Columns » Trump Tracker

Alt-right leaders could have a second act

Trump Tracker


Today’s disgraces may be tomorrow’s reinvented successes. - CHRISTOPHER PENLER / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Christopher Penler /
  • Today’s disgraces may be tomorrow’s reinvented successes.
Eight years ago last week, there was the first big tea party rally in Washington, D.C. Earlier this week, I found some audio I recorded of the rally, where thousands of people gathered on the National Mall, united in their hatred of the federal government, as embodied by then-President Barack Obama. It was amazing how much it sounded like the Trump rallies I’ve attended.

“What paper are you with?” one woman, who looked like a grandmother and went to church, asked.

I told her I was with the (now-defunct) Columbia City Paper, hoping that my South Carolina-based publication might give me a little cred with this crowd.

“The only thing your paper’s good for is wiping your reporters’ asses with,” she said.

A white guy with a mustache who was wearing white tennis shoes, a low-buttoned shirt and gold chains, said there was a revolution coming and that after the revolution the world would look like him.

I think back and I know he was right. Donald Trump is his dream come true.

All of the aesthetic qualities, the DNA, of the Trump phenomenon were there. And the tea party took over Congress that year. So why were we so surprised when Trump won?

A lot of people have blamed the press. I’ve fought back against that — it’s not our job to predict the future. But it is our job to remember the past and one of the reasons people were so surprised is that we had, in many ways, erased the rougher edges of the tea party from our memory. Our news cycles aren’t good at following undercurrents, and things move underground.

So I’ve been really uncomfortable with the narrative that the alt-right is waning. Sure, a lot of its leaders have been deplatformed — kicked off of Twitter and YouTube, etc. — but that doesn’t mean that they have gone away or that their ideas are less attractive to a certain portion of America than they were on Nov. 10, 2016, right after Trump’s victory.

It’s useful to remember that, like Trump, a lot of these clowns who have become alt-right or alt-lite celebrities are masters of reinvention because they know how to manipulate the short memory of the media. So here are possible sequels for a few of the alt-right rogues.

Great Balls of Fire and Fury

Steve Bannon’s fall seems pretty spectacular. Remember the great Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire! where The Killer is on top of the world and then marries his teen cousin and ends up drunk playing county fairs? If lead Dennis Quaid were Randy Quaid and wore two shirts it would be a good depiction of the Breitbart-boss-turned-Trump-advisor’s fall from grace in recent months.

Trump fired Bannon after the violent clashes in Charlottesville and the publication of reporter Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising. But Bannon played it off and returned to Breitbart.

Then, after the release of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, the billionaire Mercer family, who fund the Breitbart propaganda site, severed ties with the man Trump labeled “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon, like so many washed-up American stars, then went on a European tour hoping to become the David Hasselhoff of the global fascist movement, encouraging the racists there to embrace the label.

But he will be back. He is still, perhaps, the most dangerous man of the alt-right. And he is obsessed with intersectional feminism because he understands the fear that strikes into the hearts of schlubby bros everywhere — and he casts it in world-historical terms.

Milo Big Fat Greek Yiannopoulos

Milo was, at one time, one of the biggest stars on the alt-right, his speaking tour creating chaos and protests, his book deal bringing in big bucks. Now he’s just afraid of being one of the biggest losers — apparently he is terrified of being fat. The shift occurred after a video in which he seemed to endorse sex between “younger boys and older men” surfaced. His publisher dropped him and even Breitbart fired him.

The right can stand all the racism and xenophobia and hatred you can throw at them, but these people are Pizzagaters after all — they’ll shoot you for eating pizza if they think a pedophile is nearby.

Then his emails were released by Buzzfeed — and they showed that he allowed actual Nazis to line-edit his Breitbart stories, which were mostly penned by a ghostwriter. After that, his editors’ comments on his book leaked out. They were brutal. But it is easy to see him reemerging in 20 years as some big, fat Eastern-European-style strongman leader.

Smokey and the Based Stickman 2

Kyle Chapman, who calls himself Based Stickman, is one of the sadder figures to emerge out of this sad movement. He was man become meme last year in the so-called Battle of Berkeley when he hit an anti-fascist protester in the head with a stick. He got charged with felonies, but he also hooked up with the Proud Boys to start Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights — the “tactical defense arm” of PB — and keeps getting locked up.

Last week, on April 15, he tweeted, “It’s the one year anniversary of the second Battle of Berkeley. We’ve come a long way but have far to go. ... We are leading the charge against globalism. The world looks to us [for] guidance. Deus Vult!”

There were two pictures. One from the battle, the other of him sitting in a dark room raising his hand in what could easily be mistaken for a Hitler salute. But the shot also looked like the beginning scene of Smokey and the Bandit II, where Burt Reynolds is holed up in a hotel room, drunk, sad but trying to hold on to the glory from his minor little stunt.

Matthew Heimbach-y Boo-Boo

Like Trump, Matthew Heimbach is destined for reality TV fame. He started the White Student Union at Towson University near Baltimore and, quite improbably, became a famous Nazi with his Traditionalist Workers Party. He was rather spectacularly arrested last month when, hold on, let me make sure I have this straight, he assaulted his wife and his Dickensianly named spokesman Matthew Parrott. The assault occurred when Parrott and the woman unfortunate enough to marry Heimbach confronted him about his affair with Parrott’s wife — who is also, somehow, Heimbach’s stepmother-in-law. The Traditionalist Workers Party dissolved. But this is perfect reality show shit and we know where that can lead.

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