We begin with an optimistic, yet un-blinkered understanding of our situation. The political landscape in the United States has changed considerably since IREHR’s founding in 1983. Our long-held dreams for social and economic justice have become imbued with new hope in the future. More, the drive towards a truly multi-racial, multicultural democracy and individual human rights have gained new and powerful adherents.
Nevertheless, racial discrimination against people of color, and housing and social segregation are facts of daily life. The overwhelming majority of white people continue to take for granted the relative privileges accruing to their skin color. Our government’s many broken treaties with Native American Indian nations remain unrepaired, and anti-Indian racism plagues the individual and collective lives of this continent’s original people. Bigotry, both the theologically based and the ordinary secular kind, continues against gay men and lesbians. Despite the many strides towards gender equality, women remain underpaid at work, too often mistreated at home and subject to the strictures of a patriarchal society. Reproductive rights remain at risk in many parts of the country. The worse aspects of nativism have become manifest in vigilante action, hate crimes on the streets, and mean-spirited legislation. Anti-Semitism continues to bedevil our society, both in its most overt swastika-emblazoned form as well as in the far more frequent assertion that the United States of America is, or should be, a Christian nation.
Further, the economic collapse–the greatest of our time–threatens to become a social crisis of immense proportions. Poverty rates have gone up. Racial disparities that impose special penalties on black and brown people remain hidden inside terrifyingly high rates of unemployment. Bank foreclosures have undermined even the chance of home ownership for too many. Public education, human services and the social infrastructure remain underfunded and subject to the fiscal restraints of government debt.
Over the last several decades, the global economy has been transformed, away from the old vertically-integrated model of the past and towards a more horizontal and trans-national structure. Capital moves quickly across the globe, virtually without restraint; and growing numbers of corporations have lost their association with any particular national interest. The nation-states of Western Europe and North America no longer completely control their own markets in capital and labor. And a number of supra-national institutions have arisen, and assert themselves into the domestic affairs of individual countries.
The erosion of the powers of the nation-state, combined with the end of the Cold War’s division of the world into two opposing geo-political camps, has magnified questions of national sovereignty, identity and citizenship. Ultra-nationalism has become the most prominent form of opposition to globalism. In Europe and North America, nationalist movements stand against immigrants and immigrant rights. Resistance to full citizenship for the native-born children of undocumented immigrants poses new challenges to the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
The white nationalist movement consists of an ever-shifting array of organizations, publishing houses, think tanks, websites and individuals with an interlocking leadership and cross-pollinating memberships. Two relatively distinct trends exist in the movement: a mainstreaming wing that hopes to build a political majority among white people, and a vanguardist wing comprised of hard-core cadres with a more violence-prone tendency. Both movement wings aim at establishing a whites-only political, cultural, and social dominance over the United States. The long-term goal of the most significant sector of the movement is the creation of an Aryans-only nation-state, separate from the rest of the country.
The influence of the white nationalist movement has far exceeded its size. In the post-Jim Crow years, it has re-articulated racism and white supremacy in American life, and turned them into an ideology of white dispossession. The expected loss of majority status by white people, projected by the Census Bureau to occur around mid-century, has animated this idea. One immediate outcome has been that the public discourse about affirmative action has been dominated by notions that white people are the new “victims.” Talk of discrimination quickly turns to charges of “reverse racism” and “special rights” for “minorities.” More, white nationalists years ago cut the turf for the anti-immigrant sentiment that has swelled behind it. In the United States, anti-Semitism exists in its most congealed form in the Jewish conspiracy theories that white nationalists have propagated; and the notion of Holocaust denial would barely exist at all if white nationalists had not turned it into their movement’s calling card.
The so-called Christian right, paleo-conservatism, and other far-right movements exist in a symbiotic relationship with nativism and white nationalism; and ideas and people flow between these movements, sometimes creating a whole that is bigger than its parts. In the current period, during the first months of the Obama administration, white nationalists have grown stronger in a milieu of racist and nationalist opposition to the status quo.
The combined experience of the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’ board members represents nearly a century of direct experience countering racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy and white nationalist movements.
Individually and together, we have investigated the smallest corners of white nationalist activity, in the process building one of the largest research archives on white nationalism in country. We’ve also helped conceptualize the broadest band of understanding of the problems at hand. We have written extensively on these issues for publications in the United States and Europe. And we have helped build trans-Atlantic relationships to trace and disable the international designs of white nationalists.
We have organized to protect Native Indian sovereignty rights in the Northwest, fought Klan groups in the Southeast, and helped build a family farmer’s movement that opposed anti-Semitism and the Posse Comitatus in the Midwest. We organized a broad-based opposition to the militia. We initiated peer-based responses to the white power music scene and were the first to point out the white nationalist origins of the anti-immigrant movement.
IREHR brings both a long-term perspective and a short-term urgency to our work. We aim to continue examining racist, anti-Semitic, and far right social movements, analyzing their intersection with civil society and social policy, and to educate the public and assist in the protection and extension of human rights through organization and informed mobilization.