Just down the street from the Trump Hotel and six blocks from President-elect Donald Trump’s soon-to-be White House, the alt-right movement gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue and declared victory Saturday.
“Donald Trump’s campaign was the first step towards identity politics in the United States,” cheered Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, an arm of the alt-right, at an afternoon press conference. “…I do think we have a psychic connection, a deeper connection with Donald Trump, in a way we simply do not have with most Republicans.”
The alt-right, a nationalist movement that embraces white identity politics and has been associated with racism and anti-Semitism, gathered over the weekend at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center downtown to regroup after the election and plot a path forward.
Spencer made clear that he doesn’t think Trump is a member of the alt-right, and Trump himself has condemned bigoted attacks from his supporters. But the alt-right views his election as a validation of sorts, and in an hour-long press availability, Spencer and several other leaders of the movement said they expected Trump’s successful campaign to usher in a new era of populism, hardline immigration policy and a foreign policy that deemphasizes NATO and rebuilds strong ties with Russia.
Spencer, who cheered the selection of anti-immigration hardliner Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general in Trump’s administration, said the alt-right plans to routinely issue policy papers on subjects like immigration and foreign policy, seeing the moment as an opportunity to pair far-right policy prescriptions with an energized movement.
“I think the alt-right, in a way, was too often talking to itself, a head without a body,” he said. “…The Trump movement was a body without a head.”
“I think, moving forward, the alt-right can, as an intellectual vanguard, complete Trump,” he continued.
Pressed by a reporter on the feasibility of Spencer’s call for enacting a 50-year “break” with most immigration (with preference still given to European immigrants) — something Trump himself has not pushed — Spencer replied, “it’s obviously possible. Trump, the Republican Party, has a new voting constituency. Trump has proven the power of these ideas, proven the power of populism.”
The meeting attendees — an overwhelmingly white and male audience, with many sporting closely cropped faux hawk-like haircuts, though one was spotted wearing a yarmulke — gathered in the atrium were an engaged group, often booing journalists asking questions. Outside, the scene was more rambunctious: protests raged off of Pennsylvania Ave., and one man with a bloody face was seen seeking police assistance, though the circumstances of his injury were unclear. Tila Tequila, a reality TV personality who was listed by event organizers as a guest, posted a picture of herself on Twitter engaged in a Nazi-style salute.
“Seig [sic] heil!” the tweet read.
Back in the room, some applauded when the Daily Stormer, the neo-Nazi website, was mentioned.
For many, immigration was top of mind. When one reporter asked the panelists about the biggest priority for pro-Trump alt-righters, the audience burst into chants of “build the wall!” One man jumped up from his seat, shaking his fists as he roared the slogan that was a fixture at Trump campaign rallies. And reporters were greeted by a “Make America Great Again” hat perched on the press sign-in table.
Still, Spencer took pains to distinguish between the alt-right movement and the incoming Trump administration.
Steve Bannon, the president-elect’s newly named chief strategist who has served as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, described that media outlet over the summer as “the platform for the alt-right.” Spencer largely agreed with that assessment, but he also insisted he didn’t see either Trump or Bannon as members of the movement themselves, though they have given him “hope.”
“I would say Steve Bannon’s comment that [Breitbart is] a platform of the alt-right is probably something I could agree with, say 90 percent, just in the sense that it’s clearly moved away from the conservative movement,” Spencer said. “It was pro-Trump, it was also a site that tons of people on the alt-right [go] to get their news from, they share [it]. I don’t think Breitbart is really ideologically alt-right, no, but it’s interesting and very hopeful for me that Bannon is at least open to these things.”
Spencer was perhaps more unsparing in his criticism of conservatives than of the left, cracking disparaging jokes about the “freedom fries” of the George W. Bush era and railing against the “neocons” who push, in his view, overly muscular foreign policy proposals. He said he would strongly oppose the appointment of the hawkish former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to a potential Trump administration cabinet position, like secretary of state, and he blasted a Bush-inspired, interventionist-oriented foreign policy.
“NATO was once about keeping the Germans down, the Russians out, the Americans in Europe. NATO has no reason for being in the 21st century,” he said. “NATO is obviously a clumsy, very ineffective way of dealing with terrorism” and with Russia.
He went on to praise Trump’s “instincts” toward more overtures to Russia and Vladimir Putin, in contrast to those of Hillary Clinton and the “neocons.”
“The Cold War is over,” he said.
The discussion did not always stay focused on policy: Spencer doubled down on his defense of Trump’s comments, recorded by Access Hollywood, on which the president-elect could be heard bragging about sexual assault.
“Yes, women, deep down, do want to be taken by a strong man,” Spencer said, though added he wasn’t advocating harassment. “I’ve looked at a lot of romance novels women read. I’ve noticed a distinct pattern.”
Spencer, who was swarmed by reporters when the event finished, wrapped up his introductory remarks with an admonition: “The alt-right is here, the alt-right is not going anywhere, the alt-right is going to change the world. And you all need to pay attention to this.”
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