By Europaeus *
Continued from Part 12
When Dylann Roof, the white supremacist terrorist behind the 2015 Charleston massacre, issued his manifesto, he did so with a specific vision of America in mind.
To Roof’s mind, the United States was his country – a white man’s nation, worth reclaiming through horrid bloodshed, done in the name of racial supremacy. To Roof, ‘white supremacists’ could still conquer their country, even if they made up only a fraction of the population. Ideas that ‘white people’ in America should pack up and relocate elsewhere were ludicrous to Roof. Movements to cleave part of the country – say, the Pacific Northwest – into a ‘whites-only’ utopia were anathema to Roof’s endgame. “I think this idea is beyond stupid. Why should I for example, give up the beauty and history of [South Carolina?],” Roof claimed. “The whole idea is pathetic and just another way to run from the problem without facing it.” Fast forward four years, to El Paso, a ‘white supremacist’ picked up where Roof left off. In a reprise of the Charleston shooter’s slaughter, the El Paso shooter murdered some 22 individuals, all in the name of white nationalism. A manifesto written by the shooter outlined his extremism: how he was specifically targeting Hispanics, how his massacre would help prevent Texas from becoming a Democratic stronghold, how he aimed to end ‘racial mixing.’
The El Paso manifesto however, carries a different vision for an American future than that displayed by Roof – one overlooked in the days following the attack, and one which may portend a growing shift in the end-goals of ‘white supremacist’ extremists. To the El Paso shooter, America was, in a sense, beyond saving. Instead, the shooter wrote, the country must fracture entirely. “You’re going to have people who are unstable, who are going to say, ‘I’m tired of waiting. Now I want to make it happen. I want to kick off this race war.’ ” In Crusius’ vision, there would be no more United States. In its place, would be an America “divide[d]… into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race.” Such a proposal would apparently allow “each race self-determination within their respective territory(s) [sic].”
Unlike Roof, Crusius wanted to be done with the United States. To him, there was no U.S. to reclaim.
“It sounds like they’re borrowing past ideas and putting renewed emphasis on it,” Daryl Johnson, a former Department of Homeland Security official assigned to monitoring the far-right, told ThinkProgress, an American news website. “It’s getting new traction if these guys are quoting it in their manifestos.”
While the idea of breaking the United States into separate racial territories is, of course, ludicrous, it doesn’t come without support. And if anything, that support is growing, with flames fanned by actors both foreign and domestic. American state fracture – breaking up the country outright – has gained increasing credence among the far-right over the past few years. And with the El Paso terrorist attack, the domestic push to dissolve the United States outright entered a new phase – one the end of which remains unclear.
The record of attempts to break the country into racial regions has, of course, a lengthy history. President Andrew Jackson’s administration, for instance, put forward the notion of creating a ‘Western Territory’ peopled solely with Native Americans, many of whom would be ethnically cleansed from the American Southeast by both Jackson and his successor, President Martin Van Buren. To the Jackson administration, the territory would eventually gain statehood outright: a state populated by, and for, the indigenous nations conquered through America’s white supremacist expansionism.
Indeed, the root for such a race-based division largely took place in the American West. Oregon celebrated its ascension to statehood with a constitution barring any black settlement outright. Anti-Chinese pogroms in Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming aimed to drive competing non-white labourers from the territories, as did anti-South Asian riots in Washington State. Genocidal massacres of Indigenous nations in California in the mid-19th century – against Pomos, against Tolowas, against Wintus – achieved much the same, all in the name of forcing non-whites from newly American territory. And Texas was no different, with Texas Rangers responsible for much of the attempts at ‘ethnic cleansing’ along the Texas-Mexico border.
Of course, it is not as if the American West had a monopoly on these platforms of ‘ethnic cleansing’, or of ‘racial reorganisation’. Post-Civil War ‘white supremacist’ terrorism in the United States – lynchings, armed uprisings, political violence – aimed at driving formerly enslaved populations and their descendants from the American South. But for decades, the idea of breaking the U.S. into racial regions was a fantasy. ‘White supremacists’ – from the Ku Klux Klan to ‘white nationalist’ extremists in the militia movement – wanted a return to white racial hegemony across the entirety of the United States. Ideas of a ‘whites-only’ nation-state started resurfacing in the 1970s and 1980s, according to Johnson, and percolated especially in the Pacific Northwest. But only a small minority of extremists shared these views. Such was the idea Roof ridiculed in his 2015 manifesto.
Over the past few years, though, the notion of state fracture and racial re-organisation, may have gained credence among far-right voices – and supporters have been finding comfort from the highest ranks of the American government.
The recent interest in setting up a ‘whites-only’ state within the U.S. can be seen in a selection in terminology. Whereas ‘white supremacists’ claim precisely what their name signifies – the supremacy of the ‘white race’, however they define it – ‘white nationalists’ often fall back on petty claims that they are, in fact, not racist, but simply prefer people of the ‘white race’ to others. These claims are belied by the fact that the most prominent ‘white nationalists’ of the past few years – such as Richard Bertrand Spencer, an American neo-Nazi and ‘white supremacist’, president of the National Policy Institute and of Washington Summit Publishers, Matthew Warren Heimbach, an American neo-Nazi and ‘white nationalist’ who in September 2018 took the position of community outreach director for the National Socialist Movement, and the like – also happen to be inveterate anti-Semites who regularly spew racist diatribes, and clearly use the term ‘white nationalist’ as a linguistic defence against their own ‘white supremacy’.
But it is also true that there appears more interest over the past few years on the far-right in the interest of unwinding the United States entirely – an interest which culminated in the El Paso massacre. “You watch how the world trembles.”
He gained notoriety in 2016 as one of the faces of a generation of ‘white supremacists’. To Heimbach, the solution to America’s ails was simple: Balkanisation. “Every ethnic group should be able to opt out of multiculturalism if it wants to.” Heimbach said. “Multiculturalism leads to violence. Multiculturalism leads to disunity. Different cultures want to live differently.”
Spencer echoed Heimbach. Another prominent face of the fascists who rose to prominence in 2016, Spencer – accused of domestic abuse, to go along with his ‘white supremacy’ – has advocated the creation of a ‘white ethno-state’. While Spencer has not specified where such a state would exist, one of his allies, former K.K.K. lawyer Sam Dickson, fleshed out Spencer’s idea in late 2015. As the Southern Poverty Law Center related, “Dickson claimed African Americans could ‘be given Manhattan,’ describing his version of a Balkanization of America.”
Other semi-prominent extreme right voices have picked up the threads since. Patrick Little, another open anti-Semitic ‘white supremacist’ running as a Republican in California’s primary for U.S. Senate., announced in 2018 that he supported the “Balkanization” of the U.S. “I’m a fan of Balkanization.” Little claimed. The support of “Balkanization” fits into broader trends of American ‘white supremacists’ looking to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the kind of ‘ethnic cleansing’ resultant, for inspiration.
Just in August 2019 the Southern Poverty Law Center outed a State Department official named Matthew Gebert as a ‘white supremacist’ – one who claimed ‘white Americans’ need a new country, one which could boast its own nuclear arsenal. “That’s all we need,” Gebert said. “We need a country founded for white people with a nuclear deterrent. And you watch how the world trembles.”
Having someone as outwardly racist and sympathetic to ‘white nationalist’ rhetoric in power as President Trump in some ways mitigates the push for outright state fracture. So long as President Trump remains ensconced in Washington, the ludicrous notion of territorial reordering in the United States remains at bay.
“I don’t think they’ve thought about [the structure of an all-white society],” Johnson told ThinkProgress, an American news website. “It’s this idealistic utopia, and they don’t sit there and say, ‘Well, how are we going to govern, how are we going to tax,’ things like that.”
The fact that these people are talking about doing this should disturb Americans of all stripes.” But that does not mean things cannot change – or that President Trump himself would not be sympathetic to the movement at some point in the future. After all, just early in August 2019 President Trump took to Twitter to boost a fired Google employee. The man President Trump publicly praised also happened to be a vocal supporter of Richard Spencer. Nor is this swelling ‘white supremacist’ push for the disintegration of the country, which spilled into bloodshed in El Paso, purely of domestic interest.
One should look at recent and much disputed Russian interference efforts. Not only have Kremlin-funded groups previously cultivated ties with neo-Confederates in the United States, but some of the most prominent fake social media accounts are accused specifically, and successfully, of having targeted secessionists with racist rhetoric through and after the 2016 election. Just a few months ago, one learned of an aborted plan to try to stoke racial discontent with the ultimate aim of cracking apart the nation into racial polities.
Neo-Confederates reach out to their alleged ‘Russian friends’ in new projects. “Regardless of whether or not these plans are an amateurish thought experiment, the fact that these people are talking about doing this should disturb Americans of all stripes.” a former assistant director of counterintelligence at the F.B.I. told N.B.C.
Elsewhere, rhetoric advocating the fracturing of America has begun to seep beyond just ‘white supremacist’ messaging. Far-right pundits like Kurt Schlichter and Jesse Kelly, who claim to be ‘patriots’, have floated the idea of destroying the United States. Kelly claimed he wants an “amicable divorce,” but it is unclear why he thinks any dissolution would be peaceful.
Very recently, Chris, a 35-year-old white man from rural Pennsylvania, supported the idea of dissolution during a progamme of a well known radio-televson station. As Chris revealed, he thinks American dissolution is effectively a fait accompli. “I feel like it’s going to happen one way or the other,” he said. “Maybe if we can control the process a little it won’t be quite as bad.” His support for dissolution rests largely on the racists surrounding him, pointing out that those in his community regularly refer to Martin Luther King Day with racial slurs. “It’s the N-word,” Chris said, noting how people describe the holiday. “N-Day is kinda what they say. Even the people who don’t say it chuckle at it.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the recent rhetoric advocating for the United States dissolution – whether from ‘white supremacists’ or otherwise – is predicated on the belief that American socio-political divides remain at the state level: that the supposed Red State/Blue State divide remains insoluble. But the notion that America’s divide remains on a state-by-state basis is years out of date. Instead, as recent elections indicate, the split is far more centered on rural-urban divides, precisely like in Texas.
Two decades ago, Austin was viewed as a ‘blue island’ in a ‘sea of red.’ Recently, Texas’s major urban areas – Dallas and Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio – have all tilted Democratic. Texas is no different from other Republican-leaning states, where major cities – Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Missoula, Montana – have voted Democratic in recent years. And there is little reason to think that trajectory will shift in the foreseeable future.
But then, that allegedly was one of the factors driving the shooter responsible for the El Paso massacre. It is also one of the reasons why domestic terrorists like him have begun turning toward trying to dissolve the nation, rather than returning to what they view as the halcyon days of ‘white supremacy’.
“I think the closer we get to the 2020 election, the more scary it’s going to get.” Christian Picciolini, a former ‘white supremacist’ who renounced the movement to run anti-extremist programmes, told ThinkProgress.
“If the Democrats win … I think you will see a lot of activity in states that are heavily Republican starting to talk about secession, starting to say, ‘Do we want to be part of this liberal, socialist, whatever-they’re-calling-it America?’ And I think you’ll have discussions about that,” Picciolini said. “But on other hand, you’re going to have people who are unstable, who are going to say, ‘I’m tired of waiting. Now I want to make it happen. I want to kick off this race war’.” (C. Michel, ‘White supremacists look to remake the map of America,’ ThinkProgress, 12 August 2019).
After the El Paso massacre there were calls to give the government more tools to address attacks motivated by ‘white supremacy’. But there are questions about how such legislation would work.
Since 2017, more than 230 incidents of hateful propaganda have been reported in communities across Texas – a phenomenon which has dramatically escalated in 2019, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit organisation which tracks extremist activity. One group is responsible for more than two-thirds of the hype: ‘Patriot Front’, a Texas-based ‘white nationalist’ group formed after the deadly ‘Unite the Right’ rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Members of the group insist that their European ancestors conquered America, and that people of colour, including Hispanic immigrants, are a threat to the ‘white race’. The same message appeared in Crusius’ manifesto. Crusius wrote that his attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” and he criticised ‘race mixing.’
“We have seen an increase of reports of individuals who express a desire to commit violence – definitely,” said F.B.I. Special Agent Michelle Lee of San Antonio, referring to ‘white supremacists’. After the massacres, the F.B.I. saw a noticeable increase in the number of reported threats, Ms. Lee said. It’s unclear whether the public is simply more aware of the need to report threats, or if people with extremist ideologies are more active after they become inspired by acts of violence. In July 2019 F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers that in the preceding nine months, the agency recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects, most of whom were associated with white supremacy. His comments came two months after a senior official in the F.B.I.’s counter terrorism division said that the agency was investigating 850 domestic terrorism cases, about 40 per cent of them involving racially motivated violent extremists.
But investigating hate groups can pose a challenge to federal officials because the government can’t monitor people – even if they espouse hatred against certain groups – unless there’s probable cause that they might commit an act of violence or other crimes, Ms. Lee said. The First Amendment protects free speech, no matter how repulsive, she said.
Instead, the F.B.I. largely relies on the public and private tech companies to report threats, most of which surface online. Critics argue that tech companies have allowed extremists to strengthen and proliferate online, and that the federal government has long overlooked the threat of ‘white supremacists’, instead focusing disproportionately on Islamic extremists. Organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have tracked the growing presence of ‘white supremacists’. According to the Anti-Defamation League, in 2018 right-wing extremists – the majority of them ‘white supremacists’ – were linked to more murders in the United States than in any other year since 1995, when the bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building left 168 people dead. The League tracks murders connected to all forms of extremism, including right-wing, left-wing and Islamist extremism.
“All of this is part of the surge in ‘white supremacist’ activity that we’ve seen since 2015,” said Ms. Carla Hill, a senior Anti-Defamation League researcher. “It’s also paired with the political rhetoric that has seemed to embolden this movement further to think, ‘Hey, this is our chance. If we don’t get ahead now, we’re losing our last chance to save the white race.’
“Online message boards such as 4chan and 8chan became breeding grounds for hate, Ms. Hill said. Racist or sexist memes, masquerading as jokes, were often used to indoctrinate young, white men into hateful ideologies. The bigotry kept escalating.
The online surge coincided with the 2015 launch of President Trump’s election campaign, when he said Mexico was sending “rapists” and “criminals” to the United States.
Ms. Hill said that she believes the political climate – and use of words such as “invasion” – have contributed to the rise in violence. “It’s just been the perfect storm,” she said.
‘White supremacists’ soon decided to take their movement offline and into the real world.
One of the hate groups which demonstrated in Charlottesville was the neo-Nazi organisation ‘Vanguard America’. At the rally, James Alex Fields, a ‘white supremacist’, plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Ms. Heather Heyer, 32.
After Ms. Heyer’s death, a Dallas-based member of ‘Vanguard America’, Thomas Rosseau, renamed the organisation to escape scrutiny. He called the splinter group ‘Patriot Front’. It is estimated that, presently, the group has at least 300 members, and Texas is home to its largest chapter, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Since 2018 ‘Patriot Front’ has been linked to more than 870 reports of racist propaganda across the country.
‘Patriot Front’ is the most visible ‘white supremacist’ group in Texas, followed by the ‘American Identity Movement’, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The social media accounts of both groups are flooded with images of propaganda.
One day after the El Paso massacre, the ‘American Identity Movement’ tweeted an image of its logo on a poster outside the municipal building in Allen, Texas – the hometown of Crusius.
Both groups aim to recruit new members with patriotic language. Sometimes, their flyers are not overtly racist. Instead, the groups are trying to insert themselves into mainstream conservative politics, said Ms. Hill of the Anti-Defamation League.
Many of their flyers are printed in red, white and blue, with slogans such as “Reclaim America” and “Not stolen conquered”. “I can only assume that it’s part of the optics to present themselves as American patriots, as opposed to white supremacists.” Ms. Hill said. (M. S. Richter and B. Chasnoff, ‘ ‘A perfect storm’ – online hate and political winds whip up white supremacy,’ Express News, 10 August 2019).
Continued tomorrow … (Part 14)
* Europaeus landed in Australia over fifty years ago. Except for the blue skies and starry nights between 02.12.1972 and 10.11.1975 the place has been constantly overwhelmed by what Hannah Arendt called the ‘sand storm’ – a metaphor for totalitarianism.
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