Polo-wearing intellectual, or racist bigot? A look at Nathan Damigo of Oakdale

Demonstrators disrupt CSUS president's address

Demonstrators attended the fall address of CSU, Stanislaus President Ellen Junn in Turlock, Calif. They were there in response to Nathan Damigo, a white supremacist and CSUS student who was among the organizers at a protest that turned deadly in C
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Demonstrators attended the fall address of CSU, Stanislaus President Ellen Junn in Turlock, Calif. They were there in response to Nathan Damigo, a white supremacist and CSUS student who was among the organizers at a protest that turned deadly in C

Who is Nathan Damigo?

Oakdale, his adopted home, doesn’t claim the white nationalist, Mayor Pat Paul made clear at a recent peace rally.

Turlock, where the former Marine attends social studies classes at Stanislaus State University, isn’t proud of Damigo’s role as a key organizer of the infamous and deadly Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., the largest of its kind in decades.

We’re not likely to learn much about the 31-year-old from himself. He participated in an alt-right press conference just after that bloody day in Charlottesville, but since has ignored multiple requests for comment until Thursday. That’s when Identity Evropa, a white “identitarian” group founded by Damigo, finally replied to The Modesto Bee, saying, “Nathan will not be doing interviews.”

Much can be learned, however, from Damigo’s self-interviews – a series of 20 live-streamed videos he has recorded since last year’s presidential election, posted at Identity Evropa’s website. Many were recorded on his cell phone, propped up in a dashboard device as Damigo drives or hand-held as he walks around campus in Turlock or at demonstrations in Berkeley and Charlottesville.

“Race is a very powerful thing”

The alt-right movement, Damigo opines, “acknowledges at its core that race is a major part of a nation and the functionality of a nation. ... A rejection of multicultural, multiracial doctrine, globalist doctrine. And acknowledgment that race is a very powerful thing that influences and informs our decisions throughout life.”

Damigo says high rates of poverty among blacks are “simply a matter of genetics and genetic distributions,” and mocks feminism for “promoting all kinds of really disgusting, unhealthy behavior” such as “body positivity, in which women basically don’t take care of their health. They expect people just to accept them when they’re fat and sloppy and nasty.”

Racial discrimination, he says in another video streamed last month, “is really just the act of discernment. To say you can’t discriminate is to say you can’t discern between two things.” Damigo then likens race comparisons to evaluating different kinds of car or pizza, and says there are inherent race-based differences in intelligence.

The idea that discrimination is always morally wrong is completely absurd.

Nathan Damigo, Oakdale

“The idea that discrimination is always morally wrong is completely absurd,” he concludes. “Anyone saying this is saying, ‘Hey, don’t use your brain; be an idiot.’ ”

People viewing Damigo’s videos on computers send comments that pop up on the screen as he speaks. Examples include, “Hitler was right,” “Smash a leftie in the face,” and “We need to start killing Muslim immigrants.”

In another video, self-filmed in June, Damigo described members of the alt-right as “usually the most articulate, intelligent and well-groomed people.” Some recent news reports claim he shuns profanity and doesn’t want group members covered in tattoos.

That clean-cut image doesn’t square with the Nathan Damigo captured in HBO’s “Wartorn,” a 2010 documentary that explored the role of post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans.

Prison term for armed robbery

For that show, Damigo’s mother provided access to the family in San Jose, before they moved to rural Oakdale. The segment was filmed just before he was sentenced to a six-year prison term for robbing a Middle Eastern taxi cab driver in 2007, one month after the lance corporal’s return from a second tour in Iraq. The robbery – at gunpoint – netted Damigo $43.

His mother said a psychologist helped her understand that her son had been “drunk, confused, probably suicidal” when he “all of a sudden went into combat mode” and imagined it was his job to “(take) a guy down at a checkpoint in Iraq.”

In “Wartorn,” Damigo’s head was shaved, and he had a scraggly goatee. Tattoos ran up and down both arms.

“I can’t say it’s right to point a gun at somebody,” he said then, with profanity. “I know it’s wrong. I know that. But when you’re running around in Iraq pointing guns at people all day, you know, it’s not that big of a deal anymore,” Damigo said, concluding that PTSD was to blame for his crime.

These days, Damigo dresses sharply in videos. His Twitter handle is “Fashy Haircut.”

Let’s not kid ourselves; he is a hardened bigot of the worst kind.

Brian Levin, CSU San Bernardino

“Let’s not kid ourselves; he is a hardened bigot of the worst kind,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

“I don’t care what kind of shirt he wears – he lives it, he has a criminal record for it, and now he’s leading one of the up-and-coming hate groups,” said Levin, who has tracked white supremacy for three decades. “This new version of white supremacists and neo-nazis tries to maintain the veneer of a buttoned-down look. That’s more media savvy than a gutter-level, swastika-tattooed felon.”

Damigo’s transformation is calculated to appeal to white, educated young men, Levin said. Identity Evropa boasts about posters appearing on scores of college campuses throughout the United States, an effort the group calls “Project Siege.”

North Carolina recoils at white nationalist banner

Newspapers in North Carolina last week reported that a banner proclaiming “A New Dawn is Breaking – Rise and Get Active – Identity Evropa” was posted on a footbridge at Appalachian State University, and removed 20 minutes later. The campus chancellor issued a statement saying “violence, discrimination, injustice and racism” would not be tolerated, and more than 200 students attended a “response meeting” hosted by student government.

Do Turlock or Oakdale have reason to fear? Informal spot checks in both places suggest that very few know Damigo, although many have heard about him.

“There are a couple of dimensions with regard to prominent hate mongers,” Levin said. “Some lay low because they don’t like to defecate where they live. Others, because of new-found celebrity, end up having informal gatherings of followers show up. It could be both.”

Dave Martin said pickups, with confederate flags and white supremacy banners flapping, have been spotted on Oakdale streets. Young men with nazi-themed tattoos appeared in an Oakdale store, he and others said.

“It’s not fun, trying to explain that to a 5-year-old,” Martin said.

We encourage members of the community, when they see anything concerning, to contact us immediately so we can be aware and determine what it is.

Scott Heller, Oakdale police chief

There is a difference between constitutionally protected free speech, including clothing and regalia, and hate crimes – none of which have been reported in Oakdale in the past two years, Police Chief Scott Heller said.

“We respect everyone’s right to freedom of speech,” Heller said. “When that crosses a line and becomes actions of hate and violence, we will hold those folks accountable.”

Some have urged Stanislaus State to expel Damigo, including posters held up when a small group of students briefly interrupted University President Ellen Junn as she delivered a welcome-back address last week. She refused to discuss Damigo, citing confidentiality laws.

Face-punch video goes viral

A campus petition denouncing Damigo was posted online in April, after a video went viral showing him flooring a young woman with a blow to the face during a clash in Berkeley. As of Friday, 579 people had signed the petition.

His activism “is a threat, and as long as he is given a platform lending some legitimacy, it’s going to continue to grow,” said Anthony Castillo, founder of Our Revolution Turlock. The group helped organize last week’s protest at the university; Castillo, a lifelong Turlock resident, graduated from the university in 2010.

They’re using (free speech) to espouse genocide, to intimidate and to remind people of the ugliest parts of American history.

Anthony Castillo, Turlock

White nationalist rallies take advantage of free-speech protection, Castillo said. “They’re using it to espouse genocide, to intimidate and to remind people of the ugliest parts of American history.”

Levin thinks white nationalist groups, including Identity Evropa, significantly exaggerate membership claims to make it look like they’re more popular than they really are. But it’s clear, he said, that Identity Evropa – which Damigo registered using his family’s Oakdale address – is gaining ground, and that’s troubling because he sees provable spikes in hate crimes after key speeches, rallies and other white nationalist events.

“They do have an uncanny ability to leverage social media and news media to get their message retransmitted into the mainstream,” Levin said. “They think any coverage is good coverage, so you have to be careful. But it is a newsworthy story.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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