cucks.” He talked about “globalist scum” and, a few weeks later, referred to a right-wing conspiracy theory about “how hillary has literally murdered people.”
Giampa’s account also attempted to engage with those of alt-right leaders and organizations like Mike Peinovich, VDARE, the Traditionalist Worker Party, Identity Evropa, as well as Vanguard America, the neo-Nazi group that James Fields was photographed with in Charlottesville. One of Giampa’s main obsessions, however, was the hardcore neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen.
In the days after Thanksgiving Giampa called on Atomwaffen and Vanguard America to join together as part of a “white revolution.”
2018 is already off to a disturbing start. On January 2, Blaze Bernstein, a college student who was gay and Jewish went missing and was later found murdered. Friends of the accused murderer, Samuel Woodward, told ProPublica that Woodward was a committed neo-Nazi and member of Atomwaffen which may have as chapters in as many as eight states.
This former Atomwaffen member also said that the events in Charlottesville had a major impact on the group. Its membership doubled.
After a year of escalating alt-right violence, we are probably in for more.