In October 1996, Strom Thurmond announced his candidacy for the US Senate from South Carolina. For the first time in US history, a black man would become a United States senator. Thurmond’s extreme positions on many issues aside, he struck a chord with Southern whites and brought them together after years of segregation and racism. Yet, very few people knew much about him.
Enter Chris Paul, then 22, and Facebook. The Clippers rookie noticed and read about Thurmond’s campaign and then began retweeting screenshots of videos of him speaking and writing. Paul thought he should start the campaign of his own. Soon, he was retweeting and listing videos of John Birch Society virgins. Eventually, he was retweeting Harrison Johnson, an al-Qaeda terrorist, and by 2007, he was also retweeting Brownshirts, a neo-Nazi group. And, much like Jimmy Carter, he was reaching out to people who may not be so familiar with him.
But when he was introduced to other bloggers, his initial reaction was “I don’t know if I can do this.” However, the majority of those he introduced to were connected to the AltRight, a far-right far-right organization. “Their first impression of me was, I’m not that person,” Paul said. “They’ve done a lot of work with the alt-right and against politics, and I’m following them. I’m not representing them; but I’m following them.”
After Paul’s initial reaction, one former Republican member of the House introduced him to a handful of colleagues and offered to meet him in a coffee shop. “This is the way we’ve done things with the alt-right,” said one. “You sign your name and say you are an alt-right supporter, and we’ll take a look at you.”
At the meetings in mid-November, Paul was greeted by 16 people. “They were all great,” Paul said. “I understood their system, their ideas and their ideology.”
After that night, Paul had a strong conversation with two other men who became close to his mother. He then got into a discussion with Chris Young of the White Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “It was a very quiet conversation,” Paul said. “They both shared a similar philosophy that they thought served us well as Americans.”
Paul has also been helped by the phenomenon of “supporters.” Many followers on Facebook see Paul as an advocate of their philosophy, something that has helped Paul connect with his future colleagues.
Nonetheless, Paul’s deep personal connection with his followers and the AltRight has concerned some people who view him as controversial, even racist. He stopped making public his religious beliefs until 2013, when, he claimed, he tried to follow the teachings of the Black Panther Party, which he considers dangerous. He has publicly criticized police and the press and claimed to be against hate speech, something many other far-right members consider hypocritical.
“I see the guy as a terrorist,” said David Slater, a retired Army major general and civil liberties attorney. “That kind of sentiment is impossible to ignore.”
Groups like JESSAF have been able to use the platform Paul has created to claim they are promoting values inhumane, intolerant and anti-Semitic. In “Freedom Not Jihad: 21st Century Spymaster,” JESSAF founder Graham Fuller is quoted as saying, “Some people see the AltRight as the US Army.”
In response, Paul argues that he is completely different than the AltRight. “Many times the AltRight platform is racist and supremacist,” Paul said. “I think I represent a different type of position on diversity and multiculturalism that these guys represent.”
Paul believes that if he is so different, why is he being lampooned by the mainstream media?
Paul explained that his ideas and his hobby are connecting with people like him in ways the mainstream media has been reluctant to do. “If you’re this paranoid out there criticizing people for not following me, I think it’s pretty funny,” Paul said. “It’s fun and it’s fun for a lot of people.”