Hate monitoring groups say that while openly white supremacist candidates have little chance of winning, their success even in primaries can give them access to large audiences.
During the lead-up to the November 2018 midterm elections, no one could deny that neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier Arthur Jones, who was running for office in the third district of Illinois, had almost no chance of winning.
After all, Jones had only landed his name on the ballot because no other Republican bothered to run in the third district, a Democratic stronghold.
The overwhelmingly unlikelihood of Jones besting his Democratic contender, and the Republican Party’s swift condemnation of Jones, did little to deter the then 70-year-old retiree, though.
Jones, a hardliner who had once been a member of the American Nationalist Socialist Workers Party, had been unsuccessfully running for various offices time and again since the 1970s, and he had no intention of stopping anytime soon.
His official website hosts a section questioning the Holocaust, and in that section was an embedded document titled “The ‘Holocaust’ Racket”.
Another section on his website denies the existence of hate speech, and yet another section –titled “Where I stand on the issues” – proposes barring undocumented immigration, abolishing sanctuary cities, and doing away with abortion.
Jones indeed lost, but he raked in an estimated 26 percent of the vote when Election Day arrived, local media reported at the time. At the time of publication, Jones had not replied to TRT World’s request for a comment.
Now, with the 2020 US elections less than a year away, Jones has again decided to try his luck. Earlier this month, he filed a petition to run in the Republican Party primary this upcoming March, the Chicago Sun Times reports.
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Unlike last year, however, Jones will not be running uncontested for the Republican slot. At least two others have filed petitions to enter the primary.
In a statement issued earlier this month, Illinois Republican Party chairman Tim Schneider insisted his party “vehemently condemns Arthur Jones’ candidacy”.
“His racism and bigotry have no place in our party or American politics,” Schneider said. “As we did in 2016 and 2018, we will oppose his candidacy in every way possible.”
Although candidates like Jones stood little chance from the outset, experts worry that their repeated attempts to enter electoral politics could have consequences nonetheless.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project, described Jones’s decision to run again as “disturbing”.
“Arthur Jones is never going to win, but the attention he gets will help him build an audience and a platform,” Beirich told TRT World.
“The more and more of these people running for office makes it legit that they can do this,” she added.
“For some people, it may make them seem more normal. It also does another thing for extremist views: It provides a platform to spread them further.”
Jones was far from the only white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and pro-Nazi candidate to run during the 2018 midterms. In California, neo-Nazi Patrick Little unsuccessfully ran for Congress, and white nationalist Paul Nehlen ran in Wisconsin, also failing to land a seat in the country’s legislative body.
Little and Nehlen both regularly promoted the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories claiming that Jews control the media and the country’s political institutions.
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In Montana, former Ku Klux Klan member John Abarr ran for a seat in the House. He started his campaign as a Democrat, but he later switched his party affiliation to Republican.
During his campaign, he eventually crumbled to mounting pressure, apologising for racist and homophobic remarks that he had once hosted on his website, describing them as a “hoax” he had come up with.
Although the Republican Party denounced most of the overtly white nationalist candidates, many of its politicians continued to promote anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and describe immigration as an “invasion” of the US.
US President Donald Trump came to office in January 2017.
During the year leading up to the November 2016 presidential vote and following his besting of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the country saw a sharp uptick in far-right activity, including protests and violent incidents.
In late July, a report produced by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism – hosted by California State University at Santa Barbara – found that hates crimes had spiked by nine percent in at least 30 large cities around the US last year.
The report noted that it was the fifth consecutive year marking an increase in hate crimes.
Most of those targeted were African Americans, Jews and members of the LGBTQ community, the report added.
Among those included were deadly attacks, such as the October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
During that incident, a white nationalist gunman allegedly stormed the house of worship and shot dead at least 11 worshippers.
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Trump condemned the violence and expressed support for the country’s Jewish community, but some observers argued that his comments were disingenuous, citing the president’s frequent resort to anti-immigrant and anti-minority rhetoric.
The president’s supporters insist that he has been unfairly accused of racism, however. Gary Hunt, a right-wing blogger, insisted that a growing number of African Americans and minorities are throwing their weight behind Trump.
“Basically we see that the Democratic Party is committing a slow suicide right now,” he told TRT World, “but we won’t know until next year during the elections.”