Thursday, December 14, 2017

Fake News and 'Glorious Leader' Trump: The Key to His Authoritarian Following

Trump's authoritarian followers remain voluntarily within his alternative universe with the help of his press-baiting "fake news" claims, which drive a wedge between his True Believers and the reality the rest of us inhabit.

[Note: I originally wrote this essay three weeks ago as an op-ed for potential use by newspapers. We approached several to see if we could raise interest in the issue. No one responded, so I am publishing it here.]

There’s a reason Donald Trump bandies the term “fake news” about so readily and gleefully. It’s more than just a tic or a theme. It’s actually a tool he uses to drive a wedge between his followers and reality.

This week he even seemed to lay ownership to the phrase. “The media is really, the word, one of the greatest of all terms I've come up with, is ‘fake’,” Trump told Mike Huckabee in an interview. “I guess other people have used it perhaps over the years but I've never noticed it. And it's a shame. And they really hurt the country. Because they take away the spirit of the country.”

Fact-checkers such as PolitiFact have observed that, beyond the extremely dubious notion he actually “came up with” the phrase, Trump’s use of it actually turns its original meaning on its head in a peculiarly self-serving way. Instead of describing fabricated content with no basis in fact, he uses it to mean any news that criticizes him – that is, any news he chooses not to believe because he does not like it.

Any person using normative rules of factuality, evidence, and reason would defer to the original meaning of “fake news.” However, Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters, and many more similarly inclined, instead agree with him. Their version of reality, as such, becomes very different from the rest of us.

It works, too: Recent polling found that 46 percent of all voters believe the media make up stories about Trump. Even 20 percent of Democrats believed this.

This is what authoritarians throughout history have done: Set themselves up not only as the arbiters of right and wrong and other mainstream values, but of reality itself. They keep their followers close under their banner by creating a separate lived universe for them, an epistemological bubble that inevitably becomes a cult of personality and fanaticism. In the Trump era, I have dubbed this alternative universe “Alt-America.”

Most Americans have a healthy skepticism about American news outlets, as our mainstream media landscape becomes increasingly littered with charlatans and corporate interests out to make a buck. But some Americans have elevated that skepticism to another and frankly unhealthy level, leading them to view anything produced by the mainstream media or official government or academic sources with an extreme form of “selective skepticism” – that is, they refuse to believe any kind of “official” explanation for events, actions, or policies, but instead go seeking any kind of alternative explanation for these.

When this happens, their extreme skepticism is reversed into an extreme gullibility, so that they become vulnerable suckers for just about any kind of conspiracy theory or fantastic fabrication, so long as it confirms the narrative they want to believe. In this environment, conspiracists like Alex Jones of Infowars and a coalition of like minds calling themselves the alt-right have thrived, both politically and financially, peddling their own set of “alternative facts.”

This gullibility shapes – or rather, distorts – people’s relationship to authority. Any kind of authority that exists outside of that person’s universe -- in the current Trump era particularly, anything with the taint of liberalism -- is innately viewed as illegitimate and untrustworthy and is to be vehemently rejected and ardently opposed. In the meanwhile, any authority within the “Alt-America” universe, especially political figures, conspiracist pundits, and Patriot movement leaders, are revered as absolute, and become objects of abject devotion. There is a reason that some of Donald Trump’s followers refer to him as “Glorious Leader,” or “G.L.”

Translated from individual psychology to mass politics, these traits, and in particular the conspiracism, become the manifestation of right-wing authoritarianism. It becomes manifest in polls that reveal profoundly disturbing attitudes rampant among Trump’s supporters.

One poll found that half of Republican voters were OK with Trump postponing the 2020 election if he decided that “voter fraud” was too massive a problem. Another poll found that 61 percent of his current supporters say they can think of no circumstances under which they would ever stop approving of what he does, regardless.

When most people think of authoritarianism, they think of the strongman dictators who have led such rule in various nations around the world throughout history, and they commonly view it as a political phenomenon in which whole nations are subsumed by dictatorial rule imposed from above. The reality, however, is that authoritarians usually are swept to power and maintained in it by an army of followers, people who desire precisely that kind of governance, by a singular figure whose charisma and instincts can chart a nation’s course.

It’s also a phenomenon studied in depth by psychologists, whose focus is less on those figures atop the pack, and more on the hordes they control – the ordinary people who willingly sacrifice their personal freedoms in the name of an orderly society shaped that imposes their personal beliefs and prejudices.

How could supposedly freedom-loving Americans (or Germans, or anyone else, for that matter) subscribe to an authoritarian worldview? As psychologists have explored, most people have some level of authoritarian tendencies, but these are often leveled out by such factors as personal empathy and critical thinking skills. In some personalities, however, a combination of factors ranging from strict upbringing, personal traumas, harsh rearing environments, or any number of other similar issues, can produce people who are inclined to insist on a world in which strong authorities produce order and peace, often through iron imposition of “law and order.”

As a psychological phenomenon, authoritarianism arises around three clusters of behavior and attitudes:

n  Authoritarian submission: The eager submission to edicts, rulings, and opinions of the authorities and leaders who are deemed legitimate.
n  Authoritarian aggression: The physical, verbal, and social aggression displayed toward anyone or any trend that runs counter to those authorities, or in the case of leadership, is deemed illegitimate.
n  Conventionalism: The adamant embrace of what is perceived as the social norm and the “real” national identity, and the belief that oneself reflects that “real” identity.

Psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba, one of the world’s leading experts in this research, describes how this authoritarianism is manifest in Donald Trump supporters. They are highly ethnocentric, inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else. They are highly fearful of a dangerous world. They are highly self-righteous. They are aggressive. They are highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic majorities, non-heterosexuals, and women in general. Their beliefs are a mass of contradictions. They reason poorly. They are highly dogmatic. They are very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs. Because they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them.

Most of all, Altemeyer says, they are easily duped by manipulators who pretend to espouse their causes when all the con-artists really want is personal gain. And they are largely blind to themselves, and almost inevitably will blame others when their own gullibility as marks for con men is exposed.

Their demand for leadership by powerful authority figures also helps explain their vehement rejection of the presidencies of such liberal politicians as Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton in every jot and tittle. An authoritarian by nature wishes to follow the orders of the president, but can never do so when an illegitimate usurper holds the position. Proving the fundamental illegitimacy of these presidencies – as the regimes of a sexual pervert, a Muslim foreigner, and a lying crook, respectively – has thus formed the overwhelming preoccupations of their various campaigns to attack them politically.

Authoritarianism as a worldview always creates a certain kind of cognitive dissonance, a feeling of unreality, because it runs smack into the complex nature of the modern world and attempts to impose its simplified, black-and-white explanation of reality onto a factual reality that contradicts and undermines it every turn. People with authoritarian personalities willingly slip into the alternative universe of Alt-America because it helps soothe this dissonance, allowing its occupants to glide over inconvenient facts because they participate in a larger “truth.”

So conspiracism is especially appealing to people with these personality traits – the people who tell pollsters they “don’t recognize their country anymore” and are discomfited and bewildered by the brown faces and strange languages that have been filling up their cultural landscapes in places where they never used to be. One study found that conspiracy theories seem to be more compelling to “those with low self-worth, especially with regard to their sense of agency in the world at large.” They often long for a 1950s-style America with lawns and cul-de-sacs, and are angry that the world no longer works that way.

While the mainstream media simply present the world as it is, conspiracy theories offer narratives that explain to them why the country is no longer what they wish it to be, why it has that alien shape. And so in their minds it comes to represent a deeper truth about their world, while repeatedly reinforcing their long-held prejudices, and enables them to ignore the real, factual (and often uncomfortable) nature of the changes the nation is undergoing. Simply put, it provides a clear, self-reinforcing answer to the source of their personal disempowerment.

The deep irony in all this is that the larger psychological and even political effect of conspiracy theories is that they are profoundly disempowering in and of themselves. They create a toxic mindset, a worldview in which the world is actually being run by secretive, powerful schemers intent on suppressing them, against whose immense power an ordinary individual is almost entirely powerless.

People who are “red-pilled,” as the conspiracy-loving alt-righters have dubbed themselves, see themselves as utterly disattached from their communities, fighting a desperate battle with only the help of their fellow conspiracists against truly dark and evil forces. Alex Jones constantly refers to his targets as “demonic.” It’s not just a bleak world, it’s one in which people can become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and anger.

That’s one of the primary reasons conspiracist beliefs are so often associated with horrific acts of terrorist violence. Think of Anders Breivik’s massacre of 69 schoolchildren in Norway in 2011, or Tim McVeigh’s destruction of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 that killed 168, or Jared Loughner’s horrifying rampage in Tucson in 2011, or Dylann Roof’s rampage at the Charleston church in 2015. All of these people, and their many other domestic-terrorist cohorts, acted out of a desperation fueled by anger over their sense of deep disempowerment – all of it a product of a belief in conspiracy theories.

Beyond individuals, however, authoritarianism is also toxic for any kind of democratic society – which is unsurprising, given the alt-right’s express hostility to democracy and its institutions. And it is rising as a political phenomenon not just in the United States, but around the world, especially in Europe.

This is why a number of political scientists have recently begun speaking up about the trend. “If current trends continue for another 20 or 30 years, democracy will be toast,” recently warned Yascha Mounk, a lecturer at Harvard.

They warn that democracies die all the time, and there is no reason the United States would be immune, despite its longevity and comparative stability – until recently, at least. And the reasons have to do with people – both the leaders and the citizenry – taking its institutions for granted and permitting them to fall into decay.

These include the values of community and generosity that have previously guided the American spirit at crucial junctures, as well as the basic value of empathy as a personal characteristic. Defending them vigorously, and reviving them to full life, will be the key to defeating the authoritarian spirit unleashed in recent years.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When white nationalists chant their weird slogans, what do they mean?

[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

Torch-bearing white nationalists led by racist "alt-right" figure Richard Spencer once again marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, in a repeat of their appearance on August 11, when a similar polo-shirt-bedecked crowd carried tiki torches to the University of Virginia, chanting a variety of slogans and far-right catchphrases.

“You Will Not Replace Us!” they shouted in unison Saturday. Later, they sang a rendition of the adopted Confederate anthem, “Dixie,” and also chanted, “Russia is Our Friend!” and “The South Will Rise Again!”

The chants even included an odd attack on a fantasy fiction character: “Harry Potter is Not Real!”

The rally occurred eight weeks after the August “Unite the Right” event that turned into a murderous melee the next day when an alt-right protester rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person and maiming numerous others.

Unlike the earlier torch-bearing rally, however, which saw an estimated 1,000 marchers with torches marching through the city, Saturday’s event only drew an estimated 40 to 50 participants.

As with the earlier rally, however, the marching white nationalists shouted a variety of chants, all of them with very particular meanings to their movement. They enjoy wide circulation within the alt-right movement, particularly at online white-nationalist forums as well as chat sites like 4chan, but are unfamiliar to most of the general public.

Here’s what they mean, beginning with the chants from the August 11 march on the Virginia campus:

  • “You Will Not Replace Us!” This slogan was coined from a statement by Nathan Damigo, founder of the white-nationalist campus group Identity Evropa, who retorted to an anti-Donald Trump “He will not divide us” campaign by actor Shia LeBeouf on social media: “Shia LeBeouf, you will not replace us with your globalism.” The chant is closely related to the white-nationalist “White Genocide” meme, reflective of their fears that white people and white culture are under attack from multiculturalism and nonwhite races. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the slogan began appearing on white-nationalist fliers and banners in May, and has spread widely since then. (At times during the first Charlottesville march, the chant morphed into “Jews Will Not Replace Us!”)
  • “Blood and Soil!” Possibly the most disturbing of all the chants heard in Charlottesville, this is the English rendition of Nazi Germany’s most fervent chant, “Blut und Boden!” Originally devised as a slogan of 19th-century German nationalists and popularized by Nazi ideologue Richard Walter Darre, the phrase is intended to invoke patriotic identification with native national identity, and built on a foundation of virulent anti-Semitism and racism. It later became a key component of Adolf Hitler’s “Lebensraum” program, seeking to expand territories occupied by Germans, that was a major factor in the Holocaust. The slogan has been adopted by the alt-right, particularly its openly neo-Nazi element, to emphasize its own nativist and eliminationist agenda.
  • “White Lives Matter!” Ostensibly a retort to the anti-police-violence movement Black Lives Matter, this catchphrase very quickly morphed into both a slogan and the name of an outright white-supremacist movement aimed at attacking black civil rights, ostensibly “dedicated to promotion of the white race and taking positive action as a united voice against issues facing our race.” Numerous neo-Nazi groups around the country have reshaped themselves under the “WLM” banner, and the movement was designated a hate group in 2017.
  • “Hail Trump!” This catchphrase needs little explanation, but its presence as a marching chant is significant. Donald Trump is a hero to the alt-right, where some leading figures refer to him as “Glorious Leader” and similar superlatives, in large part because he mimics their agenda and talking points, and has on numerous occasions shied away from denouncing white nationalists, including after Charlottesville. Many of the Charlottesville marchers have also worn Trump’s trademark “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

At Saturday’s rally, the gathering again chanted “You Will Not Replace Us.” The rallygoers also joined together in singing a rendition of “Dixie”, the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy, reflecting their affiliations with the far-right neo-Confederate movement (as well as the fact that the rally occurred at the base of the statue of General Robert E. Lee, slated for removal by Charlottesville city officials, the focus of the alt-right protests). Soon a variety of other chants were heard:

  • “Russia Is Our Friend!” The alt-right has been unabashed in its open admiration of Russia’s authoritarian strongman president, Vladimir Putin, and the nationalist agenda he has promoted both in Europe and in the United States. A number of alt-right figures, including Spencer, have well-documented connections to the Russian regime, which also has played a major role in underwriting far-right movements in Europe. It later emerged after the 2016 election that Russia’s propaganda machine had a powerfully symbiotic relationship with the alt-right in spreading its ideology and memes through social media during the campaign.
  • “The South Will Rise Again!” Again reflective of the alt-right’s neo-Confederate sympathies, this slogan dates back to the post-Civil War period, when the apologist “Lost Cause” revision of the war’s history was in full swing, leading to the widespread (and incorrect) belief that the war was primarily about “states rights” rather than slavery; that same movement, mostly at the turn of the 19th century, also was responsible for the construction of many of the same Confederate monuments that are now the focus of much of the alt-right recent agitation. The “Lost Cause” ideology remains popular with neo-Confederates.
  • “Harry Potter Isn’t Real!” This seemingly odd chant, which in many ways reflects the alt-right’s fluency in popular culture, is directed at white nationalists’ enmity towards multiculturalism, since the underlying thesis of J.K. Rowling’s massively popular youth-fantasy series is about combating prejudice, racial and otherwise. The Potter books are frequently attacked at alt-right online forums and castigated for ostensibly brainwashing schoolchildren. Moreover, Rowling herself has been notably active on social media, attacking both the alt-right and politicians associated with it, including Donald Trump.
  • “We Will Be Back!” Another fairly self-explanatory chant — and possibly the most chilling of them all.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

In Wake of Las Vegas Massacre, Alex Jones Claims 'Democrats Are Going to Be Killing People'

"Democrats are going to be killing people, a lot of folks ... They are making their move for race war in America."

The nation’s foremost conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, jumped the shark years ago when it came to promoting crackpot ideas. But his rantings in the wake of Sunday’s horrific massacre in Las Vegas are treading from mere insanity into the realm of dangerously targeting his fellow citizens.

The day after the massacre, Jones speculated that it had been perpetrated by his usual menu of favorite villains: Islamic State, antifascists, leftists, Communists, and globalists. On Tuesday’s Infowars show, Jones went even further, warning his audience that liberals were going to be killing them.

The enemy’s engaging us. Everybody needs to be packing, like I told you on Friday and on Sunday. Get ready -- Democrats are going to be killing people, a lot of folks. And obviously, just like you don’t see conservatives going out and doing mass shootings, they don’t want to blame the Second Amendment, they don’t want to go out and kill people.

It’s almost always drug-head Democrats, devil worshippers, you name it. That’s their M.O. The Democrats know when they mass-kill now, they know to not say they’re Democrat operatives. They just want to use that to get the Second Amendment and get a civil war going.

According to Jones, the whole event is part of a scheme to cow the American public into accepting sweeping gun controls:

With this event and this attack, the leftists, the globalists, the social engineers are going to use those dear lives of those poor people who were snuffed out to try to wound what’s left of our republic and complete our journey into disarmament.

Jones claimed that comments after the shootings by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton (Mrs. Obama actually was discussing the lack of trust in politics, while Clinton attacked the NRA) were proof they intended to start a “race war”:

They are foisting this guilt down on all of us, and it’s a horrible assault, and Michelle Obama has come out and said white people are the problem, yes we have video, Hillary said the same thing. They are making their move for race war in America. It’s cold-blooded. It’s admitted in the Wikileaks.

One of the apparent keys to Jones’ theory about Las Vegas is that the Southern Poverty Law Center is somehow central to the nefarious plot. Jones claims the shooter donated large sums to the SPLC, which he also blamed as being behind the plot to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

This is not 1995, where they can carry out an event like Oklahoma City, which was a real bomb, but which was staged by criminal elements of the federal government working with German intelligence, and a major tax-free foundation who’s recently been caught with a lot of money overseas.

Yes, the Southern Poverty Law Center was running Elohim City, where the attack came out of. They weren’t infiltrating it, they ran it. They commanded it.

In reality, the SPLC indeed carefully monitored Elohim City and received information from informants inside the white-supremacist compound with which Oklahoma bomber Tim McVeigh was associated. However, as journalist James Ridgeway noted, even that information was second-hand.

Later in the broadcast, Jones claimed that the Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, had been “giving massive amounts of money to the very suspect groups who had their hands in OKC and other events” – namely, the SPLC. For the record, there is no indication that Paddock ever donated anything to the center, nor ever indicated any affinity or affiliation with it.

While Jones has been promoting the idea of a civil war for some time now, his projection-fueled rhetoric reached stochastic-terror levels as the broadcast went along:

This is a leftist Democratic Party operation, with mainstream media, corporate media hyping the climate of ‘kill the Republicans, kill the white people.’

They’ve gotten so radicalized with their own propaganda that they’re believing all this stuff. And then when their folks go out and kill, they cover it up, and they blame it on the victims.

… They’re getting ready for war! And in full spectrum dominance, they’re going to carry out the attacks, and then they’re going to turn around and blame us and say our rights and our freedoms are to blame! Get it? That’s 21st-century warfare. You carry out the attack, and then you blame your enemy, who you just killed.

Near the end, he concluded with a red-faced rant warning his audience that their “globalist” enemies intended to round them up in concentration camps and murder them en masse, with a flourish worthy of Slim Pickens:

You think you’re hunting us? We’re going to destroy you politically. And we’re going to hold our fire. But you watch, they’re going to false-flag even bigger now. They’re going for total broke to break your will. And if they do that, then they’re gonna put 50 million people in forced-labor camps. That’s mainstream news. And they can’t wait to give every one of these little Communist time with your wife and kids in some dungeon. ‘Cuz that’s what they want.

I’m not kiddin’. They’re comin’. You wanted to see the fight for America, you’re living it, 2017, baby! This is it! Toe-to-toe combat with the globalists, politically.

Monday, June 12, 2017

At Seattle 'March Against Sharia,' Opposition Makes Islamophobes Look Small

The crowd reminded the anti-Muslim activists about the Portland train murders.
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

SEATTLE — A small gathering of less than a hundred ACT supporters showed up at Seattle’s City Hall Plaza on Saturday and soon found themselves outnumbered by a massive counter-protest of around a thousand people who showed up to voice their disapproval.

The large crowd was deafening at times, though held back by a large police cordon, and various speakers inside the plaza had to shout to be heard.

“ACT! for America is not an anti-Muslim organization!” asserted rally organizer Anthony Parish. “We are anti-radical Islam!”

Meanwhile, ACT! supporters carried signs labeling the Muslim prophet Muhammad a pedophile; others denounced Islam and the supposed threat of Sharia law: “No Shitria” read one.

Several Oath Keepers were present in the crowd, providing “security” by escorting random protesters from the plaza.

The huge crowd across the street from the plaza, which called itself “Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors,” remained during the three hours or so the rally went on. A handful of fights broke out as the diminutive cluster of anti-Muslim marchers attempted to march from the plaza to Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, a few blocks away. Police said several protesters were arrested in the fighting.

More photos from the scene:

This woman, from Spanaway, met with representatives from the Muslim community
before the rally; during the rally, she joined the anti-Sharia crowd in shouting at them.

There were over a thousand people marching in support of Muslims.

Various signs carried by alt-righters belied the claim their rally was not anti-Muslim.
The sea of faces on one side.

Rally organizer Anthony Parish.

One of several alt-right banners making appearances at the rally.

Wrapping himself in the flag.

Flag waver.

Portland alt-right organizer Josh Gordon was present.

An exuberant alt-right supporter.

Fighting Sharia, one flag at a time.

More exuberance.

Tusitala 'Tiny' Toese of Portland also made his presence felt.

Community members remained defiant afterward.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Defiant Alt-Right 'Patriots' Encounter Portland's Simmering Anger After Train Killings

'Based Stick Man' Kyle Chapman, at right, mugs with his alt-right fans.
[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]

PORTLAND, Ore. – The mood of the 300 or so Trump supporters and alt-right “free speech” defenders at Terry Schrunk Plaza in the heart of downtown Portland on Sunday was mostly defiant. After all, they were holding the event only a little over a week after a horrific hate crime committed by a white nationalist acting out alt-right talking points had shaken the city to its core.

The city’s mayor had even taken the unusual step of requesting the federal government to revoke the permit for the rally, though that was refused. Yet the organizers and their “Patriot” movement supporters came anyway – some of them prominent alt-right and militia leaders from around the country.

As it turned out, so did thousands of counter-protesters, angry over the week’s events, who vastly outnumbered the small crowd inside the park, chanting and shouting at them from all sides.

“It is so awesome that you guys came out here today, because you are challenging the corrupt belief system, I hope you understand that,” said Joey Gibson, whose Patriot Prayer organization was the event’s main organizer. “Think about the belief system in Portland. You’re not supposed to be here. And by challenging the current belief system, that is how revolutions begin!”

Yet for all their bravado, the assembled “Patriots” could not escape the reality that they were heavily outnumbered, outprotested, and surrounded by the various factions of Portlanders who came out to protest their gathering and their message. To the west, a coalition of socialist and liberal organizations occupied the plaza in front of City Hall with a large banner reading, “Portland Stands Against Hate,” backed by a crowd of about 500. To the east, and within direct earshot, a collection of over a hundred labor union activists stretched along Third Avenue, their banner reading “Portland Labor Against the Fascists”.

However, it was the collection of black-clad anarchists and “antifascist” activists who took up occupancy of Chapman Park, the large open space directly to the north of the alt-righters’ designated spot, that drew most of the attention and concern of the gathered Trump supporters, especially as the day wore on and they grew larger, louder and more raucous, numbering in the hundreds, many of them with their faces obscured by kerchief masks.

Two alt-righters gave benign explanations for their Pepe banner to onlookers.
Eventually, while the alt-right crowd listened to speeches and waved their Gadsden flags and Kek and Pepe banners, the antifascist crowd grew increasingly agitated. Police began arresting protesters, and then used flash-bang devices to clear them out of the park altogether. A large group of antifascist activists then marched en masse downtown along Fourth Avenue, their progress halted at the intersection with Morrison, where police in riot gear ordered them to disperse, and then began rounding up and arresting protesters who were caught within their cordon. By the day’s end, 14 arrests had been made.

The dark shadow looming over the day was the shocking knife murders of two men on May 26, after they had attempted to intervene in the verbal harassment of two young nonwhite women, one wearing a hijab, aboard a commuter MAX train in northeast Portland. Both of the men had their throats cut in a sudden knife attack, and a third man suffered similar injuries but survived.

The killer, 35-year-old Jeremy Christian, was arrested by police shortly after the attacks. His background revealed a political gadabout (he had earlier supported the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders) who, in the previous year, had become enamored of white-nationalist ideology and seized upon it obsessively on social media. He voiced admiration for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a far-right icon, and adopted the longtime white-supremacist agenda of converting the Pacific Northwest into a whites-only homeland.

He also was obsessed with the claim that left-wing oppression was stifling free speech, the raison d’etre of recent right-wing “pro-Trump” events in Seattle and Berkeley, CA, that were met with violent shows of force from left-wing antifascists. It soon emerged that Christian had attended a previous Patriots Prayer-sponsored “Free Speech” rally, blurting racial epithets and carrying a baseball bat that was confiscated by police. After giving Nazi salutes and shouting “Hail Vinland!”, he eventually was ejected from the event by organizers.

More broadly, the threats that Christian was making at the time of the attacks – using anti-Muslim rhetoric directed at the young woman’s hijab – reflected a popular alt-right talking point first engendered by neo-Nazi organizer Andrew Anglin.

Christian made his motives clear at his first hearing. "Free speech or die, Portland,” he shouted. “You got no safe place. This is America – get out if you don't like free speech."

Then, as he was escorted out, he added: "Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if you hate our freedoms. ... You call it terrorism. I call it patriotism."

The crime sent shock waves through the city, long regarded as a bastion of progressive politics. Many local citizens, the mayor most notably, feared that given the simmering anger over the killings, another right-wing provocation in the form of an alt-right “free speech” rally might unleash more civic violence.

Certainly, the crowd that gathered to protest their presence had no hesitation in laying the killings at the alt-right’s feet. “You Have Blood On Your Hands,” read one banner. The labor activists chanted: “Fascist murderers!”

An African-American woman gives the alt-righters a piece of her mind
The interactions between the two sides were angry and inflamed. Early in the gathering, a lone black woman stormed through the park where the pro-Trump crowd gathered, threw down a ballcap she had taken from one of the alt-righters bearing the word “Coon,” shouted that she was a proud black woman, “not a coon,” and then proceeded to lecture the crowd about the rights of black people; most of the crowd responded meekly. Police eventually escorted her from the park.

At first, some activists from the pro-Trump crowd wandered over to where the black-clad antifascists gathered and attempted to engage them, but found themselves being chased around the park and shoved back across the street. Alt-right activist Brian Fife found himself confronted by a sea of angry antifascists who blocked his attempts to enter their park.

The rally’s organizers not only were acutely sensitive about the association with the train murders, but angrily rejected it, claiming that Christian’s ejection from their event proved he wasn’t one of them. The hate, they asserted, was all coming from the angry Left.

“It’s not about politics anymore,” Gibson told the crowd. “It’s about a lack of respect, a lack of courage. And I see it all over the place. These protesters come to my rallies and they say they want to fight hate, but then they say, ‘Eff you, Joey!’ and they spread hate all over the place. We gotta knock it off!”

Event organizer Josh Gibson
Gibson led a moment of silence for the two men who died: Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, of Portland, and described them as “heroes.” One speaker similarly described them as heroic, and eagerly mentioned that Best was a Republican. Another speaker claimed that the mayor and the media missed the real story behind the killings, namely, Christian’s alleged mental-illness issues.

At other times, however, the “love” was not altogether apparent. Gibson at one point explained to the crowd that opposing Muslims “is not racism,” because “Muslim isn’t a race, it’s an ideology.” He compared it to the Ku Klux Klan.

Brian Fife told Guardian reporter Jason Wilson that Jeremy Christian “did everything right up until the point he started killing people”.

“I do not support killing people,” he said, “I don’t think anyone does. But calling out the changing elements of our culture, I think that’s something I wish more of us would do.”

Some of the alt-right movement’s celebrities came from around the country and posed for photos and signed autographs for admirers, then spoke to the gathering. Tim “Treadstone” Gionet, better known as alt-right troll “Baked Alaska,” told the crowd to be proud of its mostly white heritage.

“I never thought I would live in a country, where I say I’m proud to be a white Christian male, and they say I’m racist, OK?” he told the crowd to applause. “Can we say this? You should be proud of who you are. I don’t care what you look like, what you believe, you should be proud of who you are. And the Marxists, the Left, the liberals, they don’t want you to be proud of who you are. And frankly, I’m sick of it. I think we’ve had enough. I’m not going to feel guilty because I’m a white male. I’m sorry, I’m not.”

Kyle Chapman, a Bay-area-based commercial diver who gained fame in alt-right ranks as “Based Stick Man” after bringing homemade weapons and shields to the Berkeley rally – and then forming a band of alt-right “warriors” called “Proud Boys,” some of whom were present Sunday – attracted perhaps the most attention.

“If you want this country to stay free, you have to be willing to sacrifice,” he told the crowd. “Our Founding Fathers, our ancestors, my ancestors that were on the boats in the Boston Tea Party, they knew they faced the threat of violence, death, incarceration for their actions – actions that brought us our constitutionally free republic. If that republic that they gave us is to stay free, you have to be willing to bleed.”

Among the other right-wing luminaries drawn to the event was Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the Oath Keepers, who wandered the crowd and chatted with militiamen and alt-right characters alike. As promised, Rhodes’ camo-clad and heavily armed “security detail” arrived early at the scene to provide extra muscle to stave off the threat of attacks from antifascists or other protesters.

Shortly after their arrival at mid-morning, the Oath Keepers – readily identifiable by the bright yellow stripes they attached to their clothing – were seen conferring with several police officials. Rhodes had said beforehand that his organization was “conferring” with local police, though Portland police denied it.

Reports from other observers at the scene suggested that some of these militiamen actively engaged in helping make arrests of antifascist protesters, and one journalist published a photo of what appears to be such an arrest.

After the police battalions cleared out Chapman Park and then followed the antifascists down Fourth Avenue before finally making their culminative arrests, the mood of the crowd began to simmer down. The alt-right speakers finished up and the rallygoers began to drift away.

Across the street, labor-union activists doggedly kept up their chants, well past 5 p.m. When the last of the Trump supporters left the park, they finally pulled up their stakes and left. The opposition had made its point, too.

More photos:

Across the street from the alt-right, "Portland Stands Against Hate" peacefully protested.

Large crowds of counter-protesters included several notably nonviolent groups.

Labor-union activists formed a large anti-alt-right contingent to the east of the park.
The tattoos on the shoulders of alt-right figure 'Based Trojan' read "White ...

... Pride." 

A woman wearing a Kek banner engages a labor protester in conversation.

The pro-Trump crowd waved a lot of banners.
An alt-righter with a Kek banner.
A pro-Trump supporter berates the antifascist protesters.
Alt-right fans at the gathering.

Chapman signs an autograph for a fan.
'Baked Alaska' defends being a white man.
Chapman addresses the crowd.

Gibson introduces his 'Guardians.'

A "Proud Boys" member (left) chats with an alt-righter bearing a Kek banner.

Oath Keepers founder and President Stewart Rhodes.

Tusitala 'Tiny' Toese of Warriors For Freedom hands out flags.

Toese performs a ritual haka before the gathered alt-righters.

A Trump supporter.

Police arrest antifascist protesters several blocks away.