Hundreds identifying as "white nationalists," or members of the "alt-right" movement, gathered in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to celebrate the election victory of President-elect Donald Trump.
The annual conference of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist think tank, experienced a rise in attendance this year, as well as a number of protesters outside the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, in the wake of President-elect Trump's win over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"It’s been an awakening," Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, said at the conference, as reported by The New York Times. "This is what a successful movement looks like."
Throughout his campaign, Trump has been linked to – and been praised by – white supremacist groups and others associated with the alt-right, including the Ku Klux Klan, despite his efforts to distance himself from such groups. The election has brought the movement, which until now largely existed online in the darker corners of the internet, into the national spotlight, as Patrik Jonsson reported for The Christian Science Monitor in August:
As the New York mogul has driven some of his base away – including, significantly, suburban white women – he has had to reach deeper and deeper into the conservative movement for fans. He has landed on a strain of American politics that may be as vexing as it is apparently ascendant. That became obvious as Trump struggled to ease his tough immigration rhetoric this week – key to the alt-right's support – while not seeming to ease it.
But whether it ultimately plays into Trump’s gambit, the alt-right’s emergence on the political scene is indisputably having an influence, one which will be hard to ignore as the country gets ready to retire its first black president.
Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon, former head of the conservative Breitbart News, as chief strategist last week has contributed to a growing sense of legitimacy among white supremacists and hope that their voices will be heard by the White House, observers say. Mr. Bannon has described Breitbart as a "platform for the alt-right."
Since joining the Trump campaign, Bannon "began to infuse [it] with many of their themes," Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center in Charlottesville and the author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics," told the Monitor last week. "Now, he sits at the right-hand of the president, and many alt-righters believe that it is the dawn of a new era of white nationalism."
But while attendees at Saturday's conference were largely optimistic about the future of their movement under the Trump administration, some expressed frustration with Trump's outreach to African-American voters in the final months of his campaign and concerns that the president-elect may start to adopt more moderate stances as time goes on.
"It’s a fleeting moment of optimism," one attendee, Al Stankard, told the Times, explaining that while he believes Trump has sympathy for "white racists," he will likely not be able to do things like end affirmative action while in office. "These are semi-delusional fantasies," he added.