Evan McLaren, who played a pivotal role in the American white supremacist “alt-right” movement and attended a deadly fascist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, published a surprise statement Thursday renouncing his past racist and anti-Semitic activism.
“I am not and never will be connected to the far-right again,” McLaren wrote in the statement, published on Substack. “My revulsion for conservatism and the political right wing is total. I reject and disavow my past actions, views, and associations.”
HuffPost spoke with McLaren by phone Thursday morning as he drove to work from his new home in Norway. He affirmed that the statement was authentic. It makes him one of the most high-profile defectors from right-wing extremism in recent memory.
In his statement, McLaren, 37, said he is sorry for his white nationalist activism ― which he described as “a desperate, foolish mistake, damaging to others, to myself, and to society” — but says he doesn’t expect, and isn’t asking for, any kind of absolution.
“I apologize to everyone who was affected in any way by my past activities,” he wrote in the Substack statement. “The main purpose of this statement, however, is not to apologize. I do not realistically expect to repair my public reputation, to the extent that it meaningfully exists, or to heal rifts with people I have alienated. I don’t hope or expect to be forgiven.”
In 2017 McLaren was named executive director of the National Policy Institute, a racist think tank — funded by a reclusive millionaire — that sought to give white supremacism an intellectual veneer so as to better fold explicit ethnonationalism into the mainstream Republican Party.
At NPI, McLaren was the right-hand man of the group’s leader, Richard Spencer, and helped organize a series of events that became flashpoints in the rise of the so-called “alt-right,” the American fascist movement that proliferated online during the ascendancy of former President Donald Trump.
McLaren and Spencer were among the white men who infamously marched with torches across the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville the night of Aug. 11, 2017, chanting “You will not replace us!” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil!”
The next day, McLaren and Spencer participated in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the largest American white supremacist gathering in over a generation, which culminated with a neo-Nazi driving his car into a crowd of antifascist protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 people. McLaren was arrested during the day’s events and later convicted on a charge of failing to disperse from a park after being ordered to do so by police.
“Brothers and sisters across the alt-right — this is a taste of how it feels to be the tip of the spear entering our civilizational crisis,” McLaren tweeted a day after the violence in Charlottesville.
During his tenure at NPI, McLaren frequently talked to the media, sometimes attempting to soften the alt-right’s image.
“We’re not Nazis. We’re not Confederates. We’re not KKK members,” he told PennLive in 2017, weeks after marching alongside Nazis, neo-Confederates and KKK members in Charlottesville. “We’re dedicated to the preservation of white heritage and identity. We’re talking about European culture and identity.” McLaren clarified in other statements at the time that he did not consider Jewish people to be white.
Through late 2017 and into 2018, McLaren helped organize speaking engagements for Spencer at college campuses, including Michigan State University and the University of Florida, events that both involved violence. Following the event in Florida, three fans of Spencer were arrested after one of them fired a gun at protesters.
Around this time, McLaren, originally from central Pennsylvania, passed the state bar exam and was poised to begin practicing law. “Hail victory!” he tweeted in celebration, using the English translation of the Nazi cry “Sieg heil!”
But by the summer of 2018, McLaren says he’d started to grow disillusioned with NPI, an organization he described to HuffPost as an “utter wreck and a mess.” He also described Spencer as “toxic.”
McLaren resigned from NPI in August 2018 and later moved to Norway, where, he says, he slowly began “deconstructing and thinking through” white nationalism, a movement that he says he realized “was leading nowhere and is leading nowhere.”
McLaren said his eventual rejection of white nationalism doesn’t mean he’s now a moderate conservative or Republican. Rather, he told HuffPost, he sees white nationalism and conservatism in America as inextricably linked movements that feed off of and energize each other. (This relationship, he thinks, has intensified since he left the alt-right.) He describes his views today as leftist.
A handful of other prominent alt-right figures involved in the Charlottesville rally later claimed to renounce their far-right activism. Jeff Schoep, former leader of the neo-Nazi group National Socialist Movement, and Matt Heimbach, former leader of the Traditionalist Workers Party, both professed to disavow white nationalism.
However, those disavowals drew intense skepticism from observers across the political spectrum, and with good reason. Evidence emerged in a Charlottesville-related lawsuit that suggested Schoep was still involved in the movement, and Heimbach eventually appeared to abandon any pretense of having given up on extremism -- relaunching his hate group under a different name, and telling one media outlet: "Do I particularly like Judaism as a religion? No."
Over the past few years, McLaren has kept a low, offline profile at his new home in Norway, where he lives with his wife and child. He declined to name his employer, but said he works at a “production” job. He listens to leftist podcasts like “Majority Report” and “Some More News” and focuses his time on his family, his hobbies and fixing his house.
McLaren said that a few recent incidents, which he didn’t describe in detail, compelled him to break his silence on Thursday ― even if, as his statement acknowledges, “it’s likely that the best move for someone who messed up as badly as I did is simply to go away and be quiet.”
“That people may assume I still hold radical views or remain actively connected to far-right political causes concerns me,” McLaren wrote in the statement. “I would understand, for example, if people in my local community who learned about me might worry about what I am up to, whether I hold and promote extremist views, or whether I’ll resume disruptive political activity in the future. Possibly worse, in my daily life I occasionally encounter Trump supporters, closet racists, and right-wingers of various stripes who learn about me and assume that I am some sort of sympathetic fellow traveler.”
McLaren’s statement concludes with the hope that in the future, people who search his name online might, after reading all the news stories about him, also find his disavowal of it all.
“My only purpose here,” he wrote, “is that, on those occasions when someone happens to explore the Internet search results related to my name, they might also find this statement as an indication that, while I was a source of toxic energy and opinions in the past, I am at least not that anymore.”