I had a hard time knowing what to make of this profile of former racist and Breitbart reporter Katie McHugh in Buzzfeed. For a little background, McHugh was one of the countless racist provocateurs working at Breitbart or The Daily Caller in the early Trump years. Her claim to fame is that she got fired from Breitbart at a moment when it was repositioning from supporting journalists being 90% racist to only 70% racist. As the article explains, getting fired from Breitbart put her on the skids to more and more fringe outfits (a short run on holocaust denier Chuck Johnson’s site) and ultimately being out of work altogether. She now presents herself as reformed and no longer part of the alt-right.
At least half of my time reading the piece I was thinking, why does this person merit a profile? As you probably know, I have little truck with the idea that we shouldn’t focus attention on horrible people. The whole idea that you accomplish anything by ignoring this stuff is something I’ve never bought into. But even in that world, she’s like a 4th tier generally ridiculous player – really just a frivolous racist idiot. Reading the piece I wasn’t quite clear in what sense McHugh was even a journalist as opposed to someone who had a job for a far right publication and had a lot of racist tweets. And here I mean ‘journalist’ in the very thin sense in which I can accord the term to quite a few racists and habitual liars. Why am I reading this? There’s an element of coming of age narrative the story is presented with. But really it seems much more like she was another callow racist who zigged when she should have zagged and is now out of a job and broke and wants to change her story. In fairness, this version of the story doesn’t seem lost on the author of the article, Rosie Gray.
And yet, I read right through the whole thing. And the reason is, whatever you think about McHugh, the story just gets you inside that rancid far-right world of Trumpist, racist nationalism that is the mother’s milk of all those publications and the community that surrounds them. You get some real details about it. McHugh’s story seems to connect up with most of them and – whatever her motives – she shared her emails with them with Gray. Needless to say, they all seem now to barely know of her – emails and backstories notwithstanding.
There are numerous passages that can only be called comical until you remember that these are all hardened Nazis. Even then it’s fairly comical, like a documentary about white supremacists by the guys who made Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind. Here’s one passage about her then-boyfriend Kevin DeAnna, a white supremacist who founded something called Youth for Western Civilization, and why the two didn’t make it as a couple …
Their differences went deeper — and stranger — than that, and allowed McHugh to see inside a truly bizarre subculture. McHugh was a Catholic, while DeAnna was a member of the Wolves of Vinland, a group based near Lynchburg that was focused around a neopagan theology based on self-improvement and feats of strength, as well as coded white nationalism. The idea was to cast off the bounds of modern Judeo-Christian society and find a way back to pre-Christian northern-European culture. McHugh sometimes accompanied DeAnna on weekend trips down to the Wolves’ headquarters for what they called a “moot” — a ceremony in which the assembled Wolves would smear ash on their bodies around a fire and give what McHugh described as “dramatic speeches” about self-sufficiency and relying on the other group members. They would then sit around the fire and drink beers.
The Wolves placed a heavy emphasis on masculinity. The women would prepare food for the gatherings earlier in the day before the moot commenced, according to McHugh. The Wolves were into a “Centurion Method” of physical fitness; a video still on YouTube shows DeAnna and Paul Waggener, one of the founders of the group who used the pseudonym “Grimnir,” taking turns lifting up the trunk of a car filled with cement blocks, scrambling around on a bunch of debris, and squatting while holding logs.
One of the Wolves, Maurice Michaely (Wolf name Hjalti), was sentenced to two years in prison for trying to burn down a black church. (“Visiting with incarcerated Wolf,” Waggener wrote on Facebook in 2014 to caption a photo of himself visiting Michaely in jail, speaking to him on a phone across a transparent barrier. “Free Hjalti you fucking pricks.”)
You’ll feel a touch unclean after reading it. But you’ll know than you did before you did.