Spencer was eager to distance himself from the chaos of Charlottesville when I spoke to him on Saturday night.
“Going forward we’re going to have more tightly controlled rallies and demonstrations,” he told me by phone from an alt-right afterparty for the event. Spencer said this was not his event. “I accepted an invitation,” he said, from the rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler. Spencer’s name was on the flyer for the event.
“I don’t think that adopting the garb of a movement from 70 years ago is going to be very productive,” Spencer said. “I certainly evoke the past in a lot of my aesthetic but I’ve never tried to engage in live-action role-playing reenactment—I don’t think that’s ever going to be positive.” Spencer was on stage in November when his conference attendees began giving Nazi salutes, and he said “Hail Trump” in his speech. He excused this to me later as a “moment of utter exuberance and craziness.”
Kessler declined to be interviewed on Saturday night, saying he felt it would be “biased.” But he disputed the claim that Nazi symbols had been an important element of the march, saying there had been just one guy with a Nazi flag. (Photos from the march show a swastika armband on a featured speaker, T-shirts quoting Hitler, and other Nazi iconography.)
Over the past year a schism had already taken place among the alt-right, particularly after Spencer’s conference. Some right-wing activists who had once called themselves alt-right began peeling off, favoring terms like “new right.” The blogger and Twitter personality Mike Cernovich, who has clashed with Spencer, is one of these. Cernovich has revamped himself as a key figure in the pro-Trump media sphere, which has become obsessed with rooting out globalist enemies of Trump rather than advancing overtly racial politics.
“These alt-right people are so scared of people calling them a cuck they walked with them,” Cernovich said, referring to the neo-Nazis. “Those dumb motherfuckers, are you kidding me? They’re gonna let themselves be in pictures with the Nazi flag?”
“That’s all the alt-right stands for, is white nationalism,” he said. “They are now indistinguishable. Worse than that, they are now associated with domestic terrorism.”
“Their dream is over as of today,” he said of the alt-right. “As of salute-gate, it was over.”
James Alex Fields, the man suspected of driving his car into a crowd of people protesting the rally and killing one, was photographed earlier that day with the Vanguard America group. The fact that the alt-right is now associated with the political violence he perpetrated is a turning point.
“I certainly hope that white advocacy does not become irrevocably linked in the public’s mind with violence and confrontation,” said Jared Taylor, the founder of American Renaissance, who hosts a white-nationalist conference every year and who Spencer has credited with “red-pilling” him, or converting him to the movement. Taylor’s conference has attracted an increasing number of young alt-right attendees in the past couple years; when I went last year, there was a large contingent of MAGA-hat-wearing young men.