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Because of Their Violence

By AK Press | June 19, 2018

This is a guest post from Shane Burley, author of Fascism Today. Shane has the last event of his east coast tour this evening in Washington, DC—see here for details!

White nationalism is implicitly violent, it cannot exist without it.  The proposition is, by its own merits, steeped in the most expansive and profound sorts of violence.  Even liberal American society, which cannot sustain itself as an egalitarian community without revolutionary change, acknowledges the deep violence that led to its founding and that motivates all meager attempts at social progress.  White nationalism sees the violence of the past, from slavery to colonialism to Jim Crow, as compromising measures: that violence is normal to racial relations.  This is the “spoils to the victor” mentality crossed with belief in the inferiority of the other that allows the genocide of indigenous people and the ongoing racial revenge against African descended people as a logical and normal response by whites, an ideology that has violence at its center.  It’s no surprise when that violence moves from implicit to explicit.

In 1979, the Maoist Communist Workers Party (originally named the Workers Viewpoint Organization) staged a rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they were organizing with a largely black community of textile workers.  Their “Death to the Klan” slogan showed a certain amount of militancy after decades of Klan terrorism.  Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Third Era resurrected Ku Klux Klan enacted a paramilitary style war against integration in the South, including lynchings, bombings, and assassinations.  By the time the 1970s rolled around they had largely receded as a major terrorist movement after the United Klans of America were taken down by a lawsuit, and were instead channeling into the strange public facing organization that David Duke had intended for it.

But in Greensboro, several Klan organizers from the North Carolina Knights of the KKK and the National Socialist Party of America had united to form the United Racist Front.  When they went out to meet the CWP on November 3rd, they were joined by informant, Ed Dawson, who was acting as a leader in the movement.[1]  In front of news crews, the white supremacist faction opened fire on protesters, killing five activists rallied with the CWP and one of their own.  As documents were later revealed, law enforcement had early knowledge of what was going to take place, a part of their ongoing efforts to infiltrate radical organizations.[2]

The Greensboro Massacre has taken a certain place in the history of Klan violence only because, to a large degree, it was the last public show of Klan paramilitary firepower in any coherent fashion and the state’s culpability was apparent even to outsiders.  This was not the beginning or the end of white supremacist violence, more of a public blast into our memory, and in the 1980s the Aryan Nations tied organization The Order ran a trail of blood, robberies, and assassinations across the country, leaving us with a reminder of the revolutionary potential of the ideologies.  Their ideas increased in virulence as well.  Christian Identity took a vulgar reading of the Bible stating that European whites were the “lost tribes of Israel,” Jews were in league with the Devil, and people of color lacked the humanity, and souls, of whites.  This led to some of the most militant acts of violence into the 1990s, and skinhead organizations took the street battle to urban areas as they created the ongoing specter of street attacks.

When the Alt Right first made itself known in 2015 (it had been lingering around for years before that), people immediately signaled, rightly, that they were ideologically the same as their North Carolina comrades, only with well pressed suits, books of pseudo-philosophy, and an upper-middle-class arrogance.  This method was, however, not new by any means.  When David Duke took over the largest KKK contingent in the 1970s, he largely dropped the buffoonish robes and argued wedge issues like immigration and affirmative action.  He later left the Klan to form the National Association for the Advancement of White People and, throughout the 1980s, built up a base of support and talking points that would lead to his catastrophic political runs in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  About the time David Duke was making waves, Jarod Taylor, a former PC Magazine editor with a Yale degree, started American Renaissance, a “race realist” publication and series of conferences dedicated to reinvigorating academic-sounding arguments for the racial inferiority of non-whites and the perennial need for “a self-consciously European, Majority-white nation.”[3]  He brought together figures like Forbes-editor-turned-anti-immigrant-extremist Peter Brimelow[4] and Kevin MacDonald, whose work has defined 21st Century anti-Semitism by suggesting Judaism was a “group evolutionary strategy” to outcompete non-Jews for resources.[5]

This was, again, not new.  Figures like Francis Parker Yockey had taken German Idealist and Conservative Revolutionary philosophy and melded it with elements of the left to attempt at a smart, and sober appearing, take on white nationalism.  Organizations like the Pioneer Fund, a fascist and eugenic foundation that funded “race science” research used in books like the Bell Curve, had existed since the 1930s, using establishment money to push the academy to validate their most atrocious ideas.  The Council of Conservative Citizens, a neo-Confederate group founded in the 1980s as a way of engaging the original membership lists from the pro-Segregationist White Citizens Councils of the 1960s, began holding conferences with scores of public officials, including Mike Huckabee and Trent Lott.[6]  At the same time, they were arguing that miscegenation was “against God’s chosen order” and publicly venerated slavery and the antebellum South.

All of these organizations had come with a suit and tie, and the Alt Right was merely the latest incarnation of these, built for a Northern audience of meme-lovers and those steeped in paleoconservative, Third Positionist, and European New Right tracts.  The argument that the Alt Right will try to make is that their presence is about ideas, not violence, and so the left’s response is hyperbolic at best: it is preparing to respond to violence when all they have are unpopular opinions.  The same was said for its organizational ancestors, all clamoring just to have their voices heard in this unjust system of political correctness.

The problem, however, is that their violence is implicit for only so long before it breaks away.  The Council of Conservative Citizens, long known for its ties to explicit white nationalist street groups with KKK and neo-Nazi affiliations, was cited as the inspiration for Dylan Roof’s massacre at the Charlton church in 2016.  David Duke’s era KKK has been accused of dozens of acts of violence, and its membership went on to form projects like White Aryan Resistance, which was sued into oblivion after its associates murdered an Ethiopian immigrant in Portland, Oregon in the late 1980s.[7]  American Renaissance, as a central hub for the white nationalist movement in the U.S., has seen scores of the most violent edges of the racialist movement come through its doors, including members of Aryan Nations who were looking for a home after they lost their compound when several members attacked a black family passing by.  It takes little to see the violence that is underneath the surface with their public facing organizations, all it requires is to look at its members, what they do, and what they want.[8]

The Alt Right itself has also been mired in violence since its earliest incarnations, though it was hard to pick up on in public discourse because of its diffuse and confused nature.  Attacks inspired by the Alt Right, such as the March 2017 killing of a homeless man in New York by James Jackson.  He had been reportedly radicalized online by the Alt Right, including interacting with material from Richard Spencer, the founder of the movement.  Jeremy Christian took out the anger he honed at Alt Right supporting organization Patriot Prayer, murdering two people in an Islamophobic frenzy on a Portland train.[9]  There are more as the news comes in, attacks linked to the Manosphere or those in the Atomwaffen Division, the Nazi Satanist inspired militant racialist organization.

What the Alt Right leadership, like Spencer, will tell you is that these are a violent fringe of their organization and that they would never condone that violence.  That is likely true yet far beyond the point.  Throughout the multiple generations of the KKK, tracing back to its rear-guard action defending the lost Confederacy in the 1860s through the Second Era Klan’s massive growth in the 1920s to its days with the violent United Klans of America, the vigilante violence usually followed a pattern that took itself out of the official functions of those organizations.  While the Klan was clearly responsible for its murders, they were rarely “Klan sanctioned” in the most official sense, in the same way that Jim Crow relied on extra-judicial violence to enforce the softer codes issued by the state.  The violent rhetoric, the revolutionary aims, and the apocalyptic tone has a way of sanctifying violence, and those “seemingly random” acts of violence are a sheer necessity for those organizations.[10]  If they were to admit who and what they are, the public reaction would force the state to cave and target them, and, in times past, they certainly did.  After a series of bombings, one that killed four young girls in Birmingham, Alabama, the FBI began to focus in on the Klan violence in the South.  This was not, as Matthew Lyons has pointed out, this was not out of altruism but of its contest to the state.

Although FBI officials shared the Klan’s racist ideology, they saw the Klan as a threat because it carried out organized violence without authorization from the state.  They also looked down on most Klansman as poor, rural, and ignorant (a stereotype shared by many liberals then and now).  By contrast, the FBI had no problem with the equally racist but more genteel Citizens Council.  The bureau also did nothing to disrupt either local police brutality or the informal (non-KKK) vigilante networks that enforced white supremacy in many rural areas of the South.[11]

That happened only after the violence went from its implicit nature, where members were quietly encouraged to engage in violence in their personal capacity to the explicit violence of commands from a pulpit.  As the early Morris Dees’ lawsuit that stripped the United Klans of America of their $7 million in resources in 1987, their rhetoric and intention was clear from the start.[12]  The violence that these organizations rely on are always stoked with subtlety, rarely carried out as praxis unless they want to completely destroy their above-ground wing and head into the world of pure armed struggle.  This makes their violence more persistent, more ever present, always ready to spill over and take lives.

This begs the question, then, is Charlottesville, the most public and sensational act of violence from the Alt Right, our generation’s Greensboro Massacre?  While there are some parallels, including the steady decline of the Alt Right as the communities they are trying to embed themselves in are able to see their agenda with clarity, it does not seem to match the intentional brutality.  There was a decision to attack the CWP with brutal, and public, force, and that came from organizers and not just the fringe.  While Charlottesville was the high-water mark in the public face of the Alt Right as (aspirational) mass movement, that says nothing about its potential for violence.

What does it take for white nationalist movements to move from public facing community organizing to open acts of terrorism, or Propaganda of the Deed?  History shows that it is failure and desperation, the inability to see through their organizing goals in a conventional means and to, instead, turn to acts of spontaneous cruelty.  The Order, Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 attack on the Oklahoma Federal Building, and a series of skinhead shootings over the past twenty years have shown this, noting a feeling of helplessness is the best indicator that intentional acts of mass killing are a possibility.

After the Greensboro Massacre, many of the white nationalists involved went on to become celebrities in the movement.  Harold Covington went on to help form the violent neo-Nazi gang in the UK called Combat 18, which often provided security for the British National Party, as well as creating the Northwest Imperative to call for like-minded people to move to the Pacific Northwest.[13]  Frazier Glenn Miller, another co-planner of the attack and long-time white nationalist organizer, gave up on his larger work of building towards an Ethnostate without Jews and decided to complete his mission by shooting a 14-year-old boy and his grandparent who were leaving a Jewish community center in Oakland, Kansas.[14]  His years of work for his cause had seen nothing change in his favor and so, like so many before him, he loaded a gun and decided to take some people out on his trip into oblivion.

This desperation has become methodology since the 1980s as police crackdown and the left’s counter-organizing has allowed little success for the revolutionary aims of the white nationalist movement.  Former KKK and Aryan Nations organizer Louis Beam outlined this most clearly in his paper “Leaderless Resistance,” which favored autonomous violent attacks over formalized organizations since this negated the threat of infiltration and internal dissension.[15]  This idea has been taken up by organizations around the world, and that “Lone Wolf” violence has had a persistent effect on giving purpose to the fringes of a movement where they feel ineffectual. All the justification for spontaneous acts of ultra-violence are built in, whether individually or with a few radicals on a mission.

This could explain Alex James Fields Jr.’s attack in Charlottesville last year that injured dozens and caused the death of activist Heather Heyer, but this single act occurred during a high moment for the Alt Right movement.  What kind of violence happens on their trip to the bottom?  The potential for violence in this “suit and tie” movement is there, their desperation assured, and the violence of their ideology is implicit.  This could mean that more is on the way, but its leaderless nature means that the violence the Alt Right is fomenting could come from almost any direction.

To reclaim the reality of white nationalist violence, both historic and impending, is to reclaim the central function of white identity: violence on the “other.”  The character change between the Alt Right and the neo-Nazis is one of minor philosophic shifts and branding, but the underlying cause and the overarching message retain a key component of revolutionary upheaval, of the mythic battle for “survival of their race,” and the growing need for power.  Richard Spencer, for his part, has shifted his rhetoric from one of simply the preservation of “identity” to the need to take, and exercise, power in a dominating way.  This is not “real politic,” but an acknowledgement that much of the language of identity that has filtered over from the European identitarian movement is disingenuous: what he wants from his Ethnostate is a Great White Empire.  And why shouldn’t he say it?  Their idealist vision is one that refuses to quit, that will take down opponents as it needs to, and whose sees the only reason to refuse violence is its optics.

For the antifascist left, this needs to be a check in to the reality of what is being faced.  This is not just an argument, or a political force, but something capable, willing, and inevitably baked in potential violence.  The surprising growth of the Alt Right has had one effect that was less predicted, that their violent rhetoric and vulgar racialism would infect the conservative communities they tried to cozy up to.  Their violence has extended to the MAGA-Belt, the Independent Trumpists whose anger has become explosive.

The fringe of the white nationalist movement is an essential part of it, and it is where the move towards “IRL” violence takes place.  They will never “condone” this violence in the practical, instructive sense, but they don’t have to, their message has been heard loud and clear. This creates a perpetual dilemma for the communities they target, both in active points of confrontation and in daily life.  The potential only grows without resistance to stifle it, but conscious community defense and bonds is the only thing that can weather the storm.  We have to wrestle with the reality that their violence is genocidal and persistent, and will never evaporate on its own.

 (Credit for all above photos: Daniel Vincent/Daniel V. Media)


[1] Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (Montreal and Oakland: Kersblebedeb Publishing and PM Press, 2018): 170-171.

[2] Eric Ginsburg, “The Greensboro Massacre of 1979, Explained,” Teen Vogue, May 18, 2018.

[3] David Neiwart, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump (London and New York: Verso Books, 2017): 222.

[4] Shane Burley, “How White Nationalists are Setting Immigration Policy in Trump’s White House,” April 27, 2017.

[5] Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (Montreal and Oakland: Kersblebedeb Publishing and PM Press, 2018): 65.

[6]The Curious Case of the Council of Conservative Citizens,” Anti-Fascist News, June 25, 2015.

[7] Elinor Langor, A Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, the Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003): 344-350.

[8] Shane Burley, “As the alt-right moves to violence, community responses matter,” Waging Nonviolence, June 1, 2017.

[9] Mike Wendling, Alt Right: From 4Chan to the White House (London: Pluto Press, 2018): 190-191.

[10] Shane Burley, “Institutionalizing Long-Wolf Terrorism: How Fascist Organizations Inspire Mass Violence,” The Hampton Institute, September 21, 2015.

[11] Matthew N. Lyons, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire (Montreal and Oakland: Kersblebedeb Publishing and PM Press, 2018): 168.

[12] Elinor Langor, A Hundred Little Hitlers: The Death of a Black Man, the Trial of a White Racist, and the Rise of the Neo-Nazi Movement in America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003): 271-277.

[13] Alexander Reid Ross, Against the Fascist Creep (Chico: AK Press, 2017): 284.

[14]Frazier Glenn Miller,” Southern Poverty Law Center.

[15] Martin Durham, White Rage: The extreme right in American politics (London and New York: Tourtledge, 2007): 103-104.

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