Attending an Alt-Right rally was never a part of my life plan.
But nevertheless, that’s where I found myself last Sunday. As I sat under the scorching sun, members of keynote speaker Richard Spencer’s White Bloc cadre admiringly smiled at my blonde-haired, blue-eyed toddler. The edge of the Lincoln Memorial’s Reflecting pool was teeming with activists bearing the flag of “Kekistan” and paramilitary women representing the Daughters of the West. A family of Indian tourists obliviously took pictures with ducks in the background.
Though the event was listed as a “Free Speech Rally,” a great deal of lip service was given to the subject of White Genocide. Take, for instance, this excerpt from Spencer’s address:
“There is a black cloud that hangs over whites all around the world. You can call that black cloud whatever you want- ‘white guilt.’ You can call it the ‘legacy of slavery.’ You can call it ‘the Holocaust.’ You can call it ‘fascism.’ You can call it ‘systematic racism.’ You can use whatever terminology you want. But we have a black cloud that hangs over us. This sense of guilt, this sense that we cannot be truthful, even when we’re talking to ourselves. This sense we can’t be truthful when we’re talking to our friends and family. And certainly we can’t be truthful when we speak in public.
The most radical thing one can say is not, ‘feed the poor,’ though I might agree with that sentiment… The most radical thing for anyone to say is, ‘I am white. My life has meaning. My life has dignity. I am part of a family. I will fight for my children’s future.’
We need to find a way…to achieve power together so that we can have real rights. Rights to be ourselves. Rights to live in a safe space. Rights to guarantee a future for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We need to find a way out of this helplessness. And I will say that the Alt-Right is the first step towards that.” (Richard Spencer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKfixFhb-O0)
Because I am currently writing a debate sourcebook on the conflict between nationalism and globalism, I came in the name of research. I do not consider myself a nationalist or a globalist. I was an outsider at an otherwise polarizing event. Here is what I learned from my experience.
#1: Not All Alt-Right People Understand Nationalism
As the rally began to dissipate, I stumbled upon a gaggle of teenaged boys from the rally who had congregated below a young female counter-protester.
All of them proudly sported “Make America Great Again” hats. As they peppered her with questions, I listened from the side.
Boys: If Trump is Hitler, why is nobody being thrown into the gas chambers right now?
Woman: I never said that Trump is Hitler.
Boys: But your sign says “Nazi scum.”
Woman: That is for Richard Spencer. He argues that we should have eugenics and sterilize all non-white people.
Boys: That’s coming from a college snowflake. Why don’t you just go back to your parents’ basement?
Woman: I’m many years removed from college. And my parents live too far away for me to possibly live in their basement.
You can probably see a pattern emerging at this point. The boys were so determined to see the counter-protester as the stereotype that had formed in their minds, that they were unable to initiate a constructive dialogue. They were excessively polarized and seemingly unable to detect nuance. Worse yet, they evidently did not know the meaning of the word “eugenics.” As the boys took their parting shots at the counter-protester, I finally broke down and said something.
“For crying out loud, you’re being entirely unfair to her. Your accusations are nothing but straw men and personal insults.”
Most of the boys snickered as they walked off, but one surprised me by staying behind. I was especially interested because he was the first non-white participant that I had seen at the rally all day. What followed was an unanticipated and warm conversation. He began by arguing that the counter-protester was mistaken, claiming that nationalism had nothing to do with race. Having just commenced my studies of nationalism a few days prior, I responded by sharing the three perspectives of nationalism and how they are fundamentally linked to the concept of ethnie, a common people group. Though taken off guard that I was privy to information unknown to him, he pushed forward by reflexively preaching the evils of globalism and asked me for my opinion on the “New World Order.” Ultimately, our conversation evolved into personal niceties and agreement on the importance of constructive dialogue. We parted ways amicably.
His willingness to defend nationalism despite not understanding it strikes me as a tragically common phenomenon.
#2: The Alt-Right Fundamentally Misunderstands Culture
One of the biggest drivers of White Genocide Theory is fear- fear of a declining cultural influence and fear of an ever-diminishing population. Like a washed up high school quarterback, White Genocide sees the decline of European influence as the sunset of civilization’s golden years. It fears the end of the West.
And therefore, it bears repeating: culture is not a zero-sum-game. As a nation of immigrants, America is unique in that no single group has an exclusive claim on what it means to be “American.” Americans of all racial background have made important marks in the mainstream American cultural lexicon. And lest Christianity be confused with Western culture, it is important to remember that the Church in Asia is rapidly rising.
In other words, the end of Western dominance is not the end of the world.
When people from minority races influence culture, it is not a threat to Americans of European descent. Nor is it appropriation to respectfully graft into common usage a practice from a minority culture. It is the Great American Melting Pot, the conglomerate and ongoing formation of the American identity.
In terms of nationalism, the American ethnie is all of us.
#3: We Need Dialogue
As I arrived at the rally, I found myself in an eerie no-man’s-land between the far right and the far left. While the Alt-Right rally congregated at the foot of steps, Antifa and anti-hate groups laid claim to the upper steps of the Memorial. One long strip of walkway ran between the two warring tribes. Bullhorn sirens and pointed obscenities pierced the air. I can think of no better representation of the conflict between nationalism and globalism.
Let this be a lesson for this season’s debate. Though you will be grappling with diametrically opposed, emotionally-charged ideologies, prioritize respect above all else. Everyone in this conflict is a human being, made in the image of God. Failing to understand this only deepens the divide and reduces any chance for peace. You are the future America needs. Set an example accordingly.
To quote Mordecai,
“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, ESV).