President Trump’s surprise decision to launch 59 missiles at a Syrian airfield, and his call for “all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” angered some of his staunchest supporters — paleo-conservatives, noninterventionist libertarians and the self-identified members of the “alt-right” nationalist movement.
During Trump’s presidential bid, the once-isolated antiwar voices on the right often thought they’d found an ally. As a pundit (largely on Twitter), he criticized military intervention, occasionally positing that it was being done to help Barack Obama’s presidency in the polls.
As a candidate, Trump won primaries despite denouncing the Iraq War — something that seemed outside the bounds of Republican politics. And in the final stretch of the campaign, he embraced an argument popular on the antiwar right, that Hillary Clinton’s bellicosity would lead to a war and he would prevent one.
Obama’s 2013 climb-down on attacking Syria was celebrated by anti-interventionists. And this week, in the first hours after news spread of a chemical weapons attack, anti-interventionists stuck with their notion that Trump’s victory over Clinton would mean a less aggressive foreign policy. In a report about Clinton’s Thursday interview at a Women in the World summit, where she called for airstrikes, Alex Jones’s InfoWars website told readers that “while sarin gas has been suspected in the attack, the actual chemical used has not been confirmed.”
Hours later, the Trump administration ordered the airstrikes, and the president gave a statement that could have been uttered by George W. Bush, calling on nations to unite against terrorism. The Twitter account of race- and immigration-focused website VDare, a wellspring of Trump support, suggested that Trump had made a strategic blunder that would benefit terrorists.
Justin Raimondo, the libertarian editor of AntiWar.com, tweeted:
That prompted Daniel McAdams, a director of former U.S. representative Ron Paul’s think tank, to chide Raimondo for ever believing Trump was opposed to intervention.
Paul Nehlen, a businessman who ran an unsuccessful, Trump-like primary campaign against House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, suggested that the airstrikes contradicted Trump’s “America First” message.
Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute and the coiner of the “alt-right” brand, a small, far-right movement that seeks an all-white state, denounced the airstrike tweets. He then recorded a video message, full of worry that Trump had betrayed his voters by signing off on a policy favored by hawks.
“Millions of people voted for Donald Trump so we could avoid nonsense on this,” Spencer said. “Millions of people voted for Donald Trump because we saw an authenticity in his opposition to these kinds of wars.”
Jones had a similar response, following up on days of speculation that the chemical attack was a “false flag” meant to start a war with disbelief that Trump could fall for it.
“It’s incredibly evil to know that Hillary started it all with Obama, and now we’ve got to see our media, clearly with a false flag, selling all this, and then Trump about to do it,” he said.
But the clamor on the antiwar right was largely drowned out Thursday night by praise from outlets — and politicians — who normally had little good to say about Trump.