Matthew Heimbach, who at various points in his career has been called “the little Führer” and “the affable, youthful face of hate in America,” was wearing a pair of blue pajama pants decorated with Angry Birds as he nursed a cup of tepid coffee. His thick, bristly hair stuck out at odd angles and his eyes were bleary and tired after driving for most of the previous day. Sitting next to him at this restaurant in a Best Western in Manassas, Virginia, were Miles Blythe and Scott Hess. Blythe is tall, with long, delicate fingers and a friendly face on which he had recently cultivated a donut beard. Hess is short and squat, with an eager demeanor. Across from them sat Josef Weiss, a small and wiry southerner, and his fiancée Katherine Weiss, plump and cheerful. They are all key members of Heimbach’s political party, the Traditionalist Worker Party, a hard-line white nationalist outfit that had spread throughout Appalachia and the Rust Belt over the last year. They are all in their twenties.
Behind Heimbach, a television tuned to Fox News was blaring the latest about the inauguration of Donald Trump, which was only a few hours away. Aerial footage showed crowds milling on the streets of Washington, D.C., and queuing up at checkpoints leading to the National Mall. The coverage switched to footage taken the night before from outside the National Press Club, where members of a largely online coalition of alt-righters, trolls, and garden-variety racists had arranged an inaugural ball called “The DeploraBall.” The footage showed protesters throwing rocks and eggs at the attendees.
“What a shit show,” Heimbach said. Although one of the country’s preeminent nationalist leaders, Heimbach hadn’t been invited to the party. Over the last couple of weeks, it had become increasingly uncertain if the ball would go ahead at all, after the circle of activists arranging it publicly imploded over the so-called JQ—short for “Jewish Question.” “It’s so ridiculous,” Heimbach said. “The JQ basically boils down to whether or not Jews are counted as white people and if they have a negative influence on Western civilization. Baked Alaska”—the handle of an anonymous Twitter user—“who was one of the main guys behind the DeploraBall, tweeted some stuff about the Jews running the media and apparently some of the other guys took offense. All hell broke loose and everyone who was seen as anti-Jew got booted.”
By all rights the white nationalist movement in the U.S. should be walking on air. They played a key role in building grassroots enthusiasm for their preferred candidate, who embraced their favorite talking points with a fervor that had seemed impossible for a mainstream politician only a couple of years earlier. What’s more, a loose coalition of nationalists, anti-Semites, fascists, trolls, neo-Nazis, and cyber-bullies had successfully convinced the national media that they were more than just a modern manifestation of traditional white racism. They were instead a new thing that deserved its own name: the alt-right.
Yet at a time when they should be celebrating, the movement seemed more fractured and dysfunctional than ever. In addition to the recent bickering over the JQ, the days before the inauguration saw one of the most influential actors in the alt-right—blogger, podcaster, and virulent anti-Semite Mike Enoch—revealed to be Mike Peinovich, a New York City–based website developer who is married to a Jewish woman. His blog, The Right Stuff, collapsed and his audience of close to 100,000 regular readers scattered.
“Honestly, sometimes I can’t believe how dumb our movement can be,” Heimbach said. “We have to get serious about things if we want to move forward. This anonymous, online bullshit can’t go on. This is when the real work begins.”
He took a last sip of his coffee and stood up. It was almost 9:30 AM and they should have been in Washington hours ago.
They got off the subway at L’Enfant Plaza. Their plan was to take in some of the crowds and demonstrations, then make their way around the Mall to the Capitol, where Heimbach had an important meeting that was very hush-hush. On the train into the city he had told me that a GOP operative who had been close to Governor George Wallace had invited him to give a talk at the Capitol Hill Club, a storied and influential club for leading Republicans. “It’s an amazing opportunity,” he said. “It’s a real chance to get our point across to the GOP. They know that we represent the real white working class.”
At 25, Heimbach has already spent most of his life on the far right. He was a precocious and bookish kid, and as a teenager in Poolesville, Maryland, he read Pat Buchanan and Samuel Huntington and thought about white flight and the clash of civilizations. At Towson University he formed a chapter of Youth for Western Civilization, because he felt that white students needed an organization that would not only speak for them, but also expose the alleged absurdities of affirmative action and political correctness. When the school disbanded YWC after Heimbach and his friends spray-painted “White Pride” on school sidewalks, he formed the White Student Union, which eventually spread to several campuses before Heimbach disbanded it and created Traditionalist Youth, which in turn morphed into his current political vehicle, the Traditionalist Worker Party.
Recently he was involved in the formation of the Nationalist Front, an alliance of far-right groups that agreed to put aside the habitual bickering that has long characterized the white nationalism movement in America. Among the members of the alliance were the Nationalist Socialist Movement, the U.S.’s largest neo-Nazi group, as well as several smaller groups. “We have to work together,” Heimbach told me about the Front. “And we have to realize that the violent, white supremacist rhetoric of old only hurts us.”
To this end, members of the Nationalist Front agreed not to use the Swastika and to sign a common manifesto explicitly disavowing supremacism. “I’ve never been a white supremacist,” he said. “No race is better than another, it’s just that we can’t play nice together.” Still, for its purportedly post-racist ideology, the alliance, as Heimbach himself admits, is fully committed to fighting the Jewish oligarchy, which Heimbach firmly believes has its claws in every part of society and is hell-bent on the eradication of the white race.
Heimbach had put on a collared shirt for the inauguration and was wearing it under a heavy, gray coat. Blythe wore his usual red beret, decorated with a Trump button, while Hess, who claimed to be immune to cold, wore only a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of oversized Aviators.
“I need to pee,” Hess said as they stepped out of the metro station. L’Enfant Plaza was one of just two metro stations close to the Mall and parade route that would be open that day, and most of the people attending the inauguration came through here. All around were vendors selling hats, flags, buttons, towels, T-shirts, and anything else that would fit a Trump logo.
“You’re kidding right?” said Heimbach. “You need to pee now? There is literally nowhere to pee here. Hold it in.”
Scott said he couldn’t and that he would go back into the metro station to find a bathroom. Heimbach and Blythe, who didn’t feel like waiting around, plunged into the crowd. Up the street, a small group of protesters were holding flags and banners about water preservation. Heimbach and Blythe stood off to the side and watched as the demonstrators chanted. “Look at these fools,” Heimbach said. “You need force to back up your talk, and do these people have that? No. They need the force of the capitalist state to protect them from us.”
A black SUV with police plates drove up and stopped in front of the demonstrators. An officer leaned out the window and asked them to step aside so that they could pass. “Don’t stop, officer,” shouted Heimbach as the SUV slowly made its way though the throng. “Fucking step on the gas!”
He looked with disdain at a group of demonstrators who were playing drums. “Stand up, fight back, bongo your way to revolution,” he scoffed.
They walked west along Independence Avenue, trying to find someplace to cross the Mall, with no luck. Hess, Josef Weiss, and Katherine Weiss trailed Heimbach and Blythe. Hess saw enemies everywhere he looked. He shouted, “Oy Vey” to a couple of Jewish kids. As they passed a small group of people holding “Dump Trump” signs, he said, “I can’t wait for Trump to give us the go-ahead to start beating the shit out of you people.” It was not quite loud enough for them to hear, but loud enough for it to seem like he had wanted them to.
“Take it easy, Scott,” Heimbach said. “No incitement. I don’t want to fight over something we started.” On 12th Street they came across a group of horses being prepared for the parade. “Hey, Matt,” Josef Weiss shouted. “I better not see any protesters punching a horse. If I see anyone punching a horse, they’re done.”
“OK,” said Heimbach.
The original plan for the weekend had been a sit-down with Richard Spencer, another high-profile leader of the alt-right. Heimbach and Spencer had a long-running and deep mistrust of each other. Heimbach thought Spencer was a tea-drinking elitist who had no idea how to create a real movement outside the dark corners of the internet, and Spencer thought Heimbach was an anachronism, caught up with groups and ideas whose time had long passed. The meeting, which was to formalize a détente, had been canceled when Spencer stopped answering texts the day before. Heimbach said it didn’t matter. “We don’t need him,” he said. “After today we’ll have much better allies than Spencer.”
He was feeling optimistic. He had recently performed a purge in the ranks of the Nationalist Front, kicking out several Klan groups that had had difficulties adjusting to the guidelines of the alliance. He and the National Socialist Movement were also planning to unveil a new internet forum in week after the inauguration. With the catastrophic implosion of The Right Stuff, his forum was poised to be the main meeting place for the far right.
“This feels like the beginning,” he said as they turned back towards L’Enfant Plaza, realizing that crossing the Mall would be impossible. “We like some of what Trump is saying, but he’s not our guy. I don’t trust Trump to do right by us at all, and the left are galvanized like never before, but we’re ready. This last year saw over a billion anti-Semitic impressions per month online. We won the meme war. Ours is a youth movement. It’s against political correctness, democracy, and equality, and it’s building.”
Back at L’Enfant Plaza they came across another protest. A small group of young people had gathered on the corner. One of them was shouting at the crowds as they walked passed. “Do you really want a president that grabs pussy?” he asked.
“Rather that than someone who grabs babies right out of the womb,” Heimbach replied.
The interaction soon descended into screaming. Heimbach tried to explain that all he wanted was a world where ethnic communities could decide their own fates, while the protester responded that perhaps not everyone wanted to live in racially homogenous societies. Meanwhile Hess was telling a female protester that when they came to power he would have her put in a concentration camp, but that he would call it a “fun camp” and that she would be forced to make toys. The altercation only lasted a few minutes before the demonstrators moved on.
They took the metro to Capitol South, where Heimbach’s Republican contact, who wished to remain anonymous, invited everyone to dinner before Heimbach’s meeting at the Capitol Hill Club. Over burritos in a noisy Mexican restaurant overlooking the Congressional Library, he described being there when Governor Wallace got shot in 1972 and how the murder was probably connected to the deep state. (Arthur Bremer, a former janitor, was convicted of attempting to assassinate Wallace, and was sent to prison for 35 years.)
“Today is a big day,” the contact said. “Make no mistake about it. This is the time to mobilize. The Left are bringing 200,000 people to D.C. tomorrow and we need to be able to do the same. We need to bring thousands of people into the movement.”
Heimbach’s contact said that the movement needed money and that the GOP needed the movement, and that today would be the first step in bringing the nationalists and the GOP together: “A few years ago the GOP wouldn’t be able to even sit in the same room as you, but things have changed and now we need each other. This is a big day.”
He threw a hundred dollar bill on the table and took Heimbach with him to the Capitol Hill Club, where he said many people were excited to meet him.
The rest of the crew waited for a couple of hours, first finishing the cocktails that Heimbach’s friend had bought them, then walking around the Capitol as the crowds began to head home.
Finally Heimbach came back. He was elated. The meeting had gone well, he said. In a room full of GOP operatives and state legislators he had been introduced as “the next president of the United States.” He said that he had made no attempt at hiding his politics or his affiliations, and that no one had seemed to have a problem with it. He said that he’d spoken at length about the white working class, their problems, and how to strengthen the GOP’s hold over them. When he finished, he had been given a resounding applause.
They got back on the metro towards Virginia. “It’s crazy,” Heimbach said on the train. “Remember how only a year ago we were sitting in a pizza restaurant in Kentucky, hardly 10 members in our party. Today, a year later I’m giving a speech in the most important Republican club to a group of Republican operatives. Things are happening. I can feel it.”
“I always believed it,” said Miles. “We president now.”