Conservative institutions in the Donald Trump era have often sought to portray themselves as shocked and appalled by the so-called “alt-right.” White nationalists have also engaged in their own efforts to differentiate themselves from the neoconservatives who dominated the GOP for decades. But neither narrative is true. The reality is that a host of supposedly veritable right-wing institutions have become a safe haven for the far-right.
Indeed, there is a burgeoning underground network of group chats, message boards, and email chains serving as the breeding ground for incubating white nationalist ideas, and as a forum to strategize around how to launder those ideas through mainstream conservative publications. And, judging from a large series of messages from one of those email groups obtained by Splinter, it’s working.
These endeavors are often tactical in nature. As Paul Gottfried, a far-right political theorist, observed in the 2008 speech that is widely credited as birthing the term “alternative right,” “we must try to do what is possible rather than what lies beyond our limited material resources.” This new right, Gottfried said, could only win by conquering the institutions that neoconservatives then dominated. It needed the institutions it sought to annihilate to thrive. (Gottfried, who once told a journalist that he co-created the term “alt-right” with Richard Spencer, has since sought to distance himself from his former collaborator, though he has also mounted defenses of the overall movement on far-right websites.)
Trump has emboldened the “alt-right” to seize upon once ostensibly staid conservative institutions for its own purposes. (The term, which came to the attention of the mainstream around the 2016 presidential election, served as a means for internet-savvy white nationalists and white supremacists to downplay—or whitewash, you could say—their racist and antisemitic beliefs. It is used throughout this piece to refer largely to a specific clique with ties to the Washington, D.C. media and think tank scene.)
Campus conservative groups like Turning Point USA have been a target both of external coups and their own racist representatives who used them as a means to legitimize their beliefs. Figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, the once-beloved conservative commentator and far-right troll, found refuge in havens such as Breitbart. Despite their prevailing view that much of the GOP constituted “cuckservatives,” numerous white nationalists have sought to use the party to propel them out of obscurity.
And then there’s the Daily Caller, the conservative publication co-founded by Tucker Carlson, who stepped down from his role as editor-in-chief in 2016. Even since the “alt-right” rose to prominence during the 2016 election, the site has been sucked into its own game of “Who goes Nazi?” Since Trump’s election, numerous Caller employees have come under fire for their semi-secret white nationalist affiliations. For instance, Andrew Kerr, an investigative reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation, was outed as having appeared on a number of programs with far-right conspiracy theorist Brittany Pettibone. (Pettibone—wife of European white nationalist leader Martin Sellner, a man who recently sparked outrage for corresponding and accepting thousands of dollars in donations from the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre—has branded herself as one of the most prominent “experts” of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.)
In September 2018, The Atlantic exposed former Caller editor Scott Greer, who wrote under the pseudonym “Michael McGregor,” as the managing editor to Richard Spencer’s white nationalist Radix Journal, using emails provided by former Breitbart editor and “alt-right” member Katie McHugh. (McHugh also worked for the Caller but has since publicly left the “alt-right.”) Still, the Caller has appeared to ignore what the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to in 2017 as its “white nationalist problem.”
The website quietly prevented one of its investigative reporters from attending a conference at the H.L. Mencken Club—the same club associated with the birth of the term “alt-right”—in late September 2018 after being contacted for comment by the SPLC. Several months later, the Caller’s managing editor, David Brooks (not that one), was fired in spring 2019 for bragging about his own connections to white nationalists.
The links between these current and former Caller employees and the white nationalist movement have mostly been unearthed in pieces. But a trove of emails from a private white nationalist group chat, which were recently obtained by Splinter, sheds new light on those links. Among other things, the emails show how a former Caller employee named Jonah Bennett repeatedly used his perch at the site to launder far-right viewpoints into an ostensibly mainstream publication. They also show that he is part of a wider network of white nationalists who have steadily increased their influence within the conservative media infrastructure—most prominently, a man named John Elliott.
On the face of it, Jonah Bennett’s career resembles that of a run-of-the-mill, up-and-coming conservative commentator. After being homeschooled for most of his life, he attended Simon Fraser University, a public research university in Canada. Bennett majored in political science, edited the journal for the university’s Political Science Student Union, and won a number of awards for writing and scholarship. Shortly after graduating in 2014, he headed south to Washington, D.C., where he began his journalistic career at the Daily Caller that June.
“He was super young—I’m not sure he was even 21 yet,” Jim Antle, the Caller’s former managing editor, told Splinter in an email. Antle described Bennett as “smart, and nerdy,” with “a few close friends on staff” who “wasn’t a big personality by the standards of the office.”
The Daily Caller has long been one of the main starting points in media for a certain type of conservative or libertarian journalist. Many reporters with a right-wing or libertarian bent got their start on the site, such as Kathryn Watson of CBS or Robby Soave of Reason. During his tenure, Bennett blogged, tried his hand at national security reporting, and snagged the occasional scoop. “I knew he fancied himself a right-winger,” Antle, who claimed not to know about Bennett’s far-right tendencies, recalled in an email, “but like Howard Johnson’s ice cream, that comes in a variety of flavors.”
Bennett’s preferred “flavor” was—as the collection of emails acquired by Splinter demonstrates—white nationalist. Many of these emails, which are dated between late 2015 and 2018, came from a small, private email thread known as “Morning Hate.”
The emails were provided by a source who passed them along on condition of anonymity; multiple sources confirmed their authenticity. Many of the people Splinter spoke to for this story were granted anonymity to be able to openly discuss the inner workings of the far right. Splinter also reached out to Bennett, Elliott, the Daily Caller, and others for comment on this story. You can read their comments in a section near the end of this post.
In “Morning Hate,” Bennett, and others, were free to make their racist opinions known, while laying the groundwork for leading their double-lives, of sorts, in more mainstream conservative institutions.
The thread was steered in large part by Elliott, who, at the time, had recently left a job as director of the journalism program at the libertarian, higher-education-focused Institute for Humane Studies. Elliott now works at the Minnesota-based Charlemagne Institute, which describes itself as an educational institution “rooted in the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman tradition” which is working “to defend and advance Western Civilization.” The institute also runs the conservative website Intellectual Takeout. (Update, 8/30/19, 12:57 p.m. ET: the Charlemagne Institute told Splinter it had terminated its relationship with Elliott. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the full statement.)
The group began coalescing on October 13, 2015, when Elliott drew together a few former mentees via email to organize so-called “hateups,” or in-person meetings to discuss racism. (Splinter is including some of the emails both in the body of the article and in a slideshow at the bottom of this piece; we have obscured references to most people other than Bennett and Elliott in the emails.) That’s when Elliott also rattled off the code words the thread used in its chats: “Hawaiians” was a stand-in for “Hebes,” an anti-Semitic slur referring to Jews; “Alaskans” for “N’s” (the n-word); “our good friend” for “AH” (Adolf Hitler); and “our good friend’s son” for Trump.
Bennett’s first interaction with the thread came on December 17, 2015. One of the participants in the thread introduced Bennett to the crowd, saying he was “a good boy who knows the issues.”
“Jonah . . . [t]his is our safe space to be edgy online before God Emperor Trump penetrates the internet,” the participant continued, filling Bennett in on the list of code words.
As if to prove he belonged, Bennett responded, “although my first name may insinuate otherwise, I am not, in fact, a Hawaiian.” In other words, he wasn’t Jewish. It was clear he’d fit right in. By this point, he had been working at the Daily Caller for almost a year-and-a-half.
Even before Bennett joined “Morning Hate,” he had already experimented with strategically masking his more extreme views. Like many millennials with eclectic political interests, he had been blogging under a pseudonym for a while. According to multiple sources, Bennett previously ran a blog under the pen name “Aimless Gromar.” The archived blog demonstrates that Aimless Gromar began blogging in 2013, where he billed himself as a “neoreactionary” with a Christian bent. Among Aimless Gromar’s stated influences were an array of conservative philosophers and theologians, as well as a number of white nationalist and white nationalist-adjacent thinkers, such as “alt-right” pseudo-intellectual F. Roger Devlin; the “scientific” racism proponent who writes under the name HBD (short for “human biodiversity”) Chick; and ex-National Review writer Steve Sailer, who left the magazine in 1997 and has been blogging for a number of white nationalist and white nationalist-adjacent sites since.
At the time, neoreaction (also known as “NRx”) was a largely unknown internet phenomenon. Even now, defining it is tricky. At its core, neoreaction is anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic, and many of its proponents advocate a return to monarchy or other autocratic forms of government. Yet even its central tenets and thinkers, like most internet movements cloaked in onion-like layers of irony, are ambiguous. It feeds off of self-importance, as well as the impossibility of pinning it down.
Though Aimless Gromar received a fair bit of attention in the NRx blogosphere, including a byline at the virulently anti-Semitic and white nationalist website The Right Stuff, Bennett’s focus on it was short-lived. In spring 2014, Aimless Gromar announced his plans for his next project, an online neoreactionary journal known as Social Matter.
The site had its roots in the Hestia Society for Social Studies, a sort of NRx think tank co-founded by Bennett (it was initially announced under the Aimless Gromar pseudonym) and Bryce Laliberte, with close cooperation from neoreactionary writer Nick Steves. Both organizations had one thought in mind: power. Social Matter, Bennett wrote under the Aimless Gromar pseudonym, was meant to be “Facebook-able, meaning that although the content will be riding that fine line”—that is, although he did not say this explicitly, the line between pseudo-intellectual reactionary content and the rank, violent garbage that edgelord racist teens gobble up—“you’ll still be able to link to it on Facebook.” Hestia Society had bigger dreams than clicks. As Laliberte said in an interview with Splinter, the Society was meant to “appoint certain influential members in neoreaction as ‘fellows’ who could be taken as examples of the kind of work we approved of and that others should pursue.” In other words, a think tank.
According to another former friend of Bennett’s, his work at Social Matter was carried out using the pen names “Hadley Bennett,” and, later, “Hadley Bishop.” Laliberte was unwilling to confirm this fact to Splinter, instead noting after multiple emails that he could “neither confirm nor deny” that Bennett was the man behind the “Hadley Bishop” and “Hadley Bennett” monikers. (He did, however, say that “Hadley Bishop” was his Social Matter co-founder, and that “Hadley Bishop,” “Hadley Bennett,” and “Aimless Gromar” were the same person.) Steves told Splinter that “the Hadley account was a group ID,” and claimed that “Jonah was on the periphery of the neoreactionary scene and not involved in our projects.” He added, “Given his work, it’s apparent we have major philosophical differences.”
As Social Matter began to take root, so did Bennett’s journalistic career. In June 2014, he announced on the Aimless Gromar blog: “I’m back in DC again. . . . Besides, Social Matter, I’ll be writing around 2–3 articles/day at . . . somewhere. . . . The schedule will be pretty frantic, and the fact that I’m sketching out the details for my first book doesn’t help.” That “somewhere” turned out to be the Daily Caller.
Both Social Matter and Bennett’s public-facing career at the Caller soon got in the way of personal blogging. Bennett fell in deeper with D.C.’s underground far-right a bit over a year after he started at the Caller. In fall 2015, he attended the white nationalist, white supremacist National Policy Institute’s conference for Social Matter. “It was great to catch up with old friends and put names to faces for some of the folks I haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet,” Bennett observed in a snippet of the article republished at the white supremacist forum Stormfront. (Social Matter has, as of this writing, been taken off the web, and even when it was live it almost religiously purged its archive.) The event, which was held in the heart of Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club, attracted somewhere between 100–200 participants for a full day of talks from prominent white supremacists. A hefty discount for those attendees under 30 guaranteed the room was packed with young, curious racists like Bennett.
And Bennett was a frequent participant in the “Morning Hate” thread, which proved a safe space for budding young conservative journalists of a certain bent, even though it constituted just a small portion of D.C.’s underground white nationalist scene. Anti-Semitism was plentiful and crude. “Take a shower, Jew Boy,” read the subject line of one of Elliott’s emails about a Daily Kos article called “Why Trump voters are not welcome in my house this holiday.”
Subtlety often fell by the wayside. “I VAS THREE YEEES OLD WHEN THE NAHZEES CUT OFF MY SCHMECKLE OYY,” Bennett wrote in response to a CNN article about an Austrian Holocaust survivor warning his fellow citizens about the rise of the far-right in the country. Many people on the thread spoke frequently about the “JQ,” or “Jewish Question”—a term used by racists and anti-Semites, including Hitler himself, to refer to the idea that Jews pose an existential threat to whites. Praise for Hitler was also plentiful, as were anti-Semitic memes commonly associated with the “alt-right,” such as (((echoes))).
Elliott was among the most prolific and undoubtedly the most well-connected of the “Morning Hate” group. He had been running internship programs meant to prepare journalists for work in print, broadcasting, or investigative reporting for years at a variety of think tanks in Washington, D.C. and beyond. From 2008 to 2013, Elliott headed IHS’ journalism program, helping libertarian and conservative journalists make their way into the media world by placing them at various affiliated media organizations for internships. (An archived page for the program boasts of placing people at outlets ranging from MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and Fox News to Breitbart and the Daily Caller.) But the “Morning Hate” emails show that Elliott was leading something of a shadow life, and that there were some people he let his guard down for.
According to one former mentee, Elliott opened up to those he deemed “red-pilled”—a term used by white nationalists and so-called “men’s rights activists” to refer to someone who has been awakened to their cause. (The same source noted that Elliott played a large role in their radicalization process.)
Elliott was let go from IHS in 2013. (“In 2013 IHS decided to discontinue the journalism program so that we could focus solely on higher education,” IHS communications director Kurt Kehl told Splinter in an email. “We ceased working with Elliott in September 2013, when the program was closed down. After careful review, we have uncovered no incident during his tenure at IHS in which Elliott exhibited anti-Semitic or bigoted views.”)
He almost immediately hopped to the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), where he was director of leadership development for about a year and a half. (ISI president Charlie Copeland, who was hired after Elliott left, told Splinter that, while “former employees are rarely a topic of conversation,” the details of the emails “sound horrific, highly offensive, and clearly would have no place at ISI.”)
He then moved to the Charlemagne Institute. There, he started the institute’s Alcuin Fellowship—a 10-week program meant to prepare interns to rescue civilization from what it called the “postmodern, globalist, and even Cultural Marxist thought-leaders in control” of American society.
Elliott used the “Morning Hate” thread as a forum for his most unvarnished bigotry. In numerous emails, he described people—including his former mentees—as “homos.”
In one email, Elliott admiringly compared Trump to Hitler, saying he reminded him of “our friend” who made “no mistakes” from 1932 to 1934; he added that Hitler had been “way ahead of his enemies (and allies).” For Elliott—who, according to other emails obtained by Splinter, met at least twice in private with infamous Holocaust denier and noted Hitler appreciator David Irving—Hitler popped up everywhere. “Huge German history section with a wall of books on our Friend,” Elliott wrote in a dispatch from Portland, OR. He wished Bennett a happy birthday in 2017 by sending him an email with a link to a YouTube video titled “Happy Birthday Hitler.” (The video has since been deleted for violating YouTube’s policy against hate speech, but some metadata remains.)
Elliott referred to black people, or really any people of color, as “dindus,” short for “dindu nuffins” or “didn’t do nothing”—a racist slur against black people that took off in 2014–15, thanks to 4Chan’s infamous /pol/ board. “It looks like a Dindu murdered the Oregon Ballerina. . . . I think we know the motive,” Elliott wrote on April 8, 2016 of a 2016 murder at the University of Texas. “I suspect that this brainwashed female from Portland assumed that all dindus are SJWs in black face. . . . Ach ja.”
The group seemed well-aware that they were outside the norms of generic conservative racism. “Criticizing BLM is no longer a good litmus test for deciding whether someone is ‘on [our] side,’” Bennett wrote on March 21, 2017, of conservative commentator Tomi Lahren in an email thread discussing how to best trick conservatives into accepting a pro-choice stance solely for non-white minorities, so as to limit their population growth. (In certain white nationalist circles, abortion is sometimes seen as a means of implementing a form of eugenics, which is desirable in their eyes.) “I don’t know how much further she ventures into our territory.”
Even figures such as Gavin McInnes, the head of the far-right hate group the Proud Boys, weren’t racist enough for Bennett. “I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but when Emily Youcis [a semi-prominent white nationalist troll who was fired from her job selling snacks for being too racist] tried to get him to say the 14 words on his show, he subbed out ‘white’ children for ‘Western’ children,” he wrote in an email from December 15, 2016.
“Never Trump” conservatives bore the brunt of the criticism for failing to adhere to overt KKK-levels of racial hatred. On January 20, 2016, Bennett circulated a picture of conservative political commentator and strategist Rick Wilson holding a black baby overlaid with the text: “At least I still have the constitution!” The implication was Wilson had given up on “the race.”
Yet the emails obtained by Splinter demonstrate there was also a concerted effort to make use of the conservative ecosystem to propagate white nationalist beliefs.
Bennett elaborated on this strategy in an email from April 14, 2016. In response to a Commentary article on white nationalist efforts to take over conservative media, he argued that the present political situation worked in the movement’s favor. For one, he wrote, there was no way for establishment conservatives to act as a “gatekeeper” against them. “No one owns the commons of conservatism, and so it’s extremely vulnerable to outside subversion,” he observed. “This subversion would not have been able to occur without the Internet. Praise be.”
Social Matter, at least initially, embodied this tendency. “At least when I was participating,” Laliberte explained to Splinter, “we actively recruited contacts, especially among young men. . . . Our goal was primarily supporting people who could push the Overton window further apart, to give more resistance to political correctness.” (Bennett’s world at the Caller occasionally overlapped with Social Matter. In late 2014, Scott Greer, under his “Michael McGregor” pseudonym, conducted an interview with the site).
Though not all of Bennett’s work at the Caller can be seen as evidence of white nationalist subversion, he did collaborate with other ex-Caller employees later fired for their connections to the “alt-right.” Throughout the fall of 2017, for instance, Bennett and Dave Brooks, the site’s former managing editor, hosted a short video series called “Woke in the AM!,” which is best described as an attempt at comedy. More importantly, Bennett, on numerous occasions, soft-peddled reporting about the “alt-right,” giving some of its more noxious personalities a platform.
In August 2016, not long before the Caller’s founder, Tucker Carlson, began parroting white supremacist and white nationalist talking points on Fox News, Bennett explained to the “Morning Hate” group how he fit white nationalist themes into his work. He had managed to spin a Daily Caller article about Donald Trump Jr. retweeting anti-Semitic pseudo-intellectual and “alt-right” favorite Kevin MacDonald into positive coverage for the cause. MacDonald, a professor emeritus at California State University, Long Beach, is widely known in white nationalist circles for providing an “intellectual” basis to anti-Semitic thought. He asserts that Jews have a “group evolutionary strategy” that allows them to outcompete non-Jews, which, in turn, accounts for their supposed financial dominance over Aryans. This, according to the SPLC, allows anti-Semites to spin their hatred of Jews into a rational fear. The white nationalists chanting “Jews will not replace us!” that descended on Charlottesville in 2017 for Unite the Right were, in other words, merely defending themselves.
The Caller piece acknowledges that MacDonald has been accused of anti-Semitism, but also says that he “has written more than 100 scholarly articles and seven books,” and “has been translated into Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Russian and many other languages.”
As Bennett explained to the “Morning Hate” crowd, spinning the narrative was easy. Upon hearing that an “an unfriendly outlet” was covering Trump Jr.’s recent bout of intellectual honesty, Bennett explained that he “figured the best strategy was to scoop them and spin the narrative on it.”
“[W]ords like ‘innovative’ used to describe [Kevin MacDonald’s] work, as well as a smear of the SPLC,” he said, “make it quite obvious that the piece is either at the very least neutral, or somewhat positive.”
Of the three articles at the Daily Caller that mention MacDonald, the only other one that frames him in a neutral-to-positive light is a 2017 piece written by Scott Greer, the former Caller employee who was outed as a contributor to Radix Journal, the publication run by Richard Spencer’s white nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute.
A thorough exploration of Bennett’s portfolio at the Caller shows that his article on MacDonald was not the first softball he had thrown for the “alt-right” while working there. In an article on the supposedly mistaken affiliation of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon frog that was co-opted by white nationalist internet trolls, with the “alt-right,” Bennett provided a platform to two notorious white supremacist internet trolls to deny their beliefs. Bennett studiously avoided associating the “alt-right” with overt white supremacy or white nationalism. In his words, the “alt-right” wasn’t an explicit hate group, but an innocuous “illiberal political movement focused on preserving white identity and Western civilization”—as if “preserving white identity” was anything other than overt white nationalism. In another article, he referred to Spencer’s NPI as a seemingly mundane “think tank focused on white identity and related policy issues.”
Bennett’s reporting, which portrayed the “alt-right” as nothing more than a band of digitally savvy jesters, was sometimes picked up elsewhere, including by James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal.
In November 2016, Bennett covered another one of the “alt-right’s” “charades”—this time, a racist “prank” coordinated by virulently antisemitic and racist site The Right Stuff meant to fool Politico into writing about a ploy to oppress the black vote by providing free beer and weed near polling stations. He extensively quoted Mike Enoch, the white nationalist behind the site, as Enoch lay out how he, along with the help of Andrew Anglin at the neo-Nazi blog The Daily Stormer, managed to fool Politico. (The racism of both sites went unmentioned in the blog.)
Bennett’s piece provided a platform for Enoch and his racist comrades to hammer away at some of their favorite nonsensical talking points. In addition to framing himself as a good-natured prankster, Enoch told Bennett that, when it came to threatening non-white voters, “‘[w]e don’t endorse or engage in any illegal activity whatsoever.’” Bennett proceeded to mock the idea that white supremacists, who have a long history of engaging in numerous acts of voter intimidation and violence against non-white voters that goes back to the Ku Klux Klan’s early days, would consider monitoring the polls.
Less than 10 months later, in August 2017, Enoch helped organize and participated in the deadly Charlottesville rally which resulted in the death of anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer.
Bennett was far from alone in using the Caller to signal-boost the movement. Peter Brimelow, the head of the white supremacist site VDARE—who argued in a column on that site that America “was to be a nation-state, the political expression of a particular (white, British) people, as in Europe”—wrote multiple pieces for the site through late 2017, close to a year after he appeared at an NPI conference in Washington, D.C., where attendees threw up Sieg Heils two nights in a row. Scott Greer also used a brief tenure as opinion editor in 2017 to publish a column from South African-born paleoconservative writer and frequent Caller contributor Ilana Mercer which essentially argued that the media was providing cover for an ongoing white genocide in South Africa. He also got the Caller to publish another op-ed from Gottfried, who had been published twice under his predecessor’s tenure.
While Bennett may have managed to keep a low profile at the Caller, his affiliation with the D.C. “alt-right” scene became crystal clear in private. On at least one occasion, Bennett acknowledged in an email dated May 12, 2017, to his “Morning Hate” friends that he had friendly and “illuminating” conversations with Spencer. He encouraged others, specifically Elliott, to do the same. (Elliott reported in a later email that he had taken Spencer up on the offer and enjoyed himself.)
In June 2016, Bennett was invited to the same “Alt-Right Toastmasters” event that former DHS official Ian M. Smith attended. (Greer was invited as well.) The event was a sort of “who’s who” of the white nationalist 2.0 scene, and featured a number of routine NPI speakers, including Jared Taylor, head of American Renaissance; Kevin DeAnna, the former head of Youth for Western Civilization; Devin Saucier, a white nationalist activist and American Renaissance contributor; and Marcus Epstein, a former GOP operative who pleaded guilty to assaulting a black woman in D.C. in 2009. (Epstein ultimately entered an Alford plea, which asserts that the state has enough evidence to prove guilt while allowing the defendant to claim innocence.)
Whether or not Bennett was in attendance is unclear. Nevertheless, the same crew spoke of him favorably, even taking it upon themselves to hash out possible plans for his future as an undercover white nationalist operative in the heart of the conservative beast. “Should Jonah go over to Breitbart for National Security? Is he doing any good at [the Daily Caller]?” pondered Epstein in an email obtained by Splinter between him, Greer, DeAnna, and a couple of other friends within the D.C. white nationalist circle on March 14, 2016.
DeAnna weighed in, implying that Bennett was better staying put. “I think we want to have people spread as widely as possible,” he wrote. “It’s kind of [an] insurance policy for each other.”
Epstein wasn’t convinced. “Jonah definitely should approach Breitbart. He’s basically just collecting a paycheck at [the] Caller. He could make National Security more important than (((National Security))) if given latitude,” he wrote, using the antisemitic symbol of (((echoes))) to imply Jewish infiltration of the national security state.
Bennett took a different route. Shortly before securing the California-based, conservative Claremont Institute’s prestigious Publius Fellowship, a fellowship aimed at young conservative intellectuals that brings a select group to Claremont for lectures and scholarly discussion groups, on January 16, 2018, Bennett announced in an email to “Morning Hate” he had found greener pastures out West. He was off to Silicon Valley to work for an eclectic think tank dubbed Leverage Research. Founded by Geoff Anders in New York but moved to San Francisco in 2013, the organization is perhaps best known for engaging in vague platitudes about human progress and behavior, and for expanding rapidly with little to no explanation. (According to publicly available tax records, Leverage has received close to $600,000 from the Thiel Foundation, the controversial tech mogul’s vessel for funding anything from seasteading to research on mimetics; Leverage did not return a request for comment about Bennett.)
In order to avoid suspicion, Bennett kept any mention of his employer off of social media, including LinkedIn, even until after he left Leverage. “[T]here’s a reason I didn’t post the name of the think tank to Facebook,” he wrote in an email to the “Morning Hate” crowd on January 16, 2018. “I don’t want weird rumors starting that an Evil Politics Man is working DIRECTLY FOR THIEL.” Though he was unsure of what his role was going to be “on a day-to-day level,” he assumed he would be working on “geopolitics and some other special projects that come up.” He noted that he intended to keep his “ties to the journalism world” as well, continuing to write “exclusives for the Caller” and possibly for other websites.
Something, it seems, did. In late 2018, Bennett got his own magazine off the ground. Palladium, an online-only publication dedicated to finding a way out of the postwar liberal order’s current quagmire, began operations in fall 2018. While what, if any, relationship exists between Palladium and Leverage is unclear, they do share the same ideological framework: both espouse a form of elite-driven, top-down humanitarianism that exists solely in theory. Both organizations exist to make the world “better.” But for someone attached to a movement that sees freeing the white race from the tyranny of ethnic minorities, one has to wonder: altruism, but for whom?
Splinter sent Bennett and Elliott a detailed list of questions for this piece. In response to questions about the emails and his political and professional history, Bennett sent the following statement:
I was on a lot of gossip mailing lists years ago—as journalists are. This mailing list in particular was a good place to get info and scoops, which led to several good stories. I hammed it up in sometimes regrettable and cynical ways to go along with the temperament of the list. The fact is, I have a finger on the pulse of many intellectual scenes, and I have friends all over the spectrum. I read books with communists and reactionaries, donate to Jewish charities, and yes, occasionally make a bad joke on a private list. When I was at Davos this year, a political figure I won’t name said that people would eventually get mad that I play around in too many sandboxes. Yes. And?
I decided to leave DC almost two years ago and pursue my own intellectual projects to get away from toxic Beltway culture, ideas that I haven’t bothered with in many years, and low-quality people who trade in rumor and innuendo. To be clear, I’ve never been a white nationalist - anyone who knows me knows that this is absurd.
As for anything else not mentioned in the above, you’ve got the wrong Satoshi.
In response to questions about his work for the Daily Caller and Leverage, Bennett said:
No one at The Daily Caller knew I was on any particular lists. And as for the Caller pieces, it’s not worth getting into extended debates about the specific word choice or framing of a couple of my stories. I’m just not a fan of over-the-top descriptors in my writing, and you can see that general position in any of the work I’ve ever done.
I no longer work at Leverage—I used to do some academic research there. I left of my own volition a while ago. Palladium has no relationship with Leverage.
In a statement, Elliott said (emphasis his):
Some of the remarks were intended as jokes. But I realize that they are offensive and wrong. These emails were written during a period of time when I was underemployed and in a difficult space. I had networking meetings during this time with many people, including some of whom were on the “Alt-Right.” To the extent I flirted with their ideology, I have since come to see it as wrong. I am sorry that I made any remarks that expressed support for it. Since coming to The Charlemagne Institute, I have embraced its view that Western Civilization is all-inclusive. I reject the concept of “white nationalism” totally.
Splinter also asked the Daily Caller for comment about Bennett. The site’s publisher, Neil Patel, sent the following statement:
Our reporting has literally been crucial to helping put four members of the alt-right in prison and sent two more on the run, at great personal risk to our reporters on the ground. And as a minority-owned and minority-run news company with a diverse staff — including African-American, Jewish, Asian and other minority employees — any allegation that our company was used by so-called alt-right or white supremacist types is infuriating. We view every person as an individual, not through a racial prism — as both the left and the so-called alt-right does. We have denounced these alt-right people in the past and are happy to do so again. We share nothing with them and they aren’t welcome at our company. If Jonah Bennett was truly working with them while employed with us, we knew nothing about it and would have fired him for it immediately. You also raise running op-eds by people you allege are alt-right as if that implies some sort of endorsement. We run thousands of op-eds, each with a disclaimer making clear that we do not endorse the views espoused. As you know, that is how op-eds work in the news business. We have run op-eds from socialists and anarchists and by your logic, you could find us complicit with either. We understand that Splinter has a very strong left-wing agenda and therefore will probably try to spin this as some sort of Daily Caller acceptance of the alt-right. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Devin Foley, the co-founder and CEO of Elliott’s current employer, the Charlemagne Institute, told Splinter in a statement:
While I’ve not seen the context for all of these comments and only alleged screenshots, they strike me as hurtful, foolish, and juvenile. I have not seen any of this behavior by John at the Institute. Our guiding values are very much shaped by the idea of Christian charity, which is a rebuke of pagan white nationalism and anti-Semitism; and our work reflects it. I’ll be digging into this issue in greater detail when John returns from his trip.
Since the so-called “alt-right’s” inception, the idea of institutions has been crucial. Institutions provide structure and resources that crowdfunding cannot. They may be harder to change, but those who manage to stay within them—even if it means keeping their racist beliefs secret or somewhat hidden—are crucial players in its effort to vie for substantive power. It is not a mistake that Gottfried’s plan to take back the right from the neoconservative majority relied on seizing conservative institutions. Nor, for that matter, was it a coincidence that white nationalist politicians, including those running for office or already in office (e.g., Iowa’s Steve King), have clung to the party, despite whatever criticism they may have of it. Big dreams—or, in the case of the white nationalist movement, nightmares—are not what gives a movement power. Ideas only matter insofar as you have the resources to implement them.
Bennett, not to mention the other former Caller contributors, reporters, or editors who were booted for attempting to use the publication as a means for publicly signal-boosting white supremacists, understood this. White nationalists needed a platform to push them into the mainstream. Ensuring favorable coverage, as Bennett did for Kevin MacDonald, was only part of the plan. Publishing actual white supremacists under their own byline was critical as well. (The Caller had some limits. It took down an article written by Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler in May 2017 that presented Spencer’s first Charlottesville demonstration as an innocuous “pro-white” rally. Of course, one must ask why it went up in the first place.)
Groups like “Morning Hate” provided a backdrop for these conversations to take place. Elliott, for instance, on several occasions made use of the email chain to bat around ideas for furthering the cause. In one, dated November 15, 2016, he commissioned resumes for the Trump transition team. In another, dated March 17, 2018—not long after Elliott started at the Charlemagne Institute—he reached out for ideas on appropriate reactionary material to encourage his interns to read. One suggestion: Camp of the Saints, a racist European novel fantasizing about a migrant takeover that is popular among some more mainstream conservatives.
Any successful infiltration requires a cadre of supporters, which is precisely what “Morning Hate” and groups like it offered. Bennett’s work at the Daily Caller, which contributed further to the publication’s ongoing efforts to soft-peddle the “alt-right” and white nationalism, speaks for itself. Recent attempts—including an article written in early August 2019 that distanced the Caller from a former Google employee, whom the publication had once frequently boosted, for his pro-white supremacist posts on the Free Speech listserv—do little to make up for the damage the publication’s cozy relationship with white supremacists has done.
Bennett is young, and in the grand scheme of things, not a towering figure in the “alt-right.” More important than any of his individual actions or creations—whether under his own byline or not—is what he, and Elliott, and the many others like them, represent. People like Bennett and Elliott have long been aware of the weaknesses of conservative institutions, and it is through this knowledge that the “alt-right” has, far from disappearing, made itself an almost indispensable part of the American conservative movement. It has, in that sense, succeeded well beyond its proponents’ vile, hate-fueled dreams.
Update, 8/30/19, 12:20 p.m. ET: This story initially said that Bryce Laliberte had identified Jonah Bennett as the author of the Aimless Gromar blog. In fact, Laliberte said that the person who used the “Hadley Bishop,” “Hadley Bennett,” and “Aimless Gromar” monikers were the same person, and that “Hadley Bishop” was a co-founder of Social Matter. Bennett has been identified by multiple sources as the person behind all three pseudonyms.
Update, 8/30/19, 12:57 p.m. ET: Devin Foley, the co-founder and CEO of John Elliott’s current employer, the Charlemagne Institute, told Splinter that the Institute had severed ties with Elliott:
After review by leadership, The Charlemagne Institute immediately ended our employment relationship with John Elliott. We were not aware that John Elliott held these views, as there was no sign of them in his interactions with our staff, or his work for the Institute, neither in the curriculum designed for our internship program, nor in the lecture series he arranged for us, which are publicly available online. The Charlemagne Institute believes that the ideas of the West are universal and inclusive of all races. The hateful comments made in these emails, and the apparent support expressed for Nazi ideology, are anathema to what we believe.
Some more of the emails mentioned in this piece are in the slideshow below: