[VDARE.COM note: Proceedings of last weekend's American Renaissance conference—see here for Jared Taylor's preview—will soon be available on its site. Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotels is reportedly rattled by the radical campaign to deny AR a venue. Congratulate Hyatt on supporting American liberties here]
Generally, when any political group has a conference, the participants will dress in suits or blazers and ties. Sometimes this is listed on the program. When the media covers these meetings, you expect to read about the content of the conference rather than the dress code.
There are exceptions. During the Democratic and Republican National Conventions or a presidential inauguration, there is often a roundup of the outfits worn by delegates and politicians, a la Joan River's commentary on the attire worn at the Oscars. The Washington Post has had a few apolitical and semi-humorous pieces joking about John Roberts' son's seersucker suit or Jack Abramoff's poor choice to go with the Mafioso look when he pled guilty to charges of bribery. The British National Party's rising star Mark Collett recently told me that the gossip pages made quite a fuss over the pink tie he wore at his indictment for "inciting racial hatred."
Yet rarely are the fashions the only focus of a political news event.
Nevertheless, The Washington Post's story by Michael Laris [send him email] on last weekend's American Renaissance conference, although not in the Style section, seemed to care exclusively about what the participants were wearing. [Promoting 'Preservation' Of Whites in Suit and Tie] Mr. Laris—who dressed casually, but respectably, in a spread collar, blue button-down shirt, chinos, and a pair of driving moccasins—left the conference half way through the first day of speeches. His piece was published before the conference's conclusion.
Laris opens up by noting that the dress code of the AR Conference states "Gentlemen will wear jackets and ties to all conference events." The only quote that AR's founder and president Jared Taylor is allowed in the entire article is his typically charming and humorous response to Laris' inquiry about the attire: "I don't want an event I sponsor to be characterized by slovenliness. In a society of considerable ugliness, that's one thing we can control."
Laris went on about how the participants wore their "their Saturday best" and quotes various critics of AR about what this signified. One protestor said "they are attempting to be respectable and appear intelligent." He quoted another protestor as claiming that "donning nice clothes is just a smarter tactic than wearing 'your robes and your hoods.'"
Nowhere in Laris' article did he even mention the name of a speaker. Of the six speakers not mentioned, one was a prominent U.K. politician (Nick Griffin), two are professors (Andrew Fraser and J. Philippe Rushton), two are acclaimed authors (Dan Roodt and Guillaume Faye), and one is a lawyer (Sam G. Dickson).
In other words, they are all people used to wearing coats and ties.
Mr. Laris did manage to find the space to feature a quote from former Klan leader David Duke—who himself has been described as having traded, "a white sheet for a coat and tie"—although he was not a sponsor or a speaker at the conference.
The implication of Laris' article was clear: were it not for the "smarter tactic" of the dress code, all the participants at the conference would dress like Larry the Cable Guy, if not in paramilitary outfits.
I attended the AR conference as a journalist. For what its worth, the vast majority of the attendees seemed used to dressing up, certainly as much as at any other conference I've been to.
Of course, these first impressions are not always right. So I actually talked to dozens of attendees. The majority of them were professionals or academics, intelligent, and friendly.
This should not be news to anyone who knows anything about AR. Even their harshest critics acknowledge that Jared Taylor and his followers are not a bunch of rednecks and yahoos, but smart and educated individuals. Left wing columnist and perpetual Peter Brimelow denouncer Max Blumenthal has described Taylor as "an incredibly articulate, friendly fellow …who also happens to be avowed white supremacist." The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Taylor a "modern-day version of the refined but racist colonialist of old" and called the conferences "well-attended, suit-and-tie affairs that reflect his international reach."
It is usually easy to dismiss a racist message when it is crude or sensationalistic, but less so if it takes the guise of a well-researched, carefully thought out assessment of differences between races. The type of genteel racism that American Renaissance promotes seems on the surface almost reasonable
The Washington Post's Laris also discussed the attire of the few demonstrators picketing the AR conference: "jeans, jackets and sometimes face masks."
This was definitely an understatement. The first day there were maybe twenty protestors, all wearing all black clothes, black bandannas and masks covering their faces (not much difference from Klan hoods) with signs like, "Stop Racism," "Change your name. You're still the KKK." and "F— Off Nazi Scum and Die." For some reason, the latter sign did not get a mention in The Post article.
The second day, there were half a dozen college students. They weren't all in black, but they covered their faces with bandannas and had many punk rock band patches sewed on to their clothes.
Caring about style almost as much as Mr. Laris, I asked the protestors if they thought that they were hurting their cause by dressing up like homeless bohemians. (I did so as press. All the participants followed the police's request to not engage the protestors.) Of course they weren't, one replied: "We've received very favorable news coverage."
This brings us to why we were graced with Mr. Laris' fashion insights in the first place.
Now, it is very plausible that he simply does not get paid by the hour and wanted an angle that allowed him to skip most of the conference and get home in time to watch the Olympics.
But, at the risk of seeming to suffer from what Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style of American Politics," I think there was an ulterior motivation.
A typical MSM hit piece on AR would start off by saying how the SPLC calls them a hate group. It would caricature a few views of the speakers and maybe take a quote like Phillipe Rushton's "it's more brain or more penis. You can't have everything," out of context while ignoring his large and impressive body of work. Then it would give Jared Taylor a few sentences to respond, where he always seems very reasonable.
The problem with that is that, if the MSM article actually talked about what was said at the conference, and mentioned the many academics and professionals there, even if they were misrepresented as "racist," "xenophobic," "extremist," or "fascist," lots of readers would still be intrigued by the organization.
Through the providential gift of the internet, these readers may Google American Renaissance and realize that the MSM smear was completely mendacious. They may then subscribe to AR, check out its daily news updates—and maybe even its link to VDARE.COM!
Now of course, there were some people at the conference whose views I would consider extreme. Although I didn't talk to any, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few rubes who didn't go to the same cotillion as Michael Laris and weren't used to wearing a jacket and tie.
Yet that can be said about any movement. For every Jesse Jackson, there is a Malik Zulu Shabazz. Bill Kristol has Meir Kahane, and the Sierra Club has the Earth Liberation Front. In fact, I'm sure even Morris Dees would have been embarrassed by the protestors outside the Hyatt had The Post actually accurately reported what they were wearing and doing.
But this doesn't happen, because the political and media establishment supports their goals.
The Left is never forced to apologize for or denounce their extremists, nor does past political activity make them pariahs, nor have newspapers tried to find the six degrees of separation between their leaders and a few nutballs (though some conservatives have attempted to fill this gap).
If there is any lesson you can learn from Mr. Laris' article besides that you shouldn't wear madras after Labor Day, it is that the Establishment Media will ignore the intelligent and reasonable people on the politically incorrect side, while presenting that the left's extremists as intelligent and reasonable.
At the AR conference, a Jewish participant told me a Murray Rothbard anecdote to explain why he didn't care that he might possibly be in the same room as some anti-Semites.
The late, great free-market economist was once at a Libertarian Party convention in the 1970s. A distressed friend said to him, "Oh my God! There are Nazis at this conference."
"There's always one," Rothbard replied.
"What, a Nazi?" his friend asked
"No, a complainer."
The next time we fret about a few loonies or extremists destroying our cause and movements, we should consider why their presence hasn't destroyed our opponent's.
Alexander Hart (email him) is a conservative journalist. He says he does not consider himself a white nationalist, but is sympathetic to many of their concerns, especially the threat that mass immigration poses to the future of America and the West.