By Europaeus *
Continued from Part 14
Beginning in the 1970s, local networks brought together Klansmen and neo-Nazis of many stripes – ranging from adherents of racist end-times theologies and paramilitary fantasists to actual mercenaries – under the banner of ‘White Power’. They were linked by an ideology which married white nationalism, anti-communism, and genocidal fantasies, but they were not a centralized organization. Movement leaders developed the doctrine of “leaderless resistance”, providing ideological grounding and practical encouragement for acts of mass terror which would spark a revolutionary ‘race war’ but which could not easily be traced back to any particular organisation. ‘White Power’ activists did this work so successfully that the contours of their movement became hard to discern, and the ideology’s most violent adherents, such as Timothy McVeigh, were often dismissed as ‘lone wolves.’ But Belew shows that although the networks of ‘White Power’ organising may have been loose and decentralised, they were also intricate and extensive.
The ‘sacred text’ of this movement was The Turner diaries, white nationalism written by neo-Nazi leader William Pierce and first serialised in 1974. The Turner diaries – which depicts ‘white nationalists’ using genocide and nuclear war to take control of the United States and then the world – provided a blueprint for “leaderless resistance” undertaken by autonomous, ‘white supremacist’ guerrilla cells. It offered a gruesome vision of the genocidal reckoning their actions would finally produce. By the late 1970s one could order the book from an ad in Soldier of Fortune, The Journal of Professional Adventurers, a controversial magazine marketed to soldiers for hire and a wider audience which found those exploits entrancing or titillating. The novel became, in Belew’s words, “a touchstone, a point of connection” linking the movement’s hardcore advocates of armed struggle with a much wider array of men and women who fantasised about a ‘white ethno-state’ or simply about the bloodshed which was supposed to produce it. Timothy McVeigh kept the book in his soldier’s quarters, sold it at gun shows after his discharge, and followed its blueprint in the Oklahoma City bombing.
The Turner diaries may be ‘White Power’s Birth of a nation, but that film radiates ‘white-supremacist’ confidence; its brutish black pawns are easily vanquished by a confident and well-organised white cavalry. The Turner diaries promises no such happy ending. In its bleak view, white unity will only be restored at enormous cost and through a brutal, genocidal struggle. There is no room, in the end, for paternalism or a return to a golden age; the race war will be a war to the death, one that will bring the government down with it.
‘White Power’ activists pursued this war on several fronts. Louis Ray Beam Jr., an American ‘white nationalist’, Stephen Donald Black, another American ‘white supremacist’, and other leaders travelled throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, plotted a coup in Dominica, an island country in the West Indies, to secure it against putative Soviet ambitions, sent mercenaries to fight for Somoza and later for the Nicaraguan Contras, and focused with increasing intensity on the United States-Mexican border as a paramilitary battleground. They also targeted domestic enemies, including Vietnamese refugees and American radicals. In Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979, a ‘United racist front’ of Klansmen and Nazis killed five protestors at a ‘Death to the Klan’ rally organised by the Communist Workers’ Party. As cell-style organising expanded in the 1980s, robberies and murders took place under many banners, including ‘The order’, the organisation and activities of which were closely inspired by The Turner diaries, the ‘White Aryan Resistance’, the ‘White Patriot Party’, and the ‘Posse Comitatus’. ‘White Power’ partisans bought or stole heavy weapons from military bases, preparing for wider and bloodier conflict with the state. They brought their propaganda to new media outlets – recorded phone lines and public-access television – while creating the Internet infrastructure which sustains the movement to this day. They did so, for the most part, with impunity: while some perpetrators were tried and convicted, sentences were short and many trials led – as in Greensboro – to outright acquittals.
‘White Power’ was an explicitly masculinist movement, but women nonetheless played crucial roles. Women built and maintained ‘White Power’ social networks, educated and indoctrinated young people, and learned survivalist strategies. They “brokered social relationships”, including in marriages which knit disparate factions of the movement together. They also performed a wide variety of insurgent tasks, up to and sometimes including bearing arms. But they were meant first and foremost to be mothers, not warriors. One of Belew’s most interesting sections concerns the 1988 trial of Beam, Butler, and a dozen other ‘White Power’ activists on more than a hundred counts of seditious activity. (Anti-Defamation League, Louis Beam, ‘The sedition trial’, 24 April 1987-7 April 1988, A.D.L. 2013). Belew attributes their acquittal on all counts to the defence’s familial performance of white male protection and white female vulnerability. Louis Beam’s wife, Sheila, became the face of the defence: a white woman who in the course of her flight from prosecution and arrest in Mexico claimed to have been mistreated, beaten, even sexually assaulted. Belew takes both journalists and previous scholars to task for naturalising Beam’s and others’ performances of embattled white femininity. She also notes that after the acquittals, two of the women on the all-white jury became romantically involved with defendants. In this theater of conflict, explicitly white supremacist ideas and expressions found common ground with broader cultural anxieties, and proved not only palatable but appealing to people outside the movement.
Belew depicts the militia movement of the 1990s as the descendant of ‘White Power’, “a move toward the mainstream” which represented the movement’s growing success. Individual militia members may not have considered themselves ‘White Power’ activists, or even racists. But she shows that the militia movement drew on the same “strategies and weapons from the Vietnam war, scenarios from The Turner diaries, and a rhetoric that drew strongly on the defense of white women.” Violent showdowns with federal power and militarised police at Ruby Ridge (location of an incident in August 1992 in which F.B.I. agents and U.S. marshals engaged in an 11-day standoff with self-proclaimed ‘white separatist’ Randy Weaver, his family, and friend named Kevin Harris in an isolated cabin in Boundary county, Idaho), and Waco (The Waco siege was the siege of a compound belonging to the religious sect Branch Davidians, carried out by American federal and Texas state law enforcement, as well as the U.S. military, between 28 February and 19 April 1993) demonstrated a threat which only a heavily armed citizenry could repel. The ‘New World Order’, with its black helicopters and domestic internment camps, was a new name for an old enemy. As at the 1988 sedition trial of Beam, Butler, et al., journalists missed the meaning of the movement they were covering, and depicted even longtime movement activists and leaders as ordinary white people who had been radicalised by recent events or victimised by federal power.
‘White Power’ is still quite strong. Indeed, it has broadened its reach online, where it continues to build an anti-liberal, anti-government, ‘white supremacist’ movement which radicalises individuals. Dylann Roof haunted ‘white supremacy’s online world before deploying its symbols and ideology in his rampage at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina on 17 June 2015.
Belew’s insurgents shocked many people when they turned up en masse in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, but they have never been far from the surface of ‘white supremacist’ politics and organisation. Its ‘respectable’ figures have needed their energy and numbers, and its hucksters have seen them as easy marks. Sometimes insurgent, office-holder, and huckster come wrapped together in a single package. But the relationship is often more complex. For many generations, the drumbeat of impending race war has structured this dance between leaders and followers, true believers and oafs. It has shaped conceptions and practices of white manhood and womanhood. It has guided social policy from schools and home loans to crime and punishment. It can be heard in Steve Bannon’s admiration for France’s The Turner diaries, Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The camp of the saints, and the description by Bannon’s student, Donald J. Trump, of immigrants as an “infestation.”
But that drumbeat is not a force of nature. It has been the work of men and women who amplified discontent, elevated it to a political principle, and provided it with outlets. The leaders of this social movement do not simply channel or release hostility; they create and intensify it. ‘White supremacy’ may be a language of fear and loss, but that makes it more dangerous, not less. (S. Kantrowitz, ‘White supremacy has always been mainstream,’ Boston Review, 23 July 2018).
President Trump visited Dayton, Ohio and El Paso on 7 August on a day intended as a show of compassion to cities scarred by a weekend of violence, but which quickly devolved into an occasion for anger-fuelled broadsides against Democrats and the news media.
President Trump’s schedule was meant to follow the traditional model of apolitical presidential visits with victims, law enforcement officials and hospital workers after calamities like the mass shootings which created a new sense of national crisis over assault weapons and the rise of ‘white supremacist’ ideology.
That plan went awry even before President Trump, who has acknowledged his discomfort with showing empathy in public, left Washington. On 6 August night, he tweeted that Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman from El Paso, should “be quiet.” As he prepared to leave the White House on 7 August morning, he attacked former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who said in a speech that day that President Trump had “fanned the flames of white supremacy.” Both Mr. O’Rourke and Mr. Biden were presenting as candidates for president and have been particularly harsh in their criticism of President Trump after the two shootings. President Trump rose to the bait. The result was the latest example of President Trump’s penchant for inflaming divisions at moments when other presidents have tried to soothe them, and further proof of his staff’s inability to persuade him to follow the norms of presidential behaviour. Yet shortly after, in response to questions about his Democratic critics, he again assailed them. “They shouldn’t be politicking today.” President. Trump said, referring to Mr. Biden and Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. And en route home to Washington, he tweeted still more attacks on Democrats, calling their charges that he is a racist “truly disgusting.”
The President was particularly upset by excerpts from a news conference in Ohio featuring Mr. Brown and Ms. Nan Whaley, the Democratic Mayor of Dayton, whom he had seen while flying from Dayton to El Paso. Both officials took a mostly respectful tone toward the President and said he had been received graciously. But Mr. Brown also said that some people at the hospital had privately said they do not support President Trump, and he charged that the President had used racist and divisive language. Mr. Trump reacted with fury.
President Trump was visiting the two cities after intense criticism that his fixation with illegal immigration has stoked ‘white nationalism’ and that he has failed to take meaningful action, including by backing substantial gun control measures, to combat mass shootings in the United States.
President Trump was greeted in both Dayton and El Paso by protests of unusual size for a presidential visit at a time of collective grief. In Dayton small groups of demonstrators waved signs which read “Dump Trump”. The reception was especially bitter in El Paso, a border city that President Trump has repeatedly criticised and where many people blame his anti-immigrant messaging and talk of a cross-border “invasion” for inspiring Crusius. Protesters staged a daylong demonstration in a park near the University Medical Center of El Paso, and when President Trump arrived at a nearby police emergency operations centre, a group greeted him with a large white bed-sheet which had the words “Racist, go home” written on it. Even as the President denied that he had “fanned the flames of white supremacy,” as Mr. Biden had asserted, President Trump repeated his past claim of equivalence between extremists on the left and right. “I am concerned about the rise of any group of hate,” the President told reporters before leaving the White House. “Any group of hate, I am – whether it’s white supremacy, whether it’s any other kind of supremacy, whether it’s antifa, whether it’s any group of hate, I am very concerned about it.”
The President held back from making any further public statements once he arrived in Dayton later in the morning, visiting privately with families and victims of the shooting over the weekend as well as emergency and medical personnel at Miami Valley Hospital. But, while his spokeswoman said the event was never meant as a photo op, the President’s social media director posted pictures on Twitter. “The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video,” he tweeted. “They all loved seeing their great President!”
The White House quickly followed up with campaign-style video featuring images of President Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump, shaking hands with emergency medical workers and chatting with smiling hospital workers. Mr. Brown and Ms. Whaley joined President Trump on the visit to the hospital, where they said they each pressed the President to take more aggressive action to pass universal background checks for gun ownership. (M. Crowley, M. Haberman, M. Smith and M.D. Shear, ‘Trump uses a day of healing to deepen the nation’s divisions’, The New York Times, 7 August 2019).
When one thinks of a terrorist, what does one imagine? For more than a generation, the image lurking in Americans’ nightmares has resembled the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks – an Islamic jihadist – not Crusius, a 21-year-old ‘white supremacist’ from a prosperous Dallas suburb.
But long before the massacre at El Paso, it was clear that ‘white nationalists’ have become the face of terrorism in America. Since 9/11, ‘white supremacists’ and other far-right extremists have been responsible for almost three times as many attacks on American soil as Islamic terrorists, according to the government. From 2009 through 2018, the far right has been responsible for 73 per cent of domestic extremist-related fatalities, according to a 2019 study by the Anti-Defamation League. And the toll is growing. Forty nine additional persons were murdered by far-right extremists in the United States in 2018 as compared with any other year since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf war veteran who wanted to exact revenge against the federal government for the deadly sieges in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The sprawling investigation which followed McVeigh’s attack, which killed 168 people, foreshadowed some of the challenges facing law enforcement at present.
The bombing helped to call attention to the threat of domestic terrorism. But that focus dissipated in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which drove the full force of the U.S. national-security system into fighting Islamic terrorism. From 2005 to 2009, according to a Justice Department audit, the number of FBI agents assigned to domestic-terrorism probes averaged less than 330 out of a total of almost 2,000 FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism cases.
F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray told Congress in July 2019 that a majority of the Bureau’s domestic-terrorism investigations since October 2018 were linked to ‘white supremacy’.
Yet the nation’s leaders have failed to meet this menace. In more than a dozen of recent interviews, current and former federal law-enforcement and national-security officials described a sense of bewilderment and frustration as they watched warnings go ignored and the ‘white supremacist’ terror threat grow. Over the past decade, multiple attempts to refocus federal resources on the issue have been thwarted. Entire offices meant to coordinate an inter-agency response to right-wing extremism were funded, staffed and then defunded in the face of legal, constitutional and political concerns.
At present, F.B.I. officials say that just 20 per cent of the Bureau’s counter-terrorism field agents are focused on domestic probes. In 2019 alone those agents’ caseload has included an investigation into an Ohio militia allegedly stockpiling explosives to build pipe bombs; a self-professed ‘white supremacist’ Coast Guard officer who amassed an arsenal in his apartment in the greater Washington, D.C., area; an attack on 27 April at a synagogue outside San Diego which killed one; and the 28 July assault at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, which killed three persons. A 57-year-old man from Florida, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on 5 August after pleading guilty to mailing 16 pipe bombs to Democrats and critics of President Trump.
The F.B.I. has warned about the rising domestic threat for years, but has not had a receptive audience in the White House. As a result, agency leadership has not historically prioritised ‘white supremacist’ violence even among homegrown threats, for years listing ‘eco-terrorism’ as the top risk.
Law-enforcement officials say that the cancer of ‘white nationalism’ has metastasised across social media and the dark corners of the Internet, creating a copycat effect in which aspiring killers draw inspiration and seek to outdo one another. The shooter at El Paso was at least the third in 2019 to post a manifesto on the online message forum 8chan before logging off to commit mass murder.
“Even if there was a crackdown right now, it’s going to take years for the momentum of these groups to fade,” said Daryl Johnson, the already mentioned former senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, whose 2009 report on right-wing extremism was lambasted by conservatives even before its release. “I’m afraid we’ve reached a tipping point where we’re in for this kind of violence for a long time.”
Right-wing terrorism is a global problem, resulting in devastating attacks from Norway to New Zealand. But it is particularly dangerous in the United States, which has more guns per capita than anywhere else in the world, an epidemic of mass shootings, a bedrock tradition of free speech which protects the expression of hateful ideologies and laws which make it challenging to confront a disaggregated movement existing largely in the shadows of cyberspace.
Law enforcement lacks many of the weapons it uses abroad. To defend America from the danger posed by Islamist terror groups, the federal government built a globe-spanning surveillance and intelligence network capable of stopping attacks before they occurred. Federal agents were granted sweeping authorities by Congress to shadow foreign terrorist suspects. No comparable system exists in domestic-terror cases. Domestic terrorism is not even a federal crime, forcing prosecutors to charge suspects under hate-crime laws.
“White supremacy is a greater threat than international terrorism right now.” said David Hickton, a former U.S. Attorney who directs the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security. “We are being eaten from within,” he said. Yet, Hickton added, federal prosecutors are limited in how they try domestic cases. “I’d have to pursue a white supremacist with hate crimes, unless he interfaced with al-Qaeda. Does that make any sense?”
Then there is the problem of a President whose rhetoric appears to mirror, validate and potentially inspire that of far-right extremists. The screed posted by the suspected terrorist in El Paso said he was motivated by a perceived “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” President Trump’s campaign ran some 2,200 Facebook ads warning of an “invasion” at the border, according to a C.N.N. analysis. It is a term he regularly uses in tweets and interviews. “People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is,” he said in the Oval Office in March 2019. “It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people.”
Continued Friday … (Part 16)
* 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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