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Shawn Vestal: Modern-day Nazis hide swastikas under sheep’s clothing to sneak into GOP flock

"Let's talk face to face," said WSU student Orion Welch, left, to pro-Trump supporter James Allsup during the WSU College Republicans Trump Wall demonstration and Unity Rally counter protest Wed., on the WSU campus, Oct. 19, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The new crop of Nazis don’t come in uniform.

They aren’t the bitter rubes and paramilitary dropouts you might remember from Aryan Nations parades of the past. They come in suits and ties, college boys with at least occasional good manners, wearing pocket squares and high-and-tights, spiffed up and buff, ignorant but deploying 25-cent words, putting out podcasts and YouTube videos complete with advertisements for home products made with essential oils.

They don’t call themselves Nazis or white supremacists, but wear a linguistic caul of sheep’s clothing: Identitarian.

These kids know it’s important to seem “defensible” to mainstream people. They know that, in many quarters of American life, it’s more important to look and act and speak and dress “respectably” than it is to be decent. They aren’t looking only to troll and irritate online – they’re looking to gain institutional power, and they’ve got their lizardy eyes on the Republican Party as the pathway toward respectability.

They are energized about their ability to get mainstream white Americans more firmly on their side, and they are clear about one major source of that energy.

The White House.

This is not my analysis, though it sounds correct to me. This is the view of James Allsup, our region’s leading insufferable racist dude-bro, as presented to his fellow bigots at a private Identity Evropa conference in March. Identity Evropa is an anti-immigrant white supremacist group whose flyers have appeared on campuses around the Northwest, among other places.

It’s not clear where the event was held, but a video was posted to YouTube on March 22.

Most white Americans implicitly agree with the notion that America was meant for “decent” white people, Allsup says, and Trump conservatism proves it.

The official stance of the Republican Party, both national and statewide, has been to formally denounce Allsup and his views. What’s fascinating about his analysis, though, is how closely it aligns with the view of anti-racists about attitudes on the right – the idea that today’s conservatism provides a particularly welcoming bed of compost for white supremacy.

“You may not believe it, but the majority of European Americans, and absolutely the vast majority of Donald Trump’s 63 million voters, agree with us implicitly, whether they know it or not,” he said.

A key to drawing those folks over to the dark side, Allsup said, is for him and his fellow bigots to be “defensible” to ordinary conservatives. To seem normal and nice and ordinary. To think about how they appear to their girlfriend’s parents, to their bosses and neighbors. To make it possible for the people who are not completely comfortable carrying a torch in Charlottesville, but who might be partway there – the people flying All Lives Matter signs, perhaps, or venting their rage against black pro athletes or talking about reverse racism – to lend you various forms of support, implicit or explicit.

“A great example of this is Donald Trump after Charlottesville,” Allsup said. “Remember that press conference where he said there were good people on both sides? We were defended by the president of the United States because he knew that our ideas are, in fact, normal.”

Allsup encouraged his fellow travelers to get into legitimate Republican politics. To run for the low-level offices no one else wants. Even to be a party precinct committee officer, or PCO.

“I know,” Allsup said, “I’m a PCO in my county.”

Yes, Allsup is a Republican precinct committee officer in Whitman County. PCOs work the crucial ground floor of politics, toiling in the face-to-face, neighborhood zone of individual influence. That, Allsup rightly says, is where individuals can begin to exert influence on the party.

Allsup is the former president of the Washington State University College Republicans club. He was forced out after becoming notorious for organizing and attending the Charlottesville rally. He continued to show up at conservative campus stunts, picking fights and sneering and trying to goad students of color into becoming stars in his videos. He claimed online that he attended the Spokane County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner over the weekend and was scheduled to meet with an unnamed member of Congress.

The Spokane Republican Party issued a denunciation of Allsup in a statement released Tuesday night.

“Mr. Allsup has never been affiliated in any official capacity with the Spokane County GOP. His past statements, affiliations and actions are deeply out-of-step with the values of the Republican Party, as well as the values of the Spokane County GOP and our members,” the statement said.

But to whatever degree the party has disinvited Allsup, he keeps inviting himself back, even as he works his way into the grubby pantheon of racist leadership in America.

More than 250,000 people subscribe to his YouTube channel, where he candy-coats his bigotries as knowledge. There is little in Allsup’s videos that hasn’t long been common in the fever swamps. But there is one thing that is very jarring: He has sponsors for his videos, sponsors whose pitches he makes himself, in his own words, midshow, like a Paul Harvey radio show of old or like a modern podcaster.

So, for example, Allsup pauses during the introduction to a discussion of how the left’s framing of racism is anti-white to say: “But first, let’s talk about how you can stay safe and secure online,” as the prelude to a pitch for Virtual Shield.

Or, when he’s about to launch into an “analysis” of gender “truths,” he pauses to say, “Summer is right around the corner and if you’re like me, that means barbecues, parties, date nights and just about every other social occasion you can think of …”

And then he’s off, praising Frey clothing care products and how good they smell.

Or, just as he’s about to detail the evolutionary reasons the “ability to think comedically is more developed in men than it is in women,” he says, “But first, a word from our friends at Trade Genius Academy.”

This slide between hateful idiocy and routine pitchmanship is unsettling in the extreme. It serves as a surreal, normalizing gloss, as the glittery paint on a lump of manure, and it suggests that Allsup’s strategy – pretend to be more decent than you are – can absolutely work, at least somewhat, in this political and media landscape.

It’s a slippery slope. Or maybe just a slimy one.

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