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Alternate Reality: Growing acceptance of white nationalism in Trump’s America
Northern California-based white nationalist Nathan Damigo leads his group Identity Evropa in an anti-immigration demonstration on Pier 14 in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Identity Evropa
Northern California-based white nationalist Nathan Damigo leads his group Identity Evropa in an anti-immigration demonstration on Pier 14 in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Identity Evropa

Sitting in his study surrounded by dozens of books, Nathan Damigo is roughly 100 pages into his latest literary venture, “Why We Fight: Manifesto of the European Resistance,” by Guillaume Faye.

“It’s great,” he said in an interview with El Tecolote, via facetime. “Give it a read. I think you’ll find it insightful.”

Damigo, a self-described “Identitarian” and founder of the Oakdale, CA-based white nationalist group “Identity Evropa,” wasn’t always a reader. He developed the habit, which he now considers a “healthy obsession,” while serving four years in prison for armed robbery.

“I don’t remember it horribly well, but I remember it well enough,” Damigo said of the night that changed his life.

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United States Marine Corporal Nathan Damigo returns home to California in October 2007 after his second tour of duty in Iraq. Photo: myspace.com

He was 21 and had recently returned home from his second tour of duty as a Marine in Iraq.

On Nov. 11, 2007, Corporal Nathan Benjamin Damigo robbed Changiz Ezzatyar, a San Diego cab driver, at gunpoint.

“It’s something that I’m certainly not proud of,” said Damigo, who is now 30. “When I got back from Iraq, I was having some major issues.”

Court documents obtained by El Tecolote show Damigo was diagnosed with having PTSD by three different doctors, and was charged with a felony count of robbery, and a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon. On Jan. 26, 2010, Damigo pleaded guilty to felony robbery; he was sentenced to six years in prison on Feb. 26, 2010.

Damigo likened his time in prison to a “four-year sabbatical,” and said that his “red pill” awakening moment (a reference from the film “The Matrix”) came sometime in 2011 when he read a book by prominent white supremacist David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“I actually kind of read it as a joke. And was like, ‘Oh wow, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here,’” he said. “I think [Duke] is a man who was willing to say things that weren’t politically correct. It was very easy to demonize him to the general public.”

Though Damigo acknowledges that he identified with other whites in prison, he claims that’s not what influenced his current views.

“It was my time in prison, but it wasn’t. It was the fact that I had time to sit and reflect and think and study and read. That’s what it was that led me to my beliefs,” Damigo said. “In California prison, every race goes with their own race. That’s simply how it is. So yeah, I was with the other whites.”

Damigo’s older brother, Josh, however, believes his alliance with whites in prison did influence his views.

He became a member of the “white gangs while in jail, as a survival tactic,” Josh Damigo wrote in an email to El Tecolote. “I believe this was a huge disservice to him, since he needed help for PTSD, not jail time. [District Attorney] Bonnie Dumanis and the City of San Diego did him and all Marines a terrible disservice by convicting him.”

From ‘skater boy’ to white nationalist

Damigo’s journey from “skater boy” to combat Marine veteran, and from an ex-con to a prominent white nationalist, begins in San Jose, CA where he was raised.

According to a psychological evaluation, Damigo was diagnosed with ADHD at age 8 and began taking Ritalin. He stopped when he reached high school at Liberty Baptist, a small private Christian school on San Jose’s south side.

“It was really fucking diverse,” Damigo said of Liberty Baptist. “Everyone was a minority.”

According to the evaluation, he had learning disabilities in high school, required a special tutor and took special education classes for two years at Liberty Baptist, where his mother was a teacher and principal.

He joined the Marines in November, 2004, during his senior year. A corporal in the First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Damigo was deployed to western Iraq for seven months from August 2005 to March 2006.

During his deployment, two of his close friends were killed, one by an improvised explosive device attack and the other in a firefight. Wrought with grief and survivor guilt, when he returned he began drinking heavily and eventually attempted suicide. He did not seek help after the attempt.

Damigo was deployed for a second tour in early 2007 and, despite exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, he excelled. When he returned home in October 2007 his symptoms continued to worsen.

“He was always the more likable kid in my family, but when he came home, he was just different—more calculated, less loving,” wrote his brother Josh. “We were roommates when he got back from Iraq … He suddenly wanted a baseball bat at the door of the house for ‘safety,’ and was much more nervous and ‘cautious’ when he came back. It didn’t make much sense to me.”

In November 2007, near the anniversary of his deceased friend, Lance Cpl. Jeremy Tamburello,  Damigo began drinking heavily while alone in his brother Josh’s San Diego apartment. He had planned to end his life using a pistol, but instead decided to take a walk to clear his head. His walk led him to a park in La Mesa, where he encountered the taxi driver, Changiz Ezzatyar.

According to Damigo’s first psychological evaluation by clinical psychologist Heidi S. Kraft on Dec. 5, 2007, Damigo admitted that the decision was a poor one, but he believed it might make him “feel alive.”

In a neuropsychological evaluation by Barbara J. Schrock dated June 23-24, 2008, Damigo said he was sure Ezzatyar was Iraqi.

“He reported that because he thought he [Ezzatyar] was Iraqi, ‘I wanted to kill the dude,’” read Schrock’s evaluation. Damigo forced Ezzatyar to the ground at gunpoint and told him to give him his money. He then walked to the end of the block, realized what he had done, and started running.

Damigo’s mental health continued to deteriorate over the course of 2008-09, as he abused drugs and alcohol and again attempted suicide. During this period, he underwent multiple psychological evaluations, but gave conflicting accounts of the robbery. In one account he claimed he had experienced a flashback, believing he was back in Iraq when he robbed Ezzatyar.

One conclusion that remained consistent throughout his evaluations was that Damigo’s intelligence was above average and that he exhibited leadership in the military.

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Identity Evropa members, including their leader Nathan Damigo (first in front row) attend the National Policy Institute’s 2016 conference on Nov. 19 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Courtesy of Identity Evropa

Forming a new Identity

After being released from prison in 2014, and armed with his new radical ideology, Damigo co-founded a white nationalist group called National Youth Front with the help of someone he found online. But the venture fizzled due in part to a copyright infringement with a Christian youth organization called “Youth Front.”

He continued to publicize his nationalist views on a blog called “Dispossessedtemp,” until launching Identity Evropa in March 2016.

On Oct. 17, Damigo and about a dozen of Identity Evropa members held an anti-immigration rally at Pier 14, calling for an end to San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy.

Identity Evropa, which now has more than 100 members according to Damigo, bears little resemblance to the classic image of white supremacists—no white hoods, no shaved heads, no swastika tattoos or racial slurs. They are well-groomed, well-dressed and well-spoken.

“We’re not looking to intimidate people,” Damigo said. “That’s not what our purpose is. We’re focused on one thing, which is race and identity.”

To Damigo and his group this means advocating for a moratorium on immigration—both legal and “illegal”— for anyone who isn’t of European ancestry, and dividing the United States into racially segregated “ethnostates.”

“We reject [the idea of] multiracialism as being something that is good for European people,” Damigo said. “Do we want to have this person breeding in our gene pool?”

Damigo claims that these sorts of ideas are not in fact racist and that labeling them so constitutes “anti-white hate speech” that is used to undermine “European interests.”

Membership to Identity Evropa is strictly limited to people who can trace their ancestry to Europe, except for Jews, who are prohibited even if they have European ancestry. Damigo also doesn’t allow members to date interracially, calling it “selfish,” although he once almost married an ex-girlfriend, who is Latina.

He doesn’t however see a problem in indulging in non-European cuisine or enjoying other cultures.

“European people have been doing that for a long time … there’s nothing wrong with that. If it’s a unit of culture that is good … Why can’t we adopt that into our culture?” he said. “What I’m rejecting is a system that is problematic. Multiracialism creates conflict within a society.”

These kinds of ideas and the people and organizations that promote them such as Identity Evropa, are part of what has become known as the “alt-right.”

The so-called “alt-right”

Coined by a white nationalist named Richard Spencer, the alternative right or “alt-right” isn’t so much an actual group as it is a catch-all term applied to a diffuse collection of people who share a common set of ideas.  The “alternative” refers to a rejection of classic conservatism’s focus on economics and foreign policy, in favor of an ideology based around identity—specifically white, straight, male identity. The movement can be best understood as a backlash to multiculturalism. It includes traditional far-right conservatives, anti-semites, anti-immigration activists, Internet provocateurs, men’s rights activists and old-school racists as well as white nationalists like Damigo and Spencer.

The people who’ve adopted this label believe among other things that traditional conservatism has been hijacked by global elites, that reverse-racism is real, that it is Christians who are being persecuted for their religious beliefs and that a “culture of political correctness” is the greatest threat to personal liberty. They also happen to believe that Western Civilization is superior to all others and that it is inseparable from European identity.

The Associated Press, which governs journalism writing conventions, has labeled the term “alt-right” a “public relations device,” suggesting that it deliberately obscures the controversial views of people like Spencer and Damigo. “In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist,” wrote John Daniszewski, AP’s vice president for standards.

Spencer, a sharply dressed, soft-spoken intellectual, has also adopted the “identitarian” label.  He currently heads the National Policy Institute (NPI), a Washington, DC-based white nationalist think tank.

“America, at the end of the day belongs to white men,” he proclaimed recently in a lecture he gave at Texas A & M.

Members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa host an anti-immigration demonstration on Pier 14 in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 2016, calling for an end to San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. Photo: Courtesy of Identity Evropa
Members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa host an anti-immigration demonstration on Pier 14 in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 2016, calling for an end to San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. Photo: Courtesy of Identity Evropa

A new era for White Nationalism

The ideas that individuals like Damigo and Spencer advocate have, of course, been part of America’s political landscape since the early days of the Ku Klux Klan. They are typically relegated to the margins of political discourse, but can gain traction from time to time, usually in periods of social upheaval. And the rise of Donald Trump has provided such an upheaval.

Trump’s foray into politics began in 2012 when he led the “birthers,” a movement built around a baseless conspiracy theory designed to delegitimize the nation’s first black president. In June of 2015, when he officially threw his hat in the ring for president, he marked the occasion by giving a racist speech degrading Mexican immigrants, which played directly to the identity politics of white nationalism. Over the course of his path to the presidency, Trump styled himself as the candidate of “law and order,” threatening to crackdown on racial justice groups like Black Lives Matter; he promised to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border; and he threatened to ban Muslims from entering the country.

He also helped push white nationalist propaganda through his Twitter account, by sharing content such as a false report about “black on white” crime that originated from Neo-Nazi sources, and an altered image of Hillary Clinton behind a six-pointed star of David and a pile of cash reading “Most corrupt candidate ever” (which was roundly condemned as anti-semitic).

“Donald Trump’s campaign was the first step toward identity politics in the United States,” Spencer told reporters during a recent NPI conference in Washington, DC. Spencer added that while he didn’t consider Trump to be “alt-right,” per se, the president-elect more than any other republican shared a “psychic” connection with the movement.

Trump’s choice of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor is considered by many to be a blatant nod to the “alt-right.” Bannon was a founding board member and former executive chair of controversial Breitbart.com, the conservative website known for its toxic ideologically-driven style of partisan journalism. Bannon famously called Breitbart “the platform for the ‘alt-right.’”

Since assuming his new role, Bannon has sought to distance himself from white nationalism, but not specifically the “alt-right.”

Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart reporter, who left earlier this year because of Bannon’s close ties with the Trump campaign, described Bannon in an interview with Slate.com as “very power-hungry,” and said he is “willing to use anybody and anything in order to get ahead, and that includes making common cause with the racist, anti-Semitic alt-right.”

Both the president-elect and his chief strategist have publicly disavowed white nationalism, but the campaign they rode to the White House has undeniably emboldened the nationalist movement, has thrust the issue of white identity to the forefront of the political discussion, and in the process has given men like Damigo and Spencer a platform they could have only dreamed of a few years ago.

Damigo said he doesn’t consider Trump to be a part of the movement, but he said the president-elect’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton “was a big deal for us.”

“The thing that I liked about him [Trump] was he created space to have a conversation, he put things like immigration back on the table,” he said. “Whether or not he’s going to fulfill his promises, I’m skeptical. If he goes back on his word, we’re going to be going after him harder than anyone else.”

Story by: Alexis Terrazas and Atticus Morris