Two local protesters outside the building, being ironic.
The worst part about going to a white nationalist conference is when everyone thinks you’re a white nationalist.
As I approached the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington DC on Saturday morning, a group of protesters started jeering at me, and one hoisted a cardboard sign in my direction that read: "Fuck off, Nazis!" Then I had to pass through a metal detector and security checkpoint manned by several black policemen.
"Hey, guys! Boy, am I excited to cover this event," I wanted to say. "Because I am covering this event, as a journalist, certainly not because I’m a crypto-fascist."
The event in question was the National Policy Institute’s "leadership conference", titled "After the Fall: The Future of Identity." It’s a boring name that, like a lot of vague monikers used by political entities, conceals an alarming agenda.
The National Policy Institute is a white nationalist think tank. These aren’t Breaking Bad Nazis or yokels in KKK robes, these are suit-and-tie white separatists – academic-sounding fellows who speak grimly about "preserving European culture" from the swarthy tide of egalitarianism and immigration. Their leader, Richard Spencer, is as clean-cut as they come, which, as he told Salon, is essentially a recruitment tactic:
"'[White separatists] have to look good,' Spencer said, adding that if his movement means 'being part of something that is crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid, no one is going to want to be a part of it'."
The assumption is that if they dress nice, people will follow Spencer and his fellow travellers on their road to a white ethno-state where pasty people can listen to Jack Johnson records and play frisbee in glorious racial homogeneity.
Spencer explained it me using an interesting analogy: "In the mid 19th century, many Jews in Central Europe had an idea of an ethno-state, an idea of Zionism, and they were considered ridiculous and insane," Spencer said. "But they had that dream, and that dream came into reality. Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence."
Spencer admitted that Walt Disney’s original vision for Tomorrowland is "not in the range of possibilities right now", but it's a "big end goal".
With the white ethno-state still a distant fever-dream, the conference wasn’t exactly an enormous hit – roughly 100 people registered for Saturday’s conference, according to Spencer, and by my count, about five of them were women (one of whom was Spencer’s wife). If the white race is counting on these folks for its survival, white people may be in trouble.
Inside a bunker-like conference room in the Ronald Reagan Building, leading white nationalist thinkers lectured the audience on "preserving their heritage" after the inevitable collapse of Western civilisation.
However, there were a surprising number of younger people. When Spencer asked the crowd how many were 29 or younger, around a quarter to a third of the hands in the room shot up. That might be because of the steeply discounted "millennial" tickets – only $55 (£34) for those under 25, instead of the regular $185 (£115). During a coffee break that mysteriously lacked any coffee, I talked to some hip millennial white nationalists to ask them, essentially, why the heck they were here.
The only attendee who would give me his full name was Dan Poole, a 24-year-old who said he got into far-right thinking after becoming disillusioned with the Tea Party and mainstream conservatism’s failure to address "anti-white bias in government and media".
I also met a 33-year-old first-timer named Melissa. She’d been introduced to the movement through publications her dad subscribed to. She said she found the conference "refreshing".
"What would you say to the protesters outside who say it’s racist?" I asked her.
"I would challenge them to sit through one of these talks and think through the things that were said," she replied. "They’ve probably never fairly considered them before, maybe because of their training, or because of their circumstances, or because of their capabilities."
It’s an interesting thought: is it possible you aren’t in favour of white people forming self-governing racist enclaves because you are either uneducated or somehow intellectually inferior?
Not surprisingly, Spencer was far more suave when talking to the media than any of his acolytes. When I asked him what he thought about changing the name of the Washington Redskins, he went on a polished tangent:
"It's kind of funny, because ‘Redskins’, unlike the Braves or something, does sound like kind of a vicious name, but in many ways it's a white romanticisation of the Indian," Spencer told me. "Despite the fact that it might be a little unpleasant, I think it ultimately does derive from the fact that we understand the American Indian is a kind of unique culture and a people that probably is worth preserving. I actually live up near a lot of reservations and I kind of almost admire that mentality of allowing them to have their own community. I would want it even more radical, though, in the sense that I would want them to really have an Indian community based their traditions, and no white men allowed. If a white man walked in, y'know, he’d be taking his life into his own hands."
It almost comes off as a Indian-friendly viewpoint, complete with words like "preserving" and "romanticisation", and then a second later you realise, oh, if the white man can’t walk into the Indian community, the Indian probably isn’t welcome in Spencer’s pasty preserve either.
The conference featured plenty of guest speakers, all from the "alternative right", as the loose coalition of antidemocratic and race-obsessed groups call themselves. They generally agree that modernity will collapse on itself sometime in the near future, and then it will be up to whites to fend for themselves.
Outside of the conference room, tables were filled with books such as The Perils of Diversity, which features a flaming car on the cover. I also picked up a copy of The Nationalist Times newspaper. "Popular Culture Promotes the Police State," the front-page headline of the self-proclaimed "voice for real America" declared above a picture of Rihanna.
Some quality white separatist literature.
Inside the conference, Swiss survivalist Piero San Giorgio was exhorting the crowd to learn how to farm and invest in gold.
Sam Dickson, a former Klan lawyer, delighted the crowd by being outraged about a host of topics you probably didn’t know people were outraged about.
On Americans moving too much: "This is extraordinary. This is the behaviour of Gypsies. This isn't the behaviour of normal people."
On the Gettysburg Address: "A remarkably horrifying, diabolical speech. A monstrous mentality and a frightening thing."
On the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of inalienable rights: "false on its face."
Perhaps my favourite speaker was Jack Donovan, a writer from the “manosphere” who railed against the feminisation of society and pens sweaty odes to masculinity. Donovan urged the crowd to become "barbarians" who live outside the state in like-minded, interdependent tribes.
After a keynote speech by Nouvelle Droite philosopher Alain de Benoist, the father of French neo-fascism, the attendees filtered out to enjoy an open bar and buffet spread.
"Sure, communism failed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mine it for good ideas," a guy next to me told a friend. "I mean, they had a eugenics programme in East Germany."
After ordering a much-needed drink, I struck up a conversation with the black woman who was tending the open bar.
"I didn’t know what the event was until I showed up," she told me and another reporter. "I cater for the House of Representatives, and let me tell you, there’s some haters over there, too."
At one point, a large black security guard strolled through the crowd and stopped at a table to pick up some factsheets comparing crime among races. "Do you mind if I take these?" he asked a balding barbarian who was a foot shorter than him.
"Oh, of course! Go right ahead."
This seems like a good place to point out that, despite all their bluster about living outside of the state, the attendees were not exactly profiles in courage when it came to going public with their opinions. Earlier in the day, Spencer had asked how many in the crowd were attending under a nom de guerre, and about half the audience raised their hands.
They were even more paranoid when they were face-to-face with a reporter. One young man wearing a sports coat and a preppy tie was convinced I was monitoring him. "Are you recording me?" he asked when he saw me with my phone out. "Did you just take a picture of me?" he asked a few minutes later.
As I was leaving to go home, I took a picture of the crowd with the flash on and gave Preppy Tie a big thumbs up.
"There was a minor crisis after you left over the picture-taking," one of the other reporters at the conference emailed me later. "One person who claimed to have been photographed said to relay this message: ‘I'm a young man. I'm a friend of the people, so to speak.'"
Message received, buddy. I have no idea what you mean.
CJ Ciaramella is a reporter for the Washington Free Beacon whose writing has also appeared in Salon, The Awl and The Weekly Standard.
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