This story was originally published in 2018. For more on this issue, watch CNN Special Report “State of Hate: The Explosion of White Nationalism” on Sunday, June 30 at 8 p.m. ET.
White supremacists are saying they were winners in last week’s midterm elections.
They were already emboldened by the language used by President Donald Trump and senior members of his administration – words like “nationalist” and “invasion” that have hateful dual meanings – according to a review of sites frequented by white supremacists. And they saw Tuesday’s results as a victory for white America with what they believe will be progress toward a border wall, an end to DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, and birthright citizenship.
Memes and commentary on the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer site bashed nonwhite candidates who did not win, as well as losses by Republicans not seen as Trump loyalists.
“This changed history. It cleared away any of the remaining fog of confusion about what exactly we are dealing with in this country,” Daily Stormer founder and publisher Andrew Anglin wrote. “This is a race war. Period.”
What is not clear is if any extremists will follow words with violence, as allegedly happened with Robert Bowers, who has pleaded not guilty to killing 11 people at a synagogue late last month, allegedly because he believed Jews were helping “invaders.”
Anglin was buoyed by the win of Rep. Steve King in Iowa, even after King was pilloried for meeting with a far-right Austrian group linked to Nazis and retweeting an avowed Nazi sympathizer. King, a Republican, says he was unaware of the Nazi links in both those instances, but he has used racially charged and anti-immigrant rhetoric for years.
King still won with 50.6% of the vote in Iowa’s deeply conservative 4th Congressional District. In Illinois, Arthur Jones, a self-declared Holocaust denier and former leader of the American Nazi Party tallied almost 56,000 votes, more than a quarter of the total, standing for the GOP in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.
“Steve King won,” Anglin wrote. “If last night was a referendum on Steve King’s white nationalism, as the Democrats were trying to frame it, then white nationalism won.”
On the campaign trail for Sen. Ted Cruz fighting for re-election in Texas, Trump declared, “I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist.”
He told the crowd, “We’re not supposed to use that word,” perhaps because he knew of its overtones of cultural superiority to others.
But he would not clarify when asked about it the day after the election by Yamiche Alcindor of “PBS Newshour,” who said of his words, “Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists.” Trump brushed her off with “That’s such a racist question.”
When she followed up with, “There are some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric,” he replied: “Oh, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that.”
But others apparently do believe it.
A commenter on the 4chan bulletin board joked Trump was winking at them.
Earlier, another poster declared Trump was venerated by white supremacists: “What Dems, all leftists and pundits do not understand is that TRUMP is patriots’ and Western/American Heritage’s CHAMPION.”
To Alcindor, Trump repeated two more times how racist the question was. But he also never flatly denounced white supremacists. They were overjoyed, calling the press conference “glorious,” and “beautiful” on 4chan, with one commenter writing: “I am honestly in awe of this man as a leader.”
“It doesn’t take an overt slur for these individuals to basically become emboldened and to recognize and be excited by policies that they see would further their goals,” said Keegan Hankes, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
“When they hear the President say things like, ‘I’m not a racist,’ they turn around amongst themselves and say, ‘He just has to say that for practical reasons,’ ‘he just has to say that basically to get himself cover, to do the things that we want him to do,’” Hankes says.
That was also the reaction after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August last year where torch-carrying crowds marched through the streets saying: “Jews will not replace us.” A woman was killed when a car was driven into a group of counterprotesters.
“You had some very bad people in that group,” Trump said in remarks about the Unite The Right rally. “But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
“President Trump’s response to Charlottesville absolutely legitimized these individuals,” Hankes says.
While some language is seen as a “dog whistle” – a code heard with a special meaning by the like-minded – at other times, harsh and false terminology from the White House takes over.
At the Wednesday news conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta challenged Trump on his description of the caravan of Central American migrants heading through Mexico toward the United States as an “invasion” when it was not.
But Trump batted away the challenge. “I consider it an invasion,” Trump told Acosta.
On places like 4chan, false talk of the migrant caravan as “invaders” has taken over on some of the message boards and become a popular meme topic. Analysts say “the browning of America” where whites become a minority is what the white supremacists fear most.
There are threads with memes containing photos doctored to look like people breaking down walls at the US border with Mexico. There are jokes about how the traditional rush of Black Friday shoppers is nothing compared to what would happen next. In another thread on 4chan, commentators speculate about how many people would be shot as they come over the border. The thread appeared to reference Trump’s comment that US troops on the border could fire on someone in the migrant caravan if the person threw rocks or stones. “All of them,” one poster wrote of a possible casualty count. “Not enough,” said another.
Before the midterm election, the Daily Stormer site urged followers to vote for their overt and implicit agendas. It featured a flashing image of Donald Trump front and center with the words “it’s happening.” There was also a vile meme on the site, which is visited more than 2.5 million times a month, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb. A commenter posted a picture of white men dressed for war with the words “us if we win” followed by “them if we win” on a photo of Jews being led to slaughter at gas chambers during the Holocaust.
The administration’s approach to immigration in particular has “electrified” many racists, Hankes said, “to the point where they’re begging their followers to go out and find ways to put Republicans in office.”
“They believe it will be easier for these policies to sail through,” he said. “And these are things that they think are essential for creating a white ethno-state.”
Perhaps this election did energize white nationalists to vote, if they thought they had a champion in government. But there is also the fear – and the example – of men taking matters into their own violent hands.
Bowers, the accused synagogue killer, echoed Trump talking points when he wrote on the free-speech forum Gab that “I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ‘invaders’.” The post, made six days before the shooting, continued, “I like this.”
CNN’s Jason Kravarik contributed to this story.