White supremacists still on the march
President Trump is gone, but the movement he encouraged is alive and well. Since leaving office on Jan. 20, the feisty 45th president has been brooding at his Mar-a-Lago estate, likely telling anyone who will listen that the Democrats robbed him of a second term.
He recently took the mic during a wedding reception at his posh resort to praise himself and excoriate President Biden. Not that his followers need much encouragement to believe he should still be president. They have been seething over the results of the election since Biden took office and they plan to vent their frustration in a series of white lives matter marches across the country this weekend.
Trump did not, of course, invent white supremacy, and not all of his supporters are racists. But as president he certainly encouraged the movement with his inflammatory rhetoric. When neo-Nazis marched carrying tiki torches at the 2017 Unite the Right rally, chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” he not only refused to condemn them but insisted there were “some very fine people on both sides.” At the September 2020 presidential debate, he told the far-right and misogynist Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” The group took his words as a rallying cry and emblazoned it on their merchandise.
At his the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally,” Trump told the MAGA crowd filled with Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, QAnon followers and unaffiliated white supremacists, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” They took him at his word and stormed the U.S. Capitol. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently warned that, despite the arrest of 405 people for alleged involvement in the insurrection, white supremacists “may be emboldened by the January 6, 2021 breach of the U.S. Capitol building.”
The timing of the proposed “White Lives Matter” marches is hardly a coincidence. The trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, an African American man, has reopened the wound caused by Floyd’s death under the knee of the white Minneapolis police officer. The organizers of this weekend’s event have deliberately framed it as a challenge to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Indeed, the belief that Caucasian, straight, “Christian” males are losing their primacy of place in the United States is the core of white supremacist ideology. This conviction explains why white supremacists are equal-opportunity haters. They are racist, antisemitic, misogynistic, anti-Asian, Islamophobic, anti-LGBQT and anti-immigrant.
The contemporary white supremacy movement (also known as “white power” or “white nationalism”) is a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon. It is a broad ideological movement that motivates groups, networks and unaffiliated individuals. The demographics of those arrested for the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection reveal the depth and breadth of the movement. A study of 377 people whose backgrounds were analyzed found that a majority were not the poor angry young men who used to join extremist movements. Most (67 percent) were over the age of 34, 85 percent were employed, 30 percent were white collar, and 14 percent were business owners. Only 12 percent belonged to formal extremist groups. They came from 41 states in all regions of the country. In other words, they are broadly representative of white America.
In one respect, though, those arrested were typical of those who join extremist groups: the vast majority were men. Only 45 women have been arrested for crimes allegedly committed on Jan. 6. This statistic does not, however, mean that women are less receptive to white supremacist ideology than men. A study of “the Demography of the Alt-Right” revealed that slightly more women than men had strong feelings of white identity, valued solidarity with their race and believed whites faced a great deal of discrimination. However, women are less prone than men to act violently based on their beliefs. Video footage reveals that a significant number of women were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but the vast majority did not commit a crime or at least avoided arrest. Women have played a prominent role in white supremacy throughout American history. The primary promoter of QAnon theories in Congress is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
White supremacy has moved from the street to the state house. The voter suppression measures being considered in at least 45 states reveal how racism has infected mainstream politics. Georgia’s new election law is the first in what promises to be a spate of discriminatory legislation. Even though civil liberties groups and many experts agree that some of its measures will adversely and disproportionately affect African American voters, those who passed it insist they only want to insure more secure elections. They must not have heard DHS undersecretary and Trump appointee Chris Krebs when he said that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.”
Perhaps the “White Lives Matter” marches will amount to little more than a small number of disgruntled people expressing their angst in a handful of cities across the country. The fact that such events have even been planned, however, is cause for concern. Four days ago, communities around the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. That commemoration serves as a grim reminder of what can happen when demagoguery triumphs over reason, majority groups adopt an exclusionary definition of national identity and frightened people look for scapegoats.
In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln implored all Americans to be touched by the “the better angels of our nature.” Trump continues to tell his followers that they should listen to their worst demons. Lincoln sought to heal the deep divides in a war-torn nation, and we should take his words to heart once again.
Tom Mockaitis is a professor of history and DePaul University and author of “Violent Extremists: Understanding the Domestic and International Terrorist Threat.”