Emails from a white nationalist Trump supporter: Examining xenophobia, Russia-appreciation, and fears of cultural change

For the last five years, I’ve been on the email list of a man one might politely call an extreme conservative, an extreme nationalist, or a white nationalist. This man is openly intolerant of, amongst other things, Muslims, South American immigrants, and “uncivilized” American black people. These are peoples he believes pose an existential threat to the United States. Over the three years I was on his email list, this man sent out emails that contained: untrue and out-of-context “fake” news, outlandish conspiracy theories, and fearful thoughts about the impending doom of the United States. We’ll call this man John Doe.

John Doe was also an early and passionate Trump supporter. In September of 2015, he went from supporting Ted Cruz to being an enthusiastic supporter of Trump. This was five months before Trump became the GOP frontrunner, at a time when the idea that Trump was a serious contender for President was considered laughable by most people. The main reason for this man’s support was his perception of Trump’s hardline stances on immigration and terrorism.

Below I’ve summarized John Doe’s email content and placed it into categories I think are interesting. There are sections on: Islamophobic and xenophobic cultural fears, fake news, and Russia/Putin appreciation.

I’ve collected some of the more interesting emails from John Doe in this Google Doc. Some of the numbers referenced below (e.g., email #12) refer to the numbered emails in that Google Doc.

Xenophobia and cultural fear

John Doe’s fears of culture destruction for the United States are best captured in an essay he writes entitled Invasions (email #12), which begins, “America was successfully invaded once. America is being successfully invaded again.” He then lists the three major invading forces:

Illegal Central American immigrants

Muslims

Uncivilized blacks

He sees Muslims as the most dangerous of the three groups. He says they “seek to convert [the United States] into an exclusionary Muslim country ruled by sharia law.” He says they practice warfare and “lawfare” (i.e., using lawsuits to wage war). He says, “It is no accident that a very high percentage of Muslims in our universities are studying law.” He says they will “do this initially by establishing No Go areas such as we are already seeing in their mosques, and in Dearborn, Michigan, and parts of Minnesota.”

Muslims, he says, “will not assimilate. Instead, they will dominate all groups of invaders — and us — once they come into power.”

Uncivilized blacks, “found mostly in the inner cities,” are the group he names as second-most dangerous. He says, “Many do not see themselves as Americans, instead choosing to identify by race. In not identifying as American and helping to defend this land, they must be classified as invaders.” He also says, “No group has imposed greater social, emotional, and economic burdens on America than this Trojan Horse group, which began as the legal, commonly-practiced business of slave ownership.” He says they can be termed “Trojan Horse invaders” because they are “invaders of the most insidious kind, since they should identify as natives.”

Central Americans are the least-threatening invader, he says. “They will do the least damage (other than making America a truly one-party — Democrat — nation) since most are low skilled people willing to do work the government pays Americans not to do. They will slowly change our culture, as they are already doing.”

In another essay, entitled “Islam Is Inevitable” (email #3), John Doe says that a society’s acceptance of homosexuality weakens it in several ways, mainly by reducing the breeding population, which in turns makes the society susceptible to being taken over by Islam.

The fear of cultural and national annihilation runs through many of this man’s emails, and similarly worded thoughts are easy to find on conservative sites, forums, and social media posts. These people’s fears are genuinely felt, no matter how unreasonable and illogical they may seem. Understanding these fears can help make sense of the hardline political stances this man has. (More on these fears later.)

Fake news, paranoia, and conspiracy theories

John Doe’s emails contained a lot of easily-disproved or recklessly exaggerated “news” stories. Long before “fake news” became an oft-heard phrase, I was amazed at how little skepticism this man showed in terms of the articles and links he was willing to consume and share.

Some people’s belief in fake news can’t be ascribed entirely to sheer gullibility. Some of it is coupled to a paranoia that there are powerful, hidden forces shaping world events. That paranoia leads to a willingness to believe in conspiracy theories. Once someone comes to believe that there are powerful groups that engage in disinformation campaigns, it’s easy for that person to believe in all sorts of speculative, hard-to-prove ideas. (It’s my belief that the “climate change is a liberal conspiracy” idea becoming fairly mainstream is a key lynchpin that helps explain this population being willing to believe other unlikely, paranoid theories.)

Below are some of the fake news and outlandish conspiracy theories mentioned in John Doe’s emails. I’ve put the more easy-to-disprove fake news at the top, followed by the more speculative, harder-to-disprove conspiracy theories towards the bottom.

Note: Below, I use Snopes as a reference in debunking some of the fake news items below. I know that some people, especially conservatives, have found fault with Snopes. But for easily-debunked news items (i.e., stories requiring a quick online search to find many other credible sites debunking them), I believe Snopes is a reliable resource. I would be less likely to use Snopes for complex, ambiguous stories that would benefit from more in-depth research.

These were the most egregiously false news items and the most outrageous conspiracy theories, but he sent a lot of other emails containing out-of-context news and exaggerated claims.

John Doe also expresses the belief that his own communications were perhaps being tracked and/or censored. Rather comically, these instances seem to be mostly due to his not understanding standard online protocols.

I include these because I think they are relevant to the paranoid mindset that more and more extreme rightwing people share.

Russia/Putin appreciation

There are several instances in this man’s emails of him praising Russia or Putin, going back to late 2013. Considering the recent revelations about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. election, I thought this was interesting, and perhaps indicative of this person consuming pro-Russia propaganda via the conservative online sites and channels he frequented.

In his 2013 essay about how homosexuality weakens countries (email #3), he says, “Russia and India are perhaps the most salient examples of countries that are cracking down on homosexual behavior, especially as it regards the youth of the nation in Russia’s case.” He then quotes a prominent anti-gay writer who wrote: “Russia remains stalwart in its laws that aim to curb the influence of the West’s gay-friendly culture on Russian youth.”

In the same email, he says the following:

Russia is an excellent example of a country that is doing something about the Islamic takeover threat. Faced with a declining birth rate of ethnic Russians; unacceptable levels of immigration from the mid- and far east; and the threat of losing its cultural identity; Russia has taken positive action. Protecting its youth from the population decreasing effects of Western homosexuality propaganda is just one of those positive steps. Can Russia get its birth rate up from 1.7/female and thus increase the strength of its bulwark against the Islamic invasion? We shall see. But it is worth noting that as goes Russia and Europe, so goes the U.S.

He also says:

What might save Russia is a concept that has become anathema, totally politically incorrect, in the E.U. and U.S.: Nationalism! Ethnic Russians are proud of their country, its history and culture. They do not want Western homosexuals or Middle Eastern Muslim immigrants to redefine their culture for them.

(If you’ve like to read more about connections between the anti-gay movement and Russia/eastern Europe, I recommend this Harper’s article by Masha Gessen.)

In a later email (#52), he shares two articles, one about Germany and one about Russia, with the introduction: “Two articles. Two countries. Two different outcomes. Be ready, American men. We are at a time for choosing.”

The first article promotes an anti-immigrant video monologue made by a 16-year-old German girl who angrily asks, “Where are the men of Germany?”

The second article explains an event that happened in Russia in this way:

A group of 51 refugees were brutally assaulted outside a nightclub in Murmansk, Russia, after they groped and molested women at a nightclub Saturday. The refugees had previously been ordered to leave Norway for “bad behavior” and tried their luck in Russia. What they didn’t realize when they went out clubbing in Murmansk is that Russians have less tolerance when it comes to sexual assault on local women than other European countries.

In email #60, John Doe shares a short anti-Hillary Clinton video with the intro: “Here’s that 15 second video you’ve been hearing about. Enjoy.” The video is allegedly the work of the Trump campaign (though I can find no evidence of that) and was shared by a Russian site that shared, amongst other things, anti-Hillary and pro-Trump content. (I wrote an article about this possible Russian propaganda here.)

In email #64, he shares this list of leaders:

And then asks, “What do all these men have in common? They all love their country. It’s called Nationalism or Patriotism, or in Trump’s case, America First! Get used to it.”

What is John Doe afraid of?

John Doe’s main fear is cultural destruction. I believe it’s overly simplistic to assume that John Doe’s fears are racist. John Doe does go out of his way to share instances of black people or Arab people who adhere to his worldview. Like many conservatives, he seems to relish sharing the views of minority/ethnic conservatives as a way to signal, accurately or not, that he’s not racist.

It’s understandable that many people cry “Racism” when confronted with these kinds of divisive worldviews, but doing so misses the real issue here: these are more accurately “culturist” views, not racist views. (This is a distinction that adherents of these types of beliefs also like to make; here’s one example.) To state the obvious, culturist views can be just as bigoted as racist stances.

Regarding his Islamophobic views, I asked John Doe how he could explain the fact that millions of Muslims have lived in the United States for decades and essentially zero of these people have committed terrorist acts.

His response (email #70):

Part one. I agree with you 100% on your “body count” argument. Heck, we lose more citizens in a weekend of gunfire in Chicago, Baltimore and New Orleans (where black lives don’t matter a helluva lot, apparently) or in a plane crash. But terrorism doesn’t depend on body count; the media does. Terrorists rely on terrorizing, making you afraid.

But terrorism isn’t the issue here (even though the vast majority of Syrian ‘refugees’ are fit, male Muslims). Intentional cultural disruption is (see my comments on “invasive species”.) The “melting pot” that America once was cannot hope to function for those whose ‘religion’/ideology precludes assimilation. Muslims always create “ethnic enclaves,” AKA “No Go Zones” (e.g., Dearborn, Mich.) where Islamic Sharia law eventually replaces American law.

His Islamophobia is not a simple reaction to threats of terrorism or violent acts. It is, according to him, the same fear of cultural destruction that underlies all of his exclusionary stances, whether against “uncivilized blacks,” South American immigrants, or homosexuals.

This is of interest because many people assume Islamophobic stances stem from fearful over-reactions to threats of terrorism. (I’ve made this assumption when debating Islamophobic conservatives before.) But with the insight that fears of cultural destruction may be the prominent fear of these people, we can perhaps make better headway in addressing their fears more directly.

In another email (#50), John Doe states that the Rudyard Kipling poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings communicates his worldview well. “Read it a few times,” he says, “it’s prophetic.”

This poem is a popular one amongst conservatives; the theme of the poem is about how strong, natural, and violent laws exert themselves in the world, despite our optimistic wishes that the world is, or has become, a benevolent, safe place. People, the poem seems to posit, are fundamentally tribalistic and violent and eventually will turn against each other in open conflict, and our attempts to paint the world as a nice place are misguided.

So you could argue that John Doe’s arguably primitive, tribalistic, and exclusionary worldviews are a defensive reaction to his view that humans are fundamentally primitive, tribalistic, and exclusionary. If he believes that human nature is, at its core, corrupt and violent, his stances at least start to become more intelligible. In his eyes, his worldview is a tough but necessary reaction to imagined future conflicts.

What policies does John Doe want?

As I read John Doe’s emails over the years, specifically the anti-Muslim ones, the question I had several times was, “What policies does this person want to put in place?” People are obviously allowed to harbor whatever suspicions and hatreds they want, but the problem comes when these people seek to put actual policies in place. What policies do such divisive beliefs lead to?

In email #70, John Doe says the following, “One answer to the ‘What to do?’ question regarding admitting Muslims is to think of them as a potential invasive species.” He then goes on to list invasive species, such as snakehead fish, kudzu, and starlings (also including ‘slaves’ on that list). He says that our approach to the Muslim problem should be to enact similar policies as we’ve done for invasive species.

When talking about what policies he would desire to keep dangerous Muslims out of the country, he states two different beliefs:

In one email (#70), he suggests that all incoming Muslims should be subjected to a loyalty/extremism test involving placing their hands on the Koran and repeating various oaths. (This is despite his stated belief elsewhere that taqiyyah, a Muslim term for lying about your faith to avoid persecution, was routinely practiced by “invading” Muslims — and perhaps even Obama.)

Later (email #84), when I pressed him more on what specific policies his stances would lead to, he responded:

Two that I can think of offhand. For national security:

Keep ’em out.

Send ’em back home.

In an earlier email (#70), I asked him if limiting entry to the United States based on religion was “un-American.” He agreed that it would be. His convenient way of reconciling his stance with his belief in American tolerance is a commonly heard one amongst Islamophobes: “Islam is an ideology, not a religion.”

Conclusion

My main goal in making this man’s emails public was to shed some light on the thoughts of extreme nationalists and white nationalists, which make up a significant percentage of enthusiastic Trump supporters. Perhaps this examination will be practically useful for having more meaningful dialogue with the people who hold these beliefs (or at least helpful for more accurately criticizing their beliefs).

Perhaps understanding these beliefs lets us get into more specifics about the fears of these people. Maybe we can ask these people more specific questions like: How exactly do you see the country changing? What policies are you afraid will be put in place? What exact violence or conflict do you fear? These people often express the belief that “liberals” and “the mainstream” are blind to their concerns, so perhaps there is value to asking these questions and bringing their fears out into the open for discussion. Open discussion might be especially helpful in destroying their power because these people’s fears are often amorphous, vague, and lacking in logic.

Some people seem to think that simply asking these questions about hateful ideologies gives some level of credibility to those ideas. I don’t think that should is the case, though. We already know that a good number of people have fears and ideas like these, and we know that these conversations are happening, whether we want to acknowledge the discussion or not. We shouldn’t be afraid to have these discussions in the hopes of casting some light on the subject and perhaps combatting these fears with logical analysis.

The people who hold these fears believe wholeheartedly that they see an existential threat that the “mainstream” purposefully avoids acknowledging. The more these fears reside in the darkness, unacknowledged in open discourse, the more they grow twisted and dangerous. And maybe they grow more powerful, too.

But these hopes may all be overly wishful thinking on my part. In my interactions with John Doe, I was often frustrated to see a man so seemingly intelligent believe and share false news items and conspiracy theories unskeptically, whenever the items bolstered his prejudices. It was frustrating to see him engage in logical gymnastics to twist his exclusionary philosophies into being a part of traditional American ideals. These aspects of this man’s personality do not bode well for the hope that meaningful dialogue is possible with people who hold these types of views.

Update: after the August 2017 Charlottesville rally and violence, John Doe sent an email that started with the following paragraph:

America is a majority white nation. Most of us want to keep it that way. What happened on Saturday in Charlottesville, VA will one day be seen as (finally) the white awakening to the loss of our beloved country to the forces of evil, hate, division and anarchy. Saturday, 12 August 2017 is the day that America’s white people woke up. They will not rest again until this country is stabilized.

Have psych podcast “People Who Read People.” My research into online deception featured in NYT, WaPo, more. Wrote books on poker tells (translated 8 languages).