We hear about the rise of “neo-Nazism” in Western countries since the populist uprising began as a reaction to the migrant crisis in 2015, but these movements have existed since the end of Nazism in 1945. So what are they about, and what is their relationship with their enemies? J. Arthur Bloom is an American writer and editor from Virginia, who has researched informants on the far-right. He is a former associate editor of the American Conservative and opinion editor of The Daily Caller, and writes a weekly column at the Catholic Herald. His research on neo-Nazism was best explained in his piece “How to destroy the alt-right”, where he detailed the relationship the American far-right has had with law enforcement and watchdog organizations. What he found was surprising: they have often worked together to advance their own interests.
In your piece, you’ve detailed how American neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan have operated throughout history, and how the groups fighting against them, mainly the Jewish watchdog of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI), have in some instances collaborated. Could you explain what you mean by this?
The complaint is often made that both sides mutually benefit from the other. The far-right wants publicity and the watchdog groups want donations. There is a version of this symbiotic relationship in the fact that journalists love interviewing Richard Spencer. “If they want Nazis, by God we’ll give ‘em Nazis,” George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party in the late 50s, was fond of saying. The far-right is usually happy to play the role that the media has determined they should play, but there is also a deeper level of collusion that involves payments and informants.
First, we need to make some distinctions: an informant is just someone who provides information from within a group, then there’s a narrow type of informant which enters a group under false pretences, and that’s an infiltrator. The people I look at fall in both those categories. The danger about informants is that their informant status can allow them to be shielded from prosecution. In organized crime, this happens all the time.
What happened in America after the Civil Rights Act was passed was called massive resistance, with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party trying to stop integration, often in violent, horrifying ways. There are examples of informants in the Klan who were shielded from prosecution because they were informants; Gary Thomas Rowe is the best example. He was involved in several violent incidents, including the Birmingham church bombing which was predominantly attended by African-Americans and civil rights leaders, and the murder of the civil rights activist Viola Liuzzo.
George Lincoln Rockwell is known to have regularly phoned the ADL’s man in Washington to tell him what his party was getting up to. He did this for publicity. He also spoke to the FBI fairly frequently. Bob DePugh, the founder of the militant anti-communist organization in the 60s Minutemen, and later a member of the white nationalist Identity Christianity Movement, also saw the FBI as an ally in the fight against communism.
Not all informants work for law enforcement, either. The ADL has a long history of working with informants and infiltrators, and there are newer organizations like Hope Not Hate, which have as well. Some of these relationships can be shady. There are a handful of instances where the harmony of interests between the watchdogs and far-right groups is more than just public relations symbiosis. James Mitchell Rosenberg was an ADL infiltrator, and he spoke several times to a Christian Identity far-right group in Michigan. This group was led by Bob Miles, who had been involved with the Klan. Miles knew what Rosenberg was, but he let him speak anyway.
But even more disturbing, is how they have collaborated in certain violent incidents – Jack Nelson, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, wrote about the payment of two Klansmen to set up a bombing of the local ADL chief’s house in 1968. The ADL paid two Klansmen to set up Thomas Tarrants, a dangerous far-right terrorist to be sure. When he went to the house, the police were waiting and a shootout occurred, in which a last-minute accomplice of Tarrants was killed, a woman named Kathy Ainsworth. The FBI helped set the thing up also, so this shows the ADL and FBI had and perhaps still do have a very close relationship. The ADL regularly funded law enforcement trips to Israel, for example. For many years, the ADL’s chief law enforcement liaison was Mira Boland Lansky, daughter of the famous Jewish mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky.
In your view, how is today’s American alt-right, described by mainstream media outlets as being today’s neo-Nazis, different from the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis of the past?
One thing the far-right learned early through COINTELPRO’s campaign from the 50s to the 70s to suppress the Klan and other far-right groups, is that they had to become decentralized in order not to be detected. This is where the cell or lone wolf idea for the organization comes from. If there is a spectrum with a mass party on one end to a lone wolf on the other, the story of the post-COINTELPRO right has been one of moving away from party structures. Very far at the other end is a figure like James Mason, author of Siege, and the paterfamilias of today’s neo-Nazi terrorist group Atomwaffen. Mason idolized Charles Manson, not in spite of but because of his beliefs about the coming race war, which Mason also wanted to precipitate. This kind of violent nihilism is the philosophical underpinning of Atomwaffen.
The alt-right as a whole is also not a mass party; it’s an online sub-culture or an Internet tendency. If Rockwell was the Lenin of the far-right, Richard Spencer is its Adorno. He is trying to build white consciousness rather than a political party. In terms of beliefs, however, modern alt-righters believe more or less the same things as the extremists of the past. But the organizational structure has changed, because the more hierarchal a group is, the easier it is to take down. Today’s alt-right cannot be taken down so easily because they are just Internet personalities who reappear as soon as they are banned.
So do you think the alt-right is likely to grow?
I would not say the alt-right is a dying movement because the factors that feed it will only accelerate: the hollowing-out of the American middle class, an increasingly prosecutorial media environment, and the absurdities of the social justice Left, are going to continue, and so that will continue to produce people sympathetic to these ideas.
However, I think it’s pretty clear that the alt-right, like the far-right in the past, suffers from serious dysfunctions, social and otherwise. Their major figures are often mired in scandal, which make them look emotionally unstable and unreliable. No one looks at these alt-right figures and sees them as heroes of the white race. Partly, this is the bitter fruit of Nietzsche, they think that, as ubermenschen, the rules do not apply to them and they are morally allowed to behave in ways that they wouldn’t find acceptable in others. One of the main issues of these groups as that they are riddled with social and personal dysfunctions that keep them politically insignificant. A good recent example is the collapse of the Traditionalist Workers Party, a neo-Nazi group of the Alt-Right, which exploded in an absolute mess of personal scandals. Fringe political groups attract unstable people.
These groups also face legal and corporate persecution. This kind of suppression can work, let’s not pretend it’s always fruitless, and it seems to have taken a toll. We have begun to see these sorts of tactics used by banking institutions, who have closed out the accounts of several major figures on the populist right, which is a new development. Social media companies have a much more important role nowadays in disrupting these movements than in years past, and these social media companies now are working with watchdog organizations like the ADL and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Both of them are trusted flaggers on YouTube, and the ADL has relationships with Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Facebook does things slightly differently, they have acknowledged their algorithm choices are in some sense editorial decisions. They staffed up significantly in the last couple of years, adding a few thousand employees; one wonders how these people are employed in an editorial, content-moderating role. We basically have no idea who these people are. Where were they hired from? Who are the people editing our news feeds?