The White-Nationalist Great Fear

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A century ago, the nation was wracked by race wars known as the “Red Summer” of 1919.  Today, race wars are resurging, but implemented not by gangs or groups as in the early-20thcentury but by isolated — and heavily armed – individuals who share a common white-nationalist ideology.

During much of the late-1910s and early-20s, gangs of white nationalists inflicted their racist vengeance upon both African-Americans and Mexicans/Mexican-Americans in race wars the scale of which the nation has never seen since.

In distinction, the urban uprisings of the 1960s, often precipitated by racial conflicts and dubbed “race riots”, were popular rebellions within mostly African-American communities suppressed not by white racists but by the state (e.g., National Guard, federal troops and/or local law-enforcement).

Today, mass shootings are an all-American epidemic with 297 episodes reported so far this year. Among these killings, many have been committed by individuals who share a common rightwing, white-nationalist ideology. They target a broad range of what they claim to be “non-white” populations, including Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims and other minority people.  These attacks represent more than isolated lone-wolf actions but a growing and significant threat.  They express what can best be conceived as a white nationalist “great fear,” one that prefigures a fascist insurgency.


On July 28th, 19-year-old Santino William Legan, armed with a WASR-10 semi-automatic rifle, killed three people and wounded 13 others at the Gilroy (CA) Garlic Festival.

The August 3rd shooting in El Paso (TX) was perpetrated by Patrick Crusius, 21-years-old white male from Allen (TX).  He singled out shoppers at the Walmart Supercenter near the Cielo Vista Mall on the city’s east side because it drew both local, Mexican-American and Mexican shoppers. Armed with an AK-47, he killed 22 people and injured 24 others.

Both Legan and Crusius were not simply armed with high-power weapons but with elements of an increasingly common ideology or belief system that meant more than inflicting pain on their targeted subjects.  The killers sought to inflict terror as a way to protest their fears about the changing character of American society.

Legan is reported to have a prepared a “target list” consisting of religious institutions and political groups of both parties as well as federal buildings and courthouses.  He supposed uttered, “Ayyy garlic festival time. Come get wasted on overpriced shit,” and then went on his shooting spree.

Just prior to his attack, Crusius published a detailed manifesto on 8Chan, the recently closed-down “free speech” website for ultra-right-wing ranters. His statement is coherently organized into key sections that include “About Me,” “Economic Reasons,” “Gear,” “Reaction” and “Personal Reasons and Thoughts.”

Crusiusclearly states the rationale for his action, invoking Pres. Trump’s accusatory language: “This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas. They are the instigators, not me. I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by an invasion.”

He goes on to detail his grievances, grievance shared by many on both the right and left:

In short, America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seem to be nearly impossible. The inconvenient truth is that our leaders, both Democrat AND Republican, have been failing us for decades. They are either complacent or involved in one of the biggest betrayals of the American public in our history. The takeover of theUnited States government by unchecked corporations.

My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist. The job of my dreams will likely be automated. Hispanics will take control of the local and state government of my beloved Texas, changing policy to better suit their needs.

Crusius concludes, warning: “My death is likely inevitable. If I’m not killed bythe police, then I’ll probably be gunned down by one of the invaders. Capture in this case if far worse than dying during the shooting because I’ll get the death penalty anyway. Worse still is that I would live knowing that my family despises me. This is why I’m not going to surrender even if I run out of ammo.”

He peacefully surrendered to the police.


This summer’s white-nationalist shootings are taking place a century after the Red Summer of 1919.  That earlier era was marked by industrialization, the Mexican Revolution (1910), WW-I and the Great Migration (1917 to 1921). It also witnessed widespread attacks by whites against Mexicans/Mexican-Americans and African-Americans.

The anti-Mexican wars played out from 1910 thru 1920, fueled by the revolution and longstanding fears and prejudices that fostered violence and vigilantism.It began in Thorndale (TX) on June 19, 1911, when a group of white men attacked a 14-year-old Mexican youth, Antonio Gómez.  According to one account, “As a crowd closed in around Gómez, he defended himself and fatally stabbed the man striking him. Enraged that Gómez’s age made his legal execution impossible, a mob decided to lynch him after first dragging him through the streets by a chain fastened around the boy’s neck.”

The AP reports that “in towns, villages and cities in the West, Mexican Americans were subject to torture, lynchings and other violence at the hands of white mobs and law enforcement agencies such as the Texas Rangers.”  It adds, “Historians say that from 1910 to 1920, an estimated 5,000 people of Mexican descent were killed or vanished in the U.S.”

James Weldon Johnson, the Harlem Renaissance writer, dubbed the race riots of the summer of 1919, “Red Summer,” due to all the black blood that flowed.  The “Red Summer” began years before 1919.  Tensions mounted in the aftermath of WW-I as returning white soldiers confronted labor competition from recently-arrived blacks from the South and riots took place in 26 cities across the country, from Washington, DC, Chicago, and East St. Louis (IL) to Omaha (NB), Knoxville (TN), Longview and Houston (TX), Phillips County (AK), Charleston (SC)and Tulsa (OK).

In August ’17, a riot took place in Houston when two white policemen entered the home of a black woman, seized, beat and arrested her for no apparent reason.  A black U.S. soldier who was passing by tried to determine what was happening and was similarly assaulted and arrested.  Later in the day, a fellow black soldier went to the police station to free his friend and he was also beaten and arrested.  This led to 156 black soldiers –- from the all-black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, stationed at nearby Camp Logan — to march on the city.  And they came armed to the teeth.  This precipitated a race riot in which 20 people were killed, including four soldiers and four policemen.  After the soldiers were disarmed, they were court marshaled and 13 were hung.

In May 1919, a race riot broke out East St. Louis precipitated by the hiring of some 500 African-Americans to breaka strike by white workers at the Aluminum Ore Company.  The initial riot saw white mobs attack blacks throughout the city, including pulling them from trolley and beating them; the governor called in the National Guard to reestablish order.  A second outbreak followed in July when whites again attacked blacks, including women and children; the victims of the violence were beaten, shot and lynched, and black homes and businesses were burned.

In Chicago on July 29, 1919, a group of black youths, including 17-year-old Eugene Williams, were on a raft that inadvertently drifted over the invisible line that separated the black and white sections of the 29th Street Beach. One white beachgoer, insulted, began throwing rocks at the black kids. Williams slipped off his raft and drowned.A week of riots followed, with 38 people killed and more than 500 injured.

The Tulsa, OK, riot of 1921 was the worst civil disturbance of Red Summer. African-American residents, especially in the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, were set upon by whites, their homes and businesses burned and looted.  The state National Guard was called in and an estimated 6,000 blacks were arrested, and Greenwood was destroyed.  The first “official” inquiry claimed 26 blacks and 10 whites died in the riot; however, a 2000 Tulsa Race Riot Commission report estimated that 300 people died.


One can only wonder if Crusius and Legan knew about the Red Summer and the long, long history of racial prejudice that defines American history.  Their thinking seems similar to that of the 2015 attacks by Dylann Roof, who killed eight African-American parishioners in a Charleston, SC, church, and Robert Lewis Dear, who fired on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, that left a police officer and two others dead.  Their thinking seems inspired less by U.S. history than by the ideology of racial nationalists like Richard Spencer.

Spencer articulated his racial nationalism in “The Charlottesville Statement” of August 11, 2017, to coincide with the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.  In it, he argued: “Race is real. Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” And goes on to argue: “’White’ is shorthand for a worldwide constellation of peoples, each of which is derived from the Indo-European race, often called Aryan. ‘European’ refers to a core stock—Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Latin, Nordic, and Slavic—from which related cultures and a shared civilization sprang.”

Spencer insisted:

The founding population of the United States was primarily Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. By the Great War, a coherent American nation emerged that was European and Christian. Other races inhabited the continent and were often set in conflict or subservience to Whites. Whites alone defined America as a European society and political order.

He, along with other race-nationalists, championed “the ideal of a white ethno-state — and it is an ideal — is something that I think we should think about in the sense of what could come after America.”  He also declared, “We [white people] conquered this continent. … Whether it’s nice to say or not, we won and we got to define what America means and we got to define what this continent means.”  He warned, “America, at the end of the day, belongs to white men.”

Spencer and other race-nationalists reject any information that does not validate their belief in “white” superiority.  They argue that multiracial or multicultural societies are inherently less stable than mono-racial ones.  They insist that America’s worst days are yet to come as the country’s demographic make-up continues to morph.  Many race-nationalistsclaim that racial tensions lead to social instability and an increase in crime, pointing to inner-city [i.e., African-American] neighborhoods while ignoring the opioid crisis gripping rural and small-town white America.

More troubling, many self-proclaimed race-nationalists are dropping the swastika for khakis and organizing to promote race-based political activity.  Their efforts range from the militant actions in Charlottesville to those who seek to form groups modeled after the NAACP.  Some go further and call for white people to be allowed to live separately from non-whites, including in an all-white state modeled on the apartheid state of Israel.

At the heart of their racist ideology is a belief in what is broadly known as the “Great Replacement,” an insistence – fear! – that“white” people are at risk of being wiped out through migration, race inter-mixing and violence. This so-called theory originated in France in the 1970s and gained popularity through popular fiction and some dubious “scholarly” works.  One study found that, between 2012 and 2019, 1.5 million tweets — in English, French and German — referred to the Great Replacement theory.

White skin privilege is being eclipsed, driven less by people of color (who are often poorer and suffer greater hardships) then by the policies of the – mostly white – “1 percent,” those with economic and political power.  The great post-WW-II era of prosperity is over and postmodern inequality is intensifying.  Often overlooked, the racism of white privilege continues to play a key – if unspoken – role in the repression of many white people; it keeps them blind, in denial, to the causes of their deepening immiseration.

White Americans are being, simultaneously, eclipsed and squeezed – and they know it.  Their relative proportion of the country’s population is shrinking while, for a significant and growing majority, their economic security is becoming ever-more insecure.

A century ago, wave after wave of mostly “white” European immigrants began to recast the nation’s demographic make-up.  They included Irish, Germany, Italian and Eastern Jews but also Chinese, Mexicans and Caribbean Islanders.

Often forgotten, the white gentry of a century-or-so ago were old-line WASPs who fiercely resisted this demographic realignment, going so far as arguing that the many poor European immigrants were not white, notably Irish and Jews.  Their arrival took place as U.S. economic and military prowess began to assert itself on the world stage.

Today’s new wave of immigrants is arriving from all over the globe, but especially the deeply embattled territories of Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Unfortunately, the current demographic realignment is occurring as U.S. economic prowess is being eclipsed and its military hegemony flounders.

Like a tectonic plate, the global economic reordering now underway is fostering postmodern feudalism.  The lords of America’s 21stmanner – plantation, factory, trading floor — are the new robber barons, the postmodern gentry, putting the squeeze on an ever-growing number of wage slaves.

The great fear hidden in the notion of the “Great Replacement” is that once the demographic realignment takes place, the suffering and terror that “white” people (at least in America) inflicted on those deemed “non-white” others will be inflicted on them.  The fear is that the suffering endured by Indigenous people, African slaves and (following emancipation) African-Americans, the mid-19th century Irish, Mexican-Americans, Jews (who are still not considered white) and Chinese will be executed against the proportionally ever-shrinking white population.

The great fear that guides white nationalists is that tomorrow’s white people – today’s descendants – will suffer the fate of systematic extermination, slavery, lynchings, beating, imprisonment and other crimes that they inflicted on non-white Americans.  This fear bespeaks an irrationality, a paranoia, that breads terrorists and the call for a postmodern white-nationalist fascism.

It’s unclear if the deepening sense of rage among a sizable number of “white” Americans will further metastasis.  Sadly, if the economy stumbles into a crisis like that of 2007-2009, one can expect a further spike in the number of hate groups, including by race-nationalists.  As suggested by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics survey findings, many feel that under early-21st century capitalism it is only their “white skin privilege” that keeps them from being swallowed up in the deepening social crisis.

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at; check out