A week and a half after Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Jason Reza Jorjani took the stage at a white supremacist conference in Washington, D.C. Richard Spencer gave him an awkward hug and pat on the back before he shuffled to the podium and spoke into the microphone.
“In light of the outcome of the recent election, in which I think the rise of the ‘alt-right’ was the decisive factor,” Jorjani said, “it is especially meaningful for me to be here with you as the leader of what is frankly the most significant press in the ‘alt-right.’”
Jorjani and Spencer had not met in person until that November weekend at the conference, hosted by the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist “think tank.” The weekend was spiked with occasional Nazi salutes. Just the month before, Jorjani had become the editor-in-chief of Arktos Media, a publishing imprint for some of the most canonical texts of the far right. They soon combined forces in a shared office in a spacious loft in Alexandria, Virginia. To end any confusion over what the “alt-right” movement stood for and who its leaders were, Spencer, Jorjani, and Arktos chief executive Daniel Friberg launched the AltRight Corporation.
But as quickly as Jorjani rose within the far right’s ranks, so too did he fall. A year ago, the “alt-right” was in a campaign to rebrand white supremacy as an intellectually sophisticated movement, backed by a troll army. Yet in 2017, the far right saw its most publicly violent year full of street protests. Spencer himself seemed to have traded his glossy “think tank” networking events, like the one Jorjani appeared at, for white supremacist rallies. Spencer’s “college tour” began in 2016, according to Spencer, as a project of “intellectual activity” — but it frequently served to provide opportunity for his followers to publicly gather and shout “white power,” throw Nazi salutes into the air, and engage in violent battles with counterprotesters.
In their earlier days, Jorjani and his business partners had tried to perfume their brownshirt musings as a style of opposition intellectualism worthy of fair debate in the public sphere. When I first met Jorjani in December 2016, at the height of his rise in the far right, he proudly told me, “What happened is that a hyperintellectual, vanguardist movement used a U.S. presidential election to advance its agenda.” Over a plate of fesenjan, an Iranian stewed meat dish, and jeweled rice, he added, “The ‘alt-right’ doesn’t work for Donald Trump, it doesn’t work for the Republican Party, it doesn’t work for masses of Republican voters, and it certainly doesn’t work for evangelical Republicans.”
An Iranian-American like Jorjani might seem to be an unusual figure to join the leadership of a white nationalist movement. But more than a year after joining forces with Spencer, Jorjani is now trying to distance himself from a movement that, by his own account, he helped design. It raises intriguing questions: The facade of white supremacist intellectualism has been steadily crumbling, but just how did this happen? And what’s next?
“I didn’t put that there,” Jorjani said when I first visited him in December 2016, pointing to an American flag sticker on the door of his Upper West Side, Manhattan apartment. “It was probably some scared Muslim guy after 9/11.”
He smiled and shrugged, his teeth gapped and his hair combed back in a fluffy, slightly thinned pompadour. He looked younger than his 36 years. Were it not for a gently sloping paunch under his black turtleneck, he’d have the appearance of an adolescent playing an adult in a wool coat and professorial attire.
He is no meme warrior: He stays away from far-right code words like “cuck” or “libtard”; his presence on Twitter is minimal. Above his bookshelf is a version of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” illustrated by Gustave Doré.
Jorjani fancies himself a gentleman and has a cloyingly sentimental view of women. They are to be treated with “respect,” he says, but my experience of his “chivalry” was claustrophobia-inducing. During our interviews, for example, he insisted on paying for my dinners so forcefully that, during my multiple attempts to explain that journalists are not supposed to receive remuneration from sources, he screamed at me. “This is not a discussion! You can print that!” he yelled.
Sitting in his living room, he offered to show me his private art collection: a Facebook album dedicated to his own works, as well as 226 other works of art he has gathered from the internet. The album is a mix of sexy sci-fi pulp; Surrealism; Italian Futurism; comic book hellscapes; paintings by Franz von Stuck, Hitler’s beloved painter; and several suggestive photographs of prepubescent girls taken by Jock Sturges, whose equipment and negatives were confiscated by the FBI.
One drawing in the collection, by Frank Frazetta, can only be described as space babes fighting in space. Their fleshy forms jut out at fantastical angles that defy the figures of actual humans.
“It’s space Amazons,” he said. “I think we should have a world of space Amazons.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“They should be the ones that annihilate the last remnants of Islam,” he replied.
Clicking through Jorjani’s album, I came across an image of a woman staring from underneath a niqab, her eyes intensely burning.
“Oh, I thought those eyes were incredible,” Jorjani mused. “To me it evokes the history of, you know, the kind of tortured life full of rage and shattered glass that’s inside of a woman who becomes a jihadi, or who joins that cause.”
After Trump took the oath of office in 2017, Jorjani continued to enthusiastically promote his “alt-right” project and insisted on its influence within the White House. In February 2017, he told me that the movement would begin a lobbying campaign and and work on influencing the Trump administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
In the months before the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, which Spencer and other partners in the AltRight Corporation attended, Jorjani’s alliance with far-right leaders began to crack. Just days after James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into peaceful protesters, leaving at least 19 injured and Heather Heyer dead, Jorjani resigned from the AltRight Corporation in a blog post. He did not mention the violence in Charlottesville in the post about his decision. Rather, he wrote that he was leaving to focus on an Iranian nationalist project that would “form the nucleus of a new regime, before rootless globalists and their Islamist pawns succeed in steering the collapse of the Islamic Republic in a direction that further erodes Iran’s territorial integrity and aborts its cultural rebirth.”
After his departure from the movement, Jorjani gained attention for comments he made to an undercover activist with the anti-racist organization Hope Not Hate, in a video published by the New York Times. In the footage, he implies that the “alt-right” movement would end in “concentration camps and expulsions and war”; with the wave of a hand, he said that it would come “at the cost of a few hundred million people.” He added that, “We will have a Europe in 2050 where the bank notes have Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great.” After the video became public, Jorjani was placed on administrative leave from New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he had a teaching position. He claims that the quotes were libelous and the tape deceptively edited.
Jorjani and I met again after the video was published. He insisted he wasn’t racist and pointed to what he said was his admiration for European Jews’ place in the “Indo-European tradition,” as well as his tolerance for black Iranians who were brought from Africa as slaves during the Persian Empire. As proof that he is not a “neo-Nazi genocidal maniac,” he handed me his second book, with chapter titles like “The Third World War,” “The Neo-Eugenic World State,” and “Aryan Imperium (Iran-Shahr).” He insisted that his vision of an Indo-European world was vastly divorced from Spencer’s atomizing white nationalism. “I am a globalist!” he exclaimed — merely one whose vision of the world is cleansed of Islam.
It is not clear who Jorjani even considers Muslim. In his mind, Bosnia’s Muslims are Slavs who can be “easily excavated” from their religion. On the other hand, he believes hard-line Saudi Arabia and its inhabitants should be swallowed in a sea of flames to leave “a glass parking lot” on top of the desert. He has written that Iran’s “pre-Arab and pre-Mongol genetic character” would need to be restored through “embryo selection and genetic engineering” in order to “Make Iran Great Again.”
Jorjani has a lot of fantastical ideas. In our earliest conversations, he expressed conspiratorial visions of the “deep state.” As if it were undisputable fact, he casually mentioned his belief that insect drones are currently in use by the NSA, surveilling us from mundane cracks and crawling under doors. In later conversations, he told me that private intelligence operatives promised him massive funds to take over the “alt-right” (a claim that could not be verified by The Intercept). In the New York Times video, Jorjani also claimed that Steve Bannon, Trump’s now-ousted chief strategist, was to be the “interface” between the AltRight Corporation and the White House.
Jorjani was born in New York City to a family of prestige and means. While his mother comes from a working-class family of “northern European heritage,” he says his father is from a branch of the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Iran before the last ruling family, Pahlavi, prior to the 1979 revolution. Jorjani says his father had “incidental communications” with the shah, performing in his palace with the rock band he formed as a teenager. Despite this lineage, Jorjani claims that “none of the wealth remained.”
He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, and his Iranian passport describes him as “Shia Muslim,” though he hates Islam and doesn’t consider himself Muslim. Jorjani is also, by his own admission, a product of the American elite; he attended the Dalton School, one of the most exclusive private schools on the Upper East Side in New York City.
After high school, Jorjani accepted a spot at Fordham University and transferred to New York University a year later. He frequently drifted to the extremes of thought, drawn to fringe science and taboo politics that were mocked by his academic peers. His master’s thesis was about how Islam, in his view, brings out the tension between democracy and universal human rights. “If you have an unqualified human right to freedom of religion, and you have an unqualified universal human right to democratic government — both of which you find in the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] — then it is perfectly legitimate for the majority of a country to elect a theocratic Muslim government,” he said to me in an explanation of his thesis. That government, he continued, “on the basis of the Quran, legitimately can say that freedom of religion should be banned. … You can use these loopholes to undermine the whole framework of universal human rights.”
Jorjani likes to speak elliptically, making wide and often demonstrably false academic claims. Some are absurd, like his belief that the pyramids in the lost city of Atlantis were built through collective psychokinesis, while other inaccuracies are perhaps imperceptible to the untrained.
Following Jorjani’s appearance at Spencer’s conference in Washington, a small controversy emerged about the dissertation Jorjani had written for his Ph.D. at the State University of New York-Stony Brook. An academic blog published a post on the controversy, and in a long comment, Thomas Davies, a Ph.D. student in classics at Princeton, picked apart Jorjani’s work. Jorjani bases an entire argument on the belief that the name of Norse god Tyr is a linguistic cousin to “tir”, the Persian word for “arrow”; in fact, according to Davies, “Tyr” is from a proto-Indo-European word for “god,” while “tir” comes from “tigra,” the Old Persian word for “pointy.” The similarities in sound may be convincing to a novice, but not to anyone trained in linguistics, Davies wrote.
“Jorjani’s errors aren’t just differences in interpretation or viewpoint. His versions of ‘history’ and ‘linguistics’ stand to actual history and linguistics as alchemy stands to chemistry,” Davies told me in a follow-up email.
But Jorjani thinks of his embrace of debunked ideas as a mark of intellectual bravery, a type of iconoclasm befitting what he sees as his considerable intellect. He channeled his education in an unusual direction — a seemingly endless stream of pseudoscience and pseudohistory, which he has used to give authoritative weight to the racism of the far right. In particular, he champions a questionable version of Iranian history that is promoted by Iranian nationalists: that prior to the Islamic conquest of Persia in 651 A.D., Iran was an Aryan civilization. Invoking the idea of a “white genocide” with the fall of the Persian Empire, he provided a historical justification for the far right’s obsession with racial purity and its hatred of nonwhite immigration. For Jorjani, what he believes happened in Persia thousands of years ago — a white civilization overcome by a horde of nonwhites — was a taste of what could happen now. However, his version of Iranian history is condemned by scholars of both Islamic studies and ancient Iranian history.
“Nearly everything allegedly glorious about Islam was parasitically appropriated by Arabs and Turks from the Caucasian civilization of greater Iran,” Jorjani told the crowd in Washington, calling the fall of the Persian Empire the “first and greatest white genocide.” The crowd hooted in approval.
In 2015, Jorjani stumbled into the far right, he says.
He needed to find a publisher for his book “Prometheus and Atlas,” so he Googled the term “archeofuturist,” which he thought was an original phrase that described his work. He found that an Arktos-published writer had beat him to the term, but he also realized that Arktos might be interested in publishing his book — and that’s what happened. The book was well-received in extremist circles. A review on the website of the white nationalist publishing house Counter Currents compares it to “Moby Dick,” and anoints Jorjani as the movement’s “‘pagan harpooner’ folded in the flag of Ahab.”
The book is paranoid and conspiratorial. In it, Jorjani writes that humanity is on the brink of uncovering psychic abilities like telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. Because of this, he has told me in conversations, humans must create a perfect “trust society,” which essentially comes down to racial homogeneity.
Jorjani’s historical myths, in their superficial erudition and world-historical vision, have been tantalizing to a far right that has been eager to legitimize itself by shedding racist signifiers. In place of the militarized and brutish skinhead look, there is the “fashy haircut” and suits that Spencer prefers. In place of (or in addition to) crude recruiting pamphlets, there are publishing houses, jargon-filled blog screeds, and flimsy science designed to confirm racist hypotheses as perennial fact. They appeal primarily to those who wish to legitimize their bottom-basement impulses with a decor of faux academic sensibility.
Yet ultimately, his journey to the top of the far right didn’t work out. “I watched the corporation that was my brainchild turn into a magnet for white trash,” he wrote on his personal blog, and he lamented the trolling he received for his posts on altright.com, the corporation’s website. “‘Iranians is brown poo-poo people’ kind of sums it up,” he wrote.
This turn should come as little surprise — the “alt-right” was never as intellectually coherent as Jorjani and others tried to make it out to be; among other things, it just relied on old ideas of white supremacy made modern with some frog memes. But what Jorjani’s evolution demonstrates is that in 2018 and beyond, the “alt-right” and its leaders will likely show little concern for the kind of decorum Jorjani represented as a self-described “intellectual.” Indeed, following a paltry student turnout at Spencer’s most recent appearance at Michigan State University on March 5, he announced that he will stop publicizing his campus drop-ins and will seek new strategies of public engagement. The “alt-right” — a euphemism for white supremacy with violence at its core — simply doesn’t need to pretend anymore.
So, who is Jason Jorjani?
“I am a utopianist,” he told me, slapping the table in the Iranian restaurant back in December 2016.
I mentioned a quote from the Czech-French author Milan Kundera, after his exile from his Czech homeland: “Hell is already contained in the dream of paradise…”
“I agree!” Jorjani interrupted, missing the rest of the quote. “I believe we should go through those hells and keep striving for the paradise. The deepest depths and the greatest heights.”
“But doesn’t that also come with incredible terror?” I asked.
“Yes it does. Beauty and terror are inextricable. You can’t have one without the other. If you want to strive for true beauty, you do have to confront terror.”
“It sounds like a world of rainbows and flames.”
“Yeah, and that’s where I think this movement is headed,” he said with a conciliatory sigh, his knuckles rapping on the table. “And if anyone tells you otherwise, they don’t understand it. … They think it’s a fad or something. But actually, that’s where it is going.”
“That’s a very scary thing,” I said.
“Beauty and terror,” he was quick to reply.