Editor's Note: This story, a version of which appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Pacific Standard, was first published online on March 15th, 2018, exclusively for PS Premium members.
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On a Saturday evening in April of 2017, Josh Damigo was home in Oxnard, California, about 50 miles up the coast from Los Angeles, when he received a text message from a friend. "Are you OK?" she asked.
"Kinda," he texted back. "Why do you ask?"
"Um, your brother is all over Twitter right now."
Josh went online.
"Oh shit," he wrote back.
That morning, a motley collection of people—from mainstream Donald Trump supporters to helmeted militia members and outright neo-Nazis—had gathered at a park in downtown Berkeley for a "Patriots Day" rally. They were met by black-clad counter-protesters, anti-fascists known as antifa. At first, the police secured the perimeter of the park, named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and searched everyone as they entered. Officers collected bear spray, a stun gun, knives, a can filled with concrete. But the order was short-lived. By noon, brawls broke out and quickly spilled into the surrounding streets.
Josh's younger brother, Nathan, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq, darted into the melee and punched a slight 20-year-old woman in the face. A few seconds later, he returned and landed a second punch squarely on the bridge of her nose. She dropped to the ground as Nathan retreated into the crowd. The second exchange was caught on video and went viral, fanning out to smartphones and laptops across the country in a matter of minutes. It became the most-watched clip of what was soon billed "The Battle for Berkeley."
Hours later, Josh watched the video in his living room. There was Nathan, clearly identifiable in a blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, square chin jutting out, blond hair kept in a Hitler Youth style. He cocked back his right fist and let fly; the woman's head rocked violently. Josh replayed the clip. Was there something he had missed, an angle that could somehow justify the punch? The scene was chaotic: Dozens of people swarmed around and shoved each other as smoke swirled. The woman, with dreadlocks and a red bandana around her neck, came into focus just as Nathan stepped to center frame and decked her. It was just as ugly on second viewing.
Josh is 34, two years older than Nathan. The brothers shared a bedroom for 16 years, and have always been extremely close—or always were, until Nathan's recent transformation. In 2016, Nathan had founded a white nationalist organization called Identity Evropa and quickly become one of the most prominent racists in the country. He was profiled by the Los Angeles Times and interviewed by CNN. He would be one of the key organizers of the "Unite the Right" rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville last August.
Josh had last seen Nathan in February of 2017. His brother lives with their parents and maternal grandparents in Oakdale, a small city in California's San Joaquin Valley. On the five-hour drive home, Josh had listened to the audiobook of White Like Me, by anti-racist author Tim Wise. "Race was never something I thought about," Josh told me later. He and Nathan grew up in San Jose and attended a school where whites were in the minority; Josh's best friends were Filipino, black, Vietnamese, and Korean. Race, he said, had simply never interested him. "I've always treated everybody the same," he said. He paused. "Maybe that's not a good answer. I'm trying to figure this all out."
During Josh's last visit home, Nathan had mostly holed up in his small room, which is dominated by a large printer Josh says was used to make posters with messages like Serve Your People and Let's Become Great Again. Occasionally, Josh heard his brother on the phone, screening potential members of Identity Evropa, who must be of "European, non-Semitic heritage." They hadn't spoken much during the past year, but Josh wasn't ready to give up yet. One morning, he took Nathan out to breakfast, hoping to reconnect. Nathan talked excitedly the entire meal about populism and race and identity, using jargon that Josh couldn't follow. Josh sounded exasperated just recalling his breakfast intervention. "It didn't go anywhere," he said, "because Nathan won't listen to anyone."
After that, Josh didn't expect to talk to his brother again and refused to return home until Nathan was kicked out. But he knew that wasn't enough. He told me that he wanted to counterbalance Nathan. But what did that mean? How do you solve the problem of a racist brother? (Neither Nathan nor his mother, Charilyn Damigo, agreed to interview requests for this article.) "I don't know what to do," Josh told me. "You don't go to a class in college that says, 'Hey, this is how you deal with your brother becoming a huge star in the white supremacy movement.'"
When the punch went viral, Josh says that he received a number of messages from people who had confused him with his brother. (This wouldn't happen in person: Josh has short brown hair and dark eyes, while Nathan is blond-haired and blue-eyed.) Some criticized him for being a racist woman-beater. Other messages, from fans of Nathan, were congratulatory. Josh is a singer-songwriter and had always been grateful for his unique last name. Now it linked him to a shadowy world he wanted to escape.
A few weeks before we met, Josh had published a blog post entitled "Goodbye, Josh Damigo." For the first time, he publicly wrote about his brother's racist activism. "Please understand that this is emotional, and it's not something I want to spend my life talking about. It's why I haven't felt like playing many shows and why a lot of people have asked where I've been. It's been the source of my depression, and a lot of tears." He signed off using the name Joshua Lodge. Josh and Nathan's biological father is Peter Lodge, who is a history professor in Maine. Their parents divorced when Josh was four, and their mother took the kids from Maine to San Jose, where she married Mike Damigo. Mike legally adopted the boys, who took his last name. Now Josh was changing his stage name back.
In person, Josh is funny and gregarious, which suits his day job in sales at a local music venue. He had been the outgoing one in school, the kid who played three sports, sang in the choir, and was the student body vice president. Nathan was quieter and "a bit of a shadow," Josh says. Their mother told a psychologist that Nathan was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in second grade, and struggled with an auditory processing disorder that made him need more time to understand verbal directions. The boys attended Liberty Baptist, a small fundamentalist school in San Jose whose textbooks were supplied by Bob Jones University. Charilyn was the principal and a teacher at Liberty Baptist; their adoptive father was a sheriff's deputy who had graduated from Bob Jones. "It was a very strict upbringing, as you can imagine," Josh tells me.
On 9/11, their mother woke them up just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center on a small television in their bedroom, according to her personal blog. Nathan was 16 and took the attack hard, almost personally. He joined the Marines during his senior year, following in the footsteps of his adoptive father, who had been a tank commander in the Marines. Nathan did two tours in Iraq's Anbar Province—the first beginning in 2005, another in 2007—where he drove a light armored vehicle. Between tours, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, California.
On weekends, Josh would pick Nathan up so they could spend those days together. Josh had landed at San Diego Christian College and started writing songs—"a lot of terrible songs," he laughed—often getting home late from playing at a local coffee shop. The college had a curfew, but the person at the gate let him in without a word. The mellower atmosphere of San Diego started creeping into his religion. "Life's way more fun when it's not all rules," Josh said. He still had faith, but he didn't feel the need to be what he called a "Christian police officer."
After Nathan completed his second tour in October of 2007, he moved in with Josh, who was then teaching at a Christian high school in San Diego and living in the suburb of La Mesa. "He didn't really want to talk about the war at all, and I was completely fine with that," Josh says. Soon, however, Josh could see that Nathan wasn't adjusting to being home. One night, he propped a baseball bat by the front door, in case he had to fight off intruders. "Dude," Josh said, "it's San Diego."
Several weeks later, Josh went on the road to play a few gigs, but the first morning, at a friend's house in Tucson, he says he got a call from his mom. "Have you been arrested?" she asked. Charilyn had received an automated message from police in San Diego County informing her that her son was in their custody. Josh went online: Nathan had been busted for armed robbery. When he returned to San Diego, Josh found his brother behind bars, sullen and withdrawn. Nathan said that he had gotten blackout drunk, couldn't remember many details, and was going to plead guilty.
At the apartment, Josh found the front door open and the kitchen trash filled with beer cans. He went into Nathan's room. One of the only things his brother had unpacked was a red Killed in Action flag, which hung from the wall above a bare mattress. Josh collapsed on the mattress. "Nothing made sense," he said.
There was a lot that Josh didn't know. After Nathan was arrested, he told a psychologist that, during his first tour, his best friend had been killed after driving over an improvised explosive device. Another friend was gunned down in a firefight. Between tours, Nathan drank heavily to ward off nightmares. He told the psychologist that one night he attempted suicide by washing down nine muscle relaxants with Jack Daniel's, which he slept off and kept a secret. Back in Iraq, his nerves calmed, but as soon as he returned stateside, the nightmares and flashbacks came back.
Nathan's account of the night of his arrest comes from three psychological evaluations included in court documents. He told examiners he had stumbled home after a long night of drinking at a bar, and, inside the apartment, he poured himself more whiskey. It was just after the anniversary of his best friend's death, and he wanted to soften the edges of his dark thoughts. But the booze wasn't helping, so Nathan went back outside to try to clear his head, carrying a handgun that his adoptive father had given to him as a present two days earlier.
According to court records, at around 3:45 a.m., as he smoked a cigarette near a park, a taxi pulled up to the middle of an intersection and stopped. Nathan flashed back to a vehicle checkpoint in Iraq. He darted behind a bush and wrapped a bandana around his face, the same bandana he'd used in Iraq to protect himself from sandstorms. When he approached the vehicle with his gun drawn, the man shouted, "Don't shoot!" This startled Nathan; he expected to hear Arabic, not English. He put the gun to the driver's head, made him get on the ground, and stole $43. He was apprehended several minutes later in the driveway of a Jack in the Box.
In 2010, HBO released Wartorn, a documentary about soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) produced by the late Sopranos star James Gandolfini. One of the soldiers featured is Nathan. After the arrest, he spent a year in jail; he was released when his grandparents took out a lien on their house to post bond. He checked into a facility for veterans with PTSD and attended daily Alcoholics Anonymous classes, but it was a rocky recovery. After an intense flashback, he went on a drug and alcohol binge and attempted suicide a second time, according to court records of a psychological evaluation.
The HBO film crew arrived at Josh's apartment in February of 2010. "Tomorrow, Nate is going to be turning himself in to spend the next six years in jail," Josh says, as the camera rolls. "Today, we're basically just trying to do anything to not think about that part of it. Right now that means me going through a tattoo." As Nathan inks a design on his right shoulder, Josh asks him, "What do you think about people who say, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger?'"
"People get back from Iraq and they're not stronger," Nathan replies. "So obviously that's a bullshit fucking term." In most of the film's scenes, Nathan has a half grimace on his face and tries to appear unfazed and unafraid. What comes through instead is vulnerability. Later that evening, after the cameras left, Josh woke up to find his brother crying uncontrollably in the living room.
The next morning, Nathan pleaded guilty to felony robbery and was sentenced to six years in prison. Outside the courthouse, the film crew interviewed Charilyn. "It's like they took him when he was 18 and put him through a paper shredder, and then sent him back to us," she says. "We get to try and put all the pieces back together. Sometimes it's like Humpty Dumpty, they don't go back together. There's going to be pieces missing."
Josh visited Nathan nearly every weekend the first year. Then, due to California's overcrowded prison system, his brother was transferred to a private facility in Sayre, Oklahoma, some 1,000 miles away. The prison was run by the Corrections Corporation of America—recently renamed CoreCivic—and held about 2,400 California inmates. When he visited for the first time, Josh was taken aback to see a sign advertising guard positions that listed a free uniform as one of the job perks.
That year, Josh made three trips to North Fork Correctional Facility. He stopped along the way to play shows, where he talked about his brother and the PTSD suffered by many returning vets. (The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 20 percent of Iraq War vets return with PTSD.) It was on the third trip, in between games of poker and Monopoly in the visitation room, that Josh says Nathan casually mentioned that Adolf Hitler wasn't as bad as people had made him out to be. By now, Nathan was heavily muscled and sported a shaved head and an impressive goatee. "It's my understanding that, to survive in prison, Nathan had to join a white gang," Josh told me.
The facility was notoriously violent and strictly segregated by race. Just days after Josh's visit, massive riots rocked the prison, reportedly leaving nearly 50 inmates injured and 16 hospitalized. According to a lawsuit filed by a group of inmates against CCA, much of the fighting was between the Sureños, a Latino gang, and African Americans. During interviews, Nathan has discounted the prison link, except that the time inside allowed him to "sit and reflect and think and study and read." After the trauma of the last several years, he no longer believed the war in Iraq had been about democracy, he told Red Ice TV, a white nationalist network founded in Sweden, and he was losing faith in Christianity. In prison, he came across a copy of David Duke's My Awakening. Nathan had never been much of a student, but that changed after reading Duke. He later described his discovery of Duke's book as his "red pill" moment—a metaphor borrowed from The Matrix that is often used by white nationalists. (In the movie, swallowing the red pill allows an individual to see the true reality of things.) He moved on to the texts cited by the ex-Klansman, and then traveled further onto the vast sea of racist and anti-Semitic literature.
Nathan was released from prison on March 2nd, 2014. While he was incarcerated, his family had moved from San Jose to Oakdale, in the San Joaquin Valley, where his grandfather had renovated a large country house. Almost immediately after he moved in with them, he began to post about race on Facebook and Twitter, Josh tells me. "It was Nazi garbage," Josh says, but he tried to downplay it with humor. "I'd post on his page, 'Yeah dude, whites are a super supreme race. You know you misspelled six words in that sentence, right?'" But their online exchanges grew tense. Finally, Josh posted something left of center on Facebook, and Nathan countered with a barrage of far-right comments. Josh unfriended him on Facebook and blocked him on Twitter.
Josh called his mother and told her what Nathan was posting, hoping she would rein him in. Instead, he says, she countered that she also didn't agree with everything that Josh wrote online. In 2013, Josh had composed a blog post in support of gay marriage. "My mom said that the views that I had about gay people were not that different than the views Nathan had about Hitler," Josh told me. He didn't talk to her for six months after that.
While Nathan was in prison, a new far-right movement had begun to take shape. In the spring of 2010, a former editor at The American Conservative, Richard Spencer, launched a now-defunct online magazine called Alternative Right. Spencer had coined the term alt-right two years earlier, though it was largely a repackaging of racist and anti-Semitic ideas—he called it "radical traditionalism"—updated to do battle against political correctness and in defense of "white identity." From the beginning, Spencer, who was born in 1978, stressed the importance of reaching the next generation. "If we are going to win," he wrote soon after launching the site, "we'll need to win over intelligent young people."
After being released from prison, recruiting the next generation of white nationalists became Nathan's mission—and Spencer was an important mentor. Back home, Nathan enrolled in California State University–Stanislaus. He also joined the National Youth Front, a newly organized arm of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist organization. By the end of 2014, he was running the group's public relations campaigns out of his bedroom in Oakdale, with his face emblazoned across the National Youth Front logo in their Twitter banner, alongside the tagline, "You are of yesterday, we are of tomorrow."
In early 2015, the National Youth Front took up the cause of what they considered an anti-white class at Arizona State University. The course was titled "U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness" and taught by Lee Bebout, an English professor who, Nathan wrote, suffered from "pathological altruism." The National Youth Front made a video about Bebout that was posted on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, along with a photograph of Bebout's mixed-race family, while commenters on another white nationalist site, Stormfront, posted his contact information, according to the Phoenix New Times. Bebout was reportedly deluged with threatening emails and phone calls, while National Youth Front members distributed flyers on the campus that announced, "This is a declaration of war."
The National Youth Front's activism was picked up by a number of media outlets, causing Nathan to conclude that his group had "hit the big leagues and made an impact." He was forced to rename the organization later that year, however, after a lawyer for a Christian youth group with a similar name threatened to sue. But Nathan was now convinced that the college campus was the most fertile place to organize, and that what the movement needed most was to step away from the computer screen and meet recruits in person.
In March of 2016, he launched Identity Evropa. Two months later, he and Spencer visited the University of California–Berkeley's Sproul Plaza to talk about the "anti-white" culture in the country. They reunited again at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Nathan live-streamed the event for Red Ice. By now, his efforts to build a racist youth bloc had started to draw attention among the white nationalist crowd, and he was pleasantly surprised when several strangers recognized him. (Some knew him only by his Twitter handle, Fashy Haircut.) "The press is now bemoaning the fact that the alternative right has established a beachhead within the GOP," he wrote after the trip. "The wind is in our sails. Let's make our future truly ours."
As Nathan rapidly ascended in the white nationalist world, Josh tried to nudge his brother down a different path. He knew that Nathan was stubborn, so he broached the subject obliquely, suggesting that he expand his reading list to include more diverse viewpoints, for example. None of his attempts went anywhere. In the fall of 2015, he switched strategies by invoking their family, telling Nathan that his racist activities were putting their parents and grandparents at risk. "He told me, 'I've counted the costs, and I'm OK with it—I understand what it means for my family and the people I love.'"
Josh has an American flag tattoo on his right forearm to honor Nathan's service in Iraq, and would never forgive the legal system that had given him a six-year prison sentence. But now, he was convinced that it was time for the family to let his brother go—at least temporarily—and he moved on to a new goal: convincing his parents to kick Nathan out of their house. He wasn't sure how much they knew about Nathan's activities; at home, according to Josh, there was an agreement that Nathan wouldn't talk about his white nationalist work. Josh wasn't sure exactly what his brother was up to, either, but he certainly didn't think a hate group should be operating out of his parents' house.
Josh says his mother instantly quashed the idea. He told me that his family rails against the mainstream media and believes any criticism of Nathan is part of a left-wing conspiracy seeking to paint him as racist. "Follow his Twitter account," he said to me, growing exasperated all over again. "It's there. That's why I keep saying there's only two choices: Either we're ignorant or we're OK with it." Josh came to the conclusion that his parents cling so tightly to an earlier part of Nathan's life—the war hero who was discarded by society—that they are unable to face the ugliness of the present. "My grandfather says, 'Your brother is doing really well, he's got a girl who loves him.'" His fiancée, Jessica Lynn, is also a white nationalist. Her reposts on Gab, a sort of Twitter for the alt-right, include messages like "Freedom of speech means freedom from Jews" and, about Barack Obama, "Sucks having a mulatto faggot as president."
Josh tells me that they're pushing Nathan to graduate from college, which they view as a key to his future, but he laughs, imagining a potential employer googling his brother. They are determined, Josh says, to pretend Nathan is living a normal life, while there is "this giant cancerous thing on him that you can't look away from." They insist that they are simply protecting their son, but Josh has grown convinced that they are instead enabling his racist activity. "He's living at home, not paying rent. He doesn't have a job. He has no bills. He basically has all day to propagate hate. They are allowing this to happen, whether they believe it or not."
According to Josh, the only other person in the family who has lobbied for Nathan's removal is their uncle, Jerel Haley, who is the chief of police of Atascadero, an upscale city north of San Luis Obispo. He is concerned about the safety of his sister, Charilyn, as well as their parents. And he has no patience for Nathan's views. Jerel married a woman of Mexican descent and has two daughters; one of them is married to an African-American man. He hasn't gotten anywhere with Nathan either.
Josh spent election night at his apartment, watching the results come in. He hadn't heard from Nathan in months, but soon after victory was declared for Trump, Josh's phone beeped. He opened a text message to find a photo of Trump grinning at him, over which were superimposed the words ha, ha, ha.
Nathan was elated. To celebrate, he drove through the streets with a bullhorn, shouting at people he presumably took for immigrants: "You have to go back! You have to go back!" The victory had provided a "major boost to morale," he told one interviewer. It also sent reporters scurrying to cover the alt-right, and Nathan, who was a representative of the new breed of clean-cut racists who dressed well, created sleek logos, and tried to obscure their age-old prejudices with jargon in support of "Identitarianism" and against "cultural Marxism."
Then came Berkeley. After Josh saw the video of Nathan's punch, he got in touch with his mom. She hadn't heard anything and said she'd talk to Nathan when he got home. A couple of days later, Josh says, Charilyn told him that the media had misrepresented the event. The woman Nathan had hit was wearing a "weaponized glove" and posed a threat to public safety. Plus, she said, if you looked into her background, she wasn't "the most wholesome person." Josh hung up in disgust.
The incident raised Nathan's profile like nothing else could. "Punching a 95-pound woman in the face might be the best thing that ever happened to Nathan Damigo," wrote Shane Bauer in Mother Jones. Nearly two weeks later, at another alt-right rally in Berkeley—this one was called "Fuck Antifa"—Nathan posed with fans, fist clenched, as he enjoyed his new fame. But the notoriety brought new risks. Josh says the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached out to Charilyn, expressing concern that the house could be a target due to Nathan's notoriety. The family began to take extra security measures, like placing letters inside plastic bags before opening them in case they contained a poisonous powder. This year, Josh sent a Mother's Day card home, but it was not seen for a long time because of the precautions. "She thought it was funny," he says.
Josh didn't see the humor; he knew that he was drifting away from his parents. "When they see Nathan, they still see their baby, their hero," Josh says. "I guess they want to fix it, they want to care for him, but I don't think it's something you can take care of. It's not like you can just crack into his brain and rewire it. They're treating it like there's a possibility of a positive outcome. And I'm looking at it as a 98 percent chance of rain."
In August, Nathan and other members of Identity Evropa traveled to Charlottesville, purportedly to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The demands quickly grew to include more than the protection of a statue. On the night before the rally, Identity Evropa members joined a group of several hundred mostly young men who carried torches through the campus of the University of Virginia and chanted, "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and soil," a Nazi-era slogan.
For millions of Americans, the marchers didn't look wholesome. They looked terrifying.
The next morning, hundreds of white supremacists made their way into Emancipation Park in downtown Charlottesville, site of the statue and protest. They carried Confederate and neo-Nazi flags; one man hoisted a flag with a giant swastika. Many were armed, including a crew of militia members who carried assault rifles. The rally was to begin at noon, but most people arrived hours before. At one point, a group joined together to sing "This Little Light of Mine" across from white supremacists, who chanted back, "Our blood, our soil!" Inside the park, a white nationalist named Sean Patrick Nielsen spoke to a videographer from the Washington Post. "I am here because our Republican values are, No. 1, standing up for global white identity—our identity is under threat," he said. "No. 2, the free market. And No. 3, killing Jews."
A few minutes before 11 o'clock, the scene exploded in violence between white supremacists and anti-fascists. Unable to quell the fighting, the Charlottesville police—who were often far from the action—declared an unlawful assembly. Most people left, but Nathan and several others refused and were arrested. As the scene unfolded on television, Josh wrote me to say that he hoped Nathan wasn't involved. I told him his brother had been a key organizer of Charlottesville and had a speaking slot. "I want to believe he doesn't know the fire that he's playing with, but my gut says otherwise," Josh wrote back.
That afternoon, as we continued to exchange texts, a Dodge Challenger driven by James Alex Fields Jr. plowed into a group of protesters, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and anti-racist activist. Earlier in the day, Fields had been photographed carrying a shield with the logo of Vanguard America, a group that has described itself as "the face of American fascism." (Leaders from Vanguard America have denied that Fields is a member.) Fields was charged with first-degree murder and a slew of other felonies and has been denied bail.
Around the country, people recoiled in horror from the scenes of armed Nazis marching in the streets. Nathan had a different take. "This was a huge victory for us," he told his Twitter followers in a video message that he recorded from his hotel room just hours after he was released. "We are going to get national attention." He described the call to disburse as a "clear-cut case of tyranny" and promised a lawsuit against Charlottesville. "We are winning so hard," he said, with a laugh. "Over my dead body are we going to tuck tail and run."
Josh received a text from his mom. "Nate is in the news again," she wrote. "Police showed up in riot gear and instead of chasing off antifa they told the protesters to leave. Some did, some said they didn't have to because they had a permit. [...] They are planning a lawsuit against the city. SIGH." Josh had shared an article with Charilyn from Vice News, which reported that violence had broken out during a white nationalist rally. She replied, "Josh, from what I'm seeing the article you posted is extremely skewed and has wrong information."
He decided to cut off all communication with his mother.
After Charlottesville, there was an online effort by activists to identify the white nationalists and Nazis who had participated. Several people were fired after being publicly unmasked, and at least one person resigned. One man in Fargo, North Dakota, Pearce Tefft, publicly disowned his son in a letter published in the local paper. "I, along with all of his siblings and his entire family, wish to loudly repudiate my son's vile, hateful and racist rhetoric and actions," he wrote. "We have been silent up until now, but now we see that this was a mistake. It was the silence of good people that allowed the Nazis to flourish the first time around, and it is the silence of good people that is allowing them to flourish now." His son, Peter, was not welcome at home until he renounced his beliefs.
A slew of new articles were published about Nathan, highlighting his key role in organizing the Charlottesville rally. ("I'd love to take credit for it," Richard Spencer told a Bay Area media outlet, "but it was more Nathan.") In Maine, a reporter reached Nathan's biological father, Peter, who disavowed his son's racist beliefs. The reporter also interviewed Nathan's grandmother, Frances Lodge; Josh and Nathan had visited Frances every summer while growing up. She, too, distanced herself from Nathan's beliefs. "He's not a neo-Nazi," she said. "He is not KKK. He's somewhat of a white supremacist." The media calls came to Josh too. He denounced his brother's beliefs, but was left feeling "powerless and smaller each day." Later, he sent me the Saturday Night Live clip of Tina Fey, a University of Virginia alum, stress-eating a cake in response to the incidents in Charlottesville. "This is EXACTLY what it feels like," he texted.
Several days after the rally, a group called Veterans Against Hate publicly demanded that Charilyn kick Nathan out of the house or be "considered part of his neo-Nazi organization and an immediate threat to the community and people around the country." The next day, Charilyn, who has never spoken to the media about Nathan's racist activities, posted a public note on Facebook. She wrote about Nathan's decision to join the Marines and how she had stood by his side as he struggled with PTSD. "We supported him as a family and promised to help him on his journey to stability," she wrote. "That promise did not come with disclaimers."
"I have five adult children," she continued, "and I do not agree with everything that any of them say or do. But I do not abandon them when they hold opinions contrary to my own. If I did, my home would need to have revolving doors." She blamed the "mob of thugs" on the left for Heather Heyer's death and wrote that Nathan has "consistently emphasized that dialogue is needed in regard to controversial issues." (Among the controversial issues she included was desegregation.) She also labeled antifa and Black Lives Matter "violence-based groups."
"I hold my head high," she concluded, "with no regrets for having supported my son these past few years."
Meanwhile, Nathan participated in a press conference with Richard Spencer in Washington, D.C., and raised money to sue the city of Charlottesville for his arrest. Then, two weeks after the violence there—which had proved, he claimed, that his side was winning—he suddenly resigned from Identity Evropa. In a press release, he cited his need to finish college, along with "family and relationship duties." He wrote that Identity Evropa had "lit a beautiful fire that is engulfing the Western world" and named a new head of the group. After that, Nathan stopped taking press calls and dramatically curbed his social media activity, though he promised, on Twitter, that he was now going to "build something different, but no less important!" Despite the violence of Charlottesville and his resignation from Identity Evropa, he remained enthusiastic about the future, later tweeting that 2017 was "the best year of my life."
In early November, I got a call from Josh. He was filling his car up with gas, on the way, he wrote, to the "bunker," as media had described his parents' house in the country. Josh had adopted a rescue dog—half Jack Russell terrier, half poodle—who I could hear whining from the backseat of the car. On the drive up, Josh was listening to Cesar Millan. "I'm learning that I'm not supposed to yell at my dog," he told me. "That has helped. When I walk in to see my mom and Nathan, I'm going to have a quiet, assertive approach."
Josh's adoptive dad, Mike, was only in his early sixties but suffered from dementia, Josh says. Several days before, Josh's grandfather had called to say that Mike was deteriorating quickly and that he likely wouldn't recognize Josh much longer. Josh says his grandmother had called as well, in tears over Josh's refusal to speak to his mother. Josh hadn't been home since February, and he was nervous.
He had spent the previous evening at his uncle Jerel's house in Atascadero. That morning, they had woken to read an article in the local paper that identified the police chief as Nathan's uncle. "That's a family member that I am not proud of," Jerel told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. "Nathan is a troubled man with abhorrent views about race. I only hope something changes his heart someday." (Jerel declined to speak to me but emailed that the situation was "very difficult" on his family and that he had responded to the local media out of concern that they "may try to ascribe some negative link between me, Nathan, and my department.")
Josh said that he had heard from Jerel that Josh's grandfather hoped to use the trip home to get the brothers to reconnect. Josh was determined to make sure that didn't happen. "My plan is to get there and say: 'I'm here for Mike and only Mike. Just so you know, I'm disappointed in all of you. And if at any point you try to make this a come-together story, I will walk out.'" If all went well, he was going to stay the night and then head back south, where he had a show to play in Malibu.
After the visit, Josh told me that he and Nathan had mostly avoided speaking to each other. While he was home, though, his mom had made clear how helpful Nathan had been of late. His adoptive dad was often confused and angry, and Nathan, she said, attended to his needs with care and patience. When Mike refused to cooperate, Nathan would address him as a Marine. "Nathan is the one person he'll listen to," Josh told me. When his grandpa or grandma needed something, Nathan jumped in to help. That weekend, he used the same giant printer in his room that once cranked out white nationalist posters to make a sign for a local church.
Before he left, Josh says, his mother demanded to know why he wasn't talking to her. Josh said that he disagreed with how she handled Nathan and that he didn't feel close to her anymore. There was nothing cathartic about the conversation, no sense that anything had changed. "It goes on," Josh said. But he did learn one significant fact: Nathan was moving out. He would depart by the end of the month, a decision, Josh says, Nathan had made himself. He was leaving the state—Josh didn't know where—and would finish his college degree online. He had no idea how Nathan planned to support himself; as far as he was concerned, the less he knew about Nathan, the better. I asked Josh if Nathan might be looking for a way out of the white nationalist world. "In my mind he's playing possum," he said. "I think he's just taking some time to figure out what the next big thing will be."
During my long conversations with Josh, he had often wondered aloud about the right strategy to take with Nathan. His mother had seemingly ignored the radicalization of his brother, an approach that only allowed the problem to fester. But he also saw how Nathan fed off attention, and how even negative media coverage—critical newspaper articles and hostile television interviews, for example—were badges of honor, evidence that he, and the white nationalist movement, were having a cultural impact. This was a concern of mine too.
Yet to pretend that white nationalists aren't having a cultural impact is to heap ignorance upon ignorance. Josh had decided to talk to me, he said, in part because he wanted people to better understand how his brother had gone from a "normal skater kid" to the leader of a white nationalist organization. He was also the first to admit that even the closest reckoning left as many questions as answers. Members of the alt-right speak of being "red pilled"—that critical moment when their views shift toward racism—but most lives aren't so tidy and can't be easily dissected and pathologized.
Nathan didn't swallow a pill and suddenly perceive a new reality. The story of his turn to the alt-right is slow and grows from an unknowable mix of idealism and disillusionment, patriotism and trauma, compassion and enabling. It includes childhood learning disability and adult mental illness, feeling outcast by his peers and finding community in what Josh called a "white [prison] gang." It includes attacking a cab driver he took for an Iraqi out of fear and punching a woman in the face. It includes the discovery that many of his darkest thoughts are echoed in the shadowy corners of the Internet and now have a mouthpiece in the White House. In the end, his story is not about an alternative movement at all, but a thoroughly American one.