STOCKHOLM — The white nationalist Richard Spencer is partnering with two Swedish outfits to create a company they hope will become a media giant and keep race at the center of the new right wing.
It is envisioned, one co-creator said, as a “more ideological Breitbart.” Called the AltRight Corporation, it links Spencer with Arktos Media, a publishing house begun in Sweden to print English-language editions of esoteric nationalist books from many countries. The other Swedish partner is Red Ice, a video and podcast platform featuring white nationalists from around the globe.
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It was natural for Spencer to turn to Swedes as partners in the new enterprise, given the country’s history as an exporter of white nationalist ideas. But forging formal bonds between nationalists across the Atlantic makes even more sense today, when the politics of Northern Europe is heavily driving the politics of immigration and Islam in the United States.
Sweden has been a key center of white nationalism for decades. In the 1990s, it was a world capital of “white power” heavy metal bands; today, it teems with websites and podcasts promoting a new language of white identity. Nationalists have built this network in a country that immigration opponents worldwide have been closely watching with the belief that it will be the first Western nation to collapse beneath the weight of Muslim immigration.
“It's almost like Sweden is the most alt-right.”
With a population of just under 10 million, Sweden accepted around 240,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 and 2015, the largest number per capita of any nation in Europe. Sweden also has one of the fastest-growing nationalist parties, the Sweden Democrats, which grew out of skinhead and neo-Nazi circles in the 1990s and is now polling as Sweden’s second-largest party.
Spencer would not discuss details about the AltRight Corporation’s funding, but told BuzzFeed News he was devoting all of the resources that once fed his National Policy Institute to the project, totaling “six figures.” The National Policy Institute’s long-time backer William Regnery II — a member of the family behind conservative company Regnery Publishing — said in an email to BuzzFeed News that he had made the largest contribution to its startup capital.
The Centria center for asylum-seekers in Gothenburg, Sweden, which was the target of a homemade bomb attack in January.
Mikael Sjöberg for BuzzFeed News
For Spencer, this is partly a play to reclaim his place in the nationalist vanguard that helped elect Donald Trump but has since kicked him to the curb. Spencer coined the term “alt-right,” but he has always been small-time compared to outlets like Breitbart and Infowars. He lost what little cachet he had among more mainstream fellow travelers when The Atlantic captured video of him leading a Nazi-esque “Hail Trump” salute in November. By the time an AltRight Corporation board member formally unveiled its creation at a February conference in Stockholm, many Americans thought of Spencer as the racist who got punched on camera during Trump’s inauguration.
Spencer, who now wears what he calls “Clark Kent glasses” to avoid being recognized on the street and punched again, told BuzzFeed News that the immediate goal of the new company was to “displace the conservative movement” in favor of his brand of nationalism — which aims to create a white “ethno state.” Though it would look like a news site, he said, the new Altright.com would “create a consciousness that something like an ethno state would be possible when the contingencies of history allow.”
And why Sweden? In all of Europe, Spencer said, “It's almost like Sweden is the most alt-right.”
Krent Able for BuzzFeed News
Sweden’s leaders and major news outlets were caught completely off guard when Trump said at a February rally, “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. … They took in large numbers [of immigrants]. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
There had been no terrorist attack the night before, Trump clarified on Twitter the next day. He was instead referring to a segment on Fox News with an American discussing his film claiming Swedish police were covering up a wave of immigrant crime.
Swedish politicians and newspapers scrambled to disprove Trump’s assertion, but nationalist outlets were more than ready for a moment like this. Sweden had become a well-established punching bag for the American right, who view it as the pinnacle of progressive smugness and who delight in mocking trends like transgender-friendly restrooms and gender-neutral pronouns. When Sweden’s leaders welcomed refugees in 2014 and 2015, it offered the perfect laboratory for the American right to prove that progressive idealism would inevitably cause disaster at the hands of Muslim immigrants.
“There is a sort of sick interest there, but there is also, I believe, an unconscious desire among many in the Alt-Right for them to be made an example of,” said Andrew Anglin, of the unapologetically racist website the Daily Stormer, who had been describing this refugee policy as genocide against Swedes as far back as 2013. “Sweden is set to be the first white country to commit suicide through immigration ... The Islamic revolutions in Europe are going to be very painful, and they are going to be bloody, and I think that after one has taken place, the populations in the rest of Europe and in the diaspora will be ready for reevaluating what we are doing to our countries and why we are doing it.”
Most anti-immigrant conservatives would repudiate Anglin’s brand of trolling racism, but even they often single out Sweden as a warning to the West.
Breitbart has produced hundreds of stories about Sweden in the past several years, with headlines like “Sweden ‘Facing Collapse’ Thanks to Migrant Influx, Foreign Minister Warns” and “Europe’s Rape Epidemic: Western Women Will Be Sacrificed at the Altar of Mass Migration.” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and then-representative Mike Pompeo (who is now CIA director) published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after a visit to Scandinavia in 2016, writing that Sweden’s “radical policy occurred with little debate because political correctness pervades Sweden” and that “Sweden’s failures have been repeated in Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere.”
Breitbart has produced hundreds of stories about Sweden in the past several years.
Some in Sweden shared their views and felt their opinions were deliberately censored by the major news outlets. So, like the American alt-right, they started building communities online. The Reddit-like platform Flashback had forums on immigration as early as 2007 with threads to highlight immigrant crimes and to denounce mainstream journalists as “racists who hate Swedes.” A recent study found that half of Swedes get their news from what are known as "alternative" sites, and 1 in 5 say they don’t trust the traditional media at all. (That’s about the same level of distrust as the Pew Research Center found in the US last July.)
The problem for those who had been certain Sweden would implode is that neither law enforcement nor news outlets ever reported a crisis. Swedish officials and mainstream newspapers say that’s because there isn’t data showing that immigration had caused a major spike in crime. Immigration opponents say there is a cover-up — they claim trends in the same statistics actually show a spike in crime. And they see the fact that the police don’t report the national origin of criminal suspects as evidence that officials are intentionally hiding the problem.
This turned the debate into a fight of anecdotal reporting. Mainstream newspapers didn’t pay a lot of attention to isolated crimes — whether car burnings or sexual assaults — because they don’t see them as part of a bigger news story. New outlets also don’t routinely report a suspect’s ethnicity or national origin, in keeping with ethics guidelines that say not to include such information when it is "irrelevant." So alternative sites started writing about them one by one, feeding the idea that the mainstream media has been covering up the truth.
One of the biggest of these alternative outlets is called Avpixlat — which means “unpixelated” — a name that takes a dig at what immigration opponents say is a key tactic in covering up immigrant crimes: News outlets generally pixelate the images of alleged criminals, a practice intended to avoid libeling someone who might turn out to be innocent. Critics say they’re trying to hide skin color, which might reveal a suspect's ethnic background.
Avpixlat publisher Mats Dagerlind.
Mikael Sjöberg for BuzzFeed News
“The media establishment in Sweden is totally liberal-left,” said Avpixlat publisher Mats Dagerlind during a March interview in his apartment overlooking downtown Stockholm. His shoulder-length blonde hair and earrings give him the look of an aging rocker — he plays bass and has a home recording studio — and he wears a Hammer of Thor around his neck, a symbol used by revivalists of ancient Nordic religion and an emblem sometimes used by white supremacists.
“We accuse establishment media for spreading fake news and they throw the accusation back at us,” Dagerlind said.
Avpixlat has published some unquestionably fake news, most recently when it ran a photograph of someone it claimed was the Uzbek man who crashed a truck into a crowd in central Stockholm in an April 7 terrorist attack that killed five people; the photo was of someone else entirely. It also recently published a column outlining a widespread anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews conspired to promote multiculturalism in the 1960s so that Sweden would no longer be Swedish.
Dagerlind said he felt Trump’s comments about Sweden and the international scrutiny that followed had helped them get the upper hand in the fight over whose news is fake. He felt they’d been painted as peddlers of a “big conspiracy theory in Sweden that the media isn’t reporting fairly,” but now that the debate has spilled over to the English-language media — whether it’s major TV outlets or Breitbart — it's impossible for them to be dismissed.
But Sweden’s leaders — and major media outlets — think this assertion is ridiculous.
“They're painting a picture of, 'No one is listening to us, our agenda is not being referred to,' and so on — it's their way of treating themselves as victims in the debate,” Sweden’s immigration minister, Morgan Johansson, told BuzzFeed News. “Well, that's their narrative ... [but] no other issue has been more covered in the past years.”
The leaders of the new right-wing media in the US and UK have been sending help to bolster like-minded Swedes. In the hours after Trump’s rally in February, Paul Joseph Watson, a popular British anti-Muslim YouTube personality and editor with the US site Infowars, offered to pay for any “journalist claiming Sweden is safe” to visit the country’s “crime ridden migrant suburbs.” Former Vice reporter Tim Pool took Watson’s money and used it to jump-start a crowdfunding campaign he’d launched for a project called “Investigating Swedish Crime Wave.”
Right-wing sites from Spencer’s brand-new Altright.com to Breitbart closely watched Pool’s daily dispatches, which at first showed Sweden’s immigrant suburbs to be pretty calm. Pool finally gave them a video to cheer about when the police stopped him from recording and escorted him from a Stockholm suburb — off camera, Pool said, men were beginning to put on masks and the police warned the situation could turn violent.
Chang Frick of Nyheter Idag.
Mikael Sjöberg for BuzzFeed News