On Saturday, more than 300 people—many of them young men in slim-fitting suits and fashionable haircuts—descended on the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center for the National Policy Institute's (NPI) Become Who We Are 2016 conference. The generically named think tank is the well-dressed arm of the alt-right, a white identity movement that has gained increasing popularity and media attention thanks to the rise of Donald Trump, who many consider to represent their views.
The alt-right is distinct from the conservative movement that has dominated the Republican Party for decades, but it's far from a unified organization. Everyone from internet trolls and edge lords to scientific racists and academic white supremacists have found a home in the alt-right, which simultaneously revels in vulgarity and defiance of political correctness and prides itself on its intellectualism. In the short term, these people fervently support Trump's ideas on issues like immigration and a war against radical Islam. In the long term, they seriously want to establish an "ethno-state" solely for white people within the United States.
Photographer Lexey Swall and VICE editor Wilbert L. Cooper were on hand for Saturday's conference, a safe space for white nationalists where they could say things out loud that are mostly only typed on certain message boards and pseudonymous blogs, and even raise their arms in Nazi-esque salutes. Here are what some of the attendees—from movement leader and NPI founder Richard Spencer to reality star turned conspiracy theorist Tila Tequila—had to say:
Richard Spencer is the man who is credited with coining the term "alt-right" as well as the founder of the NPI. The following was taken from his keynote speech:
We are faced with binary choice, fight or flee, join or die, resist or cuck. That is the position of white people right now. Two weeks ago, I might have said the election of Donald Trump might actually lessen the pressure on white Americans. But today, it is clear that his election is only intensifying the storm of hatred and hysteria being directed against us.
As Europeans, we are uniquely at the center of history. We are, as [Friedrich] Hegel recognized, the embodiment of world history itself. No one mourns the great crimes committed against us. For us, it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands. And it is appropriate because within us, within the very blood in our veins, as children of the sun, lies the potential for greatness. That is the great struggle we are called to. We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We are not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures who ever populated the planet. We were meant to overcome all of them because that is natural and normal for us. For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again. Heil Trump! Heil the people! Heil victory!
Al Stankard is a 29-year-old conference attendee from the Northeast who goes by Harlem Venison online:
I'm not really a white nationalist. But I see anti-racism as a dystopic thing that once gave the benefit of the doubt to the idea of racial differences and has evolved into this stifling dogma that has a scapegoat and that scapegoat is white people and those who are deemed as racist. I see anti-racism as not just bad for whites, but bad for everyone. I'm not a white supremacist, either. Nor do I see myself as that intelligent. I don't see myself as a WASP or whatever. In some ways, I identify with people of color more. But I do think there are different frequencies of different traits in different populations. I feel like this dogma we have that we are all the same is bad for everyone. It is on this basis that we have these unequal cultural policies that penalize white people, create double standards, and has become dystopic.
This Hispanic alt-right follower from Huma, Arizona, asked that we not photograph his face or reveal his name out of fear that he might be attacked by other Hispanics in his hometown for his political beliefs:
If you were a doctor and you denied the genetic difference between races, you'd be fired for malpractice real fast. Did you know, black people's bodies will automatically reject any organ donations from a white guy 20 percent of the time? They're just not compatible genetically. You have different performances in school. Like me, I did terrible in school. But I don't feel inferior to whites. There is always a plus and minus to everything. One thing people don't know is that white Europeans have smaller brains. Even though they are better at developing technology, they don't do too well at a contact sport like boxing because they get brain trauma too easily… I'm inferior in some ways, and superior in others.
This man is a Sikh who worked at the event as one of Richard Spencer's key volunteers. He asked us not to reveal his face or his name:
As a minority in the alt-right, I think ethno-nationalism is important. It is beneficial to everybody, including those who would have to leave or go back home if white Americans made their own ethno-state here in the US. I believe in Japan for the Japanese. India for the Indians. And Europe for the Europeans.
More than half of India is not potty trained—there's no plumbing. Everybody who graduates from top schools from there comes to America. In Punjab, my homeland in northwest India, everyone with a triple-digit IQ moves to the Western world. Well, I think it is a cheap cop-out for the natural elites of these foreign nations to leave their countries and come to an already developed country instead of developing their own country. India is a much worse place because of the brain-drain effect. I see mass immigration today as the imperialism of the 21st century. The Western world robbed everyone else of all their smart people, impeding their ability to develop their own nations. It's time to go back.
Tila Tequila is a 35-year-old who became famous through social networking sites years ago and has become notorious for her Nazi sympathies:
I came to the alt-right around the time I started pondering Hitler in 2013. Hitler did nothing wrong! I feel like there are two sides. I definitely see [a connection between Hitler's rise and the alt-right movement] because the alt-right wouldn't have manifested like this if these people didn't feel like they had been oppressed for so long. These people wouldn't be so extreme and hardcore as they are. The German people were broke, and that is just like middle class of America today. Our middle class has vanished. They feel like no one cares about them. This alt-right thing would not have manifested if there wasn't such a crappy environment to begin with.
Matthew Tait is a 31-year-old who's been a youth leader in nationalists politics in Britain since he was 18:
There is a difference between the alt-right of today and the white nationalism and conservatism of the past. The alt-right is young and forward-looking. The old conservatism and white nationalism was always harking back to a time when people remembered that it was better. So you went to meetings, and there was a bunch of old people and they'd talk about how great life was in the 1950s. That's completely gone now. With the alt-right you have a new generation. I'm 31 and the average age of the group here puts me above the average. These people aren't looking back to the 50s or the 80s, we're looking forward. We're in 2016. We aren't interested in turning the clocks back. We have a different vision of our future, and we have decided not accept the only options that we have been given. Which, like South Park says, is either a giant douche or a turd sandwich. We've said no to both. And we've created our own vision of the future.
Kevin McDonald is the founder of the Occidental Observer, a far-right publication often accused of anti-Semitism. He is 72 years old. He came to the conference to speak on the issue of Jews:
We're all enthusiastic about Trump. We're hoping that to some extent, during his presidency, white identity politics would become normal or legitimate. In some ways, a lot of people have attributed Trump's success to white identity politics. And we're the only ones really talking about white identity politics and have the intellectual rationale and social science to back it up. On the other hand, we've seen signs that they are going to clamp down. The ADL has said that Pepe [the frog] is a hate symbol and Richard [Spencer] was just knocked off of Twitter. And so there is a conflict between those who want to ignore the alt-right and put it back in the box and the others who are interested in it.
J.P. Sheehan is a 26-year old who comes from a family of liberals. He's the president of his school's college Republican club, but his views have grown more extreme. This was his first alt-right event:
For me, the alt-right is something so much bigger than cheeseburger patriotism. It is something that I don't believe will replace the GOP, but will definitely overshadow it. I can see the alt-right taking wings and flying away, while the GOP bitterly talks about how they didn't wanna get close to the sun anyway.
What the alt-right is meant to to do is create an aura of normalization for European Americans to feel comfortable being who they are. I don't think a 100 percent white ethno-state is something that is not possible here in America, because the country is so darn big. So I would be fine with the US being 80 percent white. The reason why we want to create in an ethno-state is because mono-ethnic societies allow for a social cohesiveness. Ethno-states are beneficial for all races, because people just want to be among their own.
For the non-whites trying to get into the white ethno-state, I don't think they would be completely barred. It would be more like a "state your business" kind of thing. If there was someone who displayed a high level of agency or a high level of our culture, they could come in.
Jared Taylor was writing and pontificating on the topic of "race realism" long before the emergence of the alt-right. As the editor of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, he's seen as a grandfather to the alt-right movement:
Alt-right ideas are going to progress because our ideas are based in a correct reading of human history, are morally unimpeachable, and they explain current events far better than the egalitarian orthodoxy does. That's why when people come to a dissident understanding of race, they never go back. That is because the scales have fallen from their eyes and they understand American racial issues and American society and what's going on around the world so much better than they used to. At the same time, it gives them an avenue to look forward to a nation that reflects their values, race, and future. All of this is encouraging, especially for young whites who have been beaten on for so long as being on the wrong side of history as the bogeyman, as the guys who have done one bad thing after another to every non-white group in the history of the world.
Lucas is a 23-year-old who grew up in around the DC area and is involved with a white nationalist organization called Identity Evropa.
The main issue that draws me to the alt-right is the self determination of the white people and people of European heritage. That is the fundamental core of the alt-right. We run from the political spectrum from anarchists to fascists, but race and white identity is the fundamental issue. Our identity is being eroded in the white countries in North America and Europe.
When I saw Donald Trump win, it was [amazing]. But what he thinks in his head, anyone can speculate. I know his words and his actions are not through a racial lens. They are through a cultural, American, civic, nationalism lens. He is not alt-right because he doesn't express our core values. Stephen Bannon [the Breitbart executive now serving as one of Trump's most important advisors] is not of the alt-right, either. But at least he is open to our ideas. One might call him a fellow traveler.
The man who goes by Millennial Woes is from Edinburgh, Scotland. He's in his mid 30s and runs a popular alt-right YouTube channel. He doesn't use his birth name because he feels that would be too dangerous.
Generally speaking, I think individuals just want to socialize with people in their own race because it is less stressful and less confusing. This idea that multiculturalism leads to us to a more worldly view of things… I just don't see that. The idea that you can have blacks and whites together and there will be no tension is nonsense.
That's why you see black people who are starting to agitate for black society in America. And I don't blame them. I understand why they want to do it. I do not hate black people or dislike them. It's just that my first concern is for my group, northwest Europeans.
All of the responses in this piece have been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity. All of these blurbs were acquired through interviews by Wilbert L. Cooper, with the exception of Richard Spencer, whose response was taken from the finale of his keynote speech at the conference.