Thanks to The Nation for sending me to report from Richard Spencer’s “top-secret” white supremacist conference in a freezing barn in rural Maryland. Spoiler alert: the white nationalists bashed “neoliberalism,” “capitalism,” and Jews.
Read it here:
Thanks to The Nation for sending me to report from Richard Spencer’s “top-secret” white supremacist conference in a freezing barn in rural Maryland. Spoiler alert: the white nationalists bashed “neoliberalism,” “capitalism,” and Jews.
Read it here:
I covered the largest white supremacist conference in the country for the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. This is my report back, folded into a guide on how white supremacists are recruiting now, and why people join.
This article was published in Slate, in slightly different form, on June 5, 2017.
It’s the National Policy Institute conference, Richard Spencer’s annual Nazi-fest, and openly gay fascist Jack Donovan is exhorting the crowd to “leave the world the way you entered it, kicking and screaming and covered in somebody else’s blood.”
Over at The Occidental Observer, one of the most prominent white nationalist webzines, another out gay man, James J O’Meara, is holding forth about how “behind the Negro, hidden away, as always, is the darker, more sinister figure of the Judeo. The Negro is the shock troop. The Jew is the ultimate beneficiary.”
O’Meara believes that gay white men represent the best of what Western culture has to offer because of their “intelligence” and “beauty,” and that “Negroes” represent the worst, incapable of “achievement.” Donovan calls women “whores” and “bitches,” and, when a questioner on Reddit asked him his views of the Holocaust, said, “What is this Holocaust thing? I’m drawing a blank.”
Both have become influential figures in the alt-right; horribly, they are not the only gay men to respond to an olive branch lately offered by white nationalism. The opening of this movement to cis gay men is a radical change, “one of the biggest changes I’ve seen on the right in 40 years,” says Chip Berlet, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America. In the United States, unlike in Europe, out gay men have never been welcome in white supremacist groups. The Klan and neo-Nazi groups, the main previous incarnations of white hate in this country, were and still are violently anti-queer. And while a subset of openly gay men has always been conservative (or, as in all populations, casually racist), they never sought to join the racist right. Till now.
That was before groups like NPI, Counter-Currents Publishing, and American Renaissance started putting out the welcome mat. Since around 2010, some (though by no means all) groups in the leadership of the white nationalist movement have been inviting out cis gay men to speak at their conferences, write for their magazines, and be interviewed in their journals. Donovan and O’Meara, far to the right of Milo, are the white nationalist movement’s actual queer stars. But there are others in the ranks, like Douglas Pearce of the popular neofolk band Death in June. And there are many more gay men (and some trans women) who have been profoundly influenced by two white nationalist ideas, the “threat” posed by Islam and the “danger” posed by immigrants.
Donovan tries to sugarcoat his own racist beliefs when speaking to his main fan base, gay men who like his macho looks and straight men from the “pickup artist” culture and the manosphere who are desperately trying to learn from him how to be manly. Instead, reverting to the other half of the Nazi playbook, he prefers to highlight his hatred for “effeminacy,” feminism, and “weakness.” A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl in the many photographs of himself he releases on his website and Facebook page, he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause, earning money from a line of T-shirts and wrist guards that say things like BARBARIAN and a series of books that seek to instruct both straight and gay men in how to become more masculine and in particular, more “violent.”
One of my Facebook friends, a politically liberal gay man I’ll call Frank, is a fan of Donovan’s Facebook page “because of the visuals. I like his looks — I mean, he’s bald with tattoos. He really exudes a lot of sex.” Frank also likes that Donovan “trashes that whole gay club scene,” which Frank finds conformist and alienating.
But when Donovan says violence, he means violence. This is not BDSM. “The ability to use violence effectively is the highest value of masters,” Donovan said in a speech at a fascist think tank in Germany. “It is the primary value of those who create order, who create worlds. Violence is a golden value. Violence rules. Violence is not evil – it is elemental.” Though Donovan tries to mine the latent sexiness in violence for all its worth, he is, in fact, against consensual BDSM, condemning it as part of a long list of evils that he feels has been perpetuated by gay culture: the “extreme promiscuity, sadomasochism, transvestism, transsexuality, and flamboyant effeminacy” promoted by “the pink-haired, punk rock stepchildren of feminism,” gay activists. No, it’s straight-up people hurting and killing people he’s endorsing.
And what is all this violence for? Um, creating small, decentralized “homelands” in this country separated by… race. It’s an idea the alt-right calls “pan-secessionism,” under which, in Donovan’s formulation, “gangs” of white men would form “autonomous zones” for themselves and white women, where women “would not be permitted to rule or take part in… political life.” The gangs would enforce racial boundarylines, because, as Donovan puts it, whites have “radically different values [and] cultures” than other people, and “loyalty requires preference. It requires discrimination.”
Donovan fears that if he writes more about race, it will “distract people from the bulk of [his] work” on the sexiness of violent masculinity (which could impede sales of his clothing line, books, patches, and the tattoos he sells out of a Portland-area gym.
But on his website, he repeatedly says that real men long to “control our borders,” rails against the “black-on-white crime rate,” and says, “I support White Nationalists,” who “I call… ‘The Mighty Whites. ‘ ” Recently, he admiringly interviewed the two young men who lead Germany’s anti-African, anti-Arab Identitarian movement. On his podcast, the men, one of whom used to belong to a neo-Nazi group in Austria, boast about attacking a mosque and disrupting refugee theater. He also has begun whispering praise for Julius Evola, the Italian anti-Semite and fascist who joined Hitler’s SS.
If Donovan is a caricature of the gay Nazi strongman, almost a literalization of the phrase “body fascism” (which was originally used by gay men to critique other gay men’s obsession with perfect gym bodies), his counterpart, James O’Meara, is an embodiment of something that could barely be imagined until now, Nazi camp. I hesitated to write that phrase, because it’s almost painful to acknowledge that camp, that subversive, gay “turning” of seriousness into playfulness and straight narratives into gay ones, could be deployed by a Nazi. But of course it can: if the emergence of out gay white nationalists shows anything, it’s that we truly *are* everywhere, for good and for ill. And that we no longer have the luxury of assuming that LGBT tropes are inherently, and trans-historically, progressive.
Far femmier than Donovan in both looks and tone, the 60-ish O’Meara writes alternately smirking and playful essays for Counter-Currents about men’s clothing, the closeted Cardinal Spellman, the “homoromanticism” of the Boy Scouts, and the political economy of The Gilmore Girls. O’Meara openly loves Hitler, but he also grooves to the socialist Oscar Wilde, and admiringly includes this quote from “Bunny” Roger, the gay, British dandy and World War II hero: “Now that I’ve killed so many Nazis Daddy will *have* to buy me a sable coat.” But his “fun” paragraphs always end up at the same un-playful conclusion: “the Judaic is always there, blocking the way” and spreading “rot” throughout American culture. “The Jew” is deliberately destroying the country by building up “Negroes” and promoting “the alien, dissolute, demonic culture of the Africans.” In a podcast, O’Meara said “the blacks get their chicks pregnant as soon as they turn 15, and have 30 different children with 10 different women” because of Jewish scheming: “the poison that the Jewish mentality introduces” promotes heterosexual sex and “girl-craziness” instead of the glorious gayness that would dominate “if the Jews hadn’t taken over Hollywood.”
O’Meara seems to want to talk about boys having sex, but whenever he attempts to, the words stick in his throat and he can’t breathe until he speaks a full paragraph about “the Jews” spreading poison.
Of course, neither he nor Donovan actually support gay rights. This is partly because they don’t believe in “civil rights.” Although O’Meara wants support to be in an imagined elite band of men who love each other and rule society — his version of an Aryan fantasy called the Männerbund — he doesn’t want to support “some sniveling queen demanding ‘my rights!’… ‘The plight of the homosexual’ … is a Leftist myth.” Donovan says explicitly that straight people should be given more power and privileges than gay folk, because their “reproductive sexuality” is superior to ours. Both men openly detest lesbians and trans and genderqueer folk: Donovan calls the trans movement “men who want to cut their dicks off and women who want to cut their tits off.” And of course, no white nationalist organization anywhere supports LGBT rights. Their new “support” is limited to allowing cis gay men who are white racists to join them.
So why are white nationalists putting out the welcome mat? Most importantly, because it worked in Europe. In Holland, France, Germany, and Sweden, white nationalists have deliberately used LGBT people and Muslims as a wedge against one another. Polls show that over one third of French gay men supported Le Pen in the recent election despite her promise to end same-sex marriage, and in Germany, the far-right AfD recently tapped an out lesbian banker to run for chancellor. (The AfD is even more hostile to actual pro-gay policies than France’s National Front is.) Sweden’s fascist party organized an LGBT pride parade through Muslim neighborhoods, and of course, in Holland, Pim Fortuyn and later Geert Wilders tried to make “Islam” synonymous with “hatred of gays.” Their ultimate goal was to make hatred of immigrants “progressive.”
Bringing queer people in, in both Europe and America, is a way to grow their movement. It is also a way to court millennials, who are consistently supportive of gay rights even when they swing conservative on other issues. It’s a testament to the fact that, in some ways, the queer movement has already won the battle for public opinion. The far right could not beat us, so they decided to join us (a little teeny bit). Ultimately, it’s a form of pinkwashing. How could Le Pen, or Wilders, or other open racists be so bad when they liked queer people? It could even work to make white supremacists seem hip and edgy.
There was another potential benefit: if they could equate “Muslims” with attacks on LGBT people — and women — they might be able to attract liberals and moderates into a kind of anti-immigrant “big tent.” This would dovetail with another fascist talking point that said hatred of immigrants was “pro-worker.” it’s worth noting that Donovan and O’Meara are both anticapitalist in their way. They wouldn’t be the first white men seduced into a Nazi-like movement by the thought that it would empower them against the depredations of big capital.
The American white nationalist movement has modeled itself in almost every way on the European New Right. Years ago, it laid the groundwork for adopting the Europeans’ tactic of claiming to be friendly to queers. In America, as in Europe, they started by attempting to make white queer people afraid that “immigrants” were the ones who posed a danger to them. In fact, only two days after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub last year, white-nationalist meme producer Butch Leghorn wrote on the alt-right website The Right Stuff, “This shooting [is] a very valuable wedge issue.… We simply need to hammer this issue… Spread this meme. Drive this wedge. Smash their coalition. Make it cool to be anti-Muslim because Liberalism.”
No matter that neither Butch nor his website like queers at all. Butch’s author tagline on the site says: “Southern shitlord. Ideology is faggotry, biology is real.” One of the taglines for The Right Stuff itself is “Would you like some fag marriage with that side of waffle fries?”
Butch and his co-activists put out a plethora of memes for the occasion with, for example, a rainbow flag and the words FUCK ISLAM, and the phrases, “To be pro-Islam is to be anti-Gay.… Daddy’s gonna build a wall and keep you safe.” Said Leghorn, “We are currently driving this wedge as deeply as possible to break off the Pro-Gay coalition into the Trump camp.”
One of the many gay people who received, and began avidly sending out, such memes was Peter Boykin, a 39-year-old, married, white Virginian who had eight years earlier been suspicious of Obama because “His name is like Osama bin Laden. We don’t have his birth certificate, and he came out of nowhere.” Boykin, who grew up with conservative Catholic parents who had campaigned for Ronald Reagan, founded an organization called “Gays for Trump” after he attended a party of the same name at the Republican convention last July. After the Pulse shooting, he says, “People came pouring into the group. It was like Boom!” Boykin says he isn’t afraid of attorney general Jeff Sessions’ antigay record: “When I met him, he shook my hand, and he put my business card in his actual jacket. He was very nice to me. I don’t think he’s antigay at all.” But Boykin is profoundly worried about “radical” Muslim immigrants wanting to hurt him: “I keep seeing videos people send me where they’re beheading these 13-year-old boys and throwing people off of roofs.”
Longtime LGBTQ organizer Scot Nakagawa has been fighting white nationalist movements for over 30 years, now as a senior partner at ChangeLab, a think tank on racial justice. Says Nakagawa,”We have to remember that even racist white gay men are still very vulnerable to discrimination” because they’re gay. “When one is under attack” — not by phantom Muslims, but by real, neighborhood gaybashers — “one picks up whatever shields one can,” even shields like racism that will not fight the true threat. In Donovan’s writing, it’s clear that what he’s terrified of most is “weakness,” especially male weakness. (He notes that he feels “disgusting” if he doesn’t train in a gym “for more than a few days.”) It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that, at bottom, he feels profoundly weak and vulnerable. O’Meara, for his part, fears that he will be destroyed by African-American and Jewish “rot” and pollution. It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to guess that he feels dirty, and at risk of decaying from within.
About the white gay men who white nationalism is hoping to recruit, Nakagawa says: “it is really important to think about who those people are, and to try to reach out to them. Which means having compassion for them, as difficult as that may be.” Even these men, Nakagawa says, are suffering economically, because, in fact, nearly every group of Americans is suffering economically right now. “It’s a bad choice to imagine that all these men are incredibly rich.” Nakagawa says that the left has too often behaved as though racism and sexism as primarily matters of personal character, rather than deep social structures that elites — the 1% — use to consolidate their power. Only by finding a way to invite these men into the left “not as auxiliary members,” but “around their own self-interest,” too, “can we find a way to move forward on common concerns.”
At the same time, the LGBTQ movement needs to have the deep and searching conversations about race that have always eluded it in the past. Our whole community must radically stand up for those parts of the community that are of color, Muslim, female, and trans.
In this time of great danger for both the LGBTQ community and our the entire country, the only real way to fight fascism is to offer a competing vision, for a society that will meet everyone’s needs rather than, as Donovan would have it, the needs of “the wolves”who seek to assert “dominance and control.” For at the end of the day, none of us is a wolf — or to say it another way, even wolves are vulnerable.
Addendum: As this article was going to press, Jack Donovan wrote a long, rambling post on his website dissociating himself for the first time from white nationalism. The post may have been a response to the enormous public anger in the Portland area where he lives, following white nationalist Jeremy Christian’s alleged murder of two men for defending women of color on a commuter train May 26. In the essay, Donovan claimed he doesn’t want to organize anyone politically, “I just want to hang out in the woods with … the people who I am oathed to, my tribe, the Wolves of Vinland” — a white quasi-military pagan brotherhood recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Wolves of Vinland member Maurice Michaely recently spent two years in prison for burning down a black church in Virginia.)
The queerest thing about last week’s James Beard Foundation conference in Manhattan was the ginormous photograph of a brown-black human turd, pictured underneath a similar-looking red sausage. The photo was displayed on a huge screen by public-policy academic Raj Patel, who announced to the assembled corporate honchos, entrepreneurs, and bland food-nonprofit wonks, “I’ve come to be the turd in the punch bowl!”
The James Beard Foundation is the most prestigious organization for American chefs and gourmands, and every year since 2010 it’s been holding an “educational” conference about food activism — a really, really tame one, if this year’s confab was any indication. The turd Patel had come to deliver was the message that the sustainable food movement must be grounded in, er, politics — and not just any politics, but a progressive “politics of justice and equality.” Otherwise, the handsome Patel said in his lovely Brit accent, food activism can be used just as easily by the fascist right — as in Italy, where haters of Muslims have passed laws banning kebabs, and in India, where the Hindu right has beaten to death Muslims accused of eating beef.
Unfortunately, the message most conference-goers seemed to take away from the author’s exciting but rambling speech was simply not to be Islamophobes, which the chefs, food-service companies like Aramark, Dunkin’ Donuts brass, and school-garden advocates in attendance seemed to feel they could sign on to fine. The larger message of Patel’s excellent food writing — that systemic economic inequality is the biggest barrier to food justice, not poor people’s confounding failure to educate themselves about kale – was lost at a conference who stated goal was “to explore the genesis and lifecycle of trends and apply that knowledge to food system issues. We’ll draw on the experience of other trend-focused industries, such as technology, fashion, and design, to understand why some trends last and others fizzle.”
The conference was entitled “Now Trending: the Making of a Food Movement,” and the people in the room were almost exclusively white people with very well-paying jobs.
At one discussion at my table, I heard white attendees earnestly debating how to get “people from the inner city” aware they should eat vegetables, as though people of color had no awareness of good health practices. When we finally discussed the need to increase free school meals for hungry children, a man at my table dubiously asked if there was any “empirical data” that they improved test scores.
A few tips for the James Beard folks for organizing future activist conferences: 1) Don’t have a dress code. (“Business casual attire.”) Most of the people you want to get in the room will be wearing jeans and T-shirts or low-end dresses. They will be most comfortable (and most ready to fight the system) if they’re not forced to dress as if for a job interview. 2) Don’t charge your attendees $500 to attend ($600 if they’re unable to pay by the “early bird” date). 3) Have nitty-gritty sessions on how to lobby, how to organize other human beings, how to organize mass demonstrations. Don’t waste chefs’ and advocates’ time with hours devoted to “hot brands” like Gordon Ramsay and “the Internet of things” and wondering how we can make the movement for food justice just as um, “exciting” and sellable. 4) Learn the difference between a market and a movement. Continue reading
Is there something gay about the wild visual and tactile fantasies at play in dessert-making?
“Of course, it’s a gay sensibility! We don’t say it in public anymore, but fuck them, of course it’s a gay sensibility!” said Ron Ben Israel, one of the most elite wedding-cake makers in America and the queerest queer to have ever starred in a TV food series.
You’ll remember him as the madman behind Sweet Genius, the Food Network pastry-competition show where he subjected patissiers to amusingly cruel tests like making a cake with duck fat and fusilli that somehow reflected the artistic inspiration of a diamond. The surrealism of Ben Israel’s tests seemed queer in itself: on the show, he made chefs confect chocolates out of Pop Rocks and beef jerky, inspired by a disco ball, and insisted on another occasion that they create a frozen dessert out of squid ink that also somehow got across the idea of butterflies. Continue reading
The words “fancy food” make my heart swell, for better or worse. In 1970, “fancy food” is what we called it when my father got a gift basket from his boss full of special jams and cheeses that weren’t Kraft Singles and chocolates that were not from Hershey. That basket thrilled me. (The cheeses were still processed ones, but it was 1970 and for them not to have been, we would have had to be Italian-American or a different income level.) The words artisanal and upscale, and that strange new term “noms,” had not yet been applied to food, but I would get a feeling of world-shaking satisfaction whenever I’d go to the Jewish “appetizing” store on Avenue J, where there were preternaturally bright dried fruits and smoked fish that magically smelled delightful, not offputting. Hence “fancy,” special. We seldom could buy anything there, but seeing it was enough. So it was with a sense of being in a childhood paradise that I found myself at the Summer Fancy Food Show last week, the national trade show for the Specialty Food Association, the 64-year-old association of producers and purveyors who sell “high perceived value” food to the American market. Continue reading
I was thrilled when the food writing goddess Molly O’Neill recently called this “a terrific piece looking at the intersection of food, real estate, life and the commodification of the modern, the local, the sustainable and the imaginative by the wonderful Donna Minkowitz.” It was published in Gay City News on June 9, 2016.
Under normal circumstances, my reaction to the news that a new artisanal food hall had opened in the city might be rage. In the extraordinarily beautiful river park next to Battery Park City, new kids in town Le District and Hudson Eats are revoltingly overpriced and offensively underwhelming. ($15 for bad, small “Skinny Pizza”? $12.50 for a teeny bagel with a tiny bit of beet-cured lox at Black Seed?) And they replaced the perfectly good, cheaper eats you used to be able to enjoy in that complex (Brookfield Place), while looking out at the the shimmery Hudson and listening to interesting free music and performance art.
I like the food at Brooklyn Flea, but its bigger offspring, Smorgasburg, is too crowded to enjoy, with diners competing madly for savviest-foodie-hipster status and for a sadistically small number of seats. (As with David Chang’s deliberately painful seating at his Momofuko restaurants, upscale food promoters are trying to train diners to accept ever-smaller and more uncomfortable spaces as the value per foot of city real estate goes ever up.)
Marcuse coined the phrase “repressive desublimation” to mean the pleasures that consumer culture promises you, only to have the supposed ecstasies of the Berkshire pork taco (say) vanish as soon as you take the first bite. Pleasures fade exactly this quickly at the Gotham West Market, The Plaza Food Hall, Chelsea Market — all the carnivals of fake-bacchanalian fressing. It’s easy (if you’re not poor, that is) to be swept away with excitement by the sight of all that quivering, umami, gleaming, exciting food. Smoked whitefish with rice from Ivan Ramen! Hibiscus doughnuts from Dough! Popsicles made from cherry blossoms! Wow! But when you finally eat them, the revolutionary pleasures they seemed to offer are compressed out of all existence by the crowded, uncomfortable, competitive space, the lackluster culinary skills of the preparers, and the pressures of doing what is in effect the unpaid job of Instagraming, tweeting, and blogging about the hyped-up food you just ate. In an age when it’s mandatory to have social media profiles and to build your personal status by any means necessary, we pay once for the artisanal grub and then a second time, by promoting it for free.
There’s more. Alyssa Katz, an editorial writer for the New York Daily News who has covered real estate for decades, says luxury developers are using the upscale food halls and festivals to escalate gentrification in their neighborhoods. “There’s been a very deliberate investment by these developers” in yuppie food hubs, she says, for the express purpose of luring high-income tenants and buyers. In fact, Smorgasburg owners Jonathan Butler and Eric Demby say they were invited to set up shop on the Williamsburg waterfront by real-estate developers who “were trying to sell [apartments in] their buildings.” And Uprose, Sunset Park’s anti-gentrification group, has sharply criticized Industry City, the “disruption hub” in Sunset Park whose food hall (including a Smorgasburg) is spurring yuppie relocation that will lead to the displacement of thousands of low-income Sunset Parkers.
Which brings me to the city’s newest food hall, The Pennsy. It’s a yuppie gastro-hub that has somehow opened on top of Penn Station, which could be described as the stinking asshole of New York City. In that benighted neighborhood, the brain-killing giant neon billboards make you want to die even more than the ugly, dark, and dirty confines of Penn Station underneath. In the station, of course, there is no food that could even be called tolerable, stranding the 600,000 who enter it daily to use Amtrak, the LIRR, and New Jersey Transit. Continue reading