The wealthy backers of the alt-right

By BYRON CLARK

The growth of right-wing populism in the mid-2010s has frequently been misconstrued as a working-class phenomenon (or at least, a “white working class” phenomenon). Donald Trump’s supporters in the US however were wealthier than the average American voter and analysis of the Brexit vote in the UK found no real correlation between being part of the working class and voting to leave the European Union.

Of course, a successful populist movement can’t exist without recruiting working class supporters. The alt-right tells (predominantly young) white men who have been shut out from achieving the economic security that comes careers and home ownership, that the cause of their predicament is not neoliberalism or the steady reduction in the power of organised labour over the past decades, but feminists, liberal elites, socialists or- in its mostly openly racist forms- a cabal of Jewish bankers or billionaires.

This narrative, a kind of reactionary identity politics based on white male identity, has only been possible due to the financial backing of wealthy individuals, who have provided the capital for right-wing ‘news’ websites, speaking tours and pseudo-academic journals.

Steve Bannon and the alternative right

Before he was an adviser to Donald Trump or the CEO of Breitbart News (which he described as “a platform for the alt-right”) Steve Bannon was a film producer. Before producing a number of right-leaning documentaries, he was credited as the executive producer of the 1991 Sean Penn film The Indian Runner and later of the 1999 Shakespeare adaptation Titus.

Bannon’s goal in Hollywood however was not to be a producer, but a screenwriter. But his scripts were “too bizarre, hyper-masculine, and apocalyptic even for Hollywood”, at least according to Dale Beran’s 2019 book It Came From Something Awful: How a Toxic Troll Army Accidentally Memed Donald Trump into Office. Beran writes that one of Bannon’s key intellectual influences is the 20th century Italian philosopher Julius Evola.

Evola has been described as “one of the most influential fascist racists in Italian history” by historian Aaron Gillette. The core of his philosophy is that man’s primordial warrior spirit, the supposed foundational pillar of civilization, is being debased by modern effeminate culture. Bannon was a screenwriter in the mould of Julius Evola.

While Hollywood studios may not have seen Bannon’s scripts as potential money makers, the political documentaries he went on to produce attracted funding from Robert Mercer. Back in the 1970s, Mercer had worked on machine-learning artificial intelligence to process vast sets of data with the goal of predicting the movement of markets. These algorithms have resulted in the hedge fund for which he worked, Renaissance Technologies, earning a yield of 70 percent each year, and have made Mercer one of the world’s richest men.

Although Mercer, a libertarian, had initially preferred the platform of Ted Cruz, Bannon convinced him to back Donald Trump in the 2016 US election. Via his production company, Glittering Steel, Bannon channelled funding from Mercer to Breitbart, and other endeavours, such as the college campus tour of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. One of the most successful projects was Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company founded in 2013 with Bannon as CEO and Mercer and his daughter Rebekah as principal investors. Cambridge Analytica is today best known for fraudulently siphoning personal information from 87 million Facebook users using a quiz app in order to build elaborate personality profiles with the aim of manipulating voters, both in the 2016 US presidential election, and during the Brexit vote in the UK.

Julius Evola’s ideas also appealed to the denizens of online spaces like 4chan where young and economically marginalised men would gather. These young men, often self-identifying as “NEETs” a term used by British statisticians meaning not in employment, education or training, had given up on achieving the traditional markers of success and retreated into what Dale Beran called “screen based fantasy words”. It was not the first reactionary movement to emerge out of 4chan, “Gamergate” a campaign of harassment targeting women who worked in the game industry (Zoe Quinn in particular) and a feminist video game reviewer emerged from these young men. Beran writes:

Evola’s texts read like a potpourri of the heroes, mysticism, and adventure that are mashed into comic books, unsold Bannon screenplays, and PlayStation 4 games in which gods from Asia battle trolls from Norway for ancient scrolls devised by Christian demons guarded by Greek centaurs.

It’s easy to see why Evola appealed to gamergaters. Gamers spend their lives absorbing fantasy stories of unfettered masculine heroes wandering the earth wild and free. And it seems only natural that they eventually regard their romanticized escapism as what all that Hollywood art works so hard to convince its audience it is—a lost ideal that must have been very real in a vanished past.

Milo Yiannopoulos, a former tech blogger now working with Bannon, wrote numerous pro-gamergate articles for Breitbart– while the mainstream games press was scathing and the media outside the subculture struggled to make sense of it. Yiannopoulos had found his audience, disenfranchised young men susceptible to the message that they were the real oppressed group in the modern world, denied their rightful place in society by “social justice warriors” and what Evola had termed “the feminine aegis”.

With this new found audience, Yiannopoulos soon embarked on his “dangerous faggot” tour of American university campuses, speaking on topics such as how “feminism is cancer” a phrase taken from a 4chan meme. While the men Yiannopoulos spoke to may have been economically marginalised (though certainly not in all cases) the tour itself was only possible with the money from Robert Mercer.

Yiannopoulos exit from public life was swift, in February 2017 when video of him making comments appearing to justify sexual acts between men and boys emerged. The Conservative Political Action Conference rescinded their invitation for him to speak, and a book deal with publisher Simon & Schuster was cancelled. Bannon’s employment at the White House ended a few months later following the Unite the Right rally in Virginia where a counter protester was killed. Bannon had reportedly been behind Trump’s comments condemning violence on ‘many sides’.

Guo Wengui’s fake news empire

While Yiannopoulos remains persona non grata, Bannon has continued to influence politics through alliances with wealthy donors. In October 2017, just weeks from his departure from the White House, he met with exiled Chinese billionaire businessman Guo Wengui (also known as Miles). Guo reportedly gave a $150,000 loan to Bannon and in August 2018 a Guo-linked company entered into a $1 million consulting contract with him. In early 2020, the pair raised several millions of dollars in a private offering for a company called GTV Media Group.

Earlier this year Graphica Research released a report that describes Guo as being “at the centre of a vast network of interrelated media entities which have disseminated online disinformation and promoted real-world harassment campaigns.”1 His media network, which includes GTV, has spread Qanon conspiracy narratives and misinformation about the Covid-19 virus. GTV has become so synonymous with fake news that if someone shares a link to it on Facebook, it’s automatically removed.

In the declaration of the New Federal State of China, a lobby group launched by Guo and Bannon with the stated aim of overthrowing the Communist Party of China, another organisation was launched, the Himalaya Supervisory Organization. According to that document:

[T]he Himalaya Supervisory Organization will make all preparations for the formation of the New Federal State of China with outreach efforts. It will actively liaise with various countries, political parties, associations and international friends supporting the establishment of the New Federal State of China and coordinate relationships with the interim government. It will guide and assist the preparation of the new government, and ensure the smooth, effective, and steady progress of the preparation of the New Federal State of China.

Aotearoa has not been outside the reach of this new group; the local branch operates as Himalaya New Zealand. According to their website:

Our mission is to raise awareness of [the] truth disclosed by the Whistle-blower movement initiated by Mr Miles Guo and the former White House strategist Mr Steve K. Bannon. We aim to counter false narratives forced through left-leaning mainstream media and compromised key NGOs within New Zealand.

When Bannon interviewed former National Party MP and later co-leader of Advance New Zealand Jami-Lee Ross on his FTV show War Room, Ross was flanked by the New Zealand flag and the Flag of the New Federal State of China. GTV is also the platform of choice for Counterspin Media, a New Zealand produced talk show promoting conspiracy theories and far-right talking points.

The show is hosted by Kelvyn Alp. Alp has a colourful history on the fringes of New Zealand politics. After serving in the army in the 1990s he started an anti-government militia that was covered in a 2002 episode of 20/20. A synopsis describes the segment as being about “a disaffected former soldier who claims he has his own army and is prepared to go into battle with the Government.” Like Ross in his War Room interview, Alp appears on camera between the flags of New Zealand and the New Federal State of China.

Tex Hill, a representative of Himalaya New Zealand, appears as a guest on the first episode of Counterspin, and Alp revealed on another GTV show (The Fringe) that Hill provided the studio. While Guo has ample wealth to invest in his media venture, investments have also been made by his supporters in New Zealand – or at least, supporters have attempted to send money to Guo. In July 2020 the New Zealand Herald reported that a group of investors had $3 million blocked by New Zealand banks. A week prior the Wall St Journal had reported the FBI was examining Guo and the money used to fund his media efforts in the US.

Hill was among these investors and as reported by the Herald had successfully transferred $100,000 to GTV Media Group via BNZ but was blocked from transferring a smaller amount via ANZ. It’s unclear exactly what the financial relationship between Counterspin Media and GTV Media Group or Himalaya New Zealand is, though unlike rival conspiracy theorist broadcasters Billy Te Kahika and Vinny Eastwood, the show does not solicit donations from viewers.

Richard Spencer’s benefactor

William H. Regnery II, the heir to a textile fortune who died earlier this year was rarely in the public eye, but his white supremacist views were no secret. In 2001 he founded the Charles Martel Society, named for the Frankish king who defeated a Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732. The society produces The Occidental Quarterly. Fearing white people were in danger of extinction, he announced plans in 2004 to start a whites only dating site. While the site never eventuated, the fear remained. He proclaimed in a 2006 speech: “The white race may go from master of the universe to an anthropological curiosity.”

As the Charles Martel Society is a space for extremists to share their writings with other extremists (essays in the Occidental Quarterly have titles such as “Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception.”) Regnery started the National Policy Institute in 2005 with the aim of injecting white-supremacist ideas into more mainstream political conversations, spending $380,000 to do so. He hired the alt-right figure Richard Spencer in 2011.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, calling for immigration restrictions and other policies long advocated by the institute, energised the far-right. It was at a National Policy Institute conference following Trump’s victory where Spencer famously proclaimed: “Hail Trump!, Hail our people!, Hail Victory!”, eliciting Nazi style salutes from members of the audience. Less widely reported on were Regnery’s comments: “I never thought in my life I would experience an event such as this, and I am now persuaded that with your courage the alt-right side of history will prevail.”

In 2017 Buzzfeed News quoted Regnery as saying “My support has produced a much greater bang for the buck than by the brothers Koch or Soros Inc.”2

The old money funding race-science

While eugenics and race-science have since been widely discredited, these ideas were mainstream in the scientific establishment for close to two centuries, only falling out of favour following the atrocities of the Holocaust. Occasionally these ideas again penetrate mainstream thinking, such with the popularity of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which claimed that certain non-white racial groups have inherently lower intelligence, or more recently with the now removed YouTube channel of Stefan Molyneux, who promoted the same idea as an argument against immigration to predominantly white countries.

With mainstream scientific journals no longer publishing their work by the mid-20th century, several like-minded researchers including former Nazi scientist Otmar von Verschuer and British eugenicist Roger Pearson, established their own journal, Mankind Quarterly, in 1960. According to Angela Saini’s 2019 book Superior: The Return of Race Science, “Their aims were simple: to challenge what they saw as a politically correct, left-wing conspiracy around race and bring back some scientific objectivity.”

The financial backing for Mankind Quarterly came from a reclusive multimillionaire whose wealth had its roots in plantation slavery. Described by Saini as “a diehard segregationist”, Wickliffe Draper was descended from the largest slaveholder in the state of Kentucky. In 1959 Draper set up the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics, to produce and publish documents on race.

In his 2002 book The Funding of Scientific Racism, William Tucker described the association as “probably the most significant coterie of fascist intellectuals in the post-war United States and perhaps in the entire history of the country.”

Cash gifts were routinely made via Drapers Pioneer Fund, a private foundation whose purpose was to disseminate information on human heredity and eugenics, to scientists who echoed Draper’s political sentiments, while thousands of copies of Mankind Quarterly containing their work were sent out to a list of American political conservatives. Draper died in 1972, but his legacy continues, with Mankind Quarterly still published today.

1 https://public-assets.graphika.com/reports/graphika_report_ants_in_a_web.pdf

2 https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/aramroston/hes-spent-almost-20-years-funding-the-racist-right-it

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