Inside the hangar-like conference room of Montgomery Bell State Park Inn, about 40 miles west of Nashville, more than 100 white faces stare in unison at a man in a dark gray suit.
A man in his early 60s, Jared Taylor has the charisma of someone half his age. He is genteel, erudite and soft-spoken as he addresses a receptive audience of writers, thinkers and assorted hangers-on. It's nearly 5 p.m., and the American Renaissance Conference is under way.
The mood is relaxed, as if old friends have reunited after years of absence. Jokes and ensuing backslaps are shared. One man laments forgetting his copy of Why We Fight — a furious anti-Islam screed by one of the weekend's featured speakers, the French journalist and author Guillaume Faye. As many conference goers have proudly noted, the decision to host this gathering on publicly owned lands affords it all sorts of First Amendment protections. For the past two years, they said, so-called "anti-fascist" protesters shut AmRen down.
And come these old friends have, from all corners of the Western world, from California to Maryland, from Canada to England, France and beyond, to experience an atmosphere of camaraderie that only those with a persecution complex can fully understand or appreciate. In the bucolic and firmly isolated Montgomery Bell State Park Inn — which would be, as one conference goer with a background in law enforcement told me, an ideal place to terrorize any protesters who might be stupid enough to travel the park's lone, winding road without carrying firearms — they can loosen their belts (and their tongues) a few notches and let their freak flags unfurl.
"Our views aren't very popular," says a woman who'd come all the way from Manhattan for the conference. "You don't get invited to all the fancy dinner parties on the Upper East Side." She explains it's not often you find people — particularly upper-middle-class liberals — who are willing to break bread with those who look down on your value system.
But here, she's among friends who've paid $150 for a weekend of lectures, book signings and above all, networking. For $35 more, she gets a banquet of wilted asparagus and dry pork tenderloin, plus the dinner entertainment of an address by Faye, the French New Right author renowned in these circles for his anti-Muslim writings.
Faye is but one of many speakers who regale the audiences with a collective warning that decades of multiculturalism and racial mixing have eroded the vitality of white, European-derived culture, which can only be reaffirmed by a return to aristocratic rule. Others, such as Cambridge-educated "racial scientist" Richard Lynn, speculate that the torch of Western civilization will be passed to the Chinese.
The fear plays well to the visitor from Manhattan. "And what he said about China?!" she gasps, slapping the listener's shoulder and emitting a peal of nervous, squeaky laughter.
Over the March 16 weekend, 150 such conference goers descended upon Montgomery Bell State Park for the 10th American Renaissance Convention. But the measure of its success won't be this year's attendance, or next year's. Its goals are rather more long-range.
The conference is the organizing center of a movement that distances itself from the overt hate speech attributed to the likes of the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation. You'll find the same ideas — strict racial separation, eugenics, the superiority of European (read: white) cultures, the race war to come — but without those illiterate rubes and their gauche bedsheet attire.
That's not the only way in which AmRen breaks with traditional white supremacy. Taylor and other speakers profess admiration for Jews and the Japanese, praising their homogeneous cultures and undiluted bloodlines. Such "racial science" extends even unto gender as outlined by speakers like Lynn, who noted that because men have larger brains than women, male intelligence is, on average, 4 IQ points higher than the fairer sex.
The movement seeks ways to cultivate mainstream legitimacy by masking racist tropes with a heavy coating of pseudo-intellectual varnish. Start with that ugly word: "racist." The weekend's conference goers prefer terms such as "racialist," or "racial-realist." That's the first step in making the movement's ideals more palatable to moderate conservatives. As AmRen speaker Robert Weissberg, an emeritus professor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tells a Saturday morning audience while proposing "A Politically Viable Alternative to White Nationalism," nothing turns the target demographic off faster than self-identified white supremacists.
"The term white nationalism arrives with lots and lots of unsavory ideological baggage," Weissberg says. "If you say you're a white nationalist, you're right up there with child molesters [and] perverts."
Hoping to turn that perception around is Taylor, CEO of the New Century Foundation, a nonprofit headquartered in Oakton, Va. Its mission is to "educate the public on matters of race, race relations and immigration." Since 1990, NCF has published American Renaissance, a monthly newsletter that serves as the conference's namesake and as a vehicle for its various speakers. Taylor's pet projects orbit within a system of other angry white bodies. There is the Council of Conservative Citizens, a St. Louis-based right-wing separatist group with national reach that has been denounced as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall got in hot water for serving as the council's featured speaker at a Nashville gathering in 2009.) There is the American Third Position Party, which according to its mission statement "believes that government policy in the United States discriminates against white Americans, the majority population, and that white Americans need their own political party to fight this discrimination." These join organizations such as the Pioneer Fund, a nonprofit (and SPLC-certified hate group) whose stated aim is "to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences," and the Charles Martel Society, founded by William Regnery II, which publishes the academic racism journal The Occidental Quarterly.
What the federal government thinks of such groups is pretty clear (and the feeling is mutual). In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on far-right organizations titled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." It characterizes homegrown extremist groups as belonging to one of two basic camps.
"Right-wing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups)," the report states, "and those that are mainly anti- government, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."
None of the groups represented at the AmRen conference is mentioned by name. But the descriptions fit, even for those visitors who aren't American — such as Lynn, the diminutive British octogenarian who delivers a monologue about miscegenation being the root cause of the decline of Western civilization. That's all the more reason for the movement to broaden its tent — and where better to start than putting a smiley face on white separatism?
So the Scene drove out I-40, registered for the conference, and spent the day at a lovely mid-South state park with the new faces of white nationalism.
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