David Neiwert's Alt-America
David Neiwert's Alt-America

An over-capac­i­ty crowd filled the audi­to­ri­um in Everett’s down­town pub­lic library Sat­ur­day after­noon to hear author David Nei­w­ert and The Dai­ly Her­ald’s local news edi­tor Scott North dis­cuss some recent his­to­ry of extrem­ist groups in the Pacif­ic North­west and the nature of white suprema­cism more generally.

Library staff said one hun­dred and sev­en peo­ple packed into the library’s audi­to­ri­um to lis­ten to the two inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists describe a local pre­cur­sor to the pop­ulist author­i­tar­i­an move­ment now in pow­er in the White House and answer ques­tions about how to make sense of Don­ald Trump’s “Alt America”.

David Neiwert's Alt-America
David Nei­w­ert’s Alt-America

It was sig­nif­i­cant­ly more ani­mat­ed than the usu­al crowd for an author’s book reading.

“The last one I had was four peo­ple,” a Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton book­seller said as Nei­w­ert signed copies of Alt-Amer­i­ca: The Rise of the Rad­i­cal Right in the Age of Trump for more than half an hour after the even­t’s conclusion.

Nei­w­ert and North began with a local sto­ry, that of con­vict­ed dou­ble-mur­der­er, Ari­zona death-row occu­pant, and racist bor­der-watch activist Shaw­na Forde.

Forde had unsuc­cess­ful­ly run for Everett City Coun­cil in 2007 on a plat­form demo­niz­ing undoc­u­ment­ed expatriots.

How­ev­er, local report­ing by North and The Her­ald in 2008 revealed her to be a life­long felon and grifter who’d false­ly claimed to have been sex­u­al­ly assault­ed by MS-13 gang mem­bers but had actu­al­ly shot her then-hus­band in attempt to get mon­ey to buy a ranch in Ari­zona and start a mili­tia train­ing program.

Lat­er, she turned to Plan B and start­ed rob­bing drug traf­fick­ers and undoc­u­ment­ed expats, which led to her mur­der­ing a man and his nine-year-old daugh­ter, and fail­ing to mur­der the wife-moth­er who iden­ti­fied Forde and her crew.

While Forde was a sociopath, Nei­w­ert said the con­ser­v­a­tive, anti-immi­grant move­ment she sought to exploit was as socio­path­ic as Forde was.

“It attracts peo­ple devoid of empa­thy,” Nei­w­ert said, because, as an ide­ol­o­gy, it is devoid of empathy.

A cohort rad­i­cal­ized through online video-game com­mu­ni­ties first court­ed through the misog­y­nis­tic Gamer­gate move­ment to harass women and attack mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism became a plat­form to rad­i­cal­ize an entire gen­er­a­tion of young white males. That pop­u­la­tion is now ten times as active as those young men sim­i­lar­ly tar­get­ed by the Islam­ic State group, Nei­w­ert said, and their actions are not reflect­ed in the over­all media narrative.

“Peo­ple aren’t pay­ing atten­tion to the fact that the Park­land shoot­er put Nazi swastikas on his mag­a­zines,” Nei­w­ert said. While there isn’t evi­dence that he engaged with a par­tic­u­lar group, he was rad­i­cal­ized online nonetheless.

Nei­w­ert described how white suprema­cist virus­es get into fam­i­lies and rip them apart. “The Inter­net has spread it into fam­i­lies even more,” as well as com­mu­ni­ties and friends. “We can’t seem to agree on what real­i­ty is — what a fact is.”

Even at this event, there was a mid­dle-aged white man from Marysville who swore up and down that Democ­rats were the real racists, Nixon’s South­ern Strat­e­gy was a myth, and that urban areas were the new plantations.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, “The Clin­tons” and “Robert Byrd” flowed freely from his lips with no room in his world­view for Strom Thur­mond, Jesse Helms, Lee Atwa­ter, or the gen­er­al drift of the GOP. Try­ing to get him to acknowl­edge oth­er­wise agreed-upon his­tor­i­cal events was not fruit­ful. Indeed, this was actu­al­ly some­thing Nei­w­ert had point­ed out ear­li­er as a prob­lem with the left.

“Lib­er­als don’t argue to per­suade but to win,” Nei­w­ert cau­tioned, more con­cerned with scor­ing points than effect­ing change. The con­ver­sa­tion con­sists of wait­ing till some­one says some­thing racist then ring­ing a vic­to­ry bell. And that’s not enough when the point is to try con­vert the con­vert­ible people.

Andrea Hol­land-Bon­neu, of Sno­homish Coun­ty, said she’s from North Dako­ta and knows many peo­ple from home who did­n’t trav­el or expose them­selves to oth­er cul­tures and are sus­cep­ti­ble to white suprema­cist influ­ence because of it.

“Their lack of expo­sure to diver­si­ty has warped them,” she said.

Hol­land-Bon­neu said it’s her respon­si­bil­i­ty to per­suade fam­i­ly mem­bers and friends who let their guard down around peo­ple like her, because her friends who are peo­ple of col­or don’t have that same access.

How­ev­er, not every­one is saveable.

Wendy Zieve, of Shore­line, came to the event and described her broth­er, mil­lion­aire aero­space busi­ness­man Peter Zieve of Mulki­teo, as an enthu­si­as­tic Trump sup­port­er who had already been lost to the hatred of the extreme right wing, despite shar­ing Jew­ish grand­par­ents on both sides that immi­grat­ed from Lithua­nia and Ukraine in the ear­ly twen­ti­eth century.

“His entire self is obsessed with who he hates,” she said, and it’s been a con­sis­tent drift since he was at least thirty.

Oth­er than his wealth, Peter Zieve is not excep­tion­al in white Amer­i­can society.

Nei­w­ert described how author­i­tar­i­an­ism is always propped up by a size­able por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion who want author­i­tar­i­an­ism, and he laid out their gen­er­al char­ac­ter­is­tics in his talk.

  • They’re sub­mis­sive: they see soci­ety as need­ing to sub­mit to a strong­man — albeit one they con­sid­er legit­i­mate — in order for civ­il soci­ety to remain order­ly and functional.
  • They’re con­ven­tion­al­ists: they claim to rep­re­sent the main­stream of soci­ety, in our case the Real Amer­i­ca in con­trast to ille­git­i­mate Amer­i­cans, how­ev­er numerous.
  • They’re aggres­sive: against those who don’t go along, even to rit­u­als like some­one not stand­ing for the nation­al anthem.

Nei­w­ert said author­i­tar­i­an­ism is always propped up by a size­able por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion who wants author­i­tar­i­an­ism, and that the Nazis in Adolf Hitler’s Ger­many based much of their world­view and spe­cif­ic polices on Amer­i­can mod­els — from Man­i­fest Des­tiny to Jim Crow laws to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

How­ev­er, Nei­w­ert made a point that he goes into more thor­ough­ly in his book: although Trump attracts fas­cists, he’s not one himself.

He lacks the coher­ent, con­sis­tent world­view to be a fas­cist, Nei­w­ert argues.

He’s an author­i­tar­i­an, and has been for almost thir­ty years, con­sid­er­ing his praise of the Chi­nese gov­ern­men­t’s vio­lent response in the 1989 Tianan­men­men Square protests. Trump is cur­rent­ly admired by many white suprema­cist groups, who have been embold­ened by his election.

Once Trump leaves the scene, where will the ener­gy go?

“If (Trump) dis­ap­pears tomor­row, we’re still going to have the prob­lem of a horde of anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic, author­i­tar­i­an fol­low­ers,” Nei­w­ert said.

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