Unequivocally opposing white supremacists in all their manifestations: Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and militias should be a moral reflex. Terms like “white nationalism” and “Alt-Right” are fuzzy euphemisms. Blunt clarity is required. What we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia are white supremacist domestic terrorists.
In May, the FBI warned of the rising tide of far-right extremists.
Since September 11, 2001 through the end of December 2016, white supremacist domestic terrorism have been far higher than domestic terrorism by Muslims: 74% white supremacists vs. 26% by Muslims.
Racist violence has always been essential to maintaining a system privileging white, rich men and put everyone else in a descending order, with people of color (especially African-Americans and the almost-always invisible Native Americans) at the bottom. Men in 3-piece suites, legislators, businessmen, and media benefit from violent white supremacist“shock troops”, enforcers of the racist order structuring a class system.
After Charlottesville, the easiest call is condemning Nazis. Many of our grandfathers and fathers fought in WWII. What’s often not recognized is that that includes African-Americans, Latino and Native Americans. The most decorated battalion was native-born Japanese-Americans who signed up to fight from inside U.S. concentration camps that held 120,000 Japanese-Americans (mostly citizens) from spring 1942 to April 1946.
How many Americans know that Adolph Hitler modeled his concentration camps on U.S. forced relocation of Native Americans to reservations? How known are pre-WWII American Nazi-sympathizers—including Minnesota’s own favorite son, aviator Charles Lindberg, visiting Germany in the 1930s, praising their airplanes? Minneapolis was the most anti-Semitic city in the 1930s and ’40s. Today, by every measure, Minneapolis has one of the worst racial disparities.
It shouldn’t be hard to condemn the American-made KKK—the world’s oldest, ongoing terrorist organization. Starting in 1866. KKK’s violent waves reversed free Black people’s gains during Reconstruction, established and maintained Jim Crow in the 1890s through 1960s. This wasn’t just in the South: Klan membership peaked in the 1920s at one-million with 80,000 in Detroit alone. The 1950s and ’60s Black civil rights movement faced Klan terrorism. Election of the first African-American president, white supremacist terrorist groups surged again.
Facts of history and events in Charlottesville disprove Trump’s brazen false equivalence between the white supremacists and counter-protesters. Violence has always been central to the Klan, Nazis and militias—while anti-racism has primarily been a non-violent movement. American-made white supremacist groups’ tactics have always been arson, brutal assaults, rape and murder. They’ve targeted Black people, immigrants, any religion except fundamentalist Protestants: Jews, Catholics and today Muslims face assaults, murder and attacks on their mosques;less well-known is the targeting of white anti-racist allies—termed “race traitors—- like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
The Klan, Nazis and militia came to Charlottesville armed with weapons: shields had razor-sharpen points, pop cans filled with cement, baseball bats and guns, concealed and displayed.
Antifa and anarchist youth (a minority of the counter-protesters) came with thin sticks, pepper-spray and their fists.
Friday, August 11th, the racist mob’s torch-lit march echoed Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies and Klan cross-burnings. They yelled 1920s Hitler brown-shirts’ slogan “Blood & Soil” along with anti-Jewish and anti-Black chants. This mob surrounded a Black church, filled with counter-protesters at a prayer service, trapping them inside for 30 minutes.
Saturday, August 12th, fifty peaceful clergy-members linked arms at the park’s entrance when the white supremacists attacked them. Anti-fa stepped in and as Black theologian Professor Cornel West said, “They saved our lives.”
It bears repeating that since September 11th—and increasing, since 2008—the majority of domestic terrorists are white supremacists.
Yet, Trump has eliminated federal focus on all terrorism except by Muslims—-part of a long history of ignoring far-right and white supremacist extremists.. This is yet another green light to racist violence—which continues to target Black people, immigrants (and Latinos mistaken for immigrants), and Muslims (along with Sikhs who are mistaken for Muslims). This violence that has a long history of infecting law enforcement, past and present. One of the most infamous examples was the murders of three civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner (both white) and Cheny (Black) registering Black people to vote, during Freedom Summer 1964 in Mississippi: local sheriffs who were KKK-members participated in kidnapping and murder. Like so much impunity for police, it’s rare to investigate white supremacist group membership in police departments. But, the DHS released a report on it.
Behind white supremacist violence are policies carried out by elected officials, government employees and businesses—and these policies are not in some distant past. Since the 2000 presidential election, a growing attack on voting rights, that’s already purged hundreds of thousands of legal voters from the rolls; Trump’s so-called Voter Integrity Commission continues Republican attacks on voting rights, to eliminate Democratic-leaning voters (which the Democratic Party has only weakly resisted). The 2007-8 economic meltdown had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino home-owners who Big Banks targeted for mortgage fraud and sub-prime loans—most blatantly by Wells Fargo with what they called “ghetto loans”. As Dodd-Frank is undermined (with the aim to repeal it), Wells Fargo and others are reviving fraud that stole billions in wealth from communities of color. Like Republicans, the Democratic Party is awash in campaign contributions from Big Banks and Wall Street promoting legal robbery. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reversing decades-old civil rights protections, with passive aiding and abetting by Democrats that’s colluded with policies like No Child Left Behind and for-profit charter schools. These are just three examples of policies benefiting from white supremacy violence.
Right-wing media, on the air and online, fuels white supremacist mob violence—and its silent white supporters, who call themselves “Tea Party” or “Libertarians” (in Congress’ “Freedom Caucus” mold) or simply “conservatives”. Right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh ( given air-wave access that liberals (much less the Left) can only dream of and propagandists like Ann Coulter, Dennis Prager, and many others, along with Fox TV, are the creators of actual “fake news”. Often they take their talking points from more obscure white supremacist websites, giving a megaphone to false stories, made-up statics and outright lies—that work to dehumanize and make “enemies” of people of color, immigrants, LGBT people and Muslims.
Once you term any group of people to be less than human, to be a danger, it becomes acceptable to do anything to them. History shows us the reality of this and that reality is playing out today with Donald Trump getting all his “information” from these same racist brainwashing media.
Days before Charlottesville, a mosque in a Minneapolis suburb was bombed. Luckily, no one was injured or killed. Unlike Trump, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton immediately called the attack “a dastardly act of domestic terrorism”. Trump didn’t even have the decency to call Heather Heyer’s mother until the day of her daughter’s funeral.
People defending Confederate monuments should consider this: there are no statues honoring Hitler, his generals or other Nazi officials in Germany; no parks are named for SS or Gestapo leaders . Yet, in the U.S., Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader, Confederate general and Grand Wizard of the original KKK is honored by over 32 statues , with parks and high schools named after him. General Robert E. Lee owned slaves and committed treason leading the Confederate Army. John C. Calhoun was a political architect of Southern secession and philosophical justifications for slavery. This isn’t “heritage” but, a history that should be damned as the Germans have the Third Reich.
While racists demanded continued white supremacist dominance in Charlottesville, the renamed Lee Park expressed aspirations any decent American should fully embrace: Emancipation Park.
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis independent journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism and producer/host of “Catalyst” on KFAI Radio kfai (dot) org