White Nationalist Ideology Shines Through at Elite MAGA Conference: Inside NatCon Part II

Zephyr Institute Research Fellow Nathan Pinkoski, whose talk featured an extended meditation on a book that became required reading for generations of white nationalists.

Below is the second of a two-part report on the third National Conservatism Conference that took place in Miami, FL from September 11 – September 13, 2022. Read Part I here. 


“Exercise your dominion, O Lord, over this nation”

With speech titles like Professor Glenn Moots’ “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Christian Nationalism,” NatCon isn’t shy about its central demand that America is or should become a ‘Christian nation’ of some sort. 

In his speech at NatCon III, Yoram Hazony calls upon “intellectuals, politicians, businessmen [and] anybody who is a public figure” to stand up and say: 

“‘That’s it. We’ve had enough. We are going to restore Christian public life in this country, and it’s gonna begin in my state’…this was a Christian nation historically and according to its laws, and it’s going to be a Christian nation again—it’s going to be a Biblical nation.” 

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley charms the crowd with proclamations like “We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible…Without the Bible, there is no America.” 

What exactly it means for public life to, as the NatCon statement of principles puts it, be “rooted in Christianity and its moral vision,” is left deliberately vague and open-ended in a bid to preserve NatCon’s elastic, big-tent coalition. Rather than advance specific policy agendas, many of the more heady speakers at NatCon III prefer to sing odes to pre-modern traditions of Christian political thought; to laud the supposedly central role played by Christianity in America’s founding; or to meditate on either the nature of ‘public Christian virtue’ or the proper relation between church and state in a post-liberal America. 

Some simply seek to make the case that, as former Trump administration official William Wolfe puts it, contemporary Christian denominations should stop “content[ing] ourselves to a silo of prophetic witness” outside the halls of power, and should “roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, and take control of things for the sake of the good of our citizens.”

Some call for the adoption of a robust ‘cultural Christianity’ where Christian symbols, narratives and ‘values’ will dominate public life—a Christian nationalism that stresses the primacy of “the symbolic dimension of politics,” as Brad Littlejohn puts it, “which is usually upstream from actual legal change.” Or, as Newsweek’s Josh Hammer writes in an op-ed titled National Conservatism: A Primer for the Uninitiated:

“The American public square should overtly reflect God and the teachings of the Bible and Scripture, both in the forms of morally imbued statesmanship and rich public symbolism.”

A few, like Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, even warn against an outright theocracy, cautioning against those who, as Roberts puts it, don’t “seek simply a reintroduction of faith in the public square as we had for most of our history,” but rather “think the only solution to wokeism is to subordinate the state to an institutional church. I don’t.”

All agree that, whatever the flavor, some kind of broad-based Judeo-Christian restoration is the last possible bulwark against rampant secularism and civilizational collapse. “The only thing that is strong enough to stop the religion of woke neo-Marxism,” declares Hazony in his speech, “is the religion of Biblical Christianity. That’s the only thing.” 

Other speakers strike a triumphalist tone of Christian dominance. In his opening benediction on the final day of NatCon III, Rev. Dr. Uri Brito—who, according to his own website, “advocates for biblical theocracy”charges that “to abandon hope that America might become Christian is to abandon the promise that the nations will be Christianized…and so we implore that you would exercise your dominion, O Lord, over this nation.” 

Brito combines a messianic drive for Christianity to conquer the globe with a nod to dominionism—the rising theocratic movement which calls for activists to establish Christian nationalist control over the ‘seven mountains’ of family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. 

NatConners are quick to insist that in a Christian America, as their statement elucidates, “Jews and other religious minorities are to be protected in the observance of their own traditions,” and that “adult individuals should be protected from religious or ideological coercion in their private lives and in their homes.” 

But this promise of individual protection is cold comfort alongside the reality that in the public sphere, the ‘values,’ ‘virtues,’ or ‘morals’ embedded within even NatCon’s more benign invocations of ‘cultural Christianity’ almost invariably cash out to the state-enforced repression of LGBTQ rights. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in NatCon’s persistent flirtation with the repressive, anti-LGBTQ Viktor Orbán regime in Hungary, or with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose speech boasts of his administration’s moves to roll back LGBTQ rights in what he calls “America’s citadel of freedom—the free state of Florida, proud to be a refuge of sanity in a world gone mad. We’re holding down the fort.” 

Indeed, in a national climate where solid majorities remain opposed to the Supreme Court’s gutting of Roe v. Wade, Hazony and others clearly perceive states like Florida to be a laboratory for battle-testing their Christian nationalist vision. “People say ‘look, we’re not the majority anymore,’” admits Hazony in his speech. “You don’t need to be the majority anymore. There are plenty of states in this country where a Christian majority can still be mustered,” or, in the absence of a clear majority of right-wing Christians, “where a pro-Christian majority—an alliance to support Christian values—can be mustered.” 

In other words, Hazony’s vision hinges, not only on mobilizing conservative Christians, but also on strengthening alliances with conservative Jews, anti-woke liberals, non-religious MAGA supporters, and other groups in order to advance a Christian nationalist agenda primarily, though not exclusively, at the state and national level. With new polling suggesting that 61% of Republicans are in favor of declaring the US a Christian nation, Hazony’s coalition may not be far out of reach.

Jews in a Christian nation

I ask some of the Orthodox Jews at NatCon what they think of these calls for America to be “Christianized.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, they do not share my concern that a Christian nationalist America might not turn out so well for those of us who are Jewish. Leftism and secularism, they insist, poses the far greater threat to the traditional Jewish way of life, and this threat is “worse,” as one man puts it, “than the risks we take under Christianity.” He’s optimistic that the NatCon vision would promise “institutionalized toleration for religious minorities, even if the default becomes Christianity.”

One Israeli Jew tells me he supports NatCon because he agrees that “Marxist wokeism” is destroying America and is threatening Israel too, citing recent controversy over a transgender second-grader whose transition was affirmed by her school in the town of Herzliya in central Israel. Returning to its Christian roots, he insists, represents the “one chance America has” to combat wokeism. Though he understands why American Jews worry about minority rights and want a public square free of religion, he feels it’s not his place, as an Israeli, to share this concern. 

For Hadar Hazony, the risk is worth taking. “There have been plenty of times when Christians and Jews have not gotten along,” he acknowledges as he rolls me a cigarette. “So I understand people who are afraid. But we can’t ignore the fact that in many Christian places, the Jews were sometimes tolerated, respected and honored. It depends where and when.”

The dominant Protestant tradition in America, he explains, has been especially tolerant of Jews. “So I think that, at least to explore the question—do the Christians want to be friends with us, or do they hate us? It’s worthy of exploring.” Besides, he implies, liberal, non-Orthodox American Jews have themselves put Judaism in danger by abandoning traditional values. “If the only thing you care about is hedonism and your individual liberty to do whatever you want, then maybe you don’t want a Christian America, sure. But on the other hand, your kids are not going to be Jewish. So you don’t care about Judaism…and I’m sorry, I can’t cooperate.” 

My conservative coreligionists sound confident enough that the Christian America envisioned by NatCon would be safe for Jews. But walking back into the ballroom after that cigarette, I’m not so sure. From the stage, Joseph Rigney, Baptist pastor and President of Bethlehem College & Seminary, reminds conference-goers that the ‘culturally Christian’ society of their yearning “is a society that constantly lives within pre-evangelism… those who are merely ‘cultural Christians’ are eminently convertible.” 

Cultural Christianity, he continues, “tills the soil to prepare it for seed…it gives us something to work on, and work with…and so while cultural Christianity never saved anyone, it did give many a sense of sin and guilt, which they have, which prepared them for the good news of Jesus.” For Rigney, apparently, NatCon’s Christian nationalist policy agenda is but a stepping stone towards the widespread proselytization of non-Christians in America.

“White guilt is killing us”

When Hazony banned white nationalist leaders Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow and Patrick Casey from the first NatCon conference in 2019, Brimelow wondered whether “the conference [is] designed to co-opt National Conservative energy and steer it into safe Proposition-Nation abstraction shallows—above all, to avoid any appeal to the ethnic interests of the Historic American Nation?” 

White nationalist Scott Greer made a similar point in March 2022, tweeting sarcastically that, according to “Yoram Hazony’s nationalism: America isn’t an Idea, it’s an Anglo American Idea—and anyone who insists that Anglo Americans have a distinct role in thinking it has no place in our movement.” According to Greer, Hazony is hypocritically indulging in racial politics by stressing the “Anglo-American” character of American nationalism while simultaneously disavowing this racial grounding and insisting his project is non-racial.

Both Brimelow and Greer complained that NatCon assiduously avoids defining their nationalism in racial or ethnic terms, grounding the ‘American nation’ instead in ostensibly non-racial strata of culture, creed, ideology or aspiration. And indeed, Hazony, responding to these critics in 2019, tweeted that “what separates us isn’t any lack of enthusiasm for American nationalism on my part. What separates us is my view that a nation isn’t a race, that nationalism isn’t racism.” 

These themes are repeated at NatCon III. “National conservatives think that the nation is something other than creed, or ethnicity, or plot of land,” outlines movement leader Christopher DeMuth as dinner winds down on the closing night. “Those things are all important, but our nationalism is the nation as an organic lived experience, a pilgrimage which is developing and going on over time.”

Nonetheless, the charge has lingered because, well, white nationalism keeps popping up. In 2019, Penn Law professor Amy Wax drew controversy for a speech on immigration at the first NatCon where she outlined what she called “the cultural case for restriction.” Wax stated outright that “we are better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically—at least in fact, if not formally—by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that have failed to advance.” Embracing this “cultural distance nationalism,” as she put it, “means in effect taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”

Noting the large number of Gen-Z white men lurking around, I ask Hadar Hazony if he thinks any are supporters of white nationalist Nick Fuentes and his largely Gen-Z America First/groyper movement. He is certain, he claims, there are groypers at this year’s NatCon—or at least, the individuals he has in mind supported Fuentes last year. Despite this, he tells me that NatCon is vital, because without it, even more young conservatives would turn to white nationalism. 

But signs of white nationalism keep popping up, wherever I go. Amidst the throngs of young, suited conservatives I spot leaders of American Virtue, a Gen-Z Christian nationalist organization whose first conference, last year, saw their young audience erupt in chants of Nick! Nick! upon mention of white nationalist Nick Fuentes, and whose second conference, in July 2022, employed Simon Dickerman—Fuentes’ old technical director and a veteran of Unite the Right—to run tech. 

Attending a panel entitled ‘Woke World Order’ to hear a speech by Darren Beattie—a former Trump speechwriter fired in 2018 for his own white nationalist connections—I sit next to a college student flipping through a book called Kill the Boer, a dramatized narrative of the white nationalist myth that white South African farmers face the threat of genocide at the hands of the vengeful Black majority in a post-apartheid South Africa. 

Later that day, Zephyr Institute Research Fellow Nathan Pinkoski opens his talk on “Catholicism and the Necessity of Nationalism” with an extended meditation on French writer Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints, the 1973 novel, beloved by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, that dramatizes the fear of the ‘great replacement’ of white Europeans through non-white immigration and became required reading for generations of white nationalists in the US and Europe. 

Warning that “the nation is under attack” by a “fifth column,” Pinkoski cites a well-known quote from prominent antisemitic French polemicist Charles Maurras—whom Pinkoski calls “underappreciated”—in which Maurras stresses the necessity of “defense of the nation against the stranger from within.” Writing these words in 1937, it’s not hard to imagine what social group Maurras, whose monarchist Action Française movement helped birth modern antisemitism as a mass phenomenon in pre-WWII Europe, deemed the “stranger from within.”

Other speeches are laced with white grievance. One redeeming quality of former President Trump “that we don’t talk about enough,” Tom Klingenstein, chairman of the Board of Directors of the far-right think tank Claremont Institute, announces to a cheering audience during one plenary, “is his absence of white guilt. He has no white guilt! White guilt is killing us. It’s white guilt that leads to affirmative action, to this outcome equality, and that, I don’t know if I want to say denudes, but weakens Republicans…[and] makes it very difficult for them to combat the WokeCom[munist] narrative that America is systemically racist.” 

William Wolfe confesses, during a breakout session, that he has become “increasingly radical,” and is “probably on an FBI watchlist,” because “I’ve got three white male boys…and I care that the government they live under puts their interests first.”

The “colonization” of “ethnic national groups”

But the clearest articulation of white nationalist ideology at NatCon comes during a panel on immigration, featuring three speakers with connections to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an influential anti-immigrant think tank. CIS was founded in 1985 by John Tanton, an opthomologist who formed an ecosystem of anti-immigrant organizations, now dubbed the Tanton network, with clear white nationalist motivations. 

“I’ve come to the point of view,” Tanton said in 1993, “that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Organizations in the Tanton network, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), played a major role in setting immigration policy during the Trump administration, and remain influential on the Right.

The CIS panelists focus on curbing immigration programs, criticizing H1B and other visa programs as well as refugee and asylum programs and so-called ‘chain migration.’ For a xenophobic Right long fixated on “illegal immigration,” these programs represent a more ambitious, and increasingly prominent target. DeSantis criticizes immigration programs during his speech at NatCon, and NatCon’s own statement of principles endorses a full moratorium on immigration, a longstanding demand of the white nationalist movement. 

While other panelists zero in on the details of refugee, asylum and visa policy, Jason Richwine a resident scholar at CIS, seeks to take a bird’s-eye view and explain, as he puts it, why “full assimilation is a myth. Culture persists, and mass immigration will change Americait’s inevitableperhaps fundamentally, and perhaps to the detriment of both Americans and to the world at large.”

In the 17th century, Richwine explains, different regions of the American continent were settled by groups of colonists from distinct regions of Europe, and these European subgroups each possessed their own unique culture. These cultural differences—which Richwine insists were “not superficial,” but rather concerned “a whole bundle of social traitseducation, civics, trust, crime, governance structure, different conceptions of order and power and freedom”—persist today, nearly four centuries later, among the descendants of these colonists in the different regions of the US where they initially settled. 

“In America,” he explains in one example, “Swedish Americans tend to be more civic than French Americans, who are more civic than Italian Americans. If you go to Europe, you find the Swedes are more civic than the French, who are more civic than Italians. Again, hundreds of years [believed] to have gone away, but it still persists in America.” 

Thus, Richwine seems to conclude, a people’s culture is stamped indelibly in the DNA of its people, and fundamentally stays the same, even in a radically different culture, place and time. 

“Cultural differences really do persist,” he adds, “and because assimilation is never complete with any group, it certainly will not be with today’s immigrants either. They will change the culture, for better or for worse, just as their predecessors havebut I would say, they will change it likely to a greater degree because the initial gap is wider.” 

If people from different parts of the European continent “remain different all the way up until today,” he reasons, “what about people from different continents?” Richwine concludes that “tampering with the culture” through mass immigration could “be distressing” for Americans who see “their towns change or their schools change,” and could “threaten our prosperity” as a nation, which “depends on our founding institutions” and on “people running them who are supportive culturally of those institutions.” 

The logic of this argument, while bluntly xenophobic on its own terms, is also tellingly close to “race realism,” the pseudoscientific claim, beloved by the white nationalist movement NatCon claims to reject, that distinct racial populations possess innate biological group differences that manifest in culture, intelligence and other traits. 

During the Q & A, I raise my hand and ask Richwine why he thinks these cultural differences persist—might they be rooted in biology? Richwine professes ignorance, saying “culture is persistent, probably for a lot of reasons. I don’t really have a lot of further insight to that question.”

Years ago, however, Richwine did seem to have further insight. In a July 2008 panel to discuss Mark Krikorian’s book The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal, Richwine had declared: 

“the argument that immigrants themselves are no different from the ones that came 100 years ago I think is quite wrong, and I think that the major difference here is ethnicity—or race, if you will… races differ in all sorts of ways, and probably the most important way is in IQ.” 

In 2013, Richwine lost his research position at the Heritage Foundation when a Washington Post investigation revealed that his racist doctoral dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” had made assertions like “the average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations.”

Apparently, the question of race isn’t far from the mind of those in the room at NatCon, either. Across the auditorium, an older white woman raises her hand to ask the next question. Introducing herself as a Floridian and an “immigrant from New Jersey,” she remarks that “one observation before I left New Jersey, was there were entire counties in New Jersey that seemed to have had huge increases in the Indian and Chinese population. I’d get on the New Jersey transit and it was very clear that when I commuted to New York in the 80s, the—the composition,” she pauses, choosing her word carefully, “of the train was much different than it was when I left in 2020. And it seemed to be families…how in 20 years can the population of counties be so fundamentally transformed? And what are the implications for this in the future? As they bring in their own culture, and there’s nobody to push back…” 

Krikorian immediately interjects, “this is why chain migration is a bad thing.” After rattling off statistics, he gets to the point: “one of the key problems with chain migration,” Krikorian explains, is that it “end[s] up building up with a kind of colonization of particular ethnic national groups.”

As I prepare to leave NatCon III I marvel, once again, that a conference which cost non-students at least $300 to attend, held at a $400-per-night luxury resort hotel with a lavish pool and golf course in Miami, attended by many of the movers and shakers of conservative politics, could fashion itself as ‘anti-elite’ in any meaningful way. 

One college student I speak to on my way out, shares my incredulity. With his long hair and bohemian vibe, I rightly suspect he’s not like the rest of the attendees. He canvassed for Bernie Sanders in 2020, he tells me, and being at NatCon makes him feel like he’s in Weimar Germany in the late 1920s. I can relate. When I tell him I went to undergrad at Bard College, a liberal arts school, he laughs and reminds me that I, too, am part of an elite. “Perhaps,” I acknowledge, “but even so, I can’t afford to stay here.”

Later that night, I hear storm clouds roaring outside the window of my more modest Airbnb and I worry, not for the first time, about the storm clouds roaring in our embattled country.