House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to retire from office makes, for the moment, an anti-Semitic white nationalist who has embraced the so-called Alt Right the Republican frontrunner in Wisconsin’s first congressional district.
In a Facebook post hailing the news, GOP candidate Paul Nehlen called Ryan’s retirement “good news for America, bad news for special interests who bought Paul Ryan's vote. My focus has always been on YOU.”
In fact, Nehlen’s focus has not always been on “YOU,” his voters. Previously, his campaign criticized Ryan’s “silence on issues of [Jewish] media representation."
The antipathy is apparently mutual. Ryan’s campaign pulled no punches in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “There are many qualified conservatives who would be effective representatives for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, and Paul Nehlen isn’t one of them,” said Kevin Seifert, the head of Ryan’s political operation. “His bigoted rhetoric and his reprehensible statements should disqualify him from holding any public office and we are confident voters in Southern Wisconsin feel the same way.”
In large part because of his penchant for racially inflammatory or anti-Semitic remarks, Nehlan’s political prospects have not been taken all that seriously. Ryan defeated him by nearly 70 points in the 2016 Republican primary and the expectation was that the same would happen again this cycle.
With Ryan’s retirement, those expectations change. Nehlen is one of two Republicans who had vied to replace Ryan in 2018, and while other Republicans are likely to jump into the contest before the district’s August primary, Nehlen has more visibility and political experience than his sole existing opponent, Army special forces veteran and businessman Nick Polce. He also is personally wealthy, though local media has investigated his company, Blue Skies Global LLC, and found scant evidence that it does any actual business.
Asked by a Milwaukee radio station where Blue Skies pays taxes, Nehlen conceded, "No taxes have been paid so far precisely because nothing has been charged for services to date."
With cash to spare and his major primary opponent out of the way, Nehlen is not just a threat to win the nomination, but also is likely to solidify his place as the most prominent white nationalist in U.S. politics today. His brand of politics is so toxic that even Breitbart News, which has previously identified with the Alt Right and provided extensive and favorable coverage to Nehlen, recently disavowed him. And while Nehlen may be running as a Republican, the Wisconsin GOP wants nothing to do with him.
“Nehlen and his ideas have no place in the Republican Party,” a state party spokesperson said in February, shortly after Nehlen tweeted out a racist image of Meghan Markle, the biracial actress slated to marry Prince Harry next month.
For that tweet, Nehlen was banned from the platform. But he found other ways to muse about race and politics online. He joined Gab, a Twitter alternative popular among the Alt Right. Last week, however, he was banned from that platform too.
Nehlen’s travails on social media have inspired him to make online censorship the cornerstone of his policy platform. He proposes to “extend Americans’ First Amendment free speech protections onto major social media platforms,” though he insists that such a move would not require a constitutional amendment.
Nehlen hails from the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party. And he rode hard on the president’s coattails during his thoroughly unsuccessful 2016 run. But last year, Nehlen took a hard turn even further right, embracing the personalities, affectations, and bigoted racial, religious, and political views of the country’s resurgent white nationalist community.
Last month, Nehlen posted a link on his Gab page to an essay on the Daily Stormer, a leading neo-Nazi forum. The piece, written by the site’s founder, Andrew Anglin, alleged a “Jewish policy of using violence, intimidation and threats of financial ruin to silence criticism of them.” Anglin added, “it simply is not controversial that America is run by Jews to the detrainment of the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
On Easter, Nehlen shared a photoshopped image of himself sitting at the Oval Office desk surrounded by the severed heads of a group of Hasidic Jews.
Though Nehlen has appeared on radio programs hosted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and other Alt Right leaders, his blatant anti-Semitism has been too much for some in the movement. Last month, Jared Taylor, the leading of white nationalist group American Renaissance, disinvited Nehlen from a conference the group was hosting.
Nehlen further drew the Alt Right’s ire last week when he revealed the identity of a racist pro-Trump troll who goes by the name Ricky Vaughn. Nehlen’s “doxing” of Douglass Mackey, the man behind Ricky Vaughn, is was precipitated his banishment from Gab.
That’s left Nehlen with few allies even in the fringe corners of the right-wing fever swamps where he was once hailed as a hero. But Nehlen’s political allies continue to make inroads in some corners of the political right. Former Nehlen campaign consultants recently acquired a right wing news website, Big League Politics, that they have used to advance the political interests of their current and former clients, including Nehlen, former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and Virginia Senate candidate Corey Stewart.