Just what was the founder of an alt-right white nationalist organization up to when he was pictured in Sonora on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times?
Nathan Damigo, 30, said he chose Sonora for the photoshoot because “Sonora is beautiful. I like it up there.”
He said he lives in Oakdale.
Damigo is the founder of Identity Evropa, a group that advocates for white separatism in the United States. He was pictured in Sunday’s article in a downtown Sonora coffee shop and inside his car parked across from the Catholic Charities office on Bradford Street.
Some readers have contacted The Union Democrat expressing concern that Damigo could be a local resident, but the Cal State Stanislaus student said in an interview Monday that he travels to Sonora once in a while, every other month or so, just to get out of the house, do homework, or ride his motorcycle to Mark Twain’s cabin when the weather’s good.
He’s also attended the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee the past two out of three years.
Most of Identity Evropa’s roughly 200 members hail from urban as opposed to rural areas, something Damigo attributed to greater racial diversity in cities.
“You may have like a white-presenting Latino family down the street, or some Asian here or there, but they have no real experience with multiracialism and multiculturalism,” he said of people in rural areas.
Damigo identifies himself as part of the “alt-right,” a movement rooted in beliefs traditionally associated with white supremacy.
Many in the alt-right, including Damigo, support President-elect Donald Trump’s hardline stances on immigration, something they see as an avenue for preserving a white-European majority in the U.S.
In recent weeks, Damigo has been profiled in both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. A video interview he did with The Young Turks, a left-leaning web-based news organization, has accumulated more than 280,000 views on YouTube since it was released last week.
Damigo and his group traveled to Washington, D.C., about two weeks after the election for a conference hosted by the National Policy Institute, an alt-right white supremacist think tank.
The conference made headlines when keynote speaker Richard B. Spencer, one of the movement’s leaders, declared “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!” and some in the crowd raised their arms in salute.
Similar to many of the outright racist and purposefully offensive memes spread by the alt-right on Internet message boards, Damigo said the salutes and Spencer’s statement were nothing more than an “edgy” joke in reaction to how many label them as neo-Nazis.
“He did something that was a little edgy, obviously a little goofy, and some supplied with salutes,” he said. “It was just something that was funny.”
Damigo said he doesn’t consider himself a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, but he doesn’t so much mind the bad publicity either.
“The worst death in politics is being ignored and being irrelevant,” he said. “I can guarantee you that six months from now, we will have people applying to our organization (because of the video of Spencer).”
One of the cornerstone’s of Damigo’s philosophy is that diversity, specifically racial and religious, only leads to increased political polarization and disconnect.
To preserve European American culture, Damigo believes the U.S. should take a net-neutral approach to immigration and adopt policies to assist with “re-migration” for ethnic-minority groups.
“If I were in a society that was traditionally built and constructed by another racial group and they said, ‘Multiracialism is causing problems and conflict, why don’t we find a way to back away from this?’ I would be respectful of that,” he said.
“I would say, ‘That’s cool ... Can I get some help maybe transitioning or getting a passport for people like me?’ I would hope that I would have that intellectual honesty.”
Damigo said he came to adopting these views over a long period. He grew up in San Jose and served two tours in Iraq, where he said he witnessed bloody conflicts over multicultural tensions firsthand.
According to published reports, Damigo spent a year in jail and four years in prison for robbing a taxi driver at gunpoint in 2007.
“I was having lots of issues, diagnosed with PTSD and I flipped out on a guy,” he said. “It’s something I wish would have never happened. I took some of his stuff and it just wasn’t me. It just wasn’t who I was.”
Damigo was released in 2014 and helped form a group called the National Youth Front that was classified as a hate group by organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League.
The group disbanded amid internal conflicts over differing visions, Damigo said.
As opposed to the skinhead image traditionally associated with neo-Nazi groups, Damigo and many others in the alt-right opt for a more clean-cropped look that’s shaved on the sides and slicked back on top.
Damigo said the common look is no coincidence.
“If we want to propose a radical view that’s different, clean cut and normal is the only way to be radical these days,” he said. “We want to show people that we can provide a better world for them than the one that’s being provided by leaders today.”
Local law enforcement authorities say they generally keep tabs on extremist groups operating in the area when they become aware of them, but none were familiar with Damigo or Identity Evropa.
Tuolumne County Sheriff Jim Mele said his department doesn’t have anyone on their radar in regards to white supremacists.
“We have a terrorist liaison officer that meets with the FBI regularly,” he said. “We don’t have any information on groups or organizations here in Tuolumne County.”
Sonora Police Lt. Turu Vanderwiel, who has worked in local law enforcement agencies for 18 years, said he knew of some people who claimed white supremacy in the past. However, he hasn’t been aware of that sort of activity in the area for “quite some time.”
Vanderwiel said sometimes you run into someone who claims to be a skinhead or a member of the Nortenos, a Mexican-American street gang, but that doesn’t mean there are those organized groups operating in the city.
“We would want to be aware of any group that may create some kind of attention in the community that would lead to a violent response, but we’re not tracking anyone in particular at this point,” he said.