Far-right protests in Charlottesville, VA, caused outrage in the U.S. and across the world last weekend. U.S. statespersons called it "an act of domestic terrorism". When President Donald Trump failed to condemn white nationalists specifically, however, the furore grew more intense. GOP Senator Cory Gardner tweeted: "Mr. President –- we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this is domestic terrorism."
Since the protests, Trump has backpedalled and called racists a threat to "everything we hold dear as Americans". The problem, however, is that "terror" makes the neo-Nazi sound aberrant. The term "terror" paints the white nationalist as somebody who is beyond the realm of normal U.S. society. Meanwhile, white nationalism has taken new forms in the US, merging with the older, developed groups like the Ku Klux Klan. In the end, far-right-wingers are not "bad apples" in America. They are America.
Far-right-wingers gathered in Charlottesville, VA, last weekend to protest the removal of a statue showing Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. Saturday saw one death, when a car ploughed into a large crowd, driven by a twenty-year-old far-right-winger.
One of the biggest myths the U.S. exports is the idea of U.S. exceptionalism. Throughout history, this myth has concealed [or tried to, at the very least] the U.S.'s true face, it's ugly reality. Hence, people like Gardner reproach Trump for not calling white nationalists "evil": America doesn't produce Nazis, the logic dictates. Nazis are foreign bodies in the U.S. In truth, however, Nazis are not an exception, but a big threat facing the US in 2017.
Where is the line between "white culture" and, say, the KKK?
Take, for instance, Peter Cvjetanovic. Cvjetanovic joined the protest in Charlottesville after travelling from Reno, NV. His face quickly became the most shared of protesters: images published on the news and online show a man in a white golf shirt, gelled hair, mouth twisted in vitriolic fury.
Cvjetanovic isn't a neo-Nazi: that is, he does not think his views make him a white supremacist. If seen in a bar or restaurant, one wouldn't peg Cvjetanovic for a far-right-winger or a champion of white-supremacist ideals. That is because the Far Right aren't skinheads. Nowadays, they play golf, drink G&Ts, dress in Armani three-piece suits and drive bright sports cars. They look like "regular" Americans.
The new look that the Right sports is embodied best by the protests' organiser, Jason Kessler. Kessler is a self-titled "white advocate". In an interview, Kessler argued that his goal is to "de-stigmatize white advocacy so that white people can stand up for their interests just like any other identity group". Kessler makes a living selling racist ideas. He and his colleague Richard B. Spencer paint "white rights" as though whites are a minority in the U.S.
The problem, however, is that whites are not a minority. White people out-number other race groups three-to-one in the United States. The large number means that whites' views and experience tend to differ widely across society. What is "white culture", one might ask? When Cvjetanovic claims, like others, that General Lee "wasn't perfect" but that he [Cvjetanovic] wants to "honour and respect what he stood for", he means white culture. Yet Lee's legacy and racism are inextricable. This makes one ask: Where is the line between "white culture" and, say, the KKK?
Is Trump to blame for the rise in support for hate groups in the United States? Most probably.
Recent events in the US suggest that, in truth, that line is less real than academic. Why else would neo-Nazis attend protests organised by the alt-right or the KKK? Far-right-wingers are no longer the robed, hooded crusaders of last century. They don't bother to hide their true identities; nor are they worried that the alt-right [i.e. white nationalists who insist they are not "hateful"] has linked increasingly with groups whose ideals are overtly racist.
Is Trump to blame for the rise in support for hate groups in the United States? Most probably. Trump's racism [where blacks, Mexicans, Muslims and immigrants are all targeted], however, heralds a new turn in American racism. When GOP Senator Cory Gardner calls white supremacy "evil", I remember that many white nationalists are card-carrying members of the GOP.
I remember the houses, white fences and lawns where the flag of Confederates still flies. Politicians court this constituent. When the hatred flares up, however, the views that these "regular" citizens show is censored and labelled "white supremacist".
Trump didn't make America racist. A society is not racist when its leader happens to hold racist ideas. Racism is systemic; it grows off privilege and patterns of general social inequality. Both politics and civil society are to blame for the rise of white nationalism in the US.