An open fascist movement in the US had not seen such heights in decades. Last year’s bloody “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for instance, was the largest white supremacist rally of its kind in the country in at least a generation. But the fallout came hard and swift as the nation refused to give the white nationalist movement a pass as its ranks grew. While the aftermath of Charlottesville hit the “alt-right” and internet-focused neo-Nazis especially hard by universally “de-platforming” them, other parts of their movement had seen their communications shut down steadily over the preceding years.
One example is the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white nationalist organization that saw a dramatic decline after mass-murderer Dylann Roof cited the group as his prime inspiration for his attack on a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The CCC, as well as the rest of the “alt-right” with which it is allied, had built their base on conferences that allowed them to share their ideas and form an internal community.
As their movement gained steam, they began taking the next step: moving into public actions and recruitment. Ultimately, though, the backlash they received has forced them to start over, and thus, re-engage in the kinds of conferences that had served them well for years. Now, they are consolidating such efforts as a means to reclaim an aboveground white supremacist movement.
Over the weekend of June 15-17, the American Freedom Party and the CCC hosted a joint conference at the Montgomery Bell State Park, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The park has caused controversy over the past several years for hosting the far-right American Renaissance’s annual conference, a “race realist” event that brings together white nationalists to discuss pseudo-scientific topics like “racial differences in intelligence.” Because it is a state-owned public facility, officials have been less responsive to protesters asking them to cancel the event. The June conference was titled “Nationalist Solutions,” and brought together well-known figures from the US’s far right and international fascist party leaders from countries well beyond Europe.
The CCC was built in the 1980s by Gordon Lee Baum, a former organizer from the pro-segregationist White Citizens’ Councils. The councils were “above ground” community organizations that fought integration and Black voting rights, and often used economic pressure tactics like calling in mortgages or creating threatening mobs to push back on Black activism. Baum fashioned the new council organization to prop up far-right causes in the US South, focusing primarily on reviving a nostalgia and romanticism for the antebellum period and support for racial apartheid. Along with organizations like the League of the South, the CCC fostered a neo-Confederate perspective that maintains the Civil War as a “war of Northern aggression,” and argues for Southern autonomy.
Unlike other radical nationalist organizations, the CCC had a great amount of participation from Republican politicians: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke at a CCC conference in 1993, former Rep. Bob Barr gave the keynote address in 1998 and former Sen. Trent Lott joined CCC events on five separate occasions. In between 2000 and 2004, 38 public officials attended a CCC event, and the organization had many local politicians and judges throughout the US South as active members. This included former Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox and former Louisiana Rep. John Rarick, as well as a 2009 appearance by Republican Mississippi State Sen. Lydia Chassaniol.
The American Freedom Party
The branding of the CCC was meant to disguise its white nationalist politics, including its defenses of slavery and Jim Crow. The organization ran ads on Christian radio stations in the South saying that miscegenation was against “God’s chosen order,” and the organization’s website often refers to racial pseudo-science. Well-known white nationalists like American Renaissance’s Jared Taylor sat on the group’s board of directors, and the CCC’s newspaper, the Citizens Informer, was edited by paleoconservative-turned-fascist Sam Francis. They focused most of their content on the concept of “Black-on-white crime,” using manipulated statistics to argue that people of color have a particular genetic propensity for crime. It was this propaganda that fueled Roof’s attack in Charleston: In his manifesto, Roof noted that the CCC’s website motivated him in the attacks by presenting a desperate situation of racial conflict.
The American Freedom Party (AFP) was formed originally as the American Third Position Party in October of 2009. “Third positionism” is a trend in fascist politics that attempts to bring in certain left-wing critiques and tactics into a larger nationalist framework, such as a criticism of global capitalism.
The California neo-Nazi skinhead gang Freedom 14 originally started what became AFP as the Golden State Party, but the gang later named white nationalist attorney and activist William Johnson as chairman. Johnson was known for being the author of the proposed Pace Amendment, which would deny citizenship to non-white people in the US.
The Party eventually changed its name to AFP when Johnson saw some traction for his talking points at Tea Party events. The AFP’s positions focused primarily on opposing immigration and affirmative action, preserving economic protectionism and were to the right of Pat Buchanan’s nationalist views. The AFP began to run presidential candidates in multiple states, including running former filmmaker Merlin Miller on an anti-immigration platform in 2012.
AFP’s board and conferences have been a “who’s who” of the racialist movement at different times, inviting well-known leaders like the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matt Heimbach, and other various skinhead gangs and “alt-right” leaders. Much of their broader presence has been run by Jamie Kelso, who had previously worked for former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke and as the administrator for the notorious Stormfront web forum.
The June lineup of the AFP and CCC’s combined conference brought the leadership of the US’s white supremacist movement into one location — and consolidation is a major part of their strategy toward rebuilding.
American Renaissance’s Taylor addressed the crowd, high from his recent court victory securing his ability to sue Twitter for denying him his “free speech” rights. Taylor is best known for running American Renaissance since the early 1990s, focusing on dissident academics to speak on racial issues and building an “intellectual” core within his movement. James Edwards, host of the white nationalist AM talk radio show, “The Political Cesspool,” also took the stage, reflecting his own Southern nationalist perspective. Edwards is on the board of both the CCC and the AFP, and has served as a motivating voice in their movement for years.
Kevin MacDonald presented himself as one of the conference’s more bizarre figures, a person who has used his past as an academic to become a leading voice for the “alt-right.” MacDonald wrote a series of books in which he argued that Judaism is a “group evolutionary strategy” to outcompete non-Jews for resources, and that Jews do this with their “high ethnocentrism and verbal IQ,” and by destabilizing Western identity and nations. His anti-Semitism is matched by Michael Hill, the virulently racist leader of the nationalist League of the South, who also made an appearance. Fellow academic white nationalist and former AFP vice presidential candidate Virginia Abernethy was also featured. Her work on “overpopulation” as a driving force for immigration restriction has proven popular among her racist base.
Adding to the lineup was former Louisiana state legislator and Klan grand wizard Duke, a celebrity in this crowd for his years of racist and anti-Semitic activism. While Duke makes up an old guard of the movement, he has transitioned into the “alt-right” pretty well through his mastery of podcasting and social media trolling. His Saturday evening address focused on the “Jewish Question,” a slightly coded phrase for his intense anti-Semitic conspiracy theorizing. That Klan theme was extended by the inclusion of Rachel Pendergraft, a Klan organizer who is the daughter of well-known racialist pastor Thomas Robb.
As the white nationalist movement heads back to its basics, it is also refocusing on engaging international movements for nationalism, which have seen steady growth over the past several years. In much of the world, far-right and populist political parties, such as the British National Party or Golden Dawn in Greece, have been the centers of fascist activism.
Conferences like the AFP and CCC’s in June have served as a way of connecting the US white supremacist movement to more successful allies in other countries, and to bolster alliances that will help them build into an international fascist force.
This latest conference’s itinerary, though, included a seemingly strange organization: the Japan First Party. White nationalists often praise the racism and ethnocentrism of Japanese society, showing sympathy with the long history of Japanese nationalism tracing back to imperial Japan’s National Shinto, a racialized and nationalistic interpretation of Japan’s indigenous religious tradition. Some white supremacists often consider Japanese people higher in their racial taxonomy than other ethnicities, and justify this hierarchy with pseudo-science about intelligence. Japan First Party leader Makoto Sakurai, who spoke at the conference, is well-known for his anti-Korean and anti-Chinese racism, and white nationalists in the US believe they can build their movement by connecting with non-white racial nationalists. Since this party is Japanese, and therefore more appealing to white nationalists than Black nationalists like Louis Farrakhan, connecting with Sakurai gives them a key opportunity to build up the idea of racial nationalism broadly. American white nationalists seem to believe that if they can support the idea of nationalism for all races, it will make their own racial nationalism more palatable and less likely to gain opposition. Likewise, if non-white racial nationalists gain power, they may believe it could curb emigration to the US and confront “globalism” in terms of international trade and cultural orientation.
The conference was also joined by the European Knights Templar International, which was formed by activists from the British National Party, a fascist party that dominated the far-right in Britain for decades. Their focus, like Germany’s far-right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West) or Britain’s English Defense League, has been on demonizing Muslims and portraying refugee resettlement as an invading force bent on taking over white society. This is not the first time that European nationalist parties have attended conferences in the same network as Nationalist Solutions. Party leaders from Estonia, Britain, France and other areas across Europe regularly come out to the leading white nationalist conference, American Renaissance, to serve as a way to bridge the two movements and to provide an example of what an organized political party with nationalist impulses would look like.
Lastly, Dominic Lüthard from the Swiss Nationalist Party was also a featured speaker, a choice that shows a certain aspiration for modeling the US’s fascist movement after European political players. This shows a willingness to come together on issues of non-white (specifically Muslim) immigration, and to play on reactionary fears about “Muslim rape gangs” as a way of creating a common narrative between the two continents. With the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) child detainment policy creating a firestorm in the US, the white nationalist movement desperately needs to consolidate its narrative to continue pushing the Overton Window.
Looking to the Future
Although the conference claims it drew in a larger crowd of about 200 people, those numbers, which could be inflated, still reflect the movement’s weakness after a tumultuous year. This would be comparable to the National Policy Institute’s “alt-right” conference in 2016, which was a particular high-water mark for the movement. Organizers were publicly displaying their contingents rather than hiding behind the security of private conferences as was the case only months ago. Yet, for all the exposure they have had over the past five years, they have still wound up back where they started.
The conference’s remote location and support from state officials was effective in keeping counter-protests small. Jam City Antifa organized protests at the venue, as well as organizing a separate protest against the appearance of AFP vice presidential candidate Abernethy at Vanderbilt University.
Ultimately, though, the event’s attempt at reclaiming the presentation of academic legitimacy was necessary as a way of insulating it from the slew of “alt-right” murders and violence that have taken place, even though the groups involved included open neo-Nazis and Klan members. Likewise, the event also avoided many of the people best known with the “alt-right,” including Richard Spencer, attempting to move beyond his monopoly as a public representative of the movement.
While the white supremacists’ numbers were not tiny, the conference no longer reflects a movement that is reaching out to new recruits and building up a base in any significant way. Instead, their hyper-consolidation is simply an attempt at staying relevant and functional while facing attacks on all sides.
Conference organizers promised to bring attendees’ energy to protest a Gay Pride event in Knoxville, Tennessee, the following weekend. About a dozen protesters showed up to the Pride event, and one white nationalist, Kynan Dutton, was arrested for assault. Dutton’s attendance of the Nationalist Solutions conference cannot be confirmed, but he was a prominent member of the National Socialist Movement and caused controversy in 2013 for joining neo-Nazi Craig Cobb in his attempt to take over the town of Leith, North Dakota.