As white nationalism has gained prominence across the United States, former Bowdoin student Evan McLaren holds a leading role at one of the movement’s most prominent organizations, the National Policy Institute (NPI). McLaren, who attended Bowdoin for three semesters between 2003 and 2006, became Executive Director of NPI in July. He graduated from Kenyon College in 2008.
Richard Spencer, an alt-right leader who has gained significant media attention over the past several years, leads NPI as president and creative director. Spencer and NPI were central to the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, that erupted into deadly violence, and was condemned by many as a white supremacist rally. McLaren was also there: a photo published by the Intercept shows him among torch-wielding men. According to NPI’s website, it is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States and around the world.”
NPI is considered by many to be a white supremacist organization and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)—an organization widely respected for its monitoring of hate and discrimination—identifies it as a hate group. McLaren disputes these labels. He argues that they fight for a white identity in a world order that he feels is seeking to subordinate it.
“What happens when you put different groups and different identities together is that tension arises and eventually conflict arises,” McLaren said in a phone interview with the Orient. “The main thing that I express is that I want to be able to come home. What I mean by that is I would like to be able to return to a community that is white, that embraces the kind of heritage that means something to me…I want to be able to come back to a place where my racial and ethnic group feels like it belongs.”
McLaren wrote a regular opinion column for the Orient in fall 2005. In it, he described his views as a “libertarian consistently suspicious of the Left.” In one column, for example, he defended the practice of price gouging. In another, he expressed frustration with party politics that he considered “restrictive.” In yet another he criticized a state ballot initiative that would have prohibited discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, saying that anti-discrimination laws are “an intolerable assault on our property and our freedom to associate with whom we please.”
“I was beginning to develop a vocabulary and grammar when I came to Bowdoin….The people who I was around were often very resolved when it came to discussing politics, whereas I completely lacked a clue,” said McLaren. “The feel of [Bowdoin and Kenyon] was very social justice oriented, so a lot of what I was doing was attempting to figure out a way to respond to that, kind of finding my place in a dialogue that seemed to be premised on emphasizing white privilege and things like that.”
NPI was founded in 2005 and purports to be a think tank and lobbying organization, though only three reports are currently available on their website. It lost its non-profit status in March this year, before McLaren took on the position in July, and the extent of its institutional capacity is unclear.
In his role as executive director of NPI, McLaren said he works closely with Spencer to manage the organization. His duties primarily involve logistics and administrative considerations, but he has been seen alongside prominent alt-right leaders at many of the most notable recent gatherings of their movement.
“[They are] promoting Spencer’s college tour to get the word out about white nationalism and recruit college students to the cause and raise the profile…of the movement,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director at SPLC, in a phone interview with the Orient.
One such event was Spencer’s speech last week at the University of Florida in Gainesville, which incited widespread protest. Prior to the event, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency out of fear it would spur violence though ultimately little materialized. McLaren described it as a success for his organization and movement.
“It was definitely very intense; it was kind of a trial by fire,” said McLaren. “The event itself turned into a complete spectacle. People in the audience just shouted the entire time. For us, that was a big victory.”
Several of his former Bowdoin classmates the Orient reached recall McLaren’s political activities during his time at the College, but were surprised he had departed from more mainstream libertarianism he espoused in his Orient columns to embrace white nationalism.
“I talked to him [when I got to Bowdoin] and he seemed pretty innocuous.” said David Sokolow ’08. “He was in the Ron Paul camp.”
Sokolow grew up in the same area as McLaren, and had met him before attending Bowdoin but did not know him well.
While McLaren went to The Lawrenceville School, a private boarding and day school in New Jersey, for the bulk of his high school education, he also attended the public school in his home area, Camp Hill High School, for at least a short period of time. Eight Camp Hill High School alumni from 2003 and 2004, including Sokalow, wrote a letter published in PennLive in September in which they denounced McLaren’s views. They said that he doesn’t represent their town.
“It’s definitely a conservative place, but most people are disgusted by him,” said Sokolow.
As a prominent Bowdoin alumnus leading a movement diametrically opposed to McLaren’s, Deray McKesson ’07, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed concern over his classmate’s entry into white nationalist politics. The two encountered one another over the summer shortly after McLaren accepted his new position at NPI.
“We had a good conversation then he let me know he was working with Spencer,” said McKesson in an interview with the Orient via text message. “We disagreed about the damage that work would cause and the disagreement ended our conversation.”
NPI and the broader white nationalist movement take issue with the idea of multiculturalism and the many policies that seek to promote it. McLaren compared a multicultural community to the experience a person would have coming home to find strangers claiming to be his or her parents.
“[If] there were all these strange people, regardless of their racial makeup, who I didn’t recognize who were just there in the house behaving as if it were theirs, that would be kind of like a horror movie scenario,” he said.
Instead, NPI advocates for ethnically homogenous communities.
“The ultimate ideal that someone like Spencer has articulated is this [idea] of the ethnostate. That would be a sort of political order that was meant for white peoples…Richard’s inspiration is something like imperial Rome, so I think if you ask him he would envision a white empire that would extend from Russia to the United States,” he said.
Student leaders at Bowdoin rejected these views.
“This kind of hate has no place here at Bowdoin,” said Vice President for Student Government Affairs Ben Painter ’19 in an email to the Orient. “I am genuinely surprised that he left Bowdoin [and] Kenyon with those ideas and that kind of logic still intact.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled David Sokolow’s name as Sokalow.