Snitches, cowards, and liars
White nationalists now hate Christopher Cantwell. The problem is they’re all just like him.
Many in the movement have tried to suggest he was never one of them. That they never worshiped at the altar of Christopher Cantwell. But they absolutely did.
Cantwell, for a time, had serious Nazi clout.
He was one of the far right’s success stories, that rare creature who had managed to eke out a living by spewing hate. He had no obvious outside financial backer, and with meager donations from the legions of people who saw value in his work, Cantwell plodded along.
Until he was no longer useful, or valuable. Until he was rightly seen as a fake, and a phony, and a grifter, and a weakling, he was important and admired.
Cantwell was loved until he was hated, and hated until he was ridiculed. And he will be ridiculed until he’s forgotten.
Last month, Cantwell was convicted in federal court of extortion and interstate threats. The charges stemmed from a long-running feud between the neo-Nazi podcaster and members of the Bowl Patrol, a loosely affiliated group of neo-Nazis who declare mass shooters to be “saints” and cheer the type of violence they think will set off a race war and subsequently usher in a white ethnostate. To make a very long story short, Cantwell felt he was being targeted by Bowl Patrol, and in an effort to obtain the identity of the group’s then-pseudonymous leader, he doxed and threatened another member of the group. Cantwell is scheduled to be sentenced on January 4, and could face up to 22 years in prison.
The story of Cantwell’s rise and fall is important, because Cantwell was — and is — a caricature of the movement itself. Misogyny. Domestic violence. Targeted harassment. Hypocrisy. Dishonesty. Entitlement. Self-hatred.
His views on women were no different than countless others in the far right, where misogyny runs rampant. Show me one prominent member of the far right who doesn’t have a long history of degrading, if not violent, rhetoric toward women. Misogyny is to the far right what flour is to bread.
“Even if you become the alpha male, some stupid bitch will still ruin your life,” the neo-Nazi blogger Andrew Anglin once wrote.
In 2018, Matthew Heimbach, co-founder of the neo-Nazi group Traditionalist Worker Party, was arrested and charged with domestic battery in Indiana. (Heimbach had previously faced misdemeanor charges for accosting a Black woman at a Trump rally.)
Richard Spencer, the one-time face of the white nationalist movement, allegedly pulled his ex-wife down the stairs by her hair. An affidavit cited in a 2019 HuffPost article includes further allegations of abuse that spanned the 8-year marriage, including Spencer having “pushed her down and held her by her neck and her jaw,” when she was four months pregnant.
In January, white nationalist Augustus Invictus was arrested on domestic violence charges. Invictus’ wife, Anna, told police he held a gun to her head and forced her and their two small children to travel to Florida against her will. Invictus has since been freed on bail pending trial in South Carolina.
When Cantwell wasn’t targeting women he knew personally, he was earning praise from the far right for his willingness to turn women he didn’t know into public targets.
Cantwell dangled women before his audience, and presented them again and again, like a hunter training a hunting dog. See this? Go get this. And they would do just that.
And who in the movement hasn’t done this? Neo-Nazis devote massive amounts of time and energy into directing their followers to focus on targets, often people plucked from virtual obscurity, and very often, women.
In 2016, Anglin authored a post on his blog, The Daily Stormer, in which he called on his followers to target Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate agent in Montana. Anglin later urged his followers to similarly troll Taylor Dumpson, the first black female student body president of American University. White nationalist Daniel McMahon posted incessantly on Gab under the alias “Jack Corbin,” urging his followers to target the women he deemed to be enemies. (In August 2019, McMahon was arrested and charged with posting threats, and has since been sentenced to more than three years in prison.) Jewish journalist Julia Ioffe was targeted by thousands of antisemitic tweets after she wrote a profile of Melania Trump. Emily Gorcenski, an activist and data scientist, moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Berlin, Germany, in part as a result of having become a favorite target of neo-Nazis. Journalist and activist Molly Conger has been targeted time and time again.
Cantwell held the party line when it came to journalists, that they’re controlled by Jews, bent on communism, and a threat to the cause that should be met with violence.
Cantwell’s treatment of and attitude toward journalists wasn’t unique in the far right, nor was his hypocrisy and willingness to seek out the spotlight provided by the very same news organizations he claimed to despise.
In 2016, Matthew Heimbach agreed to be profiled by the New York Times. In 2017, Ohio neo-Nazi Tony Hovater did the same. In 2018, white nationalist organizer Jason Kessler sat down for an in-depth interview with the Christian Science Monitor, and then another with NPR. Identity Evropa leader Patrick Casey jumped at the chance to be interviewed by the TODAY show in 2018. In July 2019, Richard Spencer appeared on CNN. Mike Cernovich, Richard Spencer, and Lauren Southern all agreed to participate in “White Noise,” the soon-to-be-released documentary on the far right produced by The Atlantic.
Cantwell has been widely criticized for having cooperated with law enforcement, as if this is somehow unheard of within far right circles, that no one who is true to the movement would ever willingly cooperate with police.
There’s an awfully long history of neo-Nazis turning to law enforcement.
The former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan became an FBI informant. White supremacist Hal Turner was a paid FBI informant, who was later revealed to have worked as an undercover operative for law enforcement for several years, according to news reports from the time. The takedown of the Aryan Brotherhood was assisted by a former member who became an informant and prosecution witness. A federal informant helped prosecutors secure the conviction of a South Florida white supremacist for his role in a murder plot.
Filings in the ongoing civil litigation over the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally reveal that racist “alt-right” personality Milo Yiannopoulos has been cooperating with the FBI. Antisemite and former Libertarian rapper Jared Howe, a close friend of Cantwell, recently claimed on Telegram that he spoke to the FBI “personally” when they came to his house.
The FBI case agent assigned to investigate Cantwell seems to have had little problem finding members of the neo-Nazi group Bowl Patrol willing to cooperate and be interviewed. Agents criss-crossed the country, interviewing not just member Benjamin Lambert, who stepped forward as the victim in the Cantwell trial, but also Paul Nehlen and Thomas Gipson, individuals also associated with Bowl Patrol. Notably, Andrew Casarez, the group’s leader who goes by the alias “Vic Mackey,” wasn’t interviewed as part of the Cantwell investigation. But there’s no indication Casarez refused to be interviewed. The case agent testified that Casarez was identified by the FBI in 2019, and that the bureau’s Boston office pushed very hard to have Casarez interviewed in this case. That would have required coordination with other FBI offices and headquarters, and the effort to secure the interview ultimately failed, he testified.
When he was no longer a valuable weapon of the far right, Cantwell became its laughingstock.
Cantwell testified at length about the “campaign of nonstop torment” inflicted upon him by Bowl Patrol, and, as his frustration mounted, he set out to spill secrets about his enemies. Neo-Nazis now say Cantwell took his desire for revenge too far, that by doing that to his rivals he was using the tactics of antifascists and journalists against one of their own. But Cantwell was hardly the first person in the far right to resort to this, and he surely won’t be the last.
Yes, some neo-Nazis are unmasked via the hard work of journalists and antifascist researchers. But many others are doxed by way of a tip from a rival or an offer to throw a competing podcaster to the wolves. And when it’s not happening behind the scenes, members of the far right are selling each other out left and right in public.
In 2018, Paul Nehlen doxed Ricky Vaughn, the Trump-supporting Twitter personality, as Douglass Mackey. Alt-right trolls doxed “Josh Neal,” a close associate of Richard Spencer, as Josh Dietz. Augustus Invictus attempted to dox “Drengr,” “Adam” of Top Kek Studios, and “Underwater Alex Jones,” though their identities have yet to be verified. And I’d be remiss to not also point out the number of Telegram channels that popped up this year, seemingly with the sole purpose of doxing rival movement members.
“I need to understand the problems of the entire world because if I dared to look inside of my god damned self, well that that would end with a fucking Glock in my mouth,” Cantwell said in a lengthy 2016 audio recording. “Am I the greatest person who ever lived or the fuckin’ stupid piece of shit who deserves a bullet in his skull? I’m not entirely certain from one moment to the next.”
For Cantwell, looking inside himself was too dark, too frightening. And so, he found a movement that let him never have to look again. He found a movement that gave him answers for all his problems, convenient slots in which to place the blame for each and every one of his own personal failures.
Maybe, if at every fork in the road, he had been introspective enough to reflect and consider his own role in the trainwreck his life had become, he could have been something else, someone whose mark on the world was not a grotesque and pathetic stain.
We don’t know what goes on inside the heads of most neo-Nazis, what self doubt lies beneath the racist, misogynistic, gun-toting, race-war-preparing, hateful, alpha male bullshit.
With Cantwell, we have at least a glimpse. There were, in Cantwell’s mind, only two options: He was either “the greatest person who ever lived” or someone whose life had no value at all.
And in that sense, he is no different from anyone else who turns to the easy, black-and-white answers provided by the far right.
Your life not what you thought it should be? The Jews are to blame.
Can’t find a wife? Women are evil whores.
When individuals in the far right look at Cantwell now, they see him in those black-and-white terms. They snicker, shake their heads, and think themselves better.
He was a snitch, a coward, a cuck, a grifter. I’m nothing like that guy.
But if you’re part of the far right, you are, of course, on the same path he was on.
Attach yourself to this movement, commit yourself to spending your days pretending to be a victim of an imagined conspiracy, volunteer your free time to victimizing others, log hours upon hours spreading hate, and eventually you’ll end up backed into a tinier and darker corner. Eventually, you, too, will be alone, and mocked before you’re ultimately forgotten.
You are all Cantwell.
Hilary Sargent is a freelance journalist. She has written for The New York Times, QUARTZ, The Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsarg.
Illustrations by Colleen Tighe.
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