“White supremacy” has become a central part of the left’s narrative. In an hour and a half of casual news watching on television in early October 2017, for example, I heard three references to white supremacy. That’s more than I did in the decade 2005 to 2015, I believe.
One utterance came from the sports channel ESPN’s African-American commentator Jemele Hill who called president Trump a “white supremacist.” She added that he surrounded himself with white supremacists. Perhaps, by implication of the term “surround,” she meant several millions of his 63 million voters, or even all of them. This kind of verbal hysteria is not new and neither are intemperate television commentators but, in the recent past, such breathless declarations would have been laughed out of the park or negatively sanctioned, or both. Not anymore. Ms Hill’s statement was not exactly an isolated incident either.
In the first two weeks of October 2017, I hear the word “supremacist” on radio or television at least once a day. I am sure it has not happened before in my fifty years in this country (as an immigrant). This new tolerance makes some sense in political context.
For the inconsolable of Pres. Trump’s election, I suspect – but I don’t know for a fact – that the claim is by way of passing the baton at a time when the investigation on “Russian collusion” to elect him, now in its thirteenth month, is going nowhere. If he did not betray the country, what can we accuse him of that’s difficult for decent minded people to forgive, they ask? Digging into this country’s complex and troubled past is always a good bet if you are looking for dirt to throw at an American.
Mr Trump’s own intemperate comments – although never directed at the usual African-Americans targets of real supremacists – helped identify a valuable, superficially semi-plausible charge. The sudden emergence in the collective consciousness of unhappy young white Americans on the occasion of the 2016 election also contributed. (“…in the collective consciousness…;” they were around before that.) Unhappy young whites can but with little effort be turned into the racist rednecks of countless movies. Thus, the white supremacy narrative may be part of a half-blind collective endeavor to discredit for the long term the social forces thought to be associated with the sensational defeat in 2016 of a moderate liberal (and a feminist to boot; more on this below).
My first impression of the reality of a white supremacist movement, based on reading and listening to radio – including National Public Radio – about five days a week, besides watching television, is that there isn’t actually much going on nationwide in this respect. Yet, I am mindful of the fact that I live in “progressive” Santa Cruz, in liberal California. In neither place would one expect to bump casually into white supremacists. And if there were one, he would probably just clench his teeth and keep his mouth shut. In lily-white Santa Cruz, on the contrary, a black supremacist would probably be elected mayor on the first try without really campaigning. (OK, I may be exaggerating a little, here.)
I realize also that my reading habits as a conservative may not lead to chance encounters with supremacist tripe.* So, I wonder: What’s the actual situation? To try and explore this question more deeply, I use a two-step strategy. I look first for existing credible empirical reports on the topic. Second, I look for what should be the products of white supremacist groups, the tracks they should logically be expected to leave on the internet and elsewhere. But first, a brief historical detour.
The Historical Pictorial Pervasiveness of the Theme of White Supremacy
Actual white supremacy used to be common in the USA. Slavery in the English colonies was fairly quickly codified as exclusively African, black slavery. This economically attractive practice soon became undergirthed by a coherent theory of inherent black inferiority that nearly demanded that whites rule over blacks. The racial segregation that followed the end of slavery in some of the country, concretized in the law and only ending in the sixties, also justified itself with a doctrine of white supremacy. The words “white supremacy” retain powerful visual referents, in innumerable movies and documentaries of Nazi Germany and, closer to home, of the Ku Klux Klan.
One newsreel image sticks to my own mind in particular and, no doubt, to many others’. It shows what looks like hundreds, possibly thousands, of widely spaced KKK members in full regalia marching triumphantly and calmly down one of the Washington DC’s main broad avenues. Many of my current fellow Americans, and many more of my overseas contemporaries, may be excused for not knowing that the picture was taken much before WWII. It’s an image that is at least eighty years old. Even for those who know this detail, the linkage between the words and the image evokes a powerful sense of evil. By contrast with the vague, somewhat abstract charge of “Russian collusion” levied against Pres. Trump, associating him with a white supremacy doctrine is a stroke of P.R. genius (of malicious genius). The current vogue of the term seems to have begun with commentators remarking out of nowhere, because it’s easy, that current racial tensions in the USA were reminiscent of the bad old days before the Civil Rights movement, more than fifty years ago, when sentiments of white supremacy were still freely expressed in America.
I think the reviving of the term is also a concerted attempt to avoid attributing any responsibility for the current inter- racial hostility to such leftist organizations as “Black Lives Matter.” (More on this below.) Suggesting that the Civil Rights movement accomplished next to nothing was a bold move with a chance to succeed among an American populace increasingly hazy about recent American history. Then, quickly the context of the words morphed from a historical misattribution to that of a current threat. At any rate, much worry is daily expressed in the American media and on the internet, including the social media, about a nation-wide movement in America, and possibly an actual plot really to establish white supremacy.
The foreign media, much of which seem rarely to leave Manhattan and Washington, that appear also to read nothing but the openly biased and fictionalizing New York Times, echo the rumor and beam it back to America amplified. (I follow French language TV fairly closely. It’s an established fact there that the US is quickly devolving to white supremacy. The French newspapers I read now and then do not contradict. It’s possible but unlikely that the media of other countries are better informed and more nuanced inasmuch as command of English is more widespread in those countries. I mean the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and possibly Germany. The Mexican mass media tend to be well informed about things American but prone to sensationalism.)
Definition and Method
Being a conservative, I lack imagination, of course; I tend to be literal. So, I first verify that I understand the word “supremacist,” beginning with its root, “supreme.” Below are the Miriam Webster’s definitions:
Definition of SUPREME
- highest in rank or authority • the supreme commander
- highest in degree or quality • supreme endurance in war and in labour • —R. W. Emerson
- ultimate, final • the supreme sacrifice
The third definition is not relevant. The first and the second easily meld with each other to serve our purpose: A supremacist is one who seeks the highest rank, the highest authority for his group (any group), perhaps because the group is highest in degree, or quality, of comparable groups. A white supremacist pursue these objectives to the benefit of the white race** and to the detriment of the quaintly named “people of color.” Thus, the word “supremacy” does not merely mean “preference for;” it’s decisively hierarchical. So, I went looking for white supremacists: individuals or organizations that advocate that members of the white race (however defined), ought to enjoy the highest authority or power, or to rule over others because they are, in some way, better than those others.
I don’t claim that my search is exhaustive or even systematic. It needs to be neither if the white supremacist movement is either widespread or powerful. Here is why: If it’s a “movement” after all; it must express itself to exist; it must be loud to thrive. Think of another socio-political movement: feminism. Can you imagine missing its existence because of a deficient search strategy? Couldn’t happen. So, it should be easy to stumble upon evidence of white supremacism. (What else to call it?) I confess that mine is not even a random walk; it’s a haphazard walk. It follows from this confession that I may have missed even something relevant that is fairly obvious to others. I hope they will correct me if my observations are wide off the mark, if involuntary omissions undermine my conclusions. I will welcome and publicize these corrections if they make sense.
Supremacist Groups in America: a Classification
The first few steps in my search for supremacists are easy because there are obvious groups with which this view obviously prevails. Neo-Nazis groups and the several and changing array of Ku Klux Klans first come to mind. (I use the plural here because there has not been a united, national KKK since 1944, according to the Anti-Defamation League, in an article referenced below.) These groups all state explicitly that’s it’s their mission to establish white rule.
I am tempted to add the “Aryan Nations,” to this short list for obvious reasons. I have two reservations in doing so. First the name seems to include a rejection of Jews, and possibly of others groups that are mostly white. The latter would perhaps include Arabs, and, by extension, Iranians, whose name means “Aryan,” precisely. Confusing! Second, I think Aryan Nations is largely a prison organization, a fact that would limit its influence in general American society. From watching several Public Television documentaries on American prisons, I derived the impression that far from entertaining supremacist objectives, this group is defensive in nature. It seems to be a response under dangerous prison conditions to the coercive dominance of black inmates. This judgment is subjective, of course. Correct me if this impression is wrong.
And then, there are tiny “militia” groups, usually short-lived, that are often accused of being supremacists although it would be hard to identify a supremacist statement emanating from any of them. They give the impression instead that they are racist but separatist which is programatically a long way from, even the converse of supremacism. If you think that “supremacist” and “separatist” mean the same thing, you must believe also that the Kurds are trying to take over Iraq, and the Catalans, Spain, as I write (first days of October 2017).
A Recent “White Supremacist” Event
One prominent recent event contributing to the reviving of the white supremacy fear took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in early August. Perhaps, some ill-received statements by Pres. Trump brought to the events a prominence they would not otherwise have gained.
To make a long story short: An ad hoc group convened what was billed as a national meeting to “unite the right.” They also wanted to protest the forthcoming removal of a statue of a Confederate general. They requested and obtained a permit from the city. Some of the protesters wore Klan paraphernalia; some wore Nazi insignia. I think that most did neither. Given the theme of the meeting – “unite…”- it’s very unlikely that most or many did either. It’s hard to tell from the TV footage. Cameras targeted over and over the same handful of colorful and vividly signaling demonstrators. As usual, the reporters on the scene did not try to draw a random (representative) sample of the demonstrators. I don’t expect them to, of course.
There was a physical confrontation with counter-protesters who showed up without a permit (therefore, acting technically unlawfully) and ready for street battle. Some of those called themselves “antifa” (“anti-fascist,” of all things). One of the original (right-wing) demonstrators plowed through the crowd with his car and killed a counter-demonstrator. (He was promptly identified, arrested and charged with second degree murder.) Naturally, this incident made national news and excited much comment from the left. Among the liberal media, there soon emerged an agreement – I take to have been only a tacit agreement- to label the original demonstration a “white supremacist” event.
That is like calling a parade summoned by the Democratic Party a “Communist march” because there are undoubtedly some communists among the marchers. In fact, no one knows how many of the original demonstrators were supremacists. There was no way to know except by asking them. Nobody tried, to my knowledge. Again, the meeting was not billed that way. It seems to me that deciding that 100 % were supremacists is pure invention. The invention may have been guided by the gratuitous supposition that the few sporting KKK or Nazi emblems were the tip of some race supremacist iceberg. From what I know of mass demonstrations, instead, there must have been participants who had vague motives to be there and even some, who did not know exactly why they were there, or even what was going on. There must have been others who were there for the fun of it, for the adrenaline reward.
It would be more fair to call the demonstrators in general something like “white nationalists” than “supremacists” of any kind. As I will illustrate below, that stance implies more often a sort of defensiveness fed by a sense of victimhood than a determination to dominate others. This is all a little subjective, of course. What is less subjective is the size estimate of both camps in Charlottesville that weekend. The Associated Press, an organization well versed in this exercise, said there were 500 demonstrators and 1,000 counter-demonstrators. Even if all the demonstrators had been white supremacists, 500 is hardly anything to write home about when it comes to something billed as a national event. Again, I am left underwhelmed. Charlottesville is a single event, of course. I look below for more general quantitative evidence.
Searching for Numbers of White Supremacists
I look on the internet for quantitatively oriented statements related to a putative white supremacy movement. I find remarkably few. I keep bumping time after time into the same two sources.
On Google, they are immersed in a sea of commentaries about white supremacists that do nothing to size up the actual movement. The first source is a tentatively exhaustive survey entitled: “With Hate in their Hearts: The State of White Supremacy in the United States” by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published around 2016. (I could not find an exact date of publication or posting but it may not matter much.) The ADL is what its name says it is. It has been in existence since 1913 and was founded as an explicitly Jewish organization. I think it has a good reputation for truthfulness. The ADL survey presents all the various supremacist groups as small and fragmented. It pays special attention to the KKK, the quintessential, indigenous white supremacist group (except that it’s not a group but groups, as mentioned before). It states in particular that:
“For perspective on just how negligible the public Klan presence has become in recent years, consider this: In 1994, Klan groups staged 10 different rallies in the state of Ohio alone. In 2014, 20 years later, there were only around 10 confirmed Klan rallies across the United States (Klan groups have claimed a few additional events, but no confirmation can be found that they actually took place.)”
The ADL article detours through what it calls the “intellectual” supremacist right, down to the level of tiny ephemeral groups and even individuals. More on this below. More importantly, in a general way, the ADL article concludes that: “Since 2009 [first year of the Obama presidency – my reminder], the white supremacist ranks, on the other hand, did not enjoy any true growth in number.” Thus, even the advent of a black president does not shake white supremacists away from their descent into oblivion.
The second easy source with quantitative aspirations is the leftist Southern Poverty Law Center which makes a living labeling and pursuing whatever it decides are “hate groups.” The SPLC has no interest in understating the number or influence of anything tied to white supremacy. If a total extinction of hate groups took place, the SPLC would expire in short order. The SPLC substantially agrees with the judgment of the Anti-Defamation League in connection with Aryan Nations and its allies:
“In its heyday (a specific small Aryan Nations group) in the 1980s and early 1990s, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, Klansmen and other white nationalists convened regularly at the group’s Idaho compound for its annual world congresses. In 2000, AN began to fall apart after losing a civil lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center that depleted the group’s finances.”
The article from which this quote is extracted is undated. It was written after 2010, possibly quite a bit later; I don’t know. The last year mentioned in the corresponding Wikipedia entry is 2012.
I find meaningful, again, the fact that no update to this entry occurred during the years of the Obama administrations. In 2015, the same SPLC announced that: “Aryan Nations… has all but faded into racist history as 2015 draws to a close.” That white supremacists groups failed to prosper during the administration of the first black president does nothing to validate the impression of a vigorous nation- wide white supremacist movement, of course. I ask, “If not then, when?”
The ADL and the SPLC, two left-oriented organizations thus substantially agree that, together, the Nazis, the Klans, and the militias don’t amount to a hill of beans at the national level. They are not rich, they are few, they have few adherents, and they are disorganized. This is not to deny that they are capable of serious crimes of a local scope. Those who are old enough remember well Timothy McVeigh who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building. Yet, McVeigh, a militia and Aryan Nations sympathizer, an extreme rightist is there ever was one, a man with an obvious penchant for violence, paid no special attention to African-American citizens. Is it possible that we are being led astray by a media’s unjustified amalgam between “right wing” and “white supremacist”?
White Supremacists on the Internet and in the Media
In the next phase of my search, I look for direct expressions of white supremacist belief. It seems to me that if there is really is a social movement in support of the corresponding set of beliefs, in this day and age, it must be present on the internet. It should be thunderous in the social media especially. Political movements are not secret societies. They seek mass appeal. Above all, they must gain adherents to prosper. Given how effective and inexpensive the internet is as a recruitment and influence tool, any significant social movement must be present there, if not vociferous. (Again, try to imagine a discreet or silent feminist movement.) It should be easy to find white supremacist utterances if a white supremacist movement of any size exists in the US at all.
There is another reason to scour the web for supremacist statements. In 2017, few if any of the adult Americans born after 1960 are likely to have been passively exposed to white supremacist doctrines. The traditional institutions of belief transmission, overwhelmingly staffed by liberals and leftists, wouldn’t have done it. The schools and universities surely did not even attempt this necessary task. There is no extremist right-wing press left to speak off, probably has not been for many years. Some die-hard segregationist churches might have, in principle conveyed the supremacist doctrine.
However, in my judgment, any church that engaged in such a nefarious pursuit would quickly find itself shamed on the front pages of national newspapers. At least, it would be noticed. If any supremacist church did and escaped negative attention, it must have been on a minuscule scale. Reading some readers’ minds: Fox News television, the frequent target of left-wing calumnies stays scrupulously away from any statement of the relevant kind. Finally, the Democratic Party, the guardian and protector of both southern slavery and of legal segregation in its heyday, had ceased openly to espouse racist beliefs by the mid-sixties. The Democratic Party then has not for a long time been in a position to transmit the doctrine of white supremacy.
By a process of elimination, I come to the belief that a widespread and vigorous white supremacist movement must of necessity now do its teaching, impart its message through the internet, and possibly, through talk-show radio. How else will a person under fifty learn the doctrine of white supremacy? (I know, there are always pamphlets one can read. Are you serious?)
I listen to two-way talk show radio a lot, have done so for twenty years, but rarely after 7 pm. In the daytime, I have never encountered anything approaching a supremacist statement on talk radio, either from hosts or from callers. I cannot, however, certify that it has not become a major teaching tool for the doctrine of white supremacy but strictly in the evening. I hope readers will address this possible lacuna. In the meantime, I search the internet for white supremacy’s tracks.
Slumming on the Internet
I pride myself on my ability to slum the web with the best of them. So, I spent about ten hours, spread over two weeks, looking for white supremacist utterances anywhere on the internet. I focused especially on “alt-right” sites because the term is said – by ADL among others though without proof – to be a code word for “white supremacist,” precisely. I included in my observation alt-right internet sets of Facebook “friends” that I knew to be local (in the Santa Cruz mountainous areas which includes a kind of mini-Appalachia. Ask me.) I found none, no, zero such utterance, with one exception examined below.
Those willing to declare aloud that white people ought to dominate or rule American society because whites are superior appear to be few and far between, almost non-existent. If some think it but don’t proclaim it, they can hardly constitute a social movement, as I have emphasized. What I discovered without surprise was a large number of fairly pathetic, plaintive chatter about whites being oppressed and marginalized. One woman who has a weekly show on the local, mostly conservative radio station where I worked for a while, even declared on-air that a “white genocide” was taking place. This is crazy talk for sure but it does not denote a will to dominate others. It’s divorced from reality and defensive, it’s not divorced from reality and offensive, nor is it well tied to reality and offensive, of course.
The individuals in that camp I suspect are mostly poorly educated youngish men with few life chances left. From some of their Facebook profiles, they appear to be single or divorced. (Again, this is neither an exhaustive nor a random search.) In addition, the locals among them feel trapped in an area where housing is expensive because of the proximity to Silicon Valley. They are not college graduates. The handful to whom I have spoken tend to exaggerate the deleterious effects of race-based affirmative action on their own circumstances. The question is inevitable: If you dropped out of high school, possess no marketable skills, lack in social talent, make abundant use of now- legal substances, if you are also descended from a two-hundred year lineage of social immobility, how much good would the total abolition of all racial affirmative action do you?
They see themselves as victims of a political system on which they have no grip. I think of them as “lost boys.” They are known locally, collectively by the sobriquet of “Oakies,” a transparent reference to (also local) author John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath. The lost boys would be in the lower level of blue-collar workers if the corresponding work remained common. To the extent that such work still exists, it tends to be performed by Mexican immigrants, many of them illegal. Nonetheless, there is little overt anti-Mexican racism among the lost boys or anywhere at all, and what there is not severe.
I asked the US-born adult son of illegal Mexican immigrants I know fairly well, a thirty-something, to share with me the worst racial slur he had ever heard growing up in the hills near Santa Cruz. He drew a blank. (Of course, this was still in the Santa Cruz area.) After thirty years in Central California where I meet lost boys in the bars, at places of work, on the street, and, in the past, on my radio program. I know only one anti-Mexican joke with a more or less racist character. It involves only mild disparagement. (It’s fairly funny but I won’t tell it here.)
Again, I have not been everywhere possible on the internet. I tend to trim my search when I get a sense of repetition, of redundancy. The internet may contain pockets overflowing with raw expressions of white supremacist sentiment that I missed. I may be overgeneralizing from a few examples I happen to know well. Here again, I hope others will make up for my possible shortcomings in this area.
The loud exception to the apparent absence of supremacist sentiment on the internet is a website vividly named “Stormfront.” I had come across it previously but had half forgotten it in the course of my meanderings on the internet in pursuit of other goals. I recollected nevertheless that it showcased white supremacist mission statements in fairly pure form. I tried to return to it as part of my current honest search for supremacist tracks. Unfortunately I am not able to show examples here. The website was shut down on August 25th 2017 as a result of some undescribed but hostile actions by a group calling itself the “Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.” That’s according to the ADL, mentioned before. This elimination looks, of course and incidentally, like one the more decisive suppressions of freedom of speech ever in peacetime. (Don’t bother to look it up. To the extent that it was done by a private group putting another private group out of business, it’s all constitutional. Still, I think I am dreaming. I couldn’t make it up: One group shuts up another group because its words are illiberal!)
The International Connections of American White Supremacists
Stormfront was an international website. According to ADL, at some point, it had 300,000 members on four continents. I was not able to figure the definition of “member” in this case. I will assume that they were all steady consumers and/or participants in Stormfront for a significant period of time (weeks rather than days). At first blush, 300,000 may look like a large number. To gain scale, I compare the number to my rough estimate of the total white adult male population of the world which I put at 160,000,000. This gives us a guestimate of 1 member of Stormfront for every 1,000 adult white males worldwide. That’s both possible and surprisingly high.
However, it does not help us much size up the white supremacists movement in the US, specifically. It turns out, it may not tell us much about white supremacists anywhere at all because of an illegitimate conceptual amalgam I examine below. The ADL article of reference identifies a handful of what it calls “intellectual” white supremacists. It calls them the “counterpart” of several European right-wing movements which it designates with the French word, “identitaires,” that is, pursuers and defenders of national identity.
It points to contacts between the two categories: “In 2014-2015, for example, American ‘intellectual’ white supremacists have traveled to conferences in Hungary and in Russia, where they mingled with members of extreme-right parties ranging from Greece’s Golden Dawn to Italy’s Forza Nuova.” I peruse below the “identitaire” group I know best because of my continued interest in French politics. The “identitaires” mentioned by ADL are legions inside the French party, “Front National” (FN).
The FN receives a significant-to-large number of votes in every election. It’s not a fringe phenomenon. It matters. It progressed to the second round in the 2017 presidential elections. The FN has a checkered past under its previous leader, a man given to the occasional racist joke (but more often to anti-Semitic slurs). Today, the FN has an above-board program contained in a formal mission statement and in the public declarations of its candidates during electoral campaigns. I have followed the FN in the French media fairly carefully over the years.
Here are the salient points of the FN’s program that may be relevant to the topic of white supremacy. First, it’s anti-immigration. It wants to stop or slow immigration into France without regard to origin. The FN wishes for fewer African immigrants and also for fewer Byelorussian and fewer Serbian immigrants. Fear of labor competition seems to be at the root of this opposition. Second, and I think this is a separate point, it wants to lessen or stop altogether the immigration of Muslims, specifically, into France. This second form of opposition is probably based on perceptions of cultural incompatibilities according to the FN’s own frequent statements. After all, even superficial acquaintance with the Koran suggests that the separation of religion and government (“church and state”) is problematic in Islam. Neither exclusion makes any reference to race.***
To make the same point in the negative the FN has – I think – never vigorously denounced, or perhaps denounced at all the immigration into continental France of black African Christians, or of the numerous black citizens of the French West Indies, who are all either Christian or agnostic. (I believe if it had, it would probably have come to my attention. Go ahead and check.)
So, to call legitimately the French identitaires of the FN “white supremacists,” one would have erase the word “white.” This makes no sense, of course. The confusion ADL demonstrates on this occasion does not inspire confidence in its presentation of other extreme-right wing groups in Europe about which I am less well informed. By implication, this confusion confirms the number of “members” of the late Stormfront provides no metric about the number of white supremacists in the world as it supplies none about their number in the USA.
The Boogeyman and the Leftist Narrative
I conclude that talk of a large and powerful white supremacist movement in America that is also current falls in the category of monsters under the bed. As I affirmed at the beginning of this essay, it’s politically useful by charging – somewhat nebulously – the victor of the 2016 election with yet another sin, a good one, this time.
This boogeyman also awards implicitly a degree of legitimacy to the narratives of several extremist left-wing organizations, as if extreme imaginary charges were a reasonable response to actual extremism. I have in mind the extremism of the largely mendacious Black Lives Matter (BLM) whose story line highlights innocent African-Americans being murdered by police in the street in large numbers.
The BLM narrative, in turn, constitutes a severe diagnosis calling for radical medicine. If there is an active racist plan in America to reduce non-whites to a permanently inferior condition many ordinary decencies, constitutional dispositions, and rationality itself, may be by-passed. The facts are starkly at variance with the BLM narrative however. Below is a small sample of incompatible facts. According to the Washington Post, not exactly an agent of the insane right wing, in 2016, the police fatally shot 233 blacks; the vast majority were armed and dangerous. In spite of the sickening video of the street execution by a police officer of a fleeing black suspect we have all seen, in spite of suspicious deaths of black arrestees in police custody, the Post categorized only 16 black male victims of police shootings as “unarmed.”
Still according to the Washington Post, black males have made up 42 percent of all cop-killers over the last decade, though they are only 6 percent of the population. These numbers don’t excuse any police misconduct but they go a long way toward explaining why police officers (of any race) might be nervous around black suspects. An honest narrative would report these facts, or it would contradict them. Personally, I think American police officers kill far too many citizens as compared to police forces of other developed countries. Yet, the trend is not what the left and Black Lives Matter would have us believe.
Between 1976 and 1998, the teen and adult population of the US increased by 47 million. Yet, the number of people killed by police remained steady. Thus the rate of police killings declined steeply. Of those killed by police the percentage of African-Americans black decreased. Since the late 60s (until … dates not given but evidently recently), the rate at which police kill blacks has gone down 70%. This is all from a column in the WSJ (9/27/2017) written and referenced by Jason Riley. For the BLM narrative to be supported by facts, there would have to have been a sudden reversal of trends in the very recent past.
Everything we know about crime trends tells us that such a reversal is unlikely. The WSJ columnist, Mr Riley is an African-American, by the way. The horrible nature of their beliefs notwithstanding, the various white supremacist groups in America today appear so few, so understaffed, so disorganized, so poor, that they must pose about as much danger to American society as do the long-standing black supremacists of the so-called Nation of Islam.****
In its intentedly thorough search, the ADL could only come up with three names of individuals and of two of organizations (including the American Freedom Party) in the US, other than those I mentioned above as explicitly white supremacist. The handful who espouse this ideology pose no threat to American society, I think. That’s not to deny that they can be deadly to individuals. Thus, the young white man who murdered nine black faithful in a church in a Charleston church in 2015 was said to be a supremacist (although I did not see any evidence of this while he was clearly a racist, a person who hated African-Americans for no other reason than their race). Even then, the threat of violence posed by white supremacists pales as compared to the menace of both jihadist terrorism (for the constant apprehension it inspires and the tightening of state-imposed security it generates) and of meaningless mass violence. For the latter, I mean, as demonstrated by the Las Vegas massacre of the fall 2017, and also, by the earlier Virginia Tech University mass murder, perpetrated by an Asian who was probably not advocating Asian supremacy.
At this point, my initial impressions are confirmed. I am left with the absurd idea that to call anyone, or any organization, “white supremacist” in the USA today usually requires that one withhold either the word “white” or the word “supreme” and its derivatives, from the appellation. There may be racism in America today although it’s difficult to find any unambiguous expressions of this supposed racism.
In the public liberal discourse, this cause – racism – is normally inferred arbitrarily from its putative effects, a massive exercise in fallaciousness escaping all testability: There are few African-Americans in academic physics research; it demonstrates discrimination against black people in research. The first woman to finish the Boston marathon arrives behind 235 men; that’s proof of “institutional” or “systemic” gender discrimination in organized amateur sport. Seventy percent of National Football League players are black; that’s proof of…nothing!
To the extent that racism does exist in American society, it’s in no way equivalent to white supremacism. First, it can easily constitute a simple private prejudice against some out-group or other. (Thus, black school children in some areas accuse their studious fellow students of “acting white.”) Second, as I have indicated, American racism is associated with separatism rather than with a desire for hegemony. To believe that a significant supremacist movement exists in America is an act of blind faith. To so believe, one has to treat absurdly small numbers much as one would deal with hordes of barbarians. And one must also infer a supremacist intent from language that is not supremacist on the face of it. Of course, there could be a secret code hiding under fairly innocuous language to assist in the implementation of a white supremacist agenda.
This does not make sense because political movements do no flourish by relying on opaque communication. To gain supporters, to indoctrinate them, and to direct them demands loud and clear expressions of intent. Again, here, the feminist movement comes to mind. This leaves open the possibility that there exists a large American white supremacist movement that it is both secretive and strategically incompetent but that will eventually become powerful and dangerous nevertheless. I am unable to speak of this possibility.
The belief – in spite of a paucity of facts – in an on-going attempt to establish white supremacy in the USA serves diffuse de-legitimation purposes. If all whites are racist, although some are not conscious of it, America may be faced by a serious and imminent moral peril. In the face of such peril, some measures and some policies until now unacceptable because of our collective dedication to democratic norms quickly begin to seem acceptable. Attachment to facts and insistence on due process come to mind. (I know I am repeating myself; it’s worth doing.) The fact that the charge of white supremacism evokes genuine, undisputed features of American history give it superficial verisimilitude: This dog used to bite, you can be sure it’s fixing to bite again.
The supremacist claim may be successful in depriving of both moral and intellectual validity a set of values commonly associated with both conservatism and libertarianism that is widespread among Americans in general. Government non-intervention thus becomes the equivalent of complicity in letting the white supremacist win. In this manner, hands-off policies in general may quickly gain a bad reputation. The acceptance of this belief undermines efficacy in the recruitment and member retention of any conservative movement.
If conservatism is in fact associated with attempts to establish exclusive white rule, it becomes difficult for decent people to see themselves as or to admit to being conservative. Acceptance also discredits in advance any group and its proposals that touch in any way and anyhow on racial matters. I am thinking of the attempt by both black and white organizations to remedy the parlous condition of many predominantly African-American school districts with the proven remedy of charter schools. There are grounds for optimism however in the thought that a portion of the narrative will sink from its own incoherence. You can’t maintain from one side of your mouth that the bad old days of institutional racism have never gone and, from the other side, argue that there is a concerted effort to bring them back.
Personally, I fear however that there is going to be a blow-back I won’t like because it will end up minimizing the long string of atrocities that was American slavery and the dispiriting injustice of legal segregation that followed it. The new emphasis on scarce white supremacists and on their supposed ambitious objectives probably does not result from a real, classical conspiracy, not from a secret plot, but it is primarily a cultural herd response to the loss of left-wing electoral ground.
A herd response does not entirely exclude some degree of steering however. The steering can all be done through attentive mimicry among a few hundred opinion leaders nation-wide who already belong to the same social networks. The emphasis on imaginary white supremacism performs several nested functions. First, in November 2016, feminism, one of the left’s battle horses, broke a leg. Any horror story that this tragedy can be blamed on is bound to be welcome by many. That’s for the liberal and Democrat rank-and-file.
It is not lost on Democratic activists that, in 2016, their party lost not only the presidency but a number of congressional seats, a slew of governorships, and hundreds of seats in state legislatures. Secondly, and at a more subtle level, we have to suppose that leftist leaders know their 20th century history of America. In my lifetime, the federal government intervened efficaciously to alleviate and then to eliminate political arrangements supporting gross racial injustice. (Martin Luther King Jr’s writings support the idea that most of his tactics were intended to activate and mobilize the federal government on his side, which they did, it appears.)
Enacted white supremacy would, of course, constitute the ultimate racial injustice. There is a precedent. It would make sense preventively to act against such a development with an enlargement of the federal reach into Americans’ life and a tightening of its grip on American civil society. Finally, for the hard left of the Democratic Party, the boogeyman serves the useful purpose of taking public attention away from several kinds of disturbing socio-intellectual developments to which it is publicly tied. I have in mind, for example, the loss of agency, the creeping de-humanization of individuals implicit in identity politics, now present in every aspect of American life. I am thinking also of the fast retreat from the values of the Enlightenment, beginning in universities, of all places.
* Just to make sure: I am not a white supremacist myself (“supremist,” according to the Governor of Virginia, a man of culture and a Clinton fund raiser). I don’t think whites are superior to any other group. I am not even sure there are “whites” (but, see below footnote**). I agree with Thomas Jefferson that: “…the talents, which nature has provided in sufficient proportion, should be selected by society for the government of their affairs, rather than these should be transmitted through the loins of knaves and fools passing from the debauches of the table to those of the bed.”! (Letter to the President of the United States – 1792 .) I think the best should govern and that constitutional practices should determine who the best are. I believe that race and sex (so-called “gender”) should play no role in selecting them. I try to defend myself against the now pervasive accusation of unconscious racism by stating that my wife of forty years and our two adopted children are brown-skinned and thus, maybe, maybe, non-white. But, how would I know; I am an old white man myself?
** I use conventional words such as “race,” “white,” “African-American,” “black,” because they are broadly understood social terms in the US in 2017. This usage does not imply I espouse the idea that races are real in a biological sense or as anything but social constructions. (You may want to see my essay “Race and Ethnicity.”)
*** Some will probably accuse me of being a National Front backer because I describe that party with coolness and use no excoriating terms. For what it’s worth, I am not. If I voted in French elections, I could not possibly support the NF because I am an immigrant myself and in favor of (regulated) immigration and because of the NF’s protectionistic proposals in respect to international trade. I see the latter as a recipe for poverty, naturally.
**** For overseas readers: I am referring here to the so-called “Black Muslims” (caps), an explicitly racist African-American organization founded in 1930 that is in no way Muslim in spite of its name. I am definitely not writing about American Muslims who are black. Got it?
***** See a vivid testimony in the Wall Street Journal of Oct. 3rd 2017 by Prof. Heather Heying.