Article By: Jonah Schweitzer
The Alt-Right, a term coined by White Nationalist Richard Spencer, are recognizable for their dapper style of dress. The 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charleston left the world with a lot of memorable images, but one that sticks out in the public consciousness is a crowd of white men holding torches, and dressed in button-down shirts. Gone are the hooded robes, and Nazi flags of yesteryear, when searching for signs of racism, one has to look more closely.
This effort to rebrand serves an explicit purpose. If White Nationalists are capable of presenting themselves as well maintained, and level headed, they can begin to make themselves more palatable to non-extremists.
Patriot Front is one of the more obvious adoptees of this initiative. Before the Unite the Right Rally the group was known by the name Vanguard America. They were inspired to rebrand after, during the Charleston rally, one of their members drove a sedan into a crowd of people. He injured 19 people and killed a woman.
The changes Vanguard America underwent to distance themselves from overt neo-nazism become obvious when one looks at their website in the months leading up to and following the Charleston rally. The Vanguard America manifesto began with the header, “AMERICAN FASCISM”, while the Patriot Front manifesto opens with a quote by George Washington.
Contained within the old Vanguard America manifesto are passages like, “Our America is to be a nation exclusively for the White American peoples”, and “America should strive for a truly national economy […] free from the influence of international corporations, led by a rootless group of international Jews.” While the Patriot Front manifesto never explicitly mentions race. Instead, when referring to the birthright of white Americans, it uses the term, “Pan-European identity.”
At a cursory glance, it’s not impossible to equate Patriot Front with a mainstream conservative organization like Prager University. Patriot Front’s foremost front facing political ideology is nationalism. This is a calculated decision, made because Prager University, the president, and countless right-wing groups tout nationalism as a core American value. This similarity in both presentation and ideology allow Patriot Front members to masquerade as traditional conservatives.
This same tactic is also being employed by a great deal of other racist organizations, with varying degrees of commitment. Groups like Identity Evropa and the National Policy Institute openly state their position as White Nationalists, although they try to avoid racial terminology. Instead, they too use terms like “European American”, or “Pan-European.” Their websites are pointedly free of any disqualifying iconography, or explicitly racist language, and in their FAQs both state very clearly that they’re not hate groups.
Other groups, like American Renaissance, are almost completely indistinguishable from right-wing news sites like Breitbart. American Renaissance simply acts as an aggregator for news concerning conservative interests. Similar to Breitbart, and even Fox news, a disproportionate percentage of their reporting is centered around crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and Islamic terrorism. Only after reading through the “About Us” section on their website does it become clear that the lense through which they report is, “race realism.”
Racist groups are attempting to make themselves more appealing to the average conservative by adopting personas that seems familiar, and less threatening. Their websites are well designed, they dress nicely, and their front men are articulate. This brand of racism is more insidious, and much more difficult to combat than standard neo-nazism because for the standard right-wing it’s difficult to condemn outright.