I'm trying to figure out the whole "White Supremacist next door isn't so bad" genre of news since the Trump Era began, especially for those aforementioned white supremacists who live less than an hour from you.
Tony and Maria Hovater were married this fall. They registered at Target. On their list was a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer.
Ms. Hovater, 25, was worried about Antifa bashing up the ceremony. Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist.
But Mr. Hovater, in the days leading up to the wedding, was somewhat less anxious. There are times when it can feel toxic to openly identify as a far-right extremist in the Ohio of 2017. But not always. He said the election of President Trump helped open a space for people like him, demonstrating that it is not the end of the world to be attacked as the bigot he surely is: “You can just say, ‘Yeah, so?’ And move on.”
It was a weeknight at Applebee’s in Huber Heights, a suburb of Dayton, a few weeks before the wedding. The couple, who live in nearby New Carlisle, were shoulder to shoulder at a table, young and in love. He was in a plain T-shirt, she in a sleeveless jean jacket. She ordered the boneless wings. Her parents had met him, she said, and approved of the match. The wedding would be small. Some of her best friends were going to be there. “A lot of girls are not really into politics,” she said.
In Ohio, amid the row crops and rolling hills, the Olive Gardens and Steak ’n Shakes, Mr. Hovater’s presence can make hardly a ripple. He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.
“I guess it seems weird when talking about these type of things,” he says. “You know, I’m coming at it in a mid-90s, Jewish, New York, observational-humor way.”
Mr. Hovater, 29, is a welder by trade. He is not a star among the resurgent radical American right so much as a committed foot soldier — an organizer, an occasional podcast guest on a website called Radio Aryan, and a self-described “social media villain,” although, in person, his Midwestern manners would please anyone’s mother. In 2015, he helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, 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. The group’s stated mission is to “fight for the interests of White Americans.’’
Its leaders claim to oppose racism, though the Anti-Defamation League says the group “has participated in white supremacist events all over the country.” On its website, a swastika armband goes for $20.
If the Charlottesville rally came as a shock, with hundreds of white Americans marching in support of ideologies many have long considered too vile, dangerous or stupid to enter the political mainstream, it obscured the fact that some in the small, loosely defined alt-right movement are hoping to make those ideas seem less than shocking for the “normies,” or normal people, that its sympathizers have tended to mock online.
And to go from mocking to wooing, the movement will be looking to make use of people like the Hovaters and their trappings of normie life — their fondness for National Public Radio, their four cats, their bridal registry.
“We need to have more families. We need to be able to just be normal,” said Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, in a podcast conversation with Mr. Hovater. Why, he asked self-mockingly, were so many followers “abnormal”?
Mr. Hovater replied: “I mean honestly, it takes people with, like, sort of an odd view of life, at first, to come this way. Because most people are pacified really easy, you know. Like, here’s some money, here’s a nice TV, go watch your sports, you know?”
He added: “The fact that we’re seeing more and more normal people come is because things have gotten so bad. And if they keep getting worse, we’ll keep getting more, just, normal people.”
And so in America, in Ohio, we have a friendly New York Times profile on a regular, everyday Millennial couple who just happens to think that the races need to be separated for their own good, that tens of millions of undocumented need to be immediately rounded up and deported, and that fascism is necessary in order to make all that happen.
They're convinced that they're on the side that will eventually win.
The problem is that in 2017, I can't definitively say that people like Tony Hovater are wrong about that assumption anymore.