Daily Kos: Heil to the Chief: Adaptation from Words on Fire

This is an excerpt from a Daily Kos column, originally published on March 9, 2020.

The following is adapted from my forthcoming book, Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It, out in June and available for pre-order now.


On November 9, 2016, hours after Hillary Clinton conceded the election to Donald Trump, white supremacists began taking credit for Trump’s win.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted,

“This is one of the most exciting nights of my life -> make no mistake about it, our people have played a HUGE role in electing Trump! #MAGA

Andrew Anglin, head of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, in a triumphalist tone, referred to Trump as one of their own. He wrote:

“We won, brothers. All of our work. It has paid off. Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this. If it were not for us, it wouldn’t have been possible… And the great news is, we’re going to be given credit for it… Today, the world ended. A new world has been born. Anything is possible now. The future is wide open. Trump is a step toward our goal, not our actual goal, but he is a gigantic step.”

He continued,

“All my friends in Europe are texting me “NOW WE’RE GOING TO GET TO KICK OUT THESE MONKEYS!!!!” Seriously, all caps texts, just like that. We will now move into the next phase of our Great Work...This has been the best year and a half of my life. We have won so much. And it has led to the ultimate win. The battle is far from over. Much, much, much work to be done. But the White race is back in the game. And if we’re playing, no one can beat us. The winning is not going to stop. Thank you all. I love you all.”

Richard Spencer tweeted:

“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.”

The Southern Policy Law Center describes Spencer as:

“a radical white separatist whose goal is the establishment of a white ethno-state in North America. His writings and speeches portray this as a reasonable defense of Caucasians and Eurocentric culture. In Spencer’s myopic worldview, white people have been ‘dispossessed’ by a combination of rising minority birth rates, immigration and government policies he abhors.”

Nine days later Spencer presided over the annual meeting of the National Policy Institute, of which he is president. The institute describes itself as an, “independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world.”

Spencer is best-known for coining the phrase alt-right in 2010 as a way of rebranding white supremacy and white nationalism. It began as the full phrase alternative right but quickly morphed into the shorter version, alt-right.

The phrase was popularized on the conservative media site Breitbart News. Breitbart co-founder Stephen Bannon called his news organization the “platform for the alt-right” before he left Breitbart to lead the Trump campaign in August 2016. He later became chief strategist in the White House.

In this way, the alt-right had a direct channel into the White House.

And on the second Saturday after the Trump election, two hundred people gathered to celebrate Trump’s election, which they saw as their victory.

Spencer addressed the National Policy Institute crowd assembled in the Ronald Reagan Office Building in Washington. As he spoke about the Trump victory he used the word Lügenpresse, literally, “lying press” in German. This was an echo of Trump’s refrain of “fake news,” but the word itself was a dog whistle that his audience would recognize. The word has a sinister history. It was used by the Nazis and later in East Germany to discredit unflattering news coverage.

Spencer began his speech by invoking just this word:

“Of course, those of us on the Alt-Right always took President-Elect Donald Trump and his chances seriously. Unlike everyone else, we weren’t surprised, or at least not that surprised. We knew he could win. Many of us thought all along that he could win. The mainstream media — or perhaps we should refer to them in the original German, Lügenpresse — the mainstream media never did.”

As Spencer warmed to his theme, he moved beyond describing Trump’s victory to claiming credit for it:

“We willed Donald Trump into office. We made this dream our reality. And if we will it, it is no dream . . . And this Trumpian dream is only the beginning . . . We demand to live in the world that we imagine. Today, there is an effort by the humiliated mainstream — those commissars who are lashing out against us and who are whipping up the mobs outside this very building — to push back against us. Despite winning the election fairly, despite winning in the face of near unanimous opposition from the mainstream media, there is a concerted push to deny the new president-elect his fully earned legitimacy.”

As Spencer began to wrap up, he reminded his followers of the stakes:

“For us it is conquer or die. This is a unique burden for the white man, that our fate is entirely in our hands. And it is appropriate because within us, within the very blood in our veins as children of the sun, lies the potential for greatness. That is the great struggle we are called to. We are not meant to live in shame and weakness and disgrace. We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet. We were meant to overcome—overcome all of it. Because that is natural and normal for us. Because for us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again.”

Spencer then closed with a rousing call:

“Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

As he closed his speech Spencer raised a glass up high with his right hand, in an apparent toast. Members of the audience rose and gave a Nazi salute extending their right arm out to the front.

One man gave the salute multiple times, shouting “Sieg Heil!” – literally, “Hail Victory” in German. This was the common verbalization of the Nazi salute during Hitler’s reign. Today the salute is illegal in Germany, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Spencer would go on to be one of the organizers of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in August of the following year.

In Trump’s third year in office, when he spent more than a week calling on four congresswomen of color to go back to where they came from, Daily Stormer editor Anglin posted:

"This is the kind of WHITE NATIONALISM we elected him for."

Read full column here.

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