But there is now abundant evidence that as a presidential candidate, Trump is poisoning American politics in a way he could not have achieved as a mere mogul-cum-entertainer. His ersatz presidential campaign is winning the support of America’s most prominent white supremacists and neo-Nazis -- and in so doing, reviving dark forces in American politics that had become increasingly marginal in recent decades.
While Trump denies that he is racist and would no doubt disavow the support of white supremacist groups, his race-baiting, immigrant-bashing rhetoric has clearly struck a chord within their ranks. These predominantly white and male individuals and organizations -- who sometimes call themselves “white nationalists” or defenders of “European American identity” -- differ on some of the details, but are united in their belief that white people are under attack from the country’s growing minority groups and an elite power structure that does those minorities’ bidding. Although these white supremacists have a long list of groups they hate -- including African Americans and Jews -- they are mostly drawn to Trump for his anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux klan and perhaps the most famous face of the American white supremacy movement, said that while Trump was “untrustworthy” he was also “the best of the lot” running on the GOP side.
“Immigration is an existential threat for our people in every way,” Duke said during his radio show on Aug. 18.
“I’ve said from the beginning I think his campaign is good in the sense that it’s bringing these issues to a discussion which we have to have in America,” Duke said of Trump's high-profile immigration remarks. “And he’s continuing to move the envelope further and I think he understands the real sentiment of America.”
Trump's immigration platform includes building a wall on the Mexican border, ending birthright citizenship, implementing mass deportations and tightening the rules on those seeking asylum in the U.S.
"I'm thinking more and more that this candidacy is a really good thing for us," Duke said.
A spokesman for Trump's campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Duke is the just the latest in a long line of similarly extreme figures who have warmed to Trump’s candidacy. Evan Osnos reported on Trump’s appeal at length in The New Yorker this week. The story is worth reading in full, but Osnos’ most explosive finding is that Trump enjoys the support of a who’s who of contemporary white supremacist and neo-Nazi leaders and institutions. The members of what one might call Trump’s white supremacist fan club include:
- The Daily Stormer, a leading neo-Nazi news site, endorsed Trump on June 28. “Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people,” the site said in its endorsement. It then urged white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”
- Richard Spencer, director of the National Policy Institute, which promotes the “heritage, identity, and future of European people,” said that Trump was “refreshing.” “Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America,” Spencer said. “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” Spencer added, but noted that Trump embodies “an unconscious vision that white people have -- that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it.” Spencer, Osnos notes, is not the stereotype of a prejudiced yokel: At 36, he is clean-cut, and boasts degrees from elite universities. The Southern Poverty Law Center, Osnos says, calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.”
- Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, a Virginia-based white nationalist magazine, said: “I’m sure he would repudiate any association with people like me, but his support comes from people who are more like me than he might like to admit.” Taylor later told Osnos: “Why are whites supposed to be happy about being reduced to a minority? It’s clear why Hispanics celebrate diversity: ‘More of us! More Spanish! More cucaracha!’”
- Michael Hill, head of the League of the South, an Alabama-based white supremacist secessionist group, said Trump was “good” for the white racist cause. “I love to see somebody like Donald Trump come along,” Hill said. “Not that I believe anything that he says. But he is stirring up chaos in the GOP, and for us that is good.” Osnos attended a speech Hill gave to a crowd of cheering followers in which he railed against the “cultural genocide” of white Americans, which he said was “merely a prelude to physical genocide.”
- Brad Griffin, a member of Hill’s League of the South and author of the popular white supremacist blog Hunter Wallace, has written that his esteem for Trump is “soaring,” and has lauded the candidate for his “hostile takeover of the Republican Party.”
It is not surprising that Patrick Buchanan, a longtime Republican politician and operative, who many of the white supremacists that Osnos interviewed named as a major intellectual influence, also sees a kindred spirit in Trump. Buchanan, who ran for president in 1992, 1996 and 2000 on a platform of right-wing populism, has lamented what he calls the “end of white America” due to immigration and increasing rights for people of color. Buchanan told CNBC in early August that he sees his issues “sort of come to fruition” in Trump’s campaign, and that he is “delighted” Trump is running.
While Buchanan, Duke and other leading white supremacists backing Trump do not explicitly condone violence toward immigrants, the same cannot be said of all of Trump’s rank-and-file supporters. Jim Sherota, 53, works for a landscaping company and attended Trump’s rally in Mobile, Alabama, on Friday, told The New York Times before Trump’s arrival that he hoped Trump would announce a plan to issue licenses for hunting undocumented immigrants and offer $50 for “every confirmed kill.”
Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has already inspired some brutal violence against immigrants. Scott and Steve Leader, brothers who are accused of severely beating up a Latino homeless man in Boston on Wednesday, apparently justified the act using Trump’s anti-immigration pronouncements. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” Scott told the state troopers who arrested him.
Trump’s condemnation of the attack has been characteristically half-hearted. When reporters asked the candidate about the assault the day it happened, he called it a “shame,” but then implied that it was an unintended consequence of the passion he inspires. “I will say, the people that are following me are very passionate,” he said. “They love this country, they want this country to be great again.”
It took Trump until Friday to offer an unequivocal apology. He tweeted that the assault was “terrible,” and said he would “never condone violence.”
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