#First100Days Crash Course: Week 6

Coinciding with Trump’s first 100 days in Office — a period of time historically used as a benchmark to measure the potential of a new president — PRA will share readings, videos, and tools for organizing to inform our collective resistance based on principles for engaging the regime, defending human rights, and preventing authoritarianism. Daily readings will be posted on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and archived HERE.

Week 6: Racism and White Supremacy

White supremacy is a term is used in various ways to describe a set of beliefs; organized White hate groups; or a system of racial oppression that benefits White people. As an ideology, it is the belief that the socially constructed “White race” is superior to other “races.” As a system, White supremacy in the U.S. is maintained when White people defend, deny, or ignore the reality of the continued systematic subordination and oppression of people of color. White supremacy is the most powerful form of racism in the US, and it has two major forms: racism by Whites used to justify the oppression of people of color; and the racialized construct of antisemitism in which Jews are falsely claimed to be a distinct non-White race, and are then deemed a sinister race. 

Racial inequality remains deeply embedded within U.S. social and economic structures, even as its forms and justifications are in flux. Claims to White racial superiority, though not entirely dead, were largely washed aside by the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s. Since that time, so-called “colorblind” racism has become the dominant racial ideology in the United States. Opposition to affirmative action, indigenous treaty rights, and other government programs is commonly justified with the claim that equal rights among racial groups have been achieved and that we as a society are, or should be, “beyond race.” This belief in the diminishing importance of race makes it more, not less, likely that stark racial inequalities will persist since they will remain unchallenged.

To bolster their colorblind rhetoric, some sectors of the Right promote spokespeople – and provide patronage to conservative intellectuals and institutions – from communities of color. Growing immigration, especially from Latin America and Asia, threatens Whites’ numerical majority, and, along with the government’s massive post-911 campaign of racial profiling, is inspiring a nativist and White supremacist backlash. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have also experienced resurgence since the 911 attacks.

Featured resources:

Additional Readings:

Media (Click to download):

Engage: Transformative Bail Reform

via The Movement for Black Lives: “Almost two years ago, Kalief Browder died after suffering abuse and torture at Rikers Island for three years – all while he was waiting for a court date. This gross injustice happened because many of our towns still rely on money bail, a broken system that keeps Black people in jail even before they are ever convicted of anything.”

Check out the interactive Transformative Bail Curriculum that M4BL co-created with partners across the country HERE.

Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The origins and ideology of the Alternative Right

An antifascist report on the far right movement that embraced Donald Trump.

Click the icon to order Ctrl-Alt-Delete.

This report is excerpted from Matthew N. Lyons’s forthcoming book, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, to be published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb Publishing. This report is also featured in Ctrl-Alt-Delete: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right, which is now available for pre-order.

For a printer-friendly PDF version, click HERE.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary

The Alt Right, short for “Alternative Right,” is a loosely organized far-right movement that emphasizes internet activism, is hostile to both multicultural liberalism and mainstream conservatism, and has had a symbiotic relationship with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The Alt Right brings together different branches of White nationalism, including “scientific” racists, sections of the neonazi movement, and adherents of European New Right ideology. The Alt Right also encompasses rightist ideologies that don’t center on race, above all efforts to destroy feminism and re-intensify men’s dominance over women, as well as other elitist and authoritarian currents. The Alt Right has little formal organization but has made effective use of online tactics.

This report offers an overview of the Alt Right’s history, ideology, and relationship with the Trump campaign and presidential administration.

Part 1 – Origins and development

Major forerunners of the Alt Right included paleoconservatism, an anti-interventionist, anti-free trade, anti-immigration branch of U.S. conservatism that emerged in the late 1980s; and the European New Right (ENR), a project that began in France in the late 1960s to rework fascist ideology by appropriating elements of liberal and leftist thought to mask anti-egalitarianism.

The term “Alternative Right” was introduced by Richard Spencer in 2008 and initially was a catch-all encompassing paleoconservatives, libertarians, White nationalists, and other rightists at odds with the conservative establishment. AlternativeRight.com, an online magazine which Spencer founded and edited from 2010 to 2012, became a popular intellectual forum for a range of dissident rightist views, including “scientific” racism, the ENR, National-Anarchism, libertarianism, male tribalism, and Black conservatism. Gradually, the term Alternative Right or Alt Right became more closely tied to White nationalism and the goal of creating a White ethnostate, as a number of other White nationalist publications became associated with the Alt Right and as Spencer focused more sharply on White nationalism after becoming head of the National Policy Institute in 2011.

Starting in 2015, the Alt Right broadened out from a small intellectual circle as a much wider array of online activists embraced the term. Many of these newer Alt Rightists were based in discussion websites such as Reddit, 4chan, and 8chan. Some of them, such as Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer, brought neonazi-based politics into the movement.

Part 2 – Major Ideological Currents

Some Alt Rightists have used moderate-sounding intellectual tones, often borrowing from the ENR’s euphemistic language about respecting “difference” and protecting “biocultural diversity.” But many others have used naked bigotry and supremacist speech in an effort to be as inflammatory as possible. This stylistic difference is more division of labor than factional conflict.

Most Alt Rightists regard Jews as dangerous outsiders who bear major responsibility for the decline of European civilization, but they disagree about whether or not to work with them. Neonazi-oriented Alt Rightists reject any association with Jews and regard them as the embodiment of pure evil. Other Alt Rightists, however, advocate a tactical alliance with right-wing Jews against Muslims and immigrants of color, and believe that migration to Israel will help prevent Jews from subverting western societies. A few Alt Rightists have welcomed like-minded Jews to movement publications and events.

The Alt Right has increasingly embraced an intensely misogynistic ideology, which argues that women need and want men to rule over them and should be stripped of any political role. This largely reflects the influence of the manosphere, an online antifeminist subculture of men who falsely claim that men in U.S. society are oppressed by feminism or by women in general. Although there has been some tension between the two movements over racial politics, many manospherians have also become active in the Alt Right, and the manosphere’s online harassment campaigns against women have strongly influenced the Alt Right’s own activism. The Alt Right has also been influenced by the “male tribalism” of Jack Donovan, a longtime Alt Right speaker and writer who advocates a social and political order based on small, close-knit “gangs” of male warriors.

Many Alt Rightists consider homosexuality in any form to be immoral and a threat to racial survival, but there has also been a trend to welcome some homosexual men (such as Jack Donovan) while continuing to derogate gay culture. Alt Rightists uphold classical fascism’s elitist and anti-democratic views of governance, but their goal of breaking up the United States into ethnically separate polities is inherently decentralist. This blend of authoritarianism and decentralism, rooted in the European New Right and paleoconservatism, has been bolstered by two other political currents that overlap with the Alt Right: (a) right-wing anarchists (including National-Anarchists and Keith Preston’s Attack the System website), who want to dismantle the centralized state but uphold non-state systems of hierarchy and oppression; and (b) the neoreactionary movement (also known as the Dark Enlightenment), an offshoot of libertarianism which rejects popular sovereignty and advocates small-scale authoritarian enclaves such as seasteads.


Part 3 – Relationship with Donald Trump

Alt Rightists have long argued about whether to work within existing political channels or reject them entirely. Many Alt Rightists, borrowing from the ENR, have focused on a “metapolitical” strategy of seeking to transform the broader political culture and thereby lay the groundwork for structural change.

A majority of Alt Rightists supported Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, although they recognized that Trump was not one of them and was not going to bring about the change they wanted. Rather, they believed that Trump’s campaign could weaken the Republican Party and shift political discussion in ways that Alt Rightists could use to promote their own ideology. A minority of Alt Rightists opposed Trump because they believed he was loyal to Israel, promoted illusory faith in the U.S. political system, or would co-opt their movement into supporting established elites.

Alt Rightists helped Trump’s campaign through online activism, including skillful use of online memes such as #Cuckservative and #DraftOurDaughters to discredit Trump’s opponents, as well as coordinated online harassment, which often involved floods of abusive messages and images, rape and death threats, and doxxing (public releases of personal information) targeting individual Trump opponents and members of their families. In return, the Trump campaign gave the Alt Right greater visibility, influence, and sense of purpose.

As the Alt Right grew and attracted attention, some conservatives—who became known as the “Alt Lite”—took on the role of apologists or supporters for the Alt Right, helping to spread a lot of its message without embracing its full ideology or its ethnostate goals. In the public mind, prominent Alt Lite figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon of the Breitbart News Network have often been equated with the Alt Right itself. The Alt Right has relied on such figures to help bring its ideas to a mainstream audience, but many Alt Rightists have regarded them as untrustworthy opportunists.

Conclusion – the Alt Right and the Trump presidency

Many Alt Rightists see themselves as the Trump coalition’s political vanguard, taking hardline positions that pull Trump further to the Right while enabling him to look moderate by comparison. However, the question of how to play that vanguard role has sharpened tensions both within the Alt Right and between the Alt Right and its sympathizers.

Because Trump has mostly chosen hardline establishment figures for his administration, Alt Rightists could easily find themselves pushed into an oppositional role. Yet Alt Rightists could continue to exert significant pressure on the Trump administration, because they know how to speak effectively to a large part of his popular base. They are in a strong position to continue influencing the political culture.

Introduction

Maybe you first heard about them in the summer of 2015, when they promoted the insult “cuckservative” to attack Trump’s opponents in the Republican primaries.1 Maybe it was in August 2016, when Hillary Clinton denounced them as “a fringe element” that had “effectively taken over the Republican party.”2 Or maybe it was a couple of weeks after Trump’s surprise defeat of Clinton, when a group of them were caught on camera giving the fascist salute in response to a speaker shouting “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”3

The Alt Right helped Donald Trump get elected president, and Trump’s campaign put the Alt Right in the news. But the movement was active well before Trump announced his candidacy, and its relationship with Trump has been more complex and more qualified than many critics realize. The Alt Right is just one of multiple dangerous forces associated with Trump, but it’s the one that has attracted the greatest notoriety. However, it’s not accurate to argue, as many critics have, that “Alt Right” is just a deceptive code-phrase meant to hide the movement’s White supremacist or neonazi politics. This is a movement with its own story, and for those concerned about the seemingly sudden resurgence of far-right politics in the United States, it is a story worth exploring.

This logo for the Alt Right has been appearing online, on posters, and at events.

The Alt Right, short for “alternative right,” is a loosely organized far-right movement that shares a contempt for both liberal multiculturalism and mainstream conservatism; a belief that some people are inherently superior to others; a strong internet presence and embrace of specific elements of online culture; and a self-presentation as being new, hip, and irreverent.4 Based primarily in the United States, Alt Right ideology combines White nationalism, misogyny, antisemitism, and authoritarianism in various forms and in political styles ranging from intellectual argument to violent invective. White nationalism constitutes the movement’s center of gravity, but some Alt Rightists are more focused on reasserting male dominance or other forms of elitism rather than race. The Alt Right has little in the way of formal organization, but has used internet memes effectively to gain visibility, rally supporters, and target opponents. Most Alt Rightists have rallied behind Trump’s presidential bid, yet as a rule Alt Rightists regard the existing political system as hopeless and call for replacing the United States with one or more racially defined homelands.

This report offers an overview of the Alt Right’s history, beliefs, and relationship with other political forces. Part 1 traces the movement’s ideological origins in paleoconservatism and the European New Right, and its development since Richard Spencer launched the original AlternativeRight.com website in 2010. Part 2 surveys the major political currents that comprise or overlap with the Alt Right, which include in their ranks White nationalists, members of the antifeminist “manosphere,” male tribalists, right-wing anarchists, and neoreactionaries. Part 3 focuses on the Alt Right’s relationship with the Trump presidential campaign, including movement debates about political strategy, online political tactics, and its relationship to a network of conservative supporters and popularizers known as the “Alt Lite.” A concluding section offers preliminary thoughts on the Alt Right’s prospects and the potential challenges it will face under the incoming Trump administration.

PART 1 – ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT

Ideological roots

Two intellectual currents played key roles in shaping the early Alternative Right: paleoconservatism and the European New Right.

Paleoconservatives can trace their lineage back to the “Old Right” of the 1930s, which opposed New Deal liberalism, and to the America First movement of the early 1940s, which opposed U.S. entry into World War II. To varying degrees, many of the America Firsters were sympathetic to fascism and fascist claims of a sinister Jewish-British conspiracy. In the early 1950s, this current supported Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch-hunting crusade, which extended red-baiting to target representatives of the centrist Eastern Establishment. After McCarthy, the America First/anti-New Deal Right was largely submerged in a broader “fusionist” conservative movement, in which Cold War anticommunism served as the glue holding different rightist currents together. But when the Soviet bloc collapsed between 1989 and 1991, this anticommunist alliance unraveled, and old debates reemerged.5

In the 1980s, devotees of the Old Right began calling themselves paleoconservatives as a reaction against neoconservatives, those often formerly liberal and leftist intellectuals who were then gaining influential positions in right-wing think-tanks and the Reagan administration. The first neocons were predominantly Jewish and Catholic, which put them outside the ranks of old-guard conservatism. Neocons promoted an aggressive foreign policy to spread U.S. “democracy” throughout the world and supported a close alliance with Israel, but they also favored nonrestrictive immigration policies and, to a limited extent, social welfare programs. Paleconservatives regarded the neocons as usurpers and closet leftists, and in the post-Soviet era they criticized military interventionism, free trade, immigration, globalization, and the welfare state. They also spoke out against Washington’s close alliance with Israel, often in terms that had anti-Jewish undertones. Paleoconservatives tended to be unapologetic champions of European Christian culture, and some of them gravitated toward White nationalism, advocating a society in which White people, their values, interests, and concerns would always be explicitly preeminent. To some extent they began to converge with more hardline White supremacists during this period.6

These positions attracted little elite support, and after Reagan paleocons were mostly frozen out of political power. But they attracted significant popular support. In 1992 and 1996, Patrick Buchanan won millions of votes in Republican presidential primaries by emphasizing paleocon themes. Paleocons also played key roles in building the anti-immigrant and neo-Confederate movements in the ‘90s, and influenced the Patriot movement, which exploded briefly in the mid-90s around fears that globalist elites were plotting to impose a tyrannical world government on the United States. Some self-described libertarians, such as former Congressmember Ron Paul, embraced paleoconservative positions on culture and foreign policy.7 After the September 11th attacks in 2001, the resurgence of military interventionism and neoconservatives’ prominent roles in the George W. Bush administration solidified the paleocons’ position as political outsiders.8

The Alt Right’s other significant forerunner, the European New Right (ENR), developed along different lines. The ENR began in France in the late 1960s and then spread to other European countries as an initiative among far-right intellectuals to rework fascist ideology, largely by appropriating elements from other political traditions—including the Left—to mask their fundamental rejection of the principle of human equality.9 European New Rightists championed “biocultural diversity” against the homogenization supposedly brought by liberalism and globalization. They argued that true antiracism requires separating racial and ethnic groups to protect their unique cultures, and that true feminism defends natural gender differences, instead of supposedly forcing women to “divest themselves of their femininity.” ENR writers also rejected the principle of universal human rights as “a strategic weapon of Western ethnocentrism” that stifles cultural diversity.10

European New Rightists dissociated themselves from traditional fascism in various other ways as well. In the wake of France’s defeat by anticolonial forces in Algeria, they advocated anti-imperialism rather than expansionism and a federated “empire” of regionally based, ethnically homogeneous communities, rather than a big, centralized state. Instead of organizing a mass movement to seize state power, they advocated a “metapolitical” strategy that would gradually transform the political and intellectual culture as a precursor to transforming institutions and systems. In place of classical fascism’s familiar leaders and ideologues, European New Rightists championed more obscure far rightist intellectuals of the 1920s, ‘30s, and beyond, such Julius Evola of Italy, Ernst Jünger and Carl Schmitt of Germany, and Corneliu Codreanu of Romania.

ENR ideology began to get attention in the United States in the 1990s,11 resonating with paleoconservatism on various themes, notably opposition to multicultural societies, non-White immigration, and globalization. On other issues, the two movements tended to be at odds: reflecting their roots in classical fascism but in sharp contrast to paleocons, European New Rightists were hostile to liberal individualism and laissez faire capitalism, and many of them rejected Christianity in favor of paganism. Nonetheless, some kind of dialog between paleocon and ENR ideas held promise for Americans seeking to develop a White nationalist movement outside of traditional neonazi/Ku Klux Klan circles.

Early years and growth

Richard Spencer speaking at a National Policy Institute conference in 2016.

The term “Alternative Right” was introduced by Richard Spencer in 2008, when he was managing editor at the paleocon and libertarian Taki’s Magazine. At Taki’s Magazine the phrase was used as a catch-all for a variety of right-wing voices at odds with the conservative establishment, including paleocons, libertarians, and White nationalists.12 Two years later Spencer left to found a new publication, AlternativeRight.com, as “an online magazine of radical traditionalism.” Joining Spencer were two senior contributing editors, Peter Brimelow (whose anti-immigrant VDARE Foundation sponsored the project) and Paul Gottfried (one of paleoconservatism’s founders and one of its few Jews). AlternativeRight.com quickly became a popular forum among dissident rightist intellectuals, especially younger ones. The magazine published works of old-school “scientific” racism along with articles from or about the European New Right, Italian far right philosopher Julius Evola, and figures from Germany’s interwar Conservative Revolutionary movement. There were essays by National-Anarchist Andrew Yeoman, libertarian and Pat Buchanan supporter Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, male tribalist Jack Donovan, and Black conservative Elizabeth Wright.13

AlternativeRight.com developed ties with a number of other White nationalist intellectual publications, which eventually became associated with the term Alternative Right. Some of its main partners included VDARE.com; Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance, whose conferences attracted both antisemites and right-wing Jews; The Occidental Quarterly and its online magazine, The Occidental Observer, currently edited by prominent antisemitic intellectual Kevin MacDonald; and Counter-Currents Publishing, which was founded in 2010 to “create an intellectual movement in North America that is analogous to the European New Right” and “lay the intellectual groundwork for a white ethnostate in North America.”14

Founded in 2005, The National Policy Institute is a White nationalist, White supremacist think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.

In 2011, Richard Spencer became head of the White nationalist think-tank National Policy Institute (NPI) and its affiliated Washington Summit Publishers. He turned AlternativeRight.com over to other editors the following year, then shut it down completely, establishing a new online magazine, Radix, in its place. (The other editors then reestablished Alternative Right as a blog.) Compared with AlternativeRight.com’s broad ideological approach, Spencer’s later entities were more sharply focused on promoting White nationalism. Starting in 2011, NPI held a series of high-profile conferences that brought together intellectuals and activists from various branches of the movement. In 2014, the think-tank, together with supporters of Russian ENR theorist Aleksandr Dugin, cosponsored a “pan-European” conference in Budapest, although the Hungarian government deported Spencer and denied Dugin a visa.15

Starting in 2015, a much wider array of writers and online activists embraced the Alt Right moniker. As Anti-Fascist News put it, “the ‘alt right’ now often means an internet focused string of commentators, blogs, Twitter accounts, podcasters, and Reddit trolls, all of which combine scientific racism, romantic nationalism, and deconstructionist neo-fascist ideas to create a white nationalist movement that has almost no backwards connection with neo-Nazis and the KKK.”16 Some online centers of this larger, more amorphous Alt Right included the imageboard websites 4chan and 8chan, various Reddit sub-communities, and The Right Stuff blog and podcasts. Some Alt Right outfits offered neonazi-oriented politics (such as The Daily Stormer and the Traditionalist Youth Network), while others did not (such as Occidental Dissent, The Unz Review, Vox Popoli, and Chateau Heartiste).

Message boards like 4chan have become appropriated as online centers of a more amorphous Alt Right.

On many sites, Alt Right politics were presented in terms intended to be as inflammatory as possible, bucking a decades-old trend among U.S. Far Rightists to tone down their beliefs for mass consumption. Previously, antisemitic propagandist Willis Carto and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had made careers of dressing up fascism as “populism” or “conservatism”; now Alt Rightists confidently derided antifascism in the way 1960s radicals had derided anticommunism: “We might not all be proper fascists,” The Right Stuff columnist Lawrence Murray wrote in 2015, “but we’re all a little fash whether we want to be or not. We’re fashy goys—we think a lot of nasty thoughts that keep leftists up at night during their struggle sessions. Might as well embrace it…”17

The Alt Right’s rapid growth partly reflected trends in internet culture, where anonymity and the lack of face-to-face contact have fostered widespread use of insults, bullying, and supremacist speech. More immediately, it reflected recent political developments, such as a backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement and, above all, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. A majority of Alt Rightists supported Trump’s campaign because of his anti-immigrant proposals; defamatory rhetoric against Mexicans, Muslims, women, and others; and his clashes with mainstream conservatives and the Republican Party establishment.

PART 2 – MAJOR IDEOLOGICAL CURRENTS

White nationalists, high- and low-brow

The original AlternativeRight.com magazine helped set the parameters of Alt Right White nationalism. In “Why an Alternative Right is Necessary,” published in 2010 soon after the magazine was launched, columnist Richard Hoste offered a paleocon-style criticism of the War on Terror and mainstream conservatives, coupled with a blunt new emphasis on race:

One would think that the odds of a major terrorist attack happening would depend on how many Muslims are allowed to live in the United States. Reducing Islamic immigration in the name of fighting terror would receive widespread public support, be completely practical in a way installing a puppet regime in Afghanistan wouldn’t, and not lead us to kill or torture anybody…. The idea that nothing must be done to stop the March Of Diversity is so entrenched in the minds of those considered of the Right that they will defend America policing the entire planet, torture, indefinite detentions, and a nation on permanent war footing but won’t mention immigration restriction or racial profiling.

We’ve known for a while through neuroscience and cross-adoption studies—if common sense wasn’t enough—that individuals differ in their inherent capabilities. The races do, too, with whites and Asians on the top and blacks at the bottom. The Alternative Right takes it for granted that equality of opportunity means inequality of results for various classes, races, and the two sexes. Without ignoring the importance of culture, we see Western civilization as a unique product of the European gene pool.18

A few months later, Greg Johnson at Counter-Currents Publishing declared that:

The survival of whites in North America and around the world is threatened by a host of bad ideas and policies: egalitarianism, the denial of biological race and sex differences, feminism, emasculation, racial altruism, ethnomasochism and xenophilia, multiculturalism, liberalism, capitalism, non-white immigration, individualism, consumerism, materialism, hedonism, anti-natalism, etc.

He also warned that White people would not survive unless they “work to reduce Jewish power and influence” and “regain political control over a viable national homeland or homelands.”19

In 2016, following the Alternative Right’s rapid growth, Lawrence Murray in The Right Stuff proposed a summary of the movement’s “big tent” philosophy: inequality of both individuals and populations is “a fact of life”; “races and their national subdivisions exist and compete for resources, land and influence”; White people are being suppressed and “must be allowed to take their own side”; men and women have separate roles and heterosexual monogamy is crucial for racial survival; “the franchise should be limited” because universal democracy “gives power to the worst and shackles the fittest”; and “Jewish elites are opposed to our entire program.”20 Alfred W. Clark in Radix offered a slightly different summary. In his view, Alt Rightists recognize human biodiversity; reject universalism; want to reverse Third World immigration into the West; are skeptical of free trade and free market ideology; oppose mainstream Christianity from a variety of religious viewpoints (traditionalist Christian, neo-pagan, atheist, and agnostic); and often (but not always) support Donald Trump. Unlike Murray, Clark noted that Alt Rightists disagree about the “Jewish question,” but generally agree “that Jews have disproportionately been involved in starting left-wing movements of the last 150 years.”21

Alt Rightists have promoted these ideas in different ways. Some have used moderate-sounding intellectual tones, often borrowed from the European New Right’s euphemistic language about respecting “difference” and protecting “biocultural diversity.” For example, the National Policy Institute has promoted “identitarianism,” a concept that was developed by the French New Right and popularized by the French group Bloc Identitaire. In 2015, Richard Spencer introduced an NPI essay contest for young writers on the theme, “Why I’m An Identitarian”:

Identitarianism… eschews nationalist chauvinism, as well as the meaningless, petty nationalism that is tolerated, even encouraged, by the current world system. That said, Identitarianism is itself not a universal value system, like Leftism, monotheism, and most contemporary versions of ‘conservatism.’ To the contrary, Identitarianism is fundamentally about difference, about culture as an expression of a certain people at a certain time…. Identitarianism acknowledges the incommensurable nature of different peoples and cultures—and thus looks forward to a world of true diversity and multiculturalism.22

Very different versions of Alt Right politics are available elsewhere. The Right Stuff website uses a mocking, ironic tone, with rotating tag lines such as “Your rational world is a circle jerk”; “Non-aggression is the triumph of weakness”; “Democracy is an interracial porno”; “Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character”; and “Life isn’t fair. Sucks for you, but I don’t care.” An article by “Darth Stirner,” titled “Fascist Libertarianism: For a Better World,” further illustrated this style:

Dear libertarian, take the rose colored glasses of racial egalitarianism off. Look around and see that other races don’t even disguise their hatred of you. Even though you don’t think in terms of race, rest assured that they do. Humanity is composed of a series of racial corporations. They stick together, and if we don’t… Western civilization is doomed.

[…]

Progressives, communists, and degenerates of various stripes will need to be interned—at least during the transition period. Terrorism and guerrilla warfare can be prevented with this measure. In the instance of a coup d’état it would be reasonable to detain every person who might conceivably be an enemy of the right-wing revolution. Rather than starving or torturing them they should be treated well with the highest standard of living reasonably possible. Most of them will simply be held until the war is over and the winner is clear. This is actually much more humane than allowing a hotly contested civil war to occur.23

The Right Stuff doesn’t just offer quasi-irony, however, but also naked bigotry, as summarized by Anti-Fascist News:

[On The Right Stuff] they choose to openly use racial slurs, degrade women and rape survivors, mock the holocaust and call for violence against Jews. Their podcast, The Daily Shoah, which is a play on The Daily Show and the Yiddish term for The Holocaust, is a roundtable discussion of different racists broadcasting under pseudonyms. Here they do voice “impressions” of Jews, and consistently use terms like “Nig Nog,” “Muds[”] (referring to “mud races,” meaning non-white), and calling people of African descent “Dingos.” The N-word, homophobic slurs, and calls for enforced cultural patriarchy and heteronormativity are commonplace… The use of rhetoric like this is almost entirely missing from groups like American Renaissance, Counter-Currents, Radix Journal, Alternative Right, and even Stormfront, the main hub for racist groups who recently banned swastikas and racial slurs.24

Anti-Fascist News argues that different branches of the Alternative Right use different language to appeal to different target audiences. “The Right Stuff tries to mimic the aggression and reactionary insults of right-wing talk radio like Rush Limbaugh, while Radix would love to look a lot more like that trendy Critical Theory journal young grad students are clamoring to be published in.”25 This is more division of labor than factional conflict, as a number of Alt Right intellectual figures have appeared on The Right Stuff podcasts, for example.

Stylistic differences aside, though, Alt Rightists have also disagreed about substantive issues. One of the biggest points of contention has been whether White nationalists should work with Jews, or at least some Jews. Anti-Jewish bigotry and scapegoating have been prevalent across most of the movement, but with important variations and exceptions. For the minority of Alt Rightists who identify with neonazism, such as Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stormer, uncompromising antisemitism is the overriding core principle.26 And for many others, Jews are a major existential threat. To The Right Stuff blogger “Auschwitz Soccer Ref,” Jews as a group have engaged in “2,000 years of non-stop treachery and backstabbing” and are “remorseless enemies who seek the destruction of the people they hate, which is us.” As a result, “anyone who self-identifies as a Jew or anyone who makes excuses for a continued Jewish presence in White homelands should be unapologetically excluded from this movement, and none of these people should ever be allowed to speak at alt right conferences no matter how pro-White they may seem.”27

American Renaissance is a monthly online magazine considered widely to be a White supremacist publication.

Not all Alt Rightists agree. American Renaissance, one of the movement’s central institutions, pioneered a version of White nationalism that avoided antisemitism. Besides publishing Jewish authors, both Jews and antisemites have been welcome at AmRen events as long as they set aside their disagreements.28 Richard Spencer, too, repeatedly welcomed Jewish writers and cited them as useful contributors to the movement.

Even Alt Rightists who view Jews as dangerous outsiders don’t necessarily regard them as the embodiment of pure evil. Serbian-American author Srdja Trifkovic wrote that “the Jews” had disproportionately contributed to the erosion of European civilization. Nevertheless, he hoped for an alliance with Jews against their common enemy, “the brown, black, and yellow multitudes” whose eventual attacks on the Jewish community might “easily exceed in ferocity and magnitude the events of 1942-45.”29 Similarly, Counter-Currents writer M.K. Lane described Jews as “a self-segregating and culturally arrogant people, a people who refuse to assimilate [and] who even when they do ostensibly assimilate, cause even greater harm than they did before desegregating.” Yet Lane also hoped that a significant number of Jews could be won over to ally with White nationalism since, “if we go down, they go down.” Of course, in such an alliance White nationalists “must not allow ourselves to become stooges.” Jews “living in our midst… could either be allowed to live in their own communities, assimilate in small numbers, or move to Israel. Anything as long as they refrain from subverting our societies…”30

Manosphere

While White nationalism has been central to the Alternative Right, patriarchal politics have played an increasingly important—and increasingly poisonous—role in the movement. The original AlternativeRight.com featured a range of views on gender, from patriarchal traditionalism to a kind of quasi-feminism. A number of male contributors expressed concern that their branch of the Right had attracted few women. Publisher and novelist Alex Kurtagic argued in 2011 that women and men had distinct natural roles, but that the White nationalist movement needed both:

Women are far more than nurturers: they are especially proficient at networking, community building, consensus building, multi-tasking, and moral and logistical support provision. These are all essential in any movement involving community outreach and where user-friendly, low-key, non-threatening forms of recruitment are advisable…. Women can create a much broader comfort zone around hardcore political activism through organising a wide range of community, human, and support-oriented activities…31

Andrew Yeoman of Bay Area National Anarchists argued more pointedly that sexist behavior by male Alt Rightists was driving women away:

Many women won’t associate with our ideas. Why is this important? Because it leaves half our people out of the struggle. The women that do stick around have to deal with a constant litany of abuse and frequent courtship invitations from unwanted suitors. …nothing says ‘you’re not important to us’ [more] than sexualizing women in the movement. Don’t tell me that’s not an issue. I’ve seen it happen in all kinds of radical circles, and ours is the worst for it.32

Logo for the White nationalist discussion site, Stormfront

As the Alternative Right has grown, it has abandoned this kind of self-criticism and debate about gender politics. Going beyond traditionalist claims about the sanctity of the family and natural gender roles, Alt Rightists have embraced an intensely misogynistic ideology, portraying women as irrational, vindictive creatures who need and want men to rule over them and who should be stripped of any political role.33 The Traditionalist Youth Network claims that “women’s biological drives are contrary to the best interests of civilization and… the past century or so of women’s enfranchisement and liberation has been detrimental to societal stability.” But the group frames this position as relatively moderate because, unlike some rightists, they don’t believe “that women are central to the destruction of Western Civilization”—they are simply being manipulated by the Jews.34 The Daily Stormer has banned female contributors and called for limiting women’s roles in the movement, sparking criticism from women on the more old school White nationalist discussion site Stormfront. Far-right blogger Matt Forney asserts that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the Alt Right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”35

A big reason for this shift toward hardline woman-hating is that the Alt Right has become closely intertwined with the so-called manophere, an online antifeminist male subculture that has grown rapidly in recent years, largely outside traditional right-wing networks. The manosphere includes various overlapping circles, such as Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), who argue that the legal system and media unfairly discriminate against men; Pickup Artists (PUAs), who help men learn how to manipulate women into having sex with them; Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOWs), who protest women’s supposed dominance by avoiding relationships with them; and others.36

Manospherians have emphasized male victimhood—the false belief that men in U.S. society are oppressed or disempowered by feminism or by women in general. This echoes the concept of “reverse racism,” the idea that White Americans face unfair discrimination, which White nationalists have promoted since the 1970s.

Daryush Valizadeh writes at the PUA site, Return of Kings.

Some manospherians are family-centered traditionalists while others celebrate a more predatory sexuality. Daryush Valizadeh, who writes at the PUA site Return of Kings under the name Roosh V, embodies this tension. He argues that the nuclear family with one father and one mother is the healthiest unit for raising children, and socialism is damaging because it makes women dependent on the government and discourages them from using their “feminine gifts” to “land a husband.” Yet Valizadeh has also written 10 how-to books for male sex tourists with titles such as Bang Ukraine and Bang Iceland. Valizadeh doesn’t dwell on his own glaring inconsistency, but does suggest in his article, “What is Neomasculinity?,” that the dismantling of patriarchal rules has forced men to pursue “game” as a defensive strategy “to hopefully land some semblance of a normal relationship.”37

Like the Alt Right, manosphere discourse ranges from intellectual arguments to raw invective, although the line between them is often blurred. Paul Elam’s A Voice for Men, founded in 2009, became one of the manosphere’s most influential websites with intentionally provocative articles arguing, for example, that the legal system was so heavily stacked against men that rape trial jurors should vote to acquit “even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true.”38 Elam also “satirically” declared October “Bash a Violent Bitch Month,” urging men to fight back against physically abusive female partners. He offered “satire” such as:

I don’t mean subdue them, or deliver an open handed pop on the face to get them to settle down. I mean literally to grab them by the hair and smack their face against the wall till the smugness of beating on someone because you know they won’t fight back drains from their nose with a few million red corpuscles.39

Manospherians also tend to promote homophobia and transphobia, which is consistent with their efforts to re-impose rigid gender roles and identities. At Return of Kings, Valizadeh has denounced the legalization of same-sex marriage as “one phase of a degenerate march to persecute heterosexuals, both legally and socially, while acclimating young children to the homosexual lifestyle.”40 On the same website, Matt Forney warned that trans women who have sex with cis men might be guilty of “rape by fraud.”41 At the same time, some manosphere sites have sought to reach out to gay men. A Voice for Men published a series of articles by writer Matthew Lye that were later collected into the e-book The New Gay Liberation: Escaping the Fag End of Feminism, which Paul Elam described as “a scorching indictment of feminist hatred of all things male.”42

One of the events that brought the manosphere to public attention was the Gamergate controversy. Starting in 2014, a number of women who worked in—or were critical of sexism in—the video game industry were subjected to large-scale campaigns of harassment, coordinated partly with the #Gamergate Twitter hashtag. Supporters of Gamergate claimed that that campaign was a defense of free speech and journalistic ethics and against political correctness, but it included streams of misogynistic abuse, rape and death threats, as well as doxxing (public releases of personal information), which caused several women to leave their homes out of fear for their physical safety.43 The Gamergate campaign took the pervasive, systematic pattern of threats and abuse that has been long used to silence women on the internet, and sharpened it into a focused weapon of attack.44 Gamergate, in turn, strongly influenced the Alt Right’s own online activism, as I discuss below.

There is significant overlap between the manosphere and the Alt Right. Both are heavily active on discussion websites such as 4chan, 8chan, and Reddit, and a number of prominent Alt Rightists—such as Forney, Theodore Beale (pseudonym: “Vox Day”), James Weidmann (“Roissy”), and Andrew Auernheimer (“weev”)—have also been active in the manosphere. Many other Alt Rightists have absorbed and promoted manosphere versions of gender ideology.

Daryush “Roosh” Valizadeh in Warsaw, Poland in 2014. (Photo: Bartek Kucharczyk via Wiki Commons).

But there have also been tensions between the two rightist movements. In 2015, Valizadeh (“Roosh V”) began to build a connection with the Alternative Right, attending an NPI conference and quoting extensively from antisemite Kevin MacDonald in a lengthy post about “The Damaging Effects of Jewish Intellectualism And Activism On Western Culture.”45 Some Alt Rightists responded favorably. One blogger commented that the manosphere was “not as stigmatized” as White nationalism and the Alt Right, and suggested hopefully that, “since the Manosphere has a very broad appeal it is possible that bloggers such as Roosh and Dalrock [a Christian manospherian] might serve as a stepping stone to guide formerly apathetic men towards the Alternative Right.”46 Matt Parrott of the Traditionalist Youth Network praised Valizadeh’s “What is Neomasculinity?” as “a masterful synthesis of human biodiversity knowledge, radical traditionalist principle, and pragmatic modern dating experience.”47

But the relationship soured quickly, largely because Valizadeh is Persian American. Although Andrew Anglin of The Daily Stormer tweeted that Valizadeh was “a civilized and honorable man,”48 many White nationalists denounced him as non White and an enemy. One tweeted that he was “a greasy Iranian” who “goes to Europe to defile white women and write books about it.”49 After studying Valizadeh’s accounts of his own sex tourism, Counter-Currents Publishing editor-in-chief Greg Johnson concluded that Roosh “is either a rapist or a fraud” and “it is not just feminist hysteria to describe Roosh as a rape advocate.” More broadly, Johnson wrote, “for all its benefits… the manosphere morally corrupts men. It does not promote the resurgence of traditional and biologically based sexual norms.”50 Valizadeh responded by blogging “The Alt Right Is Worse Than Feminism in Attempting to Control Male Sexual Behavior.”51

Male tribalism

Jack Donovan, an early contributor to AlternativeRight.com who has stayed active in the Alt Right as it has grown, offers a related but distinct version of male supremacist ideology. In a series of books and articles over the past decade, Donovan has advocated a system of patriarchy based on “tribal” comradeship among male warriors. Drawing on evolutionary psychology, he argues that in the past men have mostly organized themselves into small, close-knit “gangs,” which fostered true masculinity and men’s natural dominance over women. Yet modern “globalist civilization” “requires the abandonment of human scale identity groups for ‘one world tribe.’” A combination of “feminists, elite bureaucrats, and wealthy men,” he writes, has promoted male passivity and put women in a dominant role.52

Jack Donovan has advocated a system of patriarchy based on “tribal” comradeship among male warriors. (photo: Zachary O. Ray via Wiki Commons).

Unlike Christian rightists, who argue that feminism misleads women into betraying their true interests, Donovan sees feminism as an expression of women’s basic nature, which is “to calm men down and enlist their help at home, raising children, and fixing up the grass hut.” Today, he argues, feminists’ supposed alliance with globalist elites reflects this: “Women are better suited to and better served by the globalism and consumerism of modern democracies that promote security, no-strings attached sex and shopping.”53

Donovan’s social and political ideal is a latter-day tribal order that he calls “The Brotherhood,” in which all men would affirm their sacred loyalty to each other against the outside world. A man’s position would be based on “hierarchy through meritocracy,” not inherited wealth or status. All men would be expected to train and serve as warriors, and only warriors—meaning no women—would have a political voice. In this version of patriarchal ideology, unlike the Christian Right version, male comradeship is central and the family is entirely peripheral. An example of the kind of community Donovan envisions is the Odinist group Wolves of Vinland, which Donovan joined after visiting their off-the-grid community in rural Virginia in 2014. The Wolves use group rituals (including animal sacrifice) and hold fights between members to test their masculinity.54 The Wolves of Vinland have also been praised by White nationalist groups such as Counter-Currents Publishing, and one of their members has been imprisoned for attempting to burn down a Black church in Virginia.55

Donovan has written that he is sympathetic to White nationalist aims such as encouraging racial separatism and defending European Americans against “the deeply entrenched anti-white bias of multiculturalist orthodoxies.” White nationalism dovetails with his beliefs that all humans are tribal creatures and human equality is an illusion. But in contrast to most Alt Rightists, race is not Donovan’s main focus or concern. “My work is about men. It’s about understanding masculinity and the plight of men in the modern world. It’s about what all men have in common.” His “Brotherhood” ideal is not culturally specific and he’s happy to see men of other cultures pursue similar aims. “For instance, I am not a Native American, but I have been in contact with a Native American activist who read The Way of Men and contacted me to tell me about his brotherhood. I could never belong to that tribe, but I wish him great success in his efforts to promote virility among his tribesmen.”57

Donovan also echoes the 1909 Futurist Manifesto, a document that prefigured Italian Fascism. (Image: Wiki Commons)

There are strong resonances between Donovan’s ideas and early fascism’s violent male camaraderie, which took the intense, trauma-laced bonds that World War I veterans had formed in the trenches and transferred them into street-fighting formations such as the Italian squadristi and German storm troopers. Donovan also echoes the 1909 Futurist Manifesto, a document that prefigured Italian Fascism with statements such as “We want to glorify war—the only cure for the world—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.”58 Thus it’s not surprising he has embraced the term “anarcho-fascism,” referring to “a unified male collective… bound together by a red ribbon of blood.”59

In the Alternative Right and among rightists in general, the most controversial part of Donovan’s ideology is that he advocates and practices “androphilia,” by which he means love or sex between masculine men. Donovan doesn’t call himself gay, rejects gay culture as effeminate, and justifies homophobia as a defense of masculinity rooted in the male gang’s collective survival needs. His version of homosexuality is a consummation of the priority that men in his ideal gang place on each other. As he has commented, “When you get right down to it, when it comes to sex, homos are just men without women getting in the way.”60 Many Alternative Rightists consider homosexuality in any form to be immoral and a threat to racial survival, and Donovan has been vilified on many Alt Right sites for his sexuality, yet his work has also won widespread support within the movement. Anti-Fascist News has noted a broader trend among many White nationalists to include openly homosexual writers (such as James O’Meara) and musicians (such as Death in June leader Douglas Pearce), while continuing to derogate gay culture.61

Right-wing anarchists

Like many far-right currents in the United States, the Alt Right offers a vision of the state that is both authoritarian and decentralist. Alt Rightists uphold classical fascism’s elitist and anti-democratic views on how society should be governed, and as the movement has grown it has increasingly applauded dictatorial figures such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.62 At the same time, the Alt Right goal of breaking up the United States into ethnically separate polities is inherently decentralist, and is rooted in both the European New Right’s vision of replacing nation-states with a federated “empire” and paleoconservatism’s traditional hostility to big government. The authoritarian/decentralist blend has been bolstered by two other political currents that have influenced the Alt Right: right-wing anarchism and neoreaction.

As part of its project to bring together a range of dissident right-wing voices, AlternativeRight.com published articles by self-identified anarchists Andrew Yeoman of Bay Area National Anarchists (BANA) and Keith Preston of the website Attack the System (ATS). National-Anarchism, which advocates a decentralized system of “tribal” enclaves, was initiated in the 1990s by Troy Southgate, a veteran of British neonazism.63 Over the following years, National-Anarchist groups formed in a number of countries across Europe, the Americas, and Australia/New Zealand. The first U.S. affiliate, BANA, began in 2007, and Southgate formally launched the National-Anarchist Movement (N-AM) in 2010.64

National-Anarchism is a White nationalist ideology. Like Identitarianism, it draws heavily on the ENR doctrine that ethnic and racial separatism is needed to defend so-called biocultural diversity. The N-AM Manifesto declares that race categories are basic biological facts and some people are innately superior to others. National-Anarchists also repeat classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and, like many neonazis, promote neopaganism and closeness to nature.65 But National-Anarchists reject classical fascism for its emphasis on strong nation-states, centralized dictatorship, and collaboration with big business. Instead, they call for breaking up society into self-governing tribal communities, so that different cultures, beliefs, and practices can co-exist side by side.66

National-Anarchists have not had a significant presence in the Alternative Right since BANA disbanded in 2011, but self-described anarcho-pluralist Keith Preston has continued to participate in Alt Right forums, for example speaking at National Policy Institute conferences and on The Right Stuff podcasts. Preston is a former left-wing anarchist who moved to the Right in the 1990s and then founded the group American Revolutionary Vanguard, which is better known today by the name of its website, Attack the System.67 ATS brings together a number of right-wing currents, including National-Anarchist, libertarian, White nationalist, Duginist, and others, among it editors and contributors, but Preston’s own ideology is distinct from all of these.68

Like the National-Anarchists, Preston advocates a decentralized, diverse network of self-governing communities, while rejecting left-wing anarchism’s commitment to dismantle social hierarchy and oppression. Authoritarian and supremacist systems would be fully compatible with the anarcho-pluralist model, as long as they operated on a small scale. But unlike National-Anarchists, Preston frames his decentralist ideal in terms of individual free choice rather than tribalism, and he is not a White nationalist.69 Although Preston has echoed some racist ideas such as the claim that non-European immigrants threaten to destroy Western civilization, his underlying philosophy is based not on race but rather a generic, Nietzschean elitism that is not ethnically specific.70 While Preston himself is White, several of his closest associates in the Attack the System inner circle are people of color.

Preston has offered several reasons for his involvement in the Alternative Right. He sees the movement as an important counterweight to what he calls “totalitarian humanism” (supposedly state-enforced progressive values, i.e., political correctness), he regards the Alt Right’s foreign policy non-interventionism and economic nationalism as superior to what the Republican or Democratic parties advocate, and he shares many Alt Rightists’ interest in earlier European “critics of liberal capitalism and mass democracy,”71 meaning people like Julius Evola, Carl Schmitt, and Ernst Jünger. In addition, the Alt Right allows Preston to avoid political isolation, as his efforts to reach out to left-wing anarchists have been almost completely rejected.

Preston is a respected figure within the Alternative Right, and his anti-statist vision appeals to some White nationalists in the movement. For example, Counter-Currents author Francisco Albanese has argued that it provides “the best and most viable option for the ethnic and racial survival” of Whites in regions where they form a minority of the population. In addition, “it is only outside the state that whites can come to understand the true essence of community and construction of a common destiny.”72 At the same time, anarcho-pluralism offers potential common ground between White nationalists and other critics of the existing order, such as anarcho-capitalists and other “market anarchists,” whose ideas are regularly featured on Attack the System, as well as the “libertarian theocrats” of the Christian Reconstructionist movement.73

Preston’s approach to political strategy takes this bridge-building further. Echoing Third Position fascists, who denounce both communism and capitalism, Preston and ATS call for a broad revolutionary alliance of all those who want to destroy U.S. imperialism and the federal government. Within U.S. borders, this would involve a “pan-secessionist” strategy uniting groups across the political spectrum that want to carve out self-governing enclaves free of federal government control.74 As a step in this direction, ATS supported a series of North American secessionist conventions, which brought together representatives of the neo-Confederate group League of the South, the Reconstructionist-influenced Christian Exodus, the libertarian Free State Project, advocates of Hawaiian independence, the left-leaning Second Vermont Republic, and others.75

Neoreaction

Neoreaction is another dissident right-wing current with a vision of small-scale authoritarianism that has emerged online in the past decade, which overlaps with and has influenced the Alternative Right. Like the Alt Right and much of the manosphere, neoreaction (often abbreviated as NRx, and also known as Dark Enlightenment) is a loosely unified school of thought that rejects egalitarianism in principle, argues that differences in human intelligence and ability are mainly genetic, and believes that cultural and political elites wrongfully limit the range of acceptable discourse. Blogger Curtis Yarvin (writing under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug) first articulated neoreactionary ideology in 2007, but many other writers have contributed to it. Neoreaction emphasizes order and restoring the social stability that supposedly prevailed before the French Revolution, along with technocratic and futurist concerns such as transhumanism, a movement that hopes to radically “improve” human beings through technology. NRx theorist Nick Land is a leading advocate of accelerationism, which in his version sees global capitalism driving ever-faster technological change, to the point that artificial intelligence essentially replaces human beings. One critic wrote that neoreaction “combines all of the awful things you always suspected about libertarianism with odds and ends from PUA culture, Victorian Social Darwinism, and an only semi-ironic attachment to absolutism. Insofar as neoreactionaries have a political project, it’s to dissolve the United States into competing authoritarian seasteads on the model of Singapore…”76

PayPal co-founder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel. (Photo by JD Lasica via Flickr.)

Neoreactionaries, who are known for their arcane, verbose theoretical monologues, appear to be mostly young, computer-oriented men, and their ideas have spread partly through the tech startup scene. PayPal co-founder and Trump supporter Peter Thiel has voiced some neoreactionary-sounding ideas. In 2009, for example, he declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible” and “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women…have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”77 Both Yarvin and fellow NRxer Michael Anissimov have worked for companies backed by Thiel.78 This doesn’t necessarily mean that Thiel is intentionally bankrolling the neoreactionary movement per se, but it points to resonances between that movement and Silicon Valley’s larger techno-libertarian discourse.

“At its heart, neoreaction is a critique of the entire liberal, politically-correct orthodoxy,” commented “WhiteDeerGrotto” on the NRx blog Habitable Worlds. “The Cathedral, a term coined by Moldbug, is a description of the institutions and enforcement mechanisms used to propagate and maintain this orthodoxy”—a power center that consists of Ivy League and other elite universities, The New York Times, and some civil servants. “The politically-correct propagandists assert that humans are essentially interchangeable, regardless of culture or genetics, and that some form of multicultural social-welfare democracy is the ideal, final political state for all of humanity. Neoreaction says no. The sexes are biologically distinct, genetics matter, and democracy is deeply flawed and fundamentally unstable.”79

While Alt Rightists largely agree with these neoreactionary ideas, and some outsiders have equated the two movements, Alt Right and neoreaction differ significantly. Alt Rightists might or might not invoke popular sovereignty as an achievement of European civilization, and try to strike a populist or anti-elitist pose, but neoreactionaries all regard regular people as utterly unsuited to hold political power—“a howling irrational mob” as NRx theorist Nick Land has put it.80 Some NRxers advocate monarchy; others want to turn the state into a corporation with members of an intellectual elite as shareholders.81 Conversely, neoreactionaries might or might not translate their genetic determinism into calls for racial solidarity, but for most Alt Rightists race is the basis for everything else.82 Unlike most Alt Rightists, leading neoreactionaries have not supported Donald Trump.83 In addition, while many Alt Rightists emphasize antisemitism, neoreactionaries generally do not, and some neoreactionaries are Jewish or, in Yarvin’s case, of mixed Jewish and non-Jewish ancestry.84 Indeed, in The Right Stuff’s lexicon of Alt Right terminology, “Neoreaction” translates as “Jews.”

At the same time, many Alt Rightists regard neoreaction as a related movement that offers many positive contributions. Some writers, such as Steve Sailer, have had a foot in both camps. Alt Rightist Gregory Hood has argued that White nationalism and neoreaction are complementary: “I’ve argued in the past that race is sufficient in and of itself to serve as a foundation for state policy. However, just saying that tells you very little about how precisely you execute that program. NRx and its theoretical predecessors are absolutely core to understanding how society works and how power functions.”85 Anarcho-pluralist Keith Preston applauded a proposal by NRxer Michael Anissimov to create breakaway enclaves in “low-population, defensible regions of the United States like Idaho.”86 On its own, neoreaction seems too esoteric to have much of a political impact, but its contribution to Alt Right ideology might be significant.

PART 3 – RELATIONSHIP WITH DONALD TRUMP

Political strategy debates

The Alternative Right first gained mainstream attention through its support for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. In exploring the Alt Right’s relationship with the Trump campaign and with Trump as president-elect, several issues deserve special attention: the movement’s debates about political strategy, its skillful use of online activism, and its attraction of a wider circle of sympathizers and popularizers who came to be known as the “Alt Lite.”

Alt Rightists’ embrace of Trump followed several years in which they argued about whether to work within existing political channels or reject them entirely. During this period, American Renaissance columnist Hubert Collins called on White nationalists to use the electoral process and ally with more mainstream anti-immigrant groups to keep Whites at as high a percentage of the U.S. population as possible.87 In contrast, Gregory Hood of Counter-Currents Publishing declared that the United States was “beyond reform” and political secession was “the only way out.” Sidestepping this issue, many Alt Rightists have followed the European New Right lead and focused on a “metapolitical” strategy of seeking to transform the broader culture. In Lawrence Murray’s words, “When the idea of White nationalism has taken root among enough of our people, the potential to demand, demonstrate, and act will be superior to what it currently is.”89 Jack Donovan has argued that the U.S. is on the road to becoming a failed state and urged Alt Rightists to “build the kinds of resilient communities and networks of skilled people that can survive the collapse and preserve your identities after the Fall.”90 To Donovan, this is an optimistic scenario: “In a failed state, we go back to Wild West rules, and America becomes a place for men again—a land full of promise and possibility that rewards daring and ingenuity, a place where men can restart the world.”91

Donald Trump speaking to supporters in Phoenix, Arizona, 2016.
(Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr).

Whether or not to work within established political channels has been debated at movement events, with some Alt Rightists moving from one position to another. Richard Spencer, for example, argued in 2011 that “the GOP could unite a substantial majority of white voters by focusing its platform on immigration restriction.” This strategy “would…ensure that future Americans inherit a country that resembles that of their ancestors.” But two years later, Spencer seemingly turned his back on the Republican Party and called for creating a separate White ethnostate in North America. He declared, “the majority of children born in the United States are non-White. Thus, from our perspective, any future immigration-restriction efforts are meaningless.” Spencer also argued that “restoring the Constitution,” (going back to an aristocratic republic run by property-owning White men) as some White nationalists advocated, would only lead to a similar or worse situation.

One approach has been to propose working within the system in order to weaken it, advocating changes that sound reasonable but require radical change—a right-wing version of the Trotskyist transitional demand strategy. Ted Sallis, for example, urged White nationalists to “demand a seat at the multicultural table, represented by real advocates of White interests, not groveling patsies.” This would involve using the language of multiculturalism to complain about “legitimate” cases of discrimination against Whites or members of other dominant groups. The aim here would not be “reforming the System. It is instead using the contradictions and weaknesses of the System against itself…”94

The Traditionalist Youth Network is a White nationalist group founded in 2013 by Matthew Heimbach.

To a large extent, Alternative Rightist support for Trump’s presidential candidacy followed a related approach of using the system against itself. Alt Rightists began praising Trump in 2015, and by mid-2016 most of the movement was applauding him. But this support was qualified by the recognition that Trump was not one of them and was not going to bring about the change they wanted. Brad Griffin, who blogs at Occidental Dissent under the name Hunter Wallace, hoped in late 2015 that Trump “provokes a fatal split that topples the GOP.” The Traditionalist Youth Network declared:

While Donald Trump is neither a Traditionalist nor a White nationalist, he is a threat to the economic and social powers of the international Jew. For this reason alone as long as Trump stands strong on deportation and immigration enforcement we should support his candidacy insofar as we can use it to push more hardcore positions on immigration and Identity. Donald Trump is not the savior of Whites in America, he is however a booming salvo across the bow of the Left and Jewish power to tell them that White America is awakening, and we are tired of business as usual.96

At The Right Stuff, “Professor Evola-Hitler” argued that Trump had broken important taboos on issues such as curtailing immigration and ending birthright citizenship, damaged the Republican Party’s pro-Israel coalition, shifted the party closer to ethnic nationalism, and “offers the opportunity for the Alt-Right to expand quickly,” but cautioned that “We need to be taking advantage of Trump, not allow Trump to take advantage of us.”97

Not all Alt Rightists supported Trump. The Right Stuff contributor “Auschwitz Soccer Ref” argued that Alt Rightists shouldn’t support Trump since two of his children had married Jews, making him “naturally loyal” to Israel.98 Jack Donovan suggested that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be preferable, because she would “drive home the reality that white men are no longer in charge… and that [the United States] is no longer their country and never will be again,”99 Keith Preston commented, “The alt-right’s attachment to Trump seems to be a mirror image repeat of the religious right’s attachment to Reagan, i.e. the case of an insurgent, somewhat reactionary, populist movement being taken for a ride by a thoroughly pro-ruling class centrist politician motivated primarily by personal ambition.”100 However, these anti-Trump voices were squarely in the minority.

Internet memes and harassment campaigns

Alt Rightists also turned online harassment and abuse into a potent tactic for frightening and silencing opponents. Photo: Sebastian via Flickr.

The main way that Alt Rightists helped Trump’s campaign was through online activism. A pivotal example came in the summer of 2015, when Alt Rightists promoted the #cuckservative meme to attack Trump’s GOP rivals as traitors and sellouts to liberalism. “Cuckservative” combines the words “conservative” and “cuckold,” meaning a man whose wife has sex with other men. As journalist Joseph Bernstein pointed out, “The term’s connotations are racist. By alluding to a genre of porn in which passive white husbands watch their wives have sex with black men, it casts its targets as impotent defenders of white people in America.”101 During the weeks leading up to the first Republican presidential debate, Alt Rightists spread the meme across social media to boost Trump and vilify his GOP rivals, as in a Tweet that showed a picture of Jeb Bush with the words, “Please fuck my country, Mexico. #Cuckservative.”102 As Anti-Fascist News pointed out, this initiative “allowed racialist discourse to shift into the public, making #cuckservative an accusation that mainstream Republicans feel like they have to answer to.”103

Alt Rightists also turned online harassment and abuse into a potent tactic for frightening and silencing opponents, borrowing directly from the manosphere’s Gamergate campaign discussed above. In the Spring of 2016, for example, anti-Trump protesters at Portland State University were flooded with racist, transphobic, and antisemitic messages, doxxing, and rape and death threats, sent from anonymous social media accounts. Reflecting the manosphere’s influence, Alt Right harassment often emphasized sexual violence and the humiliation of women and girls, even when men were the supposed targets.104 David French, staff writer at the conservative National Review, described the yearlong stream of relentless online abuse his family has endured because he criticized Trump and the Alt Right:

I saw images of my daughter’s face in gas chambers, with a smiling Trump in a Nazi uniform preparing to press a button and kill her. I saw her face photoshopped into images of slaves. She was called a “niglet” and a “dindu.” The alt-right unleashed on my wife, Nancy, claiming that she had slept with black men while I was deployed to Iraq, and that I loved to watch while she had sex with “black bucks.” People sent her pornographic images of black men having sex with white women, with someone photoshopped to look like me, watching.105

PULSE Nightclub sign in Orlando (photo: Daniel Ruyter via Flickr).

Another example of Alt Right online activism was the campaign to “wedge gays and Muslims,” as “Butch Leghorn” of The Right Stuff put it. Writing in June 2016, two days after Afghani American Omar Mateen murdered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Leghorn declared, “Gays will never be safe from Muslim violence, and the liberals will allow Muslim violence against gays because Muslims are higher ranked on the Progressive stack than gays…. This makes [the Orlando] shooting a very valuable wedge issue. By allowing Muslims into America, the Democrats are in effect choosing Muslims over gays. We simply need to hammer this issue. Meme magic is real boys, so spread this meme. Drive this wedge. Smash their coalition.”106 Leghorn offered several examples of talking points and images to use, such as a rainbow flag with the words “Fuck Islam” superimposed over it.

One of the Alt Right’s most skillful uses of social media in 2016 was the #DraftOurDaughters meme, which was trending on Twitter the week before the election. As the website Know Your Meme explained, “#DraftOurDaughters is a satirical social media hashtag launched by supporters of Donald Trump which encourages American women to register for Selective Service in preparation for hypothetical scenarios of United States military operations that would supposedly be launched by Hillary Clinton if she were elected as President of the United States.” The campaign included a series of fake Clinton campaign ads, many of which feature images of women in military uniform and slogans such as “Hillary will stand up to Russian Aggression. Will you stand with her?,” “I’d rather die in a war than live under bigotry,” and “In the White House or on Russian soil. The fight for equality never stops.”107

The Daily Stormer is White supremacist news and commentary website edited by Andrew Anglin.

#DraftOurDaughters portrayed the Clinton campaign as fusing feminism/multiculturalism and aggressive militarism. Since that was a reasonably accurate description of Clinton’s politics, the meme was equally effective as either disinformation or satire. A number of Alt Right sites, such as Vox Popoli and The Daily Stormer, promoted the campaign.108 Along with spreading the “ads” themselves, Alt Rightists also spread the phony claim that mainstream media had been taken in by them.109

The Alt Lite

As the Alt Right has grown and attracted increased attention, it has also developed complicated relationships with more moderate rightists. The movement has largely defined itself and drawn energy by denouncing conservatives, and some conservatives have returned the favor, such as the prestigious National Review.110 At the same time, other conservatives have taken on the role of apologists or supporters for the Alt Right, helping to spread a lot of its message without embracing its full ideology or its ethnostate goals. Richard Spencer and his comrades began to call this phenomenon the “Alt Right-lite” or simply the “Alt Lite.” Alt Rightists have relied on the Alt Lite to help bring its ideas to a mass, mainstream audience, but to varying degrees they have also regarded Alt Lite figures with resentment, as ideologically untrustworthy opportunists.

Breitbart News Network is the preeminent example of Alt Lite politics. Founded in 2007, Breitbart featured sensationalist attacks on liberals and liberal groups, praise for the Tea Party’s anti-big government populism, and aggressive denials that conservatives were racist, sexist, or homophobic. Under Steve Bannon, who took over leadership in 2012, the organ began to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants more directly.111 In March 2016, Breitbart published “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” by Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, which asserted—without evidence—that most Alt Rightists did not believe their own racist propaganda, but were actually just libertarians trying to shock people.112 The article helped boost the Alt Right’s profile and acceptability in mainstream circles, yet many Alt Rightists criticized it for glossing over their White nationalist ideology.113

Milo Yiannopoulos. (Photo by Kmeron for LeWeb13 Conference via Flickr.)

Over the following months, Yiannopoulos—a flamboyantly gay man of Jewish descent and a political performer who vilifies Muslims and women and refers to Donald Trump as “Daddy”—became publicly identified with the Alt Right himself, to mixed reviews from Alt Rightists.114 Meanwhile, Steve Bannon declared Breitbart “the platform of the Alt Right” and began publishing semi-veiled antisemitic attacks on Trump’s opponents, all while insisting that White nationalists, antisemites, and homophobes were marginal to the Alt Right.115 Richard Spencer was pleased when Donald Trump hired Bannon to run his campaign, commenting that “Breitbart has acted as a ‘gateway’ to Alt Right ideas and writers” and that the media outlet “has people on board who take us seriously, even if they are not Alt Right themselves.”116 But other Alt Rightists have been more critical of the Alt Lite phenomenon. At Occidental Dissent, Brad Griffin describes the Alt Lite as “basically conservative websites pushing Alt-Right material in order to generate clicks and revenue,” and asks, “What the hell does Milo Yiannopoulos—a Jewish homosexual who boasts about carrying on interracial relationships with black men—have to do with us?”117

CONCLUSION: THE ALT RIGHT AND THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

Most Alt Rightists were thrilled by Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton, but not because they believe that Trump shares their politics or will bring about the changes that they want. Rather, they believe a Trump presidency will offer them “breathing room” to promote their ideology and to “move the Overton window” in their favor.118 In turn, they see themselves as the Trump coalition’s political vanguard, taking hardline positions that pull Trump further to the right while enabling him to look moderate by comparison. In Richard Spencer’s words, “The Alt Right and Trumpian populism are now aligned much in the way the Left is aligned with Democratic politicians like Obama and Hillary…. We—and only we—can say the things Trump can’t say . . . can criticize him in the right way . . . and can envision a new world that he can’t quite grasp.”119 The Traditionalist Youth Network was more specific: “We cannot and will not back down on the Jewish Question or our explicit racial identity. We won’t. Don’t worry. But we will join those who aren’t as radical as we are in pulling politics in our direction.”120

But the question of how to play that vanguard role has already sharpened tensions between the Alt Right and its sympathizers, and to some extent within the Alt Right itself. At the National Policy Institute conference shortly after the election, Spencer’s closing speech ended with the shout “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” which many audience members greeted with fascist salutes. The fact that it was caught on video by journalists made it a politically embarrassing moment. Alt Lite figure Mike Cernovich claimed, absurdly, that Spencer had acted on behalf of the government to deliberately discredit the movement. Several other sympathizers, and even long-time Alt Rightist Greg Johnson of Counter-Currents, also criticized Spencer’s behavior as damaging.121

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Arizona. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

In the months and years ahead, there are likely to be further tensions within the larger Trump coalition, which spans from Alt Rightists to mainstream conservatives. Although Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor puts someone with Alt Right ties close to the center of power, most of his other appointments are hardline establishment figures. On a number of issues, from immigration policy to Israel, Alt Rightists could easily find themselves pushed into an oppositional role. VDare.com founder Peter Brimelow has warned that Alt Rightists might “revolt” if the Trump administration fails to move in the direction they want.122

Even if that happens, however, Alt Rightists could continue to exert significant pressure on a Trump administration, because they know how to speak effectively to a large part of his popular base. The Alt Right has helped revitalize White nationalist and male supremacist politics in the United States. While earlier generations of far-right activists broke new ground with online bulletin boards such as Stormfront, Alt Rightists have made effective use of the internet for everything from theoretical debate to mass campaigns of targeted ridicule. In previous decades, White nationalists largely relied on coded language and euphemisms when seeking mass support, but Alt Rightists often parade their hate ideology aggressively and confidently. Although the movement has seen its share of infighting, it has also been relatively successful in crafting a workable “big-tent” culture that welcomes diverse points of view and fosters fruitful interchange with related ideological currents.

The Alt Right has been buoyed by Donald Trump’s drive to the presidency, and has aided Trump in return, while maintaining a clear sense of the relationship’s limits. Unlike many grassroots initiatives that pour themselves into electoral politics and get trapped, the Alt Right is well positioned to maintain its own identity and freedom of maneuver. Because it mostly exists online, the Alt Right does not have the infrastructure needed to launch a guerrilla war (as Nazi/Klan forces did in the 1980s) or build pseudo-state institutions (as Patriot groups did in the 1990s and are attempting again now), but it is in a strong position to pursue a “metapolitical” transformation of the political culture and thereby lay the groundwork for structural change, centered on its vision of a White ethnostate.

Endnotes

[1] David Weigel. “‘Cuckservative’—the conservative insult of the month, explained.” The Washington Post, July 29, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/07/29/cuckservative-the-conservative-insult-of-the-month-explained

[2] Abby Ohlheiser and Caitlin Dewey. “Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech, annotated.” The Washington Post, August 25, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/08/25/hillary-clintons-alt-right-speech-annotated/

[3] Daniel Lombroso and Yoni Appelbaum. “‘Hail Trump!’: White Nationalists Salute the President Elect.” The Atlantic, November 21, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/

[4] I use the term “Far Right” to refer to political forces that (a) promote human inequality based on race, gender, or other factors as natural or inevitable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the U.S. political system. This definition is specific to the United States today and does not necessarily apply to other times or places.

[5] Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 145-47, 160-61.

[6] Ibid., 243-44, 283-84.

[7] Rachel Tabachnick and Frank L. Cocozzelli. “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right.” Political Research Associates, November 22, 2013. https://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/nullification-neo-confederates-and-the-revenge-of-the-old-right/

[8] Matthew N. Lyons, “Fragmented Nationalism: Right-Wing Responses to September 11 in Historical Context.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 127, no 4 (October, 2003), 398-404.

[9] Roger Griffin, “Plus ça change! The Fascist Legacy in the Metapolitics of the Nouvelle Droite.” Chapter for The Development of the Radical Right in France 1890-1995. (London: Routledge: 2000). Anton Shekhovtsov, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism: The New Right a la Russe.” Religion Compass 3, no. 4 (2009): 697-716.

[10] Alain de Benoist and Charles Champetier, “Manifesto of the French New Right in the Year 2000.” https://archive.org/details/ManifestoOfTheFrenchNewRightInTheYear2000

[11] In the 1990s, the ex-leftist journal Telos was instrumental in translating European New Right texts into English and engaging with ENR ideas. See for example the Telos Winter 1993-Fall 1994 (nos. 98-99) special double issue on “The French New Right: New Right-New Left-New Paradigm?”

[12] See, for example, Richard Spencer, “The Conservative Write.” Taki’s Magazine, August 6, 2008. http://takimag.com/article/the_conservative_write/print#axzz4VruMeHTg; Kevin DeAnna, “The Alternative Right.” Taki’s Magazine, July 26, 2009. http://takimag.com/article/the_alternative_right/print#axzz4VruMeHTg; and Jack Hunter, “Whither the Alternative Right?” Taki’s Magazine, November 3, 2009. http://takimag.com/article/whither_the_alternative_right#axzz4VruMeHTg

[13] Matthew N. Lyons, “AlternativeRight.com: Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century.” Three Way Fight. September 19, 2010, http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2010/09/alternativerightcom-paleoconservatism.html

[14] Greg Johnson, “Theory & Practice.” Counter-Currents Publishing, September 2010, http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/09/theory-practice/

[15] James Kirchick, “American Racist Richard Spencer Gets to Play the Martyr in Hungary.” The Daily Beast, October 7, 2014. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/10/07/american-racist-richard-spencer-gets-to-play-the-martyr-in-hungary.html

[16] Antifascist Front, “Alternative Internet Racism: Alt Right and the New Fascist Branding.” Anti-Fascist News, December 18, 2015. https://antifascistnews.net/2015/12/18/alternative-internet-racism-alt-right-and-the-new-fascist-branding/

[17] Lawrence Murray, “Fashism.” The Right Stuff, October 24, 2015. http://therightstuff.biz/2015/10/24/fashism/

[18] Richard Hoste, “Why an Alternative Right is Necessary.” AlternativeRight.com. February 24, 2010. http://www.radixjournal.com/altright-archive/altright-archive/main/the-magazine/why-an-alternative-right-is-necessary

[19] Johnson op cit., 2010.

[20] Lawrence Murray, “The Fight for the Alt-Right: The Rising Tide of Ideological Autism Against Big-Tent Supremacy.” The Right Stuff, March 6, 2016. http://therightstuff.biz/2016/03/06/big-tentism/

[21] Alfred W. Clark, “What is the #Altright?” Radix, January 20, 2016. http://www.radixjournal.com/blog/2016/1/20/what-is-the-altright

[22] Richard B. Spencer, “Identitarianism—A Conversation Starter.” Radix, June 15, 2015. http://www.radixjournal.com/journal/2015/6/15/identitarianisma-conversation-starter

[23] Darth Stirner, “Fascist Libertarianism: For a Better World.” The Right Stuff, January 23, 2013. http://therightstuff.biz/2013/01/23/fascist-libertarianism-for-a-better-world/

[24] Antifascist Front. “#Cuckservative: How the ‘Alt Right’ Took Off Their Masks and Revealed Their White Hoods.” Anti-Fascist News, August 16, 2015. https://antifascistnews.net/2015/08/16/cuckservative-how-the-alt-right-took-off-their-masks-and-revealed-their-white-hoods/

[25] Ibid.

[26] Andrew Anglin, “Intensified Jewing: Vox Covers the Alt-Right.” Daily Stormer, April 18, 2016. http://www.dailystormer.com/intensified-jewing-vox-covers-the-alt-right/

[27] Auschwitz Soccer Ref, “Zero Tolerance: Why Aren’t White Nationalists and Jewish Nationalists Fellow Travelers?” The Right Stuff, April 11, 2016. http://therightstuff.biz/2016/04/11/zero-tolerance-why-arent-white-nationalists-and-jewish-nationalists-fellow-travelers/

[28] Jared Taylor, “Jews and American Renaissance.” American Renaissance, April 14, 2006. http://www.amren.com/news/2006/04/jews_and_americ/

[29] Eugene Girin, “Is the Alt Right Anti-Semitic?” AlternativeRight.com, July 29, 2010. [Reposted in Radix.] http://www.radixjournal.com/altright-archive/altright-archive/main/the-magazine/is-the-traditionalist-right-anti-semitic

[30] M. K. Lane, “Will Jews Change Sides?” Counter-Currents Publishing, February 17, 2016. http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/02/will-jews-change-sides/

[31] Alex Kurtagic, “Women as a Measure of Credibility.” AlternativeRight.com, May 25, 2011. http://www.radixjournal.com/altright-archive/altright-archive/main/blogs/untimely-observations/women-as-a-measure-of-credibility

[32] Quoted in Lyons op cit. 2010.

[33] Matthew N. Lyons, “Alt-right: more misogynistic than many neonazis.” Three Way Fight, December 3, 2016. http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2016/12/alt-right-more-misogynistic-than-many.html

[34] Traditionalist Youth Network, “Jews Destroy Women: A Response to ‘Women Destroy Nations.” Traditionalist Youth Network, February 2016. http://www.tradyouth.org/2016/02/jews-destroy-women/

[35] Danielle Paquette, “The alt-right isn’t only about white supremacy. It’s about white male supremacy.” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 2016. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-alt-right-white-male-supremacy-20161125-story.html

[36] Jeff Sharlet, “Are You Man Enough for the Men’s Rights Movement?” GQ, February 3, 2014. http://www.gq.com/story/mens-rights-activism-the-red-pill

[37] Roosh V [Daryush Valizadeh], “What is Neomasculinity?” Roosh V, May 6, 2015. http://www.rooshv.com/what-is-neomasculinity

[38] Paul Elam, “Jury duty at a rape trial? Acquit!” A Voice for Men, July 20, 2010. http://www.avoiceformen.com/mens-rights/jury-duty-at-a-rape-trial-acquit/

[39] Paul Elam, “October is the fifth annual Bash a Violent Bitch Month” A Voice for Men, September 30, 2015. http://www.avoiceformen.com/mens-rights/domestic-violence-industry/october-is-the-fifth-annual-bash-a-violent-bitch-month/

[40] Roosh V [Daryush Valizadeh], “Why Homosexual Marriage Matters For Straight Men.” Return of Kings, October 12, 2015. https://archive.is/HzSIx#selection-139.0-139.16

[41] Matt Forney, “Are Transsexuals Who Sleep With Straight Men Guilty of Rape?” Return of Kings, December 8, 2014. http://www.returnofkings.com/48665/are-transsexuals-who-sleep-with-straight-men-guilty-of-rape

[42] Paul Elam, “Andy Bob exposes feminist hatred of gay men in new book.” A Voice for Men, January 7, 2016. http://www.avoiceformen.com/a-voice-for-men/andy-bob-exposes-feminist-hatred-of-gay-men-in-new-book/

[43] Stephen Totilo, “Another Woman in Gaming Flees Home Following Death Threats.” Kotaku, October 11, 2014. http://kotaku.com/another-woman-in-gaming-flees-home-following-death-thre-1645280338

[44] Amanda Hess, “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” Pacific Standard, January 6, 2014. https://psmag.com/why-women-aren-t-welcome-on-the-internet-aa21fdbc8d6

[45] Roosh V [Daryush Valizadeh], “The Damaging Effects of Jewish Intellectualism And Activism On Western Culture.” Return of Kings, May 4, 2015. http://www.returnofkings.com/62716/the-damaging-effects-of-jewish-intellectualism-and-activism-on-western-culture

[46] Dota, “Manosphere Rising.” Alternative Right, May 14, 2015. http://alternative-right.blogspot.com/2015/05/manosphere-rising.html

[47] Matt Parrott, “An Endorsement of Roosh’s ‘Neomasculinity’ Manifesto.” Traditionalist Youth Network, May 2015 [updated 19 January 2016]. http://www.tradyouth.org/2015/05/roosh-neomasculinity/

[48] David Futrelle, Hitler-loving dudes named Andrew agree: Roosh V is a-OK! (Even though he’s not white.)” We Hunted the Mammoth, August 15, 2015. http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2015/08/15/hitler-loving-dudes-named-andrew-agree-roosh-v-is-a-ok-even-though-hes-not-white/

[49] David Futrelle, “Roosh V shocked to discover that white supremacist movement is full of white supremacists.” We Hunted the Mammoth, February 24, 2016. http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2016/02/24/roosh-v-shocked-to-discover-that-white-supremacist-movement-is-full-of-white-supremacists/

[50] Greg Johnson, “Roosh Really is a Rape Advocate (& a Rapist, if He’s Telling the Truth).” Counter-Currents Publishing n.d., https://archive.is/T66uL

[51] Roosh V [Daryush Valizadeh], “The Alt Right Is Worse Than Feminism in Attempting to Control Male Sexual Behavior.” Return of Kings, February 22, 2016. http://www.returnofkings.com/79234/the-alt-right-is-worse-than-feminism-in-attempting-to-control-male-sexual-behavior; Futrelle 2016 op cit.

[52] Jack Donovan, The Way of Men. (Milwaukie, Ore.: Dissonant Hum.: 2012), 138-9.

[53] Ibid., 137, 148.

[54] Jack Donovan, “A Time for Wolves.” Jack Donovan, June 14, 2014. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2014/06/a-time-for-wolves/

[55] Rose City Antifa, “The Wolves of Vinland: a Fascist Countercultural ‘Tribe’ in the Pacific Northwest.” Rose City Antifa, November 7, 2016. http://rosecityantifa.org/articles/the-wolves-of-vinland-a-fascist-countercultural-tribe-in-the-pacific-northwest/

[56] Jack Donovan, “Mighty White.” Jack Donovan, December 18, 2011. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2011/12/mighty-white/

[57] Jack Donovan, A Sky Without Eagles: Selected Essays and Speeches 2010-2014. (Milwaukie, Ore.: Dissonant Hum, 2014), 166.

[58] F. T. Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto.” (1909). http://bactra.org/T4PM/futurist-manifesto.html

[59] Jack Donovan, “Anarcho-Fascism.” Jack Donovan, March 3, 2013. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2013/03/anarcho-fascism/

[60] Jack Donovan, Comment. Roosh V Forum, November 16, 2012. https://www.rooshvforum.com/thread-17870.html

[61] Antifascist Front, “Queer Fascism: Why White Nationalists Are Trying to Drop Homophobia.” Anti-Fascist News, November 6, 2015.

[62] Shane Burley, “How the Alt-Right Is Attempting to Hide Its White Supremacist Ties.” Truthout, September 15, 2016. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37611-how-the-alt-right-is-attempting-to-hide-its-white-supremacist-ties

[63] Spencer Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism: National-Anarchists.” The Public Eye Magazine 23, no. 4 (2008), https://www.politicalresearch.org/2008/01/28/rebranding-fascism-national-anarchists/; Graham D. Macklin, “Co-opting the Counter Culture: Troy Southgate and the National Revolutionary Faction.” Patterns of Prejudice 39, no. 3 (2005).

[64] Greg Johnson, “Bay Area National Anarchists: An Interview with Andrew Yeoman, Part 1.” The Occidental Quarterly, August 21, 2009. http://www.toqonline.com/blog/interview-with-andrew-yeoman-part-i/; “THIRD WAY: Introducing the National-Anarchist Movement.” National-Anarchist Movement, 3 October, 2010. http://www.national-anarchist.net/2010/10/third-way-introducing-national.html

[65] National-Anarchist Movement, “N-AM Manifesto.” National-Anarchist Movement (2010). http://www.national-anarchist.net/2010/09/national-anarchist-movement-manifesto_18.html

[66] National-Anarchist Movement, “National-Anarchist Movement (N-AM) FAQ.” National-Anarchist Movement, November 21, 2012. http://www.national-anarchist.net/2012/10/national-anarchist-movement-n-am-faq.html

[67] Matthew N. Lyons, “Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston’s Authoritarian Anti-Statism.” New Politics (website), April 29, 2011. http://newpol.org/content/rising-above-herd-keith-prestons-authoritarian-anti-statism

[68] American Revolutionary Vanguard, “Statement of Purpose.” Attack the System, 2016. https://attackthesystem.com/statement-of-purpose/

[69] Keith Preston, “The National-Anarchist Litmus Test.” Attack the System, April 24, 2009. https://attackthesystem.com/2009/04/24/the-national-anarchist-litmus-test/; Keith Preston, “The Thoughts That Guide Me.” Attack the System (2005), https://attackthesystem.com/the-thoughts-that-guide-me-a-personal-reflection/; Lyons 2011 op cit.

[70] Keith Preston, “Mass Immigration and Totalitarian Humanism.” Speech at National Policy Institute Conference, June 23, 2011. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyQPlCJxtEE; Preston 2005 op cit.

[71] Keith Preston, “What, Exactly, is the ‘Alternative Right?’” [Introductory comments.] Attack the System, December 23, 2015. https://attackthesystem.com/2015/12/23/what-exactly-is-the-alternative-right/

[72] Francisco Albanese, “Rethinking White Tribalism: Anarchy in the Southern Cone.” Counter-Currents Publishing, June 5, 2014.

[73] Keith Preston, “Anarchist Economics Compared and Contrasted: Anarcho-Capitalism vs Anarcho-Syndicalism/Communism.” Attack the System, March 21, 2015. https://attackthesystem.com/2015/03/21/anarchist-economics-compared-and-contrasted-anarcho-capitalism-vs-anarcho-syndicalismcommunism/; Michael J. McVicar, “The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism.” The Public Eye, vol. 22, no. 3 (Fall 2007). http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v22n3/libertarian.html

[74] Keith Preston, “Anarcho-Pluralism and Pan-Secessionism: What They Are and What They Are Not.” Attack the System, August 8, 2010. https://attackthesystem.com/2010/08/08/anarcho-pluralism-and-pan-secessionism-what-they-are-and-what-they-are-not/

[75] Keith Preston, “Third North American Secessionists Convention — A Review.” Attack the System, November 19, 2008.

[76] Park MacDougald, “The Darkness Before the Right.” The Awl, September 28, 2015. https://theawl.com/the-darkness-before-the-right-84e97225ac19

[77] Peter Thiel, ‘The Education of a Libertarian.” Cato Unbound, April 13, 2009. https://www.cato-unbound.org/2009/04/13/peter-thiel/education-libertarian

[78] Klint Finley, “Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries.” TechCrunch, 22 November 2013, http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/22/geeks-for-monarchy/

[79] Scharlach, “Neoreaction = Monarchy?” Habitable Worlds, 23 November 2013.

[80] Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment: Part 1.” The Dark Enlightenment (2013), http://www.thedarkenlightenment.com/the-dark-enlightenment-by-nick-land/; MacDougald op cit.

[81] Finley op cit.

[82] Hubert Collins and Hadley Bishop, “Two Prominent Identitarians Give Us Their Thoughts On Neoreaction.” Interview with Michael McGregor and Gregory Hood. Social Matter, October 15, 2014. http://www.socialmatter.net/2014/10/15/724/

[83] Dylan Matthews, “The alt-right is more than warmed-over white supremacy. It’s that, but way way weirder.” Vox, April 18, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/4/18/11434098/alt-right-explained

[84] Mencius Moldbug [Curtis Yarvin], “Why I am not an anti-Semite.” Unqualified Reservations, June 23, 2007. http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/06/why-i-am-not-anti-semite.html

[85] Collins and Bishop op cit.

[86] Keith Preston, “The Growth of the Alternative Right.” Attack the System, January 4, 2016. https://attackthesystem.com/2016/01/04/the-growth-of-the-alternative-right/

[87] Anti-Defamation League, “Point of Contention: A Fractured White Supremacist Take on Immigration.” Anti-Defamation League, May 5, 2015. http://www.adl.org/civil-rights/immigration/c/point-of-contention-immigration.html

[88] Gregory Hood, “The Solution is State Power.” Counter-Currents Publishing, December 2012. http://www.counter-currents.com/2012/12/the-solution-is-state-power/

[89] Lawrence Murray, “White Nationalism FAQ.” The Right Stuff, April 14, 2016. http://therightstuff.biz/2016/04/14/white-nationalism-faq/

[90] Jack Donovan, “Becoming the New Barbarians.” Radix, December 23, 2013. http://www.radixjournal.com/journal/becoming-the-new-barbarians

[91] Jack Donovan, “The Bright Side of Illegal Immigration.” Jack Donovan, November 13, 2012. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2012/11/the-bright-side-of-illegal-immigration/

[92] Richard Spencer, “The Majority Strategy: The Essential Argument—Why The GOP Must Win White America,” V-Dare September 8, 2011. http://www.vdare.com/articles/the-majority-strategy

[93] Richard Spencer, “Facing the Future as a Minority,” The National Policy Institute April 30, 2013. http://www.npiamerica.org/the-national-policy-institute/blog/facing-the-future-as-a-minority

[94] Ted Sallis, “Democratic Multiculturalism: Strategy & Tactics.” Counter-Currents Publishing, November 19, 2014. http://www.counter-currents.com/2014/11/democratic-multiculturalism/

[95] Hunter Wallace [Brad Griffin], “Trump, White Nationalists, The Media.” Occidental Dissent, December 10, 2015. Comment by Hunter Wallace, December 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm. https://web.archive.org/web/20160114034742/http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2015/12/10/trump-white-nationalists-the-media/

[96] Traditionalist Youth Network, “The Trump Train and the Southern Strategy: The Only Hope for the GOP.” Traditionalist Youth Network, October 2015. http://www.tradyouth.org/2015/10/the-trump-train-and-the-southern-strategy-the-only-hope-for-the-gop/

[97] Professor Evola-Hitler, “Trump’s Our Guy for the 2016 Election. We Have No Choice.” The Right Stuff, April 29, 2016. http://therightstuff.biz/2016/04/29/trumps-our-guy-for-the-2016-election-we-have-no-choice/

[98] Auschwitz Soccer Ref, “Trump’s Not Our Guy. It’s Time to Stop Pretending Otherwise.” The Right Stuff, April 25, 2016. http://therightstuff.biz/2016/04/25/trumps-not-our-guy-its-time-to-stop-pretending-otherwise/

[99] Jack Donovan, “No One Will Ever Make America Great Again.” Jack Donovan, July 7, 2016. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2016/07/no-one-will-ever-make-america-great-again/

[100] Keith Preston, “The Alternative Right — An Autopsy.” Attack the System, May 21, 2016. https://attackthesystem.com/2016/05/21/the-alternative-right-an-autopsy/

[101] Joseph Bernstein, “Behind The Racist Hashtag That Is Blowing Up Twitter.” BuzzFeed, July 27, 2015. https://www.buzzfeed.com/josephbernstein/behind-the-racist-hashtag-some-donald-trump-fans-love

[102] Ibid.

[103] Antifascist Front (2015), “#Cuckservative” op cit.

[104] Robert Evans, “5 Things You Learn Being Attacked By The Alt-Right.” Cracked, September 20, 2016. http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2381-toddler-rape-threats-other-tactics-alt-right.html

[105] David French, “The Price I’ve Paid for Opposing Donald Trump.” National Review, October 21, 2016. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/441319/donald-trump-alt-right-internet-abuse-never-trump-movement

[106] Butch Leghorn, “Wedging Gays and Muslims,” The Right Stuff June 14, 2016, http://therightstuff.biz/2016/06/14/wedging-gays-and-muslims/

[107] Know Your Meme. N.d. “#DraftOurDaughters.” Know Your Meme. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/draftourdaughters

[108] Eric Striker, “#DraftOurDaughters: Feminist Hillary Supporters Vow To Fight War With Russia For Us.” The Daily Stormer, October 28, 2016. http://www.dailystormer.com/draftourdaughters-feminist-hillary-supporters-vow-to-fight-war-with-russia-for-us/; Vox Day[Theodore Beale], “Draft our Daughters.” Vox Popoli, October 28, 2016. http://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/10/draft-our-daughters.html

[109] Abby Ohlheiser, “What was fake on the Internet this election: #DraftOurDaughters, Trump’s tax returns.” The Washington Post, October 31, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/31/what-was-fake-on-the-internet-this-election-draftourdaughters-trumps-tax-returns/

[110] Ian Tuttle, “The Racist Moral Rot at the Heart of the Alt-Right.” National Review, April 5, 2016. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/433650/alt-rights-racism-moral-rot

[111] Stephen Piggott, “Is Breitbart.com Becoming the Media Arm of the ‘Alt-Right’?” Hatewatch, April 28, 2016. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/04/28/breitbartcom-becoming-media-arm-alt-right

[112] Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right.” Breitbart, March 29, 2016. http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/

[113] Antifascist Front, “Going Full Fash: Breitbart Mainstreams the ‘Alt Right’.” Anti-Fascist News, April 5, 2016. https://antifascistnews.net/2016/04/05/going-full-fash-breitbart-mainstreams-the-alt-right/

[114] Antifascist Front, “Meet the Alt Lite, the People Mainstreaming the Alt Right’s White Nationalism.” Anti-Fascist News, November 3, 2016. https://antifascistnews.net/2016/11/03/meet-the-alt-lite-the-people-mainstreaming-the-alt-rights-white-nationalism/

[115] Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists.” Mother Jones, August 22, 2016. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/stephen-bannon-donald-trump-alt-right-breitbart-news; Michelle Goldberg, “Breitbart Calls Trump Foe ‘Renegade Jew.’ This Is How Anti-Semitism Goes Mainstream.” Slate, May 16, 2016. http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/05/16/breitbart_calls_bill_kristol_a_renegade_jew_is_disgusting.html

[116] Richard B. Spencer, “Make Trump Trump Again.” Radix, August 17, 2016. http://www.radixjournal.com/blog/2016/8/17/make-trump-trump-again

[117] Hunter Wallace [Brad Griffin], “Alt-Right vs. Alt-Lite.” Occidental Dissent, November 23, 2016. http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2016/11/23/alt-right-vs-alt-lite/

[118] Vox Day [Theodore Beale], “Trumpslide!” Vox Popoli, November 9, 2016. “http://voxday.blogspot.com/2016/11/one-last-chance-america.html; James Dunphy, “It’s Time to Turn Up the Heat.” Counter-Currents Publishing, November 2016. http://www.counter-currents.com/2016/11/its-time-to-turn-up-the-heat/

[119] Richard B. Spencer, “We the Vanguard Now.” Radix, November 9, 2016. http://www.radixjournal.com/blog/2016/11/9/we-the-vanguard-now

[120] Matt Parrott, “Trump Apocalypse Now.” Traditionalist Youth Network, November 2016. http://www.tradyouth.org/2016/11/trump-apocalypse-now/#more-53331

[121] Antifascist Front, “Let’s Watch as the Alt Right Implodes.” Anti-Fascist News, December 4, 2016. https://antifascistnews.net/2016/12/04/lets-watch-as-the-alt-right-implodes/

[122] Rory Carroll, “‘Alt-right’ groups will ‘revolt’ if Trump shuns white supremacy, leaders say.” The Guardian, December 27, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/27/alt-right-donald-trump-white-supremacy-backlash

“A History of the War on Drugs”: Public Eye Artist in the News

On September 15, hip-hop artist Jay Z and author and illustrator Molly Crabapple collaborated (along with dream hampton, Jim Batt, and Kim Boekbinder) on a short, animated video, “A History of the War on Drugs, from Prohibition to Gold Rush,” for The New York Times. In the four-minute piece, Jay Z chronicles U.S. drug policy from 1971 to the present day, highlighting these laws’ ineffectiveness and their uneven application across race and class lines. Juxtaposing the mass incarceration of Black and Latino men arrested on petty drug charges with the White bankers and college students whose drug use gets a pass, the video also calls into question who will profit now that some states have legalized the sale of marijuana. The same drug sales that left a generation of men of color in prison will now enrich White entrepreneurs.

The piece is a continuation of Crabapple’s video work on social justice issues, including “broken windows” policing. PRA recently used a still from Crabapple’s viral video explanation of broken windows on the cover of our Spring 2016 issue of The Public Eye. Crabapple’s work accompanied a cover article by activist, lawyer, and author Andrea Ritchie on the right-wing roots of broken windows theory.

The Spring issue of Public Eye featuring a still from Molly Crabapple’s video “How ‘broken windows’ policing harms people of color.”

As Ritchie writes, broken window policing is based on the premise that if small signs of disorder—like broken windows, turnstile jumping or loud music—are left unchecked, they will eventually lead to greater crime. Neoconservative thinkers George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, who popularized the broken windows theory in a 1982 Atlantic article, argued that the stringent enforcement of all misdemeanor laws was necessary in order to maintain safety and avoid community breakdown.

However, in reality, this type of policing manifests as both excessive force towards minor offences and heightened police presence in low-income Black communities—to the extent that it often appears to criminalize Blackness itself. Similar to the drug policing Jay Z and Crabapple discussed in their video, broken window policing doesn’t reduce crime rates, but just assuages White fears of poorer communities of color.

The current culture of policing appears to be based not on the protection of people of color, but rather their criminalization. From the drug wars to broken window policing, it is evident the current law enforcement system is in dire need of reform – immediate reform.

The Transformation of a Goldwater Girl: Why It Matters in the Time of Trump

Click here to download the print version of this article.

A version of this article appears in the Fall 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

This is, in some respects, a ghost story. A political ghost story in which the mythic, the symbolic, the demon archetype come to substitute for sustained engagement with ordinary human beings. Both major political parties love to tell scary stories about the other side, while offering their own followers a vicarious sense of power—of superiority—over those dehumanized opponents, those ghosts. It’s intoxicating stuff.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what that means when it comes to Donald Trump.

The short answer: A lot more than one election and a fear- contempt- and ridicule-based campaign that demonizes not only Trump but his overwhelmingly White followers. Scot Nakagawa and Tarso Luís Ramos recently wrote at PRA about the need to increase the social justice movement’s capacity to disrupt and defuse the momentum of the Right, and to offer an appealing alternative to the likes of Trump:

We compete by going up against the Right and vying directly for the loyalty of those who make up the immediate projected base of their support: White working-class people. Most right-wing groups’ core support is drawn from the White middle class, but right-wing movements don’t stop there. They traditionally organize “down” the economic ladder and reach for working-class Whites, whose numbers are vital to their success. Successfully competing will require us to authentically express empathy and compassion to White poor people and to those who fear falling into poverty, and to do so while marrying economic justice to racial and social equity.

As it happens, I know something about winning over the Right’s rank and file supporters.

"Goldwater Girls" during Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign for President. Photo courtesy of Marilyn M via Flickr.

“Goldwater Girls” during Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for President. Photo courtesy of Marilyn M via Flickr.

When I was growing up in southern Colorado, the daughter of “respectable blue collar” parents in a lunch-bucket steel mill town, I was an ardent teenage supporter of Barry Goldwater during his failed but pivotal 1964 campaign for the presidency. Pundits said, and many believed, that his loss dealt a death-blow to the Right. It was a premature obituary.

Just four years later, former Alabama governor George Wallace (“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”) ran a surprisingly strong third party, right-wing populist campaign for the presidency, at one point polling a possible 23 percent of the national vote. Then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and Richard Nixon was elected president.

The Right had reinvented itself, but I’d changed, too. By this time, still in Colorado, I was a state college student, becoming ever more deeply immersed in movements to fight racism, support farmworker organizing, and oppose the war in Vietnam. My personal political transformation hadn’t been a “road to Damascus” epiphany. It was complicated and slow—often painful, always humbling, and sometimes shattering. But ultimately liberating.

I’m no expert in the science of political transformation, and I doubt that anyone is, or that there’s much science to it. Yet I believe my experience holds some relevance for the current political moment. Because even if Trump drops or is maneuvered off the Republican ticket tomorrow, or Hillary Clinton beats him by a landslide in November, this story won’t be over.

That’s because everything that Trumpism represents is so much larger and more complex than one man or one campaign. While the views of Trumpism are announced without the usual rhetorical filters and political sophistication, it isn’t an aberration. Its authoritarian and White nativist roots extend throughout all of American history; for decades, the conservative movement and the Republican Party have strategically stoked the racism and xenophobia animating today’s Trump phenomenon.

I don’t minimize the danger of Trump’s campaign, which is soaked in White supremacist and xenophobic fear, grievance, and suspicion, and blended with intense doses of braggadocio, narcissism, celebratory climate change denial, American exceptionalism, and triumphalism. Nor do I dismiss the influence of supporting groups of militant White nativists, “sovereign citizens,” and neonazis who constantly chum the political waters.

But here I’m talking about ordinary White blue collar and working class people who aren’t reflexively prone to racist violence or White supremacist fanaticism. Many of them just breathe in casual, normative racism like air, never thinking to question what is all around them. That’s what I did when I was growing up, as did my family and community—many of whom had been written off in a variety of ways for much of their lives, perhaps for generations. Pegged by society as losers or disposable workers, and treated with contempt and ridicule by those with greater social and economic status, they are recognized only at election times by opportunistic politicians struggling for greater standing.

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona this year. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona this year.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Because a sense of belonging is especially important in a society where you know your life matters little except to those closest to you, appeals to group loyalty—and a willingness to name and persecute those who challenge that loyalty—often carry special resonance. White identity permits even White people in economic free-fall that sense of belonging. And because White identity is so significant (even if not consciously acknowledged), these are people whose racial anxieties and prejudices are easily inflamed and manipulated.

I’m not suggesting we appeal to the Right’s lay supporters on the basis of economics and class alone. We can’t excuse or minimize the enduring emotional power and elastic utility of overt and coded appeals to White identity. But we also can’t simply write these people off as “tools,” “idiots” or “morons,” and expect them to miraculously disappear or instantly reverse course based on sudden insight. (“Oh, damn! I’ve been voting against my own interests! I need to stop doing that!”) Without actual engagement, these communities will continue to gravitate towards leaders who scapegoat communities of color, queers, Muslims, and immigrants. Some other demagogue will always be on hand to tap into this reservoir of racism—usually blended with legitimate economic grievance—and another right-wing populist crusade will commence.

Toward Transformation

My conservative Republican parents didn’t drag me into the 1964 Goldwater campaign. They weren’t rabid Right Wingers like the folks in the John Birch Society, whose billboards and literature denouncing Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights movement, and “the communist conspiracy” littered our civic landscape.

Campaign buttons for the Barry Goldwater (Republican Party) presidential campaign of 1964 Part of the Littlejohn Collection, Wofford College (via Flickr).

Campaign buttons for the Barry Goldwater (Republican Party) presidential campaign of 1964
Part of the Littlejohn Collection, Wofford College (via Flickr).

But our family was worried about the future; it seemed so tenuous. When I was very young, Dad lost a promising job that was supposed to be the first step on the ladder leading into the middle class, and he never got a better one. Mom, who was simultaneously furious over and humiliated by teachers’ inquiries as to whether my sister and I were getting enough to eat, went back to work, as a low-paid medical insurance secretary. And while my father was grateful for the lunch bucket job he finally got, monitoring gauges at pump stations for the local water works (a job he kept till he retired), he hated that he had to join the union. We desperately needed the benefits, but he believed guys on the way up didn’t belong to unions, that unions were for losers. He put on a good public front, but my father always felt like a failure. That was abundantly clear at home. Try as I might to feel optimistic, I often felt like a loser, too.

But even if we fell short in terms of economic status, at least we were White. Not Ku Klux Klan White, although the Klan once had an influential presence where I grew up. But the kind of Whites who thought Anglo domination was the right thing in a town that was probably almost half “Mexican” (as we said then), and which until 1963 still had a segregated black orphanage. The kind who, while not especially mean-spirited, nonetheless never questioned “respectable” expressions of bigotry or structural forms of racism.

When I was in ninth grade, a friend’s mother—who was a rabid Right Winger—seemed to sense my hunger to belong to something bigger and more powerful than myself. (For me, church and the Girl Scouts weren’t the answer.) She swept me into the 1964 campaign. As a young Goldwater Girl, I read endless right-wing screeds, poured hundreds of cups of campaign ginger ale (from promotional cans labeled “Gold Water”), and tromped from rally to meeting to state convention, alternately absorbing and parroting warnings about impending racial and communist doom.

The author prepares to ride her decorated bicycle with a contingent of Teen Age Republicans (TARs) in the Colorado State Fair Parade, circa 1964

The author prepares to ride her decorated bicycle with a contingent of Teen Age Republicans (TARs) in the Colorado State Fair Parade, circa 1964. Photo courtesy of Kay Whitlock.

Tailor-made for people anxious about their futures, Goldwater’s campaign was steeped in the fear of enemies. Civil Rights agitation, court rulings, and litigation constituted a criminal assault on individual liberty and states’ rights. The Civil Rights movement would produce a federal police state in which people, both Black and White, would lose the freedom to live their lives as they choose (that is, in segregation). Protest was framed as a breakdown of moral order and an indicator of criminal unrest. Such “welfare state” initiatives as Medicare (proposed at the time, but not yet enacted into law) and Social Security (longstanding) could only foster pathological and parasitical dependencies—primarily in Black communities, we understood. But vicariously, through Goldwater, we would beat back those enemies. We would win.

Liberals cheered Goldwater’s epic defeat. But their glee was misplaced. Even in losing, Goldwater changed mainstream political possibilities. He’d been willing to wage tactical nuclear warfare. His campaign helped set the stage for what would become the Republican “Southern Strategy,” which refined racist dog whistling to an art and ultimately delivered the historically Democratic South to the GOP. Fear, resentment, and the presumption of superiority were the glues that bonded people, including me, to his campaign. Paradoxically, to supporters, those sentiments had felt comforting, even hopeful. I was stunned by the magnitude of the loss, though I tried not to show it—our family ethos was “never let them see you hurting because they’ll think you’re weak.” That liberal glee, stamping me once again as a loser, cut to the quick.

My arc toward a more progressive direction began in 1965, during my last two years of high school, thanks to one courageous classmate and three remarkable teachers who challenged me to reconsider my views. They did it individually, in a multitude of ways, including sharing their own beliefs and telling me more about themselves. I never felt singled out as their conversion project. While often putting me uncomfortably on the spot, they were never demonizing, ridiculing, or demeaning. No one tried to tell me what I should believe. They listened as much as they talked.

One teacher said that if I could draw on credible sources to back up my arguments about Vietnam, and the history of French and American presence there, he would, every day for a week, announce before the class that I was right and he was wrong. After sequestering myself in the public library for many hours, I came away with piles of research that refuted my beliefs. But my teacher didn’t laugh at me. Rather, we sat together one day after class, and I talked to him about how much it meant that he took me seriously. When I could so easily have been a symbolic representation of everything they held in contempt, my classmate and these teachers looked more deeply and, with no guarantees, reached for the most human and the best in me. And at some point, I started to reach back.

The Goldwater folks taught me to build community by defining myself against enemies, but when you do that, you’re always anxious about anyone who isn’t just like you.

I began to see what was obvious, but what I’d never really paid attention to before. Poverty was widespread in my hometown, and it was intensely raced, as was every aspect of civic, social and economic life. The Red Scare was a way to avoid facing injustice at home while barricading yourself against danger and creating a military on steroids. The Goldwater folks taught me to build community by defining myself against enemies, but when you do that, you’re always anxious about anyone who isn’t just like you. There had to be a better way to exist in the world. These realizations gave me the motivation and psychic space in which to re-examine my (increasingly shaky) convictions—to see my community, and the world and other people, through new lenses.

It’s excruciating to feel your own edifice of defense begin to crumble, to see your own beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors in a clearer, harsher, light. But those three teachers and that classmate made it possible for me to come through it without feeling so cornered that I had no choice but to hit back out of anger and shame. What could have been only mortifying was instead mortifying and transformative, within a context of building genuine, trustworthy relationships.

This is why I think it’s so important to try, as progressives, to compete for the part of Trump’s audience that may be reachable. People didn’t write me off. I must do the same.

Beyond Goldwater, Wallace, and Trump

In 1968, in the wake of the assassinations of King and Kennedy, so-called “race riots” broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities. Anti-war protesters at the Democratic National Convention were met with violent responses from Chicago police. And George Wallace ran for president as an independent. Although he ultimately lost, I was shocked by how much support he elicited in my hometown, then a reliably Democratic stronghold. (I shouldn’t have been. The political center was already shifting to the right. Nixon won the local vote that year.)
georgewallaceAlthough many of Wallace’s supporters were openly racist, some people I knew personally were not and did not think of themselves as bigoted. But most of them, including many of the same blue-collar people who’d voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, were responding to the racial and economic anxieties that formed the taproot of Wallace’s campaign. Where Goldwater had stood at something of a remove from working class White people—relying on coded phrasing to convey his racial views, largely ignoring class—Wallace spoke bluntly and emotionally, directing his message to blue collar Whites in ways that honored them, even as they reinforced racist themes.
From the outside, Wallace’s right-wing populist crusade looked like nothing more than crude demagoguery. But people I knew who supported Wallace felt that he alone understood their struggles and fears. The local steel mill, a huge employer, was already feeling the discomfiting stirrings of what, in a little more than a decade, would become a full-fledged steel market crash. Simultaneously, an emergent Chicano movement for cultural self-determination, political and economic power, and reclamation of stolen lands was making itself known. Anglo supremacist norms were being challenged. The world they knew was coming apart, and they desperately wanted someone to put it back together. In Wallace’s vision, their lives became meaningful, their futures more hopeful. Unlike Goldwater, Wallace played directly to people whose lives were of no concern to those who dominated the political discourse.

Rachel Maddow compared the George Wallace campaign of 1968 with the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump on MSNBC.

Rachel Maddow compared the George Wallace campaign of 1968 with the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump on MSNBC.

I see so much of Wallace in Trump. Like the former governor, Trump has an instinct for tapping the same racial and economic anxieties in emotionally-charged and, to many, compelling ways. But ghost stories, whether told by the Right or the Left, only amplify anxiety. They don’t produce more just societies. Demonizing Trump’s followers won’t dismantle White supremacy, or transform an oppressive criminal legal system, or produce the kind of economic justice that extends beyond the middle class. (Nor will a Democratic victory produce these things just because it stands in opposition to Trump. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Somebody’s got to do the work of engaging ordinary White folks who support Trump, as well as other right-wing agendas.

Somebody’s got to do the work of engaging ordinary White folks who support Trump, as well as other right-wing agendas, and initiatives from both major parties that solidify the racial and economic status quo. If we don’t, right-wing populism will reappear again and again, in forms that have evolved to adapt to changing conditions. White people—including me—bear primary responsibility for this task.

It’s not sexy work. It requires a kind of radical compassion that resists the easy politics of contempt and dehumanization. And it can’t be our only work. Even as we compete, with imagination and persistence, for the loyalty of blue collar and working class White people, we must balance that with support for anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia struggles, immigrants’ rights, Indigenous sovereignty, environmental protection, and more.

It would be so much easier to simply distance ourselves from people we’ve come to regard as bigoted, benighted, and lost—the “basket of deplorables,” if you will. But “easier” never created political transformation. And believe me, as someone whose almost 50 years of progressive activism speaks to the power of engagement with real human beings rather than demonized ghosts, I know that it can be done.

About the Author

Kay Whitlock is a writer and activist who has been involved with racial, gender, queer, and economic justice movements since 1968. She is coauthor of Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics with Michael Bronski, the award-winning Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States with Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie, and cofounder and contributing editor for the weekly Criminal Injustice series at CriticalMassProgress.com. She lives in Missoula, Montana.

Black Lives Over Broken Windows: Challenging the Policing Paradigm Rooted in Right-Wing “Folk Wisdom”

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

When protesters developed a platform to end police violence in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the first of their 10 demands was to end “broken windows” policing, the law enforcement paradigm marked by aggressive policing of minor offenses and heavy police presence in low-income Black communities.1

Broken windows policing is what led Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to approach Michael Brown simply for walking in the middle of the street. It is what motivated police to repeatedly harass Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island resident who was killed earlier that summer by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, using a banned police chokehold during an encounter initiated over Garner’s alleged sale of loose cigarettes. And in 2015 it was what brought Baltimore police into contact with Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who was initially stopped while allegedly fleeing from police officers in his low-income Black community—and who died after his spinal cord was severed while he was in police custody.

The role of broken windows policing in each death quickly became the focus of protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights advocates. Just days after Brown’s death, national president of the NAACP Cornell William Brooks said, “The death of Michael Brown strikes me as the latest, sad chapter in an ongoing national narrative about a form of policing, broken windows policing, that is simply not right for the country.”2 In New York City, This Stops Today—an ad hoc coalition taking its name from Eric Garner’s words on the day he died to the officers who had repeatedly harassed him—made ending broken windows one of their 11 demands. (The 11 demands were issued in honor of the 11 times that Garner was seen on video telling the officers who killed him, “I can’t breathe.”3)

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Broken windows policing is not only all too often lethal, it also contributes to the use of excessive and illegal force in the context of the most mundane police encounters. It led a New York City officer to put Rosan Miller, a seven-months pregnant Black woman initially approached for grilling outside her home, into the same banned chokehold that had led to Garner’s death just a few weeks before.4 It was the excuse for another officer to slam Stephanie Maldonado to the ground in New York City’s West Village for “jaywalking” like Mike Brown.5 It was what led police to arrest Duanna Johnson, a Black transgender woman, for prostitution—one focus of broken windows policing—while walking down a street in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008, only to beat her bloody with metal handcuffs at the police station in an incident captured on video because she refused to answer to “faggot.”6 Broken windows policing also created opportunities for recently convicted Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holzclaw to stop women as they walked down the street to inquire as to what they were doing and where they were going, thus facilitating his sexual harassment, assault, and rape of 13 Black women and girls.7

The “Folk” Origins of Broken Windows

What does broken windows policing have to do with the Right? In part, the answer lies in where it came from: an outgrowth of the conservative “law and order” agendas of the early 1980s. Neoconservatives George Kelling and James Q. Wilson outlined the theory underlying broken windows policing in a 1982 Atlantic Quarterly article.  8 Kelling is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Wilson, before his death in 2012, was a board member at the American Enterprise Institute, both right-wing think tanks.9 According to Wilson and his colleagues, liberal concessions to civil rights movements and protest cultures of the 1960s and ‘70s were significant contributing factors to the urban chaos broken windows policing purports to address.10 In 1985 Wilson co-wrote a book, Crime and Human Nature, with Richard J. Herrnstein, a co-author of The Bell Curve, which notoriously advanced a theory of racial differences in intelligence. Wilson’s own 1975 book, Thinking About Crime, argued that crime is the product of individual and social “predispositions,” rather than socioeconomic conditions. 11 His theories echoed those of his mentor, Edward Banfield, who theorized about a “culture of poverty,” which Wilson believed required a punitive response,12 and those of The Bell Curve’s other co-author, Charles Murray, whose arguments suggest that crime is the result of individual mental and moral deficiencies.13 Wilson decried single parenthood, claiming “illegitimacy was eroding the nation’s values,”14 and, as Pam Chamberlain wrote in PRA’s Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, argued for “returning to a path where religion is influential and where families remain intact.”15

New York City became the first municipality to aggressively implement broken windows policing theories rooted in these right-wing intellectual traditions in the early 1990s. Under the leadership of former Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and bolstered by right-wing media like the New York Post and right-wing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the city put Kelling and Wilson’s theories into practice with an internal police memorandum, “Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York,” citing both the pair’s Atlantic article and the infamous 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed social dysfunction on Black families, and particularly, Black mothers.16

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The broken windows theory, brilliantly summarized in a recent video created by Molly Crabapple,17 goes something like this: if signs of disorder—like broken windows—and minor offenses—like loitering, panhandling, and graffiti—are left unchecked, then it’s only a matter of time before a community descends into chaos and violence. According to Kelling and Wilson, the only way to prevent this from happening is through aggressive enforcement and prosecution of minor offenses. At its core, broken windows relies on fear-mongering, stoked by familiar right-wing themes about the need for increased “security” and a compulsion to root out certain groups of people as embodied threats to a particular way of life .

But even Kelling and Wilson acknowledged back in 1982 that it is “not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur” if signs of disorder are left unchecked. Indeed, the two wrote that their entire premise is admittedly drawn from what they themselves call “folk wisdom” rather than objective data, based on the belief that perceived disorder somehow renders an area more “vulnerable to criminal invasion” such that “drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped.”18 It’s a theory, they implicitly admitted, based more on people’s fears and beliefs than on hard evidence.

The theory later evolved to advance the premise that individuals who commit minor offenses—like fare evasion in public transit—will, if not caught and punished, eventually commit more serious offenses: a sort of slippery slope of criminality. The new logic of broken windows, according to Tanya Erzen, a scholar of American conservatism, writing in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, is that “graffiti taggers, turnstile jumpers and kids in a public park are either already criminals, or simply criminals in the making.”19>

Even the theory’s biggest proponent, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton—who spearheaded its implementation in New York City under Mayor Giuliani, actively promoted its spread around the country both as a consultant and as Los Angeles Police Commissioner, and pursued it with renewed vigor in his second tenure in New York City under current Mayor Bill de Blasio—concedes that neither premise has ever been conclusively proven.20 In fact, several studies undermine the theory’s claims.21 In a comprehensive review of the literature and a summary of his own research, Columbia law professor Bernard Harcourt concludes that, “Taken together, the wealth of research provides no support for a simple disorder-crime relationship as hypothesized by Wilson and Kelling in their broken-windows theory…. What I have come to believe is that the broken windows theory is really window dressing, and it masks or hides more profound processes of real estate development and wealth redistribution.”22

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness.

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness. According to George Kelling’s recent defense of the theory in Politico, published a year after Michael Brown’s death, “The goal is to reduce the level of disorder in public spaces so that citizens feel safe, are able to use them, and businesses thrive.”23 Kelling concedes that it is, in essence, an approach based on public perception—that is, on feelings—rather than proof. In the end, fear—of crime, yes, but also, as the original article explains, of “being bothered by disorderly people,” like panhandlers, “addicts” or people living with mental illness—is the moving force behind the theory.24 As Bratton once put it, “Aggressive panhandling, squeegee cleaners, street prostitution, ‘boombox cars,’ public drunkenness, reckless bicyclists, and graffiti have added to the sense that the entire public environment is a threatening place.”25

Although not explicitly stated, given that the communities described in Kelling and Wilson’s original article and others that followed are Black, it is clear that the “disorderly people,” the people driving “boombox cars,” and the graffiti taggers are also imagined as Black. As gentrification of New York City proceeded through the 1990s, “disorderly people” came to mean those displaced into public spaces in the context of neoliberal devolution and cuts to social programs.26 In other words, broken windows policing isn’t about reducing crime, it’s about assuaging white fear of poor people, Black people, and people of color—no matter how irrational or racialized.*

From Black Codes to Broken Windows

Scratching the surface of broken windows policing reveals that, in the end, the paradigm is simply a repackaged and sanitized version of the ways age-old “vagrancy” laws were enforced. These laws were explicitly created to criminalize and control the movements of people deemed undesirable throughout U.S. history: Indigenous peoples, formerly enslaved people of African descent, immigrants, women, and homeless and poor people. In his recent defense of broken windows, Kelling himself directly acknowledged the lineage, stating in reference to his 1982 essay, “Given the subject of our article, the Black Codes—vague loitering and vagrancy laws passed in the South immediately after the Civil War—were of special concern for us. Under these laws police arrested African Americans for minor offenses and, when they could not pay the fines, courts committed them to involuntary labor on farms—in a sense, extending slavery for many into the 20th century.”27 Without offering a means of distinguishing present-day broken windows policing from these practices, Kelling simply submits that he and Wilson were just arguing for “doing a better job at maintaining order.”28

The question though, is whose order? In their 1982 article, Kelling and Wilson acknowledge that there are “no universal standards…to settle arguments over disorder…” and that charges of being a “suspicious person” or of vagrancy have “scarcely any legal meaning.”29 Ultimately, they wrote, “These charges exist…because [society] wants an officer to have the legal tools to remove undesirable persons from a neighborhood when informal efforts to preserve order in the streets have failed.”30

This is to say that, since its inception, broken windows policing has self-consciously been about promoting a particular type of community, maintaining particular structural relations of power, and policing the borders of “desirability.” Delving deeper into its theoretical premise, a desirable community, as described by Wilson and Kelling, is one of “families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on intruders.”31 Broken windows policing is posited as the last bulwark against a “frightening jungle”—a term fraught with racial meaning—in which “unattached adults”—that is, single people—replace traditional families, where teenagers gather in front of the corner store, litter abounds, and panhandlers stalk pedestrians.32 In this framework, conservative values with deep racial overtones ultimately drive how an individual’s presence will be perceived and valued,33 and promote disregard for youth, adults living outside of hetero-patriarchal families, and low-income and homeless people who live in this idealized community.34

Whose Quality of Life?

Building in New York City with the words, "stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense" on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Building in New York City with the words, “stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense” seen on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Key to implementing broken windows policing is the proliferation of “quality of life” regulations, which criminalize an ever-expanding range of activities in public spaces, including standing or walking (recast as “loitering”), sitting, lying down, sleeping, eating, drinking, urinating, making noise, and approaching strangers, as well as a number of vaguer offenses, such as engaging in “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct. This broad range of potential offenses gives police almost unlimited license to stop, ticket, and arrest. According to one researcher, enforcement of such low-level offenses has become the “most common point of contact between the public and the criminal justice system.”35

Of course, what conduct is deemed “disorderly” or “lewd” is more often than not in the eye of the beholder, informed by deeply racialized and gendered perceptions. Where offenses are more specific, they criminalize activities so common they can’t be enforced at all times against all people. When I speak publicly about broken windows policing, I often ask how many members of the audience have ever fallen asleep on a train or ridden a bicycle on a sidewalk at some point in their lives. Dozens of hands shoot up. When I ask how many have ever been ticketed or arrested for it, almost all hands come down—that is, unless I am at a drop-in center for homeless youth or adults, or in a low-income Black neighborhood. There, many hands remain in the air.

As former Yale law professor Charles Reich notes, “Laws that are widely violated…especially lend themselves to selective and arbitrary enforcement.”36 As a result, both vague and specific “quality of life” offenses are selectively enforced in particular neighborhoods and communities, or against particular people, by officers wielding an extraordinary amount of discretion, largely unrestrained by constitutional protections. As legal scholar Dorothy Roberts notes in “Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” over the last several decades, conservative commentators have called for a relaxation of legal doctrines disfavoring vague offenses and reining in police discretion in the name of “law and order” agendas.37

Communities in the Crosshairs

Given all of this, it’s easy to predict who gets targeted by broken windows policing. Despite proponents’ contention that the approach targets specific behaviors, not specific people, the article on which the theory is premised explicitly names particular types of people—youth, homeless people, people perceived to be engaged in prostitution—as embodied signs of disorder.38 According to Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a community organization that has been fighting the effects of broken windows policing on Los Angeles’ homeless population for decades, the inspirations for Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 article were much more explicit about the racial and gender make up of signs of neighborhood disorder: “young Black men, young women in short shorts hanging out on corners, interracial couples, and gay folks.”39 The result: dramatically increased frequency and intensity of police interactions with Black and Brown youth, low-income and homeless people, public housing residents, people who are—or who are perceived to be—engaged in street-based prostitution, street vendors (many of whom are immigrants), and anyone else who is hyper-visible in public spaces, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender nonconforming people.

The results are striking. Broken windows policing has contributed to widespread criminalization of Black youth in New York City under a range of offenses, including disorderly conduct, unreasonable noise, turnstile jumping, performing on the subway, riding a bike on the sidewalk, and being in a city park after dark. Between 2001 and 2013, 81 percent of the 7.3 million people charged in the city with a violation were Black or Brown. 40  In 2015 the greatest number of arrests—29,198—were for not paying the $2.75 fare on city subways; 92 percent of those arrests were of people of color.41 In Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood heavily populated by white families, police issue an average of eight tickets a year for riding bicycles on the sidewalk. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, a gentrifying but still predominantly Black community, police issue more than 2,000 a year.42 Eighty-five percent of summonses issued for “open container” violations in Brooklyn are issued to Black and Brown people, even as countless white revelers spill onto the sidewalks of the city on any given evening to smoke a cigarette outside a bar or art gallery while sipping on an alcoholic beverage, or pop open a bottle of bubbly to accompany a symphony in the park, without any consequence whatsoever. One judge presiding over summons court in New York City said he had no memory of having ever adjudicated an open container ticket given to a white person.43

Contrary to Kelling’s recent defense of his broken windows theory, the results of this approach are not an error of application, but rather deeply embedded in the theory itself. In fact, the authors asked themselves in 1982, “how do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable?”44 Their answer was that they were not confident that there was one—except that police must understand the outer limits of their discretion to be that their role is “not to maintain racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood,” only to regulate behavior.45 The statistics above suggest that officers are, in fact, exercising their discretion—just in racially discriminatory ways.

Consequences

Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The consequences for those targeted are far from minimal. Broken windows policing not only places Black lives at risk of lethal and excessive force, as well as sexual harassment, assault, and extortion in exchange for avoiding a ticket or arrest, it also subjects Black people to the daily indignity of being stopped and questioned in their own communities, being ordered to put their hands on the wall and spread their legs to be frisked in front of their neighbors, and sometimes spending 24 hours wending their way through police vans, precincts, and central booking pens between arrest and arraignment. Even if they simply receive a summons, they are still required to spend at least one day in court defending themselves against minor charges, to pay exorbitant fines and criminal court fees, and to comply with community service and other mandates imposed on people convicted of offenses as minor as spitting or littering.

Black people of all genders and sexualities come within the crosshairs of broken windows policing. In fact, one of the less frequently discussed realities is that it facilitates racialized policing of gender and sexuality.46 According to Tanya Erzen, broken windows policing “enables officers to act upon racial and gender biases they may have when they enter the police department—under the guise of enforcement of ‘unified guidelines.’”47 All too often, officers read actual or perceived gender disjuncture as inherently out of order, resulting in stops, harassments, and arrests of transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer people of color—along with anyone perceived to deviate from racialized “rules” of gender or sexuality—for “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct offenses.48 Stereotypes framing gender nonconforming people as inherently violent and deviant also lead gender nonconforming young women to be profiled and targeted in the context of “gang policing.”49

Broken windows policing is also a driving force behind aggressive policing of street-based prostitution, which has been documented to have racially disparate impacts. These are rooted both in profiling of Black women and women of color—trans and not trans—as being engaged in prostitution based on age-old stereotypes, and also in the makeup of sex work which, like every other industry, concentrates Black women and transgender people in its most visible and risky sectors (such as street-based prostitution, which more Black women are pushed into, versus legal strip clubs, which frequently discriminate against women of color).50 Gay and gender nonconforming men, for their part, are profiled and discriminatorily targeted for enforcement of lewd conduct laws in public bathrooms and public parks. The broad discretion allowed in enforcement is fueled by perceptions of Black and Brown men—and particularly those who are gender nonconforming or perceived to be queer—as hypersexual uncontrolled manifestations of sexual deviance, with predictably racially disparate impacts.51

Black Lives over Broken Windows

Even as the broken windows theory trades in fear of Black people, it claims the mantle of protecting Black communities seeking more safety, and thereby, protecting Black lives.52 Heather MacDonald of the right-wing Manhattan Institute twists the logic of Black Lives Matter to argue that broken windows policing “has saved thousands of black lives, brought lawful commerce and jobs to once drug-infested neighborhoods and allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.”53

Right-wing commentators claiming to be concerned with the welfare of Black communities are not alone. Progressives like David Thacher of the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy in Michigan, writing in a blog for The Marshall Project, have critiqued Campaign Zero’s call for an end to broken windows policing, pointing to Black communities’ right to safety and safe public spaces.54 Thacher, like Kelling, acknowledges the pitfalls of enforcing vague offenses like “disorderly conduct,” as well as more specific ones like bans on skateboarding or public drinking, which are not enforced in white suburbs as they are in Black communities. He acknowledges that, “As long as modern police forces have been around, they have used disorderly conduct statutes and many other public order rules to investigate suspicious and unpopular people in circumstances when doing so overtly would be forbidden,” noting that “the Ferguson Police Department’s intensive use of a city code provision regulating a pedestrian’s ‘manner of walking in the roadway’ to run warrant checks and question suspicious people is only one of many examples.”55 Although he argues for a kinder, gentler form of broken windows in the interests of Black community safety, Thacher’s arguments in fact support the notion that it is bound to produce the same results.56 Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some community leaders, legislators, and policymakers from continuing to promote and invest in this flawed approach in the name of safety for Black and Brown communities.

The Black Youth Project 100's 2014 report "Agenda to Keep us Safe." Source: http://byp100.org

The Black Youth Project 100’s 2014 report “Agenda to Keep us Safe.” Source: http://byp100.org

Increasingly though, Black communities across the country are speaking for themselves, loudly and clearly, demanding safety from all forms of violence—including the violence of profiling, discriminatory enforcement, and police violence intrinsic to broken windows policing. They are resisting the false choices presented by broken windows proponents, demanding both authentic safety and an end to police violence, harassment, and surveillance, along with respect for rights and dignity. As the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement of New York City stated in the wake of Eric Garner’s killing, the “’broken windows’ philosophy of policing, which purports that focusing resources on the most minor violations will somehow prevent larger ones, has consistently resulted in our rights being violated.”57 They emphatically state that safety cannot come at the price of daily harassment, violation, and the taking of Black lives.

Black voices and communities are articulating their own visions of safety through Black Youth Project 100’s Agenda to Keep us Safe 58 and Agenda to Build Black Futures, Campaign Zero, and demands articulated by Black Lives Matter59 and Ferguson Action.60 What ties many of these agendas together is the notion that the best strategy to promote safety in Black communities is to divest from policing and punishment and instead invest in and support Black communities, leaving no one behind.  Together, they issue a clarion call to combat and dismantle systems of structural discrimination that foster violence while limiting opportunities and life chances of Black people—including “broken windows” policing.


About the Author

Andrea Ritchie is a Black lesbian police misconduct attorney and organizer who has engaged in extensive research, writing, litigation, organizing and advocacy around policing of women and LGBT people of color over the past two decades. She is a 2014 Senior Soros Justice Fellow, author of Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color, in The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, and co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women; A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV, and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. She is currently at work on Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women of Color, forthcoming from Beacon Press in early 2017, and is a contributor to Who Do You Serve? Who Do You Protect?, published by Haymarket Press in June 2016


Endnotes

*Editor’s note: PRA’s convention is to capitalize both Black and White, to emphasize that both are constructed categories. At the request of the author, this article departs from that convention.
1 Campaign Zero, www.joincampaignzero.org (last visited January 18, 2016).

2 Tierney Sneed, “From Ferguson to Staten Island, Questions about Broken Windows Policing,” U.S. News & World Report, August 14, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/08/14/michael-brown-eric-garner-deaths-add-scrutiny-to-broken-windows-policing.

3 “About #ThisStopsToday,” This Stops Today, http://www.thisstopstoday.org/aboutus/ (last visited April 5, 2016).

4 Emily Thomas, “Pregnant Woman Allegedly Put in Chokehold by NYPD Officer,” Huffington Post, July 28, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/pregnant-woman-chokehold-nypd-rosan-miller_n_5628306.html.

5 Jim Hoffer, “Investigation: Woman Claims Brutality Against NYPD Officer,” Eyewitness News, ABC 7 NY (New York, NY: WABC – TV, August 1, 2014). Available at: http://abc7ny.com/news/investigation-woman-claims-police-brutality-against-nypd-officer/229978/ (last visited January 18, 2016).

6 Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011).

7 Jessica Testa, “The 13 Black Women Who Accused a Cop of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words,” BuzzFeed, December 10, 2015, https://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-women-in-their-ow.

8 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” The Atlantic, March 1982, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/.

9 Sam Roberts, “Author of ‘Broken Windows’ Policing Defends His Theory,” New York Times, August 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/nyregion/author-of-broken-windows-policing-defends-his-theory.html; Matt Schudel, “James Q. Wilson, scholar identified with ‘broken-windows’ theory of crime prevention, dies at 80,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/james-q-wilson-scholar-identified-with-broken-windows-theory-of-crime-prevention-dies-at-80/2012/03/02/gIQA2eHynR_story.html.

10 Alex Vitale, “The Neoconservative Roots of the Broken Windows Theory,” Gotham Gazette, August 1, 2014, http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5199-neoconservative-roots-broken-windows-policing-theory-nypd-bratton-vitale.

11 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

12 Alex Vitale, supra note 10.

13 Jacob Ertel, “Broken Windows, Workfare, and the Battle for Public Space in Giuliani’s New York,” Cyrano’s Journal, January 8, 2015, http://www.cjournal.info/2015/01/08/broken-windows-workfare-and-the-battle-for-public-space-in-giulianis-new-york-2/.

14 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

15 Pam Chamberlain, “James Q. Wilson: A Dominant Figure Among Conservative Crime Theorists,” in Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, ed. Palak Shah, (Political Research Associates, 2005), 62. Available at: https://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/12/Defending-Justice.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

16 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York, July 6, 1994. Available at: http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/Bratton-blueprint-1994–Reclaiming-the-public-spaces-of-NY.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

17 Molly Crabapple, “How Broken Windows Policing Harms People of Color,” YouTube video, posted by Fusion, February 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXI1QJRqPD8, (last visited January 17, 2016).

18 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

19 Tanya Erzen, “Turnstile Jumpers and Broken Windows: Policing Disorder in New York City,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

20 Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows.

21 Randall Shelden, “Assessing ‘Broken Windows’: A Brief Critique,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, April 2004, http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/broken.pdf; Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows; K. Babe Howell, “Broken Lives from Broken Windows: The Hidden Costs of Aggressive Order-Maintenance Policing,” N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, vol. 33 (2009): 271, 274; William Harms, “Study Conducted in Chicago Neighborhoods Calls ‘Broken Windows’ Theory into Question,” University of Chicago Chronicle, vol. 19, no. 7 (January 6, 2000).

22 Bernard E. Harcourt, “Punitive Preventive Justice: A Critique” (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 386 / Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 599, 2012). Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/law_and_economics/401/ (last visited January 15, 2016).

23 George Kelling, “Don’t Blame My Broken Windows Theory for Poor Policing,” Politico Magazine, August 11, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/broken-windows-theory-poor-policing-ferguson-kelling-121268.

24 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

25 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, supra note 16.

26 Jacob Ertel, supra note 13.

27 George Kelling, supra note 22.

28 Ibid.

29 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Dayo F. Gore, Tamara Jones, Joo-Hyun Kang, “Organizing at the Intersections: A Roundtable Discussion of Police Brutality Through the Lens of Race, Class, and Sexual Identities,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

34 Erzen, supra note 19.

35 K. Babe Howell, supra note 20.

36 Charles Reich, qtd. in: Phillip Beatty, Amanda Petteruti, and Jason Ziedenberg, The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties (Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2007), 14.

37 Dorothy E. Roberts, “Foreword: Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 89, no. 3 (1999), 775, 777-78.

38 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, supra note 8.

39 Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network, presentation at preconference convening held in conjunction with U.C.L.A. Critical Race Studies Symposium, Los Angeles, CA, October 17, 2015.

40 Sarah Ryley, Laura Bult, Dareh Gregorian, “Daily News analysis finds racial disparities in summonses for minor violations in ‘broken windows’ policing,” New York Daily News, August 4, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/summons-broken-windows-racial-disparity-garner-article-1.1890567.

41 Jeremy Berke, “REPORT: The NYPD Makes The Most Arrests for a $2.75 Crime,” Business Insider, May 10, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/nypd-farebeating-arrests-2016-5.

42 Christopher Mathias, “This is What Broken Windows Policing Looks Like,” Huffington Post, October 9, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/broken-windows-policing-new-york_us_5617f428e4b0082030a2573f.

43 Ibid.

44 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

45 Ibid.

46 Mogul et al., supra n. 6.

47 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6; Tanya Erzen, supra note 19.

48 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

49 Amnesty International, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against LGBT People in the United States, AMR 51/122/2005 (2005).

50 See e.g., Shana Judge and Mariah Wood, “Racial Disparities in Enforcement of Prostitution Laws,” APPAM, November 6, 2014, https://appam.confex.com/appam/2014/webprogram/Paper11163.html; Noah Berlatsky, “Black Women Profiled as Prostitutes in NYC,” Reason, October 1, 2014, http://reason.com/archives/2014/10/01/nypd-profiles-sex-workers-too.

51 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

52 Ibid.

53 Heather Mac Donald, “The New Nationwide Crime Wave,” Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-nationwide-crime-wave-1432938425.

54 David Thacher, “Don’t End Broken Windows Policing, Fix It,” The Marshall Project, September 9, 2015, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/09/09/don-t-end-broken-windows-policing-fix-it.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, “Statement on the Murder of Eric Garner by the NYPD,” July 19, 2014, http://mxgm.org/malcolm-x-grassroots-statement-on-the-murder-of-eric-garner-by-the-nypd/.

58 Terrance Laney and Janaé Bonsu, Agenda to Keep us Safe, Black Youth Project 100, September 2014,  http://byp100.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BYP100-Agenda-to-Keep-Us-Safe-AKTUS.pdf; Black Youth Project 100, “BYP100 Announces Release of the Agenda to Build Black Futures,” January 15, 2016,  http://byp100.org/bbf/.

59 Black Lives Matter, Guiding Principles, http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

60 Ferguson Action, Our Vision for a New America, http://fergusonaction.com/demands/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

Tracking Blackness: A Q&A with Dark Matters Author Simone Browne

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

We tend to think of mass surveillance as a relatively new phenomenon, a byproduct of the digital revolution. Examples of high-tech surveillance spring readily to mind, including the NSA scooping up our emails, Samsung televisions picking up living room chitchat along with your voice commands, and Oral Roberts University collecting data on its entire student body via Fitbit activity trackers. But, as it turns out, our high-tech surveillance society had lower-tech precursors.

Simone Browne, an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, describes her new book, Dark Matters: On The Surveillance of Blackness, as a conversation between Black Studies and Surveillance Studies—the latter a young discipline devoted to investigating the technological and social dimensions of surveillance. Browne’s research shows that surveillance was an essential part of transatlantic slavery, a system that held millions of people against their will and tracked them as property. And she argues that slavery created an ongoing demand for technologies to monitor Black bodies. The day-to-day enforcement of slavery raised familiar-sounding questions: Is this person who they say they are? Are they allowed to be here? How do we know? Dramas of surveillance and counter-surveillance played out constantly.

4611278407_3fe998a6fd_o

Browne argues that awareness of being under constant surveillance is an enduring condition of Black life. Source: Carley Comartin License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

If surveillance is the state watching the individual, sousveillance is the individual looking back at the state. The history of slavery is full of examples of both kinds of watching. Slave catchers hunted down runaway slaves for money. The catchers were themselves carefully watched, and the news of a slave catcher’s whereabouts could also spread rapidly through the Black community. Abolitionists also circulated handbills warning free Blacks and their allies to be on guard against slave catchers.

Surveillance still goes both ways today, as activists counter police oversight by recording interactions on their own cameras and protesters at rallies for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump film their own attacks, not trusting event security cameras to hold anyone accountable.1

The long history of mass surveillance in the United States began with slavery.

The long history of mass surveillance in the United States began with slavery. Slaves sought to free themselves by escaping to free territories or impersonating free people, and the system had well-developed mechanisms to thwart them. Slave traders branded the flesh of their captives to mark them as slaves. Further, slavery in the United States was so thoroughly racialized that being Black was tantamount to proof of being enslaved—skin color becoming evidence of legal status. Slaves who gained their freedom by “passing” as White had, in effect, eluded the biometric profiling of their day.

To this day, communities of color are subject to intensive surveillance, both public and private. Police helicopters are a familiar presence in some neighborhoods. Young men of color are overwhelmingly more likely to be selected for stop-and-frisk police encounters. Browne argues that awareness of being under constant surveillance is an enduring condition of Black life.

This March, Lindsay Beyerstein interviewed Simone Browne about Dark Matters and what it says about surveillance in our current political climate.

How did you come to write this book?

978-0-8223-5938-8_pr

Dark Matters: On The Surveillance of Blackness, published by Duke University Press, October 2015. Photo: Duke University Press.

I was working on my dissertation on Canadian/U.S. border security and I got into reading the Surveillance Studies literature. One thing that I found that was missing was a discussion of the archive of slavery because it seemed so important to situate surveillance as a key practice that underwrote transatlantic slavery. So, when it came time to write my own book, I wanted to put Surveillance Studies in conversation with Black Studies.

An enslaving society does a lot of work to keep track of people as property. How does that technology and expertise carry forward into our modern surveillance society?

I didn’t want to make the link that they are one and the same, but that some of the practices that we see happening now have earlier articulations or iterations. There were a few instances that I looked at: Mainly biometric technology, but also tracking people with passports, which we still use now. Also, the ways in which bodies and people become disciplined by way of light. That is, how illumination can make bodies visible, trackable, countable, and controllable. I looked at branding and biometric technology. I also looked at the Book of Negroes [a record of Black Loyalists, former slaves who were eligible to leave the U.S. to settle in Canada after serving in the Revolutionary War] as an early passport to cross the Canada-U.S. border.

There were also lantern laws. These were 18th century laws in New York City and other places that said that Black and Indigenous people had to carry a lit candle after dark if they weren’t in the company of White person. Lantern laws existed in other times and places but there was something specific about the regulation of Black people on the move that I saw as a way to think about how certain technologies become supervisory devices.

So, the lantern was a piece of technology that was mandated because Black people were deemed more suspect than everybody else?

That’s one way of putting it. It was a form of identification. Other people would have been walking with lanterns, too. But the idea was that that any White person would be deputized to seize that Black/enslaved person who was walking without a lantern. You can think about the ways in which White people become deputized through White supremacy today around Black bodies in and out of place. I’m thinking of a Trump rally. Even with people who go to a rally as protest or as observation might be marked as out of place there and subjected to violence. Being Black, wearing a hijab, other markers of being out of place at a Trump rally, and then being subjected to violence from police or Trump supporters.

You talk about slave branding as a precursor to modern biometric ID. How did that work?

There was branding for identification, but also as a form of punishment.

I looked at the ways that the body becomes a mark or a measure of enslavement. If you think of biometrics simply as marking or measurement. How we use it today as identification, verification, or automation, thinking of iris scans, face scans, finger scans…. All of those ways in which the body is reduced to parts, pieces, and performances for identification and verification purposes. I wanted to see if there were moments when those get racialized. Branding became a racialization process during transatlantic slavery.

You write about the hearings at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City and the creation of the Book of Negroes, a document that listed 3,000 Black Loyalists who served with the British during the American Revolution and who sought to be evacuated to freedom after the war. What happened?

A page of the Book of Negros, compiling the name of the 3000 Black people who left New York City in 1783. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A page of the “Book of Negroes,” compiling the name of the 3000 Black people who left New York City in 1783. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

This was something that happened around the British evacuation of New York City [after the American Revolution]. Many people who had answered the call to fight with the British had entered into a bargain with them. These were people who had escaped slavery. They’d worked with the British as soldiers but also as support staff: cooks, spies, laundresses, and so on. Also at this time you had slave catchers coming to New York to seize former slaves who were set up on ships ready to leave the country mainly bound for Canada or Europe. People would be seized on those ships and taken to New York’s Fraunces Tavern every Wednesday from May to November to argue for their freedom by demonstrating that they were behind British lines at time of occupation and therefore entitled to go free.

What was the process of arguing for one’s freedom?

The tribunal was tasked with adjudicating claims under Article Seven of the Provisional Treaty of Paris, which said that the British could not leave with Patriot property, namely “Negroes,” and that that “no person is permitted to embark as a Refugee, who has not resided Twelve Months within the British Lines, without a special Passport from the Commandant.”

The British created the Book of Negroes, which was basically a record of the loss of human property. It was a record of who left [the country]. They would record their names, where they were born, who had enslaved them, how they ran away, information about their bodies, how they were branded, racial descriptors, and so on.

[The people pleading their cases at the Fraunces Tavern] had claimed their freedom. At that moment, you had slave catchers or others deputized to “take them back.” We’re using the term “property” but these were human beings.

You talk about the difference between surveillance and sousveillance. Would it be fair to say that surveillance is the powerful watching the powerless (like the NSA opening our emails) and sousveillance is the powerless watching the powerful (like citizens filming police brutality)?

A drawing by Mann's six-year-old daughter, illustrating surveillance versus sousveillance. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A drawing by Mann’s six-year-old daughter, illustrating surveillance versus sousveillance. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a graphic in the book designed by surveillance scholar Steve Mann. For Mann, sousveillance is the b-side of surveillance. Surveillance is mainly oversight, governing, policing, and the protection of private property. Mann sees it as almost always repressive. The b-side would be about undersight, about looking back—often through wearable computing, like body cameras and cellphone cameras.

There are other forms of surveillance and sousveillance. Uberveillance is surveillance through bodily data, like a chip. Dataveillance is the use of surveillance through aggregate data algorithms. In the book, I also coined the term “redditveillance” [to talk about crowdsourced review of surveillance] using publicly accessible CCTV, Flickr, and 4chan. You saw redditveillance, for example, during the Boston bombing, but there it misidentified [innocent] people.

So for me it wasn’t particularly useful to think of surveillance as always repressive or always liberatory. It’s not necessarily good or bad.

There was a low-tech equivalent of “redditveillance” during slavery where people would be “open-sourcing” which slaves had escaped lately, right?

Yes. Collective eyes and watching. Of who’s really Black? Or who’s passing? Or who’s meant to be enslaved? You can also think of that in terms of women fighting online harassment. Women are being doxxed and being “swatted” (law enforcement teams maliciously sent a person’s house through collective sousveillance online).

When Black Lives Matter protesters bring their own cameras to Donald Trump rallies to document abuses, is that sousveillance?

I think it would be. The other question is: To what end?

You sent me a story about Adedayo Adeniyi,2 who wasn’t even a protester. [Editor’s note: Adeniyi is a Black Nigerian student who attended a Donald Trump rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina in March 2016. He was unfairly ejected by security after two strangers started arguing next to him, but not before 70-year-old Trump supporter Jason Wilton Wetzel hit him in the face. Adeniyi recorded the assault on his cellphone.] I watched the video. I could hear him saying, “That’s not me, I’m not with them. I don’t even know those people.” And he still got punched by a Trump supporter.

It’s clear from the video [that Wetzel] must have known the camera was on him. The camera might have become an invitation. So the idea of having a recording is important, but it gets tricky for a couple of reasons, even with those videos, since there’s still an anti-Black lens that those videos are watched through. Rodney King raising his arms to protect himself gets interpreted as a form of violence, as a hand about to hit. Ramsey Orta, who had recorded the killing of Eric Garner, there are reports of him being harassed by NYPD after Garner was killed and the video went viral. Last fall in Sacramento, a man recorded a SWAT team raiding a house across the street. Police shot him on his own property. They said the camera could have been a gun.3  A camera can make a person the target of more harassment from police, or literally target practice for police.

You write about the ways in which surveillance changes our subjectivity. We start acting as if we’re being watched. Do you think Wetzel felt like he had to perform White aggression because the camera was on him?

It’s possible. We’d have to ask him what he felt. He later said he didn’t know what came over him, that he’s not a racist. So, there was a performance of an excuse for it after the fact.

In the book I was talking about how Black hyper visibility shapes Black people’s ways of being—shopping while Black, walking while Black, driving while Black—and what that might do to the psyche.

You write about modern biometrics and Black bodies, how these devices are calibrated, and what they see and don’t see. Some devices read stereotypically White features with ease, reliably picking up on the subtle nuances that distinguish one blue eye from another, but failing to register stereotypically Black features. Being “legible” to a security system can make the difference between entering effortlessly and being shut out.

Teej Meister, “Whites Only?,” YouTube video, uploaded September 2, 2015.

Teej Meister, “Whites Only?,” YouTube video, uploaded September 2, 2015.

Think of biometrics doing a few things. Identification: Who are you? Are you enrolled in this database? Verification: Are you who you say you are? Are you the person whose biometric is encoded in this passport or Green Card? Automation: Is anybody there? Like a sensor on a faucet in a washroom.

In some cases you have certain bodies that, in biometric parlance, “fail to enroll” or “become illegible.” Earlier technology would read light irises quite successfully but darker irises might not be read.

So the question becomes who is the prototype? I called it prototypical Whiteness. There’s a famous video4 of a sink in a convention center. You have a seemingly Black hand, and soap dispenser is not working. With a White hand, soap appears. How are these technologies designed to serve particular bodies?

It’s interesting that racialized surveillance has made Black people more visible in some ways, but then you’ve got all these technologies that are decreasing Black visibility because they’re calibrated to capture the nuances of White bodies.

That’s the conundrum. It might be quite liberatory to be unseen by these technologies.

I close the book looking at a YouTube video5 with about three million views. It was of two workers in Texas testing the face-tracking camera of an HP computer. One worker, he calls himself Black Desi, asks us to watch what happens “when [his] Blackness enters the frame.” The camera doesn’t pan or zoom or tilt of follow him. But when his White colleague enters the frame, it seemingly works just fine. I use the question “what happens when my Blackness enters the frame?” What happens when Blackness enters discussions of the discussions of surveillance, what does it do to those very discussions?


About the Author

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.


Endnotes

1 Trump’s campaign manager appears to have been caught assaulting a reporter on his own campaign’s security system. “I’m rich,” Trump told his supporters, “So, I have tapes.” Trump claims his footage vindicates the campaign’s version of events. Meanwhile footage was being posted, reposted, and critiqued all over social media. The police reviewed the tapes and charged the campaign manager with misdemeanor battery, but prosecutors ultimately dropped the charge. See: Eli Stokols, Hadas Gold, and Nick Gass, “Trump Turns Blame on Reporter in Battery Case,” Politico, March 29, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/trump-campaign-manager-charged-with-misdemeanor-battery-221336. Also, Dylan Byers, Tal Kopan, and Tom LoBianco, “State will not prosecute Donald Trump’s campaign manager,” CNN, April, 14, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/13/politics/corey-lewandowski-donald-trump-charges-dropped/.

2 Shaun King, “Trump Supporter’s Sorry Excuse After Assaulting Black Teen At Rally Undeserving of Sympathy,” New York Daily News, March 14, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/king-charge-trump-supporter-assaulted-black-student-article-1.2563579?cid=bitly.

3 “Police Shoot Man For Recording Them With Phone, Claim They Feared For Their Lives,” Counter Current News, September 12, 2015, http://countercurrentnews.com/2015/09/police-shoot-recording-man/.

4 Teej Meister, “Whites Only?,” YouTube video, uploaded September 2, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHynGQ9Vg30.

5 Wzamen01, “HP Computers Are Racist,” YouTube video, uploaded December 10, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4DT3tQqgRM.

Racial Double Standards in a Mass Shooting Threat Case: David Lenio & White Nationalism

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

When I worked for a gun violence prevention organization in 2015, I often spent time on Twitter as part of my job.1 And that’s what I was doing on Valentine’s Day 2015: tweeting worldwide news2 about two deadly shootings in Copenhagen, Denmark. One of the shootings was at a free speech event in a café and the other was at a local synagogue, both following the publication of controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed.3 My tweets drew the attention of a Holocaust denier who, I subsequently learned, was also a White nationalist who owned three guns and lived on the outskirts of a White separatist community in Montana. His online interactions with me over the next few hours led me to discover that one day before, and episodically over the previous seven weeks, he had tweeted threats to shoot grade school children and Jewish leaders.4 During our encounter, he repeated some of these threats, specifying that he wanted to “put two in the head of a rabbi.” I reported him to the FBI and to local law enforcement as a potential mass shooting threat who also appeared to be planning a suicide-by-cop scenario.5 (Apparently referring to how some mass shooters have been killed by police, the man tweeted his desire to massacre school children “until cops take me out.”6) “Thank God Monday is a holiday,” one officer in Montana later told me, “because we have another 24 hours to catch him before the schools open.” And catch him they did. Two days after our Twitter encounter, police arrested David Joseph Lenio, a 28-year-old who had recently moved to Kalispell, Montana, from his parents’ home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.7

Photo of author Jonathan Huson on the documentary, Hate in America: A Town on Fire by Investigative Discovery released in 2016 talking about David Lenio's case,

Author Jonathan Hutson in the 2016 documentary, Hate in America: A Town on Fire, which is about David Lenio’s case. Photo courtesy of Investigation Discovery.

This essay explores two journeys. One is that of a wealthy and privileged young man who sought a White supremacist “homeland,” but ended up taking a detour through the criminal justice system, before being released this spring without bail and without facing prosecution. The other journey is my own: the story of what happened after our paths crossed and what I learned from our respective involvements in the judicial system and what those experiences say about the state of race and justice in the United States.

While people of color and Muslims encounter many “on-ramps” into the system, a White mass shooting threat suspect instead found numerous easy exits and “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

I didn’t know it then, but getting involved in Lenio’s case would change my life and inform the national conversation about how to detect and deter online threats of mass violence.8 From this relatively front row seat to the legal process, I would come to witness what many communities of color already have intimate knowledge of—the structural disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system. While people of color and Muslims encounter many “on-ramps” into the system, a White mass shooting threat suspect instead found numerous easy exits and “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.9 The case would come to illustrate the kind of disparate prosecution of far-right terrorism cases which Naomi Braine has detailed in these pages, writing in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye that:

The differential treatment of Islamic and far-right terrorism cases only becomes explicable through the lens of political calculation. The Right Wing is an entrenched element of the U.S. cultural and political power structure, raising the costs of high profile law enforcement action. The primary targets of federal anti-terrorism investigations have been Muslim men defined by their vulnerability rather than their power.10

Perhaps law enforcement obtains more convictions of Muslims because the FBI focuses on Muslim communities, and constructs scenarios to entrap their members, while simultaneously failing to act promptly on information about possible terror threats from the Right until their militant actions become all but impossible to ignore.

Much of this story plays out on Twitter, where David Lenio’s tweets serve as road markers for an ideological tour of the outer reaches of the Far Right, its culture of conspiracism, and the xenophobic anger of White men who feel dispossessed of their economic birthright in the kind of fury that drives the supporters of Donald Trump.

The Making of ‘A Potential Terrorist’

He would go on to find a calling as part of a populist, nativist movement which advocates the rise of a new strongman in the U.S., scapegoats minority groups, and seeks to establish a White homeland in the Pacific Northwest under authoritarian rule.

At the time of his Twitter spree of horrific threats, Lenio was a line cook in a restaurant who falsely claimed he was homeless and blamed his economic struggles on Jews. He would go on to find a calling as part of a populist, nativist movement which advocates the rise of a new strongman in the U.S., scapegoats minority groups, and seeks to establish a White homeland in the Pacific Northwest under authoritarian rule—an ideal most adherents call the Northwest Territorial Imperative11 and which Lenio sometimes calls Cascadia.12 In the bio of one of his several Twitter feeds, Lenio indicated his support for 9/11 conspiracism and bombastically described himself as “a potential terrorist.”13 This picture is far different than the one we could paint of Lenio, as the snowboarding son of an influential investment banker in one of Michigan’s most affluent cities.

Lenio’s father, Remos Joseph Lenio, co-founded a private investment bank in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in September 2015.14 For decades, he has specialized in serving closely held, family-owned businesses. A conservative Christian who shows support on Facebook for libertarian conservative congressman Justin Amish (R-MI)15 and the libertarian classic Atlas Shrugged, Remos Lenio also shares close business, social, and philanthropic ties16 with the billionaire Dick and Betsy DeVos family of Grand Rapids.17 The elder Lenio also seems to share the DeVos’s vision of turning Grand Rapids into a “Christian Wall Street.” He initiated the $28 billion church financing industry’s first-ever loan syndication deal when he was a partner in Hartwick Capital of Grand Rapids in 2004. Lendees included mega-churches such as Mars Hill Bible Church,18 where Betsy DeVos serves on the board in nearby Grandville, Michigan.19

The multi-billion dollar fortune of the DeVoses, who are Christian Right leaders and one of the conservative movement’s guiding families, flows from their founding of the Amway Corporation. As Mother Jones reports, “DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay marriage and anti-tax ballot measures.”20

David Lenio’s own political evolution may have begun with his father’s politics, but it appears to have spanned a wide range of conservative ideologies, from Ron Paul Libertarianism21 to the Far Right.22 Though his religious identity is unclear from his public statements, Lenio has described himself in a Twitter bio as a supporter of the Second Amendment “and Jesus, too.”23

Rather than publicly identify with any particular ideological camp, Lenio seemed to exemplify the free-floating anxieties and rage of some White men who feel dispossessed.

But his politics diverged from conventional libertarianism and Christian Right positions at some point, taking a turn towards the conspiratorial and the overtly White supremacist. Rather than publicly identify with any particular ideological camp, Lenio seemed to exemplify the free-floating anxieties and rage of some White men who feel dispossessed. His tweets often focused on mass shootings and terrorist attacks, which he invariably labels as “false flag” attacks—covert operations perpetrated by Israel or the CIA. He claimed on one occasion that Israel was behind the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut (which he called “Sandy Hoax”),24 and on many other occasions, charged that Israel was responsible for 9/11. He also wrote in support of White separatist movements, tweeting in November 2014, “White people need to organize racially, because the other races & democrats are organizing on some anti-white bullshit that needs countering.”25

A month after that tweet, he moved to the town of Kalispell in Montana’s Flathead Valley, which is well-known on the Right, as well as in human rights and law enforcement circles,26 as a locus of one of several White supremacist enclaves known collectively as Pioneer Little Europe (PLE).27

The PLE movement was founded over a decade ago to be, in the words of its organizational prospectus,28 “a conscious white community” that “comes to dominate a geographical area.” Investigative reporter Judy L. Thomas writes:

The manual describes a plan to “swamp” a target area by taking over its local political and economic systems, forcing out those who don’t share their beliefs. White nationalists would live in close proximity to businesses that offer cultural facilities and services, some of which would openly support their political revival.

The movement has gained some traction in Montana.

In the past few years, dozens of white supremacists have relocated to the Flathead Valley, where civil rights activists say they are forging alliances with anti-government Patriots because of their shared hostility toward the government. 29

A Citizen Report

On the day that he arrived in Kalispell in late December 2014, Lenio tweeted his desire to shoot up a grade school in the town, linking his threat to his economic situation. “I David Lenio,” he wrote, “am literally so indebted & #underpaid that I want to go on a sandy hoax style spree in a kalispell, MT elementary #school 2014.”30

Over the next several hours, he fired off four similar tweets.31 He wrote that he wondered how long it would take before he generated national media coverage and other forms of attention for beating the “shooting spree high score” of the 20 kids and six adults who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School—one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.32

Jonathan Hutson’s tweet asking about the location and identity of @PyschicDogTalk2 on Febuary 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of Investigation Discovery.

From that day until his arrest about six weeks later, his tweets focused obsessively on mass shootings. At times, it appeared that he was grappling with his mental health, as with this February statement: “If I can’t even afford habitat to live on, why the fuck shouldn’t I shoot up a #school and #teach the world something about ‘mental health’?”33 In a prior YouTube video posted in August 2012,34 Lenio voiced a desire for the kind of infamy that comes to mass shooters. He also expressed a distrust of psychiatry and prescribed medications, as well as a fear that his guns might be taken away if he were found to be seriously mentally ill in a way that could make him a danger to himself or others.35

When a White male suspect threatens or carries out a mass shooting, the public conversation often rejects the label of terrorist while highlighting the suspect’s perceived mental state in an attempt to explain his acts.

Lenio’s tweets suggest that, consciously or not, he was setting himself up to be viewed as mentally ill—a factor which, if he could prove it, might mitigate his guilt. That he would introduce this concept is not surprising. When a White male suspect threatens or carries out a mass shooting, the public conversation often rejects the label of terrorist while highlighting the suspect’s perceived mental state in an attempt to explain his acts primarily as a result of mental illness, which could result in an acquittal or a lighter sentence. “It’s as if one cannot, according to the conservative playbook, be both white and a terrorist,” writes Black Lives Matter activist and Daily News columnist Shaun King.36

In contrast, when a person of color or a Muslim engages in similar behavior, the public conversation tends to disregard questions of possible mental illness while emphasizing the suspect’s ethnicity or religion. This dynamic, and the racial double standard it represents, stymies discussion of how White male privilege or even White supremacist ideology—a potentially aggravating factor that could result in a harsher sentence—motivates violence.

It’s also ironic, since White males commit a majority of mass shootings in the U.S. According to data compiled by Mother Jones on 80 U.S. mass shootings between 1982 and 2016, White suspects, almost exclusively males, were responsible for around 60 percent of the attacks.37 That survey notes that most of the shooters had displayed signs of possible mental illness, such as paranoia and depression. The report’s lead author concludes, “Maybe what we need is a better mental health policy.”38

But the fact that most of these shooters displayed signs of possible mental illness does not amount to proof of mental illness, nor does it demonstrate causality. In 2014, Eric Madfis, an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Washington, used an intersectional approach to examine the disproportionate rate of mass killings by White men in the United States. He reached a different conclusion:

Among many mass killers, the triple privileges of white heterosexual masculinity which make subsequent life course losses more unexpected and thus more painfully shameful ultimately buckle under the failures of downward mobility and result in a final cumulative act of violence to stave off subordinated masculinity.39

But whatever his motivations and mental health status, by February 12, 2015, Lenio was calling for the rise of a new strongman—“a Hitler”—to lead a White supremacist movement in fixing the U.S. economy, and stating that he was prepared to go down in a hail of bullets while killing Jews. He continued the same day with the “bet” that he could easily kill a dozen schoolchildren, which, he claimed, “Sounds better than being a wage slave.”40 Minutes later, he imagined more than 30 dead grade school students and called attention to his motives by tweeting, “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it.” He then wrote. “#Poverty is making me want to kill folks #mental health.”

FBI studies show that terrorists, including school shooters, often signal their intentions in advance—sometimes to peers or authority figures, and other times to complete strangers.41 While I would normally ignore such hateful rhetoric, David Lenio seemed to fit the profile with the dozens of threatening tweets he’d posted since arriving in Kalispell. When Lenio began to confront me on Twitter, after my own tweets related to the shootings in Copenhagen, I read through his feed and became concerned. I saw his repeated threats to shoot schools and synagogues, and tried to crowd-source the problem of identifying and locating him, tweeting, “WHO and WHERE is @PsychicDogTalk2, who tweeted on Feb. 14 about shooting up a school and executing grade school kids?” Lenio responded by asking where my kids go to school.

I decided to make a citizen report to law enforcement, sending a timeline of Lenio’s threatening tweets, contextual information about Lenio’s apparent White nationalist sympathies, and a profile overview of his threats and his seeming desire for a suicide-by-cop scenario.

When police investigated the next day, on February 15, they discovered that Lenio had taken steps to put his ideas into action: he’d retrieved a cache of rifles and ammunition from a storage locker near his apartment.42 He also had a loaded semi-automatic handgun with him in his van at the time of his arrest and two extra ammunition clips, as well as several jugs of urine—materials that could potentially be used to create a primary charge for a bomb.43

SIDEBAR: What’s in a Jug of Urine?(click to expand)

That fact that Lenio stored jugs of urine in his van invariably catches observers’ attention. But neither federal nor state or local police ever asked Lenio about this bizarre find.

We don’t know why Lenio was storing jugs of urine because law enforcement failed to explore this potential lead. But if they had they might have made a shocking discovery.

Urine has been used to make urea to serve as the main charge in homemade urea nitrate bombs69 in the U.S., as well as in Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq, and Pakistan. In the U.S., the best-known case of a urea nitrate bomb is the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.70 In fact, it is a serious enough problem that the Department of Homeland Security offers a training curriculum that includes teaching firefighters and other first responders to be on the lookout for jugs of urine71 as a possible sign of what scientists have called “exceptionally easy-to-make” improvised explosive devices (IEDs).72 The Associated Press reports, “One instructor noted that the discovery of jugs of urine led to the arrest of potential bombers in New Jersey.”73

One bomb-making manual, published by a self-described militia member a few weeks after White supremacist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, calls urea nitrate IEDs “piss bombs.”

Although urea nitrate bombs are well known to much of law enforcement, experts in counterterrorism, and the violent, revolutionary precincts of the Far Right, most of the rest of us have been left in the dark about it. Unfortunately, some of “the rest of us” include law enforcement officers responsible for an area that is infested with growing numbers of White supremacist revolutionaries.

Urea nitrate looks like sugar and can be made with accessible and non-traceable materials, such as urine, ordinary coffee filters and pans. Such items are at the fingertips of most people, and particularly available to someone like Lenio, who was working as a restaurant cook.74 Later, a Kalispell police officer to whom I spoke75 said he could not recall whether they had found coffee filters, pots, aluminum foil, and something that looked like sugar crystals near the jugs of urine. He didn’t know whether the jugs actually contained urine, or whether the urine had been boiled down to urea, or whether the evidence still exists.

That the investigators did not appear to be interested in the possible domestic terrorism implications of the jugs of urine stored by this suspect—who had already threatened the mass murder of children and Jewish leaders, and who appeared interested in joining a local clan of White supremacists—is troubling.

Homeland Security to this day teaches first responders nationwide to be on the lookout for jugs of urine as a possible sign of bomb-making activity. When alert first responders who had undergone counterterrorism training encountered jugs of urine in a New Jersey apartment in 2004, they knew they were seeing potential bomb making materials. An investigation turned up evidence of a plot to make urea nitrate bombs to target tunnels linking New Jersey with New York City.76 But in that case, an instructor for the Homeland Security training course stated77, the apartment was occupied by people from the Middle East, who were subsequently deported.

Maybe there’s an innocent explanation for Lenio storing jugs of urine or urea in his van— which, of course, by itself is not a crime. What is perplexing and significant is law enforcement’s lack of curiosity, from the federal level on down, and the implications of such a blind spot toward a White suspect and the double standard of dealing with potential domestic terrorists for our national security.

This dangerous double standard persists despite that fact that, as Naomi Braine has written for The Public Eye, “In the nearly 14 years since 9/11, more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants.”78

Two local law enforcement agencies deployed extra officers to guard area schools and notified every parent in the school system about the security threat.44 And on February 16, the FBI, along with law enforcement officers from four other agencies,45 arrested Lenio. He confessed on video to issuing the tweets, stating that he was glad that law enforcement had increased school security in response. However, Judge Heidi Ulbricht would later rule this confession inadmissible because the FBI failed to Mirandize Lenio until after he made these statements.46

Too White to Jail?

After the arrest, however, the investigation of Lenio for his myriad threats softened. To begin with, police said they could find no connections between Lenio and Kalispell’s local White supremacist networks, despite publicly available posts on social media and blogs documenting Lenio’s ties to White nationalist leaders in the Flathead Valley, particularly members of the White supremacist community Pioneer Little Europe.

The mostly conservative, libertarian, and gun-friendly population in Montana’s Flathead Valley takes a live-and-let-live attitude toward White nationalists who espouse rugged individualism and back-to-the-land lifestyles.

Pioneer Little Europe (PLE) is not so much a location or an organization as an organizing method for bringing White nationalists together. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, two White supremacists named Hamilton Michael Barrett and Mark Cotterill developed the PLE concept and promoted it on the neonazi website Stormfront47 as a way for White nationalists to develop affinity communities within existing towns in order to gain political influence and provide each other social and economic support.48 The mostly conservative, libertarian, and gun-friendly population in Montana’s Flathead Valley takes a live-and-let-live attitude toward White nationalists who espouse rugged individualism and back-to-the-land lifestyles. Two-hundred-and-fifty people in Kalispell earn their living making guns or gun parts,49 which provides economic security from skilled labor as well as a steady supply of potentially untraceable weapons.

Unsurprisingly, the result of PLE’s presence in an area can be polarizing. In Kalispell, it led to episodes of violence, as documented in the recent film “Hate in America: A Town on Fire,” co-produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions and the Southern Poverty Law Center.50

caption here

Screenshot captured by Jonathan Hutson of one of the many tweets made by David Lenio on Saturday, February 14, 2015.

While the police would say they struggled to link this group and Lenio, it appeared that not only had Lenio been drawn to the region by members of the PLE, but his expressed opinions and threats mirrored those of PLE activists. Recruiter and spokesperson for PLE April Gaede had tweeted to Lenio from her account @AprilintheNorth at least four months before he moved to Kalispell. Gaede, who makes bolt-action hunting rifles51 in Kalispell and is an outspoken Donald Trump supporter, encourages White supremacists to move to Kalispell for its job security, low crime rate, and the opportunity to build community with White nationalists.

Gaede also has close ties with right-wing terrorists. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that in 2007, Gaede was accorded the “honor” of disposing of the ashes of David Lane, the leader of a neonazi group called The Order who died while serving a 190-year federal sentence in connection with the murder of Jewish talk show host Alan Berg in 1984.52 On New Year’s Day 2016, Gaede tweeted: “When Trump is elected, we will have a new national holiday. #DayoftheRope.”53

Both Gaede’s association with The Order and her “Day of the Rope” tweet are related to William Pierce’s noxious 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, a fantasy of race war and genocide that the SPLC dubbed “the bible of the racist right.” The Order was inspired by a fictional group in Pierce’s book that aimed to overthrow the U.S. government, which they believed was controlled by a cabal of Jews; in real life, The Order’s terrorist attacks included robberies of banks and armored cars to fund White nationalist groups,54 as well as the bombings of a theater and a synagogue. The Turner Diaries also describes a day of lynching during which neonazis string up “race traitors” from lamp posts: an event which comes to be known, in the book, as “The Day of the Rope.”

Over the years, the book’s description of race war has been used as an inspiration and blueprint for other White nationalist terrorists, including Timothy McVeigh—the man responsible for bombing the Oklahoma federal building in 1995—who had several pages of the novel in his possession at the time of his arrest.55 (It’s also worth noting that McVeigh used what was called a “fertilizer bomb,” a truck loaded with ammonium nitrate, in his attack in Oklahoma City. A “piss bomb” of the sort that David Lenio may have intended to make is another kind of fertilizer bomb, composed of urea nitrate.)

Excepts from the letter written by former Aryan Nations leader Karl Gharst calling for support for David Lenio. Photo courtesy of Investigation Discovery

Lenio’s association with Kalispell White nationalists didn’t end with Gaede. While Lenio spent five months in the Flathead County Detention Center following his arrest, another PLE adherent and former Aryan Nations “staff leader,” Karl Gharst, supported him and possibly visited him. Gharst turned to the internet to rally White supremacist support for Lenio,56 falsely claiming that I had baited Lenio into making his threats—this despite the fact that Lenio had been tweeting his threats for six weeks before he initiated contact with me. (Gharst was himself arrested in 2004 for threatening to kill a Native American woman who worked for Child Protective Services.57 He was taken into custody on the Idaho compound of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and spent five months in the same jail where Lenio would later be held.)

A White Supremacist in the Criminal Justice System

The deficiencies in the handling of Lenio’s case continued with its prosecution. In July 2015, Judge Heidi Ulbricht released Lenio into the custody of his father, without bail.58 The prosecution did not object. As conditions of Lenio’s release, the judge ordered him to stay off social media, to get a mental health evaluation, not have access to guns, and refrain from contacting witnesses. However, the justice system failed to ensure that Lenio comply with the terms of his release. He refused to obtain the mental health evaluation until finally Judge Ulbricht granted his defense attorney permission to obtain a mental health evaluation from Lenio’s own physician and to file it under seal.59 So the public does not know whether Lenio has received a diagnosis and, if so, whether he is receiving any treatment. The deferral of the evaluation and the secrecy as to its findings is of a piece with the preferential treatment which Lenio has received.

Additionally, though law enforcement wasn’t aware of this fact, Lenio’s Facebook page had been updated several times60—including with antisemitic statements and quotes from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke—while he was in jail, although inmates are not supposed to have access to cell phones or the internet.61 Further, although PLE member Karl Gharst posted messages online suggesting he might have visited Lenio in jail—messages that described Lenio’s conditions of confinement and describing their conversations—the justice system had no record of whether or not a visit had occurred, because the jail kept no logs of Lenio’s visitors.

The trial was originally slated for August,62 and then rescheduled until November 9. On November 9, it was delayed again, as Deputy County Attorney Stacy Boman stated that her office and the defense were trying to resolve the case in the judge’s chambers, out of public view.63 One outcome of this would be that if Lenio were not adjudicated as mentally ill, or convicted of a felony, then the state of Montana would return his three guns and ammunition, and he would be able to pass a Brady background check that would let him purchase an arsenal.

Photo of author Jonathan Hutson in the 2016 documentary, Hate in America: A Town on Fire, which is about David Lenio’s case. Photo courtesy of Investigation Discovery.

I had initially been called to be a witness in the trial, but when it wasn’t held I traveled to Kalispell anyway to hold a press conference, along with local rabbis, parents of local school children, and leaders from the human rights group, Love Lives Here in the Flathead Valley.64 I felt the public had a right to hear the evidence, to know what the justice system would do to protect school children and religious leaders, and to be warned that Lenio could be rearmed by virtue of the state’s lax prosecution.65

But for the fact that Lenio is White and the son of a politically-connected banker, he might have faced more serious charges; he might have been tried more swiftly; his security in jail would have been tighter and records would have been kept of neonazi leaders visiting him there. If the court had deemed him to be eligible for pretrial release, then he might have been required to wear an ankle monitor and his bail would likely not have been waived. Further, he would have been held accountable for violating the conditional terms of his release: his failure to obtain a psychological evaluation and his continued presence on social media, where he posted at least 348 times since his release in July. Lenio’s flouting of the judge’s orders made news in Montana and nationwide, but local Flathead Valley law enforcement offered no explanation for why he was not rearrested.66 At the same time, 37 other inmates in the same jail were rearrested for violating their release conditions.67

The charges have been dropped, and the state of Montana has returned Lenio’s guns without any further conditions or public explanation.

This March, three weeks before Lenio’s trial was finally set to be held—he was ultimately charged with a felony count of intimidation—the defense attorney announced that the prosecutor and judge had agreed to a deferred prosecution. This means that Lenio, who had already broken the conditions of his release, is expected to be a law-abiding citizen and keep his attorney informed of his location for two years. Meanwhile, the charges have been dropped, and the state of Montana has returned Lenio’s guns without any further conditions or public explanation. If he is found to break the law over the next two years, then the prosecutor could decide to pursue the case. Otherwise, Lenio’s record will be wiped clean.

Did Incuriosity Kill the Case?

Although the prosecution of Lenio may be over, we can say this much about the significance of the case: that it draws sharp attention to the problem of differential prosecution in the U.S. criminal justice system. The case began as one of threats of mass murder on social media by a possibly mentally ill individual. One of the more pressing questions was whether he would be able to get his guns back when it was all over. But over time, serious issues of the disparate treatment of criminal suspects in terms of race and class have come to loom large. What’s more, my further investigation suggests that if law enforcement had been even a little bit curious about the seemingly inexplicable jugs of urine Lenio had in his van at the time of his arrest, they could have understood them as possible bomb ingredients, with clear implications for potential domestic terrorism.  (See above sidebar: “What’s in a Jug of Urine?”) Law enforcement turning a blind eye to a potentially larger threat, which might have involved others, and may have put the rest of us at risk of violence from right-wing terrorists.

The Right’s entrenchment within U.S. cultural and political power structures raises the costs of high-profile law enforcement action against right-wing suspects.

As Naomi Braine writes in her exploration of differential prosecution of Muslim and far-right terrorism cases, the Right’s entrenchment within U.S. cultural and political power structures raises the costs of high-profile law enforcement action against right-wing suspects. What happened in Kalispell exemplified this. White nationalist leaders, such as Gaede and Gharst, make their presence felt there. They have many supporters, and they attract unstable figures such as Lenio to participate in their PLE affinity group. When police claimed not to see any connections between Lenio and the local White nationalist groups, and when they failed to meaningfully investigate evidence of a potential terrorist threat, it seems a case of willful blindness: not seeing what is inconvenient to see.

Beyond the possibility that Lenio could make good on his threats in the future, a second casualty of the case is the public’s confidence in the justice system. In the wake of the prosecutor’s decision not to prosecute Lenio, local resident Jerry Weissman wrote a letter to the editor protesting, “Letting Lenio go is not justice.”68 He continued, “Who will hang their heads in ultimate shame if this powder keg of a person explodes and takes children’s lives? Who will mourn if lives are taken, especially when proper care could have been taken to remove threats to the citizens of our country?”

David Lenio's tweet several weeks after the documentary, "Hate in America" was released.

David Lenio’s tweet several weeks after the documentary, “Hate in America” was released.

On March 24, when the “Hate in America” documentary premiered, David Lenio returned to Twitter. In what seemed like a taunt, he pinned to the top of his profile a series of exchanges from our February 2015 encounter in which I tried to identify and locate the man who had tweeted threats to shoot grade school kids. Several weeks later, on April 12, he indicated that he remained fixated on the idea of shooting school children when he tweeted: “What do you think costs more in most US cities? A gun with enough ammunition to kill 99 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment?”

Whatever Lenio does or does not do, it will take far more vigilance to see that the criminal justice system works without the filters of racial, religious and class bias that fast track the prosecution of some suspects but let others off the hook. That the likes of David Lenio manage to avoid accountability for crimes that would have derailed the lives of most of the rest of us should shock us out of our complacency.


About the Author

Jonathan Hutson is a human rights activist and strategic communications consultant at Global Media Max in Metropolitan Washington, D.C.


Endnotes

1 I served at the time as Chief Communications Officer for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. More than 63,000 people and organizations follow me (@JonHutson) on Twitter, because of my influence in human rights, social justice, LGBTQ issues, transgender equality, reproductive freedom, conservation, and global health. The Montreal Institute on Genocide Prevention has recognized me among its list of 74 Global Humanitarian Twitterati.

2 Here is my tweet at 9:23 p.m. on February 14, 2015: “#Freespeech will not be silenced, even as gunfire erupts at a café and a synagogue in Copenhagen http://nyti.ms/1JekieA #terrorism”. https://twitter.com/JonHutson/status/566784933407248384.

3 Andrew Higgins and Melissa Eddy, “Terror Attacks by a Native Son Rock Denmark.” The New York Times, February 15, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/16/world/europe/copenhagen-attacks-suspect-is-killed-police-say.html?_r=0.

4 Bill Morlin, “Man Arrested in Montana After Alleged Threats to Kill School Children and Jews,” Hatewatch, February 17, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/02/17/man-arrested-montana-after-alleged-threats-kill-school-children-and-jews#disqus_thread.

5 Vince Devlin, “Kalispell School Threat Suspect ‘Tangled’ with Wrong Twitter User,” The Missoulian, February 19, 2015, http://missoulian.com/news/local/kalispell-school-threat-suspect-tangled-with-wrong-twitter-user/article_9c3a4af7-eb20-526a-8598-17304d9e9f24.html. I provided federal and local law enforcement agencies with several things based on my research: a timeline of tweets that appeared to cross the line between free speech and criminal threat; a profile of him, based on his social media presence; and a strategy to identify and locate him.

6 Bill Morlin, “Man Arrested in Montana After Threats to Kill School Children and Jews,” Hatewatch, February 17, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/02/17/man-arrested-montana-after-alleged-threats-kill-school-children-and-jews#disqus_thread.

7> Bill Morlin, “Court Papers Detail Alleged Threats from Holocaust Denier,” Hatewatch, March 19, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/02/17/man-arrested-montana-after-alleged-threats-kill-school-children-and-jews#disqus_thread See also Vince Devlin, “Suspect Threatened to Shoot 100 Kalispell Schoolkids,” The Missoulian, March 17, 2015,http://missoulian.com/news/local/kalispell-school-threat-suspect-tangled-with-wrong-twitter-user/article_9c3a4af7-eb20-526a-8598-17304d9e9f24.html .

8 Martin Kaste, “Awash in Social Media, Cops Still Need Public to Detect Threats,” All Things Considered (NPR), February 23, 2015, http://www.npr.org/2015/02/23/388449799/awash-in-social-media-cops-still-need-the-public-to-detect-threats.

9 Jonathan Hutson, “White Banker’s Son Threatens to Shoot School Kids and Jews, Gets ‘Get Outta Jail Free’ Card.” Huffington Post, November 16, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-hutson/white-bankers-son-threate_b_8579146.html.

10 Naomi Braine, “Disparate Legal Treatment of Muslims and the Radical Right.” The Public Eye, June 19, 2015, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.bDPRht1N.MHVeuJjb.dpbs.

11 Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler popularized this term for enclaves of White nationalists in the Pacific Northwest after he set up a neonazi compound in northern Idaho in the 1970s. But overt White nationalists are not the only militants to seek haven in Montana. For example, the Rev. Chuck Baldwin, a Patriot leader who ran for president on the Constitution Party ticket in 2008, moved to the Flathead Valley in 2010. He leads the Liberty Fellowship church in Kalispell, whose members include Randy Weaver, a white supremacist who engaged in a notorious standoff with federal authorities in 1992. Ryan Lenz, “A Gathering of Eagles: Extremists Look to Montana.” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 15, 2011, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2011/gathering-eagles-extremists-look-montana.

12 David Joseph Lenio has held at least four Twitter accounts: @leniodj, @PsychicDogTalk, @PyschicDogTalk2 [sic], and @PsychicDogTalk3. The first of these accounts featured an avatar that read, “I am a potential terrorist. I know the truth about 9/11.” Twitter has shut down @PsychicDogTalk and @PyschicDogTalk2 for violating their Terms of Service by threatening violence. However, the Twitter bio for @PsychicDogTalk can still be viewed online through a third-party app. It describes his location as “Cascadia, at the apex of time.” The Cascadia Independence Party (CIP) is a secessionist movement that advocates the independence of “Washington, most of Oregon and Idaho, parts of Montana and Alaska, and most of the Canadian province British Columbia.” CIP website, “What We Do,” http://cascadiaindependenceparty.strikingly.com/#what-we-do.

13 Bill Morlin, “Court Papers Detail Alleged Threats from Holocaust Denier.” Hatewatch, March 19, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/03/19/court-papers-detail-alleged-threats-holocaust-denier See also Vince Devlin, “Suspect Threatened to Shoot 100 Kalispell Schoolkids,” The Missoulian, March 17, 2015, http://missoulian.com/news/local/suspect-threatened-to-shoot-kalispell-schoolkids/article_075b6e83-1997-5c20-91c3-7ec6db2e2a3d.html.

14 Remos Lenio and Phillip Blanchard launched Tillerman & Co. of Grand Rapids in September 2015. They had previously been partners in turnaround firm DWH, LLC of Grand Rapids. Demetri Diakantonis, “People Moves of the Week,” Mergers & Acquisitions, November 3, 2015, http://www.themiddlemarket.com/news/people_moves/people-moves-of-the-week-tillerman-arsenal-goodwin-258750-1.html.

15 Politico has called Justin Amish, who founded and chairs the House Liberty Caucus, “the House’s new Ron Paul.” James Hohmann, “The House’s New Ron Paul.” Politico, April 1, 2013, http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/the-houses-new-ron-paul-justin-amash-089485.

16 For example, Betsy DeVos serves as Honorary Chair, and Remos Lenio serves on the executive leadership team for the American Heart Association’s 20th Anniversary of the Grand Rapids Heart Ball slated for December 2016. https://ahagrandrapids.ejoinme.org/MyEvents/20162017GrandRapidsMIHeartBall/Leadership/tabid/766588/Default.aspx In addition, Remos Lenio’s CV states that he holds a seat on the MiQuest board of directors. http://tillermanco.com/images/RemosLenioCV2015.pdf MiQuest is among the groups sponsored by the Richard M. and Helen DeVos Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. https://www.gvsu.edu/cei/competitions-funding-160.htm Remos Lenio’s LinkedIn profile states that he is also a founding board member and past president of the Association for Corporate Growth – Western Michigan, which has featured Dick DeVos as a speaker. Retrieved from http://grsouth.wzzm13.com/content/dick-devos-key-bringing-southwest-airlines-grand-rapids-supporting-airtran.

17 The son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, Dick DeVos served as Amway’s President and ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor of Michigan in 2006. His wife Betsy Prince DeVos, former chair of the Michigan State Republican Party, and Board President of Mars Hill Bible Church, is the sister of Blackwater founder Erik Prince. See Andy Kroll, “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left,” Mother Jones, January/February 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/devos-michigan-labor-politics-gop. See also Benjy Hansen-Bundy and Andy Kroll, “The Family That Gives Together,” Mother Jones, January/February 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/devos-family-foundations-heritage-americans-prosperity-blackwater.

18 Daniel Schoonmaker, “Is This Christian Wall Street.” Grand Rapids Business Journal, April 10, 2006, http://www.grbj.com/articles/66232See also Daniel Schoonmaker, “Collection Plate, Meet Wall Street.” Grand Rapids Business Journal, April 10, 2006, http://www.grbj.com/articles/66233.

19 Betsy DeVos also holds the title of President of the Council of Elders. Kelefa Sanneh, “The Hell-Raiser,” The New Yorker, November 26, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/11/26/the-hell-raiser-3. In 2011, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation gave $525,000 to Mars Hill Bible Church, according to the Foundation’s annual report. http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2011/382/902/2011-382902412-08bfa3ae-F.pdf.

20 Andy Kroll, “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left.” Mother Jones, January/February 2014, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/devos-michigan-labor-politics-gop#sthash.9BXvf4Kh.dpuf.

21 In an April 2013 YouTube video on the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, originally posted under his pseudonym David Dave, Lenio endorsed Ron Paul for President. In his video, he also blames the Boston Marathon bombing on the CIA or the Mossad, and characterizes the Sandy Hook mass shooting as a hoax. His YouTube account, in which he currently uses the pseudonym gc hg, links to, and promotes, his writings under his Twitter handles @PsychicDogTalk and @PsychicDogTalk3., https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOu7CAFGAyI.

22 Ron Paul is a self-described paleo-conservative who has stated his support for neo-Confederates and secessionists. Rachel Tabachnick and Frank L. Cocozzelli, “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right.” The Public Eye, November 22, 2013,  https://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/nullification-neo-confederates-and-the-revenge-of-the-old-right/#sthash.RKoqSGLs.dpbs.

23 Scoopnest has archived the Twitter bio of Lenio’s @PsychicDogTalk account, which Twitter shut down in January 2015 for violating its Terms of Service, http://www.scoopnest.com/user/PsychicDogTalk/.

24 He also characterizes well-documented mass shootings including those in Copenhagen, in Tucson, Arizona, and Aurora, Colorado, as well as the bombings at the Boston Marathon, among others, as “false flag” attacks for which he blames Israel.

25 This tweet from @PsychicDogTalk is archived at http://vnnforum.com/showthread.php?t=207710&page=14

26 David Holthouse, How White Supremacists Are Trying to Make an American Town a Model for Right-Wing Extremism: A recent influx of white supremacists and Patriot group members to the town of Kalispell, Montana, is causing alarm. AlterNet, November 22, 2011, http://www.alternet.org/story/153162/how_white_supremacists_are_trying_to_make_an_american_town_a_model_for_right-wing_extremism.

27 David Holthouse, “High Country Extremism: Pioneering Hate.” Media Matters for America, November 15, 2011, http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/11/15/high-country-extremism-pioneering-hate/154613.

28 H. Michael Barrett, “Pioneer Little Europe (PLE) Prospectus a.k.a. ‘Stormfronts of the Street’.” http://s3.mediamatters.org.s3.amazonaws.com/static/pdfs/pleprospectus.pdf

29 Judy L. Thomas, “Neo-Nazi Is Shopping for Land in Kansas.” Kansas City Star, October 2, 2015, http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article37425801.html.

30 Jonathan Hutson, “White Banker’s Son Threatens to Shoot School Kids and Jews, Gets ‘Get Outta Jail Free’ Card.” Huffington Post, November 16, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-hutson/white-bankers-son-threate_b_8579146.html.

31 Jonathan Hutson, “White Banker’s Son Threatens to Shoot School Kids and Jews, Gets ‘Get Outta Jail Free’ Card.” Huffington Post, November 16, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-hutson/white-bankers-son-threate_b_8579146.html.

32“Newtown Shooting Victims,” Newsday, December 14, 2012, http://www.newsday.com/news/nation/newtown-shooting-victims-photos-1.4336461.

33 Bill Morlin, “Man Arrested in Montana After Alleged Threats to Kill School Children and Jews,” Hatewatch February 17, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/02/17/man-arrested-montana-after-alleged-threats-kill-school-children-and-jews#disqus_thread.

34 David Lenio, “Release the Security Camera Footage of the 2011 Tucson AZ Shooting!” YouTube video uploaded August 8, 2012,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPcxszkJ61A Lenio originally uploaded the video under the pseudonym David Dave, and subsequently changed his pseudonym to “gc hg.”

35 The first quote is at 4:30; the second is at 9:39.

36 Shaun King, “Muslim Shooters Like Syed Farook Are Easily Called Terrorists While White Mass Killers Never Get That Label.” New York Daily News, December 3, 2015, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/king-white-mass-shooters-called-terrorists-article-1.2454528.

37 Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan, “U.S. Mass Shootings: 1982-2016.” Mother Jones, originally published on December 28, 2012, and updated to include data through 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data.

38 Mark Follman, “Maybe What We Need Is a Better Mental Health Policy.” Mother Jones, November 9, 2012, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/jared-loughner-mass-shootings-mental-illness.

39 Eric Madfis, “Triple Entitlement and Homicidal Anger: An Exploration of the Intersectional Identities of American Mass Murderers.” Men and Masculinities 17, no 1 (April 2014):67-68, accessed May 17, 2016.  http://jmm.sagepub.com/content/17/1/67.abstract.

40 Bill Morlin, “Court Papers Detail Alleged Threats from Holocaust Denier,” Hatewatch, March 19, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/03/19/court-papers-detail-alleged-threats-holocaust-denier.

41 Peter Bergen, “Who Do Terrorists Confide In?” CNN, February 3, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/03/opinions/terrorists-confidants-leakage-bergen/index.html.

42 Jonathan Hutson, “Guest Post: Nuts to Silence.” Montana Cowgirl, November 28, 2015, http://mtcowgirl.com/2015/11/28/guest-post-nuts-to-silence/.

43 Brendan James, “How a Gun Control Advocate Helped Stop a Man Threatening to Shoot Up a School,” Talking Points Memo, February 20, 2015, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/david-lenio-montana-threats-jews-children.

44 Justin Franz, “Kalispell Man Accused of Threatening Schools Posed ‘A Very Real Threat.” Flathead Beacon, February 18, 2015, http://flatheadbeacon.com/2015/02/18/kalispell-man-accused-threatening-schools-posed-real-threat/. See also Alli Friedman, “Man Accused of Threats Against Flathead Co. Students, Jews.” NBC Montana, February 17, 2015, http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/man-accused-of-threats-against-flathead-co-students-jews/31323966.

45 Agents from the FBI, the Kalispell Police Department, the Whitefish Police Department, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, and the Northwest Drug Task Force were involved in the arrest of David Lenio. The FBI took the lead in the interrogation.

46 Justin Franz, “As Trial Nears, Details Emerge in Intimidation Case.” Flathead Beacon, June 30, 2015, http://flatheadbeacon.com/2015/06/30/as-trial-nears-details-emerge-in-intimidation-case/. Bill Morlin, “Twitter Threat Defendant Defies Judge, Continues Hate Speech on Social Media.” HateWatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), November 13, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/11/13/twitter-threat-defendant-defies-judge-continues-hate-speech-social-media.

47 Registered users of Stormfront have been behind almost 100 murders, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/stormfront.

48 Mark Potok, “Closed Circuit.” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 20, 2013, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2013/closed-circuit.

49 Felicity Barringer, “In Montana Town’s Hands, Guns Mean Cultural Security,” The New York Times, February 20, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/us/in-montanas-kalispell-guns-are-a-matter-of-life.html?_r=0.

50 Discovery Communications, “Investigation Discovery Premiers Second Installment of Series ‘Hate in America’ Exploring Growing Domestic Issue of White Supremacists and Anti-government Radicals.” Press release, March 21, 2016, https://corporate.discovery.com/discovery-newsroom/investigation-discovery-premieres-second-installment-of-series-hate-in-america-exploring-growing-domestic-issue-of-white-supremacists-and-anti-government-radicals/.

51 April Gaede, who tweets as @AprilintheNorth, has posted photos of her work in Kalispell assembling bolt action hunting rifles. She tweeted one such photo on December 8, 2015, https://twitter.com/aprilinthenorth/status/674264327268921344.

52 Profile of April Gaede (Southern Poverty Law Center), https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/april-gaede.

53 Retrieved from @AprilintheNorth Twitter account https://twitter.com/AprilintheNorth/status/682834077292969984

54 Beneficiaries included William Pierce’s National Alliance and Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr.’s White Patriot Party. In November 2015, a judge sentenced Miller to death for the fatal shootings of three people at Kansas Jewish sites. Associated Press, “Jewish Site Killings: Death Sentence for White Supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller,” November 11, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/jewish-center-shootings/jewish-site-killings-death-sentence-white-supremacist-frazier-glenn-miller-n461071.

55 Camille Jackson, “The Turner Diaries, Other Racist Novels, Inspire Extremist Violence.” Intelligence Report , October 14, 2004, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2004/turner-diaries-other-racist-novels-inspire-extremist-violence.

56 Karl Gharst, a/k/a morserkarl, took to a right-wing conspiracist site, LibertyFight, to post a statement in support of Lenio, in which he falsely claimed that I had provoked threats that Lenio had tweeted between December 30, 2014 and February 14, when I learned of Lenio’s existence because Lenio initiated contact with me. Gharst’s statement is available online at https://disqus.com/by/morserkarl/.

57 Bill Morlin, “Man Accused of Twitter Threats Has Aryan Nations Supporter,” HateWatch , August 20, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/08/20/man-accused-twitter-threats-has-aryan-nations-supporter.

58 Justin Franz, “Man Accused of School Threats Released.” Flathead Beacon, July 20, 2015, http://flatheadbeacon.com/2015/07/20/man-accused-of-school-threats-released/.

59 Megan Strickland, “Twitter Threat Case Faces Another Delay.” Daily Inter Lake, February 8, 2016, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/members/twitter-threat-case-faces-another-delay/article_aec382ca-ce17-11e5-b8ed-d39fa3af80fd.html.

60 Bill Morlin, “Twitter-threat Defendant Defies Judge, Continues Hate Speech on Social Media.” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), November 13, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/11/13/twitter-threat-defendant-defies-judge-continues-hate-speech-social-media.

61 Vince Devlin, “HateWatch: David Lenio Has Violated Terms of His Release 348 Times.” The Missoulian, November 13, 2015, http://missoulian.com/news/local/hatewatch-david-lenio-has-violated-terms-of-his-release-times/article_04810fc6-1e7f-515f-bc73-5390e9944fd9.html.

62 The author received a subpoena dated July 16, 2015, in State of Montana v. David Joseph Lenio, Cause No. DC-15-040C, to appear at a jury trial slated to begin August 3, 2015.

63 S. Boman, email to author. October 30, 2015. S. Boman, telephone interview with author, November 5, 2015.

64 Vince Devlin, “Flathead Valley Group Wants Nothing Less Than a Felony Conviction for Lenio,” The Missoulian, November 10, 2015, http://missoulian.com/news/local/flathead-valley-group-wants-nothing-less-than-a-felony-conviction/article_4a720fa1-d82c-562c-8ef4-cb8e3dcccfdb.html.

65 Francine Green Roston and Jonathan Hutson, “David Lenio Reloaded?” Opinion column in Flathead Beacon, November 19, 2015, http://flatheadbeacon.com/2015/11/19/david-lenio-reloaded/.

66 Vince Devlin, “HateWatch: David Lenio Has Violated Terms of His Release 348 Times,” The Missoulian, November 13, 2015, http://missoulian.com/news/local/hatewatch-david-lenio-has-violated-terms-of-his-release-times/article_04810fc6-1e7f-515f-bc73-5390e9944fd9.html.

67 Flathead County Sheriff’s Office – Jail Roster.  https://apps.flathead.mt.gov/jailroster/.

68 Jerrold A. “Jerry” Weissman, “Letting Lenio Go Is Not Justice.” Letter to the Editor, The Daily Interlake, March 24, 2016, http://www.dailyinterlake.com/opinion/letters/letter-letting-lenio-go-is-not-justice/article_ed883820-f1da-11e5-ba98-079703a87180.html.

69 Urea nitrate can be used as a main charge in improvised explosive devices, according to a 1969 U.S. Army handbook on improvised munitions. By 1970, saboteurs were passing around U.S. Army demolitions manuals and using them to make bombs. UPI, “Want to Build a Bomb? Get U.S. Army Manual,” May 6, 1970, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=110&dat=19700506&id=cpBaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=N0oDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7285,2080077&hl=en.

70 Peter Barnes, “N.M. Tech Class Teaches Response to Terror Attacks.” Associated Press wire story in the Albuquerque Journal, February 1, 2005, http://abqjournal.com/news/state/299694nm02-01-05.htm

71 Peter Barnes, “N.M. Tech Class Teaches Response to Terror Attacks.” Associated Press wire story in the Albuquerque Journal, February 1, 2005, http://abqjournal.com/news/state/299694nm02-01-05.htm

72 Tamiri T., Rozin R., Lemberger N., and Almog J., “Urea Nitrate, an Exceptionally Easy-to-make Improvised Explosive: Studies towards Trace Characterization.” Anal Bioanal Chem, (National Center for Biotechnology Information) 395, no 2 (September 2009):421-428, accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19575193.

73 Tamiri T., Rozin R., Lemberger N., and Almog J., “Urea Nitrate, an Exceptionally Easy-to-make Improvised Explosive: Studies towards Trace Characterization.” Anal Bioanal Chem, (National Center for Biotechnology Information) 395, no 2 (September 2009):421-428, accessed May 17, 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19575193.

74 The use of urine to improvise explosive devices and gunpowder is so well known in military and paramilitary circles that it has been going on for centuries. Napoleon’s army collected urine from soldiers and livestock to make gunpowder. See Brian Benchoff, “Gunpowder from Urine: Fighting a Gorn,” Hackaday, June 15, 2015, http://hackaday.com/2015/06/15/gunpowder-from-urine-fighting-a-gorn/

75 S. Warnell, telephone interview with author, January 5, 2016.

76 Joseph J. Kolb, “Preparing for the Inevitable: New Mexico Univ. Prepares First Responders for Bombing Incidents.” Journal of Counterterrorism (International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals), Vol. 19, No. 3 (Fall 2013), pp. 54-57, http://issuu.com/fusteros/docs/iacsp_magazine_v19n3. A leading expert in bomb investigations writes in his textbook used by the FBI that the presence of urine at a crime scene indicates possible “clandestine manufacture of urea nitrate.” James T. Thurman, Practical Bomb Scene Investigation, Second Edition (2011), CRC Press, p. 88, http://www.amazon.com/Practical-Investigation-Criminal-Forensic-Investigations/dp/1439819599.

77 V. Romero, telephone interview with author, January 6, 2016.

78 Naomi Braine, “Terror Network of Lone Wolf?” The Public Eye, June 19, 2015, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.S10xajqt.dpuf.

TONIGHT: What Happens When Terroristic Threats Come From Someone Wealthy & White?

Editor’s Note: Jonathan Hutson is the author of a forthcoming article in The Public Eye magazine fully examining the case of David Lenio and the disparate treatment of offenders from different backgrounds and ethnicities by the criminal justice system.

In the wake of a controversial decision this month to drop the felony intimidation charge against David Joseph Lenio—a 29-year-old White Nationalist who tweeted threats last year to shoot up a grade school in Kalispell, Montana, and “put two in the head of a rabbi,” then retrieved a weapons cache—the Investigation Discovery channel will premier the next installment of “Hate in America,” which explores the growing movement of strong-man worshiping populists, nativists, and armed anti-government militants across the country through the lens of Montana’s Flathead Valley.

Preview:

In “Hate in America: A Town on Fire,” which premiers Thursday, March 24 at 8pm ET / /7pm CT, Emmy Award-winning journalist Tony Harris introduces America to this beautiful valley nestled outside Glacier National Park.

The case of David Lenio is opening up many questions about the criminal justice system and White supremacy. Specifically, questions about how terroristic threats are treated when the person making them comes from a wealthy White background versus someone who is low-income or a person of color.

Armed and Ready

On December 30, 2014, the day he arrived in Montana, Lenio tweeted several times that he felt so angry at being economically disadvantaged that he wanted to “shoot up” a grade school in Kalispell. This short-order cook and snowboarder who falsely claimed to be destitute and homeless but who is actually the son of influential banker Remos Joseph Lenio, who co-founded the private investment bank Tillerman & Co. of Grand Rapids, blames a Jewish conspiracy for his sense of being disinherited from his economic birthright. He bragged that, in retaliation for his supposed life of poverty, he could kill more people than the 20 school kids and six adults who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

Specific Threats

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Screenshot of a David Lenio holding a semi-automatic pistol in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2012.

Here is one of his tweets from the day he arrived in Kalispell, threatening Kalispell school children and teachers: “I David Lenio am literally so indebted & #underpaid that I want to go on a sandy hoax style spree in a kalispell, MT elementary #school 2014.” There are only five elementary schools in Kalispell.

From then until his arrest six weeks later, he obsessed about mass shootings and terrorist attacks – which he invariably claimed were hoaxes and false-flag operations perpetrated by Israel or the federal government.

By February 12, 2015, Lenio was calling for the rise of a new strongman to lead a White supremacist movement in fixing the American economy, stating that he was prepared to go down in a hail of bullets while killing Jews. “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy,” he tweeted, “and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes …”

Calling for a Chapel Hill-Style Mass Shooting of Jews

Lenio also seized on the February 10 murders of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to call for a Chapel Hill-style mass shooting of Jews in retaliation for those murders and for his sense of economic disempowerment. On February 13, he tweeted: “I think every jew on the planet deserves to be killed for what kikes have done to our #dollar and cost of living Killing jews > wage #slave.” He added, “Best way to counter the harm #jewish #politics is causing is #ChapelHillShooting styling [sic] killing of #jews til they get the hint & leave.”

“I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school,” he tweeted on February 12th. “Sounds better than being a wage slave.”

The same day, he tweeted, “What do you think costs more in most U.S. cities? A gun with enough ammunition to kill 100 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment,” he tweeted. Then he wrote: “What would I rather do? Be a #wage slave for the rest of my life or tell society fuck you & do your kids a favor by shooting up a #school?”

‘I Bet I’d Take Out At Least a Whole Classroom’

Two days later he expressed a desire to emulate the shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – in which a White man was arrested and charged with fatally shooting three Muslim students – Lenio wrote: “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it #Poverty is making me want to kill folks #mental health.”

The line between free speech and true threats is crossed when one goes beyond scapegoating and conspiracy theories to threaten the indiscriminate shooting of 30+ school kids and teachers, as well as threatening to put two bullets in the head of a rabbi (of which there are only two in the Flathead Valley) to salve a sense of economic grievance and to advance White supremacy. There is also reason to believe that Lenio planned to put his murderous ideas into action.

Police found that on February 15, just after I reported his threats to law enforcement, Lenio had retrieved a cache of rifles and ammunition from his storage locker. He also had a loaded semi-automatic handgun with him in his van at the time of his arrest – along with extra ammunition clips and jugs of urine.

The First Amendment protects unpopular, crude, and controversial speech. But First Amendment protection is not absolute. Certain speech acts, such as extortion, false advertising, and true threats which would make a reasonable person fear violence and take precautions are not protected. Nor should they be.

In the Lenio case, the threats resulted in a nationwide effort involving FBI, police, and sheriffs from three states. Flathead County schools contacted every parent to let them know that the schools had enacted a security plan to respond to the Twitter threats, and extra police and sheriff deputies were deployed to guard the schools. When parents received the calls, they were scared for their kids, as any parent would be. And, for the first time ever, the Flathead Valley’s synagogues hired security guards.

As Rabbi Fancine Green Roston and I  wrote in the Flathead Beacon, “Each of us writing this piece knows what it is to be threatened by Lenio. One of us (Francine) is one of only two Flathead Valley rabbis and has kids in the local schools. Lenio tweeted to the other of us (Jonathan) to ask where his kids go to school. Lenio crossed the line between hate speech and hate crime.” However, we presciently titled our op-ed “David Lenio Reloaded?” because the justice system was already bending over backward to show Lenio undue leniency—unlike other defendants.

In the “Hate in America” series, produced by NBC’s Peacock Productions for the Investigation Discovery channel, former CNN news anchor and Emmy-winning journalist Tony Harris teams with noted civil rights advocacy organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), to showcase stories from the organization’s files, including the David Lenio case, which SPLC’s HateWatch has reported on in detail.

Lingering Questions

Why did the justice system give David Lenio preferential treatment by releasing him into the custody of his wealthy banker dad without bail in July 2015? Why did the authorities fail to act when Lenio violated his release conditions at least 348 times in August 2015 even though 37 other Flathead County Detention Center residents had been rearrested for violating their release conditions? Why did the prosecutor and judge keep delaying the trial and finally agree to drop the felony charge of intimidation against him without any meaningful conditions? And what could be the significance of those jugs of urine in Lenio’s van? Those are topics about which I plan to write more extensively in the future.

The same week Lenio received a deferred prosecution, a 24-year-old mentally ill transient in Oregon (who actually was homeless, unlike Lenio, who merely pretended to be while enjoying expensive snowboarding jaunts in the nearby resort in Whitefish) got 18 months in prison for making Facebook threats against unnamed police officers. In the Oregon case, the offender, Timothy Loren McCoy Fleming, didn’t possess a real, working gun; he had an inoperable pellet gun. In contrast, Lenio had fetched a working semi-automatic pistol and a working semi-automatic rifle along with a busted bolt-action rifle and spare ammunition clips after making his threats specifically against a Kalispell grade school as well as threats to put “two in the head” of a rabbi, in a Montana valley where only two rabbis reside.

Meanwhile, here’s a Investigation Discovery channel finder. Don’t miss “Hate in America: A Town on Fire” tonight, March 24, at 8ET / 7CT.

Crime Control & Political Repression: From the War On Drugs To The War On Terror

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Winter 2016 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

American political time is often rhetorically divided into before and after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In this model, “before” signals liberty and respect for individual rights while “after” brought increasing restrictions and surveillance as a result of terrorism. But this distinction both romanticizes the past and obscures some of the institutional architecture underlying the War on Terror. In fact, there’s a direct line between the pervasive infiltration of Muslim communities seen since 2001 and the militarized street-surveillance and home invasion experienced by African American communities, which has steadily escalated from the early 1980s until the present.

The national emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement speaks to the level of rage (and community organizing) that exists beneath the surface of marginalized communities, but also to the impact of systematic law enforcement-driven repression. The steady expansion of both the power and use of law enforcement in multiple areas of life reflects (and institutionalizes) right-wing worldviews regardless of the political party or identity claims of the speaker.

Informants and undercover agents have been central to a significant proportion of federal prosecutions of “homegrown” Islamic terrorism cases.1 Those informants typically do much of the actual work to transform loose talk into concrete action.2 The procedural elements of these prosecutions, however, originated long before today’s War on Terror; the methods employed by the FBI against Muslims have been developed and refined for decades in the War on Drugs, as can be seen in brief descriptions below of a current homegrown terrorism case and a 1990s drug trafficking case.

6974619755_b38cc79ac8_h

Statue depicting the traditional “Blind Justice,” in front of the Albert V. Bryan U.S. Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.. Photo by Tim Evanson via Flickr. 

On April 10, 2015, a 20-year-old Kansas man named John Booker was charged3 with three counts of attempted terrorism: attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction at Fort Riley, in northern Kansas; attempt to damage and destroy U.S. government property (again at Fort Riley); and attempt to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization (specifically the Islamic State, or ISIS/ISIL). The FBI complaint details the involvement of two confidential informants who had actively participated in every stage of planning the “plot” underlying the charges: they provided Booker with a list of the materials needed to make a bomb, they volunteered to build the bomb for him, delivered the supposed bomb to him in a van, and provided him with a map of the Fort Riley area.

A year earlier, in March 2014, Booker had come to the attention of the FBI after posting messages on Facebook indicating that he was planning to engage in violent jihad. Booker was interviewed by FBI agents and described his plans in considerable detail, but was allowed to go free with no other action taken, suggesting that the FBI agents involved did not consider him a credible threat. It seems clear that John Booker ideologically supported ISIS/ISIL and had some aspiration to engage in violence, but these encounters with the FBI suggest that, on his own, he had little capacity to turn his provocative statements into action. The key event leading to the terrorism charges occurred in October 2014, approximately seven months after his first meeting with the FBI, when he met the first of the two informants who set in motion the events that led to his arrest in April 2015. (The information currently available on this case comes from the FBI, and does not describe the motivations of the informants or whether they received compensation of some kind for their participation.)

Compare Booker’s arrest and prosecution with that of a man identified only as Miguel in an article written by a former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent. In 1996, Miguel, an immigrant from Bolivia who worked as a parking lot attendant in Washington, D.C., was charged as a drug kingpin based solely on the testimony of a paid informant with an extensive criminal record.4 The informant had fled to the United States to avoid prosecution for a variety of criminal charges in Argentina and Bolivia, and over the preceding four years had been paid by the DEA for information in several other cases. Miguel had spent three of those years working 60 hours a week for a large parking lot company.

The informant was a distant family friend of Miguel and, based on his past experience, saw an opportunity to make money by fabricating a story to sell to the DEA. He proceeded to invent a fake “cocaine deal,” wherein Miguel was the “kingpin,” even though Miguel had no prior involvement in drugs or drug dealing. While the informant developed his story with the DEA, he simultaneously lured Miguel into playing along with a supposed one-time deal that would net them both considerable cash, if Miguel pretended to be a major Bolivian cocaine dealer. It ended with a staged transaction in which Miguel accepted a bag of cash in exchange for a promise to deliver cocaine a few weeks later; he was arrested as he left the room. The informant was paid $30,000 for arranging the encounter, and after several years in and out of court Miguel ended up taking a plea bargain than gave him a four-year sentence.

Informants have played such consistent and central roles in the War on Drugs that the provision of information has repeatedly generated elaborate economic relationships between prosecutors and inmates. In 1990, an L.A. County grand jury found that a well-developed network of jailhouse informants investigated cases based on newspaper accounts and any other sources they could acquire, and provided (largely false) testimony for the prosecutor’s office in exchange for reduced jail time, privileges, and other incentives.5 Between 2004 and 2006, a similar network of informants was found to be operating in Texas prisons, investigating cases based on publically accessible material and providing testimony for the prosecutor’s office, resulting in some cases being thrown out.6 Informants in homegrown terrorism cases, similarly, often receive some form of compensation, including money or assistance with immigration or other legal issues.7

The Right and the War on Drugs

U.S. drug policy has deeply racist roots. The Harrison Act of 1914, the first law to significantly control access to opiates and cocaine, was passed in part by exacerbating prejudices against Chinese immigrants and impoverished southern African Americans.8 In the early 1930s, Harry Anslinger, head of the newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claimed that use of marijuana caused half of the violent crime committed in Black, Mexican and other Latin American immigrant neighborhoods.9 The War on Drugs both continued and dramatically amplified this historical pattern. Nixon’s 1971 declaration that drugs were a threat to the nation occurred within the context of significant social conflict and change, during which conservative resistance to the Civil Rights movement included defining social unrest as criminal activity.10 Ronald Reagan, in turn, built upon two of Nixon’s more toxic legacies: the “Southern Strategy” of using mildly-coded racism to align southern Whites with the Republican party, and the War on Drugs, with its attendant images of Black urban crime and drug dealing. (It’s worth noting that Whites and Blacks use and sell drugs at very similar rates.11)

The ideological valuing of order, discipline, and traditional social hierarchies are definitional characteristics of right-wing movements, from fascism to the KKK, and the Moral Majority to the Tea Party.

One of the challenges in describing the links between the Right Wing and both the War on Drugs and the War on Terror is the extent to which the political discourse of U.S. society has moved to the Right culturally. Over the last 40 years, the U.S. has grown increasingly sensitive to the perception of risk and the need for safety, accepting “freedom from” over “freedom to.” This is characteristic of societal moves to the Right, as German philosopher Erich Fromm noted in relation to the cultural psychology underlying the growth of Nazism. The ideological valuing of order, discipline, and traditional social hierarchies are definitional characteristics of right-wing movements, from fascism to the KKK, and the Moral Majority to the Tea Party. Yet core elements of this mindset have become normalized in the U.S., with Democrats as well as Republicans wanting to appear tough on both crime and foreign policy, and the presence of police officers in schools treated as normal (even when individual officers’ behavior may be questioned). Throughout the War on Drugs, personal privacy and individual liberty were steadily constricted by the need to keep us “safe” from the dangers of drug use and drug dealing, laying the legal and cultural groundwork for the much greater invasiveness of the War on Terror that would follow.

Race, Searches, and the Presumption of Guilt

In the movie CitizenFour, filmmaker Laura Poitras implicitly and explicitly makes the point that much of what we now talk about as “privacy” used to be called liberty. When the War on Terror began, the justification of mass searches of body and property on the grounds of safety had already become astoundingly normalized, and complaints were met with the assertion that only the guilty need worry. Once a society has accepted the need for chronic, invasive control of one vulnerable community on the grounds of protecting society, it’s a small step to target additional communities and employ somewhat different forms of surveillance.

Much of what we now talk about as “privacy” used to be called liberty.

Routine drug testing has become perhaps the most widespread example of the erosion of judicial and Constitutional protections against searches without probable cause. Urine tests for evidence of recent drug use have become a commonplace experience for health care workers, transit workers, and numerous other public service occupations, and are a standard element of participation in high school team sports. However taken-for-granted this has become, prior to 1989 routine drug tests without individual suspicion only took place in the military. In 1986, the Reagan Administration recommended testing employees for drug use as part of the War on Drugs, and the 1988 Drug Free Workplace Act required that companies with federal contracts provide a workplace free of illicit substances. In response, there were multiple cases in which courts ruled against mass-testing of firefighters,12 school bus drivers,13 and public school students,14 on the grounds that testing without individual suspicion would violate due process, privacy and protections against unreasonable search and seizure. In 1989, however, the Supreme Court discovered a “legitimate [state] interest” in protecting the public from drug use that justified an exception to the due process and individual suspicion requirements in the Fourth Amendment.15 Widespread testing in aviation, trucking, railroads and mass transit quickly followed. By 1995, the court’s understanding of legitimate state interest had moved so far that it approved random mandatory testing of student athletes.16

Silent March against "Stop and Frisk," New York City, 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Silent March against “Stop and Frisk,” New York City, 2012. Photo by Michael Fleshman via Flickr. 

At the same time, Fourth Amendment protections were being eroded in other ways as well. The most egregious and destructive violations of privacy and person in the War on Drugs may be the development of the no-knock warrant. In 1970, an anti-crime bill authorized judges to issue search warrants that permitted agents to break down a door without first knocking and identifying themselves. The warrants were initially permitted for use only in a small number of federal anti-drug investigations, but they are now more common and associated with SWAT team raids, which increased from 3,000 in 1981 to 50,000 in 2005.17 An ACLU review18 of SWAT raids found that almost 80 percent were used to serve a search warrant (62 percent for a drug search) but only 35 percent of cases clearly resulted in finding contraband of any kind.

No-knock warrants and SWAT raids have resulted in an uncountable number of unnecessary injuries and deaths that are in some ways intrinsic to the process of militarized forced entry into a home. In Massachusetts in 2011,19 a 68-year-old African American man was watching TV in his pajamas when a SWAT team broke down his door with a no-knock warrant to search for his daughter’s boyfriend, who did not live at the house. The man was shot while lying facedown on the floor, and it was later revealed that the suspect they were looking for had been arrested outside the home before the door was broken down. In Georgia in 2014,20 officers executed a no-knock warrant at 3 A.M. at a home with children’s toys in the yard. They threw a flashbang or “stun” grenade into the home as they entered, and the grenade landed in the crib of a 19-month-old toddler. Given the number of no-knock warrants issued annually, it is literally impossible to know the exact number that have resulted in injury or death to innocent parties, but the process puts the people inside the home at significant risk.

Cases and Trials: Prosecutors and Courts

The expansion of law enforcement powers over the past 40 years has not been limited to invasions of privacy, but has moved into the operation of criminal law in the courts as well. Progressives have historically viewed the federal courts as upholders of basic rights and protections, largely based on the work of the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice. But the criminal branch of the federal system has become fully complicit in law enforcement assaults on vulnerable communities in both the War on Drugs and the War on Terror.

Drug laws have had a significant effect on criminal charging, trials and convictions in the federal courts in ways that enabled the subsequent, and higher profile, prosecutorial abuses of the War on Terror. The road from arrest to prison, from police practices to mass incarceration, passes through the courts. Theoretically, judges hold significant power, both direct and indirect, to modify law enforcement practices through questions about the admissibility of evidence, the constitutionality of particular actions, and the ultimate sentence imposed on a guilty party. An obscure but crucial element of the War on Drugs has been to shift power from judges to prosecutors,21] with multiple consequences for criminal defendants. These changes have both grown out of and accelerated the politicization of crime and punishment.22

Mandatory minimums

In 1984, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act replaced the federal Parole Commission with the Sentencing Commission, a bureaucratic declaration that punishment now trumps rehabilitation in the federal prison system. From 1984-88, the Sentencing Commission and subsequent anti-drug bills eliminated parole in the federal prison system and instituted escalating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, including dramatically higher sentences for crack cocaine over powder cocaine.23 The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine was the most overtly racialized element of the anti-drug bills, since crack was known to be a form of cocaine largely used by Blacks while cocaine in powder form was more common among Whites. The elimination of parole for all federal convictions after 1987, when the rule was passed, has been less visible since state prison systems still have parole and the vast majority of incarcerated people are in state prisons. The recent attention to the early release of 6,000 people convicted of federal drug offenses24 might not have happened if they could have been quietly released on parole without the need for formal action.

In combination, the sentencing guidelines and elimination of parole shifted the balance of power in the federal courts.25 Mandatory minimum sentences mean that the parameters of prison time are primarily determined by the charge itself, and negotiations then focus on the charge as a way to manage the sentencing outcome. In practical terms, this gives prosecutors enormous power to determine the fate of an arrestee through the minimums associated with different charges, and facilitates a pervasive system of plea bargains in which a defendant’s fate is determined outside the courtroom and with little judicial oversight. This dynamic was exacerbated by cutbacks to public defenders and other indigent defense resources.

Plea bargains

Approximately 90 percent of cases settle through the plea bargain process, and defendants who insist on going to trial usually receive harsher sentences,26 although this may reflect the power of sentencing guidelines. Plea bargains involve manipulation of the charges and sentencing recommendations made by the prosecutor, without meaningful judicial review or meaningful documentation of the negotiation process. The sentencing guidelines for drug offences exacerbate this situation dramatically, with punitive threats of charges that carry high mandatory minimums used to coerce bargains.27 A particularly toxic element of the process comes from a clause in the drug-related sentencing guidelines that recommends reduced sentences for defendants who “cooperate” with police and prosecutors. This clause has generated a quasi-underground economy of “snitching” in which information buys sentence reductions, generally at the expense of those too powerless to exact revenge.

Use of informants

Informants have become a pervasive aspect of drug cases at both federal and local levels, but with little or no oversight by the Department of Justice.28 The system of mandatory minimums paired with leniency in exchange for information offers significant incentives for defendants to provide information to police and prosecutors and creates a legal context that invites corruption from all players.29 Over time, this constant supply of informants has generated some dependence among prosecutors, exemplified by Miguel’s story, as informant testimony provides a less expensive and time consuming alternative to building cases based on material evidence.30 The resulting system invites slanted or outright false testimony from informants while providing significant incentives for prosecutors to overlook indications of problems with informant sources and lack of supporting evidence.31 It also uses the weak to punish the weak: turning in an impoverished neighbor safely reduces prison time, while providing information about higher-level drug dealers could cause more problems than it solves.

Federal prosecutions of “homegrown terrorism” build on elements of the War on Drugs: defendants face extreme prison sentences, power lies primarily with prosecutors and investigators, and cases are built through dependence on informants and plea bargains coupled with extended pre-trial detention.

This system of threats, harsh prison sentences, informants, and plea bargains should sound very familiar to anyone paying close attention to terrorism cases. Federal prosecutions of “homegrown Islamist” terrorism build on elements of the War on Drugs: defendants face extreme prison sentences, power lies primarily with prosecutors and investigators, and cases are built through dependence on informants and plea bargains coupled with extended pre-trial detention.32

Prosecuting “terrorists”

U.S.-based Islamist terrorism cases, commonly called “homegrown,” have the same core procedural elements as drug prosecutions although they are anchored in a different set of criminal laws. People charged with committing certain offenses (e.g. weapons possession) for political reasons face “terrorism enhancements” rather than mandatory minimums, but with similar consequences. Terrorism enhancements add a multiplier to the standard sentencing recommendations for a charge, again shifting significant power to the prosecutor in the choice of what charges to file. The resulting threat of extreme sentences creates pressure for negotiated guilty pleas and sentencing bargains. Informants again play a central role in the building of cases, and typically receive significant legal or financial incentives for their cooperation with authorities. Threats of deportation or prosecution as well as plea bargains on existing charges have proven as effective in generating informants in terrorism cases as they have in drug cases. The process again creates cases that get resolved largely behind the scenes, with vulnerable defendants pressured into guilty pleas in exchange for reduced sentences. The resulting spectacle reinforces the perception of Muslim communities as centers of terrorist activity, although a closer look at prosecutorial activity raises questions about the definition of certain legal terms.

Theories of prevention

Many civil rights advocates have pointed to the increased militarization of police forces as a factor in political repression. Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Many civil rights advocates have pointed to the increased militarization of police forces as a factor in political repression. Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr. 

Legally, the defense of entrapment requires prosecutors to demonstrate that the defendant would have committed a crime of this type regardless of the informant or undercover agent. Homegrown terrorism cases have been built around a theory of radicalization to support prosecution arguments that Muslim defendants would have engaged in terrorism without the instigation of the informant or law enforcement officials,33 a claim to “pre-emptive” prosecution as a form of national defense. While focused on religion and national security, the core logic of the argument builds upon and extends the presumptions of danger and guilt embedded in the criminalization of low-income Black and Latino communities through frisking young Black men walking down the street or calling the police to handle misbehaving students in inner city public schools. In all these cases, the justification rests on a presumption that membership in certain racial/ethnic groups constitutes a predisposition to commit particular kinds of acts, and that militarized police practices are necessary to protect society.

Politics by other means

Among progressives, the War on Drugs and mass incarceration are increasingly understood in relation to the larger history of legal repression of Black people in the U.S. The focus on post-1970s racially disproportionate incarceration and its consequences,34 however, overlooks both the deeply racialized history of U.S. drug law and the multiple contexts for the expansion of law enforcement over the past 40 years.

U.S. drug law has been a tool of racial control throughout its 100-year history, 35 but the War on Drugs shifted the legal environment in qualitative, and not just quantitative, ways. As described throughout this article, the past four decades have seen changes in constitutionally-derived legal protections regarding searches and the right to privacy of home and person which affect all of us to some degree, but have specifically targeted African American communities. Within the court system, there has been a systematic shift of power from judges to prosecutors and the creation of incentives for the use of informants and other practices that reduce transparency and sidestep open judicial process. These gradual but steady reductions in civil liberties and the protections of due process were initially developed to “protect” the public from exposure to drugs and drug use, but have expanded into other areas of law enforcement. Over the past few years, the mandatory minimums and mass incarceration of the War on Drugs have been rolled back in certain ways, as with the decision to release several thousand federal prisoners as part of a rollback of mandatory minimum sentences.36 Meanwhile, the War on Terror continues unabated and employs many of the same legal strategies at an even higher level against Muslim communities in the U.S.

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror invite us to think about ways law enforcement engages in political repression outside contexts of heightened mobilization.

The War on Drugs and the War on Terror invite us to think about ways law enforcement engages in political repression outside contexts of heightened mobilization. In the 1960s, COINTELPRO (a portmanteau for the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program) targeted activists, organizations, and black communities during a period of widespread collective action. In contrast, the War on Drugs and War on Terror focus on communities primarily defined by vulnerability, not active resistance. The systematic targeting of Muslim communities has generated more fear than mobilization, and the targets of FBI anti-terrorism activities are often poor and socially or emotionally troubled.37 While African American communities have historically experienced recurrent waves of political mobilization and unrest, that had not been their primary condition for many years until the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

While the legal changes described in this article can be traced directly to the War on Drugs, the past 30-40 years have seen an overall pattern of criminalization of the poor justified by the need for order and discipline. The increased use of paramilitary police units like SWAT teams to execute search warrants and other routine procedures has expanded in small towns and rural areas as well as major cities.38 In a process sometimes described as the school-to-prison pipeline, police officers have become part of the normal disciplinary apparatus in public schools, and now arrest students, primarily low-income students of color, for behavior that used to be handled within the school.39 Homelessness has effectively become a crime in many cities, with local laws prohibiting sleeping, lying down, or even sitting for long periods of time in public spaces.40 Criminalization has extended into sexuality and public health, as laws to protect living children are used to prosecute pregnant women for child abuse for, say, delivering children born with drugs in their system or refusing a doctor’s orders,41 and young gay men and trans women of color are charged as sex workers for carrying more than three condoms.42 Simultaneously, the consequences of having a criminal record have expanded in ways that further marginalize the poor, such as limiting access to public housing and a range of social welfare programs, including some forms of student financial aid.43

The distinction between crime control and political repression has eroded, with criminalization used as a method to contain populations that might otherwise be politically problematic.

One lesson of the War on Drugs may well be that the distinction between crime control and political repression has eroded, with criminalization used as a method to contain populations that might otherwise be politically problematic. The War on Drugs and the school-to-prison pipeline have resulted in high levels of incarceration and other forms of legal supervision (such as probation) among young African Americans, which in turn creates other forms of vulnerability such as lack of education, employment, and housing. The stigma of being labeled a criminal compounds the technical disenfranchisement of loss of voting rights, access to social welfare programs, and a wide range of employment opportunities. In addition, mainstream Civil Rights organizations have historically been slow to engage with criminal law,44 and the growing critique of drug law and mass incarceration are a relatively recent phenomenon.

From a political perspective, one advantage of the tactic lies in the stigma and fear associated with criminalization. People accused of stigmatized crimes are difficult to defend, even for Civil Rights advocates, and civil liberties protections can be rolled back under the mantle of crime control and community safety. As a result, a highly developed and refined contemporary system of legal coercion, repression, surveillance, and associated institutional infrastructure remained largely outside of the progressive political vision, even as it was adapted for targeting Muslim communities.

Beyond the officially declared wars on drugs and terror, the expanding circles of criminalization described above have steadily encroached on social justice discourse in multiple arenas, eroding social movement gains through legal assaults on the young, poor, and otherwise vulnerable. The unwillingness of many progressives to challenge the criminal justice system and defend those caught in its net enabled mass incarceration to grow largely unchecked for over 30 years, as low-income Black communities experienced growing devastation. In order to truly roll back the power of right-wing movements in the U.S., progressives will have to challenge the politics of fear and criminalization, and stand in alliance with those pushed outside of society through the legal system. Black Lives Matter activists model this every day by refusing attempts to implicitly justify police violence through criminalizing Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and others. Will other movements follow that path?


About the Author

Naomi Braine is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and a lifelong activist in struggles for social justice. Her political and intellectual work has addressed mass incarceration, the war on drugs/drug policy, HIV and collective action, and, more recently, the war on terror.


Endnotes

[1] Thomas Cincotta, “Platform for Prejudice: How the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative Invites Racial Profiling, Erodes Civil Liberties, and Undermines Security.” Political Research Associates, March 2010, https://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/platform-for-prejudice/

[2] Human Rights Institute, Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions. (New York: Columbia School of Law and Human Rights Watch, 2014); Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. (New York: NYU School of Law, 2011).

[3] All information on the Booker case comes from the formal complaint filed on April 10, 2015: USA v John T. Booker, Jr a.k.a. “Mohammed Abdullah Hassan”, Case Number: 15-mj-5039-KGS, D.C. KS (Topeka Docket).

[4] Michael Levine, “King Rats: Criminal informants are the real winners in then DEA’s drug war,” Utne Reader, May-June 1996, http://www.utne.com/politics/king-rats-criminal-informants-judicial-folly.aspx.

[5] Los Angeles County Grand Jury, “Investigation of the Involvement of Jail House Informants in the Criminal Justice System in Los Angeles County,” June 26, 1990.

[6] Randy Balko, “Guilty before proven innocent.” Reason.com, May 2008, https://reason.com/archives/2008/04/14/guilty-before-proven-innocent.

[7] Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States. (New York: NYU School of Law, 2011).

[8] Nancy Campbell, Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice. (New York: Routledge Press, 2000); David Musto “Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana in American History.” Scientific American 40, no. 7 (July 1991).

[9] Susan Speaker, “Demons for the Twentieth Century: the Rhetoric of Drug Reform, 1920-40.” in Altering American Consciousness: The History of Alcohol and Drug Use in the United States, 1800-2000, edited by Sarah Tracy and Caroline Acker, (Univ of Mass Press. 2004).

[10] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. (New York: The New Press, 2010).

[11] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[12] Lovvorn v City of Chattanooga, (861 F.2d 1388 (D.C. TN 1986)); Capua v City of Plainfield, (643 F.Supp. 1507 (D.C. NJ 1986)).

[13] Jones v Mckenzie, (833 F.2d 335 (D.C. DC 1986)).

[14] Odenheim v Carlstadt-East Rutherford School District, (510 A.2d 709 (S.C. NJ 1985)).

[15] National Treasury Workers Union v. Von Raab, 489 U.S. 656 (1989).

[16] Vernonia v. Acton, Washington School District, (23 F.3d 1514 (9th Cir. 1995)).

[17] Peter Kraska and Louis Cubellis, “Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing.” Justice Quarterly 14 no. 4 (December 1997); American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing. ACLU, 2014, https://www.aclu.org/report/war-comes-home-excessive-militarization-american-police.

[18] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[19] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[20] ACLU, War Comes Home: the Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

[21] Jamie Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty. Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/12/05/offer-you-cant-refuse/how-us-federal-prosecutors-force-drug-defendants-plead.

[22] Jonathan Simon, Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear. (New York: Oxford Univ Press, 2007).

[23] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[24] Michael S. Schmidt, “US to Release 6000 Inmates From Prisons,” New York Times, October 6, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/us/us-to-release-6000-inmates-under-new-sentencing-guidelines.html?_r=0

[25] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.; Alexander Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

[26] Lindsey Devers, Plea and Charge Bargaining: Research Summary. Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Dept of Justice, January 24, 2011.

[27] Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[28] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

[29] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.; Felner, An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty.

[30] Natapoff, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.

[31]Los Angeles County Grand Jury, “Investigation of the Involvement of Jail House Informants in the Criminal Justice System in Los Angeles County.”

[32] This summary and the material in the next section, Prosecuting Terrorists, all comes from the following two reports: Human Rights Institute, Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions.; Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States.

[33] Stephen Downs, Esq, and Kathy Manley, Esq, Inventing Terrorists: the Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution. (Albany NY: Project SALAM and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, May 2014), http://www.projectsalam.org/inventing-terrorists-study.pdf.

[34] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[35] Campbell, Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice.; Musto, “Opium, Cocaine, and Marijuana in American History.”

[36] Schmidt, “US to Release 6000 Inmates From Prisons.”

[37] Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the “Homegrown Threat” in the United States.; Downs, Esq, and Manley, Esq,  Inventing Terrorists: the Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution.

[38] Kraska and Cubellis, “Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing.”

[39] Karen Dolan and Jodi L. Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty. Report from the Institute for Policy Studies, DC.

[40] Dolan and Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty.

[41] Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 38 no. 2 (January 2013).

[42] Margaret H. Wurth, Rebecca Schleifer, Megan McLemore, Katherine W. Todrys and Joseph J Amon, “Condoms as evidence of prostitution in the United States and the criminalization of sex work,” Journal of International AIDS Society 16, (May 2013).

[43] Dolan and Carr, The Poor get Prison: the Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty.

[44] Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

35 Years of Demonization: The Criminalization of Black Women

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Winter 2016 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

In December 1990, when Alice Johnson lost her job, she never imagined she would end up in prison. The African-American single mother had been supporting her five children as a manager of a FedEx store in Memphis. She soon found another job, but at one-third the pay. Meanwhile, the bills mounted. When she was offered a quick way to make money—by passing phone messages about where to buy drugs—she took it. Johnson is now serving a life sentence for conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering.1

Between 1990 and 2000, the number of people in U.S. prisons and jails increased from 292 per 100,000 to 481 per 100,000.2 But the number of women in prison rose even more sharply, doubling over the ten-year period.

The numbers keep growing. The number of women sent to prison grew by another nearly three percent (or 2,800 people) between 2012 and 2013. The imprisonment rate for Black women is 113 of every 100,000, more than twice that of White women (who are imprisoned at a rate of 51 per 100,000). At the end of 2013, nearly one quarter (or 23,100) of the 104,134 women in state or federal prison were Black.3 In contrast, Black women make up just 13 percent of women in the United States.4 Today, approximately 206,000 women are in jails or prisons nationwide.5 Johnson, who was arrested in 1994 and charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, attempted possession of cocaine, and money laundering, is one of those women.

In July 2015, hundreds of people marched in Minneapolis to honor Sandra Bland and protest the deaths of Black women who have died in police custody. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

In July 2015, hundreds of people marched in Minneapolis to honor Sandra Bland and protest the deaths of Black women who have died in police custody. Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr.

Johnson’s imprisonment did not happen in a political vacuum. The same policies of mass incarceration and racial policing that have sent disproportionate numbers of Black men to prison have also hit Black women hard.6 In 1996, the year Johnson was convicted, the rate of incarceration for Black women was seven times higher than for White women. The right-wing rhetoric that fueled those policies affecting Black men also reinforced a narrative in which Black women are seen as inherently criminal, a narrative that continues to influence public perception and law enforcement today.7

In 1971, Richard M. Nixon declared a War on Drugs. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan expanded that war. But, as Michelle Alexander notes in her pivotal study of the hyper-incarceration of African Americans, The New Jim Crow, this expansion came at a time when neither media nor most members of the public were particularly concerned about drugs. Reagan’s administration launched a public relations campaign, focusing largely on crack, to build both public and legislative support for his drug war. The war was not race-neutral—images of Black people addicted to crack, whether in the form of “crack whores,” “crack dealers” or “crack babies,” were utilized to strike fear into the public and garner support for harsher laws and more punitive sentences.8

The image of Black women continues to be fueled by the right-wing narrative of Black women as welfare frauds, liars, and cheats.

In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, mandating a five-year sentence for a five-gram sale of crack cocaine; in contrast, the same sentence only took effect for 500 grams of powder cocaine. Although Whites and Blacks used drugs at similar rates, enforcement of the Act targeted Black people, drastically increasing the number of Black people sent to prison—in 1980, African Americans made up 12 percent of the country’s population, but 23 percent of all people arrested on drug charges. By 1990, however, they made up more than 40 percent of those arrested for drugs and over 60 percent of those convicted.9 The Act also took its toll on women, particularly Black women. Under the Act, police and prosecutors were able to arrest and charge spouses and lovers with drug trafficking “conspiracy” for everyday actions such as taking a phone message or sharing finances. This is what happened to North Carolina mother Phyllis Hardy, whose ordeal I have described elsewhere.10 In 1991, Hardy’s husband was arrested for conspiracy to import and sell cocaine. He told me that prosecutors asked him if he had ever given money to his wife. “She’s my wife. Of course I gave her money,” he told them.

Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the "Say Her Name" report speaks at the 2015 New York City #SayHerName vigil in remembrance of Black women and girls killed by the police. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr.

Andrea Ritchie, co-author of the “Say Her Name” report speaks at the 2015 New York City #SayHerName vigil
in remembrance of Black women and girls killed by the police. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr.

But, under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, sharing money with a spouse—even for household expenses like groceries or the mortgage—ropes him or her into the conspiracy. Phyllis Hardy was arrested and charged with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine as well as money laundering. Believing that justice would prevail, she went to trial. She lost and was sentenced to 30-and-a-half years in federal prison. Her husband, who accepted a plea bargain, served 15 years.

Reagan’s War on Drugs coincided with a less-trumpeted right-wing war on women. Invoking images of Black welfare mothers driving Cadillacs and having children solely to collect more taxpayer dollars, Reagan and his acolytes whipped up public furor against welfare recipients and the idea that society should support those most in need. The frenzy continued past his presidency; in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was introduced as part of the Republican Contract with America and heavily pushed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republicans, as well as right-wing think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, home of Charles Murray, whose racist writings formed the foundation for welfare reform. In 1996, Clinton signed it into law. The bill, popularly known as “welfare reform,” placed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare, excluded benefits to children born to mothers already on welfare, required recipients to work after two years, and enacted a lifetime ban on welfare benefits for people with drug felonies or who had violated probation or parole.11

The demonization of Black women extended beyond welfare and, even 35 years later, continues to inform police interactions. In 2013, of all women stopped by New York City police, over 53 percent were Black although Black people make up only 27 percent of the city’s residents.12

“The image of Black women continues to be fueled by the right-wing narrative of Black women as welfare frauds, liars and cheats,” Andrea Ritchie, a Soros Justice Fellow examining police violence against women and LGBT people of color, told The Public Eye. “These images drive interactions from whether to write someone a traffic ticket or arrest them for not putting their cigarette out to what to charge someone.” Ritchie pointed to the example of Charlena Michele Cooks, a Black mother in Barstow, California, who was eight months pregnant when she was brutally arrested in January 2015. While dropping her second-grade daughter off at school, Cooks had a driving dispute with another mother. The other mother, who is White, called the police. According to his body cam footage, the officer, after listening to the White mother’s statement, said, “I don’t see a crime that’s been committed,” but offered to speak with Cooks. The officer approached Cooks and, when she refused to give her full name and began to walk away, the officer twisted her hands behind her, forced her against a fence and arrested her as she screamed in pain and fear. She was charged with resisting arrest. A court later dismissed the charge; the ACLU of Southern California confirms that Cooks did indeed have the right to refuse to give her name.13

Whenever interactions like this occur, the underlying justification demonizes Black women, noted Ritchie. “Every police interaction is informed by the perception that they’re lying, cheating and not worthy of protection.” The brutal 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas following a questionable traffic stop, illustrates the way in which these ingrained perceptions can be deadly.

National Day Of Action to end State violence against Black girls and women. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr

National Day Of Action to end State violence against Black girls and women. Photo by The All-Nite Images via Flickr

Even when they are not deadly, the narrative informs who police choose to target—and arrest. In the 1990s, New York City, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his police commissioner Bill Bratton, instituted a policy of “stop, question and frisk,” soon shortened to “stop and frisk,” in which police stop and search people whom they perceive to be acting suspiciously. Not surprisingly, most of the stops involved people of color. In 2011, nearly 90 percent of these stops involved Black or Latina/o people.14 But stop and frisk is not limited to New York; other cities also employ the tactic and, as in New York, people of color are often the targets.

Those stopped and frisked can be arrested not only for weapons or drugs, but also for carrying legal items such as condoms. Until recently in New York, police could—and would—seize condoms as evidence of sex work. But this policy didn’t just affect people engaged in sex work. Trans and gender non-conforming people, particularly people of color, also felt the brunt in a phenomenon known as “walking while trans.”15 Nearly 60 percent of trans and gender non-conforming people of color living in Jackson Heights, one of New York City’s most diverse neighborhoods, reported being stopped by police, who profiled them as sex workers solely because of their race and gender identity. None were actually sex workers, but they were charged with prostitution-related offenses if they were carrying condoms.16 Considering that the city’s Department of Health distributes over 35 million condoms each year, the practice of using condoms as evidence seems particularly absurd. But not absurd enough to abolish the practice. In May 2014, Bratton (once again New York’s police commissioner) announced that police will no longer use condoms as evidence—unless they suspect people of sex trafficking or promotion of prostitution.17 

Nearly 60 percent of trans and gender nonconforming people of color living in Jackson Heights reported being stopped by police, who profiled them as sex workers solely because of their race and gender identity.

Undoing 35 years of demonization requires approaches on several different levels. Andrea Ritchie is the co-author of Say Her Name, a July 2015 report examining police violence against Black women and girls, which includes some examples of policy demands that address Black women’s particular experiences of policing, such as a ban on using Tasers and excessive force on pregnant women or children and the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, which prohibits any agency from engaging in racial profiling.18 In New Orleans, years of organizing and attention to the city’s racist policing practices ended in a 2012 consent decree in which the New Orleans Police Department was ordered to implement bias-free policing.19

At the same time, the underlying narrative that promotes these policies and interactions needs to change. The popular hashtag and associated movement #BlackLivesMatter have helped challenge this script, calling attention to the racism and violence against Black people. While #BlackLivesMatter, started by three Black women, does not focus exclusively on the violence against Black men, activists and media makers made sure that the call was expanded to ensure that Black women and Black trans people were not forgotten with calls for Black Trans Lives Matter and Black Girls Matter. Activists, media makers and members of the general public need to continue challenging the stereotypes of Black women and rewrite the script so that gender and gendered violence remain integral in the struggle to transform the criminal justice system.


About the Author

Victoria Law is a freelance writer focusing on the intersections of incarceration, gender and resistance. She is also the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women.


Endnotes

[1] Victoria Law, “Mothers Serving Long-Term Drug Sentences Call for Clemency,” Truthout, September 11, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/32745-mothers-serving-long-term-drug-sentences-call-for-clemency.

[2] Allen J. Beck and Jennifer C. Karberg, Prisons and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2000, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, March 2001, 3, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pjim00.pdf.

[3] E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2013, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, September 30, 2014, 9, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p13.pdf.

[4] Maria Guerra, Fact Sheet: The State of African American Women in the United States, Center for American Progress, November 7, 2013, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2013/11/07/79165/fact-sheet-the-state-of-african-american-women-in-the-united-states/.

[5] Aleks Kajstura and Russ Immarigeon, States of Women’s Incarceration: The Global Context, Prison Policy Initiative, http://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/women/ .

[6] Department of Justice, “State and Federal Prisons Report Record Growth During Last 12 Months,” December 3, 1995, 4, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pam95.pdf.

[7] This past summer, Texas district attorney called Sandra Bland “it” and re-directed the blame for Bland’s brutal arrest and subsequent death on her own behavior, stating, “It was not a model traffic stop … and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop. I think the public can make its own determinations as to the behaviors that are seen in the video.” Michael Gracezyk, “Texas Prosecutor Says Too Soon to Say How Woman Died in Cell,” Associated Press, July 21, 2015, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/00ba536ef2c24db1bb1609e9bcb6df1d/texas-officials-release-video-jail-sandra-bland-case.

[8] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010), 5.

[9] Jonathan Rothwell, “How the War on Drugs Damages Black Social Mobility,” Brookings, September 30, 2014, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/social-mobility-memos/posts/2014/09/30-war-on-drugs-black-social-mobility-rothwell.

[10] Victoria Law, “Will Obama’s Commutation Allow Grandma Hardy and Thousands of Drug War Prisoners to Finally Go Home?” Truthout, August 20, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/25497-will-obamas-commutation-allow-grandma-hardy-and-thousands-of-drug-war-prisoners-to-finally-go-home; Victoria Law, “Phyllis ‘Grandma’ Hardy is Home! But Over 98,000 People Remain Prisoners of the Drug War,” Truthout, April 7, 2015, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/29973-phyllis-grandma-hardy-is-home-but-over-98-000-people-remain-prisoners-of-the-drug-war.

[11] Bryce Covert, “Clinton Touts Welfare Reform. Here’s How It Failed,” The Nation, September 6, 2012, http://www.thenation.com/blog/169788/clinton-touts-welfare-reform-heres-how-it-failed.

[12] Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Andrea J. Ritchie, Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, (New York: African American Policy Forum, 2015). 7, http://static1.squarespace.com/static/53f20d90e4b0b80451158d8c/t/55a810d7e4b058f342f55873
/1437077719984/AAPF_SMN_Brief_full_singles.compressed.pdf
.

[13] Michael Martinez and Kyung Lah, “Police Video Shows ‘Horrifying’ Arrest of Pregnant Woman, ACLU Says,” CNN, May 29, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/28/us/barstow-california-police-video-pregnant-woman-arrest/.

[14] New York Civil Liberties Union, Stop‐and‐Frisk 2011 Report 8 (2012). 5.

[15] People’s Law Office, “Criminalization of LGBTQ People,” n.p., n.d., http://peopleslawoffice.com/issues-and-cases/criminalization-of-glbt-people-in-the-us/.

[16] Make the Road New York, Transgressive Policing: Police Abuse of LGBTQ Communities of Color in Jackson Heights, October 2012, 4, 15, http://www.maketheroad.org/pix_reports/MRNY_Transgressive_Policing_Full_Report_10.23.12B.pdf.

[17] Emma Caterine, “Condoms as Evidence: Terrible for Sex Workers, Terrible for Public Health,” RH Reality Check, March 8, 2013, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/03/08/condoms-as-evidence-terrible-for-sex-workers-terrible-for-public-health/.

[18] Crenshaw and Ritchie, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” African American Policy Forum, July 2015, 33 (See also: Cassandra Osei, “Reports in Review,” The Public Eye, Fall 2015, 20); End Racial Profiling Act of 2015, H.R. 1933, 114th Congress (2015), https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1933.

[19] New Orleans Police Department, “NOPD Consent Decree,” City of New Orleans Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, n.d., http://www.nola.gov/nopd/nopd-consent-decree/. It should be noted that, three years later, “the pace of reform continues in many areas to be slower than desired.” Ken Daley, “Third Year in Consent Decree ‘Critical’ for New Orleans Police,” The Times-Picayune, October 5, 2015, http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2015/10/federal_monitors_warn_nopds_th.html.