But the images we saw in Charlottesville today and yesterday convey an entirely different sort of threat. They draw their menace not from what is there—mostly, young white men in polos and T-shirts goofily brandishing tiki torches—but from what isn’t: the masks, the hoods, the secrecy that could at least imply a sort of shame. We used to whisper these thoughts, the new white supremacists suggest. But now we can say them out loud. The “Unite the Right” rally wasn’t intended to be a Klan rally at all. It was a pride march.
The shameless return of white supremacy into America’s public spaces seems to be happening by degrees, and quickly. It wasn’t until most journalists left the conference of the innocuously named “National Policy Institute” in November that my colleague Daniel Lombroso captured Richard Spencer leading the attendees in open Nazi salutes. Spencer’s intention—to make normal that gesture and all the sentiments that underpin it—is no more secret than the identities of his tiki torch-wielding bannermen. “I don’t see myself as a marginal figure who’s going to be hated by society,” Spencer said to Daniel. “I see myself as a mainstream figure.”