Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair
The “Make America Great Again” MAGA slogan is nothing new. On the evening of March 21, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson attended a screening of The Birth of a Nation. The “blockbuster” film was based on The Clansman, a novel written by Wilson’s good friend Thomas Dixon. As in the novel, the film presented a resurgent view of the South and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. Wilson endorsed the film wholeheartedly, only to embolden a KKK white nationalist reign of terror on African Americans. The Klan created a shibboleth to accompany their resurgence and terrorism: “Make America Great Again.”
Ronald Reagan and the Republicans used the theme successfully throughout Reagan’s presidency. Decades later Tea Party Patriots, white nationalists, the alt-right and conservative Republicans proclaim the same MAGA. Only this time the invocation conveys more of an urgency and vitriol. They fear the growth of multiculturalism, socialism and leftists and a country the white majority is becoming a minority.
The leader of the emergent white nationalist movement, the one who gives voice to their fears, is none other than the “billionaire” and star of the reality show The Apprentice, Donald Trump, forty-fifth POTUS. With Mussolini aplomb and stand-up comedy theatrics, Trump has drawn out a subterranean cast of characters. Trump has been successful in using concepts, terms and colloquialisms easily understood by the “deplorables.” In fact, it appears that they enjoy each other’s company and Trump’s political rallies. They have become a fun fest of character assignation and blatant lies about political rivals and their “ridiculous” policy positions.
Trump, acting as a CEO Master of Ceremonies, salutes his “loyal” assistants in the context of “doing a good” and then turns on former assistants, usually if they snipe publicly at Trump. While at rallies Trump has people in the crowd stand for ovations when they participate extemporaneously with favorable shouts. He is at this best when he departs from script to lampoon a political rival. Sometimes his is blunt in his criticism when he describes former security advisor, John Bolton, an idiot.
For those at rallies who have showered affection on Trump, when his fan base shouts “I love you” Trump responds in kind, “I love you more.” On the other hand, during his campaigns in 2016 and 2020, Trump had no problem telling people at his rallies to shut up hecklers, or punch them in the mouth, and he would pay their legal fees. Most importantly, Trump knows that as ringmaster of his own circus, media ratings will be high with such theatrics which translates into political exposure and advertising from big business.
However, with Trump’s recent Covid revelation, and stock market drop, the jury is out on whether or not the media industrial complex will pull the plug on Trump. Revenues from advertising may decline if viewers show displeasure looking at a Covid president on the big screen in their houses. Clearly Trump’s right-wing big show has been profitable for business according to a November 18, 2019 article in Fortune Magazine, by Alan Murray and David Meyer, all of this is in terms of GDP growth. But while productivity of an economy is one thing, wages and purchasing power is another. Yet Trump s able to “sell” the public on a good economy even though the Fed has been bailing out the multinationals by the trillions of dollars.
Underneath this sham is a personality likened to the megalomaniacs of 20th century Germany, Italy and Spain. This makes no difference to Trump’s followers; they are energized and entertained by Trump’s comical remarks, reminders of his multi-billion dollar “success,” and his lampooning of political rivals in both parties – Low Energy Jeb (Jeb Bush), Lyin Ted Cruz, Crooked Hilary Clinton, Wild Bill Clinton, Little Marco Rubio, Crazy Bernie Sanders, Shifty Adam Schiff, Mr. Magoo (Jeff Sessions), Mini Mike (Michael Bloomberg), Fake Tough Guy (John Bolton), Nervous Nancy Pelosi and a litany for Sleepy Joe Biden, Sleepy Creepy Joe Biden, Slow Joe Biden, Basement Biden, O’Hiden, and Joe Hiden Biden.
No one indignity is spared, not even Mike Pounce aka Mike Pence Trump’s Vice President.
Mocking insults go to the “Fake News” such as the Clinton News Network (CNN Time Warner), CON-cast (Comcast MSNBC), Amazon WaPo (Jeff Bazos owned Amazon and Washington Post), and Jeff Bazos himself as Jeff Bozo. Media personalities are also a target, Sour Don Lemon, Psycho Joe (Joe Scarborough), Wacky Glenn Beck. Television media programs are not exempt, Deface the Nation (Face the Nation), Meet the Depressed (Meet the Press) and Morning Joke (Morning Joe). Heads of State are made into cartoon characters such as Rocket Man or Little Rocket Man (Kim Jung-un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), My Favorite Dictator (Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt) and Animal Assad (Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria).
Trump is admired, for all intents and purposes, by dictators such as Turkey’s Erdogon, Russia’s Putin, Philippine’s Duterte, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA has identified as directly responsible for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi journalist and dissident. Trump’s adoring public could care the least, and have never cared even with his shady alleged criminality in real estate, taxes, relationship to Jeffrey Epstein, impeachment, and sexual manhandling of women. Nor are they concerned about his former staff indicted and sentenced, and countless turnover within his administration.
Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, though enthusiastically supportive of Trump, appears to be guarded with his praise of Trump, especially with the Presidential elections within a month.
Most interesting are conservative Christians and Catholics who not only dismiss Trump’s checkered past and present, but distort and manipulate scripturally comparisons of Trump to Cyrus the Great, a pagan Babylonian king who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon to reclaim Israel. Point being that God can carry out her/his will in the “unchurched” like Trump, in the same way that God can work through pagan kings like Cyrus the Great to free Israel from captivity and bondage. Cyrus, as their argument goes, is the archetype of the ironic “vessel” (vessel theology) in which God carries out her/his plan of salvation, despite the superficial inconsistencies.
For conservative Catholics, as long as Trump is against abortion, anything he does on a personal level or supports as public policy contrary to Catholic social teaching can be justified. Ignored in this form of ethical triumphalism, is the fact that Catholic ethics calls for its faith community to form their consciences on Church teaching (Scripture and Tradition) based on the “continuum of life” ethics. This means that no one single overarching issue should take priority over others, unless one’s conscience directs them in good faith otherwise. Nevertheless, both groups revel in the fact that with three Supreme Court picks, Trump will be able to overturn abortion and follow through on a complete list of conservative and libertarian public policies that the Right have been dreaming of for the last forty years. In all, the vessel theology for conservative Christians appears to be a scriptural form of money laundering while conservative Catholic antiabortion triumphalism appears to be a gaslighting technique, intended as a diversion from other highly import ethical concerns.
Arguably, both conservative Christians and Catholics might agree on vessel theology and the primacy of abortion in their support of Trump. This would justify their manic identity as both Christian and Republican; Democrat not being much better. Unarguably they both agree that the continuum of life issues such as – the Church’s preferential option for the poor, the avoidance of environmental extinction, the end to endless wars and global economic domination of the world (PNAC), the elevated status of the military industrial complex, the development of a Space Force, unfettered neoliberal capitalism, increased poverty in the midst of exponential wealth, elite control of government, the threat to democratic freedoms through the new surveillance state, threats to civil liberties and rights in the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, extrajudicial murders, secret FISA courts, CIA orchestrated coups in Ecuador and attempted in Venezuela, illegal and harmful economic sanctions placed on Venezuela, racial and class disparities in the criminal justice system, police lawlessness and brutality, economic devastation in all levels of education, neglect of infrastructure development in inner cities, lack of affordable housing and universal health care, capital punishment as justice, nuclear proliferation and the targeting of innocent civilians, nuclear annihilation of all known life on the planet, and the corruption of the two major political parties – are of little importance or even sadistically supported or dissented upon relative to the issues.
Yet in all of this, Trump appears to be impervious to the assaults of his political foes. He never lets on that he is bothered by them, at least not in public. Even though he is behind in the polls Trump came off like a brawler. The debate became a hoot and then into a donnybrook which included Trump, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace. Trump took on both simultaneously; Biden putting in a few swings, while Chris Wallace was unable to reign in Trump unhinged. When Biden tried to go on the offensive explaining the advantages of the Green New Deal, Trump asked if Biden supported the GND to which Biden responded in the negative. Trump’s counterpunch to Biden? You just “lost the Left.” Clearly the intensity of Trump was felt and his anger apparent, an anger that reflected a wounded animal.
After the debate the media agreed that the debate was a disaster, but nevertheless concluded that Biden was the marginal winner. Two more debates will tell more. But Trump has some help coming. If Trump can undermine voting, for example in Texas, by having governor Abbott limit ballot drop off ballots one per county as is being discussed, then Trump could very well win Texas and a huge number of electoral votes. And watch conservative governors go to work on this same strategy. Making it difficult to vote has proven to be highly successful for Republicans. Long waits in line, sometimes several hours in predominately poor districts, has proven to frustrate these voters. Suffice it to say, no Republicans in Congress have dissented from this tactic. And no Republicans have dissented at all from Trump’s usurpation of the Republican Party. The exceptions of Jeff Flake, who resigned from the Senate, and House member Justin Amash who is now a Libertarian are few and far between. Others like Bob Corker have resigned quietly. In short, Trump will not be ruled out for a second term.
None of this “feels” right, as in reading Upton Sinclair’s, It Can’t Happen Here. Sinclair writes about a fictitious 1930s America where a deceptively polite group of individuals marketing the concept of Americanism takes over the country. It parallels 1930s Nazi Germany, and for that matter, the fascist takeovers of Italy and Spain, all democracies at the time. But the It Can’t Happen Here scenario is not without actual historical context. In fact, during the 1930s a thriving Nazi Party was alive and well in the United States. Footage of a Nazi Party convention at Madison Square Garden, February 20, 1939, with 20,000 people in attendance, reveals a frightful scene of a rabid crowd, gathered under the pretense of a pro-“Americanism” rally, were automaton-like saluting allegiance to a massive image of a George Washington portrait with swastikas on each side. This is not insignificant given the zeitgeist then and the zeitgeist now. Known as the German American Bund, the pro-Hitler organization in the United States promoted Nazi propaganda, combining Nazi imagery with American patriotic history. The largely decentralized Bund, as they were self-described, was active in a number of regions, but attracted support only from a minority of German Americans. The Bund was the most influential of a number of pro-Nazi German groups in the United States in the 1930s; others included the Teutonia Society and Friends of New Germany (also known as the Hitler Club). Alongside allied groups, such as the Christian Front, these organizations were virulently antisemitic.
When Trump ran for office and was elected president there was a perception of a fascist coup and the appearance would have been cemented, had not Trump been talked down from a military parade on his inauguration. Now the perception is reality. During the debate Tuesday, Trump would not agree to a peaceful transition if he was voted out of office. The rationale was that with the mail in ballots and scattered locations to drop off ballots voter fraud would result which did not obligate him to relinquish the Office of the President, Moreover, when Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would denounce the Proud Boys, Trump instead told the Proud Boys and other alt-right groups to “stand back and standby” implying that their help might be needed. Thus, Trump refused to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and far-right groups who have responded to ongoing protests against police brutality and racial injustice, instead pinning the blame for violent clashes on the “left wing.” Antifa is just as bad even though FBI reports indicate the direct opposite as reported to congressional committees by Director Christopher Wrey. The perception of fascism is now reality. The mask is off and the façade of a democratic society has been exposed.
Most disturbing is the fictional account of the Antifascists (Antifa) as a violent leftist terrorist group. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In an internal memorandum, FBI Director Christopher Wrey, found no evidence of Antifa’s involvement in national unrest, specifically with the George Floyd protests and riots as falsely reported by The Nation, June 2, 2020. The Washington Field Office memo states that “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement” was initiated during the protests, as erroneously stated from Trump, Attorney General Barr, and various right-wing news outlets such as FOX News. On June 12, 2020, the New York Times in “Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests,” cleared Antifa and on June 22, 2020, the New York Times, “41 Cities, Many Sources: How False Antifa Rumors Spread Locally,” described how propaganda against Antifa was spread through the media community, most likely form conservative politicians and political action committees. The attempt was to falsely blame the uprising on an orchestrated group such as Antifa, according to Glenn Kirschner, former FBI, counterintelligence. Blaming a “left-wing” group was a ruse created to gaslight the public and divert attention from the “right-wing” police tactics condoned by the Trump administration.
Various media outlets and activist groups have documented the rise of alt-right white nationalist groups. The PBS News Hour, as reported by Kenya Downs (October 21, 2016), identified the growing attraction to rightist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center compiled a report, “White Nationalist,” (https://www.splcenter.org/7-15-20/), in which they report that the MAGA have attracted the alt-right such as neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, neo-Confederates, Racist-Skinheads, Christian Identity. The weirdest and most dangerous, arguably, appear to be the QAnon. They allege that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring is plotting against President Trump. They warn that a “day of reckoning” is at hand involving the mass arrest of journalists and politicians. In no uncertain terms, QAnon’s “day of reckoning” is aimed at liberals the Left, code for socialists, anarchists, antifa, and communists.
None of these rightest groups have foresworn the use of violence or vigilante tactics, nor have they ruled out the use of violence against local and federal government. The Boogaloo Bois and their movement have even called for a “Second Civil War” and the “Order of the Nine Angels,” a Satanic neo-Nazi group in England and the United States, “deifies” Adolf Hitler as the head of their Order. What has proven to be most disturbing is that hate groups have increased 55% since Trump’s campaign and presidency, noted by Jason Wilson of The Guardian, March 18, 2020.
So if the alt-right White Nationalists have surfaced within society, could it be possible that they have also emerged within the rank and file?
Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, 2018, and Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2017 argue that the eroding of human rights and civil liberties in the United States have, in effect, has transformed the United States into a quasi-fascist state, trending ever rightward. They cite policies and law such as the Patriot Act, 2001; National Defense Authorization Act, 2012, in which federal government agencies can spy and detain indefinitely suspects without signed judicial warrants or even probable cause. All of this rationalized as a result of the 9-11 event.
Expanding on their theses, Snyder and Stanley describe fascist movements, and society’s attraction to them, based on the following: economic fears, immigrant xenophobia, the need for social stability and status quo, and above all the primacy of white Western European hegemony. Change with respect to diversity, pluralism, and collectivist economic arrangements frightens some people and thus creates forms of neurosis and paranoia to which fascist politics thrives. Examples of fascism include, but are not limited to, the absolute nature of the State, a militarist charismatic leader, and the eradication of diversity and multiculturalism. This has tremendous appeal to those who become emotionally destabilized by what postmodernists describe as the other.” Moreover, a powerful dictatorial leader whose followers are drawn toward authoritarianism, is in essence the heart and soul of fascism itself.
Others such as Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) argue that fascism in Germany was based on an attraction to a mesmerizing leader who convinces followers that civil liberties and human rights have become excessive and therefore undermines social cohesion needed for the well-being if not survival of the state. The implication is that liberal democracy undermines the common good and that a constriction on democratic rights is thus justified. Arendt concludes that there is no guarantee that democracies will uphold human rights and civil liberties and that vigilance to these threats must be a permanent feature of any democratic government. Tragically, Germany’s democratic Weimar Republic, 1918 – 1933, lost sight of this vigilance. Hitler and likeminded fascists lacking any real opposition, quickly weakened the democratic institutions in Germany which then cleared the way for the Nazi Third Reich.
The rapid decline of German democracy and the Nazi assault on the democratic foundations of the Weimar Republic, then focused on Jews, Left-wing politics (labor unionists, socialists, communists, and Marxists) and various “social deviants” as the enemies of the Third Reich and Aryan race. The mastermind behind this propaganda assault was Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda for the Third Reich. Sensing the disposition of the German people, Goebbels took advantage of Germany’s humiliating loss of World War I, and Germany’s economic collapse after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 further intensified their collective humiliation. Germany was already compensating the Axis powers for WWI and with its dependence on American loans from 1924 onwards German, once a proud and wealthy country of Western Europe found itself in a psychotic downspin. Then as the loans were recalled by the United States, the economy in Germany sunk into an even deeper depression. Investment in business was reduced or eliminated completely. Wages fell by 39% from 1929 to 1932 and people once employed full-time, fell from twenty million in 1929, to over eleven million in 1933. In the same period, over 10,000 businesses closed every year and poverty increased dramatically.
Hitler and Goebbels were able to capitalize on the vulnerability of the German psyche. With the Great Depression, Goebbels was highly successful in associating the economic failure of the Great Depression with the Weimar democracy. When combined with the resulting political instability within Germany, Hitler and Goebbels’ vitriolic propaganda pushed Germans to become further disillusioned and even hostile to the Weimar Republic. Hitler was to be the unquestioned leader of the German people and purge the Aryan Nation of “parasites” such as Jews (appealing to German anti-Semitism and blaming Jews for Germany’s problems), political rivals, and the eradication of genetic aberrations form the German Aryan race.
In Hitler’s biography, Mein Kampf (1925), Hitler develops the “Jewish Doctrine of Marxism.” Hitler argued that the survival of Germany was threatened by Marxist intellectuals who were predominantly Jewish. Goebbels, seeing an opening for further promoting the cause of Nazism, gave a speech February 1926 titled “Lenin or Hitler?” in which he asserted that communism or Marxism could not save the German people and would only usher in Bolshevik tyranny such as that of Russia. In 1926, Goebbels published a pamphlet titled “Nazi-Sozi” which attempted to explain how National Socialism differed from Marxist socialism and economic collectivism. National Socialism (Keynesian social spending) would rejuvenate the German economy, not Marxist socialism which happen to be a popular alternative to the horrendous effects of the German depression. The Marxists scholars in Germany, intellectually attacked by the Nazis, were known as the Frankfurt School. They argued that Hitler and Goebbels were making a false comparison between their policy recommendation for a democratic economy, not a Bolshevik collectivist model implemented by the Soviet Union. In fact, the Frankfurt School rejected both Stalinism and Fascism.
In order to convince Germans of their superior status as a race, Goebbels insisted that Hitler promote himself as an “ubermench” or superman in his 1935 Triumph of the Will. Goebbels argued that Hitler must promote his own cause as the Fuhrerprinzip or Fuhrer (prince leader) and demonstrate the “evils” of the democratic Weimar Republic. The film would serve to denounce the legitimacy of the Weimar Republic, call for a resurgence of the German will to power, ignite passions of German patriotism and thus set the stage for a Nazi coup d’etat. The timing was perfect. With the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler as Chancellor, would step in and abolish the Office of the President and declare himself “Fuhrer.” Finally, the call to National Socialism is contrasted with propagandized “subhuman” Bolsheviks, who because of Stalinist collectivism, suffer as a nation. Marxism is therefore dismissed comically as a viable economic option. Competing collectivist economic arrangements urged by labor unionists, socialists, anarchists and Marxists would be dismissed in patronizing theatrics. With this the Weimar Republic and its democratic foundations were destroyed.
The white nationalists assert that white people are a unique race, and as such, seek to maintain its white identity or “white pride” within a majoritarian white nation such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and other white dominated countries. They believe they are being pushed aside and headed toward a minority status. Their agenda, specifically in the United States, is to support the dominance of white culture and ensure the rights of besieged white people. The assimilation of minorities into white society is therefore perceived to be a threat to the survival of the white race and its cultural heritage. Resistance to the inclusion of minorities through miscegenation, multiculturalism and immigration is axiomatic. In compounding the issue, Donald Trump endorsed white nationalists when he stated (August 15, 2017) that white nationalist demonstrators and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, North Carolina, have “very fine people on both sides.” And with Trump’s refusal to denounce David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Ku Lux Klan, Trump’s political sentiments have surfaced. The MAGA slogan, nonetheless, identifies the white nationalist vision.
The, MAGA, was adopted by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, taken straight from the Klan, and translated into Make Germany Great Again (MGGA). In fact, the MAGA has re-emerged in Germany over the past two decades with the German ‘alt-right.’ It has become a catchall phrase for a loose group of extreme right-wing individuals and organizations who promote the fascist values of white nationalism. These groups tend to exhibit at least three of the following five features: nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and a white nationalist state advocacy of white domination. In a study by Anne Applebaum, Peter Pomerantsev, Melanie Smith and Chloe Colliver, “Make Germany Great Again: Kremlin, Alt-Right and International Influences in the 2017 German Elections,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue (2017), the authors argue that the MAGA theme was established in Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the fascist doctrines set forth in The Manifesto of the Fasci of Combat (Fascist Manifesto, 1919), and further enumerated in The Doctrine of Fascism, purportedly written by Benito Mussolini, but more than likely the intellectual formulation of fascist Giovanni Gentile in 1932.
In the German context the MGGA denotes those who seek to define and defend a “true” German national identity from elements deemed to be corrupting of that identity, for example, Jews, communists, socialists, gypsies, dissident priests and ministers, union leaders and trade unionists, and those persons opposed to authoritarianism. This phenomenon has also developed in dominant white European countries including Russia. The resurgence, whatever the shibboleth, clearly has deeper roots in authoritarian and fascist traditions as argued in Theodor Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality, 1950. During and after World War II, Adorno examined the psychological causes of the development of European fascism. Adorno concluded that there was a distinct personality associated with prejudice and intolerance that led to racist and fascist policies. The “authoritarian personality” is fundamentally one that is inflexible, rigid, and intolerant of uncertainty. They reject unconventional behavior as “immature,” “inferior,” “degenerate,” or even “deviant.” Moreover, authoritarians, identify with authority figures and the power that accompanies such positions. Any anti-authoritarian behavior is perceived to be a threat to authoritarians themselves and society. As a consequence of the authoritarian mindset is one formulated upon a neurotic fear and therefore forms a reaction to dissident ideas from its own. It seeks to suppress these views and the people that possess them and their cultures an any outward expression of these differences.
In psychoanalytic terms what emerges is a form of “reaction formation” which provides a framework for which authoritarians need not question their own beliefs or values, that is, compared to that of unconventional ones. For Adorno, the authoritarian personality then “believes” that members of a minority group are inferior in relation to the authoritarian archetype, in that, failure to assimilate or comply to given standards, relative though they are, are projected on to others and viewed as defiant of the state. Difference and nonconformity translate to subversive activity and a threat to the survival of society itself. The authoritarian person and state then “react” to this defiance or deviance by assigning those to, not only an inherently inferior status, but one of danger or “evil.” This tends to perpetuate itself within authoritarian societies and accompanying institutions and traditions. Understanding the context for this recent emergence of the MAGA is in order.
Minorities and anti-racists point to “white privilege” as the basis of white hegemony in the United States. White privilege refers to the historical advantages white people have over people of color. Jesse Myerson in “White Anti-Racism Must Be Based in Solidarity, Not Altruism,” The Nation, February 5, 2018, addresses political scientist David Kaib’s argument that there are “two faces of privilege.” One face is composed of a higher quality of life, education, employment, living wage jobs, homeownership, retirement benefits, healthcare, etc. The second face is the societal privilege to dominate narratives, initiate dialogue and discussions, and monopolize control of public spaces. Though they are referred to as privileges, Kaib asserts that “privileges” should be defined as “rights.” Suffice it to say, white people have more access to these two privileges than blacks, and though white people are more likely to find themselves in managerial positions with some institutional power over blacks, these are a far cry from the power to influence national and international government and institutions as noted by Derrick Bell, And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice, 1987. White privilege thus maintains a social, political, and economic advantage over people of color, and in doing so, pits white people against people of color, specifically African Americans. The privileges that come from membership in “dominant” white groups, is prioritized by whites in order to maintain their very privilege.
At times this is reinforced by anti-racists who, in realizing their privilege, prefer not to be active in racial resistance since they might be “outed” for latent racist attitudes as Robin Di Angelo identifies in White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. This also carries over to an oppressor/oppressed binary which offers no incentives for white people to live differently. In this binary, white people can only fall on the side of the oppressor and the inherent privileges that accompany whiteness. This model erases the history of white people engaged in personal, interpersonal, cultural, and systemic work to promote racial, social and economic justice. There is no recognized, historical alternative to toxic whiteness in this binary despite there actually being a history of anti-racist white people struggling to create an alternative white identity. This false narrative of white only racism needs revision, e.g., John Brown, the Abolitionists, Rev. William Sloan Coffin, etc.
White privilege undermines the democratic gains of people of color. Since 1865, with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, African Americans have made some progress towards full democratic participation. White reaction has been to undermine and even rollback some of these gains. For example, at the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, the “Black Codes” were unlawfully implemented while Jim Crow laws violated Reconstruction Era Civil Rights legislation. In overruling Plessy v. Ferguson, The Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was rejected by southern states by shutting down public schools throughout the South.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 prompted states and local governments to intimidate and obstruct African Americans from voting. The Southern Strategy, orchestrated by Kevin Phillips and Richard Nixon intended to create “dog whistle” racist slogans to turn whites away from supporting civil rights and turning to regressive public policy supported by conservatives. The War on Drugs initiated by Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, disenfranchised millions of African American men through “broken windows policing,” “racial profiling,” “stop and frisk” police tactics, and “three strikes” legislation. All of this leading to a racist redux as described in recent scholarship by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow and J. Michael Higginbotham in Ghosts of Jim Crow.
The MAGA and white nationalists reject the white privilege argument and instead see themselves as the new “oppressed” minority. The philosophical underpinnings of white nationalism are, for the most part, derived from social Darwinism, Nazism, and fascism. Narrow cherry-picked passages by Christian fundamentalists use interpretations of Hebrew and Christian scriptures that support racist beliefs. White nationalists tend to believe that a “conspiracy” against whites is being promoted as part of an attempted white genocide. They usually base their evidence for this on a partisan activist government implementing public policies on behalf of minorities, and the declining birth rate among whites and the increasing birth rate among minorities and immigrants. Their white culture and traditions are dying. In response the white nationalists scapegoat minorities, progressive legislation, and if necessary, violence to protect themselves from extinction.
The “alt-right” (alternative right) has become a catchall phrase for a loose group of extreme right individuals and organizations who promote white nationalism. The alt-right, also describe themselves in terms of “white power” and “white pride,” is a movement in America who seek a resurgence or revolution in promoting the unique identity of the European heritage of white Americans. Its “soldiers,” as some describe themselves, are not lone wolves but highly organized cadres motivated by a coherent and deeply troubling worldview made up of white separatism, supremacy, virulent anticommunism, and Christian apocalyptic faith. In Bring the War Home, Kathleen Belew provides a history of a movement that consolidated in the 1970s and 1980s, around a potent sense of betrayal of American world domination only to be forced to “retreat,” specifically from the Vietnam War, a war they felt they were not allowed to win. According to Belew, government was to blame for America’s retreat as a world power and as a result, anti-government citizen groups and militia emerged, from Waco and Ruby Ridge, to the anti-government terrorist bombing on Oklahoma City, to a resurgence under President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement.
Many of the alt-right conclude, nonetheless, that waging war on their own country, the United States, was justified. They unified people from a variety of militant groups, including Klansmen, neo-Nazis, skinheads, radical tax protestors, veterans, and white separatists, to form a new movement of loosely affiliated independent cells to avoid detection. The white power and white pride movement operated with discipline and clarity, undertaking assassinations, armed robbery, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking. Its command structure gave women a prominent place and put them in charge of brokering alliances and birthing future recruits. Belew’s disturbing and timely history recounts that war cannot be contained in time and space: grievances intensify and violence becomes a logical course of action.
Based on years of deep immersion in previously classified FBI files and on extensive interviews, American para-militarism and the birth of the alt-right has both overt and covert manifestations. This has become what historian Carol Anderson describes as “white rage” in White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. She argues that it was “white rage at work” that sparked the riots and that the media and public at large ignored the “kindling” which stoked the flames. What fueled the unrest is a white backlash of resentment, anger, and even rage that African Americans and other minorities are being “privileged” over whites. This is clear in the tolerance of hyper policing and brutality directed at blacks. This has also enabled increasing displays of white rage in an insurgent white nationalist movement.
Critical Race Theorists such as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, in Critical Race Theory argue that the compounding impact of marginalization felt by whites, as the dominant identity in the United States, further compounds resentment toward minority entitlement especially since this has resulted in financial loss for whites. There is some truth to this resentment. Cedric Robinson argues in Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, that the wealth disparity as a result of a capitalist economic system, coupled with corrective measures by way of Affirmative Action and welfare policies, makes upward movement into a more equitable economic and social class all the more difficult, not only for blacks, but for whites as well. And this “class struggle” is one that elicits fear and anger. Anticipating this resentment Malcom X urges, “I tell sincere white people, ‘work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist.”
The MAGA and White Nationalist movements emboldened by Trump have made fascism in the United States the acceptable norm. Hopefully with this election, the removal of Trump from office will quell the alt-right. Democracy is at stake.
1. Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley (New York: Random House Publishing, 1964), p. 434. ↑