White Nationalism on the March
The “Unite the Right” rally was designed, over months, to be the largest gathering of its kind in at least a decade, and was successful in bringing together disparate elements of the Far Right on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA.
Heather Heyer, who was killed after a car was driven into a group of people protesting the White nationalist rally, was one of the nearly 450 people killed by the U.S. Far Right since 1990.
White nationalism should not be excused as an expression of “hate” or “ignorance;” it is a strategically coordinated movement with a political agenda. We should reflect on the deep connection between antisemitism and White supremacy and understand why women, people of color, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are often targeted first.
Not all White nationalists dress up in costume and give Nazi salutes. Whether they are chanting “Jews will not replace us” at a torch lit rally or proposing regressive legislation on voting rights, the right to assembly, or other keystones of a liberal democracy, we must stop their momentum. As we approach the 2018 Unite the Right rally (also being called a “White Civil Rights Rally”) in Washington, D.C., people of good conscience, regardless of party affiliation, faith tradition, or identity should once again be called to moral action in defense of humanity and rejection of White supremacy.
The following recommended readings shed light on the forces that converged on Charlottesville and what has transpired since. This page will be updated throughout the month of August with new essays by movement leaders and researchers reflecting on the state of organizing and opposition to social justice.
Inform Your Resistance: Readings on the Right
How we got here: the roots of the Alt Right
- Game of Trump: The Battle of Charlottesville (Huffington Post): PRA’s Tarso Luis Ramos speaks to Huffington Post on the five pillars of White nationalism: race, religion, gender, class, and sexuality. He then proposes six key principles for those who oppose authoritarianism.
- Drifting Right and Going Wrong: An Overview of the U.S. Political Right: The rise of Trump’s economic nationalist and White supremacist voting bloc seemed sudden, but the roots of the ideology go back decades. Chip Berlet and Jean Hardisty go deep on the history and philosophy tying the centrist to hard Right.
- Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The Origins and Ideology of the Alt Right: In this 2017 report, researcher Matthew Lyons explores the prominent ideological frameworks that inform the groups and individuals that comprise the White nationalist Alt Right. Among other trends, Lyons identifies male tribalism and White fragility as core components uniting the more moderate “Alt Lite” with the more hard line members of the movement.
- Birth of the Alt Right: The Alt Right has come a long way, from a group of disgruntled misogynists in unsavory corners of the internet to organized militias orchestrating the deadly clash in Charlottesville. David Niewart traces the evolution of the group we now call the Alt Right.
- Mobilizing Misogyny: “Male supremacism, enshrined in the nation’s founding documents, is as fundamental to U.S. history as White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) nativism,” says Alex DiBranco. Donald Trump and the leaders of the Alt Right have cleverly capitalized on that male supremacism to further their own causes.
- Identity Evropa and the Fraternity of White Supremacy: Modern White Supremacist groups like Identity Evropa are “rebranding” to attract younger, wealthier members. But the cleaned-up appearance doesn’t change these groups’ violent ideology.
- Richard Spencer’s Mom Spins Victim Narrative for Self While Neonazis Target Jews: After high-profile White nationalist Richard Spencer received a standing ovation complete with Nazi salutes after his 2017 speech at the National Policy Institute, his family’s hometown becomes a focal point for both the Right and the Left.
- How Charlottesville Became the Symbolic Prize of the Far Right (The Guardian): PRA Research Fellow, Spencer Sunshine, provides context for the march in The Guardian. Charlottesville was part of a growing trend, he said: “This is a national gathering that the far right have been planning for months.”
The Largest White Nationalist Rally in a Decade
- A Guide to Who’s Coming to the Largest White Nationalist Rally in a Decade
In this guide, Spencer Sunshine identified the organizer, speakers, legal support, attendees, and endorsers for the Unite the Right Rally. Published two days before the rally, this guide became a critical tool to understanding what occurred.
- The Big Picture: Far Right Mobilization in 2017
The news moves fast in the Trump era. Even major developments can slip through the cracks. So Political Research Associates created a list of every major development of Far Right mobilization in 2017.
White nationalism since Charlottesville
- White Nationalist Groups Turn Up at 2018 Women’s Marches: Matthew Heimbach, founder of the Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP), a group that advocates for a Whites-only nation-state, wrote a statement urging people to take to the streets in Knoxville, Tennessee for the 2018 Women’s March and celebrated the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville as a success.
- White Supremacy’s Old Gods: The Far Right and Neopaganism: Many White supremacists are locating their ideology within Anglo-Celtic, Norse, and neo-Pagan belief systems. Author Shannon Weber explains why.
- Jake Laskey and the American Front: Behind the Far Right group that has an outsized influence on racist organizing in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
- Is the ‘Alt-Right’ on Its Last Leg? (Colorlines): Spencer Sunshine covers the setbacks facing the Alt Right’s poster children - but warns that their influence is far from waning. “We should also keep our eyes on the fact that the conditions that gave rise to a reinvigorated White nationalist movement remain.”
- Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right: This evergreen PRA resource provides methods for successfully engaging with the Right based on what we know about how they work, how they think and what they want.
Building Multiracial Democracy In a Time of White Nationalism
Tarso Luís Ramos, PRA Executive Director
We find ourselves in a new phase of our contestation with the anti-democratic forces of the Right. Having for decades used the mechanisms of democracy to advance their anti-democratic aims, key sectors of the Right have amassed sufficient power to now threaten the survival of even our woefully inadequate democratic system. The Hard Right has captured the political center, and the disparate aims of right-wing libertarians, the Christian Right, and White nationalists—all of whom play robust roles in Trump’s administration—amount to different flavors of authoritarianism. In the current political moment, what many had regarded as a struggle for a more inclusive or reflective democracy, has become a fight for the possibility of a democratic future.
The United States is not alone. Our domestic state of affairs unfolds in the context of a global crisis of liberal democracies, whose features include extreme economic and social inequality that has opened a path to power for religious and racial nationalism. Trump may be anomalous in his particulars, but he is both a symptom of and force multiplier for underlying trends that won’t be fully reversed in one or two election cycles. The door has been opened to increasingly exclusionary definitions of who can be an American, and the toothpaste won’t go so easily back in the tube.
Of particular concern here in the U.S. is the sustained and effective mobilization of misogyny, economic pain, and racial anxiety during this period of dramatic demographic change. Within a few short decades White people (as currently conceived) will no longer comprise a numerical majority within the United States. As we draw ever closer to this demographic tipping point, demagogues and ruthless architects of domination will continue to inflame racial, cultural, and economic fears in order to prevent power sharing across the fault lines of inequity: race and faith, gender and sexuality, wealth and power.
No democracy has ever survived a transition in which the dominant racial/ethnic group became a numerical minority. We should all reflect on the enormity that challenge. There is no blueprint for what we must build here, now, together. Some forces on the Right are driving us towards a system of White minority rule, while others advocate even more horrifying action to preserve White numerical majorities. Real, multi-racial democracy has a future in the U.S., and beyond, only if we admit its uncertain future, and fight for it. The forces arrayed against this outcome are formidable, yet this is the outcome we must achieve. And we will achieve it, but only through sober analysis of the stakes and sustained strategic action in pursuit of our purpose.
This may be the preeminent challenge of our generation, and it is a central focus for PRA. To those who will say our assessment is alarmist, we respond that it is reality that is alarming, and we had better heed its siren. Real hope comes not from minimizing the challenges we face, but from facing those challenges and getting to work.
There’s a paradox when it comes to descent from democracy into authoritarianism or totalitarianism: By the time there emerges anything like a consensus that the loss of democracy is at hand, the opportunity to forestall that disaster has all but surely passed. We in the PRA family have little doubt that history will judge us—and that we will judge ourselves—by the decisions and actions we take in this time. So dare, with us, to be a premature anti-authoritarian or premature anti-fascist. Because, right now, it’s the only kind that counts. Together we will build an enduring majority that embraces an inclusive, multi-racial understanding of We, the people. We reject the cynical and deadly idea that for some to prosper others must be subjugated or expelled altogether. For we know in our bones that we all rise or fall together. Let’s rise.
Interview with Spencer Sunshine
Forty Community-Based Actions You Can Take to Resist White Nationalist Organizing
Cloee Cooper, PRA Research Analyst
I interviewed PRA Fellow Spencer Sunshine about a newly released guide for Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) that provides ideas for concrete actions to disrupt the work of White nationalist organizing. Forty Community-Based Actions You Can Take to Resist White Nationalist Organizing is a response to widespread tactical debates on how to confront White nationalists. Sunshine makes the case for a broad-based movement to resist White nationalism, that everyone can play a role in, regardless of strength, expertise or ability.
1. Why do you think it is important to spell out a range of tactics for fighting White nationalists today?
There are three kinds of people I want to inspire. First, people who are conscious of the need to oppose White Nationalism, but don’t realize there are many legal things they can do. This guide originated in a talk I gave, soon after Charlottesville, to the congregation of an Ethical Society. I was asked to name some actions so people did not go home thinking, “Well, White Nationalist organizing is a serious problem, but I’m not going to punch Nazis, so there’s nothing I can do.” And so I came up with a list of things they could do, which included options for elderly or disabled people.
Second, the guide is for people who argue that it’s wrong to “Punch a Nazi,” but who have no alternate strategy. I have to admit that I am frustrated when they seem to be nowhere when a lot of background work—like caring for the victims of White Nationalist violence—needs to be done.
And third, I want activists (especially those new to counter-White Nationalist work), to think about the variety of techniques that can be used, as well as the support work that has to be done.
2. Can you recall an event in your life that taught you some of the lessons you share in your list? What lesson did you draw from it that transformed your understanding of how to confront a White nationalist movement?
Each of the forty examples come from life, and I’ve done many on the list. They are also drawn from past actions by a wide range groups, from mainstream liberal organizations to RASH (Red and Anarchist Skinheads).
Around 1990, when I was a teenager I met some adult activists who were engaged in counter-organizing work in Georgia. I learned a number of these techniques from their group, the Neighbors Network. They were careful to make sure their work was legal, but they were very effective in documenting, explaining, and confronting White Nationalists—as well as supporting their victims. This was in contrast to groups that placed a primary emphasis on physical confrontation. This helped form my opinion that the first thing we should always do is utilize every legal avenue open to us. But that doesn’t always mean this is safe, or even non-violent. Self-defense is absolutely a necessity in some a cases.
3. What distinguishes “what is to be done” today from past efforts? What new tools, possibilities, and challenges does this generation contend with in the fight against a White nationalist movement?
Naturally, some things don’t change: the 1939 rally at Madison Square Garden by the pro-Nazi German Bund was met by angry crowds hungry for fisticuffs.
Today, most White Nationalist recruitment and propaganda is done online. In decades past, the movement was hampered by being locked out of the mainstream media. Now, the internet allows ideological racists to share their ideas directly with interested parties, and also makes it more difficult to jam this transmission.
The second difference is Donald Trump. The Left often overlooks how much a sitting president can shape the mood of the country. Trump’s social views are shared by White Nationalists, even if they go further than he does. During these other times, even in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, I’m under the impression that there remained a sense that the White Nationalist upswings would pass, and we’d return to the rule of a government committed to liberal philosophical ideas. Now, it’s not so clear. White Nationalists are acting with and not against an executive branch being led by a man who is openly contemptuous of democracy and equality.
4. For those who believe fighting systemic White supremacy and the way it impacts marginalized communities is more important than fighting White nationalists, what would you say? If you think people should do both – how do you see these struggles as related, and how can activists not reinforce the notion that without “racists” we would live in a multicultural democracy?
There are two things here. First is that White nationalists are not solely fixated on oppressing people of color. The theoretical core of their movement is antisemitic, and, particularly with the Alt Right, profoundly misogynistic. This is in addition to their other views like homophobia and Islamophobia.
Second, at least based on my own experience, there needs to be more collaboration between the movements against White Nationalist groups, and against structural racism. Even if your concerns are limited to working on questions of the oppression of people of color, it’s dangerous to dismiss White Nationalists. There were eighteen White Nationalist murders last year. Their movement is very aggressive, and they can help radicalize conservatives.
You could think about those who engage in counter-White Nationalist work as comparable to movement lawyers: by themselves, they are not going to abolish capitalism and social oppression. But if you get arrested, you’ll be very thankful they’re there.
Activists against White Nationalism and against structural racism can support each other in fundraising, outreach, prisoner support, and especially getting people into the streets. And I think embedding counter-White Nationalist work within a larger critique of oppression helps dissuade people from the notion that “racism is just the product of a few bad apples.” Instead, groups should emphasize that this work is just a small part of the larger struggle for justice and equality, and not an end in itself.