The rise of white nationalists and violent right-wing extremism in the U.S. in recent years has come as a shock to some. But it’s no surprise to David Neiwert, a Seattle-based journalist who has reported on far-right movements for decades.
On Episode 110 of The Overcast, Neiwert traces the weird and dangerous world of conspiracy theorists, militias and racists, including many based in the Pacific Northwest, and argues they are linked directly and indirectly to the rise of the 45th President of the United States.
Neiwert is the author of “Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Donald Trump.” In it, he offers a detailed history of radical right movements that have always been around but that more recently have popped out into the open. He says fringe movements once content with trash-talking in newsletters or on the Internet “are asserting themselves in real life.”
“These guys — especially the ones who act out violently — are intent on making it real,” Neiwert says.
In his book, Neiwert defines Alt-America as “a mental space beyond fact or logic, where the rules of evidence are replaced by paranoia.” That’s a space where fears are stoked of a globalist New World Order coming to seize all the guns and lock conservatives in FEMA concentration camps.
Ironically, Neiwert argues, many who believed fervently that President Obama was leading such a crackdown are themselves authoritarians who welcome oppression from a strongman like Trump to be visited on their own enemies, including liberals and immigrants.
Neiwert doesn’t shy from linking rise of the extremist and racist far-right movements to Trump, whom he calls “the first conspiracist president.”
White nationalist and other extreme movements have a particular history in the Pacific Northwest, as Neiwert notes. Oregon’s constitution in 1857 included a ban on black people settling the state. In the 1930s, Washington was a hotbed of pro-fascist Silver Shirts. In the 1970s and later, militias envisioned the Northwest as a whites-only homeland. The Aryan Nations settled in a compound in Idaho.
“We’ve always had this kind of thread running through the region of people who are deeply racist,” he says.
Neiwert defends efforts by social media giants such as Twitter to “de-platform” dangerous conspiracy theorists and white nationalists. But his own Twitter account was recently suspended because it included an image of his book cover, showing little KKK white hoods in place of stars on the American flag. Twitter said the racist image was offensive — even though Neiwert is fighting such hate groups.
“I could change it to make them happy and then I’d have my account reinstated, but to me this is an abiding principle. Your algorithm is messed up,” he says, noting famed white nationalist Richard Spencer and others still retain their Twitter privileges.
His Twitter impasse is ongoing and the publicity, Neiwert admits, isn’t so bad for book sales.
This episode was recorded at the Seattle studios of public radio 88.5 FM KNKX.
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