Politics

Latest Murder Shows Alt-Right Bleeding Into Real Life

America was forced to once again reckon with the "alt-right" movement last week.

Richard Collins, a black man and a Second Lieutenant in the US Army, was killed by a white college student who followed a white supremacist Facebook page.

He was waiting for an Uber at a bus stop at the University of Maryland when Sean Urbanski approached him and stabbed him to death. Collins would have graduated from Bowie State on May 23. The college draped his gown and cap over a chair in memoriam Tuesday.

Urbanski, who is a student at the University of Maryland, followed a Facebook group steeped in alt-right ideology, and as a result the killing is being investigated as a hate crime. 

The term alt-right is a catch all for a number of different strands of white nationalism in America

As defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it's "a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces using 'political correctness' and 'social justice' to undermine white people and 'their' civilization.

Members of the nebulous group were emboldened last November with the election of President Donald Trump, a candidate who spoke to many of the concerns of white nationalist America.

"They've gotten a huge boost from attaching themselves to the Trump presidency and of course with Steve Bannon now as Chief Strategist," said Baltimore activist Delo Taylor. Bannon described Breitbart as the "platform of the alt-right" in 2016.

George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor of Politics and Global Studies at Drexel University, told ATTN: that the term alt-right is useful to delineate the current, online driven white nationalist movement from white power movements of the past.

"The alt-right functioned as a sort of online Trojan Horse to channel large numbers of particularly young white men toward racist and misogynistic politics. It has used irony and online memes to make people comfortable with joking about these things before then fully embracing them, and has been incredibly effective in doing so."

Since the election, white nationalist activity has spiked— and it's made its way from online spaces to the real world

According to a study conducted by researcher Brian Levin of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, reports of bias influenced crimes increased in some cities late last year following the presidential election. In one of the most notorious instances in just the last month, Alexander Jennes Downing verbally berated a Muslim family at a Florida beach before being arrested and charged with public intoxication.

"The ascendance of Trump in the US and the larger wave of far-right nationalism globally in places like Europe has given white supremacists a huge megaphone," Taylor said. "And its emboldened this movement to the point where some who would otherwise be just your typical internet troll have migrated off the message boards and are now engaging in real-life acts of terrorism."

Taylor draws a direct line from the hate speech online to the violence against marginalized groups in the streets.

"We saw it in Charleston [where Dylann Roof killed 9 black parishioners at a Methodist Church], we saw it Quebec with the mosque shooting and the knife attack on a black man in New York. What those incidents all have in common is radicalized white male terrorists who had immersed themselves in this alt-right universe online before deciding to act out their hatred in real life."

Urbanski had online ties to the alt-right.

Even with the increase in real world harassment and violence at the hands of the alt-right, the murder of Collins on May 20 was a new apex of horror in an already polarized country.

Urbanski was a member of an alt-right/white nationalist Facebook group called "Alt-Reich Nation." The page— which has since been taken down— was managed by an Indiana man named Matthew Lamb.

Lamb's Facebook page is littered with offensive, racist statements and hate speech.

ATTN reach out to Lamb for an interview but did not receive a response.

Resisting the alt right

"Collins is only the latest of many victims of white nationalists that the media hesitates to call white nationalists," Ciccariello-Maher said. "[They prefer] to treat these as isolated incidents when they are in fact part of a fascist resurgence that needs to be prevented by any means."

Taylor agreed that that the movement needs to be stopped, and said the best resistance is simply standing your ground.

"Don't allow yourself to be afraid or intimidated by the harassment and other tactics employed by far-right extremists," Taylor said. "Their power lies in their ability to silence their enemies through fear."