In the summer of 2017, the alt right was an internet movement, and its rally in Charlottesville was intended to prove they could operate in the real world. It proved the opposite. The marchers had promised there would be more to come — but that’s not what happened.
“There’s not big alt right demonstrations at present. And that is largely due to Charlottesville,” Chris Cantwell told VICE News, a year after the rally. Cantwell had been home about two weeks. He’d been charged with a felony for macing people in the 2017 torch march, and that kept him in Virginia for almost a year, either in jail or under GPS monitoring. In late July, he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery, and was banished from the state for five years.
“There was a lot of violence, a lot of chaos, a lot of lawfare — guys went to prison over this. And that understandably caused a lot of people to reconsider whether they wanted to have anything to do with it,” Cantwell said of Charlottesville. “And there wasn’t a whole lot of agreement about how to go forward, and that, to put it charitably, left us fractured.”
The aftermath of the rally has put a crushing pressure on the alt right. It’s been booted from mainstream social media. Its leaders can’t raise much money online, because crowdfunding sites reject them, and companies that process credit card payments keep kicking them off. (Cantwell said he’s been kicked off four payment processors, and has applied and been rejected from nearly 100 more.) Marchers who showed their faces in Charlottesville were doxxed, and when their identities were posted online, many were fired.
Antifa are a menacing presence at nearly every white nationalist public event. The anti-fascists have been able to do that by infiltrating white nationalist communications networks.
Over the last year, VICE News followed several alt right figures as they tried to push the movement into the mainstream. Both Richard Spencer and Matthew Heimbach went out on college tours to reach out to young people, and ended up speaking to nearly empty rooms. Both quit soon after.
Cantwell lives alone, in an apartment with very dark curtains. His shelves are filled with protein powder and nutritional supplements, he has a room full of exercise equipment, and he’s taped up signs reminding him to “STOP SAYING FUCK” on the fridge and in the bathroom. His sole source of income is his racist content business. He wants the alt right to learn how to organize, meet each other in person, and keep secrets. “I try not to look at the world in terms of regrets or whatever. What I try to do is look at it in terms of lessons learned,” Cantwell said. “I learned that the alt right, for all this talk of order, is not all that orderly.”
Cantwell says that whatever the social cost of being a white nationalist, it’s worth it. The cause has given him purpose. “I already am celebrated by more people than most people are. I mean, I matter, right? Most people don’t matter,” he said. “Most people will go through the world mostly unnoticed, and they’re happy with that. I have more people who care about me than almost anybody else.”
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