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White nationalism has motivated multiple mass shooting attacks over the last decade, including a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (killing six), and a 2015 attack at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina (killing nine).
During his inauguration speech on January 20, President Joe Biden made a plea for unity in the United States against its numerous challenges. “Few periods in our nation’s history,” the new president said, “have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.”
Among the challenges Biden enumerated were the COVID-19 pandemic, the countless lost jobs and closed businesses, worsening climate change, the proliferation of lies and a continuing battle for racial justice. To those last two points, Biden called out another threat: “a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront, and we will defeat.”
The war on white supremacy
For many listeners, a call to confront and defeat white supremacy and misinformation likely didn’t sound particularly controversial.
For a number of conservatives, though, Biden’s inauguration speech was filled with worrying implications. Some listeners, like libertarian Republican Senator Paul Rand, thought the speech was an attack.
“If you read his speech and listen to it carefully,” Rand stated during a Fox News interview the night of the inauguration, “much of it is thinly-veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don’t tell the truth.”
Elsewhere on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, one of the most-watched hosts on the network, voiced concern over Biden’s “war” on white supremacists. Carlson was concerned, he said, not because he supports white supremacy – “This show is completely opposed to the practice of judging people on the basis of their skin color,” he claimed – but because he didn’t know what the term meant.
“Now that we’re waging war on white supremacists,” Tucker asked, “can somebody tell us in very clear language what a white supremacist is?” Highlighting a commentator that said Biden had called for a “war on white supremacy,” Carlson worried, “Innocent people could be hurt in this war, they usually are. There could be collateral damage in this war. The casualties will be Americans.”
At no point during the segment, in which Carlson repeatedly insisted that he and his staff were opposed to racism, did the host mention that his former head writer, Blake Neff, resigned in 2020 after it was discovered that he had regularly posted racist, sexist and homophobic messages on an online message board.
Instead, Carlson questioned whether white supremacy was actually a serious problem in the country. He dismissed the threat of the Proud Boys (“Whoever they are”), even though one of the group’s leaders, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio Jr., was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his role in planning the deadly insurrection attempt at the US Capitol on January 6.
In fact, the Proud Boys are one of a growing number of far-right groups with ties to a white nationalist ideology. The Proud Boys, like many of these groups, have adamantly denied they are racist, though members (both former and current) have advocated for white supremacist views.
Other groups, though, make no effort to hide their views that the white race is superior to other races.
American white nationalist groups
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are nearly 1,000 sects of hate groups in the US. The SPLC classifies 48 groups as white nationalist, representing roughly 150 separate branches throughout the country.
Per splcenter.org: “White nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites. Groups listed in a variety of other categories—Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, racist skinhead and Christian Identity—could also be fairly described as white nationalist.”
Almost every state has at least one active white nationalist group. Such groups believe, per the SPLC, “that white identity should be the organizing principle of the countries that make up Western civilization. White nationalists advocate for policies to reverse changing demographics and the loss of an absolute, white majority.”
While white nationalists generally focus on nonwhite ethnicities like Black and Hispanic people, there is also frequently an undercurrent of antisemitism in their beliefs.
Most of the groups classified by the SPLC as white nationalist operate in a single state, though a few of the larger groups have multiple branches across various cities and states. These include the American Freedom Party, American Identity Movement, Patriot Front, The Base, and the Right Stuff.
Among the smaller entities designated as white nationalist groups are three publishers that print white supremacist literature: Counter-Currents Publishing, Scott-Townsend Publishers, and Washington Summit Publishers (WSP). WSP includes the Radix imprint, which is edited by Richard Spencer, the Neo-Nazi conspiracy theorist whose profile grew with his support of former President Donald Trump.
White supremacist attacks in the US
The white supremacist ideology has been at the root of multiple deadly attacks in the US. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the men responsible for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, were motivated by a white nationalist ideology, including literature that called for a race war.
The Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people and injured 680 more. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil in the nation’s history until the September 11 attacks six years later.
Likewise, Eric Robert Rudolph, the man responsible for the bombing at Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Olympic Games, was found to have ties to the Christian Identity movement. Two people died due to that bombing and 111 were injured.
White nationalism has also motivated multiple mass shooting attacks over the last decade, including a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (killing six), and a 2015 attack at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina (killing nine). Both shooters were white males who had publicly expressed racist views prior to their attacks.
In 2017, the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally that was held in Charlottesville, Virginia, resulted in the death of one woman and multiple injuries when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. White supremacists were also found to be responsible for multiple incidences of violence at Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Alleged white supremacist groups
There are dozens of far-right groups in the US whose link to white nationalism is less explicit, but whose ideologies put them in concert with white supremacists.
For instance, a former member of the aforementioned Proud Boys was one of the organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally. The group’s founder, Gavin McInnes, maintains that the Proud Boys is guided by a belief in western superiority (or “western chauvinism”), but not racism or hate for other groups. His group permits the inclusion of nonwhite members.
One of the leaders of the Proud Boys, Kyle Chapman, has said he wants the Proud Boys to embrace white supremacy. He suggested renaming the group the “Proud Goys” (“goys” is the Jewish word for a non-Jewish person). Chapman’s attempted “coup” of the group does not appear to have worked.
Tarrio, an organizer of the January 6 Capitol attack, is an Afro-Cuban American and remains the Miami-based chairman of the Proud Boys. He has stated, “I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism.”
The Boogaloo Boys (or Boogaloo Bois) are another far-right group that frequently face accusations of being a white nationalist group. The name of the group is a reference to the 1984 breakdancing sequel film, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Members of the group believe – or hope – that a second civil war is imminent, hence the sequel reference. Some believe it will be a race war.
Boogaloo Boys often insist the movement is not racist, just anti-authoritarian. Popular leftist radio host Jimmy Dore recently had Magnus Panvidya, a Boogaloo Boy, on his show, where they discussed how Panvidya’s anti-government, pro-gun views align with those of the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter (BLM). Panvidya further added he believed in non-violent resistance.
In June 2020, though, Steven Carrillo, a member of the Boogaloo Boys, was responsible for ambushing and killing two law enforcement officers and injuring others. Furthermore, in private online Boogaloo groups, some adherents to the philosophy have celebrated violence against police officers and shared racist, anti-Black memes, leading Facebook to ban many Boogaloo groups.
Another group with an anti-authoritarian philosophy is the Oath Keepers. The group, made up of former police and military members, is considered an extreme, far-right organization and as such has been grouped in with white nationalists. Members have clashed with far-left groups and Antifa activists, but they have also had confrontations with Neo-Nazis.
Like the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Boys, the Oath Keepers claim they are not a racist organization. Also, like those other groups, members of the Oath Keepers were part of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Some members of these groups (particularly the Oath Keepers) may sincerely not be white nationalists. Yet, they have to contend with the reality that their far-right ideologies, which include opposition to the federal government in general and the Democratic Party specifically, are shared by some of the most virulent white supremacists and antisemites.
While anti-authoritarian groups may have found common cause with BLM and other leftist groups during the Trump presidency, that alliance will surely be tested under a Biden administration that has vowed to fight white supremacy and support racial justice.
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