On Saturday afternoon in Maumee, Ohio, it fell to a pair of Associated Press reporters to break the news to Samantha Bloom that her 20-year-old son was an alleged terrorist and murderer. The reporters found her outside her son’s apartment building, where she’d gone to feed his cat while he was away in Virginia for the weekend. “I just knew there was an—,” she said, struggling to take it all in. “He did mention, what is it ... allbright?”
“Alt-right,” one of the reporters gently corrected her, and proceeded to inform her what the term really means: organized white supremacy.
“I didn’t know it was white supremacist,” Bloom said. “I thought it had something to do with Trump.”
She had the last part correct. Unite the Right, the “alt-right” rally in Charlottesville that attracted the largest contingent of white supremacists in recent American history—and culminated, police say, in Bloom’s son plowing his Dodge Challenger into a line of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others—had everything to do with President Donald Trump. This was not a rally in support of a Confederate statue; as The Atlantic’s Matt Thompson put it, it was a “pride march” for America’s resurgent white supremacists. No masks; no hoods; no shame. And why should there be? The ideology on parade not only has official sanction and mainstream respectability in 2017; it also happens to be the ideology of the president of the United States.
“From this day forward a new vision will govern our land,” Trump promised in his apocalyptic “American Carnage” inaugural address. “From this day forward, it’s only going to be America first, America first.” It was, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote, the “one real, coherent defining theme for his administration—the only thing that counts is America. And the only Americans who count are white.”
After this weekend, surely, it is finally time to retire the euphemisms about Trump and the movement he leads. The storm troopers and meme-wielders of the “alt-right” (not to mention the “new right” and “alt-light”) no longer get to define themselves by cutesy names designed to obscure their neo-Nazism. And, if facts still mean anything in America, Trump will also be recognized henceforth for what he is: the chief recruiter and Dear Leader of a gang of domestic terrorists.
Trump’s reaction to the horrors in Charlottesville left no doubt about this. But for all the clamor and condemnation of his Saturday statement, when he went off-script to condemn “violence on many sides, many sides,” almost everybody in the world of “normies” still got it wrong. What was so offensive about Trump’s statement on Saturday, to most observers, was the “moral equivalence” he drew between the neo-Nazis and the counter-protesters who confronted them in Charlottesville. “Trump spoke in platitudes; he was a man looking for gray areas where there are none,” Jelani Cobb wrote at The New Yorker.
That’s far too generous an assessment. Trump was not merely equating Richard Spencer, David Duke, and Charlottesville’s resident fascist agitator Jason Kessler with anti–white supremacists like Heather Heyer. He wasn’t speaking of “gray areas.” He was endorsing domestic terrorism in the name of white supremacy, in the only vaguely passable way that a president could. The president went off-script and spoke from his gut when he blamed the violence on “many sides.” And his minions heard it for exactly what it was.
“There was virtually no counter-signaling of us at all,” said a commenter on Daily Stormer, which bills itself as “The World’s Most Genocidal Website.” “He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
In the coming days and weeks, Trump will undoubtedly take pains to clean up the mess he left on Saturday. He will get on script and echo the sentiment belatedly tweeted by his daughter, Ivanka, on Sunday: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” He may even symbolically purge his administration of some of its leading white supremacists: Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, Kris Kobach. And a lot of people will be fooled. Some will continue to maintain, as Samantha Bloom did on Saturday, that “Trump’s not a supremacist.”
But Trump’s foot soldiers will know better. When he veered from his prepared remarks on Saturday, he spoke his real truth. It is no coincidence, as NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observed, that “Trump tends to interpret any request to condemn hate as a personal attack.” Of course he does: It is personal for Trump, just as surely as it is for Spencer or Duke or Bannon. The president is the most powerful hate-monger in America. He is the imperial wizard of the new white supremacy. He is “GEOTUS” to his followers on 4chan and Daily Stormer: “God Emperor of the United States.” It’s hard to conceive of an acronym that would please this president more.
Before this weekend, the chief form of terror practiced by Trump’s white nationalists was online. As Angela Nagle writes in her indispensable book about the “alt-right,” Kill All Normies:
Multiple journalists and citizens have described in horrifying detail the attacks and threats against those who criticize Trump or figures of the online Trumpian right, especially if the critic is female, black or Jewish, but also if they’re a “cuckservative.” They now have the ability to send thousands of the most obsessed, unhinged and angry people on the Internet after someone if they dare to speak against the president or his prominent alt-light and alt-right fans.
Trump has long endorsed that form of terror, too, with equally unmistakable signaling—namely, retweeting some of the worst. He’s also sent clear wavelengths not only through his anti-Hispanic hate speech, but with (among other things) his failure to denounce David Duke after his campaign endorsement; his drumbeat of degradation of women like “bleeding” Megyn Kelly; and, more tangibly, his reorienting the federal government’s counter-domestic-terrorism efforts to focus only on Islamic extremism, not white supremacists.
Trump does not merely “play footsie” with the new white-supremacist movement in America, as Jennifer Rubin wrote in an otherwise blistering condemnation of his “moral idiocy” at The Washington Post on Sunday. He embodies the movement—in his rhetoric, in his actions, and in his person. Just as white people created America and made it great, in the view of the white nationalists, Trump built his business empire all on his own, with no help from his real-estate mogul father. And just like the neo-Nazis—who spent Sunday spreading Alex Jones’s message that Charlottesville was a George Soros conspiracy—Trump is always blameless. And if you challenge his paranoid version of truth, he will not engage with you, he will not try to persuade you—any more than Spencer or Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin will. He will mock you, and intimidate you. Rhetorical violence is his stock-in-trade.
Perhaps most important, Trump’s vision of the world is identical to the apocalyptic fantasies of “white genocide” peddled by his followers. What, after all, is white supremacy in America in 2017? It is, first and foremost, an expression of delusional self-regard and white male entitlement run riot. It is the insistence that some people—white American males—are inherently better than others, and deserve preferential treatment. To his supporters, and to himself, Donald Trump is the living embodiment of Hitler’s concept of Aryan Herrenvolk (“Aryan Master Race”). He is our first neo-Nazi president. And until we acknowledge that unthinkable truth, and treat Trump’s presidency as the anti-democratic crisis that it is, he will not be the last.