The White Power Movement From Reagan to Trump

From The Nation:

Kathleen Belew explains the links among “lone wolf” white supremacist attacks like those in Charleston, Christchurch, and El Paso.

By Jon Wiener
September 4, 2019

Jon Wiener: El Paso, Charleston, Charlottesville: All the attackers we’re talking about have been described as loners. You say they are all connected. How?

Kathleen Belew: We’re talking here about the White Power movement, a coalition that includes Klan groups, neo-Nazi groups, skinheads, and other activists. They came together in a movement in the late 1970s in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. One of their key tactics was a thing called leaderless resistance—a few people work in a cell without direct communication with other cells and without direct orders from leadership. This strategy was implemented to stymie infiltration efforts and prosecution. But there’s been a much larger and more damaging legacy of the strategy of leaderless resistance: It has effectively erased this entire movement as a movement, so what we see instead are a series of stories about lone wolf attackers, acts of violence that are inexplicable and unrelated to each other. We get narratives about mental illness or personal animus, and we miss the very political, very deliberate meaning of this violence, which comes from understanding it as interconnected.

JW: What is the larger goal of all the attackers in these terrorist incidents?

KB: Within this movement the end goal is not the act of mass violence itself. The violence is intended to awaken other white people to the cause and bring them into the movement. The goal is to incite a broader race war.

JW: But aren’t these people, the most recent ones at least, isolated loners? Dylann Roof, for example, the Charleston killer, didn’t go to meetings, as far as we know was not a member of an organization. As far as we know, neither did the accused El Paso killer.

KB: Yes—Dylann Roof didn’t have real-life connections with other activists. Nevertheless, he did have connections that meant a great deal to him in his earlier history of White Power activism. The thing that I always think of is the photograph of Roof wearing a Rhodesian flag patch. Rhodesia was a ruled by a white minority until 1979, when a revolution created the black-ruled Zimbabwe. This all happened before Dylann Roof was born. This has huge meaning within the White Power movement, and the fact that he chooses Rhodesia as an identifier when there have been so many other more recent flashpoints is a clear indicator that he is in communication with other activists and that he sees himself as part of this longer trajectory of action.

JW: These individuals are called white nationalists, but you say that the nation at the heart of white nationalism is not the United States. What is it?

KB: It’s the Aryan Nation. It’s important to call this the White Power Movement because “white nationalism” makes people think of something much less radical, some sort of overzealous patriotism or shoring up whiteness within the body politic of the United States. The Aryan Nation is an inherently radical and violent project that is fundamentally opposed to the United States.

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