On Saturday, the National Policy Institute (NPI), an organization aligned with the “alt-right” movement, assembled in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. They were met with vehement protest by hundreds of D.C. locals, who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to condemn the group’s presence.
A name like “National Policy Institute” obscures any particular agenda, but to be clear: the NPI identifies with the alt-right’s loose ideology of white nationalism, racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. They exult in Nazi iconography. And as their president, Richard Spencer, has made clear, they regard Trump’s win as their own.
“Donald Trump’s campaign was the first step towards identity politics in the United States,” he applauded at a recent press conference. “I do think we have a psychic connection, a deeper connection with Donald Trump, in a way we simply do not have with most Republicans.”
NPI convened this weekend at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, just minutes from both Trump’s newly opened hotel and the White House. Attendees included reality television personality Tila Tequila, British anti-immigration activist Peter Brimelow, and of course, Richard Spencer himself.
Trump has denied any affiliation with the alt-right, and as Politico reports, Spencer himself does not believe the president-elect to be a member. That said, NPI and others sharing their views feel empowered by his victory, and interpret his successful campaign as an endorsement of their agenda. Of paramount importance to the alt-right is a stringent immigration policy. In fact, they argue for a 50 year ban on all immigration to the United States, with a few exceptions for Europeans.
It’s unclear to what extent NPI’s wishes will be granted. However, they are so far galvanized by Trump’s appointments — particularly Steven Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News, to White House chief strategist and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to Attorney General. Bannon has long been accused of anti-Semitism, and in 1986, Sessions was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge.
“Jeff Sessions being in charge of enforcing civil rights laws makes me want to sing,” an NPI attendee from Virginia told the Washington Post.
Many alt-right affiliates express their yearning for a white oasis of sorts, where minorities would be entirely excluded. It would, however, be acceptable to live amongst a small number of Filipinos, included for the sole purpose of performing subservient labor (including nursing). A college student attendee told the Post that he was unsure of how to achieve such wholesale segregation without violence.
“This is not an empirical science,” he remarked.
At the conference, Spencer reiterated his optimism in Trump’s presidency, born from his campaign and its enthusiastic supporters.
“There’s been an awakening,” he said to the predominately white male crowd. It appeared that roughly half of the attendees were under 40 years of age.
“The alt-right is a youth movement,” explained 64-year-old attendee Gerald Martin to the Post. “They’re really going for it, maybe because they’ve never had a victory like this. All they’ve ever heard it ‘white guilt’ and, lately, ‘white privilege.’”
Meanwhile, outside the Reagan building, over 200 protestors vigorously condemned the NPI’s gathering. My husband Paul and I were among the crowd, a diverse group chanting in unison against fascism, racism, and the various iterations of intolerance championed by the alt-right.
For the most part, the protest was peaceful. But early in the afternoon, two NPI attendees—one male, one female—emerged from the Reagan building to confront those of us gathered outside. Although Paul and I were nearby, it was unclear how precisely events unraveled. We overheard the woman ask protestors if we were “self-hating white people.” And as tension thickened, her male colleague—dressed in a blue button-down, blonde hair buzzed close to his head—attacked one of our protestors. You can see the altercation in the video below:
Police officers swiftly intervened in the skirmish. Two protestors were apprehended, and at least one was handcuffed and arrested. The NPI attendee who had initiated the fight was not similarly collared.
Until Paul and I broke with the group around 3:30 p.m., we did not witness any further physical violence. We marched in the street with signs calling for tolerance, and multiple individuals—women, trans people, African Americans—addressed the crowd, articulating outrage, fear, and optimism. A little girl held a sign that read “Use Kind Words.”
But one protest will not overpower these rising tides of prejudice, especially in a climate that seems to elicit them. At the conference’s conclusion, Spencer declared to the press, “The alt-right is here, the alt-right is not going anywhere, the alt-right is going to change the world. And you all need to pay attention to this.”