Yesterday’s rally of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and so-called “alt-right” activists predictably devolved into violence. One anti-fascist protester and two police officers are dead, and dozens more were injured by neo-Nazis in a fascist rally at the University of Virginia. But after the streets were cleared, far right thugs who participated in the demonstration seemed only concerned with one thing: Not being called Nazis.
It’s a curious thing that I’ve seen happen since President Trump was elected. People of the “alt-right” are very concerned about being called Nazis, even when they promote ideas that are unquestionably aligned with Nazism. There were literally Nazi flags at yesterday’s rally, and ABC News even made the obvious comparison to Nazi rallies of the 1920s and 30s on TV last night. But high-profile people from the protests have been clutching their pearls on social media whenever people have dared called them Nazis.
One of the most interesting cases of far right activists taking issue with being called Nazis is a man who goes by the name of Baked Alaska. He has been documenting his trip to Virginia on Twitter over the past few days, and has taken issue with people who have called him a Nazi again and again.
Baked Alaska, whose given name is Anthime “Tim” Gionet, regularly tweets about the persecution of white people, has tweeted out the 14 Words (a famous neo-Nazi phrase about white children), and retweets videos of his friends saying that “Hitler did nothing wrong.” He’s even known for tweeting images of people in gas chambers.
But after the smoke cleared yesterday Baked Alaska seemed very, very concerned about not being called a Nazi. His tweet from Virginia last night whined about how people were labeling those at the rally as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and domestic terrorists. His insinuation was the he’s not any of these things.
This, of course, was after one of the neo-Nazis, identified as 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., drove his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one woman and injuring at least 30 others. The attack has been denounced by politicians (excluding President Trump, for some reason) as an act of domestic terror. But why would white supremacists online worry about the names people give them?
Baked Alaska was hit with pepper spray yesterday during the clashes between Nazis and counter-protesters (sometimes called Antifa, or anti-fascist). But even after he got sprayed with bear mace, his largest concern seemed to be the labels people were using for him. Which is curious, given all of the things he’s tweeted.
On Friday, Baked Alaska tweeted a video of the “14 Words,” coined by the late white supremacist David Lane. The 14 words read, “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” It’s not exactly subtle and is unquestionably a neo-Nazi slogan.
And yet, earlier in the week Baked Alaska took issue with the website Barstool Sports, who called him a neo-Nazi in an article originally titled, “Neo-Nazi Leader Baked Alaska is Sad No One Will Rent Him an Airbnb.” The title has since been changed to, “Alt-Right Troll Named ‘Baked Alaska’ is Sad No One Will Rent Him an Airbnb.” Baked Alaska called the original headline slanderous on Twitter and asked if someone would be fired over the piece.
But why is Baked Alaska so concerned with being called a Nazi? Some insist, as evidenced by the Barstool Sports revision, that he’s merely a troll, or someone who simply says incendiary things to get a reaction out of people. He doesn’t really believe in the causes of Nazism, they say, and is merely being outrageous.
But how long does someone get to joke about endorsing Nazism before they’re officially a Nazi? Is there a magic number of times people get to “jokingly” say they’re a Nazi before we take them at their word?
Is three gas chamber jokes enough? Does tweeting out the 14 words without a hint of irony count? How about if you attend a rally with Klansmen and neo-Nazis who are chanting “Jews will not replace us”? Does society finally get to call you a neo-Nazi if you’re marching with other people holding Nazi flags?
As far as the “trolling defense” goes, people used to say the same thing about an infamous neo-Nazi hacker who goes by the name of Weev. The tech community rallied around Weev, whose real name is Andrew Auernheimer, back in 2013 when he was sentenced to 41 months in prison for exploiting an AT&T iPad security flaw. His comments about Jews and black people were dismissed as “trolling” in the early days of his notoriety.
But it slowly became clear to anyone who was paying attention that Weev’s trolling wasn’t just a silly game of being politically incorrect. Weev was a full blown neo-Nazi. He got a tattoo of a swastika sometime around late 2014 and published anti-semitic and anti-black screeds constantly.
Weev writes for the Daily Stormer, arguably the most important and high-profile white supremacist website on Earth, and in early July, Weev had a message for CNN: “Kill yourselves, kike news fakers.” Amazingly, some people in tech still to this day refer to him as a troll rather than a neo-Nazi.
Again, one has to start questioning how we describe people on the internet who aren’t shy about saying things that obviously align with Nazism and yet blanch at being called Nazis.
Richard Spencer, one of the most newly famous neo-Nazis, is another great example of someone who has shied away from the neo-Nazi label while obviously holding beliefs that match perfect with those of old school Nazis. Spencer coined the term “alt-right,” and though words can change and evolve over time, he was pretty clear about his intentions with the word. The term “alt-right” was a way to make the white supremacist movement more palatable, especially online. And it gave racists and fascists cover. They could echo the exact thoughts of neo-Nazis while they feigned offense that anyone dare call them one. They’re alt-right, they insist. Not neo-Nazi.
I reached out to Baked Alaska for comment through Twitter and have yet to hear back. I’ll update this post if he responds. I suspect that he and anyone else you might ask from yesterday’s rally will respond that they’re no more neo-Nazi than the president of the United States, who made it clear that he was denouncing “many sides” for the violence, not just the people holding Nazi flags. And that should fucking terrify every American.