Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mainstreaming White Nationalism by Leonard Zeskind

Although the Goldwater and Wallace campaigns had demonstrated the possibility of a mass racist revival in the post-Jim Crow world, the Nixon presidency acted as a brake on its transformation into an autonomous movement independent of the two-party system. After the 1968 election, Nixon effectively absorbed the Wallace vote within the Republican Party ranks, thereby diminishing the chances that Wallaceites would create a permanent bastion outside the party. As noted by journalists Thomas and Mary Edsall in Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, Nixon slowed the pace of federally mandated school integration and nominated ultraconservatives southern judges to the Supreme Court. He also championed "law and order," while Vice President Agnew attacked liberals with the same vitriolic lingo previously used by Governor Wallace. But Nixon also implemented programs such as minority set-asides in construction as well as affirmative action at the same time. Much as in his diplomatic opening to the People's Republic of China, which angered onetime supporters of a more McCarthyite, anti-communist Nixon, the president co-opted and the defanged any embryonic movement based on white racial resentments outside the Republican... For white supremacists, the years 1968 to 1974 proved to be an interegnum and even after the Watergate scandal forced Nixon to resign in 74, and the United States effectively lost the Vietnam war, those elements of the far right that had supported both the war and its prosecutor were left (temporarily) adrift...

It is virtually a truism among human relations professionals that one way to smooth over America's racial fault lines is for black people and white people- indeed people of every hue and description- to live together in the same neighborhoods, eat together in the same restaurants, attended the same houses of worship, go to the same schools, and vote in the same precinct houses. In David Duke's various campaigns, however, there is evidence to the contrary. White people tend to be "tolerant"- a mealymouth term- up to a certain point. At that time, when the percentages change and white people approach minority status, they tend to run. The sociological literature on housing segregation makes that point over and over. The question that emerges from Louisiana in 1990 and 1991: What is (at least one) electoral equivalent of "white flight"? The answer appears to have been: David Duke. With all other variables being accounted for, the higher percentage of black voters in a county or metropolitan area, the higher percentage of white voters who pulled the lever for Duke. ( Conversely, in those areas with lower percentages of proximate black voters, whites tended to vote for Duke's [ more racially tolerant] opponents.)

During the weeks before the primary in 1989, Duke campaigned the old fashioned way- by knocking on doors. When voters answered, there stood a pleasant-looking earnest gentleman wearing a sportscoat and a tie while talking their talk. No scowling bigot in a white sheet or swastika armband. Duke told voters he was for "equal rights" for whites. Could he have their supports? Once they said yes, the rarely changed their minds. Could he put a DAVID DUKE FOR REPRESENTATIVE sign in their yard? Enough people said yes that his campaign gave the appearance of momentum. Politics is, after all, the grandfather of performance arts. The appearance of momentum produced momentum itself. His signs popped up on front lawns and busy intersections like mosquitoes swarming in a hot Louisiana swamp. Soon he wasn't a pest at all, but a contender. Duke was for keeping the homestead exemption on property taxes, his opponent wasn't. Duke was really against crime and the "welfare underclass". His Klan credentials proved it. His opponent was "just another pretender." Duke won and for the next three years debates raged among campaign professionals, academics, journalists, and civil rights activists over the "real" nature of voters support for Duke.

Duke had his own answer. He had beaten the president of the United States (who came to Louisiana to campaign against him) and the whole political establishment because he had vocalized what white people had privately thought, but could not say. And during the campaign he had avoided talking about those parts of his belief system that he knew were still out of bounds...

As the British historian Eric Hobsbawn had noted, anticommunism was at the core of the American biography as well. As an ideology it enshrined values, such as free enterprise and individualism, which were older and more deeply embedded than the principle of individual liberty without regard to race.. In addition, anticommunism was broadly popular as a glue binding the American people together. As such anticommunism during the Cold War period both dictated foreign policy and constituted the cornerstone of national identity.

With the end of communism, and thus of anticommunism, the question was asked: What would become of the American identity? Louis Beam and other Aryans had a ready answer. " What will now be the issue of main concern for conservative, right wingers and nationalists in the United States?" he asked in his small circulation newsletter The Seditionist. For Beam the answer was self-evident. The enemy would become the federal government in Washington, D.C., headquarters of the New World Order. "The evil empire in Moscow is no more. The evil empire in Washington D.C. must meet the same fate."

As the presidential primaries of 1992 came into view on the near horizon, a number would be challengers appeared, each hoping to replace George H.W. Bush. The post Duke Populist Party candidate blustered his way along a route of super-patriot stops and survivalist fest flops. Ross Perot railed against establishment politics while readying his own millions for a third party independent run. On the Democratic side, seven contenders vied for the public's attention. In Republican ranks, Pat Buchanan formally announced his candidacy for president, reclaiming the party's right flank for his own anti-New World Order politics.

Just week before, Buchanan had urged Republicans to adopt David Duke's issues: "The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, parade around in a Nazis costume to protest William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan. Everybody in Metaire Co. Louisiana knew that. The way to deal with Mr. Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the far more formidable challenge of George Wallace. Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles." Buchanan believed Duke's message was "Middle Class, meritocratic, populist and nationalist".

Buchanan quickly assembled a competitive campaign apparatus. As Willis Carto's The Spotlight newsletter pointed out: he became the nerve center of white nationalism in 1992. "Any hope that Duke had of mounting an effective challenge to George Bush ended with the entrance of Pat Buchanan into the Republican race. When Duke finally withdrew from the race, he endorsed Pat Buchanan; and endorsement Buchanan formally ignored. Touting issues such as white majority dispossession he received endorsements from throughout the (but not the entire) white nationalist movement, a fact studiously under-reported in the media.

1 comment:

  1. "Blood and Politics; The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream" by Leonard Zeskind, FSG, 2009