July 29, 2021
IntelBrief: Salad Bar Redux: Is Heimbach’s Extremism Emblematic of The Current Threat Landscape?
On July 20, 2021, Matthew Heimbach—a white supremacist extremist who helped organize the 2017 Charlottesville Unite the Right rally—announced in a Newsy interview that he was going to relaunch the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), a neo-Nazi group that advocated for a racially pure White ethnostate. The TWP was co-founded by Heimbach and Matthew Parrott in 2015 and was active for five years before it folded, largely due to the increased scrutiny the group and Heimbach received after TWP was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Charlottesville victims. Heimbach, co-founder and leader of the TWP, helped organize the Unite the Right rally, where white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched and engaged in numerous violent actions culminating in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was killed in a vehicle ramming by avowed neo-Nazi James Fields. In the aftermath, Heimbach was involved in litigation related to his role in organizing the rally and in May 2020, he was ordered to pay attorney fees for disobeying court orders.
Heimbach’s extremism dates back prior to his founding of TWP. As a college student at Towson University in Maryland, Heimbach led the White Student Union because of perceived white victimhood and the university’s support for students of color. The group’s activities included night patrols targeting “black predators” and rallying students to support George Zimmerman, who killed unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, in a case that garnered national and global attention. Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Martin was seen by many through the lens of race.
In May 2020, Heimbach recanted his support for neo-Nazism, a claim met with skepticism, largely because Heimbach was facing significant legal troubles at the time of his alleged conversion. In the eyes of many, Heimbach was simply an opportunist attempting to rebrand himself. As part of that reimaging process, Heimbach joined former extremist Jesse Morton, who currently works to bring people out of extremist groups, on the aptly titled podcast, “Take a Walk on the Right Side.” In the six-episode podcast (April-July 2020), Morton and Heimbach explored the key publications that animate the white supremacist community. In the podcast, Heimbach’s descriptions of the Turner Diaries and the Siege—both famously explicitly racist and anti-Semitic works known to attract extremists because they centralize the role of violence in creating political change—do not treat the texts with disdain and suggest nuance where there is none.
During his Newsy interview, Heimbach announced his plans to restart the TWP with a Bolshevik focus targeting global elites. Heimbach emphasized the need for the capitalist class to be liquidated, saying “it’s called class warfare for a reason.” In advocating for violence, Heimbach tried to couch these actions as defensive by explaining, “any violence the proletariat brings is simply in self-defense.” In addition to playing the left-wing victimhood card, Heimbach’s old anti-Semitic roots were also evident in the Newsy interview. Heimbach also adopted eco-fascist rhetoric in saying, “how many cities will be swallowed by the ocean?” as justification for violence. He then goes on to suggest that “specific people” need to “pay” for their destruction of the environment, a clear implication of his support for violence against his ideological targets.
When prompted about his views regarding former United States Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and current U.S. President Biden, Heimbach said they all “should go on trial” and implied that vigilante justice would be warranted should the legal system not hold them accountable. Recurrent as a theme in Newsy’s discussion with Heimbach was the latter’s embrace of accelerationism. The concept of accelerationism, originally an element of Marxist thought, has been co-opted by a broad range of far-right and anti-government groups, to include the Atomwaffen Division and so-called Boogaloo Bois. In supporting this ideology, Heimbach and these groups are pushing for the destruction of the U.S. government through violent means. In essence, accelerationism suggests reform via the ballot box is not possible and only warfare can create a new system.
Whether Heimbach’s embrace of National Bolshevism—an ideology that takes inspiration from both Marxism and China and targets global elites—is genuine remains unclear, but it is evident that he is willing to weaponize a veritable “salad bar” of extremist ideologies (and issues) to remain relevant. The significance of Heimbach’s shift will depend on whether he can accrue new followers that can overlook his chameleonic past. Heimbach has acknowledged that he isn’t a soldier, but his interest in inspiring others to carry out violence is crystal clear. Additionally, his ability to build networks shouldn’t be underestimated. During his time as leader of TWP, Heimbach visited far-right organizations throughout Europe, including the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), an extreme-right, white supremacist militant organization declared a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2020. For these reasons alone, Heimbach’s activities warrant greater scrutiny by law enforcement agencies. Moreover, the transnational connections he helped foster highlight the importance of international cooperation and multilateral attention to counter the evolving violent far-right extremist threat.