Tag Archives: Patriot movement

Voting and the Battle for White Cultural Dominance

28 Sep

Since the beginning of 2011, conservatives have rolled out a broad wave of voter suppression efforts ranging from imposing voter ID requirements and blocking early voting, to the intimidation tactics of groups like True the Vote. Not surprisingly, these efforts to place road blocks, including what amount to poll taxes, between eligible voters and the ballot box are targeted primarily at young people and people of color, the groups that helped make up the margin of victory for Barack Obama in 2008.

But then you probably already knew that.

Some of you also probably know that voter suppression didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s just the latest in a long line of similar efforts that runs all the way through American history.

As I mulled over that history, an ad from my childhood popped into my head.  Here’s that ad.

Looking for it online took me to a video I bookmarked. I’m sure you’ve seen it but here’s another look.

It struck me that the two videos serve well as bookends around a cultural narrative that I believe is at the heart of the voting rights struggle. I bet you’re wondering, “what again?”

It’s not as tortured a connection as it seems. You see, I think the current voting rights fight isn’t just about politics. Instead, I think of it as just one more battle within a larger war over who gets to be an American, and who among Americans gets to control the meaning of America. That war is not just about political rights, it’s about who controls our culture, and that’s something to be very concerned about.

Why? Because culture is at the heart of identity. Our identities, how we are defined, whether or not we are recognized as who we believe ourselves to be and found worthy, drives our politics. When our identities are threatened, we will do almost anything to protect ourselves.

Food, especially food that “swings American,” is a great gauge of American culture and identity. For instance, we think of hamburgers as an all-American food. But hamburger is named after Hamburg, Germany. The hotdog also has German roots. But these are, truly, American foods. Just as American as chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, and fortune cookies, all also invented in America but that we, nonetheless, think of as Chinese.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, back when that La Choy commercial was considered about as offensive as selling water softener as an “ancient Chinese secret.” That was a much more naive time for whites. That naivete was rooted in the unquestioned dominance of whiteness. In fact, so dominant were whites that American was synonymous with Caucasian.

But the racial equity movements of my childhood would soon shatter that naivete, pulling whites into a struggle to maintain their cultural dominance that made the contours and vulnerabilities of whiteness visible to whites, perhaps for the first time. Until then, being the assumed racial and cultural norm of America was fundamental to white identity and to the ethos of American exceptionalism.

But when white cultural advantage was challenged, white folk mobilized. KKK membership grew, White Citizens Councils formed, and the Republican Party stepped in to provide a political vehicle for white backlash that is still in effect today.

And now, as the racial demographics of the U.S. and the world turn to the increasing numerical advantage of non-whites, the backlash movement that peaked in the 1990s is resurgent. Membership in racist Patriot groups and vigilante border patrols is on the rise, and Tea Parties and groups like True the Vote are wreaking havoc on our political process. And they’re not nearly done yet. The global scale of white conservative ambitions can be measured by the body count in what increasingly appears to be a permanent war against the so-called Muslim world, the popular support for which is founded in Islamophobia.

It is in this context that the current voter suppression efforts we are seeing around the country should be understood. Overcoming these efforts in this election cycle is only one among many battles. Unless we see that battle as connected to the battles for immigration rights, religious freedom, racial equity and gender equity, reproductive and sexual freedom, and the battle to curtail the ambitions driving the expansion of American empire, we are missing the dynamics of the larger war and may soon find much more than voting rights among it’s casualties.

More on Racially Profiling Whites

14 Aug

A friend (who I’m lucky to know because he’s so much smarter than me) commented my my post “Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?” pointing out that there is a white racial profile.

The white racial profile is the other side of the story of the way people of color are profiled. So, for instance, where welfare is concerned, Blacks are undeserving entitlement junkies, but whites are deserving needy people facing temporary setbacks, and that’s just among those who are able to put “white” and “welfare” together at all. Some would say whites are profiled as over-burdened taxpayers subsidizing freeloaders.

Youth of color who experiment with drugs are profiled as dangerous addicts, while white youth are just going through a rebellious phase. And while Blacks and Latinos are profiled as criminals, whites are profiled as innocents. In fact, where property crime is concerned, whites are profiled as victims. They are the ones who worked hard to have what we Others want but don’t deserve, while our supposed criminal natures make us prone to turning wanting into stealing.

And because Blacks and Latinos are profiled as undeserving, over-entitled whiners while whites are profiled as deserving patriots, that fear of violation of white property rights turns easily towards resentment against whole communities. That seething resentment might just explain the proliferation of Stand Your Ground Laws.

But here’s where the irrationality goes over the top.

At the end of the Civil War, whites created the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee. It was supposed to be a club for former Confederate soldiers but quickly became a movement devoted to upholding white supremacy. The Klan quickly spread across the former Confederate states and played a critical role in ending Reconstruction. Yet, Southern law enforcement colluded with the Klan more than it opposed it.

In the mid-20th century, whites formed White Citizens Councils, often with overlapping memberships with the Klan. These Councils included elected officials and community leaders. Around that time, whites also created the Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist movement organized like the KKK, but inspired by European Nazism. Whites organized the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist religious sect who believe, among other things, that people of color are subhuman mud people.

White people also founded the Aryan Nations, originally based on a compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Aryan Nations is a national center of Christian Identity and home to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, and also served as a training ground for violent neo-Nazi skinheads.

The core membership of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement of the ’80s and ’90s was alienated middle-class white kids. Racist skinheads were the terrorist arm of a much more sophisticated racist movement guided by professional neo-Nazi activists like Tom Metzger. Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for involvement in the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw.

The most famous domestic terrorist group of the 1980s was the Order. The Order was inspired by William Pierce‘s novel The Turner Diaries, a racist and anti-Semitic manifesto that closes with enemies of the white race strung up on light posts with piano wire.

The Order was responsible for the murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish talk-radio host in Denver. They also started a counterfeiting operation and pulled off the biggest armored truck hold up until that time, taking $3.6 million that they spent on weapons, paramilitary training camps, and material aid to allies.

I probably don’t need to tell you that the Order was all-white.

And, of course, it was whites who created the violently anti-immigrant Minutemen border vigilantes and the currently insurgent white nationalist Patriot movement.

But in spite of this long history, are white racists profiled as potential criminals or domestic terrorists? No. When whites form groups for the promotion of white-only interests, does the public grow suspicious? Rarely. And when young white males gather in groups, does law enforcement see a gang or a college fraternity?

My friend is right. There’s a racial profile for whites. That profile assumes innocence and deflects suspicion and is every bit as wrong as the racial profiles that target people of color as violent political dissidents, gang members, and criminals.

This is paradox for the echo chamber. Let’s call it out.

The Trouble With Nazis, White Nationalists, and Other Assorted Extremists

11 May

Today’s Huff Post story about KKK Grand Wizard and Bonner County, Idaho sheriff candidate Shaun Winkler hosting a cross burning got me on a rant today. Clearly, we’ve got a problem with populism of the right wing variety in America.

According to a 2011 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has been steadily climbing for the last 10 years. White nationalist Patriot groups, first organized in reaction to the violent government crackdown on dissident groups at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas in the early 90s, went from 149 groups in 2008 to 1274 groups in 2011.

Add to that the recent stories of Idaho State’s only black lawmaker receiving a hand addressed invitation to join the KKK, a couple of murder-suicide cases involving white supremacist leaders in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and the bust of 10 white supremacists in central Florida for stockpiling weapons and training for a “race war,” and the evidence starts to pile up.

The 2010s are starting to look like the 1980s all over again.

My t-shirt, circa 1989.

According to veteran right wing watcher (and a greatly admired friend) Chip Berlet,

“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety.”

Those overlapping movements include a resurgent neo-Nazi faction, Tea Parties, anti-immigrant vigilantes, Christian jihadists, assorted white nationalists, and a big chunk of the Arizona State Legislature.

Back in the late 1980s and through the 90s, my activism was mainly pointed at exposing and countering vigilante white supremacists and the religious right wing. Grassroots groups representing both wings of the white right were on the rise back then. But toward the end of the 20th century, things changed. The white supremacist movement went underground, and the religious right had won so much, including taking over much of the grassroots infrastructure of the Republican Party and electing George W. Bush president, that they became the mainstream and lost momentum, even as their power and influence was greater than ever.

But the combination of the election of an African American president, the economic crisis, including a bail out of elites by the government, and the changing demographics of our country has the right surging again. Top that off with a heaping helping of post-9/11 Islamophobia and a side of anti-Chinese sentiment and that rebellion is beginning to look like a movement.

I know that to a lot of people, the litany of groups I listed looks pretty fringe-y. And I agree that it’s not as though anything as exotic as neo-Nazism is likely to amount to a major movement in the U.S., especially given our history with Nazi’s in WWII.

However, don’t discount the fringe. The violence they represent is a very real threat and they have a powerful impact on our political culture.

Remember the role the KKK played in the collapse of Reconstruction and enforcing Jim Crow? The chilling affect of vigilante groups is not to be underestimated. Border patrols are today’s Night Riders of the KKK. They don’t just scare the bejeezus out of undocumented immigrants, they also up the ante for immigrant rights activists who must face an opposing side that includes folks with guns who have designs on mining the border.

When extremist groups parade, protest, burn crosses, and distribute hate literature, they’re testing the public consensus on bigotry. They define “hate” as the most extreme and genocidal ranting, making more conservative expressions of bigotry appear mainstream and acceptable by comparison.

Here’s an example. my first entry in this blog was inspired by a marathon of TV news watching I undertook in order to see how people of color are portrayed in liberal media. What I discovered was that even on MSNBC, supposedly the liberal alternative to Fox News, Native Americans are rarely if ever mentioned. Asian Americans nearly received the same treatment, while Latinos and African Americans were almost exclusively represented by sports stars and entertainers. I’d call that racist, but then what do you call Fox?

You see how the presence of something far worse makes what is problematic appear mainstream and, by extension, pretty normal? Just think of the radical racist fringe as the Fox News to more conservative racism’s MSNBC and you’ll see why I say, we’ve got a major problem on our hands.

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