What Makes a White Nationalist?

The title of this post is identical to the title of a Feature article by Peter Byrne in the 9 June 2018 issue of the New Scientist. The most important point in the entire article is a statement by Errol Southers, a terrorism expert at the University of Southern California and a retired FBI agent who wrote on opinion article for “USA Today” linking the violence in the Unite the Rite rally in Charlottesville to Trump’s radicalized rhetoric. The statement to remember is “White nationalists are a greater threat to Americans than jihadists.” Bear in mind that Trump’s base consists of nazis and white supremacists. This leads to the realization that the major terrorist threat exists within Trump’s base.

“The Anti Defamation League reports that in the US, white supremacists were responsible for 18 of 34 terrorist murders in 2017. Seven of the remaining 16 were anti-government extremists, leaving nine tied to Islamist terrorism. Since 2002 there have been three times as many deadly far-right terrorist attacks as jihadist attacks in the US, although the jihadist attacks have claimed more victims overall, reports the New American Federation.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has catalogued more than 600 active neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and hundreds of anti-government militias that either have the stated intention to overthrown liberal democracy or historically engaged in armed struggle in the US.

Southers sees similarities between the white extremist and Islamist terrorists: both fit the prevailing notion among researchers that most terrorists are not psychopaths, but relatively typical people motivated by circumstance to protect their “in-group” from dangers, real or imagined. He says, “Given their belief systems, both types of terrorists are acting rationally. Most terrorists are ‘altruists’ who view themselves as soldiers fighting for a noble cause.” The calling to enact political change precedes the calling to violence: the ends justify the means.

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and ResponseS to Terrorism (START) produced a paper principally authored by Pete Simi titled “Recruitment and Radicalization among US Far-Right Terrorists.” The paper revealed that white extremists, although not necessarily psychopathic, are often violent before they join extremist groups. Only after joining are they generally schooled in ideologies that justify channeling pre-existing urges into violence towards Jewish people, non-white people and anti-racist groups {The healthy memory blog post “Hating is Belonging: The Ex-White Supremacist” indicated that the indoctrination occurs after they join these groups}. The ideology is the excuse for ultra-violence, not the reason. Ethnographer Kathleen Blee at the University of Pittsburgh notes that this insight challenges thinking on the origins of extremism. She says, “It shows that the embrace of those really terrible ideas could be a consequence of an immersion in the culture, rather than the cause of an attraction to the culture.

Simi’s analysis of his interviews of 103 former white supremacists have found the following answers to What makes a racist?
*Half report witnessing serious acts of violence growing up.
*Half report experiencing physical abuse during childhood.
*One-quarter report being sexually abused during childhood.
*Half report being expelled or dropping out of school
*Three-quarters report a history of physical aggression before they got involved in far-right politics.
*Half report exposure to parental racism
*More than three-quarters report parental divorce
*Half ran away from home during childhood or adolescence
*Half were shoplifters or petty criminals
*Slightly less than half report a family history of mental health problems
*Two-thirds report substance abuse issues
*Two-thirds report attempting suicide.

Here are some verbatim quotes from Pete Simi’s interview with current and former white supremacists,

“I believe I was doing something noble, altruistic, that I was dedicating my life to my people to my race…It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m a hater and I’m proud of it.”” (Donald, White Aryan Resistance)

“We’re here to defend God and defend the people…not oppressing or taking over.” (Callie, American Front)

“Fighting is a lot like a hug. It makes you feel good…It’s always been that way. Ever since I got the s*** beat out of me as a teenager. (Stanley, United Society of Aryan Skinheads).

“It wasn’t about the racism…I knew the whole time that it wasn’t right…But to be accepted, to feel like I belonged… (Kevin, Blood and Honor).

It was more fashion that politics by a huge factor.” (Jacqueline, Society Skin Nation)

“You’re running by yourself in the streets. It’s the camaraderie that draws you in, at first. And then once you see what is really going on in the world politically…you’re like, well, now, I’ve got something to believe in, something to defend, the white race. You feel invincible even when you are getting all beat to s*** by cops or anti-racist skins (Logan, Public Enemy No 1)

The reader will note that not all white nationalists are men. Kathleen Blee of the University of Pittsburgh has written a book in 1991 “Women of the Klan: Racism and genre in the 1920s. Blue found that millions of middle-class white women, including suffragettes, joined the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan supported voting rights for white women to diminish the electoral power of non-white people.

Male leadership in white nationalist organizations is often dependent on the adoration of followers. Blue writes, “Female influence is more informal, indirect, and personal—and so potentially more effective.”

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