White supremacists know they have a place in today's GOP — as long as they wear their racism under a MAGA hat.
Inspired by Trump's embrace of racism and bigotry, neo-Nazis are now plotting to mainstream their racist ideology by rebranding themselves in Trump's image and climbing the ranks of the Republican Party.
The plans were revealed in newly leaked chat logs published by the nonprofit media collective Unicorn Riot.
In the logs, members of the white supremacist group Identity Evropa discuss their strategy to revive their public image following the August 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the murder of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer and left many more severely wounded.
The group and its founder, Nathan Damigo, were involved in organizing the "Unite the Right" rally, and have since been named as defendants in a civil rights lawsuit alleging that they conspired to commit violence.
While some white supremacist groups tried to lay low to avoid drawing further scrutiny after Charlottesville, Identity Evropa adopted a different tactic.
Instead of avoiding the public eye, the group started to make plans to spread their hate by rebranding themselves as Trump supporters and quietly taking over the Republican Party — or as they referred to it, "the White man's party."
As revealed in the leaked chats, which took place between September 2017 and February 2019, the group and its leader, Patrick Casey, clearly view Trump's presidency as a prime opportunity to increase the political power of the white supremacist movement.
"We have 6 years until he [Trump] is out of office — 6 years that shouldn’t go to waste. 6 years we should all spend on taking over our local GOP in every locality we can," wrote one member.
In another part of the chat, Casey — who posted under the pseudonym '@Steven Bennet' — said he had just joined his local Republican Party, and encouraged others to do the same.
"The GOP is essentially the White man's party at this point (it gets Whiter every election cycle)," he wrote, saying that the group should take advantage of the opportunity to merge with the Republican Party and use it at as a platform for white supremacy, rather than trying to create their own party.
The group also talked about increasing their numbers through new recruitment efforts on college campuses. Identity Evropa is known for using propaganda, including flyers and posters, to target white, college-aged men for recruitment. According to the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist propaganda campaigns on college campuses increased by more than 180 percent in 2018.
"If we're going to win this, it's going to take time, effort and sacrifice. If you're unable to do activism for various reasons, I'd like to encourage you to join your local Republican party," wrote "Bennet," adding, "It's actually quite easy to run for and win local offices. Let's make this happen!"
He advised members of the hate group to "[p]resent as a Trump supporter/nationalist" in order to blend in seamlessly with the current Republican brand.
The chats are a damning indictment of what the Republican Party has become under Trump's leadership.
Since Trump took office, his administration and its GOP allies have helped legitimize far-right extremism and enact it through policies such as the cruel practice of separating families at the border, dismantling civil rights protections, and minimizing or ignoring the threat of white supremacist violence while fear-mongering about the alleged threats posed by immigrants, refugees, and Muslims.
This has created an environment in which a Nazi (actually, multiple Nazis) can run for national elected office, a participant in the violent Charlottesville riot can become a leader in a state Republican Party, high-profile Republicans can schmooze with Holocaust deniers, a sitting congressman can comfortably endorse a neo-Nazi for national office — more than once — and GOP politicians and candidates can maintain ties to white nationalist extremists with no questions asked.
Trump, of course, has led the way through his words and actions, which have given the signal to extremists that they have an ally in the White House.
And clearly, that signal was received, as reflected in the activity of neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and other hate groups, which have flourished under Trump’s leadership. Deadly right-wing terrorism has surged since Trump took office, and in 2018, every extremist murder in the U.S. was linked to right-wing extremism.
While Trump has attempted to deny his role in inspiring violence, experts say right-wing extremists believe Trump is "offering them tacit support for their cause." And they’re right — he is, as are his GOP allies.
Just last week, 23 House Republicans voted against a resolution condemning hate because it also included language denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry.
White supremacists and other extremists are clearly watching the actions of Trump and the GOP. They've seen Republicans open the door to racism, bigotry, and hate — and they know they have a place in today's GOP, as they long as they wear their racism under a MAGA hat.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.