A Today show interview with the leader of a white-nationalist group set out to highlight the worrying rise of far-right youth groups. Instead, the interview turned into a sales pitch for the racist organization.
In a segment that was filmed last month and finally aired Wednesday, the Today show focused on the hate group Identity Evropa and its leader, Patrick Casey, who prematurely bragged in September that “I will be appearing on @TODAYshow early next week.”
Under Casey’s leadership, the group has shied away from overt racist language, in a bid to reach a broader audience. On the Today show, NBC’s Peter Alexander asked Casey about the group’s messaging.
“Why isn’t that racist?” Alexander asked. “Wouldn’t most say that that’s simply racist?”
That’s a layup for white nationalists, who spend considerable time workshopping this answer and not much else. Casey then launched into his stump speech, denouncing the term “racist” as a “buzzword.”
Since the run-up to the 2016 election, news outlets have semi-regularly hosted white nationalists for sweeping interviews about their beliefs. If the racists reveal their racism, the logic goes, the American populace will be repulsed. In actuality, Americans are already pretty familiar with racism. Those who already oppose it will be repelled by the racists on their screens—but viewers who harbor their own racist resentments might see something else in these televised interviews: an ally.
After Unite the Right, the deadly 2016 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, some racist groups like Identity Evropa have backpedaled from overt white supremacy and tried to court a more mainstream Republican audience. Their missions haven’t changed; Identity Evropa and its leadership are still a white-power group that intimidates communities of color by dropping anti-immigrant banners in neighborhoods with large immigrant populations. Instead, these groups have adopted a new set of euphemisms. Identity Evropa is “identitarian,” Casey claimed on national television.
Any serious interrogation of this claim would ask racists like Casey how “identitarianism” differs from racism, and how they would enforce its ideals of a whites-first society. Casey also used the Today interview to advocate for a white “supermajority” in America: the basis for American white nationalism.
Other legacy media outlets have fallen into a similar trap when interviewing the fringes. Shortly before the second Unite the Right rally this August, NPR hosted the rally’s organizer, Jason Kessler, who used the platform to push faux-scientific racism about black people.
After CBS’s 60 Minutes botched an interview with Pizzagate-pusher Mike Cernovich last year, BuzzFeed reporter Charlie Warzel called the program “a warning to newsrooms and reporters who find themselves dipping their toes into the MAGA media fever swamp to take the other side seriously and to understand the legitimacy that personalities like Cernovich carry with their vocal followers. Put another way: Know your enemy and stop giving them ammunition.”
NBC did tie Identity Evropa to some of its allies in openly white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups and drew attention to its recruitment campaigns on college campuses. But the segment also pushed some Identity Evropa talking points unchallenged. The group, which strives for a straight-laced image, does not allow members with criminal records, the segment claimed.
While that might be official Identity Evropa policy today, the group’s recent leadership wouldn’t pass the test. Identity Evropa was founded in 2016 by Nathan Damigo, a white nationalist who in 2007 was convicted of robbing an Arab cab driver at gunpoint. (A former marine, he later blamed the attack on the man “looking Iraqi.”) Damigo gave Identity Evropa a reputation for street fights and went viral after he was filmed punching an anti-fascist woman in the face in 2017.
At the initial Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Damigo and other Identity Evropa members engaged in brawls. One man carrying an Identity Evropa flag was Taylor Wilson, a neo-Nazi recently convicted of terrorism charges, although Identity Evropa claims Wilson was never a member.
Damigo was later convicted of failing to disperse after police declared Unite the Right an unlawful assembly.
After Unite the Right, Identity Evropa’s leadership passed to Elliot “Eli Mosley” Kline, an open racist who bragged on a podcast about killing Muslim people as a soldier in Iraq. A New York Times investigation this year revealed that Kline had fabricated his military record and had never even been to Iraq. By then, Kline had ceded Identity Evropa’s leadership to Casey, who has tried to give the group a clean-cut image.
“They recruit vulnerable young people,” a community organizer countering white nationalism in Washington state told The Daily Beast. Washington, Casey’s home state, is a hotbed of Identity Evropa activity.
“I’ve had college students tell me they worry about the really sad and lonely young white man in their dorm, because they know he’s into this shit but they also know it’s probably because he’s miserable and not socially well adjusted,” said the organizer, who asked that her name be withheld. “IE puts out this clean cut, successful image of white manhood, you know? And it really works on some very young people.”