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Monday, October 24, 2016

This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator

White nationalism infuses our political ideology.

When Dylann Roof pulled a gun at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, his shots rang through history to the roots of the ideology of white supremacy, which justified genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of black people from Africa. We deny this at our own risk.

Roof attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which by the early 1800s was at the center of black resistance to slavery in Charleston, according to African-American history scholar Gerald Horne. Black people, Roof feared, threaten the existence of the white race. Events in the church’s history play a role in Roof’s fear. Inspired by a slave rebellion that began in 1791 in what is now Haiti, Emanuel parishioner Denmark Vesey of Charleston began organizing an insurrection against slavery, using the Charleston AME church as a base.

Roof might have been unaware of the specific history of “Mother Emanuel,” but he had immersed himself in a narrative that is deeply rooted in our nation’s history, a narrative that takes into account the history of Charleston’s historic congregation.

Roof told a participant in the Bible study, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Horne and other social scientists believe Roof inherited the fear of murderous blacks raping white women from a common historic narrative of white supremacy.

Horne says that after the bloody slave revolt, American newspapers were full of stories salaciously describing “marauding blacks with sugar-cane machetes hacking the white slave owners to death.” Regardless of their veracity, these stories informed a historic narrative that was seized upon by the founders and early members of the Ku Klux Klan.

After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan “was largely halted following federal legislation targeting Klan-perpetrated violence in the early 1870s,” said Klansville, U.S.A. author David Cunningham in a PBS documentary. In 1905, Thomas Dixon, Jr., wrote The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, later turned into the silent film The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The white supremacist frame of black men pillaging, raping, and murdering was returning to the mainstream.

Dylann Roof looked beyond our native anti-black texts. His website was The Last Rhodesian. Roof allied himself with the cause of Rhodesia because, according to the racist right, the failed struggle in the 1960s to preserve African white nationalist societies, including South Africa, was a warning about the communist conspiracy to use black people to pave the way for totalitarian tyranny. This thesis was purveyed by the John Birch Society, whose historic and current conspiracy theories are today utilized by Glenn Beck. A decade before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas joined the conspiracy theorists when he became affiliated with the Lincoln Institute, a right-wing think tank that embraced apartheid in South Africa as a bulwark against communism.

As the world is wired today, these theories are a click away. Jennifer Earl, the co-author of Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age, is one of several sociologists to have shown that the Internet can mobilize people into movement participation. Right-wing groups from the militia to the neo-Nazi movements were early adopters of online technology, even before the internet created a World Wide Web of unedited communications that brought racist and anti-Semitic (and now anti-Islamic) rhetoric into our homes.

Roger Griffin studied terrorism for the British government. His Terrorist’s Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning, describes the phenomenon of “heroic doubling,” which can turn a “normal” individual into someone who carries out acts of fanatical violence as a media-carried clarion call to arms to defend an idealized pure community under threat from a demonized “Other.”

Roof was influenced by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The CCC’s racist rhetoric provides the most extreme versions of the demonization of blacks and white liberals, while a more muted—sometimes coded—version of white supremacy is routinely broadcast on cable news and AM radio talk shows. The first black president continues to provide a lightning rod for racist rhetoric.

White nationalism infuses our political ideology as a nation—from our major political parties to the armed extreme right. We need to confront the color line that bestows on white people unfair advantages. We need to revoke that grant of privilege by working to correct the injustice that still stains our nation with the spilling of blood. As Dr. King warned us, either we build community or we will face chaos.

Chip Berlet is the co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort.

This article appears in the August 2015 issue of The Washington Spectator.

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • Sand_Cat

    Can’t wait to read the angry denials and condemnation of “liberal intolerance” by our resident white supremacist – excuse me, “conservative” – trolls.

  • Pephraim

    This is one rare white man speaking the truth to all whites about the connection between KKK, GOP, extreme right militias and gun activists. Hear his conclusion, “White nationalism infuses our political ideology as a nation—from our major political parties to the armed extreme right. We need to confront the color line that bestows on white people unfair advantages. We need to revoke that grant of privilege by working to correct the injustice that still stains our nation with the spilling of blood”.

  • Allan Richardson

    The only reason the “white race” accomplished the facts on the ground usually cited as proof of our (yes, I am white, of mostly English descent), “supremacy” is that there is NO SUCH THING as a “white race.” The civilization (loosely speaking) which arose during the Renaissance, on the ashes of the Middle Ages and the Greco-Roman world, with the advances in science, technology, humanistic philosophy, etc. and was unleashed on the rest of the world in the Age of Exploration (and colonial conquest), was possible only with the COMBINED knowledge and efforts of smaller groups from Ireland to Iran over the previous two millennia. Sometimes they “combined” their efforts by fighting one another, sometimes by peaceful cooperation, sometimes by interbreeding, sometimes by trade, but in any case, none of these groups of people, keeping their “race” and culture and language and traditions “pure,” could have done what they all did together.

    So, to say that we should keep this mixture of biological and cultural groups “pure” NOW is just laughable. Humanity needs MORE mixing, hopefully cooperative, not less. The “inferior races” condemned by white supremacists are humanity’s ONLY HOPE to build a better world than we have now. Every farmer knows about HYBRID VIGOR and has used it to create more successful crops and livestock.