God, Guns, and Blood on the Wire
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 12:29:57 PM EST
In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, deeply held religious beliefs became the scaffolding for a broad, and often violent, white nationalist movement    

Over the past few months, right-wing extremists have unleashed a series of attacks that have included the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, increased attacks on abortion clinics, the killing of three police officers in Pittsburgh, and the shootings at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, June 10.

"In the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the deeply held religious beliefs of an assortment of white nationalists became the scaffolding for a broad, and often violent, movement of racists and anti-Semites. Leonard Zeskind's recent book, "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream," details the growth of this movement and why they are not to be ignored.

Zeskind told CNN that at this point, the "shooting cannot be shown to be motivated by the fact that Barack Obama is president. "What white nationalists believe is that Barack Obama confirms their worst fears about the United States, that the government is in the hands of people that they consider racial aliens," Zeskind said. "It's a confirmation of long-held beliefs rather than something entirely new."

Firing up the radical right

"It's really been quite an extraordinary period," Mark Potok of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, recently told CNN. "We know that immediately after Barack Obama's election, the computer servers of several major white supremacist Web sites collapsed because they've gotten such huge amount of traffic.

"So I think that Obama's election has fired up at least sectors of the radical right. The economy has not helped. And, of course, continuing high levels of non-white immigration have been in the background for the past six or seven years.""My own speculation would be that this is a guy who clearly has been in the movement for decades who has been raging and raging about the ills of people of color and Jews and so on," Potok said.

"My suspicion is that he felt he was nearing the end of his life. Maybe he saw Obama, a black man, in the Oval Office and felt that America had gone to hell in a handbasket and that he was going to strike one great blow for freedom before he died himself."

'Blood and Politics'

In the immediate aftermath of the election of America's first African-American president, it was difficult to think of the white nationalist movements of the past 30 years as anything more than relics of the past. The political campaigns of former Ku Klux Klanner David Duke, the rise and fall of the Posse Comitatus, the string of bank robberies and murders committed by the Order and other Christian Identity-identified groups, paramilitary survivalists, Holocaust deniers, the assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, all appear to have passed from the national consciousness. Even the horrendous bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on the morning of April 19, 1995, seems to be commemorated only by the families of the victims, and is often only brought up in passing during discussions about threats from America's homegrown terrorists.

These days, despite our wont to "move on" and put our troubled racial past "behind us," history cautions otherwise. During last year's presidential election, the nearly all-white conservative Christian audiences at rallies held by Senator John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, were startlingly reminiscent of white citizens' gatherings from days gone by. A host of immigration-related issues are yet to be dealt with; there has been a rise in hate crimes against immigrants along with a concomitant birth of a number of anti-immigrant organizations, and mid-April's 'Tea Parties' brought out hordes of angry white folks. America's changing demographics is soon enough upon us and it is all happening under a cloud of an economy in freefall.

A recent security assessment by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Intelligence and Analysis warned that "Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning."

Fifteen years under construction, Leonard Zeskind's new book "Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream" is more than a history of the white supremacist movement. While the movement's Christian roots, anti-Semitism and racist beliefs have been dissected over the years, the core religious beliefs of a number of white nationalist movement leaders has received far less attention. Religion Dispatches recently had the opportunity to talk with Zeskind about his new book, the role these religious beliefs played in the development of a host of organizations, and where things stand as we inhabit the Age of Obama.

"While the white nationalist movement has splintered organizationally over the last few years, it is best to think of this phenomenon as something akin to a broken thermometer, where the mercury continually reconfigures itself into silver beads smaller and larger," Zeskind wrote in "What Next for White Nationalists in the Obama Years," his regular "Fortnight" column.

Zeskind is an internationally recognized expert on white nationalist movements and a longtime activist in the battle for civil and human rights. He has testified at a British parliamentary subcommittee hearing, crisscrossed Germany speaking to anti-fascist activists, and received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Petra Foundation Fellowship, the Paul H. Tobenkin Prize, and the Bayard Rustin Award. He understands that "for those of us who hope to protect and extend our multiracial democracy ... we ignore this white nationalist movement at our own peril."

In a late-April, in an interview with Religion Dispatches, Zeskind told me that while he was uncomfortable "predicting the future," he recognized that "hard economic times have not automatically translated into an expansion for white nationalists."

However, Zeskind added, "With Obama in the White House, I think we can expect [that] ... some white nationalists will focus on tending to their current base - which is not inconsiderable. They will continue to push for secessionist-style white enclaves and might engage in militia-style violence. Others will attempt to widen their base, and carve out a larger niche among conservative Republicans. Without an electoral vehicle of their own, they will suffer from the vicissitudes of the Republican leadership. Their natural base, however, will be the five percent of white voters who told pollsters last summer that they would never vote for a black person for President. More than Rush Limbaugh will get ugly."

For the complete interview, see "Christian White Nationalism in the Age of Obama." (http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/rdbook/1362/rdbook%3A_c hristian_white_nationalism_in_the_age_of_obama/?page=entire)

I heartily recommend it to get an idea where the white supremacists have come from and where they are headed. The main point I got from the book is Zeskind believes that as Americans of European ancestry become a minority among other ethnic minorities, some people will turn to white supremacy movements in order to maintain their clout.  In addition, Zeskind gives a fairly complete account of the rise and fall (and financial finagling) of Willis Carto and his Liberty Lobby. One thing I would have liked to see discussed were the connections of  Francis Booth Coombs (editor of the Washington Times) and his wife Marian Kester Coombs to the white supremacy movement.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jun 14, 2009 at 07:30:58 PM EST
About a year ago I did research on the (biased and misleading) reporting on the Jena Six situation.  As I remember, the Washington Times had an even higher count of falsehoods and distortions than Fox did regarding what happened in that town (even the best reporting left out important facts which were part of the public record).

If the connections show up, I would be very interested in getting information on them.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jun 15, 2009 at 11:40:51 PM EST

wrote quite a bit about Coombs and his racist involvments right here at Talk to Action, among others places. Google around. You'll find it.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 06:39:06 PM EST
I'll do that.  I didn't associate Coombs with the Washington Times...

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jun 16, 2009 at 09:18:57 PM EST

Into gov't, police, military, corporations, schools, churches etc they have. After coming to the conclusion that they have more in common with each other than with everyone else and their differences are less between them than with everyone else they joined forces. Let the "colorful racists" be the distraction while the less apparent ones in gov't make their moves to control both parties and many other things till they can get their White Christian Republic for a real "Handmaid's Tale." A project the brains and money of the shadowed group have done since their initial failure in 1934. FDR should have punished them so we wouldn't be plagued by them today. Not with so much power in so few hands. One of the Pillars they have targeted is economic and we are on the verge of a great collapse. Too bad Pres. Obama isn't working to end it like one would expect. I wonder what they promised him to continue on the Great Mission to bring down this country? He sure isn't working to end the economic debacle now is he? I wish they weren't winning. Feels like 1934 all over again.

by Nightgaunt on Sat Jun 20, 2009 at 05:05:32 PM EST

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