Last week, voters across Vermont and Minnesota received robocalls from the white nationalist William Johnson, who has founded the American National Super PAC to support Donald Trump.
“The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called racist,” Johnson said on the calls. “This is our mindset … It’s OK to give away our country for immigration, but don’t call me a racist. It’s OK that few schools anymore have beautiful white children as a majority, but don’t call me racist.” Others fear the taint of racism, Johnson said, but Trump does not. “Don’t vote for a Cuban, vote for Donald Trump,” his message concluded. He gave a phone number that listeners could call for more information.
Johnson is the chairman of the white supremacist American Freedom Party; according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was founded by a group of racist California skinheads in 2009. He has called for the deportation of Americans with any “ascertainable trace of Negro blood” or more than one-eighth “Mongolian, Asian, Asia Minor, Middle Eastern, Semitic, Near Eastern, American Indian, Malay or other non-European or non-white blood.” When he is not working toward creating what he calls “separate white ethno-states,” Johnson farms and practices corporate law in Southern California. I reached him at his office on Monday to ask about how his movement seeks to help Trump, and about how Trump is helping his movement.
Michelle Goldberg: Did you realize how much latent support there was out there for your ideas before the Trump phenomenon? Has this expanded your sense of political possibility?
William Johnson: Yes, I am surprised by the level of support for our positions in the rank-and-file electorate.
Where have you run robocalls so far?
We ran robocalls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Minnesota. The last two were in preparation for Super Tuesday, which will be tomorrow. We are reaching every consumer landline in the states where we do it.
Has this campaign resulted in an increase in membership for your organization?
Yes, we have had an increase in membership. I personally answered the phones of everyone that responded, because I put my cellphone number on there. So everyone that responded based upon the robocalls they received, I was able to gauge the support. And the support in Iowa and Minnesota was markedly more favorable to Trump and our message than the New England states of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Do you worry that your calls could end up damaging Trump in places where your message isn’t popular?
No, I don’t think it will hurt the candidate. Donald Trump is really a Teflon candidate, like Reagan was.
I need to point out to you that white nationalists are not conservatives. We are populists, along the lines of Huey Long. And the conservatives are really jumping on Donald Trump because he is a populist. So there is a large segment of the voting population that rejects the mean-spirited conservative views that have been the foundation of the Republican Party for a very long time. Populism is replacing conservatism among a large segment of the voting population. And along with that, racial consciousness is also prevalent now, so that’s why we are growing. We are nationalists and we are populists, and that’s exactly what Donald Trump is.
What do you mean by conservatives’ “mean-spirited” views? Obviously, your opponents consider white nationalists to be mean-spirited.
White nationalists really have to be above-board and have to embrace principals that are just, moral, and proper because we are so disliked now. So we strive to do what is right and to be honest in all things. And much of the population is dishonest now, because they reject their heritage. They think that race does not matter, or at least they say that, but deep down inside, empirical evidence and their own personal feelings belie that fact. Race does matter.
Millennials have rejected conservatism because it is mean-spirited. They see that the protection of the corporate interests that allows heads of corporations, captains of industry, to reap millions and even billions of dollars of profit while the working man struggles to make ends meet in a rented apartment, just is not fair.
Trump is getting a lot of flack for not disavowing David Duke and the KKK on CNN on Sunday. (He later blamed his response on a bad earpiece.) What do you make of that? What message does that send to you?
I believe that a leader needs to be circumspect and deliberate in making decisions. And Donald Trump said that he didn’t want to blanketly reject all sorts of groups without knowing what it is they were talking about. I think that showed prudence. And that’s what we want in a leader.
Does it bother you that Trump eventually did disavow David Duke?
It’s good to look for the good qualities in all people, but there are positions that are so unpopular now that nobody needs that kind of baggage, and David Duke—he has a very negative image. So I think all prudent people would not want to be involved with that baggage.
Have you had any feedback from people close to Trump? Presumably if they didn’t like what you were doing they could tell you to knock it off.
I didn’t know they could, but they haven’t and they won’t. There’s no communication whatsoever.
Does it bother you or people in your movement that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka is Jewish?
It bothers a lot of people in the movement. It also bothers me, yes. But the fact that his kids went out and were engaged in big-game hunting, that bothers me. The fact that he swears, that bothers me. There’s a lot of things that bother you about any person, but you have to overlook that.
When did you first realize that Trump was your guy?
If you’d asked me six months ago what I thought of Donald Trump, I would have said I don’t like the scoundrel. It’s happened since he’s taken these unbending stands counter to political correctness that he’s won us over.
Is this the first time you’ve ever felt part of a mainstream political movement?
You know, when Ron Paul ran for president in 2008, he had dinner at my house, and we just raised thousands of dollars for him. And he said, ‘You know, Johnson, I realized I had a national campaign when I came to your place.’ So I’ve been involved in a lot of different campaigns over the years. I was one of the first contributors to Rand Paul. Initially I was going to support Rand Paul, but he’s just kind of a pale shadow of his father. He’s not one that we can get behind. Donald Trump is.