We were promised a showdown at high noon. Instead, Washington DC was host to two pitifully-attended competing rallies this Sunday, followed by a Twitter slapfight between two 39-year-old men. What was scheduled to be a single rally for free speech at the Lincoln Memorial was cleaved in two when several speakers became aware they were sharing the bill with an avowed white supremacist. With that split, any tenuous alliance that may have existed in America’s political far right is now rapidly waning, along with its membership.
Across from the White House in shady Lafayette Park, a who’s who of right wing Twitterati whom the vast majority Americans still have never heard of—Mike Cernovich, Laura Loomer, Jack Posobiec, Cassandra Fairbanks, Lucian Wintrich, Kyle Prescott—were posing for selfies with fans and taking turns at a makeshift podium. But despite over 600,000 Twitter followers combined and direct access to mid-level conservative outlets like The Rebel, Big League Politics, and Gateway Pundit, the Rally Against Political Violence managed to draw 150 people at most to the nation’s capitol. Gathering to cheerlead the president was the typical cadre of young, white, meme-fluent men, but families and veterans as well. Many on the outskirts claimed to be tourists, and Lafayette Park’s crowd was outnumbered by the anti-abortion gaggle in front of the White House gates. The event’s keynote speaker, former Trump advisor Roger Stone, was a no-show.
Ostensibly, the rally was meant to protest the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise nearly two weeks prior. In reality, it was a slapdash effort to break from the white nationalist elements of the right, an ongoing rebranding effort since January—first as Trumpites, now as the New Right—that has been minimally successful. “The big tent ended after the Salutegate,” Cernovich told Gizmodo, referring to a the Nazi salutes thrown towards Spencer during a November pro-Trump gather which led to his banning from the Deploraball inauguration party. A Proudboy and former Marine who attended the rally wearing the “don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag as a cape told Gizmodo that he knew of several people who were attending both.
Cernovich claimed he draws the line at Nazi salutes, but many in attendance at his rally on Sunday were seemingly little better. “Security” was provided by the largely ex-military Oathkeepers, whose eyepatch-wearing founder Steward Rhodes wouldn’t tell Gizmodo how many of his cohorts were at Lafayette Park because it was an “operational security issue.” Though he claimed his group exists to remind people of the Constitution and to “refuse unlawful orders,” a lengthy entry from the Southern Poverty Law Center describes the organization as “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the US today” and describes their motivations as based on a prevailing paranoia of impending martial law.
Several older attendees were there in support of Lyndon LaRouche, a 94-year-old fringe political candidate who was jailed in 1989 for attempting to defraud donors and the IRS. An Anti-Defamation League claim of LaRouche’s anti-Semitism has been upheld in court, and more recently his publications have forwarded a conspiracy theory that Barack Obama and the British government are attempting a coup against Donald Trump.
The “Western chauvanist” Proudboys—a fraternal organization run by VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes whose second-in-command Kyle Prescott spoke Sunday—are directly associated with the Alt-Knights, who have previously promoted the very same speakers this event existed to boycott.
A young girl held a sign that read “Red Pilled Youth I Am the #Newright” which her father appeared to have written for her a few minutes prior. Jack Posobiec attempted to lead the crowd in a tuneless rendition of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” It was a toothless showing, and a far cry for the pre-election political energy the right had managed to harness.
Just over a mile southwest, Spencer’s free speech gathering was unsurprisingly less diverse, and its 200 or so attendees skewed younger. A majority of hands went up when he asked the crowd how many were under 30, though more might have been visible had the question not been partially drowned out by a passing airplane. “We need to absolutely obliterate them [...] in the most ruthless manner possible,” the alt-right leader had said the day before on his podcast of the former allies he now disparagingly calls the “alt-lite,” whose destruction he considers more pressing than any leftist group. Despite confederate flags, signs that read “Deport Islam” and white-hot rage, the closest thing to conflict in front of the Lincoln Memorial was a dissident throwing a sandwich.
Spencer was a more charismatic speaker than any of the pro-Trump figureheads at Lafayette Park even if he resembled a washed-up lounge singer, and managing to elicit cheers of “hail Richard” from the crowd. Where Cernovich bills himself as an incidentally political self-help guru, Spencer sees himself as a sort of philosopher-king. Exhibit A: His speech included both instructions on how to rebel against one’s parents, as well as a lengthy digression on the Magna Carta. “We do have a real ideology, a real way of looking at the world, and the Cernovich-type people a year from now he’s gonna be on some new thing,” he told Gizmodo in a phone interview in April. “This holds for Milo and it holds for a number of other people… there’s not real there there.” Admittedly: Make America White Again presents itself as a more cohesive if markedly uglier idea than the spin-and-apologize tactic of the New Right’s pro-Trump boosterism. “Cernovich is just out for power and for the money, I don’t think he gives two shits about the movement,” and attendee named Wayne holding an Anticom flag told Gizmodo. In place of dead-obvious self-promotion, their rally instead focused on white genocide, refusal to “apologize” for slavery or the Holocaust, and, as one attendee in a black undershirt put it, the threat of becoming “minorities in our homeland.”
Many in the Alt-Right, including Spencer, see Cernovich as little more than a grifter, collecting wannabe grifters along with way with the the promise of internet stardom—and rightly so. He’s peddled the reactionary flavor of the month, whether its Men’s Rights, or GamerGate, or Trump, all the way to a massive online following and an interview with 60 Minutes. Part of conflict between the rallies was rooted in The Rebels’ Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer interrupting a Central Park production of Julius Caesar, with the website freelaura.com set up hours in advance of the stunt, and a crowdfunding campaign which has netted over $12,000—far more than would be warranted for charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct. By contrast, Spencer sees himself as having been in the game (the game being white supremacy) since well before the New Right hacks, and took time during his speech to decry social media platforms for quashing speech and authentic interaction—the irony being that everyone we spoke to at his rally had heard about the event through some form of social media.
By 2:30, the Lincoln Memorial’s speakers had finished and the crowd dispersed. While the New Right had claimed a moral victory, the Alt-Right felt they’d won the ideological one. Yet Spencer and Cernovich took turns berating each other on Twitter shortly after as to which gathering was bigger, who had drawn more media, etc.
The larger crowd had come out in support of bigoted organizations like the Traditionalist Worker Party, Identity Europa, and Spencer’s own National Policy Institute, but neither was substantial—both were, in fact, difficult to spot at a distance amid throngs of tourists. Spencer’s victory in numbers instead points to how wildly unpopular Trump has become. While the eager-to-offend but politically moderate New Right clings to the chance of real political power, the Alt-Right seems to realize no such recognition is forthcoming, and that criticizing Trump is a sounder position.
As for Cernovich, in case politics doesn’t pan out, he’s working on a side hustle ripped from the pages of InfoWars: branded supplements. When asked how sales of Gorilla Mind, a nootropic drug based off the name of his self-published book, he told Gizmodo: “I don’t have any yet, but that’ll go well.”