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How The White Nationalist Movement Has Changed Since The Charlottesville Rally


Almost a year ago this week, chaos erupted in Charlottesville, Va. The Unite the Right rally brought white supremacist and white nationalist groups out of the shadows and into prominent view. And what followed is hard to forget - clashes with police, clashes between protesters and counterprotesters, violence and the death of a young woman. The fallout from that event has caused changes to the white nationalist movement.

And to understand those changes, we turn now to Heidi Beirich at the Southern Poverty Law Center. She has long tracked white supremacy, nativist and neo-confederate movements, and she oversees a yearly count of the nation's hate groups. Heidi Beirich, welcome.

HEIDI BEIRICH: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: From what you've been seeing over the past year, would you say that the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville helped or hurt the white nationalist movement?

BEIRICH: Well, for the particular organizations and racist individuals who showed up in Charlottesville it's been a pretty rough year. They've lost PayPal accounts and Facebook pages. There's been extreme infighting in the movement. And some of the major figures have sort of abandoned things like Richard Spencer. He's no longer on his college speaking tour. But overall there's still a lot of energy in white supremacy in the United States. And that's very much indicated by, for example, the massive rally in Portland this past weekend.

CHANG: How have they tried to get around some of those obstacles? For instance, you said they'd lost PayPal accounts. Are they able to fundraise at the same level despite that?

BEIRICH: No. I think the loss of the PayPal accounts was probably the most damaging thing that happened to white supremacists in the last year. And they're basically stuck using things like bitcoin that are hard to, you know, convert into cash.

CHANG: What about litigation? I know that some lawsuits have been filed against various groups over the past year. Have legal bills set them back as well?

BEIRICH: There's no question that legal bills have been an issue. Roberta Kaplan, who is a lawyer in New York, has brought a massive civil suit against a bunch of the leaders who were at Unite the Right last year in Charlottesville, and the organizations and that lawsuit is moving forward. The city of Charlottesville did something similar. So there are also the legal bills to consider, which have been really painful for those involved.

CHANG: Despite these setbacks, I mean, Charlottesville did bring a ton of attention to these groups. There has been so much discussion about what these groups stand for. And I'm just curious. Is any publicity in the end still good publicity when you're talking about this movement?

BEIRICH: I think that there's a lot of truth to that. We know that in the days after Charlottesville a lot of the groups that showed up saw rises in their kind of Web interest, right? We also know that there are people, like I said, rallying on the West Coast in large numbers and Web readership that's huge. We have places like Gab that are infested basically with all kinds of hate material. So I don't think that the larger white supremacist movement is, you know, significantly hampered by the fallout from Unite the Right. It's affected the folks who were there, but white supremacy as a whole is flourishing in the United States.

CHANG: What do you mean by that? How is it still flourishing?

BEIRICH: Well, for example, some of the policies that folks in the white supremacist movement have wanted for years - anti-immigrant policies in particular, the Muslim ban - these are things that have seen their way into reality, right? This is a movement that has wanted forever to reduce the number of non-white immigrants in the United States. And when they see things like ICE raids and family separation, that is seen as a victory for white supremacist thinking.

CHANG: So there is going to be another Unite the Right rally. It's planned for this weekend here in Washington, D.C. What are you expecting to see? I mean, there's already talk that it's going to be substantially smaller than last year's rally in Charlottesville. But what do you expect to be the mood this weekend?

BEIRICH: Well, it definitely will be smaller from all the Web traffic we've looked at. I don't think Jason Kessler, who organized the original one and is organizing this in Lafayette Park in D.C., is going to have many allies on the ground. My guess is that the counterprotesters will greatly outnumber the white supremacist types who are going to show up. And I hope that there is no violence, that groups are kept separate and the mood is largely on the side of those of us who are against racism in the United States.

CHANG: Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, thank you very much.

BEIRICH: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: And a final note in advance of the first anniversary of the Unite the Right rally. Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia and the city of Charlottesville have declared a state of emergency. This allows the city to have a heavy police presence in the hopes of preventing any violence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.