A progressive coalition organizing nationwide marches in support of Medicare for All canceled its planned event in Muncie, Indiana after promoting a keynote speaker who is one of the most prominent neo-Nazis in the country.
March for Medicare for All, a coalition of progressive organizations mostly located in Washington state, said Monday that its members "voted to shut down" the event after coming under criticism for promoting the march featuring a keynote speaker named "Matt H. Bach." Many on social media were quick to point out that the scheduled speaker's real name is actually Matthew Heimbach and that he is a notorious neo-Nazi who founded the now-defunct Traditionalist Worker Party. Heimbach, who also started a group called the "White Student Union" in college and later participated in an event co-hosted by the Nazi and KKK groups before helping to organize the deadly Charlottesville rally, was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the face of a new generation of white nationalists."
March for Medicare for All organizers said they "unequivocally condemn and denounce the planners in Muncie who made the choice to have the person currently known as 'Matt H. Bach' as a keynote speaker."
Still, some Twitter users criticized the group for failing to note that Heimbach is a white nationalist, even while canceling the event.
"Feels like a missed opportunity to mention the fact that Matthew Heimbach is a fucking Nazi," wrote Angus Johnston, a student activism historian and CUNY professor.
"Nowhere in this thread is there a disavowing of neo-Naziism, racism, or domestic violence," wrote activist Emily Gorcenski, who tracks white nationalism and was at the Charlottesville, Virginia rally organized by Heimbach. "This statement entirely avoids culpability, does nothing to safeguard against the next, more sophisticated attack, and makes no attempt to set a boundary."
The group eventually posted a stronger-worded statement.
"Matthew Heimbach is an absolutely disgusting human being who holds the deplorable and unacceptable beliefs of white Nationalism and is a White Nationalist/Nazi," the group said. "We unequivocally condemn white nationalism in any capacity. We are disgusted by the actions of the Muncie organizers who acted independently and purposely tried to derail and infiltrate our movement."
March for Medicare for All said it had no knowledge about Heimbach's participation until it was brought to their attention at which point it scrapped all planned events in Muncie. Going forward, the group said, it plans to create a "strict vetting process so we can ensure this will never happen again."
But despite condemning the event's organizers, the group said in later tweets that Heimbach was "not booked" and that their "graphics team was infiltrated."
The group's statement was met with skepticism on Twitter, where activists pointed out that Heimbach is "one of the most recognizable Nazis in the US."
"The biggest problem is that you posted Matt Heimbach's face on your national [organization's] main Insta account. It wasn't just pushed by Indiana," tweeted CROH Lehigh Valley, a group of activists tracking the far right in Pennsylvania, adding that the image of Heimbach headlining the event on social media "is the propaganda win he was looking for."
But the group added that the incident should be viewed as a "learning experience for the organizers," noting that "this isn't the first time fascist entryist tactics have seriously infiltrated & disrupted left wing organizations."
Heimbach, who has been charged with assault and battery on multiple occasions since 2016, has also tried to rebrand himself after falling out with other members of his group.
Heimbach was arrested in 2018 after police said he attacked his wife after she and her stepfather, Traditionalist Worker Party co-founder Matthew Parrot, tried to catch Heimbach and Parrot's wife Jessica Parrot having sex after admitting to an affair. Parrot also accused Heimbach of attacking him multiple times after the incident. Heimbach later fell out with fellow far-right activist Richard Spencer after he and other members of the Traditionalist Worker Party were involved in a brawl at a Spencer event in Michigan that resulted in the arrest of more than two dozen people.
Heimbach has since renounced his past and is trying to rebrand as a socialist or communist sympathizer who claims he would "go farther than Bernie" Sanders. Heimbach told WKRC earlier this year that he wants to work with Black Lives Matter to close the racial economic gap and railed against the "capitalist class."
But Heimbach's embrace of Medicare for All is hardly an outlier in the far-right world.
Far-right figures like Spencer and Mike Cernovich have endorsed some form of single-payer health care. Spencer has said it would "serve our constituency," referring to white people, and urged former President Donald Trump to embrace it in lieu of traditional Republican proposals pushed by establishment lawmakers like former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arguing that it would appeal to his "working-class" base.
Spencer also argued that single-payer health care could help grow the "alt-right movement."
"So many writers, activists, and content creators on our side shy away from becoming more involved, not just out of fear of social punishment, but out of fear of being fired and losing their health insurance," he wrote.
Far-right leaders around the world have also embraced social programs to appeal to their white supporters. France's Marine Le Pen has vowed to protect the country's robust social programs against immigrants. Geert Wilders, a far-right leader in the Netherlands who is friendly with far-right politicians in the US, "used to be a small-government conservative but began publicly fighting cuts to health programs and calling for expanded pensions once it became clear that this appealed to the lower-income voters who loved his anti-Islam message," wrote Vox's Dylan Matthews.
Matthews went on to note that the "political vision being offered here is hardly original," citing historians who believe that the rise of fascism and nationalism in Europe ahead of World War II was the result of traditional conservative parties failing to offer real relief from the economic devastation of the Great Depression.
"Across Europe nationalists began openly referring to themselves as 'national' socialists," Columbia University political science professor Sheri Berman wrote in "The Primacy of Politics" in 2006, "to make clear their commitment to ending the insecurities, injustices, and instabilities that capitalism brought in its wake, while clearly differentiating themselves from their competitors on the left."