Donald Trump’s presidential win took many — including members of his own campaign — by surprise Tuesday night.
But for members of the alt-right, the amorphous, nationalist fringe movement that gained mainstream recognition during the 2016 campaign, the brash businessman’s ascension through the Republican primary ranks and ultimately to the presidency was a victory many years in the making.
“It was like I was in a bit of a dream last night,” Richard Spencer told Yahoo News on Wednesday. “It was like a pinch-me moment.”
For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. #Trump
— Richard ???? Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) November 9, 2016
Spencer, who runs the National Policy Institute, a Virginia-based white nationalist think tank, is widely recognized as the founder of the alt-right. For Spencer and other members of the movement, Trump’s election was more than just a victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
“This is a very, very significant victory against virtually the entire American political and media class,” said Jared Taylor, another prominent alt-right figure and the founder of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance.
Trump, Taylor noted, received only two major newspaper endorsements compared to Clinton’s 57.
“And yet he beat the establishment candidate,” he said. “Shows how completely out of touch American elites are with the people of their country.”
Specifically, the people Taylor is referring to are white Americans.
“We take it for granted that blacks will vote for candidates who promise good things for blacks. The same for Hispanics as well,” he said. Taylor is a self-described “race realist,” or proponent of the widely-denounced theory that certain races are biologically superior to others, and has advocated on behalf of eugenics.
“You could argue that, for the first time, whites are clearly beginning to vote the way people of other races do — that is to say, in their own interests,” he said.
More a loose web of far right ideologues than a cohesive political movement, the alt-right is connected by a shared interest in promoting a white national identity, fueled by the belief that white American culture is under attack.
Even now, alt-right leaders like Taylor are the first to admit that Trump is “not one of us.” But they are also quick to recognize Trump’s campaign as a vehicle for their interests. Among other things, Trump has said he wants to build a massive wall along the U.S.’s southern border, deport everyone living illegally in the U.S., and bar all Muslims from entering the country. Even Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — was interpreted by some as a nod to a time when American culture was less pluralistic.
“Building a wall to keep out illegals, sending home all illegals, taking a very hard look at Muslims, ending sanctuary cities, putting an end to birthright citizenship,” Taylor said, rattling off Trump campaign proposals that resonate with the alt-right.
Though the average Trump supporter does not identify as a part of the alt-right, a movement that many have never heard of, Spencer and others argue that it was these same antiestablishment viewpoints that ultimately earned Trump such widespread support among white voters.
“White middle Americans, wherever they live, had been ignored by politicians of both parties,” said Don Black, a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard and the founder of Stormfront.org, one of the oldest and most popular “white nationalist” forums on the Internet. “Immigration simply wasn’t part of the debate because both parties wanted some form of amnesty for illegals. Nor was free trade and globalism. Then Trump threw a monkey wrench into the system.”
Black said he couldn’t help but take some pleasure in the “shock and awe” over Trump’s victory Wednesday morning.
Taylor compared Trump’s presidential win to the similarly unexpected success of this summer’s Brexit referendum to withdraw the United Kingdom from the European Union. Not only were both “considered nearly impossible by pollsters,” Taylor argued, but like Brexit, Trump’s win is also “part of a worldwide reawakening of nationalist sentiment.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit that monitors extremist groups in the U.S., said the number of hate groups in the country has shot up dramatically in recent years. The SPLC attributes the proliferation of these groups to a variety of factors, including the election of the country’s first black president and the subsequent projection from the U.S. Census Bureau that, by 2050, whites will be a minority in the United States.
“That drove a lot of fear into the hearts of people who were ‘racially conscious,’ or racist,” Ryan Lenz, editor of the SPLC’s Hatewatch blog, told Yahoo News. “Donald Trump tapped into that fear and stoked that fear.”
Lenz said it’s not quite clear whether Trump’s rhetoric riled that fear into “racial rage” or if “this underlying hatred, fear of the other” existed before Trump entered the presidential race and propelled his campaign forward.
“What is clear is that three days after the election, there is palpable and real evidence that racism is alive and well in this country,” Lenz said, referring to the growing list of people who have reported incidents of racially charged violence, harassment and intimidation in the 48 hours after Trump was elected president.
As of Friday evening, the SPLC had counted more than 201 cases of election-related hate speech and intimidation since Trump’s win Tuesday, based on news articles, social media posts, and reports submitted through the center’s website.
“The irony is that … after Obama’s election, many people were saying that we were living in a post-racial America,” Lenz said. “Eight years later, it’s very clear that we are not.”
While Trump often eagerly embraced his alt-right fans on Twitter, the support of known white nationalists like Taylor and former KKK leader David Duke attracted unwanted scrutiny to his campaign — forcing Trump to distance himself from some of his more recognizable radical supporters.
But the cold shoulder did little to deter Trump’s admirers on the alt-right, whose views have long been relegated to the furthest corners of fringe.
“I didn’t see a lot of enthusiasm in those disavowals that he gave,” Spencer said. But he didn’t blame Trump for giving them, either. “I’ve been alienated from the Republican Party, been alienated from most of politics for most of my career.”
Reluctant as the president-elect may have been to take the relationship public, Spencer said, “we have this deep connection with Trump that we haven’t had with any other candidate, and I don’t think he can really deny that.”
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a president other than Trump strongly considering Steve Bannon as his chief of staff, as reports suggest he is. Bannon, the former chairman of the alt-right Breitbart News, helped lead Trump’s campaign in its final stages.
“Let’s be honest,” Lenz said. “The possibility that Donald Trump will bring extremist figures from the alt-right into his administration is real.”