Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Meet the alt-right of LA

by Austin Cross and A Martínez | Take Two®

144862 full
People protest the appointment of white nationalist alt-right media mogul, former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, to be chief strategist of the White House by President-elect Donald Trump on November 16, near City Hall in Los Angeles, California. / AFP / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images) DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

Last August, Donald Trump's presidential bid was floundering. That's when he turned to political provocateur Stephen Bannon to rejuvenate the campaign. Bannon is now slated to become Trump's chief strategist.

Before joining forces with the billionaire, Bannon headed Breitbart News — a site associated with the so-called alt-right movement. Critics say the Breitbart site has regularly disparaged women, people of color, Muslims and LGBT communities.

The alt-right's far-right brand of conservatism has been embraced by several white supremacist groups across the country, including Southern California's "American Freedom Party." Freelance journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya spent time with the group, writing about his experiences for The Guardian.

"It's a very interesting bunch," Bhattacharya said. "I met the chairman of the party, a guy called William Johnson. He's roughly 60 years old... he's been at it a long time — since the '80s... He's bringing a lot of people into his party now that you would call the alt-right."

The recent influx of young blood, fueled in part by Donald Trump's candidacy, has revitalized the graying organization, Bhattacharya says. David Duke-era white supremacists now meet alongside a snarky, outspoken and digitally savvy generation of white nationalists.

"The alt-right — the younger members that join the American Freedom Party — they use things like memes. They're people of the internet... They're irreverent, they're funny, they're aggressive," Bhattacharya said. "These are things that you're not going to find in establishment white nationalists, but in the alt-right, it's very, very common."

Longtime members took note of the country's changing political climate during the election, welcoming what Bhattacharya calls a new assertion of white identity.

"What they're experiencing at the moment is something I don't think a lot of them expected, which is a degree of legitimacy," he said.

As the election season progressed, there was a tepid optimism among party leadership. Reflecting on several conversations with Johnson, Bhattacharya says, "He was kind of excited, but to some degree in uncharted territory to find himself with such a vital movement... and having a candidate that seemed to meet a lot of their agenda items."

Bhattacharya says Johnson never expected his views to become part of the national discussion, but the new interest is not unwelcome.

"I would say that [those in] the older generation are pleasantly surprised by what's happened," Bhattacharya said.

Press the blue play button above to hear more about L.A.'s alt-right.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Enjoy Take Two®? Try KPCC’s other programs.

What's popular now on KPCC