Time With White Nationalists Recorded In 'Everything You Love Will Burn' Noel Kings talks to journalist Vegas Tenold, who spent several years embedded with white nationalist groups — culminating in last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.
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Time With White Nationalists Recorded In 'Everything You Love Will Burn'

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Time With White Nationalists Recorded In 'Everything You Love Will Burn'

Time With White Nationalists Recorded In 'Everything You Love Will Burn'

Time With White Nationalists Recorded In 'Everything You Love Will Burn'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/635907973/635907974" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Noel Kings talks to journalist Vegas Tenold, who spent several years embedded with white nationalist groups — culminating in last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

NOEL KING, HOST:

On Saturday in Portland, Ore., riot police dispersed right-wing protesters and liberal counterprotesters. This event made a lot of people anxious in part because we're just a few days away from the anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. Now, you probably remember the images - young white men with tiki torches chanting, Jews will not replace us, violent clashes between protesters and counterprotesters, a car driving into a crowd. And a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, was killed. And then there was President Trump's statement to reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides - I think there's blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either.

KING: Trump's on-both-sides statement has become one of the most memorable moments of his presidency. His equivalence drew condemnation from leaders in both parties and praise from white supremacists. Now, all this week we're going to be looking at what led to Charlottesville and how the country has changed since then.

Today we're joined by Vegas Tenold. He spent six years embedded with white nationalist groups right up until the rally in Charlottesville, and he wrote a book about his time called "Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside The Rebirth Of White Nationalism In America." Good morning, Vegas.

VEGAS TENOLD: Good morning.

KING: So this weekend there was this rally in Portland that involved far-right groups called the Proud Boys and Patriot's Prayer (ph). Now, the interesting thing is both of these groups insist they are not racist. What do they say they are?

TENOLD: They say - the Proud Boys call themselves Western chauvinists...

KING: OK.

TENOLD: ...Which mean that they say that Western civilization, i.e. white civilization, is behind pretty much all progress throughout history, which is of course nonsense. The Patriot Prayer group is Joey Gibson's vehicle for his Republican Senate bid in Washington state. But I want to make clear even though they say that they're not far-right or don't have far-right links, the links between these groups and various neo-Nazi groups, far-right groups are many and deep.

KING: Well, let's talk about what those links look like exactly. Do these folks hang out with each other? Do they talk to each other?

TENOLD: Yeah, sure. I mean, the - as I say, there are many links. I mean, a lot of the people who went to the rally in Portland this weekend were tattooed with various neo-Nazi tattoos. Proud Boys have been linked to several far-right events in the last year. They've been to everything from Unite the Right to Richard Spencer rallies. So saying that they're not far-right is frankly completely ridiculous.

KING: The subtitle of your book, "Inside The Rebirth Of White Nationalism" - you started covering white supremacists about six years before Charlottesville. What is this rebirth, and when and where did it begin?

TENOLD: Well, I think - it's almost a little bit of a misnomer because the far-right of course have been a large part of American life for generations, for pretty much as long as there's been an America. But I think around 2015, 2016, we all kind of collectively woke up to the fact that they were still very much part of our political life. In 2010, 2011, when I began covering this, we were all kind of - you know, we were patting ourselves on the back for electing Barack Obama. And...

KING: One of the big questions that your book raises is, how big a force are they? You describe disparate groups, disorganized groups, groups that almost - there are moments in your book that are almost darkly humorous. You describe a rally of a bunch of these different groups. It has descended into disorder. Nobody knows who should be speaking. And at one point, one of the characters in your book says, we're fascists, for God's sakes; we should be all about order. Like, they were not organized.

TENOLD: No. And I think what's interesting with white supremacists is that they've always reserved a fair bit of their hatred for each other. I mean, these guys don't really get along. They don't play well together. They all want to be the next Hitler, if you will. They all want to be the guy to unite the right or to be the person sort of holding the banner of the cause, which means that their egos get in the way constantly, and they trip over these little personal feuds they have going on. I mean, if you look at what's going to happen in Washington, D.C., next weekend, pretty much every single group have said that they're not going to show up. Jason Kessler is at the moment very much alone in this.

KING: He organized Charlottesville, Jason Kessler.

TENOLD: Yes. Yes.

KING: Yeah.

TENOLD: You know, during the last year a lot of people have distanced themselves from him. Andrew Anglin, who's an influential white supremacist - he's the founder of the Daily Stormer website - yesterday published an essay saying that no one should show up to this thing. So this thing is pretty much - I mean, they're stewing in their own feuds, which isn't to say they're not powerful and they don't pose a danger. It just means that they do have a problem organizing.

KING: We have heard a lot about this forthcoming rally in Washington this weekend. We've seeing news reports this weekend that perhaps the Washington Metro might have separate cars for the white supremacists to avoid fights. I don't know if those reports have yet been confirmed or have been confirmed, but it sounds like what you're saying is this rally may not be Charlottesville. This may not be a big deal because these guys are all fighting with each other.

TENOLD: I mean, I could be wrong about this. But if you go on all these forums and if you go their Gab, which is I guess the far-right version of Twitter, there's pretty much just everyone ragging on Kessler. I was speaking to Daryle Lamont Jenkins, who's the founder of the One People's Project and a prominent anti-fascist activist, who said that, you know, jokingly, this could just be Jason Kessler on his own in D.C. next weekend. You never know. But I - at the moment, it doesn't look like it'll be anything like the rally a year ago.

KING: And I should note D.C. has said it will not provide separate Metro cars for these folks. I want to ask you very briefly in the 30 seconds we have left, is there a sense among the people you follow that there are not consequences for publicly being a white supremacist?

TENOLD: I don't think that's true. I think after Charlottesville, the first Charlottesville, a lot of identities were revealed, a lot of lawsuits. There was a lot of scrutiny, and that really decimated the movement. So I think people are very aware that they're taking a real risk marching publicly. Some of them don't care, but others do.

KING: Vegas Tenold is author of "Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside The Rebirth Of White Nationalism In America." Vegas, thank you so much for your time.

TENOLD: Thank you very much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BRADLEY ADAMS' "INTERLUDE FOR PIANO")

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