Part One: Understanding the White Power Movement and Broader Political Landscape in the United States
On January 6, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters and white power extremists converged in Washington D.C. for a MAGA rally. Many of the attendees went to the rally to stop the delegate count and codification of the 2020 Presidential Election. Fortunately, the attempted coup failed. Nevertheless, five people died as a result, including two police officers.
Of course, the situation could’ve ended much worse. Recent reporting indicates that many of the right-wing extremists who participated in the attempted coup had been actively plotting and planning for many weeks leading up to January 6, including a group of Capitol Hill tourists, i.e., right-wing terrorists, who disassembled the panic buttons in Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s office, and a suspect who planted pipe bombs at the headquarters of Democratic and Republican national committees.
According to security experts, the attempted coup and insurrection at the Capitol has “emboldened” right-wing terrorist cells and political reactionaries. We shouldn’t be surprised. Spectacular acts of political violence have long served as recruitment and propaganda tools for right-wing movements. Violence motivates, colors, and defines their movements.
To defeat the white power movement in the United States, liberals, progressives, and leftists must better understand the movement and provide political, economic, social, and cultural alternatives and develop a more coherent and reasonable position concerning institutions such as the police and military. In other words, if the left hopes to one day “take the reigns” and administer the state apparatus or even some alternative to it, how would we do so in a way that doesn’t curtail civil liberties yet responds adequately to the genuine threat of right-wing violence?
Understanding The Modern White Power Movement
Historian Kathleen Belew, writing in her book, Bring The War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, describes the white power movement as “the social movement that brought together members of the Klan, militias, radical tax resisters, white separatists, neo-Nazis, and proponents of white theologies such as Christian Identity, Odinism, and Dualism between 1975 and 1995.”
According to Belew, at the height of its appeal (her documentation predates the MAGA Era, so we can expect the numbers to be much higher today), the white power movement in the mid-1990s “counted some five million members and sympathizers.”
The white power movement of the 21st-century functions differently than its 19th and 20th-century predecessors. While it’s true that political terrorism and violence has always been a key feature of right-wing political movements in the U.S., it’s important to recognize the shifting terrain of violence and its intended targets. Whereas 19th and 20th-century right-wing terrorists functioned as an extra-military arm of the state, reinforcing state power through vigilante violence, the modern white power movement seeks to destroy the state through spectacular acts of violence.
The new white power movement isn’t defined by its faux patriotism or even a sense of hyper-nationalism: the modern white power movement sees the state as its primary enemy. At the end of the 1970s, following the Vietnam War, the white power movement expanded and fused:
People from all regions of the country answered the white power movement’s call to action, bridging the divide between rural and urban. They were men, women, and children. They were high school dropouts and holders of advanced degrees; rich and poor; farmers and industrial workers. They were felons and religious leaders. They were civilians, veterans, and active-duty military personnel. From its formal unification in 1979 through its 1983 turn to revolutionary war on the government and its militia phase in the early 1990s, the white power movement mobilized adherents using a cohesive social network based on commonly held beliefs. These activists operated with discipline and clarity, training in paramilitary camps and undertaking assassinations, mercenary soldiering, armed robbery, counterfeiting, and weapons trafficking. White power violence reached a climax in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The origins of the modern white power movement can be found in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, and the rapidly changing political, social, and cultural landscape in the U.S. As Belew points out, “Also essential in binding the movement together was the 1978 white utopian novel The Turner Diaries,” written by William Pierce. The Turner Diaries functioned in much the same way as the Communist Manifesto, providing a point of connection between white power movement revolutionaries, a way to symbolically and ideologically connect with comrades around the world. Estimates suggest the book sold anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 copies between 1978 and 2000.
Louis Beam also played a central role in this radicalization and politicization process, “urging activists to continue fighting the Vietnam War on American soil.” In 1983, Beam published Essays of a Klansman, which encouraged white power activists and revolutionaries to “bring the war home.” And indeed, they have.
White power activists continued their war not only on U.S. soil, but also in Central America, Latin America, and Africa, where white power paramilitary units and mercenaries, both individuals and organizations, aided right-wing terrorists and governments, and actively engaged in combat operations, patrols, torture, assassinations, and various other activities.
The white power movement employs many recruitment tools, including magazine publications, newspapers, leaflets, zines, radio programs, television shows, internet chatrooms, and message boards, and a wide range of social bonds and activities to form a collective identity. As a result, Belew writes, “[The] white power [movement] also qualifies as a social movement through its central features: the contiguous activity of an inner circle of key figures over two decades, frequent public displays, and development of a wide-reaching network.”
According to Belew, “White power should be recognized as something broader than the Klan, encompassing a wider range of ideologies and operating simultaneously in public and underground.” In this context, “leaderless resistance” or “cell style organizing” became the common posture of white power adherents. Cells function independently from leadership, providing a buffer between revolutionaries and organizational leaders, further hampering the federal government’s ability to investigate, track, arrest, and convict organizations within the broader movement.
Masculinity also plays a key role in framing the white power movement’s worldview and political activities; however, unlike previous right-wing movements, women play important roles within the white power movement. “As bearers of white children, women were essential to the realization of white power’s mission: to save the race from annihilation,” Belew notes. Beyond bearing white children to perpetuate and save the white race, women also played important supporting roles: developing auxiliary groups, developing skills, and most importantly, expanding and maintaining social networks through “intergroup alliances,” family and social connections.
Furthermore, for white power activists, the belief in an imminent religious apocalypse was intimately bound together with the white power movement’s vision of a “radical political future.” This emerging theological vision differs significantly from the Protestantism of the second-era Klan of the 1920s. Christian Identity theologies instructed white power activists and revolutionaries to rid the world of non-believers, Jews, blacks, immigrants, and others to purify the world before the return of Christ, the white savior. Accordingly, many white power activists have become survivalists, otherwise known as ‘preppers,’ gathering food, water, weapons, and ammunition for the “final battle.”
A remaining “unifying feature of the movement,” Belew writes, is its “strident anti-communism, which at first aligned with mainstream Cold War conservatism and then transformed into an apocalyptic, anti-internationalist, antisemitic set of beliefs and conspiracy theories about what activists called the Zionist Occupational Government (ZOG) and, later, the New World Order (NWO).” In this way, the white power movement reflected broader ideological trends within the New Right.
The economic shocks and beginning stages of neoliberalism that started to emerge in the mid-1970s provided the economic backdrop and fuel for the movement to gain even more influence and power. Dwindling economic opportunities combined with a cultural and social backlash to the reforms of the 1960s gave the movement a framework through which to distill their anger, frustrations, and alienation. While Reagan and the GOP gutted social programs and attacked unions, the white power movement blamed FDR, the New Deal, hippies, the civil rights movement, feminists, immigrants, and leftists for America’s faltering economy and fragmented social landscape.
To date, the press has done a terrible job examining and explaining the white power movement. As Belew notes, “Press coverage too often portrayed organized white power violence as the work of a lone gunman driven by grievance and mental illness.” Unfortunately, before January 6, 2021, both the mainstream press and alternative media outlets have consistently downplayed, misunderstood, or mischaracterized the white power movement in the U.S. Fortunately, the press has handled the post-MAGA Coup in a much more sophisticated manner.
As Belew points out throughout Bring The War Home, very little is known about the flourishing white power movement in the U.S. (the world’s top carceral state) prisons. Additionally, we don’t understand much about the number of U.S. military personnel connected to white power organizations. Since military service records are not publicly available, determining exactly how many active-duty-military personnel are members of white power organizations using quantitative studies is virtually impossible.
The obvious limitation of Belew’s book is that it stops in the late-1990s. Without question, the movement has shifted and morphed since then. Still, as Belew has pointed out in recent interviews, the primary components of the modern white power movement — its apocalyptic worldview, religious and racial extremism, paramilitary posture and symbolism, spectacular violence, rapid anti-communism, xenophobia, hyper-masculinity, and anti-statist ideology — are replicated by the current white power movement and broader alt-right organizations and networks.
Right now, what is desperately needed is a comprehensive overview of the existing white power movement, who it’s connected to, how, through what organizations, financial institutions, and governmental agencies, and a proper accounting of networks, members, leaders, websites, publications, and gear (weapons, equipment, explosives, vehicles).
Just as yesterday’s white power movement sought popular support when it could, today’s white power movement sees former U.S. President Donald Trump and various members of the modern GOP as allies in the struggle, or, better put, vessels through which the white power movement can radically alter the political landscape and usher in a state of permanent revolutionary violence.
The Divided, Fractured, or Nonexistent Left
After Bernie Sanders’ defeat, the ongoing and increasingly deadly COVID pandemic, Joe Biden’s electoral victory in November of 2020, and the attempted white power-infused coup on January 6, 2021, the existing left seems lost, fractured, and quite powerless. While it’s true that existing progressive political forces have obviously influenced the Democratic Party platform, Joe Biden’s executive orders, and legislative priorities, it’s equally clear that our organizations and movements lack serious political power.
Indeed, without a national program, a unifying project, or campaign, various factions of the left have drifted into fantasyland, with some arguing for non-strategic efforts such as #ForceTheVote. In contrast, others cheer on the GameStop vs. Wall Street controversy, hoping some alienated kids on the web can take down capitalism with a few keystrokes. The GOP lost the last election, yet behave as if they won, whereas the Democrats won the last election and behave as if they lost.
Currently, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) seems like the most serious national left political effort in the country. Currently, many chapters are engaged in tenant, workplace, community, and campus organizing efforts. The Sunrise Movement also seems organized and actively engaged in ongoing campaigns. To some degree, groups like DSA and the Sunrise Movement’s efforts are reflected in the national priorities and policies of the Biden Administration.
Without a doubt, Biden’s overall program isn’t the sort of robust response that’s truly needed to ameliorate the pain and suffering caused by the pandemic and ensuing economic fallout. Biden’s aides, advisers, and department heads are nothing to write home about. Yet, it’s hard to argue that his executive orders or proposed policies are neoliberal in nature, at least in the traditional sense of the term. So far, the Biden Administration seems willing to offer quasi-Keyensian reforms, yes, all inadequate, but nothing in the vein of austerity.
With few exceptions, the U.S. labor movement remains on the sidelines, unable to muster the political will or organizational capacity to mobilize its members (during the pandemic or following Biden’s victory). Clearly, labor leaders should’ve mobilized their members following the MAGA Coup on January 6, 2021, but they didn’t — a sign of the movement’s disorganization. While it’s true that unions are a shell of their former selves, they nonetheless maintain a certain level of legitimacy in the communities in which their members live and work.
Progressive churches also remain inactive and demobilized. Since Biden’s victory, they have been all but missing from the national conversation. Yes, both unions and progressive churches indeed played key roles in recent electoral victories in Georgia, giving the Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. Still, it’s equally true that unions and progressive churches have been MIA elsewhere in the country and have been since the pandemic began. The same is true of student groups and university organizations — all MIA or non-existent.
Small left-wing community groups and regional organizations exist, but only in a skeleton form, often lacking the resources, numbers, and networks required to achieve their stated goals. Left and progressive groups, at this point, have minimal capacity to mobilize even their existing base of supporters. After two election cycles, 2016 and 2020, that featured a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, it’s stunning to think that the DSA only has 90,000 members. If the white power movement had at least five million members and active sympathizers in 1995, what are their numbers today? Certainly, much greater. On the other hand, the left couldn’t muster five million members or active sympathizers if our lives depended on it.
In my view, it’s vitally important to recognize that the existing left in the U.S. is a tiny segment of the broader population. No matter how many opinion polls leftists cite, none of them matter in the real world because Bernie’s base, the tens of millions of Americans who supported him in 2016 and 2020, and beyond, remains isolated, disempowered, demobilized, fragmented, and generally unorganized.
Without a unifying project, an agreed-upon set of immediate objectives and goals, and a united front to achieve them, the left will remain fractured and drift even further into weird and unhelpful recesses of society and culture (aided by social media culture and pandemic-induced social isolation), focusing on boutique issues as opposed to meeting the needs of ordinary poor and working-class Americans. Right now, Americans need vaccinations, money, healthcare, and debt relief — obtaining those ends should guide the U.S. left’s short-term platform (more on this in Part Two).
Trump’s Base, Biden’s Base, and The 80 Million Dollar Question
For the sake of time and space, let’s say there are three broad segments of American political society: first, the roughly 74 million people who voted for Donald Trump; the 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden; and the 80 million who didn’t vote at all.
As others have correctly pointed out, Trump’s base skews white, older, male, and religious (evangelical and/or Protestant). Of course, the two most important factors in determining Trump’s support remain, much like in 2016, race (white) and gender (male): overall, 61% of white males voted for Trump, 67% of whites with no college degree (70% of white men), and 58% of Americans earning between $100,000–$199,999 a year, plus 54% of military veterans, and 76% of white-evangelical born again Christians.
Of the 74 million who voted for Trump, what percentage are die-hard MAGA loyalists? It’s hard to say. Using polls and available socio-economic data, some analysts suggest anywhere from 25–40% of the Republican Party could be identified as “die-hard pro-Trump supporters.” Others argue the number could be much higher. Whatever the number, the 45% of Republicans who support the attempted coup that took place on January 6th, will never be persuaded to join our cause.
Anyone who thinks we can organize with people who genuinely believe Nancy Pelosi drinks baby blood and Hillary Clinton runs a global child pedophilia ring wastes their precious time. Yet, it’s a mistake to downplay the size of Trump’s most rabid supporters. Even if that number is 45% of the total Republican Party, we’re still talking about roughly 35 million Americans. That’s not a small number. For now, they remain largely disorganized, fractured, and on the margins of pop-culture, but that doesn’t have to remain the case.
The overlap between those who voted for Trump, those who believe insane conspiracy theories, and those who firmly identify with right-wing political ideologies and the white power movement is significant. Simply judging from the symbols, flags, t-shirts, and signs visible on January 6th, it’s undoubtedly true that many of the 45% of Republican voters who believe the attempted coup was justified also identify, to some degree, with the white power movement and its stated objectives and goals, including the absolute destruction of the state.
This is why it’s imperative to reject the calls for far-right/left unity. Boogaloos, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, the Michigan Militia, 3 Percenters, and others believe in abolishing the federal government. They seek to destroy the state in all its forms, even the military, and police. Those efforts were on full display on January 6th, as they were throughout the 1990s for those who care to remember (Ruby Ridge, Oklahoma City).
Socialists should understand what this means: namely, the right-wing forces some on the left seek to unite with are fundamentally ideologically and politically opposed to the very entity — the state apparatus — socialists seek to take over, administer, and transform. Socialists (or progressives) uniting with far-right extremists and the white power movement is like a construction crew teaming up with a demolition crew to build a house: it doesn’t work because both teams have opposing objectives.
The other 55% of Americans who voted for Trump are a mixed bag. Yes, they skew higher on the income bracket, but they’re not all rich or wealthy. After all, 46% of voters making less than $30,000 a year voted for Trump in 2020. That said, the petit-bourgeois, Trump’s largest base of supporters, tend to play significant cultural, political, economic, and social roles within their communities. Put differently, no, the poorest whites do not make up the majority of Trump’s core base of supporters. Still, the petit-bourgeois who do are the sort of people who service poor and working-class whites in suburban and small-town America.
The petit-bourgeois plays a significant role in shaping politics at the local, regional, and statewide levels. And many of the poor and working-class whites they service strive to one day end up in a similar position. That’s important to note because all too often, leftists assume Americans are much more class conscious than history or reality shows. To what degree should leftists cultivate relationships with small business owners? Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on location, context, and several other factors. However, I doubt connecting with small business owners in most organizing campaigns will be a priority.
Overall, 40% of union households voted for Trump in 2020. Private-sector union members also make up a disproportionate chunk of Trump voters: steelworkers, carpenters, ironworkers, pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, operating engineers, and others who make good wages, raking in anywhere from $80,000-$150,000 a year — these workers also make up a significant portion of Trump’s voting bloc. Reforming existing unions, admittedly a difficult task is also a necessary one. Any effort aimed at reforming private-sector unions will by default include organizing Trump supporters. The key is to focus on workplace issues as opposed to hot-button cultural issues.
Other segments of Trump’s base: incels, Jordan Peterson fanboys, men’s rights activists, Redditors, basement dwellers, Bitcoin enthusiasts, Elon Musk devotes, and a vast array of unhinged conspiratorial nuts (flat-earthers, Alex Jones, Michael Malice, Dark Web podcasters) remain totally unapproachable. Such people offer nothing in terms of political organizing. Remember, deep organizing includes identifying key organic leaders in the community or workplace, people who are trusted by their coworkers, neighbors, and youth — there’s a slim to none chance that the people mentioned above fit that description, hence don’t waste your time.
In short, Biden’s base is disproportionately black, Jewish, Latino, young, female, holding advanced degrees, and located in urban settings. Bernie’s base is disproportionately white, young, and Latino. Here, leftists and Bernie’s supporters mustn’t write-off Biden’s base of supporters. Indeed, leftists shouldn’t focus a significant amount of their organizing efforts in suburban environments. Still, it’s also true that Bernie’s base is far too white ever to become the hegemonic bloc within the Democratic Party. Bernie’s base must grow if the left hopes to have any electoral influence.
Building off the successes of the recent U.S. Senate campaigns in Georgia seems like an obvious next step for the leftists interested in building power within and outside the Democratic Party. Teamsters, black churches, student organizations, community groups, Black Lives Matter, and Bernie supporters contributed to those victories. Hopefully, their efforts continue and eventually go above and beyond electoral politics.
Of the 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden in 2020, 73% make less than $100,000 a year. 35% of Biden’s voters made less than $50,000 a year. Yes, it’s true that professional class neoliberals largely control the Democratic Party and the institutions that support it, but it’s untrue that most Democratic Party voters fall into that category. How many of these voters can be swayed to join socialist organizations and movements remains a question but worthy of discussion and debate. It’s absurd to suggest, as some leftists do, that we can write-off 81 million voters and only focus on the 80 million who didn’t cast a ballot in 2020.
The 80 Million Dollar Question
2020 saw the highest voter turnout in a presidential election in over 120 years. Yet, 80 million Americans still didn’t vote, almost 33% of total eligible voters. It’s true: whoever can organize and mobilize even a portion of the 80 million Americans who didn’t vote in 2020 will rule the U.S. for the next 100 years. Doing so, however, is easier said than done. Leftists often over-inflate potential opportunities in this realm, yet plenty exist.
NPR and the Medill School of Journalism commissioned Ipsos to conduct a survey of adults in the U.S. who didn’t vote in the 2020 election. Here’s what they found: Nonvoters’ reasons for not voting include: not being registered to vote (29%); not being interested in politics (23%); not liking the candidates (20%); a feeling their vote wouldn’t have made a difference (16%); being undecided on whom to vote for (10%).
Overall, as Domenico Montanaro writes for NPR, “They are disengaged, disaffected, and don’t believe politics can make a difference in their lives. They are also more likely to be Latino, younger, make less money, and have lower levels of education than voters.” Montanaro adds that “Difficulty voting doesn’t appear to be a major reason why they don’t vote. Three-quarters said they think it’s at least somewhat easy to vote. It’s more that these voters feel a sense of alienation and apathy . . . generally detached from the news and pessimistic about politics, the survey found.”
Non-voters are more likely to agree that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them, the mainstream media are more interested in making money than telling the truth, the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful, success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside their control, voting in elections has little to do with the way that real decisions are made in our country, and that it makes no difference who is elected president than voters. Not surprising, and not entirely wrong. Interestingly, most of their responses were generally in line with the responses from voters.
Importantly, non-voters tend to make less money than voters and are less educated and less likely to own a home. According to Montanaro:
While only 21% of voters made $50,000 a year or less, 43% of nonvoters did. Just over a quarter of voters had a high school degree or less, but a majority (52%) of nonvoters did . . . Nonvoters were also more likely to be young and Latino. Thirty-five percent of nonvoters in this survey were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 24% of voters. And notably, a quarter of nonvoters were Hispanic, compared with just 7% of voters . . . Latinos are also more likely than other groups to say they are not interested in politics and most haven’t voted in any other recent elections. The top reason Latinos give for why they don’t vote is that they don’t care much about politics, but another is that they have never been registered. Only 52% of Latinos surveyed overall said they were registered to vote. That compares to 80% of white respondents and 78% of Black Americans.
At the macro level, the left should be looking for non-registered voters who make less money, have less education, and skew young. More specifically, and because organizers have limited time, resources, and capacity, the top priority for socialist political efforts should be Latino populations. As we’ve already seen, when organized and mobilized, they disproportionately support not only Democrats, but more importantly, candidates like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and various other progressives. Latinos and young people of all ethnicities and races formed the foundation of Sanders’ campaign in 2020.
Again, many opportunities exist amount the 80 million Americans who didn’t vote, but significant challenges remain. For one, as the polling shows, non-voters are much more cynical, not only about elections but about society overall. Battling this cynicism will best happen through dynamic campaigns with a real shot at changing the material conditions in peoples’ day-to-day lives. Good speeches, books, and podcasts won’t cut it. The best way to kick someone’s cynicism is to get them up, move, engage, and plugged into an existing or burgeoning political or cultural project.
In the end, it’s essential that left-wing activists and organizers read about, study, and discuss right-wing political movements, specifically the white power movement. We should seek to understand better our enemies and the socio-economic-political-cultural landscape on which they operate. It’s also important to understand and recognize the shifting political terrain. Doing so will open doors to new political opportunities.
Now that we’ve investigated the white power movement, Trump’s base, and the larger socio-political landscape of the U.S., the next installment of, How to Defeat The White Power Movement: Part Two will examine the many ways in which ordinary people can respond to the white power movement and broader right-wing political forces: namely, through organizing (workplace, community, electoral, direct action, and elsewhere), big government programs, self-defense, expanding democracy (creating new democratic mechanisms), and subjecting the white power movement to the rule of law.