OAKTON, Va. — Jared Taylor hits play, and the first Donald Trump ad of the general election unfolds across his breakfast table. Syrian refugees streaming across a border. Hordes of immigrants, crowded onto trains.
“Donald Trump’s America is secure,” rumbles a narrator. “Terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out. The border, secure; our families, safe.”
Taylor, one of America’s foremost “racialists,” is impressed and relieved. “That’s a powerful appeal,” he said. “If he can just stick to that, he is in very good shape.”
From his Fairfax County home, Taylor has edited the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance and organized racialist conferences under the “AmRen” banner. He said that Trump should “concentrate on his natural constituency, which is white people,” suggesting that winning 65 percent of the white vote would overwhelm any Democratic gains with minorities.
When Trump made Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon his campaign’s chief executive last week, Taylor found reasons to celebrate. It was the latest sign for white nationalists, once dismissed as fringe, that their worldview was gaining popularity and that the old Republican Party was coming to an end.
The rise of the alt-right — named for the Alternative Right website that the “identitarian” nationalist Richard Spencer set up in 2010 and adopted by those opposed to multiculturalism and mass immigration — has come to define how many of its adherents see Trump. There’s less talk now about a “pivot,” or a moment when Trump will adopt the ideas of people that he conquered. His strategy now resembles the alt-right dream of maximizing the white vote — even as polling shows his standing with white voters falls short of Mitt Romney’s in 2012.
Trump’s newest speeches, read from a teleprompter, hit all of their favorite notes. “I don’t think Trump had mentioned ‘sanctuary cities’ previously,” Spencer said in an interview. “There’s reason to believe that Bannon is returning him to his powerful, populist message — indeed, honing it. [Former campaign chairman Paul] Manafort was turning Trump into a standard Republican, with the [Mike] Pence [vice-presidential] choice, the economic policy, talk of how ‘Hillary is the real racist,’ if not quite in those words. Bannon is making me hope again, making Trump Trump again.”
Although there is no data gauging the size of the alt-right, its adherents point to Trump’s primary victories as proof that their ideas have been winning. They are so active on social media, from Twitter to Reddit, that critics are beginning to feel overwhelmed.
Breitbart, not founded as part of their movement, became a welcoming place for it. The site found millions of new readers clicking on stories about “black crime” and the threat of Syrian refugees. At Breitbart, undocumented immigrants are “illegals,” Black Lives Matter activists venerate “cop-
killer heroes,” and Gold Star father Khizr Khan is a busy promoter of sharia law. Michael Brown, the man whose death kicked off the protests in Ferguson, Mo., was unfairly mythologized by the media.
Kurt Bardella, who handled Breitbart’s public relations until the spring, said that Bannon’s staff meetings were roiled by discussions of Islam and mass immigration.
“It was stuff like ‘these people don’t belong here, they’re overrunning our country,’ ” he said. “That kind of white nationalist sentiment.”
Trump, who has frequently linked or retweeted white nationalists and decried them only under pressure, gave frequent interviews to Breitbart. Already supportive of the Trump campaign, people like Taylor see Bannon’s move and the change in Trump’s tone as validation.
“Imagine a media that was more Breitbart than New York Times,” Taylor said. “Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown have been even more important than Trump, in one respect. They are the people who make whites realize that what the media have been telling them about race relations is simply wrong.”
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has treated all of this as a gift. Hours after Bannon’s hire was official, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook held a conference call denouncing Breitbart — a taster for a series of email pitches and finger-wagging statements to come.
Breitbart News was dismissive. “They say that we are ‘anti-
Semitic,’ though our company was founded by Jews, is largely staffed by Jews, and has an entire section dedicated to reporting on and defending the Jewish state of Israel,” site Chief Financial Officer Larry Solov and editor in chief Alex Marlow said in a statement. “They call us ‘racist,’ even though her husband’s law enforcement policies led to mass incarceration of blacks.”
That reaction, however, didn’t reflect Breitbart’s coverage of crime or of the alt-right. Last month, Breitbart reporter Katie McHugh referred to the criminal justice overhauls favored by some Republicans as “prison break legislation” that’s “un-compassionate to crime victims.”
Bannon, who directed conservative documentaries before he took over the site, kept Breitbart and its companion Sirius XM series entertaining. Sam Nunberg, a former Trump staffer, recalled that Breitbart interviewed Trump even when much of the media considered him a celebrity joke candidate.
“The problem in the conservative movement is it’s boring,” Bannon said in a May 19 exchange with the site’s technology editor and rising star Milo Yiannopoulos. “[If] you’re boring me, you’re losing my attention.”
The alt-right was decidedly not boring. Its arguments about what a winning, identity-based politics might look like were embraced by readers. Its writers embraced the torrent of jokes and memes from the alt-right, which portrayed Trump as a sort of trickster god and establishment Republicans as low-energy “cucks” — the derogatory name referencing cuckolding and given to anyone seen to be selling out to liberals.
“Had they been serious about defending humanism, liberalism and universalism, the rise of the alternative right might have been arrested,” Yiannopoulos wrote in a sympathetic March profile of the alt-right. “All they had to do was argue for common humanity in the face of black and feminist identity politics, for free speech in the face of the regressive Left’s censorship sprees, and for universal values in the face of left-wing moral relativism.”
Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter recently after leading a short harassment campaign against “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones.
Breitbart’s coverage, and the alt-right in general, advance a theory that a left-behind wing of conservatives have screamed about for decades. In the 1980s, figures such as Pat Buchanan and the late Sam Francis warned that the left was transforming the country without much resistance from the Republican establishment. In an essay, Francis argued that “Middle American Radicals” hardly understood their potential influence.
“MARs form a class — not simply a middle class and not simply an economic category — that is in revolt against the dominant patterns and structures of American society,” Francis wrote. “Liberalism and cosmopolitanism were able, through their immense appeal to an intelligentsia, to portray localism and decentralized institutions as a mask for bigotry and selfishness.”
But Francis and other “paleoconservatives” lost a battle inside the Republican Party to people who thought it could grow its appeal to nonwhite voters. In an interview with The Washington Post this month, Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) used the term “alt-right crowd” to refer to the people that Jack Kemp, his mentor and former congressman from New York, had helped to purge. Ryan called the group out of the mainstream and, in other interviews ahead of his primary, which he won by 66 percentage points, he did not argue with radio hosts when they linked the alt-right to racist elements.
The National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru, whose project to reform the mainstream conservative movement was waylaid by the Trump victory, said, “The alt-right just isn’t much of a movement, something that separates it from Goldwaterite conservatism after the 1964 election.
“Bannon isn’t willing to own his own site’s comment section, which is mainstream alt-right,” Ponnuru said. “I have grave concerns about the future of conservatism and the Republican Party, but the alt-right sweeping all before it isn’t one of them.”
In the meantime, the alt-right theory of politics is going through its first presidential campaign. Trump’s latest “pivot” has streamlined his arguments, not moderated them; it has promoted the people who agree with the alt-right, not a bid for the center.
“I’m honestly delighted that Trump is putting a team together that has such reasonable views on immigration,” said Jason Richwine, a policy analyst who left the Heritage Foundation after a backlash to his study of race and IQ and who has appeared on Breitbart’s XM show. “This was almost impossible to imagine even just a year ago. Whatever you might think of his campaign in general, it’s clear that Trump has opened up space to talk about immigration in a way we haven’t been able to before.”
At this year’s American Renaissance conference, Trump’s success was a popular and unifying subject. Peter Brimelow, the founder of VDare.com — named for Virginia Dare, the first white person born in America — used his speech to mock the failure of the Republican establishment and ask whether white voters were ready to become the dominant political bloc.
“What the GOP needs to do is Southernize the white vote,” Brimelow said. “You need to have everybody in the country voting the way that Southern whites vote.”
Trump’s new message — the combination of immigration restriction and the appeal to black voters — was no contradiction. Last year, in a November interview with Bannon, Trump regretted the loss of a worker who took his skills back to his native India.
“We’ve got to be able to keep great people in the country,” Trump said. “We have to be careful of that, Steve. I think you agree with that, Steve?”
Bannon did not. “A country is more than an economy,” he retorted. “We are a civic society.”
In his speeches this week, Trump has twinned his pitch to black voters with his warning about unchecked immigration. “Hillary Clinton would rather provide a job to a refugee from overseas than to give that job to unemployed African American youth,” he has said. That pitch, said Buchanan, could help Trump with the white voters who worry that by voting for him, they are endorsing racism.
“White folks are not monolithic,” Buchanan said. “You want middle America and moderates to know that you care about these folks, too. They’re the first ones who suffer when the shopping centers burn down.”
At Trump’s rally in Charlotte, one of the first of the Bannon era, the message was sinking in. Frances Johnson, 68, said that the polls were not reflecting Trump’s real level of support and that she sometimes emailed the campaign with ideas on how to change that. The pitch to black voters, she said, was smart.
“I really don’t think that African Americans want to be stuck where they are,” Johnson said. “They’re basically glorified slaves — they get free this, free that, free this, free that, and they can’t get a good job and depend on the government. What else do you call it?”
Ken Baswell, 55, was worried that Trump had not put enough TV ads on the air. If he did, he said, he would be trying to inject some truth into a media landscape that lacked it.
“I just want something other than what they’re pushing in mainstream America,” he said. “I want to know the real stuff going on behind the scenes, because I’m not stupid. I’m not a sheep.”
Robert Costa, Jenna Johnson and Frances Sellers contributed to this report.