If there’s any lesson to be drawn from the saga of Matthew Heimbach, it’s this: You can never take a neo-Nazi at his word.
Heimbach, the erstwhile leader of the extremist Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP) and one of the co-organizers of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has spent the past year or so trying convince the public that he had renounced his racist ways and was now on the side of the angels. But then this week, he again reversed course, giving an interview to Newsy in which he once again embraced anti-Semitic and bigoted sentiments, and announced his intention to start his old group back up again.
"These people have names and addresses,” Heimbach told Newsy, referencing corporate executives and “global elites” whom he blames for economic and environmental problems. “Their kids have names and addresses, and the capitalist class, by hook or by crook, has to be liquidated. You know that it's called class war for a reason. … Any violence the proletariat brings is simply in self-defense.
Heimbach told reporter Mark Greenblatt that he intends to revive TWP as soon as this coming weekend, saying it would be a “nationalist Bolshevik” group that supposedly “takes inspiration from Marxism and China and targets global elites.”
Heimbach made clear that he generally supports political violence against “global elites,” even if he fell short of directly endorsing assassination. An exchange that Heimbach had with Greenblatt made this clear:
Heimbach: George W. Bush should go on trial. Barack Obama should go on trial. Donald Trump should go on trial. Joe Biden should go on trial.
Newsy: When the system doesn't arrest or put these people on trial?
Heimbach: Names and addresses. And I will not be—I mean, I'm not a soldier. I will not be ordering anyone to do anything. But I will not condemn revolutionaries that, you know, stand in their own self-defense.
Newsy: Matt, where do you draw the line? Is it OK to kill the president?
Heimbach: I'm going to plead the fifth on that one.
Newsy: But pleading the fifth is when you want to not incriminate yourself, you don't just...?
Heimbach: Oh, you got it. You got it. But I'm I'm not touching that one.
Newsy: But why not just say, no, that's not OK?
Heimbach: Well, I'm not a liar.
In the spring of 2020, Heimbach told the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch that he had renounced white nationalism.
“Redefining my community as all members of the working class, instead of just white members of the working class, redefines fundamentally the political, social and economic solutions to problems we all face,” Heimbach told Hatewatch by email.
Heimbach became associated with the organization Light Upon Light, which platforms former extremists who have ostensibly changed sides. He wrote a public statement for them, explaining his departure from the movement, which he now declared to be just too myopic—rather than for its innate bigotry and violence. Instead, he clearly leaned toward embracing the kind of rhetoric employed by classic “Third Position” ideologues, who seek to bridge fascism with leftist beliefs.
“That’s the problem with white nationalists, in my opinion,” he wrote. “They see one part of the puzzle, the one that pertains to themselves. But the true scope of the problem is not just facing the white working class in America, but all working people around the world.”
He also paid lip service to opposing political violence: “I now feel like I have a responsibility to try to reduce violence in our society, however I can,” he wrote.
But he was virulently opposed to efforts to remove fascist voices from social media or to encourage law enforcement to crack down on their terrorism, saying “we cannot end the growth of white nationalist violence by deplatforming, mass arrests, and government overreaction.”
As recently as this February, he was touting the same “conversion” in an interview with WKRC-TV in Cincinnati. He confessed to the reporter that his alcoholism had contributed to the demise of the TWP, and that “the movement was not really a psychologically healthy place, so removing myself from it has allowed me to, like, work the steps.”
Heimbach claimed that was now sober and devoid of racist intentions, “no longer dwelling on Black and white but the ‘green’ that separates us.”
"It's all about the money. The capitalist class that rules this country does not care, fundamentally," Heimbach said.
He also claimed that he wanted to work with Black Lives Matter activists “fundamentally”—but acknowledged “that’s a big question” when asked whether they would want to work with him.
“Why would anybody believe you?” the WKRC reporter asked.
“What I would say is actions speak louder than words,” Heimbach answered.
Heimbach apparently was operating under a similar game plan when he somehow worked his way onto a roster of speakers at a “Medicare for All” event in Muncie, Indiana, scheduled for July, partly by signing up as “Matt Bach.” Organizers shortly booted him after his inclusion on the Muncie roster was publicized, issuing statements denouncing white nationalism and Heimbach’s attempt at inserting himself into leftist politics, but it was too little too late: Eventually, the damage to their credibility was so extensive that organizers ended up calling off the march, which was to have taken place in a number of cities around the nation.
Previous claims to honesty notwithstanding, Heimbach’s history is replete with bigoted violence and double-dealing. In 2017, he was charged with assaulting a Black protester at a 2016 Donald Trump rally, to which he later pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.
However, he violated that probation in 2018 when he became embroiled in a domestic violence situation at the home of his longtime TWP cohort, Matt Parrott, whose stepdaughter Heimbach was married to at the time. Parrot caught Heimbach in a tryst with his then-wife, and Heimbach reportedly assaulted Parrot in the ensuing chaos. The interpersonal drama—which came to be known as “Night of the Wrong Wives” among internet wags—caused TWP to break apart.
As Hatewatch observed at the time that Heimbach first claimed to have renounced his old ways, there was little indication that his conversion was even remotely sincere—particularly since, like other figures platformed by Light Upon Light (notably, former National Socialist Movement leader Jeff Schoep), he exerted zero effort toward repairing the damage he had caused during his years of extremist organizing, leadership, and agitation.
Heimbach, moreover, showed no recognition of having caused harm or, for that matter, of even being ideologically wrong—suggested by his recent turn towards National Bolshevism, which is simply another brand of neo-Nazism in a Third Positionist guise.
What appears to have motivated his conversion, as much as anything, is Heimbach’s ongoing involvement as one of two dozen defendants in the civil lawsuit filed by Integrity First for America against Unite the Right organizers by victims of the violence there. (A judge recently ruled that the trial, scheduled for October, will remain in Charlottesville.) Heimbach has consistently refused to cooperate in that trial—indicating that the “conversion” was all a legal smokescreen to begin with.
“I don’t think they’ve left the movement, but I do think that they realize that the movement, as it has existed, is a dead end, and that they are trying to create a new kind of movement,” Emily Gorcenski, an activist and former Charlottesville resident, told Hatewatch.
More worrisome is what a relaunch of TWP under a Third Positionist guise might look like in its effects on public discourse and political violence, especially given Heimbach’s history of successfully building networks with neo-Nazis and other extremists, both in the United States and internationally.
"What Heimbach is doing is, he's lighting a match and he's handing the matchbook to somebody else," Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told Newsy.
"He's been in this movement for a long time. There may be somebody out there who picks up this idea. They're going to hear this rhetoric and the scary thing is that somebody might act on it."
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.