Paul Nehlen, who is aiming to unseat Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in a Republican primary, is capitalizing on the online culture wars — drawing from “alt-right” imagery and ideas, even flirting with more hardcore white nationalists.
While the Huffington Post wrote that Nehlen has “white nationalist street cred,” his flirtation with the white nationalism of the “alt-right” may be as opportunistic as ideological as he seeks to ride a wave of right-wing resentment.
“There’s a lot of followers out there, there’s a lot of people out there, that look up to me and I take that seriously,” Nehlen said in a recent Brietbart interview, describing how he sees himself as part of a broader right-wing surge. “And if we’re all moving forward in the same direction, moving that Overton Window to the right, and saying, ‘Hey, this fake news media, that doesn’t work us, that doesn’t scare us’ — you know, I’m standing up for people’s free speech, lawful speech.”
On social media, Nehlen shares memes — like Pepe the frog — associated with the “alt-right,” and retweeted celebratory photos of the explosive Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, the advocacy site Right Wing Watch reported. He also appeared on the podcast Fash the Nation, a project of white nationalist Mike Peinovich, and was a proponent of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory about an alleged pedophile ring in a D.C. pizzeria, telling the Associated Press in August that he still believed it to be true.
He has also used the triple parenthesis known as the “echo” used in the “alt-right” to single out Jews or indicate perceived Jewish influence.
Our FatherWho art in heavenHallowed be Thy name.Thy kingdom comeThy will be doneOn Earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day… pic.twitter.com/fmKmFsSZd4— Paul Nehlen (@pnehlen) December 19, 2017
The left-wing activist blog Angry White Men noted last week that Nehlen has also praised Identity Evropa, a self-styled “identitarian” group that holds to the basic white nationalist belief that whites are doomed to extinction a “rising tide” of brown and black people controlled or manipulated by Jews.
During Twitter spats with Jewish conservative writer John Podheretz, Nehlen swatted back against accusations of anti-Semitism. He has said he would not back down “to any religion, whether it’s Judaism or Islam or anything.”
Paul Nehlen, who is running to unseat Paul Ryan, is sharing fan-made “It’s OK to be white” memes featuring him[from Nehlen’s Gab account] pic.twitter.com/5c8GYJBwPt— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) December 18, 2017
Recently, Nehlen has “pushed even harder to the right,” Right Wing Watch wrote, “and dropped any attempt to conceal his affiliations with the furthest fringes of the right.”
Nehlen was asked three times by HuffPost last week whether he considered himself a white nationalist or a member of the alt-right. Nehlen dodged the question and then didn’t respond to further inquiries.
Nehlen lost to Ryan in the 2016 Republican primary 84% to 16%.
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.
Paul Nehlen Taps Into ‘Alt-Right’ In Congress Bid