Tweet of Tila Tequila giving Nazi salute at National Policy Institute gathering in Washington on November 19, 2016. (Twitter / Washington Post)
Why does the March for Life, a rally that attracts tens of thousands of pro-life Americans to Washington every year, get less prominent media coverage than a fringe neo-Nazi gathering? Because institutional media and white nationalists have formed a politically convenient symbiotic relationship.
For Jew-hating racists, the attention means they can playact as a viable and popular movement with pull in Washington. In return, many in the media get to confirm their own biases, and treat white supremacy as if it was the secret ingredient to Republican success.
Meanwhile, this obsessive coverage of the alt-right not only helps mainstream a small movement, it’s exactly what the bigots need and want to grow.
Check out the coverage of this weekend’s National Policy Institute conference in DC. As far as I can tell, these pseudointellectual xenophobic bull sessions have been going on for years, featuring many of the same names: Jared Taylor and Peter Brimelow, et al. (although they’re now joined by Tila Tequila).
These people have generally been given the attention they deserve — which is to say exceptionally little. If you read this week’s headlines, though, you would have thought the German American Bund had packed 22,000 cheering fascists into the Ronald Reagan Trade Center in DC.
Here’s The New York Times: “Alt-Right Exults in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’”
Politico: “Alt-right celebrates Trump’s election at DC meeting”
NPR: “Energized By Trump’s Win, White Nationalists Gather To ‘Change The World’”
Every major cable news network had a discussion about the importance of the NPI. Yet here’s a little nugget from the NPR piece, which asserts that the election has given this “once fringe movement a jolt:”
About 300 people — split nearly evenly between conference attendees and protesters of the conference outside — were on hand at the downtown D.C. event.
So about 150 people? Some jolt. To put that into context, there were well over 150 people at thousands of individual churches and temples across the DC area this weekend praying for peace on Earth. In this country, you could pull together 150 people for a meeting about anything, actually. Thousands of “UFO enthusiasts” got together in the Arizona desert last year in hopes of not being mass abducted by space aliens.
A few years ago, I attended the annual Socialist convention in Chicago, where at least a thousand activists gathered to discuss how to end economic freedom. Since then, 43 percent of Democrat primary goers have given this extreme movement a jolt, I guess.
Then again, it’s possible not every self-styled American “socialist” is an ideological purist about handing production of iPhones to the state. We’d be wise to view many on the alt-right with similar skepticism.
Still, it is indisputable that many of these people are odious — and not odious in the way liberals think of Republicans who worry about refugees from Syria or immigration laws are odious. We have a responsibility to use morally precise language when referring to this group (which in this case, is “neo-Nazis”), to contextualize their influence (little, but more than it should be), and to unequivocally call them out. We should never, ever glamorize them for political purposes.
Why would The Los Angeles Times give the GQ treatment to a guy who “heils” victory and quotes Nazi propaganda onstage in German, as Richard Spencer did this weekend? I suppose it’s the same reason every major publication gave David Duke, who was polling at 3-4 percent in his Louisiana Senate race all year, their undivided attention. (What am I talking about? We’re still hearing about Duke on a daily basis.) It’s to create the impression that they matter.
Surely one story letting us know a former Klansman with no constituency is a Trump fan would have sufficed. After all, the father of Orlando ISIS shooter, also fan of the Taliban, was a Hillary supporter. White supremacists like Trump in the same way Hamas liked Barack Obama. Is ISIS or Hamas a bigger or smaller threat than the NPI? Does it matter? Or is it just a way of connecting candidates — all worthy of criticism — with support they have no control over?
None of this is to say Trump shouldn’t be called out for his vulgar rhetoric or ideas, some of which gave these people the space they needed. Nor does it absolve Republicans who look the other way when genuine bigotry appears. Yes, GOPers shouldn’t “normalize” the alt-right, and neither should the media imbue the movement with an outsized importance to feed its preferred narrative regarding the election.
Make no mistake: by the end of 2017, media will make sure millions know who Spencer is & help him grow his org.
For some reporters, I imagine it’s a matter of perception. Conservative critics of Trump were relentlessly attacked by astroturfing neo-Nazi types on the social media during the primaries. After the primaries, when liberal journalists finally focused on Trump, they too became the target of harassment. The hate became a huge story because of these personal experiences.
But that’s a generous reading of events. Another reading is that coverage is driven with the cynical purpose of exaggerating the importance of neo-Nazis to tie them to Republicans. The media will now demand the administration denounce white supremacists every time they have a meeting — which itself intimates that there is a connection. Conflating these scary things can create the impression that conservatism is Trump which is Bannon which is Duke which is Spencer.
I’m afraid it’s not that simple. And attempting to make it that simple only weakens legitimate criticism of the president-elect — of which there is plenty.