On October 28, white nationalists gathered for a “White Lives Matter” rally in Shelbyville, Tennessee. The event organized by the National Front — an umbrella organization comprised of the League of the South, National Socialist Movement, Traditionalist Worker Party and Vanguard America — included members openly wearing Klu Klux Klan and neo-Nazi regalia, carrying Confederate flags and giving Nazi salutes.
The event reignited the long-standing debate in white nationalist circles over whether to openly display such extremist symbols in public rallies, with the anti-extremist side accusing the rallygoers of “LARPing” (an acronym for live action role-playing) as Nazis and the pro-extremist side accusing their critics of “optics-cucking”.
His sentiments were echoed by other prominent alt-right figures such as podcaster Nicholas Fuentes, Twitter personality Ricky Vaughn and even notorious Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin. Anglin wrote, “I have not seen anyone, on social media or forums or anywhere else, saying that they think this looked good… [W]hat you saw matching[sic] in Tennessee is not at all close to the vision I have for the movement that I have contributed to.”
Mere days later on Halloween night, a much more understated version of pro-white activism took place. Trolls on the 4chan imageboard /pol/ organized a nationwide effort to place posters with the words “It’s Okay to Be White” written on them in public places and universities in hopes of provoking an oversized reaction to the benign message.
Unfortunately, the trolls got exactly the reaction they were hoping for. Left-wing activists aggressively tore down the posters and bragged about it on social media. In several places, police were called over the posters. On Twitter, #ItsOkayToBeWhite began trending with some condemning the message as dogwhistle racism and the describe the posters as hate crimes, while alt-right activists took advantage of the backlash to promote their narratives that whites are under attack.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson criticized the backlash on his show, saying “The sentiment ‘it’s okay to be white’ is now a hate crime. Okay, so what’s the correct position? That it’s not okay to be white? Being white by the way is not something you can control. Like any ethnicity, you’re born with it, which is why you shouldn’t attack people for it, and yet the left does constantly in case you haven’t noticed.”
Andrew Anglin praised the trolls, saying “‘It’s okay to be white’ is the newest, greatest meme yet… Please, print off some of these papers on a printer and go post them around. We need these everywhere. All you do is: print ‘it’s okay to be white’ on a piece of paper and post it up. You can even hand write it with a marker. Let’s make this a phenomenon that is scene everywhere — an IRL viral meme.”
Ricky Vaughn echoed the sentiment. “It’s Okay To Be White is working. So keep doing it. We have to keep doing it until the left starts to shrug and accept this message as normal.”
In a video titled “#ItsOkayToBeWhite, #AmericaFirst, & Optics”,alt-right YouTuber Braving Ruin (previously known as Edgy Sphinx) remarked on how the reaction to IOTBW feeds into the alt-right’s larger narrative about white victimhood. “When [the Left] reacts negatively to such as an innocuous statement as ‘It’s okay to be white’…they are effectively admitting that they stand against white people. Provoking this reaction is the perfect jumping off point from which to mainstream the term ‘anti-white’.”
He continues, “The Left reveals itself when they rage against the American flag, the founding fathers and other American symbols, and so Identitarian groups should use this imagery as much as possible,” and offers his own variation of the IOTBW poster featuring pictures of presidents and founding fathers.
Ruin praises Trump’s presidential campaign for focusing “implicitly white issues that other Republicans refused to address” without being overtly racial, then incrementally moving in a more identitarian direction during his presidency. “If Trump had gotten up on the stage and started talking about ‘white genocide’ I don’t think anyone could claim he’d have had the success he did… It’s not necessary to complete discard a racially conscious message, but it must be presented in this innocuous fashion without the use of alien [Nazi] symbols or needlessly edgy rhetoric.”
The unifying goal of the alt-right in 2016 was to get Donald Trump elected. In 2017, their unifying goal is to “wake up normie whites” and convert them to their side. To do that they’ll need to make their message as innocuous as possible and wrap it is the symbols of traditional Americana.
If the Left wants to outmaneuver them, we need to avoid playing their divisive game. Instead of tearing down IOTBW posters, a better strategy would be to simply ignore them or place similar posters around them saying “It’s okay to be black/Asian/Hispanic/etc.” The Left should doubly commit to open shows of patriotism, celebrating the liberal values this country was founded on and our centuries of progress. The alt-right wants to send the message that they represent the real America and the Left is nothing but a bunch of traitors and communists. If we want to prevent their narrative from taking hold, we need to step up our optics game to match theirs.