Matthew Heimbach’s arrest is latest setback for white nationalists, as expert says movement appears to be ‘fraying’
Matthew Heimbach, a prominent US neo-nazi, has been arrested on charges of domestic violence, amid a series of events that signal a possible fraying of the modern white nationalist movement in America.
Heimbach, whose Traditionalist Worker party group’s slogan is “Fighting for faith, family and folk”, was released from a county jail in Indiana on a $1,000 bond on Tuesday.
He had been arrested after a fracas where, according to a police report obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), he attacked his wife and also choked into unconsciousness his group’s co-founder – who happens also to be the husband of Heimbach’s mistress.
The incident occurred just days after images appeared of Heimbach, teeth gritted, grappling with an anti-Nazi protester on the campus of Michigan State University, where chaos ensued over an appearance by the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer.
And after Heimbach’s arrest in the early hours of Tuesday, the Traditionalist Workers party (TWP) spokesman and co-founder, Matt Parrott, whom Heimbach is accused of choking, told the SPLC he was leaving the group, and pulled the TWP website.
The incident followed a series of developments among the self-styled “alt-right” in the US, a euphemism for a new breed of white supremacists who shocked the world when a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, featured Nazi-style salutes and chanting and turned extremely violent, leading to the death of an anti-racism activist, Heather Heyer.
Who coined the term ‘alt-right’?
The white supremacist Richard Spencer devised the term in 2010. He has described the movement as “identity politics for white Americans and for Europeans around the world”.
What does it stand for?
The movement supports extreme rightwing ideologies, including white nationalism – used interchangeably with white supremacism – and antisemitism. It positions itself broadly against egalitarianism, democracy, universalism and multiculturalism.
Some “alt-right” supporters have argued that their hardline, extremist positions are not truly meant, but are a way to disrupt conventional and accepted thinking. Memes, irony and ambiguity are sometimes used in an attempt to wrongfoot critics.
How does the ‘alt-right’ relate to the Trump administration?
The Trump administration includes figures who are associated with the “alt-right”, including the former Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon, now the White House chief strategist. Many of Trump’s policy positions have won favour with the movement.
Spencer announced on Monday that he may suspend his current speaking tour around US colleges because fierce protests were dangerous and the rallies “aren’t fun” any more. Earlier in March Spencer’s lawyer, Kyle Bristow, said he was quitting the white nationalist movement because of his harsh portrayal by the media.
And the SPLC reported that its team monitoring far-right hate groups had seen recent signs on extremist chat boards that members of the racist US group Identity Evropa have been leaving in significant numbers. This could not be immediately verified.
“It’s remarkable that in the last week, three of the primary intellectual leaders of the alt-right have either left the movement or radically altered their path,” Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the SPLC told the Guardian on Wednesday.
“What we are seeing is a sort of falling apart, or a fraying, of the movement, which really began with Charlottesville, where the so-called Unite the Right rally put them under the harsh light of public scrutiny,” he said.
Lenz said it was not yet clear exactly why the movement appeared to be in turmoil.
Heimbach, 26, was taken in handcuffs to the Orange County jail in the tiny town of Paoli, Indiana, early on Tuesday, before later being released.
He is married to a stepdaughter of Parrott but had been having an affair with Parrott’s wife, according to an account given to Paoli police.
On Tuesday night, Parrott had confronted Heimbach over the affair and poked him in the chest, whereupon Heimbach “grabbed and injured my hand … then choked me out with his arm,” Parrott said in a statement to police. Heimbach then reportedly chased Parrott and again choked him until he passed out.
The police went to Heimbach’s home where an officer witnessed him having a verbal confrontation and scuffle with his wife while she was putting their young children to bed, during which he “grabbed her face”, causing bleeding, and threw her on the bed.
Heimbach was charged on Tuesday with battery and domestic battery committed in the presence of a child under age 16. He was already subject to a suspended sentence of 90 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct last July for repeatedly shoving a young protester at an election rally for Donald Trump.
“Matthew Heimbach is now the thuggish face of white nationalism,” said SPLC’s Lenz.
The Anti-Defamation League describes the TWP as “a small group that promotes white supremacy and a racist interpretation of Christianity”.
Heimbach did not answer a telephone call from the Guardian.
Meanwhile Identity Evropa recently boasted on its website that it attended the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and talked to delegates “about Trumpian things, like immigration and the wall”. Far-right groups such as Identity Evropa and Vanguard America became widely known after Charlottesville, where groupie James Fields is accused of murdering Heyer.