KEENE, N.H. — In the summer of 2017, the alt-right was an internet movement hoping a rally in Charlottesville would prove they could operate in the real world. But it proved the opposite; a counter-protester was killed in the melee, and many of the groups' leaders have spent the last year in and out of courtrooms on charges ranging from assault to hate crimes to murder.
And while the marchers had said Charlottesville would mark the beginning of many more real-world actions to come, that's not what happened.
“There's not big alt-right demonstrations at present. And that is largely due to Charlottesville,” Chris Cantwell told VICE News a year after the rally. By then, Cantwell had been home for about two weeks. He’d been charged with a felony for macing people in the 2017 torch march, and that kept him in Virginia for almost a year, either in jail or under GPS monitoring. In late July, he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, and was banished from the state for five years.
“There was a lot of violence, a lot of chaos, a lot of lawfare — guys went to prison over this. And that understandably caused a lot of people to reconsider whether they wanted to have anything to do with it,” Cantwell said of Charlottesville. “And there wasn't a whole lot of agreement about how to go forward, and that, to put it charitably, left us fractured.”
After the rally was dispersed, James Alex Fields, Jr. allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer. He's been charged with multiple federal hate crimes.
The aftermath of the rally has put a crushing pressure on the alt-right. It’s been booted from mainstream social media. Its leaders can’t raise much money online, because crowdfunding sites reject them, and companies that process credit card payments keep kicking them off. (Cantwell said he’s been kicked off four payment processors, and has applied and been rejected from nearly 100 more.) Marchers who showed their faces in Charlottesville were doxxed, and when their identities were posted online, many were fired.
Antifa are a menacing presence at nearly every white nationalist public event. The anti-fascists have been able to do that by infiltrating white nationalist communications networks.
Over the last year, VICE News followed several alt right figures as they tried to push the movement into the mainstream. Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer and neo-Nazi leader Matthew Heimbach both went out on college tours to reach out to young people over the past year, and ended up speaking to nearly empty rooms. Both quit soon after.
Today, Cantwell lives alone, in an apartment with very dark curtains. His shelves are filled with protein powder and nutritional supplements, he has a room full of exercise equipment, and he’s taped up signs reminding him to “STOP SAYING FUCK” on the fridge and in the bathroom. His sole source of income is his racist content business, including a podcast he says has an audience of 10,000.
He wants the alt right to learn how to organize, meet each other in person, and keep secrets. One reason he's urging alt-right figures to keep a low profile for now is to help President Trump in the midterm elections. “I try not to look at the world in terms of regrets or whatever. What I try to do is look at it in terms of lessons learned,” Cantwell said. “I learned that the alt right, for all this talk of order, is not all that orderly.”
Cantwell says that whatever the social cost of being a white nationalist, it’s worth it. The cause has given him purpose. “I already am celebrated by more people than most people are. I mean, I matter, right? Most people don't matter,” he said. “Most people will go through the world mostly unnoticed, and they're happy with that. I have more people who care about me than almost anybody else.”
This segment originally aired August 9, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.