Narendra Modi’s Cricket Coup

What a coup. Nakedly amoral but utterly self-serving in its saccharine minted…

Business as usual: the opposers keep opposing

By Paul Smith “Whitefellas know best” has failed as the way to “look…

Should the ABC be supporting the Nazi salute…

I'm a Gemini so I'm always in two minds about everything. Of…

One step away from total fascism (part 2)

Q: What is more threatening to a democracy than a fascist? A: A…

First Among Equals: The Voice


Imperial Visits: US Emissaries in the Pacific

For some time, Washington has been losing its spunk in the Pacific.…

Denying First Nations people a voice will achieve…

For some reason, I find myself yet again writing about this referendum.…

From Balloons to AUKUS: The War Drive Against…

When will this hate-filled nonsense stop? Surveillance balloons treated like evocations of…


El Paso – the United States’ descent into xenophobic barbarism (part 14)

By Europaeus *

Continued from Part 13

‘White supremacy’ is a language of unease. It does not describe racial domination so much as worry about it. ‘White supremacy’ connotes many grim and terrifying things, including inequality, exclusion, injustice, and state and vigilante violence. Like ‘whiteness’ itself, ‘white supremacy’ arose from the world of Atlantic slavery but survived its demise. Yet, while the structures are old, the term ‘white supremacy’ is not. It first appeared in British abolitionist critiques and U.S. proslavery defences in the first half of the nineteenth century, but it only became commonplace – and notably not as a pejorative – in U.S. whites’ post-emancipation calls for a racial order which would reinstitute slavery’s political and economic guarantees.

‘White supremacy’s opponents evoke it to condemn. Its proponents use it to summon up a vision of a racially ordered society, to rally political forces behind that vision, to establish laws and institutions which affirm it, and finally to render it natural and normal. But the very fact that the expression requires speaking means that something has gone awry. If the hierarchy of races were real, it would easily have survived slave emancipation. Instead, that hierarchy must be constantly asserted and enforced, lest the ‘white race’ be overwhelmed, overcome, and extinguished. ‘White supremacy’ is organised around a dread of its own demise, and with it the ‘white race’.

This inherent instability has produced a welter of fears, fantasies, and imperatives, from ‘racial purity’ to ‘race war’. It has also made ‘white supremacy’ a call to action. Indeed, the effort to transform the words from a slogan into a fact has been a massive social and political project, involving the witting and unwitting labour of many millions of people. ‘White supremacy’ has always been hard work.

But because it is work, it is possible to imagine that someday there will be no one willing to perform the labour. And sometime between the march from Selma to Montgomery and the election of Barack Obama, many Americans allowed themselves to believe something of the kind: that ‘white supremacy’s advocates, having lost their long war, were giving up.

The violent manifestations of ‘white supremacy’ over the past several years – from Dylann Roof’s murders in Charleston, through Donald J. Trump’s campaign and presidency – unwound that hope. No better illustration exists for ‘white supremacy’s return to the cultural centre than Charlottesville’s 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally, in which emblems of the Ku Klux Klan, the Third Reich, and the Confederacy jostled with more esoteric banners and names, together representing a century’s worth of ‘white supremacist’ politicking. By the time the sirens died out, it should have been clear that Dylann Roof was no ‘lone wolf,’ but the legitimate offspring of a re-emergent social movement.

Yet even as ‘white supremacy’ appeared suddenly to be everywhere in American life, many – and not just on the right – denied its existence. President Trump’s refusal to criticise even neo-Nazis was treated as a uniquely craven act of ‘norm-breaking,’ not as a predictable extension of decades of coded and not-so-coded racist appeals. In the rush to catch President Trump out, what has been omitted from media reporting is the long history of indulging ‘white supremacist’ ideology and expression. One might consider how long Pat ‘Blood and SoilBlut und Boden’ Buchanan served as a respectable voice of the political and journalistic right, winning four states in the 1996 Republican primaries and later playing Rachel Maddow’s curmudgeonly uncle on M.S.N.B.C. – all in spite of his longstanding support for ‘white ethno-nationalism’. One might remember the P.B.S. NewsHour profile of President Trump supporter Grace Tilly which failed to note her neo-Nazi tattoos. The network’s post-backlash editor’s note treated Ms. Tilly’s claim that her tattoos were religious, not racist, as worthy of debate, as though an enormous ‘88’ – code for ‘Heil Hitler’ – paired with a bullseye cross, another ‘white supremacy’ symbol, left room for uncertainty. The myth that ‘white supremacy’ is a marginal political phenomenon has proved so durable that many people find it easier to deny its overt expression than confront a more troubling reality: “very fine people”, as President Trump would say – and not just fathers, husbands, and sons, but mothers, wives, and daughters as well – have always been central to the work of ‘white supremacy’.

Three fairly recent books explore the twentieth-century history of this political project. In Linda Gordon’s thoughtful reconsideration of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan (The second coming of the KKK: the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American political tradition, New York, N.Y., Boni & Liveright 2018) one sees shameless grifters deploy racial hierarchy and exclusion to forge the largest social movement of the early twentieth century. In Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s revelatory exploration of mid-century white women’s segregationist work (Mothers of massive resistance: White women and the politics of white supremacy, Oxford University Press 2018) one sees how the inheritors of that vision learned to speak in new languages, muted enough to pass in a society increasingly hostile to ‘white supremacy’ but unmistakable to partisans as a continuation of the long struggle against racial equality. In Kathleen Belew’s groundbreaking account of the ‘White Power’ movement from the mid-1970s to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (Bring the war home: the White Power Movement and paramilitary America, Harvard University Press, 2018), it becomes clear how a post–civil rights generation of ‘white supremacist’ organisers positioned themselves as victims of an overbearing state, even as they nurtured Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof, Patrick Crusius and the dream of ‘race war’.

These works do not claim to provide a comprehensive account of twentieth-century’ white supremacy’; such a project would also have to probe – as other scholars have – the forces of labour and capital, and the relationship of domestic ideologies and practices to their imperial histories. But, read together and through one another, these works provide a sobering crash course in the power, diversity, and persistence of ‘white supremacist’ ideas and politics.

Across the long twentieth century, ‘white supremacist’ activists nurtured an exclusionary racial nationalism. They envisioned an America safely in the hands of its ‘rightful’ owners, redeemed from misrule by ‘unfit’ peoples, and made great again. The latter would become the overarcvhing motto of Donald J. Trump. The work of such ‘white supremacists’ relied extensively on white women’s organisational and ideological labours, although they posited a world of white patriarchal families in which men spoke and fought while women sustained and reproduced. Responding to successive challenges, these activists developed new languages and new coalitions, but they remained consistently suspicious of political authority that they could not directly control. Partly for this reason, they usually saw electoral politics as a critical arena of struggle, and they rarely abandoned it. Across the century, this ideological and organisational landscape has been home to hustlers, activists, and insurgents playing distinct but often complementary roles. ‘White supremacy’ has always been at once a political movement, an armed struggle, and a long con.

Gordon’s Second coming of the KKK shows how a ‘white supremacist’ and nativist movement reset the boundaries of political discourse, clarified that the nation existed in the image and service of a particular kind of American, and took control of governments from school boards to Congress to give those imperatives life. Klansmen nurtured a politics of resentment against both ‘élites’ who looked down on them and the immigrants, blacks, and radicals who seemed to challenge their world.

The first Ku Klux Klan was founded in the 1860s by former Confederate soldiers and for a few years became the spear and symbol of the war against Reconstruction. This first Klan was actively suppressed by legal and military action in the early 1870s, and the campaigns of racial terror and political intimidation which finally overthrew Reconstruction were largely conducted under other names. The second Klan was founded in 1915 by William Joseph Simmons in response to that year’s blockbuster film, D. W. Griffith’s The birth of a nation, which reworked memories of the Reconstruction-era KKK into a myth of white male chivalry combatting black sexual barbarism. Beginning in 1919 the Klan exploded in size and power as organisers channelled the era’s powerful currents of nativism and violent ‘white supremacy’ through the heroic image and visual style of Klansmen. They coupled the anti-black rhetoric of the Reconstruction-era Klan with a pervasive hostility toward non-Protestant immigrants and what Simmons, the founder of the Second Ku Klux Klan in 1915, derided as their anti-American propensities for “Bolshevism, Socialism, Syndicalism, I.W.W.ism.” (The Industrial Workers of the World – the members of which are commonly termed ‘Wobblies’, is an international labour union which was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois) Gordon encourages the reader to understand that, to many of its white American contemporaries, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was an ‘ordinary and respectable’ organisation which promised to restore white Protestants, mainly of the lower middle and skilled working classes, to their proper place of authority in American cultural and political life. Gordon reminds the reader that many of the Klan’s hobbyhorses – anti-black racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism; censoriousness about sex and alcohol; support for eugenics; and narrow-minded nationalism – reflected broad and sometimes hegemonic aspects of 1920s American culture.

Gordon also asks the reader to understand the movement as producing, not just reflecting, social concerns. The Klan channelled pre-existing hatred of racial inferiors and haughty elites, but it also ginned up those expressions and provided new outlets for them. Conspiracy thinking was central to Klan rhetoric and ideology. Everywhere lurked sinister forces which sought to take over the United States government and subvert the country’s way of life. Indeed, those forces might already have taken power. Jews, Catholics, Bolsheviks, and African Americans were always about to swamp ‘true Americans’ with rising birthrates; to take control of United States police forces and public schools; to undermine cherished values with sex, alcohol, or pornography; and to oppress real Americans from the safety of powerful, distant institutions.

Such conspiracy talk effectively transformed grievances and insecurities into well-defined targets against which local Klans could then organise. In Madison, Wisconsin, for example, the Klan took up the cause of fighting illegal liquor trafficking in a neighbourhood populated by Italians, blacks, and Jews. There and elsewhere, the Klan infiltrated or worked alongside police departments. Beatings, whippings, cross-burning, death threats, and fatal shootings marked the outer edge of the Klan’s activities, but in some places – Williamson County, Illinois; Dayton, Ohio; large swaths of Oklahoma—assaults were common and condoned.

Yet this Klan was not atavistic or residual but modern, a for-profit enterprise which combined state-of-the-art public relations, mass media, and franchising. It was – Gordon shows – a pyramid scheme, in which local Klans and their leaders effectively purchased the right to recruit more dues-paying, regalia-purchasing members. Little mattered but recruitment. The fine points of Klan ideology were left to local groups, based on their local circumstances. Thus Klans in one locale might focus on the threat posed by Catholic teachers, while those in another attacked bootleggers, and a third local unionists.

The Klan reached its apex as a political movement in 1924, when its forces made a serious effort to choose the Democratic nominee for president. Scandals both lurid – sex – and dreary – embezzlement – undercut the organisation during the remaining decade, just as the con was running out of marks. But even as the order crumbled, the Klan remained ideologically ascendant. The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which went into effect at the end of the decade, dramatically curtailed ‘undesirable’ immigration. Eugenics remained a commonsense feature of reform movements and scholarly discourse. And the Klan’s commitment to a nation where self-confident white Protestant men and women managed the lives and labours of their ‘racial inferiors’, while guarding vigilantly against subversion and sedition, remained woven into the American political tradition.

Feminism is not a strictly ‘left’ phenomenon. There is not only conservative feminism but even bigoted feminism. Feminists played a central role in building the Klan. The fact that many women have played vital, sustaining roles in ‘white supremacist’ organising should not surprise anyone, and is not disconnected from the fact that a majority of white women voted for Trump. However, it can still be difficult to take this a step further and acknowledge that feminism is not a strictly ‘left’ phenomenon. Gordon’s chapter on ‘KKK Feminism’ asks readers to take seriously “a phenomenon that many progressive feminists found and still find anomalous – the existence not only of conservative feminism but even of bigoted feminism.” Early in its resuscitation, women demanded entry into the second K.K.K., and in 1923 national Klan leader Hiram Evans merged disparate groups into a kind of women’s auxiliary, the W.K.K.K. Women helped build and recruit the organisation. They even preached its gospel: Rev. Alma Bridwell White, for example, demanded women’s rights to property and legal protection against domestic violence, while also calling for the nomination of Klan-endorsed candidates who would uphold “prohibition, restricted immigration, [and] white supremacy.” In this, as in so many other respects, the Klan was “modern.”

Elizabeth Gillespie McRae runs with this theme in Mothers of massive resistance, which is populated by modern professional women who shared Rev. White’s skills, confidence, and ideology, and who played critical roles in the defence of ‘white supremacy’ from the 1920s to the 1970s. McRae follows these women’s confrontation with the mid-century transformation of Jim Crow from the law of the land to an embattled ideal, and of ‘white supremacy’ from the slogan of a hegemonic regional regime to something controversial or even unspeakable in polite company.

Among McRae’s many subjects, North Carolina’s Nell Battle Lewis is illustrative. A cosmopolitan and reform-minded graduate of Smith College, Lewis believed that forward-thinking élites could maintain a just and smoothly functioning segregationist order. She thought the greatest threat to that system resided in the willingness to tolerate manifest injustices, for example in the judicial and penal systems. She abhorred the modern Klan’s self-confident ignorance and vigilantism. But her outlook was proudly racist. In 1923, after watching The birth of a nation for the fifth time, she swooned with racial nationalist pride: the Reconstruction-era Klan, she wrote, was “a necessary tour de force effected by some of the leaders of a … civilization in danger of its very life.” In her columns for the Raleigh, North Carolina News and Observer, Lewis depicted a world of enlightened whites and deferential blacks. Inequality was real. It just needed to be properly managed.

Mothers of massive resistance shows how white women defined, refined, and defended a ‘white supremacist’ social order. In the 1920s, they worked as investigators who policed eugenicist ‘racial integrity’ laws. Later – McRae argues – they became ‘Jim Crow storytellers,’ affirming in columns, textbooks, and speeches “the oft-repeated fiction of a content black population in need of white oversight.” Here and elsewhere, their work orbited around the vision of white women as the guardians of domestic life, which encompassed homes, children, and schools. They may not have been the most visible public faces of the ‘Jim Crow order’, but they were “segregation’s constant gardeners.”

That garden encompassed political organising. Women served as regional partisans, keeping the Democratic Party in line or seeking alternatives to it. As the Roosevelt Administration responded to the labour struggles of the Great Depression, they warned against policies which placed black men in positions of responsibility properly belonging to white men. By the 1940s, they emerged as national organisers, searching out languages and alliances which would continue to legitimise ‘white supremacy’ in practice if not in name. As activists and justices chipped away at the constitutional foundations of segregation, they warned at ever-increasing volume that school desegregation constituted a “threat to the white race.” If black and white children sat together in classrooms, they would socialise, court, marry, reproduce, and destroy the segregationist order. They imagined desegregated schools as, in McRae’s words, “hothouses for consensual sex and breeding grounds for marriage” between whites and blacks.

Thinking globally, acting locally, McRae’s women fought to forestall that dreaded future. They forged coalitions with non-southerners who shared compatible values and outlooks. They learned to frame their opposition to desegregation in terms of ostensibly non-racial threats: federal power, Communism, the United Nations, and especially the subversion of traditional family structures. Southern segregationist women helped cross-pollinate their movement with those of conservatives beyond the South, people for whom racial segregation was equally desirable if sometimes less existential. Indeed, McRae wanted the reader to abandon the shopworn regional distinction between southern ‘segregationists’ and northern ‘conservatives.’ They learned to modulate their language to their audience and to build lasting bridges across regional lines.

In 1960 the Mississippi winner of a Citizens’ Council essay contest described segregation as a bulwark against “the threat of intermarriage”; she promised to “preserve [her] racial integrity and keep it pure.” Within a decade, both the contest’s judges and its winners would have to find different language with which to express their values if they were to remain respected participants in American politics. In her final pages, McRae shows how they succeeded. Segregation in Mississippi had been created and maintained by explicit and unapologetic state laws; segregation in Boston was a product of local racist practices sanctioned not by law but by custom and inaction, and of federal housing and lending policies which ratified and reinforced those exclusions, making the links between race, neighbourhood, and school seem natural rather than constructed. But everywhere, white women took the lead in 1970s’ protests against court-mandated programmes of school desegregation, defending a white domestic sphere of school and neighbourhood without directly asserting the legitimacy of racial segregation. By 1974, when Boston city councillor Louise Day Hicks declared that “the issue of forced busing is a women’s issue,” the explicit language of ‘white supremacy’ vanished, leaving only a Cheshire cat grin of fears and imperatives.

White women took the lead in protests against school desegregation, defending a white domestic sphere without directly asserting the legitimacy of racial segregation.

The defenders of segregation learned to speak their truths in code. Their demands for ‘local control’ defended racial hierarchies which previous generations of policy and practice had baked into institutions, neighbourhoods, and schools. Their language of ‘colour-blindness’ sought to neutralise historical accounting or reparation. Some, such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush advisor Lee Atwater, claimed that in trading overtly racist language for “forced busing, states rights, and all that stuff,” they were establishing a new, non-racial basis for their coalition – though Atwater’s deployment of the worst scare tactics of ‘white supremacy’ in his 1988 ‘Willie Horton’ ads showed that one did not need to use racial epithets to communicate openly racist messages. (Horton, was an escaped convict from Massachusetts who had been serving time for murder when he skipped out on a temporary furlough from prison and committed robbery, rape and assault. During the 1988 presidential election, Horton became a central figure in Bush’s campaign and a way for the candidate to imply that his opponent, Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, was soft on crime). But for most aspiring political or civic figures, a degree of deniability seemed to become essential.

In Bring the war home, Kathleen Belew traces the development of an openly ‘white supremacist’ counterculture between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s. ‘White supremacist’ activists – many of them veterans – developed an analysis of the federal government which linked its putative abandonment of soldiers in Vietnam with its alleged elevation of immigrants and non-whites over white Americans at home. This corrupt state would soon snuff out the liberties of white men, leaving their families helpless before communists and racial inferiors. The solution was to “bring the war home”: to deploy the tools and methods of the wars in southeast Asia in a revolutionary struggle for a ‘white ethno-state’ in North America.

Continued tomorrow … (Part 15)


* 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.

Like what we do at The AIMN?

You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.

Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!

Donate Button

 564 total views,  2 views today

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 2 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

Return to home page
%d bloggers like this: