Tucked away in the woods of middle Tennessee’s Montgomery Bell State Park, 300 “white advocates” gathered over the weekend at the fourteenth American Renaissance conference to reflect on just how much fuel Trump has added to their movement this election cycle.
“I’ve never felt this sense of energy in our movement,” the conference host, Jared Taylor, said in his opening remarks. “I’ve never been more optimistic.”
According to Taylor, this year’s conference saw a 100-person jump in attendance from 2015; a show of hands identified half of the participants as first-time attendees and one-third as under the age of 30.
Trump’s candidacy and the proliferation of white nationalist media online have put the old guard of white advocacy in touch with the new. At the conference, anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate old-timers rubbed shoulders with the young men of the “alt-right”–a loosely defined amalgam of isolationist white nationalists who crusade against political correctness and thrive on the Internet.
Younger attendees–many of whom sported the “fashy” haircut, a variation on the short-on-the-sides, long-on-top hipster ‘do that one attendee said he appreciated for its “authoritarian uniformity”–seemed particularly lacking in nostalgia for the GOP of yesterday. In Trump, these young men saw a Republican they could get behind: a brash billionaire who had no qualms calling out the Washington, D.C. establishment or the failures of conservatism.
“Trump is probably the first politician I’ve seen in perhaps my entire life that I would go and vote for,” Nathan Damigo, a social science major from Northern California sporting a “fashy” haircut, told TPM. A two-tour Iraq War veteran, Damigo praised Trump as “the only one” in the GOP to condemn that invasion as a mistake.
That suspicion toward mainstream media manifested as open hostility at one Saturday talk, where Paul Ramsey, who goes by “RamZPaul” on YouTube, repeatedly called out a Buzzfeed reporter who’d previously written about the alt-right and was covering the conference. After Ramsey’s speech, a young blonde man walked up to Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray and issued a warning that sounded equally ominous and troll-y.
“There’s more of us than you think,” he said to her. “We’re crashing the plane. No survivors.” [Ed. note: TPM later learned that this was an adaptation of a line Batman villain Bane says in “The Dark Knight Rises”]
Still, the white nationalist movement sees coverage of Trump’s anti-immigration policies as key to spreading their ideals.
Peter Brimelow was a conservative financial journalist for Forbes and The National Review until his increasingly caustic anti-immigrant beliefs led to his dismissal in 1997. He now runs the “patriotic immigration reform” site VDARE.com. In his talk, the British expat pointed to Trump’s campaign announcement speech as the “spark” that started “the conflagration.”
“It didn’t even take a speech,” Brimelow said of Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants. “It just took a sound bite, a few sentences.”
Asked if Trump could actually build a southern border wall, temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants without congressional support, even Jared Taylor was circumspect.
“All politicians break promises,” he said. “That’s something we have to live with. I would prefer it that we had certainly about this but certainty is impossible.”