Concerns for the safety of Barack Obama, and questions about the next steps by hardcore racists continue to bubble up as the president’s inauguration nears. One set of white supremacists allegedly plotting against his life has already been discovered. And several newspaper articles have concluded that an upsurge in activity by racists and antisemites is already under way. If history is any guide, we can be certain that some sort of white nationalist rising will come in the not-too-distant future.
Remember the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, when newly emancipated black men were elected to public office across the states of the former Confederacy. As soon as it was possible, Ku Klux Klan nightriders and white mobs used violence of every sort to break the incipient multiracial democracy and re-establish white supremacy as the law of the land. After the victories of the black free-dom movement in the 1960s, a racist and far-right resurgence during the presidency of Jimmy Carter (1976-1980) laid the groundwork for both the white supremacist movement of the 1980s and 1990s and the Reagan-Bush administration’s assaults on the gains made during the so-called Second Reconstruction.
In 1992, Bill Clinton had not been in office six months before Jerry Falwell and the Christian nationalists had re-inflated their coffers with direct mail dollars. The militia insurgency, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Aryan bank bandits all took place before Clinton’s first term ended. And that is not even considering the Gingrich-led Republican takeover in the House of Representatives in 1994, a change in political dynamics that lasted until 2006.
Although the ascension of the first black president has not yet met such an outsized response, it should be noted that white nationalist and anti-immigrant activity levels have already been too high for too long. Crimes against Latinos motivated by bigotry rose for the fourth year in succession to 597 incidents in 2007, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report. Nativist (anti-immigrant) politicians were re-elected to Congress last November at about the same levels as they were in 2006, according to an article, “Nativism and Election 2008”, written by Devin Burghart for Searchlight. By Burghart’s count, 91 members of the so-called House Immigration Reform Caucus are taking their seats this month. And among the young and the Nazi-esque, the National Socialist Movement has continued to grow, primarily in the Midwest, where it has very few organisational competitors. While the white nationalist movement has splintered organisationally over the past few years, it is best to think of this phenomenon as akin to a broken thermometer, where the mercury continually reconfigures itself into silver beads smaller and larger.
Quite independently of any particular presidency, white nationalists have been long quite certain that they would face a life or death challenge to the “white race” before mid-century. They have cited the predictions by census demographers that non-Hispanic whites will become one minority in a nation of minorities sometime around 2042 – depending on immigration numbers and birth rates. By any objective count, it would then be difficult for white people (qua white people) easily to maintain the privileges of majority status in our winner-take-all society. And white nationalists have been preparing for more than a decade to fight this future battle.
To their chagrin, however, the changes in political dynamics have happened much faster than they previously had thought possible. And white nationalists have been caught without any fully formulated strategy in response. They remain without a usable electoral vehicle. The Republican Party still nominates presidential candidates such as George W. Bush and John McCain, who white-ists regard as either Zionist stooges or pro-big-business immigrant-lovers, or both. They have failed to build a viable third party alternative. In this regard, consider that David Duke, who twice won a majority of white votes while running as a Republican for statewide office in Louisiana, was forced into a position of supporting Ralph Nader’s candidacy in the last election.
Although individual acts of violence have continued largely unabated, there is little sign of any newly-organised, clandestine army of Aryan warriors, despite the multiple calls in the recent past for a “race war”.
Yes, the election occasioned a great howling and gnashing of teeth on white nationalist websites, as noted by others. But a close look at these online forums reveals the dilemmas they now face. On one website, largely devoted to the promotion of various “scientific” and “genetic” theories of white superiority, American Renaissance chief Jared Taylor compared the recent election to the end of white minority rule in South Africa. While 68% of white South Africans, including a majority of Afrikaner Boers, had voted for democratic reforms, Taylor noted that only 43% of white people had voted for “black rule – pardon me, for Barack Obama”. Taylor continued: “The election of a president most whites did not want is a jarring symbol of lost autonomy. If their numbers continue to decline, whites will not get the schools, the neighborhood, the culture – and ultimately, the country – they want.”
Leaving aside the specious nature of his statement about “black rule” and his claim for white “autonomy”, Taylor succinctly stated the white nationalist argument. It generated about 50 comments in response within the first 12 hours of his posting and many more in the following weeks. The tenor of these was overwhelmingly pessimistic, sadly noting the large number of whites who had voted for Obama. But on the crucial question, “what is left that we can do”, asked by the first respondent, the postings were noticeably quiet.
Just days after the election, at Duke’s European American Unity and Rights conference in Memphis, the tone was a bit less mournful. Certainly, Duke had bewailed the election of Obama. But in his mind Obama was a sign of “Jewish supremacism” as well as an occasion to note the loss of Aryans-only rule over the United States. During that day’s proceedings Duke also warned against any move by white nationalists towards starting a race war. Bullets would not advance his cause. Instead he promoted the recent election of Derek Black to a committeeman’s seat in the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, Florida. Black, the 19-year old son of the long-time national socialist Don Black, was already known in movement circles. He ran a stealth campaign and received 167 votes out of the 287 votes cast in his district. In the weeks after the election, however, the Republican Party locals, alerted to Derek Black’s affiliations, refused to certify his election. Such a sequence of events hardly seems to auger for a successful white nationalist strategy in the future.
There is every reason to believe that some white nationalists will continue trying to carve out a niche among Republicans – the Council of Conservative Citizens has long been well ensconced in the Mississippi party, for example. But it would be a mistake to maintain that in the two months since the election they have made any great new strides in that direction. In fact, most racists and antisemites who claim that Obama’s election will engender a great upsurge in Aryan activity located those events in the future. And on that point, they might be right.
Although attempting to predict the future is not my particular forte, at this point it looks as if white nationalists will pursue two different directions in the months and years to come. On the one hand, there will be a tendency to pull away from engagement with the larger white public, and to care for and solidify their current base. As part of this trend we should hear an increase in calls for some type of secessionist or enclave-type whites-only territory. We might also see some form of organised militia-style violence from this direction.
On the other hand, we should expect some form of very deliberate attempt to broaden the white nationalist base, particularly if a more widespread conservative Republican or Christian right opposition to the Obama administration gains any traction. In this case, white nationalists will look for an expanded following from among the five per cent of white voters who told pollsters last summer that they could never vote for a black person for president.
If you start looking for these developments now, then you won’t be surprised by them later.