Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro is a Washington, D.C.-based multimedia journalist reporting on activism and conflict through photography, video, and social media. He is currently News Director at News2Share. His previous work can be found at POLITICODurango Herald, and the Atlantic Council.

Fractured alt-right, antifa hold competing “free speech” rallies

Fractured alt-right, antifa hold competing “free speech” rallies

This article was published by News2Share on June 26, 2017.

Members of the alt-right gather for a "free speech" rally outside the Lincoln Memorial on June 25, one of two competing rallies.

Most tourists wandering Washington on Sunday morning probably didn’t expect to run into green cartoon frogs, cult-like devotions to some sort of deity named “Kek,” or notorious white nationalists toting Trump souvenirs. But if chants decrying “anti-white” policies hadn’t make it apparent, the Confederate flags and white nationalist emblems did: the alt-right had come to Washington.
 
“These people don’t ultimately believe in free speech, they’re ultimately cucks, they’re ultimately wimps, they’re also just honestly bad people,” said Richard Spencer, founder of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank. The twist: he wasn’t referring to the left, but other members of the alt-right, which, if Sunday’s rallies were any indication, is looking worse for wear.

Typically billed as events celebrating and promoting free speech, alt-right rallies have been frequented by a loose coalition of white nationalists, young social media personalities, and conservative militias - groups that might otherwise be hesitant to cooperate were it not for their support for Donald Trump and mutual opposition to speech-stifling political correctness. Their unity showed signs of eroding on Sunday.
 
The split occurred over Spencer’s inclusion in the Lincoln Memorial “freedom of speech” rally, the latest in a series of such events across the country that have seen bloody clashes with anti-fascist “antifa” protesters. Those street battles gave rise to a series of alt-celebrities with considerable online audiences, including Jack Posobiec, Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman, and Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet. Until now, they’ve largely stuck with each other post-election with antifa as their common enemy. But Posobiec and Chapman, originally billed to speak at the Lincoln Memorial, grew weary of being associated with white nationalist Spencer. They rebelled, forming their own competing rally a short walk away at the White House.
 
“My rally is a free speech rally,” said Augustus Invictus, an activist who runs a blog called The Revolutionary Conservative and helped organized the original Lincoln Memorial rally. “There’s been a lot of infighting. These guys can’t keep their eyes on the mission, and to me, that is a failure of leadership.” Invictus blamed antifa for the deepening division, accusing them of using “our own tactics against us” resulting in Sunday’s schism becoming “a shit show.”

“I mean, if you meet Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich, they're liars, they're con-artists, they're freaks,” said Spencer, “they're not the people we want to be associated with. So I'm ultimately happy this happened. The alt-right will be better when we cut away these people that weigh us down."
 
The Lincoln Memorial rally went on despite the deepening divide. On a hot summer morning, dozens of armor-clad, stick-wielding young men and women worked their way up the steps to the memorial, weaving their way through puzzled tourists. Some waved Confederate battle flags, others white nationalist banners, and a few the green flag of Kekistan, a digital “meme nation” born from the depths of anonymous image boards.
 
They slowly gained in numbers until U.S. Park Police shepherded the group to the base of the monument, away from a growing left-wing counter protest led by the International Socialist Organization. The two groups were separated by a series of barricades, and each managed to stay just out of the other’s sights, with the alt-right only briefly overpowered by distant chants of "no fascist USA," and more than one shout of “go back to your mother’s basement.”

Though there were no physical altercations, a series of heated arguments between passing tourists and rally-goers attracted media and police attention, the latter being quick to defuse tension before getting out of hand.
 
In once instance, a pair of young women booed the rally from the sidelines, only for the alt-right to respond with “take a shower,” and “we get it, you’re lesbian, shut up.“ In another moment: “We set you free, we didn’t start slavery, we ended it, and you should be grateful for that,” said a man waving a Confederate flag to an African American tour guide who confronted him.

On the part of the speakers, a distinct theme of the Lincoln Memorial rally was white nationalism, with several speeches denouncing diversity and peddling white genocide conspiracy theories. “Jewish influence disarms us in the left’s onslaught of identity politics,” said Christopher Cantwell, a radio host who describes himself on his website as “the most principled libertarian ever, and a fascist.” Mike Enoch, a white nationalist blogger, later commented, “let’s be honest, what’s really facing our country is the systematic elimination of white people today.”

Other speakers at the Lincoln Memorial focused on their firm stance against political correctness, complaining about being silenced on the web by biased conversation moderators. “I’m simply a man who wants to be able to say whatever the fuck he wants say,” said Tim Gionet, a former Buzzfeed writer turned alt-right personality, better known by his alias “Baked Alaska.” 
 
“Twitter suspended me for sending a gas chamber meme,” he told the crowd, adding, “I thought it was funny, personally."

White nationalist Richard Spencer, whose participation contributed to the alt-right split on Sunday, concludes the Lincoln Memorial rally with a sign reading "no longer silent, we will be heard, identity Europa."

White nationalist Richard Spencer, whose participation contributed to the alt-right split on Sunday, concludes the Lincoln Memorial rally with a sign reading "no longer silent, we will be heard, identity Europa."

Meanwhile, blocks down Constitution Avenue, alt-right activists Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich led their own faction. Absent was the white nationalist rhetoric, with the spotlight instead being on Kathy Griffin’s controversial photo shoot involving Trump’s decapitated head, the recent shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, and other “gruesome displays of brutality against sitting U.S. national leaders,” according to the event’s Facebook invite.
 
“CNN, they’re a terrorist organization, they’re working with the deep state and the CIA to have you think that Mr. Trump is guilty of wiping his butt in the morning,” said a protester wearing a shirt featuring the Kathy Griffin shoot with the caption CNN = Terrorists. “Don’t believe the hype, ladies and gents, because we’re not gonna sit back and allow ya’ll to take Donald Trump down. I’d give my life for it, just like I’d give my life to truth.”
 
“This is a rally for peace. We’ve seen so much of the violence from antifa, so much violence from left-wing terrorists,” Posobiec said, calling out the “normalization of violence” by works such as the 400-year-old Shakespearean classic, Julius Caesar running this year through New York’s famous “Shakespeare in the Park.” Posobiec and his colleague, Laura Loomer, recently disrupted a production of Julius Caesar in protest of its Trump-themed assassination scene. Posobiec accused “Shakespeare in the Park” of being complicit in the shooting of several congressmen earlier this month by inciting violence.
 
Missing from the rally was right-wing operative Roger Stone, who, though billed as the headliner, apparently backed down to due to threats against his safety. Stone, who contributed to the the rise of prominent conservative figures including Nixon and Trump, instead sent a message to the organizers to be read in his absence.
 
“I decline to endanger the many who are gathered there today, but I am with you in spirit,” said Posobiec, reading the text he claimed Stone had sent him. “There is no excuse for the violence that has manifested in this orgy of killing by leftist extremists we’ve seen.”

Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet, left, poses for a photo with white nationalist Richard Spencer, right.

As for the rivalry between rallies, Spencer and Baked Alaska had the last word.
 
“We want to unite the right, we want to work with everyone, we gave the ‘alt-lite’ that opportunity, and they failed,” Spencer said, in a post-rally recap video posted to Baked Alaska’s YouTube channel. In it, the Spencer and Baked Alaska boast about larger attendance and media presence at their Lincoln Memorial rally, and mock Roger Stone’s absence from the White House event. “They turned themselves into a bunch of fringy, embarrassing losers,” Spencer said.
 
Across the city outside the Metropolitan Police Department’s Judiciary Square headquarters, the alt-right’s nemeses were holding their own counterprogramming to Spencer and Posobiec. Up to one hundred antifa protesters - many wearing all-black outfits and waving their characteristic red-black flags - set up camp outside the police department.

Smash Racism, a group formed by Washington antifa, deliberately held their rally miles away from either of the competing alt-right events in a bid to avoid the violent confrontation witnessed in Berkeley. Rally-goers at the Lincoln Memorial had indeed shown up with homemade shields and helmets, anticipating a similar turn of events in Washington. In an interview with News2Share, Invictus stated outright he looked forward to confronting antifa, saying “if they’re stupid enough to attack us, which is what I’m hoping for, we will level them.”
 
Washington antifa stayed miles away, however, instead promoting their own message in support of free speech and in opposition to political violence, holding their rally outside the city police department. Their aim was, in essence, to out-free speech the alt-right's free speech rallies. 
 
"We're here today because the alt-right has tried to co-opt the idea of free speech as their own,” said one attendee, “in order to justify them invading communities with deliberately provocative rallies that often are there just to provoke the fight with people who disagree with them. "
 
Antifa protesters see the election of Donald Trump as inspiring white supremacist, anti-semitic, and fascist ideology. The “antifascist action” movement has been prevalent in Europe for years in cities like Paris and Berlin, where black bloc protesters have often clashed with police in the name of fighting fascism. Trump’s rise inspired some on the left to import the movement’s tactics and philosophy to America.
 
“Me, as an anarchist - there’s no way I would not support free speech,” said Lacy MacAuley, an organizer affiliated with Washington’s anti-fascist protest movement. “What the right wing is about, that has nothing to do with free speech … they’re building power and momentum to violate our rights.”
 
MacAuley denounced the alt-right’s rallies as being less in the name of free speech, and more to advocate for a “white homeland,” which she derided as “oppressive,” and unachievable through anything short of a “massive genocide.” 
 
The antifa counter-protest comes as more than 200 activists, journalists, and legal observers face decades in prison over their alleged involvement in inauguration day violence. Months later, police raids against activists, lengthy trials, and possible misconduct by police have led Washington antifa to label the city police as complicit in fascism. Antifa have previously held rallies supporting indicted inauguration protesters outside Washington's courthouse. On Sunday, they placed a large white banner reading “MPD = Fascism” outside MPD’s headquarters.
 
“Take away our ability to exist and organize openly, and the door to fascism opens wider,” read the event’s Facebook invite. “We won’t let the right wing steal our free speech. We won’t let the police steal our right to protest. We won’t let the state steal our right to exist.”

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