The New York Times published a profile over the weekend of an Ohio man named Tony Hovater, a co-founder of the white supremacist Traditionalist Worker Party. The piece, by reporter Richard Fausset, was meant to say something profound about the banality of evil—This man shops for groceries! He has a Twin Peaks tattoo! He has both a wife and cats!—but it came across instead as an exercise in making evil sound banal.
In one of two follow-up pieces the Times ran to try to explain the story, the paper’s national editor, Marc Lacey, wrote, “We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them.”
Yet Fausset spent so much time staring at Hovater eating a turkey sandwich, he didn’t get around to shining much light on the particular corner his subject occupies. The Times managed to miss or gloss over a whole batch of facts and questions that might have lent both context and color to what purported to be a definitive profile of a white nationalist “foot soldier.” Here are a few of them:
He’s not really named “Tony Hovater.”
Like many neo-Nazis and white supremacists, Hovater uses a modified version of his legal name in his racist activities. His real name is William Anthony Hovater, which is the name he’s registered to vote under and which appears on other public records associated with him.
It’s unusual for any newspaper, let alone the Times, not to say when their subject isn’t using their real name. A paper that insists on noting Snoop Dogg’s legal name can probably do the same for a Nazi, no?
His wife is not really named “Maria Hovater.”
Maria Harrison, Hovater’s wife, hasn’t changed her last name. Again, it’s odd for the Times to refer to a person by anything other than their actual, legal name.
Maria Harrison holds extremist views of her own
In the two brief paragraphs the story devoted to Harrison’s own outlook, she told Fausset she and her husband are “pretty lined up” politically. Though Fausset spent very little time on what Hovater’s young wife believes, she clearly has more to say.
After the profile ran, she posted this on Facebook:
Harrison has a band called Raya, whose single is titled “White Noise.”
Probably unrelated, but a funny detail for a profile!
Hovater sued one of his former bandmates for $1,000 over unpaid parking tickets “and purchase of van.”
The small-claims petition—filed under his legal name, William Hovater—was settled out of court, and the bandmate he sued, Jacob Nolan, appears in the Times expressing approval of “people who just want the right to be proud of their heritage.”
What, precisely, is going on with Hovater’s eyebrows?
While the Times presents Hovater as “the Nazi sympathizer next door,” and dwells on the details about the ordinariness of his life, it largely leaves it to the photographer to document his extremely, anything-but-ordinarily arched brows, with a distinctive and almost indescribable widow’s peak at the top of each. This would-be Everyman spends a significant amount of time spent plucking and maintaining their shape. Why is he doing that? He’s clearly doing it on purpose, but why?
Hovater is not an only child.
When your subject isn’t interested in self-reflection, it’s generally a good idea to talk to other people who know them. Public records indicate Hovater has at least one sibling. The Times doesn’t quote or mention the rest of the family’s thoughts on one member’s turn toward Nazism—or whether or not they were asked about it.
Hovater’s father is a veteran.
The Times profile notes without elaboration that Hovater “grew up on integrated Army bases.” Chief Warrant Officer William L. Hovater retired in 2015 after serving at Fort Knox. His son is pictured posing with him in photos at his retirement ceremony. (A LinkedIn profile identifies him as having served as a maintenance tech on the base.)
Tony Hovater said very little about his family in his interviews with Fausset. How did his father’s military service shape his political views? Or, better yet, how does the father feel about his son’s views, which would render him ineligible for military service?
Has Hovater’s Traditionalist Worker Party actually “held food and school-supply drives in Appalachia,” as he told the Times?
Despite the fact that Hovater and his fellow white nationalists obsessively promote their actions and events around the country, no documentary evidence has emerged to support the claim that the TWP has been doing any kind of mutual aid work. In September, party founder Matthew Heimbach claimed that TWP intends to open up health clinics and fight the opioid epidemic, modeling its recruitment strategy after “Hamas, Hezbollah, [and] traditionally, the Irish Republican movement.” There’s no sign that they’ve actually put any of these plans into action. Why allow the claim to go unchallenged?
Why didn’t Hovater run for office?
In 2015, Heimbach and Hovater made much of Hovater’s intentions to run for city council in New Carlisle, Ohio, discussing it at least twice on the digital radio show Heimbach hosted for The Daily Stormer. In one of those appearances, Hovater said he’s “always been a white nationalist” and described TWP’s intent to “take over a town at a time.” The Times dealt with the episode in one paragraph, writing that “he never filed papers.” Why not? What stopped him from taking his political beliefs into the political system, as he said he wanted to do?
Hovater is an Extremely Online Boy.
As the episode of his non-candidacy suggests, Hovater operates in the awkward and intentionally confusing space between online performance and offline reality, where contemporary white supremacists have thrived. The account he gave the Times of his own embrace of racist politics describes a mix of book-reading, firsthand observation of life while touring Appalachia with his band, and “his presence on 4chan, the online message board and alt-right breeding ground.”
When Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel followed up to learn more about the role of the internet in Hovater’s radicalization and racist organizing, though, Hovater downplayed the role of the Internet. Yet Hovater’s fluency with internet racism suggests someone whose self-reinforcing social circle exists mostly online.
Two months ago, on Gab, the preferred micro-blogging platform of fascists and national socialists, Hovater bragged that he was “still not banned from Facebook so I’m just checking in,” adding “GTKRWN :),” a popular acronym that stands for Gas The Kikes Race War Now. Around the same time, he replied to a post from Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin informing his followers of the neo-Nazi’s new web domain, http://dailystormer.is, which they believed was based in Israel. (It was based in Iceland.) “NIGGA WE THE REAL JEWS NOW,” Hovater wrote. In any case, Hovater was temporarily banned from Facebook shortly thereafter.
The Traditionalist Worker Party is openly Nazi.
According to the Times, the Traditionalist Worker Party is “one of the extreme right-wing groups that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August, and again at a ‘White Lives Matter’ rally last month in Tennessee.” Its mission is to “fight for the interests of White Americans,” although “its leaders claim to oppose racism.”
None of this is wrong, exactly, but it incompletely names what the TWP actually is and what it seeks to accomplish. The Times does not, for example, mention the fact that the TWP openly positions itself as heirs to the legacy of the Nazis in America: In both a numeric and an ideological allusion to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party’s “National Socialist Program,” the Traditionalist Worker Party’s homepage features 25 points of unity, introduced with the white supremacist Fourteen Words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.”
On his radio shows with Hovater, Heimbach rants about Jews, and sometimes “the Jew.” (Recently, Heimbach wrote on Gab that Jews “don’t belong in Israel, they deserve to unironically be gassed.”) Both Heimbach and Hovater consistently express their contempt for gay people and feminists, as when, responding to news of Australia’s vote to allow same-sex marriage, Heimbach quoted Heinrich Himmler’s speech condemning any member of the S.S. who was found to be gay to death: “Following completion of the punishment imposed by the court, they will be sent, by my order, to a concentration camp, and they will be shot in the concentration camp, while attempting to escape.”
In one episode, from 2015, Hovater expresses bemusement at having been interviewed by the reporter Evan Osnos: “We literally are going to be in the New Yorker with an article from a Pulitzer Prize winner. That’s so strange to me,” he admitted, before quickly going on to relish the opportunity to present the TWP as “sensible, normal people.” He continued to elaborate on the party’s media strategy, seemingly anticipating the call from the Times two years later: “I fully expect reactionary backlash, but if [readers] take the time to go back again and read what we actually said, I don’t know why people, poor or rich, would disagree with what we are saying.”
What people like Heimbach and Hovater are seeking to create (and why it is worth writing about them clearly and critically) is a mass movement, anti-democratic in nature and animated by a drive towards national renewal and revitalization—which is to say, racial purity. Even as they aspire to wield state power they deploy thugs into the streets to fight the people who recognize them for what they are: American-made fascists.
We’ve contacted Hovater and Harrison for comment, as well as the Times, and will update if we hear back. If you know the answers to any of these open questions, please get in touch.