The Little Führer

A day in the life of the newest leader of white nationalists

A day in the life of the newest leader of white nationalists

Late at night on June 17, after he and his wife had gone to bed, Matthew Heimbach’s phone rang on his nightstand. On the other end of the line was a man from the South Carolina field office of the FBI. The man asked Heimbach if he knew a man called Dylann Roof and, if so, if he knew where Roof was. Heimbach told the officer that he had never heard of Roof and wondered what the call was about. Without explaining further, the officer thanked him and hung up.

“That’s when things got weird,” Heimbach says. Soon calls were coming in from associates who had all gotten similar calls from the FBI, and they were all now wondering the same thing: Who was Dylann Roof, and why hadn’t any of them heard of him until tonight?

“None of us had ever even heard the name Dylann Roof before,” Heimbach says. “Now he was all anyone was talking about.”

Heimbach is the leader and founder of the Traditionalist Youth Network, a nationalist high school and college organization that, according to its website, aims to speak against “the united voices of decadence, individualism, Marxism and modernity.” While the group claims to accept members from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, he and his comrades have been called Nazi sympathizers and white supremacists. The Southern Poverty Law Center once labeled him the Little Fuhrer, a charge he found ridiculous because he is not a National Socialist. This, presumably, was why, when a white supremacist gunned down nine congregants in a historically black church in Charleston, the FBI called him.

In the days after the massacre, everyone was trying to figure out why no one had heard of Roof before. The incident sent shockwaves through American far right communities, in which everyone seemed completely baffled as to who Roof was. To many, that fact alone was proof enough of a false flag operation: an operation orchestrated by the federal government to either — depending on whom you ask — malign and break the far right movement in America or provide an excuse to disarm American patriots in order to bring about a Barack Obama–led socialist Islamic police state. Heimbach wondered how he could have missed Roof’s online presence and, had he known about him, if there was something he could have done to channel his violent impulses into political action.

“We need to use the tools that we have,” he says from behind the wheel of his silver 2001 Toyota Corolla, which he named Serenity after the spaceship in the sci-fi TV show “Firefly.” It was mid-July, a couple of weeks after he returned from Charleston, where he laid down flowers at the site of the massacre. “We live in a political system, and if you want to effect change, the way to go about that needs to be political. Violence is never right.”

Mathew Heimbach, left, is something of an iconoclast in white nationalist circles. He believes the United States should be divided into ethnically and culturally homogenous states. "I support white power, black power, brown power and yellow power,'' he says. (Click to enlarge images)

Nationalism is the belief that nationality and ethnicity is or should be one and the same. White nationalists espouse white separatism and often, but far from always, the superiority of the white race over others. In that context, Heimbach is somewhat of an iconoclast on the American nationalist scene, at times seeming to identify more with the black power ideology of the Black Panthers or the political savvy of Hamas and Hezbollah than with neo-Nazis, Klansmen and skinheads.

He became known in 2012 when he founded the White Student Union, a white pride organization that patrolled the Towson University campus in Maryland to protect students from a perceived wave of black-on-white crime. Since then, he has proved adept at angering anti-racists and racists equally. At an annual conference for Stormfront, one of the world’s largest white nationalist online forums, in November last year, he managed to get himself barred from all future Stormfront events by giving a speech titled “Death to America,” in which he called for nothing short of the complete dismantling of the United States.

“I support white power, black power, brown power and yellow power,” Heimbach says. “All races should be the dominant political force in their region. That is why America needs to be divided into smaller, ethnically and culturally homogenous states. In countries where races are mixed, one race will always dominate the others. That is why we need separation. Not because the white race is better than the black race. We need to stop the hate and separate.”

Still, for all his talk about respect for other races, his politics, like most others on the far right, has a prominent streak of anti-Semitism. He firmly believes that the Jews are working diligently behind the scenes to eradicate the white race, faith and culture. “We can’t win against them by arguing,” he said at the Stormfront conference. “You can’t out-Jew the Jew. It’s like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how good you are at chess, eventually someone’s going to knock the board over and poop on it. Let’s stop worrying about out-Jewing them or outsmarting them. Let’s just stand for what we believe in, which is faith, family and folk — the three things that make us a nation.”

'In countries where races are mixed, one race will always dominate the others... We need to stop the hate and separate.'
—Matthew Heimbach,
Traditionalist Youth Network founder

Serenity speeds over one of the many bridges spanning the Ohio River and into Ohio, where Heimbach and his wife live. In his view, it makes sense to create the enclaves according to whatever racial makeup is already there. That is why Cincinnati, with its roughly 70 percent black residents, will be ceded to black people. Ditto Atlanta. The bridge is one of the most decrepit in the country and is in dire need of repair. “This is what I’m talking about,” he says. He recently founded the Traditional Workers Party, and he is running a candidate for City Council in nearby New Carlile, Ohio, a town that he says has been devastated by bad government and immigrant workers.

“Blue-collar white workers and white poor people don’t have anyone to speak for them, and right now they are being screwed by the system. Our platform is bringing any troops not involved in humanitarian aid back home and spending the money on infrastructure projects. We want to train a new workforce. Americans need work right now, and fixing that includes shutting down all immigration. Whether you’re from Switzerland or Guadalajara, there needs to be a full and complete moratorium on immigration for at least 25 years.”

It is in the white and poor communities of Appalachia that Heimbach believes his constituents are, and since they are overwhelmingly white and Christian, it is also there that he believes the future of white Americans is. Whereas the nationalist movement in the U.S. traditionally believes that America once was and should again be a white nation, he sees this as not only historically incorrect but also impossible to achieve. To him, black Americans are as American as white Americans, and the notion of repatriating them to some African homeland is, as he put it, “retarded.”

From left, Mathew Heimbach, Scott Hess and Tony Hovater eat dinner at Ruby Tuesdays after the rally. (Click to enlarge images)

He was born in Poolesville, Maryland, in 1991. As a child, he was precocious and fond of reading, a hobby that he says made high school rough. His dad was a history teacher, and Heimbach became engrossed in history. On his 13th birthday, his parents gave him $100, and he spent it all on books about the two world wars.

“I was a huge nerd,” he says. As he got older, he got into Pat Buchanan and started thinking about the decline of Western culture. He read two Buchanan books,“Suicide of a Superpower” and “Death of the West,” and became interested in demographics and how it informed the culture wars.

“I was a paleocon,” he says. “When I moved to Baltimore, I began reading Samuel Huntington and suddenly understood how white flight affected America and how our culture is dying. I started discussing these things with people and found that most people who disagreed with me used emotions and not facts. The facts I had were irrefutable, and I realized that if people get this angry, I just might be onto something. If something enrages people, it is probably worth saying.”

He and his friends at Towson founded a chapter of the now defunct nonprofit Youths for Western Civilization and went to work persuading their fellow students about the end of white culture. They picketed speakers and organizations that they disagreed with and once held an affirmative action bake sale, in which cookies were $2 for whites, $1.50 for Hispanics and $1 for blacks. When they went around campus chalking “white pride” on the sidewalks, the school had enough and disbanded the chapter, and Heimbach formed the White Student Union instead.

“What is America?” Heimbach says as he pulls into a Waffle House on the outskirts of Cincinnati to pick up Tony and Scott, friends of his who are also party members. The members of the Traditional Workers Party often meet at the Waffle House, he explains, because of their love of brinner, or breakfast food for dinner.

“Fascists love brinner,” says Heimbach, who then goes on to detail the answer to his question. “In America the Constitution allows us to kill unborn children. Gays can get married. The government can spy on its citizens. That is what America is now. The American system is the enemy. Why shouldn’t the South be allowed so secede? It doesn’t have to be antagonistic. We would be better off, and so would the North. If San Francisco wants to have gay, transgender weddings, that’s fine. Just leave my family and my community out of it. All I’m talking about is self-determination. We have different views from the North, and I don’t understand why that is a bad thing.” He believes that self-determination among ethnic and cultural lines would solve many of the country’s ills, as much that has gone wrong in the U.S. can be traced to ethnic tension.

“Why is Teach for America sending white, liberal teachers to educate kids in Detroit? It’s the white savior complex. Black kids in Detroit should have strong black role models from Detroit that understand them. Black communities should be policed by a black police force and have black judges. Most of the people who attack me and call me names are white saviors. The black community doesn’t need us to speak for them and stand up for them. They can stand up for themselves.”

'Blue-collar white workers and white poor people don't have anyone to speak for them, and right now they are being screwed by the system.'
—Matthew Heimbach,
Traditionalist Youth Network founder

He has had mixed results in trying to sell this worldview to the rest of the nationalist movement. The belief in a coming race war or a new civil war is prominent in many circles, and his live-and-let-live beliefs are often mocked. “The liberals call me a racist, and the nationalists call me a liberal,” Heimbach says. “Many of them hate me just because I happen to believe that black people have souls. I can’t win.”

Still, he claims to be making progress. He says new chapters of the Traditionalist Youth Network are popping up all the time as people grow more aware of heritage and race. One of his chapters in Southern California, he says, consists of mainly Native American and some Latin American members. To him this is proof that his theory is right.

“My nationalism is organic,” he says. “It’s about caring for your extended family.”

He and his friends are driving from Cincinnati to a Confederate flag rally in Knoxville, Tennessee, when he gets a phone call about shootings at two military centers in Chattanooga, where four Marines and the shooter were killed. (A sailor later died from his injuries.) Heimbach crosses himself and says a prayer.

Tom Piece, right. and Mathew Heimbach, left, address the crowd gathered in the parking lot. (Click to enlarge images)

A couple of years ago, Heimbach converted to Christian Orthodoxy and has found inspiration in Greek and Eastern European nationalist movements. For his honeymoon last year, he and his wife did a tour of Greece and Eastern Europe, where he spoke to many nationalist parties, including Golden Dawn in Greece. During a meeting with a nationalist group in California earlier this year, he got Alexandr Dugin, an influential Russian political scientist who many say was the driving force behind Putin’s annexation of Crimea, to record a speech titled “To My American Friends in Our Common Struggle.”

“The other groups in the American nationalist movement aren’t thinking internationally,” Heimbach says. “Making connections with our Russian and European counterparts is what will eventually make us successful. Golden Dawn has stood on the same principles forever, and eventually the Greek people came around. And Russia’s our most powerful ally. Look what happened in Syria. The resistance was basically just three dudes and a goat until the U.S. took interest in them. Imagine what could happen to our party when Russia takes interest.”

His car rolls through the outskirts of Knoxville, past strip malls that seem either vacant or filled with payday loan companies. He is disgusted. “This is what I’m talking about,” he says. “This part of Tennessee is mainly poor and white, and it’s being crushed. The blacks have the NAACP, and the browns have La Raza, but what does the poor white man have? Nothing. These are towns with no Internet, terrible phone connection, and the EPA has shut down all the mines. I don’t care if people call me a racist or a bigot. I’m going to speak for these people. We have to help ourselves, because no one else will. Nobody ever helped a hick but a hick himself.”

A crowd bows their heads in prayer led by Heimbach, left. Ira Pierce erects his flags on the back of his truck, right. (Click to enlarge images)

A group called the 10 Milers, led by his longtime friend Tom Pierce, organized the rally, and Pierce asked Heimbach to give the keynote speech at the event. The 10 Milers are a white nationalist group founded on the principle that a member can’t live more than 10 miles from the rest of the members. Pierce lives along a winding road that snakes through the hollers outside Knoxville, and when the Corolla pulls up, Pierce is already waiting in his beaten old Ram pickup, which he named White Power.

White Power is decorated with Confederate and Christian flags, and Pierce gives a whoop as Heimbach parked alongside him. “Do you know what you’re going to say today?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” says Heimbach. “Normally I just cross myself, say a prayer and wait for whatever comes out. It hasn’t really failed me yet.”

Slideshow: Rallying around the stars and bars

  • Austin Reno (left) and Wes Arp in the back of Reno's truck at the rally. (Click to enlarge images)
  • Carl Loveday wears a Confederate flag as a cape. (Click to enlarge images)
  • A crowd gathers to listen to host, Tom Piece and guest, Mathew Heimbach, deliver speeches on the back of a pickup. (Click to enlarge images)
  • Ashley Louis watches a speech by Mathew Heimbach. (Click to enlarge images)
  • From left, Zach Easterly, Jessica Beard, Austin Neff, Madison Beard, and Raven Wheeler sit on the tailgate of a truck. (Click to enlarge images)
  • People participated in the rally in numerous ways. (Click to enlarge images)
  • A motorcade of flag-toting cars, trucks and motorcycles prepare to drive through downtown Knoxville. (Click to enlarge images)
  • The motorcade started in Seymour, Tennessee, before passing through downtown Knoxville. (Click to enlarge images)
  • Scott Hess rescues a dropped Confederate flag during the procession of vehicles. (Click to enlarge images)
  • From left, Corey Kitts, Tanya Coriell, and Novach Coriell, 2, are seen during a Confederate flag rally that ended in a parking lot in Knoxville after motorcading through the city. (Click to enlarge images)
  • From left, Jeff Ownby, Xavier Wolever, Daniel Roberts and Caleb Edmonds hang out during a Confederate flag rally that ended in a parking lot in Knoxville. (Click to enlarge images)
  • Eric D. Robinson poses for a portrait in his Dodge Challenger at a Confederate flag rally held in a parking lot in Seymour, Tennessee on Thursday, July 17, 2015. (Click to enlarge images)

White Power and Serenity made their way toward the Kroger parking lot where the rally is to be held, passing a small cemetery with tiny crosses to remember aborted fetuses, billboards for the Dollywood theme park and more payday loan businesses. Once at the parking lot, which is crowded with pickup trucks and Confederate flags, Pierce walks around handing out fliers for his group.

“The feds are trying to blame our flag for this one jackass shooting everybody,” he says. “They’re using it as an excuse to attack our history. They call us racists so it becomes easier to hate us. Now they want to force all this homosexual marrying and all this other nonsense on us, and we don’t like it. The South was the last Christian nation to go to war over faith and principles, and that’s what the flag means. Calling it racist is nonsense.”

Heimbach leads the crowd in a prayer and a moment of silence for the dead in Chattanooga before launching into his speech. “We are under attack now, more than we’ve ever been since 1865. They hate us, our folk and our God.” His politics grows a notch more radical during his speeches, and the crowd yells and whoops when he says the federal government is worse than the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. “Just like ISIS [an acronym used for the group], they are tearing down our history,” he says, and the crowd cheers.

After the speech, rally attendees pile into their cars for a parade through downtown Knoxville, where only weeks before, Heimbach picketed a gay pride parade.

“The government is absolutely worse than ISIS,” he explains in the car. “Because the government funds ISIS through the various rebel groups.” He says that he cares a great deal about the Syrian people and that he spent the better part of six months trying to find a way to go to Syria to fight on the side of President Bashar al-Assad, whom he calls a staunch defender of traditional, Christian values.

“The left always overreaches,” he says. “They always want more. Greedy, greedy, greedy. They want to impose their values on us, and they want to eradicate us. That goes for Republicans too. Republicans are leftists because they’ve bought into the notion of egalitarianism, individualism and a progressive view of history. I read an article somewhere that says that the South was holding the North back and that if it weren’t for us, the North would be liberal and progressive. If that is the case and if that is what the North wants, why doesn’t it just let us go?”

A group gathers for a photo during a Confederate flag rally that ended in a parking lot in Knoxville, Tennessee after motorcading through the city on Thursday, July 17, 2015. (Click to enlarge images)

The parade ends outside a Walmart, where Heimbach suggests that they all take a group photo to show their displeasure with Walmart’s deciding to remove all Confederate flag items from its merchandise.

“Man, I hope that guy gives a speech again, and if he does, I’m going to record it,” a man wearing a Confederate flag as a cape says. “That guy made some sense.”

“Since there are so many people here and so many flags,” Heimbach says, “why don’t you join me in a couple of verses of ‘Dixie’?”

“It’s exactly like Matt said,” says Pierce as the crowd sings. “Our whole Western civilization is going down the shitter, and us white folks have to stand up for once. I’ve traveled the world and seen the destruction. Appalachia is the last bastion of Christian civilization, but unless we fight, we will lose it all.”

Tony Hovater, Heimbach’s friend and party comrade, is running for a City Council seat in New Carlile later this fall. Heimbach puts his chances at about 50/50, maybe more if the party manages to get out the blue-collar vote. If all goes well, Heimbach will run for state legislature in 2016, and then the plan is to grow the party from there. He says he and the party are designing their policy ideas to be scalable. What works locally will also work nationally.

“Look at how groups like Hamas and Hezbollah work,” he says. “The get the trust of the people because they work with them on the ground and create an alternative. The way we win this is by being political and by speaking for those that don’t have a voice. The IRA fought a bloody battle for 25 years, and look where it got them, whereas the Scottish National Party managed to get a political referendum on secession that the English would have respected. What we do will work, but it takes time, and it’s not easy. Our time will come, and it starts with a small town council seat.”

Vegas Tenold is a Norwegian writer. He is currently working on a book about the white nationalist movement in the U.S.

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