Charlottesville: far-right crowd with torches encircles counter-protest group

People collecting to oppose Unite the Right presentation state they were struck with pepper spray and lighter fluid in clash on University of Virginia school

Hundreds of reactionary demonstrators wielded torches as they progressed to the University of Virginia school in Charlottesville on Friday night and apparently assaulted a much smaller sized group of counter-protesters who had actually connected arms around a statue of Thomas Jefferson.

Starting at a community park less than a mile away, alt-right protesters who have actually collected for the weekend Unite the Right rally marched in a long column over the brief range to the school, shouting mottos like You will not change us and Blood and soil. When the marchers reached and surrounded the counter-protesters there was a brief spoken conflict, #peeee

. Counter-protesters stated they were then assaulted with swung torches, pepper spray and lighter fluid.

<path d="M4.6"12l -.4 1.4 c -.7.2 -1.9.6 -3.6 -.7 0-1.2 -.2 -1.2 -.9 0 -.2 0 -.3.1 -.5 l2-6.7 h.7l.4-1.5 4.2 -.6 h. 2l3 12h1.6 zm -.3 -9.2 c -.9 0-1.4 -.5 -1.4 -1.3 c2.9.5 3.7 0 4.6 0 5.4 0 6.5 6 1.3 c0 1 -.8 1.5-1.7 1.5 z”/> A guy after being struck with pepper spray at the University of Virginia school in Charlottesville. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Emily Gorcenski was amongst the protesters who stated they were struck with the mace spray. [They] totally surrounded us and wouldnt let us out.

She stated authorities did not step in till long after the rightwing marchers had actually set out at protesters. I saw numerous individuals shouting Nazi mottos and authorities not do anything.

Goresnki shared a number of live videos of the occasion.

<path d= "M4.6"12l -.4 1.4 c -.7.2 -1.9.6 -3.6 -.7 0-1.2 -.2 -1.2 -.9 0 -.2 0 -.3.1 -.5 l2-6.7 h.7l.4-1.5 4.2 -.6 h. 2l3 12h1.6 zm -.3 -9.2 c -.9 0-1.4 -.5 -1.4 -1.3 c2.9.5 3.7 0 4.6 0 5.4 0 6.5 6 1.3 c0 1 -.8 1.5-1.7 1.5 z”/> Unite the Right progress the University of Virginia school. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Charlottesville cops did not react instantly to ask for remark.

Two male protesters who stated they were likewise maced, and did not want to be called, explained reactionary protesters moving from spoken abuse, to pressing and pushing protesters, to the poisonous spray.

Someone from the alt right maced me ideal in the face unprovoked, stated one. After they maced individuals they began punching individuals and striking them with torches. A number of protesters stated a lady utilizing a wheelchair was amongst those sprayed.

<img class="gu-image"itemprop="contentUrl"alt="A"guy is assisted after being struck in
the confront with pepper spray.” src =”″/&gt; A male is assisted after being struck in the confront with pepper spray. Picture: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Just up the street from the fracas, a neighborhood prayer conference was kept in St Pauls memorial church, dealt with by a number of preachers consisting of popular civil liberties leader Dr Cornel West. Completion of the service overlapped with the torch parade and many individuals waited on extended periods prior to leaving mentioning security issues.

In an interview, West stated: The crypto-fascists, the neofascists, the neo-Nazis now feel so empowered, not simply by Trump however by the entire shift in the country to scapegoats.

I do not like this speak about alt-right, thats an unneeded abstraction. These are neofascists in modern clothes.

On Saturday the little college city will deal with down a complete scale Unite the Right rally, which is anticipated to be the nations biggest in a years.

Far-right tracking groups approximate that in between 500 and 1,000 individuals and 30 popular speakers and groups will come down on the downtown location for the Saturday afternoon occasion, arranged by regional rightwing activist and previous Daily Caller author Jason Kessler.

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Unlearning the myth of American innocence

The long read: When she was 30, Suzy Hansen left the US for Istanbul and began to realise that Americans will never understand their own country until they see it as the rest of the world does

My mother recently found piles of my notebooks from when I was a small child that were filled with plans for my future. I was very ambitious. I wrote out what I would do at every age: when I would get married and when I would have kids and when I would open a dance studio.

When I left my small hometown for college, this sort of planning stopped. The experience of going to a radically new place, as college was to me, upended my sense of the world and its possibilities. The same thing happened when I moved to New York after college, and a few years later when I moved to Istanbul. All change is dramatic for provincial people. But the last move was the hardest. In Turkey, the upheaval was far more unsettling: after a while, I began to feel that the entire foundation of my consciousness was a lie.

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for ones own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.

Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we dont become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still dont know myself.

I grew up in Wall, a town located by the Jersey Shore, two hours drive from New York. Much of it was a landscape of concrete and parking lots, plastic signs and Dunkin Donuts. There was no centre, no Main Street, as there was in most of the pleasant beach towns nearby, no tiny old movie theatre or architecture suggesting some sort of history or memory.

Most of my friends parents were teachers, nurses, cops or electricians, except for the rare father who worked in the City, and a handful of Italian families who did less legal things. My parents were descendants of working-class Danish, Italian and Irish immigrants who had little memory of their European origins, and my extended family ran an inexpensive public golf course, where I worked as a hot-dog girl in the summers. The politics I heard about as a kid had to do with taxes and immigrants, and not much else. Bill Clinton was not popular in my house. (In 2016, most of Wall voted Trump.)

We were all patriotic, but I cant even conceive of what else we could have been, because our entire experience was domestic, interior, American. We went to church on Sundays, until church time was usurped by soccer games. I dont remember a strong sense of civic engagement. Instead I had the feeling that people could take things from you if you didnt stay vigilant. Our goals remained local: homecoming queen, state champs, a scholarship to Trenton State, barbecues in the backyard. The lone Asian kid in our class studied hard and went to Berkeley; the Indian went to Yale. Black people never came to Wall. The world was white, Christian; the world was us.

We did not study world maps, because international geography, as a subject, had been phased out of many state curriculums long before. There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries. Even the Soviet Union seemed something more like the Death Star flying overhead, ready to laser us to smithereens than a country with people in it.

Boardwalk empire a variety shop in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photo: Michael S Williamson/The Washington Post

I have TV memories of world events. Even in my mind, they appear on a screen: Oliver North testifying in the Iran-Contra hearings; the scarred, evil-seeming face of Panamas dictator Manuel Noriega; the movie-like footage, all flashes of light, of the bombing of Baghdad during the first Gulf war. Mostly what I remember of that war in Iraq was singing God Bless the USA on the school bus I was 13 wearing little yellow ribbons and becoming teary-eyed as I remembered the video of the song I had seen on MTV.

And Im proud to be an American

Where at least I know Im free

That at least is funny. We were free at the very least we were that. Everyone else was a chump, because they didnt even have that obvious thing. Whatever it meant, it was the thing that we had, and no one else did. It was our God-given gift, our superpower.

By the time I got to high school, I knew that communism had gone away, but never learned what communism had actually been (bad was enough). Religion, politics, race they washed over me like troubled things that obviously meant something to someone somewhere, but that had no relationship to me, to Wall, to America. I certainly had no idea that most people in the world felt those connections deeply. History Americas history, the worlds history would slip in and out of my consciousness with no resonance whatsoever.

Racism, antisemitism and prejudice, however those things, on some unconscious level, I must have known. They were expressed in the fear of Asbury Park, which was black; in the resentment of the towns of Marlboro and Deal, which were known as Jewish; in the way Hispanics seemed exotic. Much of the Jersey Shore was segregated as if it were still the 1950s, and so prejudice was expressed through fear of anything outside Wall, anything outside the tiny white world in which we lived. If there was something that saved us from being outwardly racist, it was that in small towns such as Wall, especially for girls, it was important to be nice, or good this pressure tempered tendencies toward overt cruelty when we were young.

I was lucky that I had a mother who nourished my early-onset book addiction, an older brother with mysteriously acquired progressive politics, and a father who spent his evenings studying obscure golf antiques, lost in the pleasures of the past. In these days of the 1%, I am nostalgic for Walls middle-class modesty and its sea-salt Jersey Shore air. But as a teenager, I knew that the only thing that could rescue me from the Wall of fear was a good college.

I ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. The lack of interest in the wider world that I had known in Wall found another expression there, although at Penn the children were wealthy, highly educated and apolitical. During orientation, the business school students were told that they were the smartest people in the country, or so I had heard. (Donald Trump Jr was there then, too.) In the late 1990s, everyone at Penn wanted to be an investment banker, and many would go on to help bring down the world economy a decade later. But they were more educated than I was; in American literature class, they had even heard of William Faulkner.

TV memories Lt Col Oliver North is sworn in before Congress for the Iran-Contra hearings, July 1987. Photograph: Lana Harris/AP

When my best friend from Wall revealed one night that she hadnt heard of John McEnroe or Jerry Garcia, some boys on the dormitory hall called us ignorant, and white trash, and chastised us for not reading magazines. We were hurt, and surprised; white trash was something we said about other people at the Jersey Shore. My boyfriend from Wall accused me of going to Penn solely to find a boyfriend who drove a Ferrari, and the boys at Penn made fun of the Camaros we drove in high school. Class in America was not something we understood in any structural or intellectual way; class was a constellation of a million little materialistic cultural signifiers, and the insult, loss or acquisition of any of them could transform ones future entirely.

In the end, I chose to pursue the new life Penn offered me. The kids I met had parents who were doctors or academics; many of them had already even been to Europe! Penn, for all its superficiality, felt one step closer to a larger world.

Still, I cannot remember any of us being conscious of foreign events during my four years of college. There were wars in Eritrea, Nepal, Afghanistan, Kosovo, East Timor, Kashmir. US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were bombed. Panama, Nicaragua (I couldnt keep Latin American countries straight), Osama bin Laden, Clinton bombing Iraq nope.

I knew Saddam Hussein, which had the same evil resonance as communism. I remember the movie Wag the Dog, a satire in which American politicians start a fake war with foreign terrorists to distract the electorate during a domestic scandal which at the time was what many accused Clinton of doing when he ordered a missile strike on Afghanistan during the Monica Lewinsky affair. I never thought about Afghanistan. What country was in Wag the Dog? Albania. There was a typical American callousness in our reaction to the country they chose for the movie, an indifference that said, Some bumblefuck country, it doesnt matter which one they choose.

I was a child of the 90s, the decade when, according to Americas foremost intellectuals, history had ended, the US was triumphant, the cold war won by a landslide. The historian David Schmitz has written that, by that time, the idea that America won because of its values and steadfast adherence to the promotion of liberalism and democracy was dominating op-ed pages, popular magazines and the bestseller lists. These ideas were the ambient noise, the elevator music of my most formative years.

But for me there was also an intervention a chance experience in the basement of Penns library. I came across a line in a book in which a historian argued that, long ago, during the slavery era, black people and white people had defined their identities in opposition to each other. The revelation to me was not that black people had conceived of their identities in response to ours, but that our white identities had been composed in conscious objection to theirs. Id had no idea that we had ever had to define our identities at all, because to me, white Americans were born fully formed, completely detached from any sort of complicated past. Even now, I can remember that shiver of recognition that only comes when you learn something that expands, just a tiny bit, your sense of reality. What made me angry was that this revelation was something about who I was. How much more did I not know about myself?

It was because of this text that I picked up the books of James Baldwin, who gave me the sense of meeting someone who knew me better, and with a far more sophisticated critical arsenal than I had myself. There was this line:

But I have always been struck, in America, by an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep, that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.

And this one:

All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.

And this one:

White Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any colour, to be found in the world today.

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasnt necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: white American. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself and this, I hadnt known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history the history of white Americans had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

White Americans are probably the most dangerous people in the world today author James Baldwin in New York, 1963. Photograph: Dave Pickoff/AP

Of this indifference, Baldwin wrote: White children, in the main, and whether they are rich or poor, grow up with a grasp of reality so feeble that they can very accurately be described as deluded.

Young white Americans of course go through pain, insecurity and heartache. But it is very, very rare that young white Americans come across someone who tells them in harsh, unforgiving terms that they might be merely the easy winners of an ugly game, and indeed that because of their ignorance and misused power, they might be the losers within a greater moral universe.

In 2007, after I had worked for six years as a journalist in New York, I won a writing fellowship that would send me to Turkey for two years. I had applied for it on a whim. No part of me expected to win the thing. Even as my friends wished me congratulations, I detected a look of concern on their faces, as if I was crazy to leave all this, as if 29 was a little too late to be finding myself. I had never even been to Turkey before.

In the weeks before my departure, I spent hours explaining Turkeys international relevance to my bored loved ones, no doubt deploying the cliche that Istanbul was the bridge between east and west. I told everyone that I chose Turkey because I wanted to learn about the Islamic world. The secret reason I wanted to go was that Baldwin had lived in Istanbul in the 1960s, on and off, for almost a decade. I had seen a documentary about Baldwin that said he felt more comfortable as a black, gay man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York.

When I heard that, it made so little sense to me, sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, that a space opened in the universe. I couldnt believe that New York could be more illiberal than a place such as Turkey, because I couldnt conceive of how prejudiced New York and Paris had been in that era; and because I thought that as you went east, life degraded into the past, the opposite of progress. The idea of Baldwin in Turkey somehow placed Americas race problem, and America itself, in a mysterious and tantalising international context. I took a chance that Istanbul might be the place where the secret workings of history would be revealed.

In Turkey and elsewhere, in fact, I would feel an almost physical sensation of intellectual and emotional discomfort, while trying to grasp a reality of which I had no historical or cultural understanding. I would go, as a journalist, to write a story about Turkey or Greece or Egypt or Afghanistan, and inevitably someone would tell me some part of our shared history theirs with America of which I knew nothing. If I didnt know this history, then what kind of story did I plan to tell?

City watch US army troops stand guard at a checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, in August 2007. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

My learning process abroad was threefold: I was learning about foreign countries; I was learning about Americas role in the world; and I was also slowly understanding my own psychology, temperament and prejudices. No matter how well I knew the predatory aspects of capitalism, I still perceived Turkeys and Greeces economic advances as progress, a kind of maturation. No matter how deeply I understood the USs manipulation of Egypt for its own foreign-policy aims, I had never considered and could not grasp how American policies really affected the lives of individual Egyptians, beyond engendering resentment and anti-Americanism. No matter how much I believed that no American was well-equipped for nation-building, I thought I could see good intentions on the part of the Americans in Afghanistan. I would never have admitted it, or thought to say it, but looking back, I know that deep in my consciousness I thought that America was at the end of some evolutionary spectrum of civilisation, and everyone else was trying to catch up.

American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others. How could I, as an American, understand a foreign people, when unconsciously I did not extend the most basic faith to other people that I extended to myself? This was a limitation that was beyond racism, beyond prejudice and beyond ignorance. This was a kind of nationalism so insidious that I had not known to call it nationalism; this was a self-delusion so complete that I could not see where it began and ended, could not root it out, could not destroy it.

In my first few months in Istanbul, I lived a formless kind of existence, days dissolving into the nights. I had no office to go to, no job to keep, and I was 30 years old, an age at which people either choose to grow up or remain stuck in the exploratory, idle phase of late-late youth. Starting all over again in a foreign country making friends, learning a new language, trying to find your way through a city meant almost certainly choosing the latter. I spent many nights out until the wee hours such as the evening I drank beer with a young Turkish man named Emre, who had attended college with a friend of mine from the US.

A friend had told me that Emre was one of the most brilliant people he had ever met. As the evening passed, I was gaining a lot from his analysis of Turkish politics, especially when I asked him whether he voted for Erdoans Justice and Development party (AKP), and he spat back, outraged, Did you vote for George W Bush? Until that point I had not realised the two might be equivalent.

Then, three beers in, Emre mentioned that the US had planned the September 11 attacks. I had heard this before. Conspiracy theories were common in Turkey; for example, when the military claimed that the PKK, the Kurdish militant group, had attacked a police station, some Turks believed the military itself had done it; they believed it even in cases where Turkish civilians had died. In other words, the idea was that rightwing forces, such as the military, bombed neutral targets, or even rightwing targets, so they could then blame it on the leftwing groups, such as the PKK. To Turks, bombing ones own country seemed like a real possibility.

Come on, you dont believe that, I said.

Why not? he snapped. I do.

But its a conspiracy theory.

He laughed. Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. Its the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.

I ignored him. I guess I have faith in American journalism, I said. Someone else would have figured this out if it were true.

He smiled. Im sorry, theres no way they didnt have something to do with it. And now this war? he said, referring to the war in Iraq. Its impossible that the United States couldnt stop such a thing, and impossible that the Muslims could pull it off.

Some weeks later, a bomb went off in the Istanbul neighborhood of Gngren. A second bomb exploded out of a garbage bin nearby after 10pm, killing 17 people and injuring 150. No one knew who did it. All that week, Turks debated: was it al-Qaida? The PKK? The DHKP/C, a radical leftist group? Or maybe: the deep state?

The deep state a system of mafia-like paramilitary organisations operating outside of the law, sometimes at the behest of the official military was a whole other story. Turks explained that the deep state had been formed during the cold war as a way of countering communism, and then mutated into a force for destroying all threats to the Turkish state. The power that some Turks attributed to this entity sometimes strained credulity. But the point was that Turks had been living for years with the idea that some secret force controlled the fate of their nation.

In fact, elements of the deep state were rumoured to have had ties to the CIA during the cold war, and though that too smacked of a conspiracy theory, this was the reality that Turkish people lived in. The sheer number of international interventions the US launched in those decades is astonishing, especially those during years when American power was considered comparatively innocent. There were the successful assassinations: Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1961; General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, also in 1961; Ngo Dinh Diem, president of South Vietnam, in 1963. There were the unsuccessful assassinations: Castro, Castro, and Castro. There were the much hoped-for assassinations: Nasser, Nasser, Nasser. And, of course, US-sponsored, -supported or -staged regime changes: Iran, Guatemala, Iraq, Congo, Syria, Dominican Republic, South Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The Americans trained or supported secret police forces everywhere from Cambodia to Colombia, the Philippines to Peru, Iran to Vietnam. Many Turks believed that the US at least encouraged the 1971 and 1980 military coups in Turkey, though I could find little about these events in any conventional histories anywhere.

But what I could see was that the effects of such meddling were comparable to those of September 11 just as huge, life-changing and disruptive to the country and to peoples lives. Perhaps Emre did not believe that September 11 was a straightforward affair of evidence and proof because his experience his reality taught him that very rarely were any of these surreally monumental events easily explainable. I did not think Emres theory about the attacks was plausible. But I began to wonder whether there was much difference between a foreigners paranoia that the Americans planned September 11 and the Americans paranoia that the whole world should pay for September 11 with an endless global war on terror.

The next time a Turktold me she believed the US had bombed itself on September 11 (I heard this with some regularity; this time it was from a young student at Istanbuls Boazii University), I repeated my claim about believing in the integrity of American journalism. She replied, a bit sheepishly, Well, right, we cant trust our journalism. We cant take that for granted.

The words take that for granted gave me pause. Having lived in Turkey for more than a year, witnessing how nationalistic propaganda had inspired peoples views of the world and of themselves, I wondered from where the belief in our objectivity and rigour in journalism came. Why would Americans be objective and everyone else subjective?

I thought that because Turkey had poorly functioning institutions they didnt have a reliable justice system, as compared to an American system I believed to be functional it often felt as if there was no truth. Turks were always sceptical of official histories, and blithely dismissive of the governments line. But was it rather that the Turks, with their beautiful scepticism, were actually just less nationalistic than me?

American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other countrys nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasnt that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? I had not questioned the institution of American journalism outside of the standards it set for itself which, after all, was the only way I would discern its flaws and prejudices; instead, I accepted those standards as the best standards any country could possibly have.

Red state Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoan attends a rally following a failed coup attempt last year. Photograph: Osman Orsal/Reuters

By the end of my first year abroad, I read US newspapers differently. I could see how alienating they were to foreigners, the way articles spoke always from a position of American power, treating foreign countries as if they were Americas misbehaving children. I listened to my compatriots with critical ears: the way our discussion of foreign policy had become infused since September 11 with these officious, official words, bureaucratic corporate military language: collateral damage, imminent threat, freedom, freedom, freedom.

Even so, I was conscious that if I had long ago succumbed to the pathology of American nationalism, I wouldnt know it even if I understood the history of injustice in America, even if I was furious about the invasion of Iraq. I was a white American. I still had this fundamental faith in my country in a way that suddenly, in comparison to the Turks, made me feel immature and naive.

I came to notice that a community of activists and intellectuals in Turkey the liberal ones were indeed questioning what Turkishness meant in new ways. Many of them had been brainwashed in their schools about their own history; about Atatrk, Turkeys first president; about the supposed evil of the Armenians and the Kurds and the Arabs; about the fragility of their borders and the rapaciousness of all outsiders; and about the historic and eternal goodness of the Turkish republic.

It is different in the United States, I once said, not entirely realising what I was saying until the words came out. I had never been called upon to explain this. We are told it is the greatest country on earth. The thing is, we will never reconsider that narrative the way you are doing just now, because to us, that isnt propaganda, that is truth. And to us, that isnt nationalism, its patriotism. And the thing is, we will never question any of it because at the same time, all we are being told is how free-thinking we are, that we are free. So we dont know there is anything wrong in believing our country is the greatest on earth. The whole thing sort of convinces you that a collective consciousness in the world came to that very conclusion.

Wow, a friend once replied. How strange. That is a very quiet kind of fascism, isnt it?

It was a quiet kind of fascism that would mean I would always see Turkey as beneath the country I came from, and also that would mean I believed my uniquely benevolent country to have uniquely benevolent intentions towards the peoples of the world.

During that night of conspiracy theories, Emre had alleged, as foreigners often did, that I was a spy. The information that I was collecting as a journalist, Emre said, was really being used for something else. As an American emissary in the wider world, writing about foreigners, governments, economies partaking in some larger system and scheme of things, I was an agent somehow. Emre lived in the American world as a foreigner, as someone less powerful, as someone for whom one newspaper article could mean war, or one misplaced opinion could mean an intervention by the International Monetary Fund. My attitude, my prejudice, my lack of generosity could be entirely false, inaccurate or damaging, but would be taken for truth by the newspapers and magazines I wrote for, thus shaping perceptions of Turkey for ever.

Years later, an American journalist told me he loved working for a major newspaper because the White House read it, because he could influence policy. Emre had told me how likely it was I would screw this up. He was saying to me: first, spy, do no harm.

Main photograph: Burak Kara/Getty Images for the Guardian

Adapted from Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen, which will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 15 August

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How Paul Robeson found his political voice in the Welsh valleys

African American star Robeson built his singing career in the teeth of racism in the early 1900s. But his radicalism was spurred on in Britain by a chance meeting with a group of Welsh miners

Paul Robeson possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed stage actor. He could sing in more than 20 different languages; he held a law degree; he won prizes for oratory. He was widely acknowledged as the greatest American footballer of his generation. But he was also a political activist, who, in the 1930s and 1940s, exerted an influence comparable to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in a later era.

The son of an escaped slave, Robeson built his career despite the segregation of the Jim Crow laws basically, an American apartheid system that controlled every aspect of African American life. He came to London with his wife Eslanda known as Essie partly to escape the crushing racism of his homeland. Yet later in life he always insisted that he became a radical as much because of his experiences in Britain as in America. In particular, he developed a deep bond with the labour movement particularly with the miners of Wales. That was why, in 2016, I travelled from my home in Australia to visit the landscape that shaped Robesons politics.

Pontypridd was a village carved out of stone. Grey terraced cottages, grey cobbled streets, and an ancient grey bridge arching across the River Taff.

The sky was slate, too, a stark contrast with the surrounding hills, which were streaked with seasonal russet, teal and laurel.

I was accustomed to towns that sprawled, as white settlers stretched themselves out to occupy a newly colonised land. Pontypridd, I realised, huddled. Its pubs and churches and old-fashioned stores were clutched tightly in the valley, in a cosy snugness that left me feeling a long way from home. Id come here to see Beverley Humphreys, a singer and the host of Beverleys World of Music on BBC Wales.

I have a strong feeling that we might meet in October! shed written, when Id emailed her about the Paul Robeson exhibition she was organising. I know from personal experience that once you start delving into Paul Robesons life, he just wont leave you alone.

In that correspondence, shed described Pontypridd as the ideal place to grasp Pauls rich relationship with Wales and its people. I knew that, in the winter of 1929, Paul had been returning from a matinee performance of Show Boat [in London] when he heard male voices wafting from the street. He stopped, startled by the perfect harmonisation and then by the realisation that the singers, when they came into view, were working men, carrying protest banners as they sang.

By accident, hed encountered a party of Welsh miners from the Rhondda valley. They were stragglers from the great working-class army routed during what the poet Idris Davies called the summer of soups and speeches the general strike of 1926. Blacklisted by their employers after the unions defeat, they had walked all the way to London searching for ways to feed their families. By then, Robesons stardom and wealth were sufficient to insulate him from the immiseration facing many British workers, as the industrialised world sank into the economic downturn known as the Great Depression.

Singing with a choir in a scene from The Proud Valley. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Yet he remembered his fathers dependence on charity, and he was temperamentally sympathetic to the underdog. Without hesitation, he joined the march.

Some 50 years later, [his son] Pauli Robeson visited the Talygarn Miners Rehabilitation Centre and met an elderly man whod been present on that day in 1929. The old miner talked of how stunned the marchers had been when Robeson attached himself to their procession: a huge African American stranger in formal attire incongruous next to the half-starved Welshmen in their rough-hewn clothes and mining boots.

But Robeson had a talent for friendship, and the men were grateful for his support. He had remained with the protest until they stopped outside a city building, and then he leaped on to the stone steps to sing Ol Man River and a selection of spirituals chosen to entertain his new comrades but also because sorrow songs, with their blend of pain and hope, expressed emotions that he thought desperate men far from home might be feeling.

Afterwards, he gave a donation so the miners could ride the train back to Wales, in a carriage crammed with clothing and food.

That was how it began. Before the year was out, hed contributed the proceeds of a concert to the Welsh miners relief fund; on his subsequent tour, he sang for the men and their families in Cardiff, Neath, and Aberdare, and visited the Talygarn miners rest home in Pontyclun.

From then on, his ties with Wales only grew.

Robeson remained [living] in Buckingham Street, London. He and Essie maintained a public profile as a celebrity couple, still mixing easily with polite society and the intelligentsia. But Robeson was now aware of the labour movement, and began to pay attention to its victories and defeats. His frequent visits to mining towns in Wales were part of that newfound political orientation.

You can see why hes remembered around here, Humphreys said. He was so famous when he made those connections, and the Welsh mining community was so very cowed. In the wake of the general strike, people felt pretty hopeless.

A Robeson exhibition opened in Pontypridd in October 2015 and was an echo of a much grander presentation from 2001, which Humphreys had assembled with Hywel Francis, then Labour MP for Aberavon, and Paul Robeson Jr [Robesons son died in 2014]. It was first shown at the National Museum in Cardiff and then toured the country.

Staging that event had been a revelation for Humphreys. Shed known that memories of Robeson ran deep in Wales, but shed still been astonished by the response. Every day of the exhibit, people shared their recollections, speaking with a hushed fervour about encounters with Paul that had stayed with them for ever.

Robeson at Waterloo Station in London in 1935. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Pauls interactions with Wales were shaped by the violence of mining life: the everyday hardship of long hours and low wages, but also the sudden spectacular catastrophes that decimated communities. In 1934, hed been performing in Caernarfon when news arrived of a disaster in the Gresford colliery. The mine there had caught fire, creating an inferno so intense that most of the 266 men who died underground, in darkness and smoke, were never brought to the surface for burial. At once, Robeson offered his fees for the Caernarfon concert to the fund established for the orphans and children of the dead an important donation materially, but far more meaningful as a moral and political gesture.

That was part, Humphreys said, of why Wales remembered him. He was by then among the most famous stars of the day, the recording artist whose songs many hummed, and yet he was showing an impoverished and struggling community people who felt themselves isolated and abandoned that he cared deeply about them.

And the continuing affection for Robeson was more than a recollection of generosity. The Welsh sensed the relationship was reciprocal, said Humphreys. That he was deriving something from their friendships, from seeing how people in the mining communities supported one another and cared for one another. He later said he learned more from the white working class in Wales than from anyone..

Certainly, Robeson discovered Wales and the British working class in general at just the right time. Hed signed up, with great hopes, for a film version of [Eugene ONeills play] The Emperor Jones in 1933 the first commercial film with a black man in the lead. But the process played out according to a familiar and dispiriting pattern. Robesons contract stipulated that, during his return to America, he wouldnt be asked to film in Jim Crow states. Star or not, it was impossible to be shielded from institutional racism. At the end of his stay, as he arrived at a swanky New York function, he was directed to the servants entrance rather than the elevator. One witness said he had to be dissuaded from punching out the doorman, in a manifestation of anger hed never have revealed in the past.

The Emperor Jones itself was still very much shaped by conservative sensibilities: among other humiliations, the studio darkened the skin of his co-star, lest audiences thought Robeson was kissing a white woman. Not surprisingly, while white critics loved the film and Robesons performance, he was again attacked in the African American press for presenting a demeaning stereotype.

A few years earlier, he might have found refuge in London from the impossible dilemmas confronting a black artist in America. But hed learned to see respectable England as disconcertingly similar, albeit with its prejudices expressed through nicely graduated hierarchies of social class. To friends, he spoke of his dismay at how the British upper orders related to those below them. He was ready, both intellectually and emotionally, for the encounter with the Welsh labour movement.

There was just something, Humphreys said, that drew Welsh people and Paul Robeson together. I think it was like a love affair, in a way. And that seemed entirely right.

In the 1940 film The Proud Valley, about a Welsh community that takes in a black unemployed seaman. Photograph: Getty Images

The next morning, Humphreys and I walked down the hill, beneath a sky that warned constantly of rain. We made our way to St Davids Uniting Church on Gelliwastad Road. From the outside, it seemed like a typically stern embodiment of Victorian religiosity: a grey, rather grim legacy of the 1880s.

Inside, though, the traditional church interior the pews, the pulpit, the altar was supplemented by a huge banner from the Abercrave lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers, hanging just below the stained-glass windows. Workers of the world unite for peace and socialism, it proclaimed, with an image of a black miner holding a lamp out to his white comrade in front of a globe of the world.

The walls held huge photos of Paul Robeson: in his football helmet on the field at Rutgers [University]; on a concert stage, his mouth open in song; marching on a picket line. These were the displays extracted from the 2001 exhibition.

We chatted with parishioners, who were taking turns to keep the Robeson display open during the day for black history month.

The service itself reminded me of my morning in the Witherspoon Street church, except that, while in Princeton [where Robeson was born] Id marvelled at the worshippers command of the black vocal tradition, here I was confronted by the harmonic power of Welsh choristers: the old hymns voiced in a great wall of sound resonating and reverberating throughout the interior.

Robeson, of course, had made that comparison many times. Both the Wesleyan chapels of the Welsh miners and the churches in which hed worshipped with his father were, he said, places where a weary and oppressed people drew succour from prayer and song.

His movie The Proud Valley (released as The Tunnel in the US), which had brought him to Pontypridd in 1939, rested on precisely that conceit. In the film (the only one of his movies in which he took much pride), Robeson played David Goliath, an unemployed seaman who wanders into the Welsh valley and is embraced by the miners when the choir leader hears him sing.

Throughout the 1930s, the analogy between African Americans and workers in Britain (and especially Wales) helped reorient Robeson, both aesthetically and politically, after his disillusionment with the English establishment.

His contact with working-class communities in Britain provided him with an important reassurance. He told his friend Marie Seton about a letter he received from a cotton-spinner during one of his tours. This man said he understood my singing, for while my father was working as a slave, his own father was working as a wage slave in the mills of Manchester.

That was in northern England, but he experienced a similar commonality everywhere, and it pleased and intrigued him. If the slave songs of the US were worth celebrating, what about the music emerging from other oppressed communities? What connections might the exploration of distinctive cultural traditions forge between different peoples?

Significantly, it was in Wales where Robeson first articulated this new perspective. In 1934, he gave a concert in Wrexham, in north Wales, between the Welsh mountains and the lower Dee valley alongside the border with England. Yet again it was a charity performance, staged at the Majestic Cinema for the benefit of the St John Ambulance Association.

During the visit, Robeson was interviewed by the local paper, and he told the writer he was no longer wedded to a classical repertoire. Hed come to regard himself as a folk singer, devoted to what he called the eternal music of common humanity. To that end, he was studying languages, working his way haphazardly through Russian, German, French, Dutch, Hungarian, Turkish, Hebrew, and sundry other tongues so as to perform the songs of different cultures in the tongues in which they had been written. He had become, he said, a singer for the people.

Movie star: Robeson, right, with Sir Cedric Hardwicke in the 1937 film King Solomons Mines. Photograph: Ronald Grant Archive

The confidence of that statement reflected another lesson drawn primarily from Wales. In African American life, the black church had mattered so much because religion provided almost the only institutional stability for people buffeted by racial oppression. In particular, because Jim Crow segregated the workplace, black communities struggled to form and maintain trade unions. Wales, though, was different. The miners found consolation in religion, with every village dotted with chapels. But they believed just as fervently in trade unionism.

The Gresford disaster showed why. In an industry such as mining, you relied on your workmates both to get the job done safely and to stand up for your rights. The battle was necessarily collective. A single miner possessed no power at all; the miners as a whole, however, could shut down the entire nation, as theyd demonstrated in 1926.

In particular, the cooperation mandated by modern industry might, at least in theory, break down the prejudices that divided workers even, perhaps, the stigma attached to race. That was the point Robeson dramatised in The Proud Valley, a film in which the solidarity of the workplace overcomes the miners suspicion about a dark-skinned stranger. Arent we all black down that pit? asks one of the men.

Its from the miners in Wales, Robeson explained, [that] I first understood the struggle of Negro and white together.

To understand Pauls relationship with Wales, Humphreys told me the following day, you need to understand Tiger Bay.

She introduced me to Lesley Clarke and to Harry Ernest and his son Ian. The three of them came from Tiger Bay, the centre of Waless black community. Theyd worked on the original exhibition in Cardiff, after Humphreys had insisted that the National Gallery employ black guides, and now theyd come to Pontypridd to witness the new display.

At 82, Lesley Clarke was thin but sprightly and alert. She spoke slowly and carefully. I hadnt realised there was a colour bar until I left Tiger Bay. When I went to grammar school, I realised for the first time that there were people who just didnt like coloured people. Didnt know anything about us, but didnt like us. I didnt know I was poor and I didnt know I was black: all I knew was that I was me.

Tiger Bay was forged by some of the worst racial attacks in British history. In June 1919, returning soldiers encountered a group of black men walking with white women. Outraged, the troops, led by colonials (mostly Australians), rampaged throughout Butetown, attacking people of colour, destroying houses, and leaving four dead.

For Clarke and Ernests generation, the colour bar was very real, especially in employment. Ernest was impish and bald, and his eyes crinkled as he spoke, almost as if he took a perverse humour in the recollection. Wed ask if a job was open, he said, and soon as they said yes, wed say, Can I come for an interview right now? To narrow the gap, because the minute you got there they would say, Oh, the job is gone.

The minute they saw you were black, that was it, said Clarke. You just took it for granted that it was going to happen. There were very few outlets, especially for girls. You either worked in the brush factory or you worked in Ziggys, selling rags and whatnot, or there was a place just over the bridge that did uniforms.

I worked in the brush factory for a while, Ernest said. Oh, Jesus!

He shook his head and laughed in dismay. Jesus.

Addressing the National Eisteddfod of Wales, Ebbw Vale, 1958.

Robeson had reached out to the Welsh miners when his career was at its height. They came back to him at his lowest ebb, almost two decades later, at a time when all hed achieved seemed to have been taken from him. In the midst of the cold war, the FBI prevented Robeson from performing at home. [Hed proclaimed his sympathy for the Soviet Union ever since the mid-30s. That leftism now made him a target. He became, in Pete Seegers words, the most blacklisted performer in America, effectively silenced in his home country,] Worse still, the US state department confiscated his passport, so he could not travel abroad. He was left in a kind of limbo: silenced, isolated, and increasingly despairing.

On 5 October 1957, the Porthcawl Grand Pavilion filled with perhaps 5,000 people for the miners eisteddfod. Will Painter, the union leader, took to the microphone. After welcoming the delegates, he announced that they would soon hear from Paul Robeson, whod be joining them via a transatlantic telephone line.

When Painter spoke again, he was addressing Robeson directly. We are happy that it has been possible for us to arrange that you speak and sing to us today, he said. We would be far happier if you were with us in person.

Miraculously, Robesons deep voice crackled out of the speakers in response. My warmest greetings to the people of my beloved Wales, and a special hello to the miners of south Wales at your great festival. It is a privilege to be participating in this historic festival.

He was seated in a studio in New York. Down the telephone line, he performed a selection of his songs, dedicating them to their joint struggle for what he called a world where we can live abundant and dignified lives.

The musical reply came from the mighty Treorchy Male Choir, the winners of that years eisteddfod, and a group that traces its history back to 1883. Robeson joined the choir in a performance of the Welsh national anthem, Land of My Fathers, before the entire audience all 5,000 of them serenaded him with Well Keep a Welcome. This land you knew will still be singing, they chorused. When you come home again to Wales.

This is an edited extract from No Way But This by Jeff Sparrow, published by Scribe (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

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Is there a neo-Nazi storm brewing in Trump country?

Can national socialism, repackaged as white identity politics, earn votes in rural counties that voted for Trump?

When the men in black walked into her restaurant one Friday morning and sat at the round table in the corner, Brittany Porter knew exactly what they were.

Pale, skittish, aggressively tattooed, they wore black T-shirts with a cryptic white logo over their hearts. One had a razor inked along his left jaw and two SS lightning bolts dripping next to his eye like a double set of tears. One wore a handgun on his hip.

Porter went to the table, smiled and asked what they wanted. It was just after 8am. Two of the neo-Nazis ordered chicken nuggets.

On Facebook the night before, Porter read about the group of racists who were coming to eastern Kentucky to hold a rally. They had chosen an economically struggling stretch of coal country with a population that was 98% white and that had voted 80% for Trump. In their propaganda videos, the neo-Nazi leaders had talked about the scourge of drug addiction in Pike County.

At 30, Porter knew Pike Countys problems. She herself was a recovered addict, as was her friend Chrissy Wooton, another waitress at the restaurant. Neither of them trusted either political party. Wooton, whose husband is a coal miner, had voted for Trump. Porter had not.

Together, they discussed whether they should start the day by accidentally pouring coffee into the neo-Nazis laps.

The neo-Nazis were on their way to Whitesburg, Kentucky, where they had secured a private piece of land in the woods to hold a weekend summit with a coalition of other white nationalist groups. At the table, there were several members of the Traditionalist Workers party, including Jason, a sallow musician in a black-metal punk band who left New York City to move to a mostly white community in Indiana; Scott, who had recently been kicked out of an Irish pub in Kentucky for celebrating Hitlers birthday; and Gabe, diffident and a little shy, with long eyelashes and the white power tattoos on his cheek.

Porter and Wooton watched from distance, swooping in now and then to refill the coffee cups. But they were too curious to stay quiet. Porter said people on Facebook were talking a bunch of crap. They were saying that the group was the Ku Klux Klan.

Wooton asked again more bluntly: Are you guys KKK?

The event the men were attending did, in fact, have KKK members on the list of potential guests. But the men at the table laughed and grinned. They were a political party, Matthew Heimbach, the groups 26-year-old leader, explained gently. Our motto is faith, family and folk, he said. Heimbach was the most famous man at the table: the one who was being sued for shoving and shouting at a young black protester at a Donald Trump campaign rally last March, and who had recently filed legal papers saying that Trump, who had reacted to the protesters by shouting Get em out of here!, should be held responsible for his behavior.

Heimbach was wearing the same black T-shirt, with his partys logo, as the other men, but he had a big cross around his neck and the cheerful bearing of a youth pastor: burly, bearded, bouncy with enthusiasm. One Kentucky local who watched a propaganda video Heimbach made had been perplexed that he looked like a teddy bear.

Their political party had been misrepresented, Heimbach explained to the waitresses. Theyre not the KKK. Theyre focused on family and faith and local control, on fighting the international corporations who came into Appalachia and took all the profits from Kentuckys coal. Heimbach did not try to sell the waitresses on his plan for a white ethno-state, his conviction that the Holocaust did not happen, his belief in thousands of years of Jewish conspiracy. He just talked about family struggles and immigrants taking jobs and hurting workers and how white Americans needed more representation.

Wooton, who had voted for Trump, was responding enthusiastically. She was furious at the lack of government response to the opioid addiction crisis and skeptical of establishment politicians. Her husband, a coal miner, had lost his job under Obama and been hired again three days after Trumps inauguration. Wooton came back to the table repeatedly to press Heimbach for more answers, explaining her manager was still calling him a racist. She asked if Heimbach was willing to work with people of other races. He said of course he was. He talked about the importance of black communities making decisions for themselves, about how black policemen might be better at policing black neighborhoods. Wooton agreed and agreed again.

Talking to Wooton, Heimbach acted like a local politician: polite, a little longwinded, but genuinely passionate. He was not Richard Spencer, the clean-cut, rich-boy racist who got punched in the face at Trumps inauguration. He was not a ranting internet troll. He was a small-town kid who put himself through college selling custom wardrobe tidying systems, and now he was using those skills trying to sell fascism to the American people.

Heimbachs Pike County trip was part of his broader preparation for 2018, when the party was planning to field six candidates in local elections for school board, county council and other positions in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas. All the candidates will be under 30, all open white nationalists, though they plan to focus their campaigns on more local issues.

Wooton kept coming back with more questions, but it was clear that she liked much of what she she was hearing. When she left the table, Heimbach grinned triumphantly at his group; it seemed he was attracting some local support.

Stepping from the shadows

White supremacists and neo-Nazis complain endlessly about media lies, and yet no one is more eager to pick up the phone than Heimbach and other extremist leaders. Getting attention even negative attention helps them recruit and inch toward the mainstream.

Analysts from the Data & Society Research Institute concluded the far right has risen to new prominence this past year in part by attention hacking, manipulating the conventions of mainstream news. Members of the alt-right, a mixed group of racists, nationalists, antisemites and misogynists, understand that many news stories are built on a framework of conflict and outrage, fueled by the power of a shocking image or the lure of a supposedly telling contrast. The medias dependence on social media, analytics and metrics, sensationalism, novelty over newsworthiness, and clickbait makes them vulnerable, its report said.

People who have had personal run-ins with Heimbach who have experienced him in action say the media should not simply ignore his activities. Instead of glamorizing them or portraying them as cartoonish monsters, scrutiny should attempt to reveal their impact.

However, one anti-fascist observed, it doesnt matter if the news coverage attempts to be negative neo-Nazis will still try to recruit people in the comments section underneath.

Measured in numbers, white nationalists and neo-Nazis remain the fringe of the fringe. Last years BronyCon, the annual conference of grown men who take an ironic fascination in the cartoon My Little Pony, attracted 7,600 people. Anthrocon, a convention of furries who like to do fun things while wearing fuzzy, full-body animal costumes, attracted more than 7,000. The Kentucky neo-Nazi summit in April attracted about 150 people, about 75 of them members of the Traditionalist Worker party. Heimbach claims that his party has 600 dues-paying members nationwide. They do not call themselves Nazis. Heimbach said the term Nazi is a slur, and that he draws inspiration from many fascist and national socialist regimes, not just Germanys.

Heimbach said being labeled a Nazi would undermine his attempt to educate the American people about what national socialism truly is, claiming it invokes every lie and every over-the-top media creation of the last 72 years [since 1945].

Ryan Lenz, an analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks American hate groups, sees no justification for his argument. It is fair to label Heimbach a Nazi because he is an avowed national socialist, Holocaust denier and antisemite.

In this context, Nazi is not a slur. Its not an attack. Its an accurate description, he said.

Neo-Nazi activism in America has been undermined for decades by what both extremist leaders and hate group monitors describe as incredibly childish infighting. Neo-Nazis have squabbled over their religious differences (some are Christian; others are pagans, some worshipping the Norse god Odin; one or two, a Neo-Nazi leader claimed, are even Buddhist), over their uniform and symbol choices, over which neo-Nazi stole which other neo-Nazis girlfriend.

Most of these people are malignant contrarians who have a lot of loyalty and trust issues, said Lenz.

But Trumps rise to power has encouraged the extremists to try to bridge their divides. Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan leaders were jubilant over an openly xenophobic, politically incorrect presidential candidate who promised to stop illegal immigration and enact a Muslim ban and they have pursued news coverage, attracting headlines and staging dramatic photos. In May, a number of different groups met in front of a threatened Confederate monument and set garden torches on fire. In the photos, shared around the world, a mass of shadowy figures and flames made for a startling image.

Campus provocateur

Matthew Heimbach. His Pike County trip was part of broader preparation for 2018, when his party was planning to field six candidates in local elections in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Dakota and Texas. Photograph: Pat Jarrett for the Guardian

Heimbach has been perfecting the provocative art since he first made national headlines in 2012 by founding a White Student Union at his university, the perfectly logical complement to the campus Black Student Union, he said. Towson University, where he graduated in 2013, was majority white. It was one of the safest public universities in Maryland, but Heimbach would lead journalists around campus at night as he and his friends patrolled with flashlights in search of black crime.

When students and faculty protested this behavior, Heimbach claimed the rallies against him were proof of anti-white bias. The outrage brought in television cameras and left his classmates of color deeply anxious.

People were afraid of Matthew, said Ignacio Evans, a former classmate and the vice-president of the Black Student Union at the time.

At a campus town hall meeting, Evans recalled, Heimbach had said: I am going to bleed this university white.

It sent shockwaves through the campus, Evans said. As a result of Heimbachs activism, he thought attendance at campus events dropped. People didnt want to leave their rooms.

Everyone knew Heimbach had a gun. It wouldnt be uncommon to see him in a video shooting things, he said.

Evans countered Heimbachs views publicly and, as a result, he was featured on white supremacist websites, one of which dubbed him a black supremacist.

Evans said he had received a death threat at his college graduation, and walked across the stage fearing that he would be shot in front of his mother and his girlfriend.

Jonathan Munshaw, who covered Heimbachs early tactics for the Towson student newspaper, said he only ever verified one Towson student who was part of the White Student Union: Heimbach himself. But students on campus truly believed that the group was much bigger, Munshaw said and they were terrified.

To the national media, the campus conflict was irresistible. Matt was so accessible, Munshaw said. The national media outlets could come in and it was fairly easy for them to get a story because he was always very willing and ready.

It was the perfect recipe for a television segment: the white supremacist, the black students arguing against him. It was an easy story, Munshaw said.

Trump: the gateway drug to white nationalism

The Aryan Terror Brigade. The National Socialist Movement. The neo-Confederate League of the South. After he graduated from college, Heimbach met and formed alliances with so many different extremists groups that Lenz, the SPLC analyst, said he once thought Heimbach might be an informant of the federal government.

Heimbach serves as a lynchpin between the scattered groups of the radical right the one who can build connections with the working-class skinhead movement and the upper-class academic racists, said Lenz, who has been interviewing Heimbach periodically since he graduated from college.

His argument, Lenz said, is: were all compatriots in nationalism, and therefore we should stand together, whether we believe in the Holocaust or not.

Heimbach had only been a white nationalist in college. But supporters of his White Student Union responded by sending him books in the mail that helped shift his views about the Holocaust. At the end of the day, he said, you end up at national socialism.

Lenz said he does not know how Heimbach, who says he is forced to work low-paying jobs, can afford to travel constantly across the country and fly to Europe every year to meet with far-right groups. He said Heimbach had denied having a wealthy patron who funded the trips. Heimbach said he paid for the trips himself, with some contribution from his party, and that he kept costs low by staying with other far-right activists.

Ive been waiting for my rubles to show up. It hasnt happened yet, he said, chuckling, referencing more than a few media outlets that have claimed Im secretly working for the FSB.

By the month before Trumps election, Heimbach had shifted gears and developed a new message discipline capable of spinning answers to questions like someone who had spent years in a spin room, Lenz said.

Trump was Heimbachs dream come true. In early 2016, Heimbach had described the presidential candidate as the gateway drug to outright white nationalism.

Hes not one of us and everyone needs to know that, Heimbach told the site Vocativ last year, describing the president. But hes opening political space. Hes definitely opening up political space for people like ourselves.

On 1 March 2016, Heimbach and some of his party members attended a Trump campaign rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Heimbach was wearing a red Make America Great Again hat. Almost immediately, he and his group caught the attention of a Trump protester in the crowd.

For a second, I thought they were counter-protesters [against Trump]. They looked like punk rock kids, the protester said. Then she realized: No, those are skinheads.

The protester asked not to be named to avoid attacks from far-right trolls. She described watching Heimbach move through the crowd before the speech, handing out literature, trying to recruit Trump supporters for his Traditionalist Worker movement. He was circumspect, as usual, talking about workers losing jobs.

I dont think I ever even heard him say the word white, she said. Instead, it was: People are coming in, close the border, and theyre taking our jobs and our communities it was very dog whistle-y.

Nobody gave him any flak about it, the protester said. He wasnt getting any pushback.

In retrospect, she thought, Heimbach helped in revving up the crowd, priming it for what came later.

When the protesters group finally raised their banners toward the end of Trumps speech, Heimbachs group immediately rushed them, not just to tear down their anti-Trump banner but also to punch them, several protesters alleged in a lawsuit. The onslaught was so intense and violent that the protester, who was in the back, said she was overwhelmed.

The protester said Heimbach and his group had insinuated their way into the middle of the crowd, and when a moment of tension arrived they suddenly turned violent, and other men around them mirrored their behavior, shouting, pushing, furious.

Trump, from the stage, had called: Get em out!

A video from the rally shows Heimbach, in his hat, repeatedly laying hands on a young black protester, Kashiya Nwanguma, and shouting in her face. Next, an older man in a Korean war veterans uniform shoves her, follows her for a few steps and shoves her again.

Three protesters are now suing Heimbach and a Korean war veteran over this violence and suing Trump for inciting the violence.

A federal judge recently ruled that the case could move forward, writing: It is plausible that Trumps direction to Get em out of here advocated the use of force.

In a letter to the head of a Korean war veterans chapter, the veteran, Alvin Bamberger, apologized and said he was ashamed of his behavior, according to a copy of the letter obtained by a local news outlet. He blamed his behavior on being caught between black protesters and white supremacists, though he acknowledged that was no excuse.

In a blogpost afterward, cited in court filings, Heimbach wrote: Theres some viral footage of several heated moments in Louisville. One features yours truly helping the crowd drive out one of the women who had been pushing, shoving, barking, and screaming at the attendees for the better part of an hour. ( In court filings, Nwanguma denied she had done this.)

It wont be me next time, but White Americans are getting fed up and theyre learning that they must either push back or be pushed down, Heimbach wrote.

In court filings, he had denied that he behave improperly, but also argued that Trump should be held responsible for his behavior.

Heimbach was charged with harassment, a misdemeanor, and was recently served a summons to appear in court.


For decades, American neo-Nazis have been trying to break into the mainstream by running for local political office, as Heimbach is now hoping his supporters can do. George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi party, told a journalist in 1966 that he expected he would be elected president by 1972 on a national socialist ticket, pushed to victory by a dramatic economic collapse. Instead, he was murdered by one of his own supporters outside a laundromat in 1967.

Far-right parties in Europe have had more political success. Amid the Greek debt crisis in 2015, Golden Dawn, a violent neo-Nazi party known for beating attacks on immigrants and people suspected of being gay or on the left, captured the third largest number of seats in the Greek parliament.

American neo-Nazis look at Golden Dawns rise and take hope. Heimbach has met with far-right nationalists across Europe, he said, including three visits with Golden Dawn over the past three years.

There will come a point where the people begin to awaken. [Golden Dawn] had to go through many years as a dedicated small group of men and women to carry the flame, Heimbach said.

He has also met with nationalist activists in the Czech Republic and spoke last year at the annual conference of Germanys National Democratic party. He calls himself a friend of the British neo-Nazi group National Action, which was banned in December after the home secretary dubbed it a terrorist organization.

Heimbach has also been banned from entering the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good. In response, he tweeted it was outrageous that he was denied while radical Muslims were let in. #EnglandYoureDrunk, he wrote.

Heimbach can put on a show of moderation. He doesnt think everyone should have to live in a white ethno-state. Thats just his preference. He doesnt hate other races. He just thinks that black Americans have, on average, a lower future time orientation.

In interviews and speeches to other neo-Nazis, Heimbach is less circumspect, quoting Goebbels and speaking fondly of Mussolini.

He is a Holocaust denier, believing that the systematic murder of 6 million European Jews by the Nazi regime did not happen, that its all a Bolshevik conspiracy. He has expressed sympathy for the racist killer Dylann Roof and praised white supremacist Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.

Real Christianity, he said, is patriarchal, homophobic, racist and antisemitic. He laughed. I see that as a good thing.

Heimbach lives in Paoli, Indiana, with his wife and son; his fellow party leader, Matt Parrott; and Jason, the young white nationalist who moved from New York City to join him and who now edits his video projects and produces white nationalist music. Three other white families who support their views have moved to Paoli to join them, Heimbach said two from northern Indiana, one from Virginia. They try to get together weekly for board game nights and home-brewed mead. They play Risk of course, the battle of world domination and Cards Against Humanity.

We played Monopoly, but then we decided that was too capitalist, Heimbach said.

Almost none of the consequences he has faced for his activism seem to faze him. Heimbach says he was excommunicated by his Eastern Orthodox church for his racist beliefs. His family cut him off after he became famous for founding the White Student Union. By his count he has been fired from seven jobs, including a position as a trainee case worker at the Indiana department of child services. He claimed this was a punishment for his political convictions.

A spokeswoman for the department wrote in an e-mail Heimbach was dismissed for his behavior at work after less than three weeks as a trainee. His behavior in training was disruptive of the workplace, incompatible with public service, and not protected speech, she wrote. For example, what Ive been told is that, while in training, his response to a question suggested violence against a client.

Since college, Heimbach has been able to draw other racists around him, forming a likeminded group that acknowledges him as a leader. Throughout hours of interviews he has a politicians confidence, but when he talked about his family, he sounded sad.

My parents didnt exactly know what I was thinking or up to. I think in modern America, [there are] a tremendous amount of parents who would be horrified and scandalized with what their young sons and daughters are reading on white nationalist forums or reading on the Daily Stormer, he said.

After the coverage of his White Student Union, his family who did not respond to requests for an interview for this article confronted him in a phone conversation.

My folks said that they didnt raise me like this, that they didnt approve of this and that I had to make a choice, if I was going to do this or choose my family. And I said to them, this is choosing my family, because I want my siblings and their grandchildren to have a future. They didnt understand.

The rise of Nazi thought in America could change that, he said. Hopefully, as politics changes, as our ideas continue to grow, hopefully well be the new mainstream before too long.

Im not bitter and resentful, he said later. It hurts like, its not easy but its the safest thing for them to do.

On maneuvers

The night before their rally in downtown Pikeville, the neo-Nazis gathered on a scruffy patch of private land to eat picnic food and listen to each other give speeches about the future of the white race.

That evening, a convoy of about 20 cars had wound from the parking lot of a Walmart through narrow Kentucky back roads, past small houses flying the Confederate flag. White residents stood at their front doors or on their porches, watching silently as the cars passed.

Members of the KKK, the Traditionalist Worker party and the National Socialist Movement gathered for a weekend of speeches, demonstration and fellowship at a private campground in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Photograph: Pat Jarrett for the Guardian

The road turned from pavement to dusty gravel to dirt. In the field at the top of a hill, there was a white rental tent, rows of cars, a portable toilet. Young men in paramilitary-style black outfits strode around the tent, armed with rifles and walkie-talkies.

The dress code for the white supremacist unity summit in April was strict: men were supposed to wear a black work shirt, black pants, and black boots; with an organizational patch on the left arm. Women are requested to dress modestly and in black as well.

Heimbach had allowed a small group of journalists to attend the Whitesburg neo-Nazi summit, including the Guardian and a French television crew, to attend part of the weekends private speeches. He claimed that he had turned down other larger American outlets, disliking their coverage.

In the tent, decorated with a White Lives Matter banner, the neo-Nazis slammed Trump for claiming he was both a nationalist and a globalist, and for keeping so many Jewish people as advisers. But they said they still hoped that the movement he had started would give them a political opportunity.

Reform is impossible, Heimbach declared in his speech. Heimbach assailed the removal of Confederate monuments, comparing politicians who permitted monuments to white supremacy being taken down to Isis destroying temples in Syria.

How long is it before the statues to Union soldiers are torn down, because, well, they werent multicultural enough they werent as accepting of transgender rights for children … they werent progressive enough?

How long before not just the south but every symbol of our people is wiped clean from this Earth like we never existed?

Heimbachs speech was well received. But as the night went on, the divide between the traditional neo-Nazi groups and the new, internet-savvy alt-right began to show. The speeches grew so dull, despite the periodic Nazi salutes and chants of white power, that most of the younger extremists melted away into the dark, leaving a smaller and smaller audience to listen to old Nazis drone on.

On Saturday morning, they conducted a series of military marching exercises at their retreat. The man leading the exercises advised the group that perception is reality. Coming across as disciplined and tough and organized were crucial to their mission. But the drilling went poorly. One young man, obeying the order to turn, stepped boldly the wrong way.

That afternoon, the neo-Nazis managed to be an hour late to their own protest in downtown Pikeville. More than 100 anti-fascists in bandanas had arrived by 2pm, when the rally was supposed to start. There was no sign of Heimbach and his crew.

When the larger group of more than 100 people marched in, they were in good spirits, waving flags and carrying hand-painted wooden shields with fascist symbols and, in one case, a real axe, bundled with sticks, a home-made symbol of fascism. Heimbach bounced through the scrum in his sensible shoes, helping to organize his followers into neat lines. Despite the howls of the plastic trumpets and the chants of the anti-fascists and the long lines of state police on the other side of the barricades, he moved with no sense of drama, as if he were a high school coach organizing his kids at an away game.

Gabe, the one with the razor tattooed on his jaw, was in the front row, holding a shield and clearly excited. Fuck you! he bellowed at the protesters.

Scott, wearing a rifle and aviators, was standing nearby. Gabe! he hissed in a warning tone. Gabe subsided.

Take a bath! Take a bath! the fascists chanted at the anti-fascists.

The attendees were trained on marching in formation by the handful of military veterans in the group. Photograph: Pat Jarrett for the Guardian

Heimbachs public speech was heavy on the socialism and light on conspiracy theories, denouncing corporate interests and environmental degradation, endorsing worker unions and nationalization of key industries.

The Republicans and the Democrats support Wall Street, they support more wars, they support your blood being spilled for their sake, he said, over the sounds of shouts and jeers and horns.

We are here to tell you: you dont have to choose the lesser of two evils. You can choose people that are actually on your side. Because we are you. We are the people you go to church with, you see in the grocery story, you work with.

At one point, the men gave the Nazi salute and chanted for at least a minute: Heil Heimbach! Heil Heimbach! Heil Heimbach!

Heimbach, who was standing near the front of the crowd, faced them and grinned. Im going to remember that the rest of my life, he said, with just the right amount of irony.

The men laughed, a low rumble of approval lost beneath the screams of the crowd.

He thinks were stupid

Pikeville was true Trump country, a rural area with permissive gun laws and strong conservative values.

In the political analysis of Trump voters, neo-Nazi advocates like Heimbach and some on the left tend to agree: Trump voters are a white identity movement, motivated to vote for him at least in part by outright racism, a claim Trump supporters vehemently reject.

The locals in Pikeville greeted the influx with outrage and shock. Outside a Pikeville tattoo parlor the day before the neo-Nazis were coming to town, a group of local men expressed disgust at the agenda and concern that the event would discourage students of different races from coming to the local university.

After their shift was over that Friday before the rally, Porter and Wooton were not finished talking about Heimbachs breakfast visit to their diner. They went to a nearby Taco Bell to discuss him more. Wooton had loved what he was saying, loved his passion. But hearing that Heimbach supported a white ethno-state immediately ended her interest. Woonton has brothers who are mixed-race.

If theyre saying they want an all-white community, where would my brother go? she said. She was appalled by the idea of segregation: she did want more representation for white Americans, just like the representation she sees people who are black or Mexican receive. At the same time, she ultimately wanted political leaders for different racial groups to work together for the common good.

Thats taking us a hundred years back, Porter said. She had told the group that she was gay, and they had said nothing in response. The Traditionalist Worker party, with its endorsement of traditional marriage, its rhetoric about deviants, was not going to earn the vote of this white Kentucky woman. Porters girlfriend worked for a local prosecutor. She knew that the people charged with crimes in their area were overwhelmingly white.

Wooton was incredulous that Heimbach could be a Holocaust denier. Hes so smart. He has to know better than that. Theres television footage of piles of bodies, she said.

They have a lot of really good ideas. Its really sad that they just bring this racism, she said.

She looked depressed. She had been hopeful that Heimbach was a politician who could actually bring help to their area. He seems really really smart. He seems like he knows what hes talking about on a lot of things. And this stupid racism thats going to hold him back from so many things he could do so many positive things.

She was distressed. She could not understand it. Maybe hes a little mental, she said. It was the only immediate explanation, that he had a little mental problem that he cant get past this racist thing.

Both women were increasingly angry that Heimbach had chosen to come to Kentucky to spread his message.

Hes targeting us, Wooton said, because he thinks that were stupid.

And hes wrong about that, Porter said.

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