My On-Again, Off-Again Romance With Liberalism

In honor of PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty, please enjoy this article originally published by the Women’s Theological Center (now known as Women Transforming Communities) in March 1996, as part of The Brown Paper series. Republished with permission.

Jean hardisty SLIDE

PRA founder Jean Hardisty

As I sit at my desk working my way through a stack of requests for donations and entreaties to renew my membership in various organizations, I am torn about when to write a check and when to save my money. At the moment, the pressing question for me is whether to support the larger, liberal organizations that do what I think of as “mainstream” liberal work—organizations such as The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, The National Organization for Women, and People for the American Way.

For years I have written these checks, almost as an act of dutiful citizenship. After all, I am glad the organizations are there. I want them to continue to exist. That means I have to do my part to keep them alive. But this seems a rather lazy way to make a decision.

I feel I should decide what I really think about liberalism and its prospects in the 1990s. It is clear that in 1996 liberalism is in eclipse—or at least adrift and demoralized. Meanwhile, the Right is in its glory. It dominates the political arena, with an apparent lock on the new ideas, the money, the organization, and the attention that used to belong to liberalism.

Liberalism is nearly an orphan. It has a bad name in many circles. For the Left, it represents a compromised reformism. For the Right, it is socialism in disguise. For the center, it is a label associated with fuzzy thinking and do-gooder incompetence.

Liberals are divided and seem to have lost confidence in their own ideology. The vicious attacks mounted by the Right have scored points with the public by caricaturing liberal programs, their adherents, and their recipients. After fifteen years of such attacks there is now a proven formula: seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The “welfare queen,” the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire—all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.

In the face of these attacks, liberals themselves seem to know on some level that their programs have not worked as planned. Even in defending them, they are forced to appeal to the spirit in which the programs were based, or the benefits they have delivered to their most deserving beneficiaries. Liberals seem unable to mount a vigorous defense of these programs—on their own terms, across the board, without regard to the worthiness of the recipients. By mounting a weak defense, liberals tacitly concede to their Republican attackers that the programs are at least flawed, perhaps even indefensible.

The Swinging Door

I have seen liberalism’s programs and ideology up close for over thirty years. At fifty, I have reached some clarity about liberalism, especially since I have the advantage of a Left perspective—a set of glasses, if you will, that helps to bring the shortcomings of both liberalism and conservatism into focus. Further, I learned my politics during the Vietnam War, a war waged by liberals as well as conservatives.

I know that domestic social programs are intended as amelioration, not real change. I know that the same men who voted for public housing programs voted for aid to the Guatemalan military. I understand liberalism’s self-serving tendency to preserve the status quo, why big business often has found it a useful ally, why its redistributive measures never really disturb the sleep of the rich. I understand why it tolerates police brutality, a rogue FBI, why NAFTA, why GATT. I know all that.

Yet as the Right picks off liberal programs one by one, I mourn each one as if it were the product of a golden age of liberty, equality, and fraternity. My understanding of liberalism’s shortcomings and its history of opportunism is gone. Liberal programs are bathed with a glow of benevolence, set off by a stark contrast with the anti-social and avaricious agenda of the Right.

Take public housing as an example. As it is defunded by the Right and its real estate sold off, I am torn by two conflicting images. In the back of my mind are the towers of Cabrini Green, a massive, notoriously rundown, and dangerous housing project in Chicago. Here the ultimate effect of a liberal program is to segregate poor Black people in a high-rise ghetto. In fact, the numerous high-rise federal housing projects in Chicago form a “wall” that cordons off poor people from the rest of the city. It is difficult to see the result of this liberal housing effort on behalf of low-income families without assuming a malicious intent behind the program.

But in the front of my mind are other images: a broken-down, substandard house in rural Mississippi transformed into a prefab house with indoor water, electricity, and walls that are tight against the weather. Or a range of housing such as scattered rent-subsidized low-income units, low-rise complexes, and rent-controlled apartments that allow people to live in decent conditions even though they have very little money. It is these images that draw me. Perhaps it is sentimental, but I am compelled by the notion of a society that will not tolerate extreme poverty and that responds with redistributive programs—even though the programs are often flawed and sometimes cynical.

This softness toward liberalism is not easy to admit. It can be especially embarrassing to defend liberalism when I am speaking to progressives. It feels like admitting a weakness in my political commitment to Left, progressive values, the values that demand fundamental systemic change and redistribution of power. But this soft-on-liberalism instinct is grounded in my progressive politics. I see the two in relation to each other. I understand the role that liberalism plays in facilitating the work that progressives do. The Left needs liberals to create the breathing room necessary for us to do our work. Liberals, in turn, are given direction and held to some minimal standard of honesty by the Left.

As a progressive feminist, I want to live in a country that understands that some people cannot manage and that is willing to take responsibility for them. I want a government I can believe in; one that is willing to defy the often malicious intent of local power structures and defend the rights of all its citizens with determination. And I am convinced that only the federal government can deliver that protection. That often means that liberal social programs, administered by the federal government, are the only workable answer to social needs. This doesn’t mean I will get the government I want, but it does mean I cannot afford to throw away the idea of government as an important arbiter of justice.

The Right’s current promotion of states’ rights, which argues that power should be decentralized because only state governments provide for the real needs of local folks, ignores the history of states’ rights as a defense of brutal racial segregation and reactionary social policies. Transferring programs like public housing to the states is a sly method of defunding them. Progressives must be careful, when raising pointed criticisms and mounting protests regarding government programs, that we do not let our anti-government rhetoric feed the anti-government campaign of the Right.

I admit that when looking at liberal programs, I have a tendency to accept liberalism’s most appealing face as reality. I am drawn, for instance, by the 1960s social plan called The War on Poverty. I find a certain poetry, idealism, solidarity, and respect in the words themselves. Even when they turn out to be just words (that stand in ironic contrast to the Vietnam War, which was waged simultaneously) they nevertheless represent a glimpse of ideas and programs propelled by humanity and mutual concern. Perhaps two stories from my own experience will help to explain both my attraction to liberalism as we know it and my ambivalence about it.

In Chicago’s 1982 mayoral race, Harold Washington, a progressive African-American Congressman from the South Side, ran against the machine candidate, Jane Byrne, in the Democratic primary. Washington won. The white machine was stunned, and scrambled to find a candidate to run against Washington in the general election. Since Washington would be the Democratic Party candidate, they would have to find a Republican, but they were hard-pressed to locate one, since Chicago is a one-party town. They did find a rather pathetic man named Bernie Epton, who visibly struggled with emotional instability and barely made it through Election Day. Despite the stark difference in the two candidates’ qualifications, most white voters in Chicago voted for Epton. They preferred the unstable white man with no political experience to the charismatic, experienced, progressive, anti-machine African American. Again, however, Washington won.

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

Harold Washington (left) and Bernie Epton (right)

There were several reasons for his victory. First, Chicago at that time had a minority population of 45%—a voting block large enough to create a plurality of votes. Second, Washington put together a rare coalition that drew over 90 percent of the African-American vote and most of the Latino vote. And finally, “lakefront liberals”—primarily white, often professional, definitely higher-income residents who lived close to the Lake Michigan waterfront—delivered the balance needed to put him narrowly over the top. Among white voters, only the lakefront liberals defied their race allegiance and voted for the Black man.

For me, the Washington election captured a clear irony about life in Chicago. I was proud that Chicago was no ordinary racist northern industrial city. Chicago is organized. It is perhaps the most organized city in the country—the birthplace of the community organizing style of Saul Alinsky. All of Chicago’s neighborhoods—especially the White neighborhoods—are organized with the goal of empowering working people, and much of this organizing has been done by liberals.

Yet when those organized citizens were called on to vote for a more progressive future, they were not able to make the connections. The community organizing so conscientiously mounted by liberals did not touch the racism of Chicago’s White voters. Unable to address the basic social problems, especially racism, liberalism came up short in an actual test of its effectiveness in creating change.

But liberalism was not a complete failure in Chicago. The lakefront liberals did the right thing. Faint-hearted, arrogant, complicit, and often self-serving, they nevertheless served as the swinging door against which social change could push. Without them, there was no space, no breathing room, no recourse.

Perhaps the lakefront liberals stood to gain under a Washington Administration that would create more space for their business interests than the locked-down machine offered. Perhaps the communities of color that voted so overwhelmingly for Washington were mostly voting against Chicago’s White political machine. But the reality remains. It was the vote of White liberals that put the progressive Mayor Washington over the top.

Another story comes to mind. In the early 1980s the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of Leftist political groupings in El Salvador, mounted a credible attempt to overthrow the Salvadoran political establishment. The context for this effort was El Salvador’s history of economic exploitation by an oligarchy of landowners supported by a military trained and armed by the U.S., and a complicit Catholic church hierarchy. El Salvador’s social and economic system was injustice and oppression itself.

The FMLN was explicitly revolutionary. However, it had an arm that operated above ground, in the electoral arena. Always at risk from death squads, some brave people were willing to put themselves at risk by being affiliated publicly with this above-ground group, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, or FDR. The president of the FDR, the late Guillermo Ungo, was well-known in the United States.

In the early 1980s, I was part of a delegation of U.S. foundation staff and donors, led by the director of The Philadelphia Foundation, that went to Central America to meet with humanitarian aid organizations, human rights organizations, and others centrally involved in the conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. J. Roderick MacArthur, the son of the billionaire donor of the MacArthur Foundation, John D. MacArthur, was part of the delegation. Roderick MacArthur had his own foundation, known as “little MacArthur,” that had been involved in funding organizations opposing government abuses and repression against progressives. Rod MacArthur’s politics were liberal, unusually so for a businessman.

MacArthur met Ungo on that trip and they bonded as prominent businessmen with political concerns. MacArthur was both compelled by Ungo’s story and convinced that there were opportunities for U.S. business in a post-revolutionary El Salvador. When he returned to the U.S., MacArthur arranged to have Ungo come north to tour several cities, meeting with U.S. businessmen. When Ungo reached the Chicago stop on the tour, MacArthur held a reception for him in his Chicago suburban home. It was an opportunity for Ungo to speak to prominent Chicago businessmen. As a courtesy, he invited everyone who had been on the Central America trip to attend.

The meeting was predictably awkward. Ungo was not a charismatic man. The businessmen weren’t sure what the point was, and MacArthur didn’t seem able to sway them to his view. Out of courtesy to MacArthur, the businessmen were politely attentive, but they were not at all open to the revolutionary message of the FMLN, and certainly not able to sign onto MacArthur’s vision of a reformed El Salvador exporting its fabulous beer in profitable quantity to the U.S. The meeting fell rather flat.

Well, I thought, this just illustrates that you can’t promote revolution as a business opportunity. Even to want to do so is so exquisitely liberal! The incident provided more support for my sense of liberalism as complicit and ineffective. Nevertheless, as a result of that meeting, those businessmen were undoubtedly less likely to support a U.S. invasion of El Salvador. They were certainly better informed about the reality of life there, and the unbelievable maldistribution of wealth and the extent of repression. They would no longer give knee-jerk support to U.S. policy toward Central America. Rod MacArthur had made a contribution. He had influenced a sector that is completely inaccessible to progressives. He had begun to create a swinging door against which solidarity work could push.

That Compelling, Illusive Coalition

In June 1982, there was an enormous march in New York City to protest the triumph of the Right Wing of the Republican Party with the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s administration had succeeded in making major changes in the tax structure, lowering the tax rate of the wealthy as one of its first acts in office. The march was so vast that miles of central Manhattan’s streets were filled with people. There were huge puppets, many more than 15 feet high, that eloquently mocked the Republicans and made tongue-in-cheek pleas for decency. A gigantic inflatable whale, emblazoned with the slogan “Save the Humans,” swayed down the packed streets.

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

Hundreds of thousands protest in New York City on June 12, 1982

There is no accurate count of how many people participated. As usual, the estimate by city officials was absurdly low. Perhaps more important, we don’t have an official record of which sectors of the liberal coalition were represented. But emotionally, I know exactly who was there. Everybody.

Or more accurately, all the White middle class reform movements that dominated and controlled the liberal coalition. The feminists, the gay and lesbian rights movement, the environmentalists, the disability rights movement, the reproductive rights defenders, the liberal unions. The civil rights movement was represented, but in small numbers, reflecting its position within the coalition as just another partner. That march seemed to me the last public display of the united front known as the liberal coalition.

That coalition was the lion that roared. It was a voting block that could propel a liberal to the Supreme Court, stop a war, prevent an invasion, impose curbs on corporate rapacity, force integration, forbid the death penalty, ensure voting rights.

Today it is a fractured remnant of its days of power. The larger, mainstream organizations are bloated, bureaucratic, and riddles with compromise. In order to maintain their programs, they have bowed to donors and corporate sponsors and cleansed themselves of radical voices, excusing their own moderation by pointing to the need to keep themselves alive in a hostile political climate. This applies even to some civil rights organizations. The vigor is gone, the vision is muddled, and the membership is down.

The less-compromised, small organizations are fighting over funds, plagued by professional jealousies and rivalries, and jockeying for position in a context of political defeat and defunding. The leadership is tired and aging and is not being replaced with another generation of dedicated activists.

Perhaps the coalition was doomed from the start. After all, it was frankly reformist, which means that it could take change only so far before it ran into its own contradictions. Nowhere was this more true than on the issue of race. The White-dominated liberal coalition was not about to give up its dearly-held issues because they were not well-suited to the needs of African Americans. Reproductive rights are a perfect example. The demand of African American women for the reproductive rights movement to broaden its agenda to include the concerns of women of color (e.g. that women be assured of the right to have children, as well as not have children) were heard by only a handful of reproductive rights organizations.

But this is just one of the man reasons for the decline of the coalition. Larger events conspired to weaken it and diminish its vision. I don’t pretend to know the exact profile of these forces. Certainly the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations and individuals under late capitalism has both elevated the individualism so basic to capitalism and defeated the notion of the common good. The attack by the organized and well-funded Right has been successful in undermining the popularity of the liberal vision. And, in any case, it is harder to hold a coalition together when it is undergoing defeat after defeat. By contrast, the Right’s coalition is enjoying victory after victory, and thus finds that continued cooperation and collaboration is visibly rewarded.

With so few victories and so little satisfaction to be had, each member of the liberal coalition now hangs onto whatever pale reformist policies or benefits can be saved. The sectors of the coalition that cannot survive on these remnants, especially working class wage-earners, have been left to make the best of it. The gutting of The Labor Relations Board, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and The U.S. Civil Rights Commission are just three examples of liberal programs now unable to deliver anything resembling social justice. Is it any wonder that so many working people are seduced by the Right’s vilification of liberalism when liberalism has proved unable to defend them and hasn’t appeared to try very hard?

So, the liberal coalition is fractured, aging, compromised, and lacking in vigor or new ideas. It remains White-dominated and predominantly middle-class. Why, then, do I mourn its passing from the center stage of power? Didn’t it deserve to fade?

Something makes me say: “Yes, but…” A part of me clings to a vision of the liberal coalition as it could have been. Also, frankly, I miss the power. Progressives are used to working at the margins, pushing liberals to redress the heinous injustices created by capitalism, and, when liberals create reformist programs, pushing the envelope to open an opportunity for real change. But without a powerful and effective liberal coalition to pressure, there are very few places for progressive policies to exert influence.

It is true that liberalism plays its own role as an aid to reactionary politics, acting as a buffer for capitalism by protecting it from the wrath of the people it exploits. By providing a veneer of caring and accommodation to human needs as well as profits, liberal programs cloud people’s political consciousness. No doubt about that.

But liberalism also serves as a buffer against fascism. In the 1970s we had the luxury of holding liberalism in disdain because it was a sop that prevented revolutionary social change. In the 1990s, liberalism looks more like a line of defense against the final triumph of the Right.

Come Back, Jimmy

By the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration in the late 1970s, Carter was an easy man to scorn. The populist liberalism of his Presidential campaign had been thoroughly compromised as he “got it” about the Soviet threat. His wobbling political leadership became increasingly neoconservative. It was hard for progressives to find much to like about Carter.

Yet throughout the Reagan administration my mantra was: “Come back, Jimmy. All is forgiven.” What I missed wasn’t a hard-headed political analysis, a shrewd ability to work the system in behalf of social justice goals, an uncompromising commitment to the poor. These we had never had from Carter. What I missed, and had taken for granted, was that the man supported the Bill of Rights.

Carter was a typical liberal in that respect. He understood the role of the Bill of Rights in assuring that in addition to stable democratic institutions, people in the U.S. also have certain concrete rights. Take Article I of the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. It reads in part: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble…” It is meant to protect the individual’s right to protest government actions. In the United States, freedom of speech is a civil liberty.

This guarantee has always been applied selectively. The free speech of racists has always been better protected than the free speech of campus war protesters. In the recent past, it was often necessary for the courts to intervene to protect Leftists from the violations of their First Amendment rights by law enforcement officers, the FBI, or exceptionally hostile Justice Departments, such as those of the Nixon and Reagan administrations.

Free speech is particularly important to progressives because in my attempt to change the status quo there must be room to unmask and debunk it. Censorship imposed by legal means, or self-censorship in the context of repression, means that the Left’s effectiveness is dramatically limited.

Progressives, therefore, are dependent on liberals’ commitment to the First Amendment. Liberals serve as a buffer protecting us from the Right and its history of attacking First Amendment freedoms. For instance, it is liberal legislators who stand in the way of laws banning the burning of the flag. It is liberals who defend “sacrilegious” art. It is liberal lawyers and judges who defend the rights of “communist sympathizers” and anti-war demonstrators, and keep the airwaves open for the likes of Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. Without that liberal commitment to the Bill of Rights, the voice of the Left could and would be silenced.

That is not to say that liberals won’t cut and run. If the accused is too politically unpopular or the cause too radical, liberals will hide behind the justification that these defendants or causes threaten national security, and they’ll allow the Bill of Rights to go. Sometimes they’ll cave in under threats by the Right to tar them with the brush of radicalism. In these cases, only progressives will stand up and fight for our guaranteed rights.

Nevertheless, right now we need liberal lawyers, judges, journalists, curators, abortion providers, legislators, teachers, unionists, affirmative action officers, and day care advocates. We need the breathing room and protection they provide for progressives. So each time one of them is won over by the Right’s prejudice, myth, irrational belief, inaccurate information, pseudo-science, and outright lies, or each time a liberal resigns from office or retires from the bench (to be replaced by a credentialed Rightist, of course), I worry a bit more. It doesn’t matter whether I particularly like, respect, or admire liberals. I care about them because they are endangered, and I care about what that means for me and for our society.

But is it a Relationship?

Liberalism will raise your hopes and ultimately break your heart. Does that mean that it commands no loyalty? Should it be trashed because it is spineless and flawed? My answer is an unequivocal “maybe.”

It won’t do to say that liberalism could be a useful framework for a late capitalist society if only it wouldn’t act so much like liberalism. It is what it is. Nevertheless, it can be more or less effective according to the principles to which it holds.

The principle of “maximum feasible participation” is an example of the boundaries of liberalism’s potential as an open, humane, and egalitarian ideology. Maximum feasible participation calls for the people who are the recipients of liberal programs to also design, control, and implement the programs. It moves “good works” a step further toward actual power sharing.

Maximum feasible participation was an idea that was barely tried, then abandoned by liberals as unworkable. It is at exactly this juncture that liberalism reveals its intrinsic limitations. There is a crucially important distinction between addressing grievances and inequities with humanitarian aid on one hand, and in solving them through redistributing power on the other. All those who are dispossessed, whatever race, class, or gender, will be given only relief by liberal programs. They will not obtain true justice.

But when true justice is not available—in this country, for lack of the ability of progressives to compete effectively in the struggle for power—humanitarian aid makes a difference. It is this difference that the Right is killing off, program by program. The Right knows that without liberalism’s programs, there is less chance for even the myth of social change, not to mention its reality, to thrive. If they can eliminate the swinging door, then it will be even easier to redistribute power upward. This is one of the reasons that right-wing strategists spend so much time demonizing liberals, especially feminists, environmentalists, gay and lesbian rights activists, and supporters of multiculturalism.

Liberalism has not proved able to stand up to the reactionary onslaught by the Right. Is that surprising? Should progressive people put time and energy into defending liberalism and its programs? Yes – we must. As a strategic response to the current assault by the Right on every democratic principle, it is an important place to put time and energy.

At the same time, it is crucial that progressives continue to work for a more radical vision of social justice and redistribution of power and wealth. Liberalism is in retreat in part because it is not receiving the sort of pressure from progressives that forced it to pursue reform aggressively in the 1970s. Progressives often set the agenda for liberals, by taking direct confrontational action against unjust laws and policies. It is progressives whose public education truly unmasks the structural and individual racism, repression, and other forms of injustice within the U.S. system.

At the moment, the progressive vision lacks the clarity and certainty of the 1930s or the 1960s. But there is an important distinction between our current muddled state, when clarity and unity are diminished, and the death of the vision altogether. We must not confuse the two. To say that the Left is struggling to find its way in a dramatically restructured political environment is accurate. But the fundamental principles around which the Left organizes its radical critique—liberty, equality and fraternity in the service of justice for those whose voices are not heard—are as alive and needed as ever.

Progressives must analyze how the Left became such a weak force. This promises to be a difficult process of self-criticism. Further, more and more people will have to come to the table to help to refine the progressive vision and correct its flaws and omissions. Meanwhile, liberal reforms have to be defended and pressure has to be applied to the few liberals still standing to keep them from waffling or quitting. This is not best done by disdaining or ignoring them.

Like it or not, progressives now must work with liberals, as well as with any other left-leaning sectors such as the Greens, to form a united front against the agenda of the Right. Pat Buchanan’s demonstrated ability to draw 30 percent of the vote in state after state in the recent presidential primaries is just one indicator of how important such a front is.

So, progressives, if you are angry and bitter over the loss of another liberal program killed off without even so much as a debate, don’t apologize. Don’t assume you have become soft on liberalism. This is a natural reaction – a product of this moment in history. And try not to dwell on those years past when there was more certainty, more idealism, and more hope; when working for real change was like moving downstream riding a current of historical inevitability. Now we are swimming against a tide that is thick with peril. The voice in the bubble of this cartoon is no longer saying “Follow that dream!” Now it is saying, “Time is running out. Focus. Get it together. Unite!”

Thanks to Rosario Morales, Dick Levins, Clarissa Atkinson, Denise Bergman, Pat Rathbone, Ruth Hubbard, and Francine Almash for their comments.

 

Drawing Lines Against Racism and Fascism

Crypto-fascists and pro-White separatists are entering and recruiting from progressive circles. This essay offers some guidelines for identifying and dealing with this growing problem.

For a printable brochure version, see bottom.

In the not-so-distant past, one had little problem identifying a White separatist. Generally, they came in two styles: white hoods and burning crosses, or oxblood Doc Martens and swastika tattoos. Both were usually shouting vulgar epithets about African-Americans, Jews, and LGBTQ folks. And their relationship with the Left was usually in the form of breaking either bookstore windows or activists’ bones—if not outright murder.1 Barring them from progressive spaces was an act of physical self-preservation—not a show of political principles in drawing a line against ideological racism and fascism.

Today, White separatists don’t always come in such easily identifiable forms, either in their dress or politics. A part of the White separatist and related Far Right movement has taken some unusual turns.2 Some fascists seek alliances with ultranationalist people of color—a few of whom, in turn, consider themselves fascists. New types of groups embrace White separatism under a larger banner of decentralization. For many decades, the Far Right has disguised or rebranded its politics by establishing front groups, deploying code words, or using other attempts to fly under the radar.3 As the years pass by, some of these projects have taken on lives of their own as these forms have been adopted by those with different agendas. Simultaneously, there is a revival of fascist influence within countercultural music scenes. And intertwined with these changes is a renewed attempt on the part of some White separatists to participate in, or cross-recruit from, progressive circles.

This essay was written after a multi-year collaboration with a number of anti-fascist activists; we have struggled to understand this new phenomenon and craft ways to deal with it. I will attempt to: explain why Far Right actors should not be allowed to participate in progressive circles, suggest criteria regarding where the line should be drawn in defining which politics are problematic enough to take action against, and offer suggestions on how to communicate with and encourage individuals who may want to leave those movements.

The Impact of the Far Right’s Presence on Progressive Circles 

It can be tempting for progressive activists to ignore the presence of Far Right political and cultural actors in progressive spaces, particularly if they are not actively engaged in explicitly hateful and/or openly political organizing. This argument is heard almost every time a call for exclusion is made. Additionally, some people may ask why it is not adequate for organizations to simply declare that they are opposed to racism and fascism. Yet these are mistaken approaches; they underestimate the effect of Far Right groups and their ideologies, misunderstand how these groups often portray themselves, and don’t acknowledge that ideologies are propagandized and spread by real people.

Tolerating the Far Right’s presence allows its followers to engage in a number of damaging actions, including: cross-recruiting (either openly, or by promoting Far Right ideas that are packaged as left-wing ideas to convince people that their ideas are ours), spreading Far Right talking points among progressive activists, compromising progressive groups’ security or privacy, and engaging in cultural work that spreads fascist ideas, especially within counter-cultural scenes.

Fascists have targeted animal rights/animal liberation political groups for infiltration and cross-recruitment for many years, much to the ire of anti-racist and other intersectional activists in these circles.

Fascists have targeted animal rights/animal liberation political groups for infiltration and cross-recruitment for many years, much to the ire of anti-racist and other intersectional activists in these circles.

Far Right cross-recruiting from the Left has long been a problem, and some Far Right groups are now in a renewed period of doing it—while intentionally disguising and/or soft-selling their real aims. In recent years, this has been observed in anti-war, progressive populist, radical Left, anarchist, environmental, animal rights, anti-Zionist, counter-cultural, and religious­ (especially esoteric, occult, and neopagan Heathen) circles.4 Some begin by repeating a sophisticated left-wing critique of problems with contemporary society, draw upon Leftist symbols and cultural orientation, and then offer racial separatism (along with the rest of the Far Right package) as the answer to these problems. European New Right ideologue Alain de Benoist—who promotes ecology and denounces capitalism, the consumer society, and imperialism—is a prime example.5

Others pick up on specific issues closely associated with the cultural Left and hitch them to the Far Right. For example, in Germany there is what Rolling Stone describes as an online “Nazi vegan cooking show.” As one of the show’s hosts states, “The left-wing doesn’t have a prior claim to veganism,” and “industrial meat production is incompatible with our nationalist and socialist world views.” Simone Rafael, editor of a German blog that monitors the extreme Right, describes this new “nipster” (Nazi hipster) milieu: “They use subjects like globalization and animal protection as entry points, and then offer a very simple worldview that makes complex subjects very easy to understand.” But, he continues, “In the end, it’s always about racism and anti-Semitism and nationalism.”6

Open political participation by the Far Right in progressive circles allows Far Right actors to teach their talking points to non-fascist activists. Over the years, the Far Right organization around Lyndon LaRouche has duped a variety of progressives into adopting their talking points, especially during the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s. More recently, right-wing critiques of the Federal Reserve gained traction within the Occupy Wall Street movement. The most benign of these ideas were grounded in Libertarian economics, but they quickly slid into (non-bigoted) conspiracy theories, and from there into thinly veiled—or even openly—antisemitic arguments. And for decades, environmentalists have struggled against fascist and other xenophobic interpretations of environmentalism.7

Others on the Far Right take a more subtle approach, often by claiming not to be political at all. For example, some try to sell White separatism as an individual choice as opposed to a political stance. This is actually a ruse. If some White people have the personal desire to be physically separate from people of color, they can move to the countryside and form racially exclusive communes. Instead, this argument has been heard in urban, left-wing settings as a form of propaganda arguing for the compatibility of White separatist and fascist politics with progressive ones under the banner of “autonomy.”

In a related fashion, certain skinhead concerts are promoted using the phrase “No Politics,” which signals that the bands playing may actually hold views sympathetic to fascism, and that Far Right activists and music fans are welcome—while simultaneously mollifying venue owners who may have concerns about the show. These ostensibly apolitical stances act as an entryway for, and protection of, Far Right ideas and spaces.8

Allowing Far Right participation can also pose a security risk. Far Right actors may use such opportunities to collect personal information on progressive activists and information about their organizations. This has been an ongoing problem, in particular for antifascist and other groups that monitor the Far Right.

Counter-Culture Fascism

Historically, fascism has had a strong cultural orientation, and since the 1970s, a prime location for fascist activism has been in the counter-cultures. (I am referring here to the more self-consciously political, post-WWII subcultures, including punk, skinhead, hippie, metal, neo-folk, industrial, and techno). The most famous success has been the creation of the Nazi skinhead milieu, but racist activism continues today among different musical scenes. Fascists tried to achieve political dominance in the counter-culture, and have occasionally been successful.  During the height of the Nazi skinhead movement, for example, they dominated the punk scene in certain cities.9

The circulation of obscure fascist imagery and themes by a number of neo-folk and goth bands has encountered resistance from anti-fascist fans, who regard it as a form of crypto-fascism. Tours by the band Death in June, in particular, have been met with boycott calls.

The circulation of obscure fascist imagery and themes by a number of neo-folk and goth bands has encountered resistance from anti-fascist fans, who regard it as a form of crypto-fascism. Tours by the band Death in June, in particular, have been met with boycott calls.

In the past, counter-cultures have been carrier groups and social bases for anti-capitalism, anti-racism, feminism, ecology, queer politics, and a variety of other progressive political movements. Counter-cultures are inherently “radical” in the sense that they seek to negate the current social reality and try to create an alternative. Politically, though, they are not intrinsically Left or Right. Fascism—as distinct from most other types of right-wing politics—seeks a radical transformation of the current Western social order (based on liberal­ism and democracy) and as such can appeal to counter-culturalists just as much as Marxism or anarchism can.

Therefore, the presence of Far Right attitudes in these counter-cultural scenes—even when they do not directly translate into fascist organizing—also has negative effects. Instead of a progressive, pro-queer, and feminist milieu, an atmosphere filled with reactionary social attitudes can become dominant. Even when the bands aren’t committed Nazis, a Far Right-leaning scene further repels the participation of those targeted by the Right. To give two concrete examples: few women may wish to attend concerts glorifying rape, and few Jews want to be entertained by bands playing neo-Nazi cover songs.

Four Lines of Exclusion

In recent years, antifascist activists in different cities have confronted the problem of crypto-fascists and pro-White separatists by calling for these individuals and groups to be excluded from progressive political circles, including conferences, organizing and cultural spaces, music venues, book fairs, and demonstrations.10 Such calls have not always been well-received; frequently other progressive activists, unfamiliar with these forms of Far Right politics, want to know how and where the line may be drawn against these groups.

When bringing up exclusions, the question of “free speech” inevitably comes up. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the protection of speech from interference by the government. To call for excluding a group, individual, or band is not to be mistaken for a call for the government to ban or otherwise violate the Constitutional rights of fascist and related groups. (Even from a realpolitik perspective, these kinds of restrictions often end up being used against progressives in rather short order.) But it is legal—and always has been under the First Amendment—for non-governmental political groups to decide who may attend private gatherings or be published in their media; free speech does not guarantee your right to crash anyone’s party, join their organization, or attend their meetings. Likewise, media are under no obligation to publish articles representing everyone’s viewpoints. Freedom of speech means that the government cannot suppress individuals from holding their own meetings or expressing political opinions publicly—it does not dictate that Far Right activists must be given open access to progressive events.

In addition, when identifying whom to exclude, simplistic rhetorical disavowals cannot be taken at face value; today it is nearly impossible to find almost anyone who will accept the label “racist” or “fascist.” Even hooded Klan members will publicly declare that they are not “racists” and do not “hate” others.11

These following four points of exclusion have differing levels of complexity. The adoption of White separatism as consistent with a political program is the most concrete and clear-cut. While antisemitic and related narratives are relatively easy to identify even when coded, not everyone is familiar with them, and some activists unknowingly use them. The use of fascist symbolism and imagery is complicated and has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. And last, the question of dealing with left-wing media, which promote problematic writers and speakers, can be the most complicated question when deciding about taking action.

1) Anyone who actively promotes or endorses the idea of White separatism should be treated as a Far Right activist. This includes those who accept the promotion of White separatism as a stance compatible with their political worldview.

Today, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are no longer the only groups that endorse White separatism. This is partly due to the secessionist fever that has spread across the U.S. Right, uniting Right Libertarians, conspiracy theorists, Christian theocrats, Sovereign Citizens, neo-Confederates, and traditional White separatists. New groups advocate “pan-secessionist” ideology, and seek to unite the right-wing secessionists with those traditionally closer to the Left, like (bio)regional separatism in Vermont and Cascadia, former Leftist Kirkpatrick Sale’s decentralist Middlebury Institute, and nationalist organizing by those who, in the old anti-imperialist terminology, are “oppressed nations” (Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color).12

However, the most contentious question today is the direct participation of people of color in groups that espouse White separatism as part of their ideology.13 Loosely organized groups like National-Anarchists, Attack the System, and New Resistance, which actively embrace White separatism as part of their decentralized schema, should be excluded from progressive circles—including people of color who are members of these groups.14 This also includes members of groups that are multi-racial, but which promote this political view.

In addition to these groups, some people of color are involved in openly fascist circles. Neo-Nazi groups are active in countries such as Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Mongolia, and Malaysia; and members of these movements reportedly have ties in the United States.15

A Malaysian skinhead's t-shirt advertises Combat-18 -- a notoriously violent neo-Nazi skinhead organization which originated in Britain.

A Malaysian skinhead’s t-shirt advertises Combat-18 — a notoriously violent neo-Nazi skinhead organization which originated in Britain.

In the past, Leftists excluded White people affiliated with groups that espoused White separatism, such as White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and Aryan Nations. But this new secessionism is more complicated; for example, it has led to the spectacle of people of color advocating for the legitimacy of White separatism—by claiming either that all separatism is good separatism, or that a program of complete reciprocal racial separatism requires that all groups have their own geographical enclave.

Cooperation between racial separatists of differing backgrounds is a long-standing tradition. In the 1930s, when Mississippi’s arch-racist Senator Theodore Bilbo publicly called for the expulsion of African-Americans to Africa, members of Marcus Garvey’s movement (themselves proponents of African-American emigration to Africa) approached Bilbo as a potential collaborator. The Nation of Islam (NOI) also has a history of associating with White nationalists, including the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party; Malcolm X cited these associations as one of the reasons he became disgruntled with NOI. WAR’s Tom Metzger has supported and donated money to NOI and has addressed the New Black Panther Party (NBPP). In Florida, one Black separatist organization even held joint demonstrations with a local Klan group.16

However, calling for the exclusion of all supporters of White separatism should not be mistaken for a call for progressives to exclude activists who endorse nationalist forms of separatism for people of color, including Black, Native American, or Latino nationalists. It is only the advocacy of White racial separatism that is at issue. While the acceptance of what is called the “right to national self-determination” of racial and ethnic minorities as congruent with larger left-wing goals is not without its critics (including myself), it has a long-established history on the U.S. Left, and its advocates have included the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and the Young Lords. However, irrespective of the debates around it, national self-determination by an oppressed group of people is completely different from the “right” of White separatism. However, White separatism has never had a place in the Left, and its structural function is to reinforce—and not attempt to escape (regardless of whether this would work in practice or not)—existing social hierarchies. In the United States, White people as a group are firmly in control of the majority of economic resources and social power. White separatism is comparable to espousing gated communities for the rich: its purpose is to physically express existing hierarchical social and economic structures.17

2) Ideological antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other demonizations of minority groups—whether explicit or coded—should not be tolerated.

Antisemitism is a main theoretical plank for fascists and other Far Right actors, and Holocaust denial has always been a tactic with the goal of re-legitimizing fascism in the eyes of the public. Those who deny the Holocaust—one of the best-documented events of the last century—have no place in progressive political circles. The same goes for those who repeat traditional Nazi-era antisemitic conspiracies, such as that Jews control the government, banking system, or the mass media. This includes the propaganda group If Americans Knew or the American Free Press newspaper, which, while repeating classical antisemitic narratives, deploy code words such as “Zionists,” “Jewish neocons,” or the “Frankfurt School”—instead of “the Jews.”18 

Those who demonize other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities—in particular, those who blame Muslims for attempting to “destroy the West” (a claim more common in Europe) or call undocumented Latin American migrants “disease-carrying gang members”—should also be excluded.

However, excluding people based on this stance should be reserved for those who have been documented as having intentionally and repeatedly used these slanders, and who have been confronted about them. Some activists unwittingly use these demonizing narratives and are ignorant of their origins. Activists should not be excluded for actions and statements that might be considered antisemitic, Islamophobic, transphobic, racist, patriarchal, or otherwise but that fall short of clear-cut, intentional, repeated, and ideologically motivated demonization (i.e., as part of the deployment of a thought-out political philosophy). Many real progressives have made statements that others have, at one time or another, believed to be biased; discussions are needed about what constitutes racism, sexism, etc. not just for collective self-clarification, but also so that activists have an opportunity to change their own beliefs when necessary. 

3) Social and cultural groups (including bands and artists) that traffic in sustained fascist references should be excluded from progressive circles.

Many cultural actors in particular deny being openly fascist or racist, but on investigation promote a sustained amount of imagery, references, and concepts based on and derived from fascism and other forms of ideological racism, and are deploying them in order to disseminate this ideology. This must be separated from passing or ignorant references: usage of historical examples, non-ideologically motivated attempts to shock, or ironic usage.

In one recent example, an activist, who had recently been released from prison for environmentally motivated property destruction, ran a blog concerned with spiritual and cultural matters. The blog was also filled with fascist imagery such as swastikas, as well as black suns and runes used by the Nazis—alongside quotes from mystical fascist philosophers. The activist was also alleged to have made statements denouncing “forced multi-culturalism” and endorsing White separatism. This is an example of a person who should be excluded from progressive circles.19

However, the main focus of this problematic cultural work concerns bands and other musical projects. Sometimes, these are crypto-fascist projects engaging in conscious attempts to create a Far Right cultural milieu, as some neo-folk and black metal bands are alleged to be doing. Others are part of the “Rock Against Communism” (RAC) format. In the 1980s, RAC was promoted as a front group by explicitly Nazi musicians but has more recently been adopted by a variety of actors, including some people of color. (This is similar to the Sovereign Citizen movement, which also originated in White supremacist circles but which today has many people of color as adherents.20)

However, the question of how to determine whether a band should be excluded is a complicated affair; it has been debated for decades without a clear consensus arising. Because of the complexity of the subject, this will be dealt with separately in a forthcoming essay.

4) Any groups that provide an active platform for Nazi, fascist, and related speakers should be treated in a similar fashion as those sympathetic to White separatism.

This includes those who hold events for these speakers. For example, members of the Eugene, Oregon-based Pacifica Forum—which started as a progressive anti-war speaker series but later came to host antisemites and, eventually, outright neo-Nazis—should be treated as a Far Right organization. (Pacifica Forum members attended Occupy events in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, attempted to use a left-wing bookstore in Portland to host an antisemitic speaker, and one was a board member at an annual co-operative conference.)21

This question can be far trickier when it comes to periodicals, book presses, and online media. For example, many left-wing media have published antisemitic and crypto-antisemitic authors such as Alison Weir, Israel Shamir, and Gilad Atzmon; a well-known left-wing press even published Atzmon’s book.22 However, to what extent it is feasible to hold these publications and presses accountable is up for debate. 

Renunciation and Reintegration 

Antifascist activists sometimes have a “search and destroy” mentality about their opponents; they want to document their target, locate and confront it, and create a situation where it will go away. But this, too, can turn into its own problem: people don’t disappear, and once politicized, they tend to remain so. An organizer from Portland, Oregon’s Coalition for Human Dignity told me that antifascists’ inability to provide an alternative for young White youth attracted to the Nazi skinhead movement was one of his group’s greatest failings in confronting the surge of Nazi organizing in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Organized racist and fascist groups have long been involved in pagan, and in particular Heathen, religious circles. This in turn has helped galvanize Heathen circles to consciously resist racist elements, and to analyze structural racism more generally.

Organized racist and fascist groups have long been involved in pagan, and in particular, Heathen, religious circles. This in turn has helped galvanize Heathen circles to consciously resist racist elements, and to analyze structural racism more generally.

It is not infrequent for Far Right activists to become disenchanted with and wish to exit their political milieu, which can have negative social and professional effects on their lives. Sometimes, young people experiment with different identities and views without a serious commitment to them. Other times, progressive activists have been drawn into these Far Right groups and, once confronted, are willing to abandon them. Therefore, it is important to allow people to return to (or enter) progressive circles. If their Far Right affiliations are revealed, and they abandon these politics but are prevented from being allowed into non/anti-racist circles, there is a higher likelihood they will return to their prior beliefs—if for no other reason than simply because it will be a familiar social circle.

Progressive groups should come up with their own criteria for people who want to move away from Far Right politics and toward progressive political communities. Recommendations for this include: 1) requiring the person make a public statement disavowing Far Right views, and posting it in their former group’s media; 2) turning over all Far Right books, t-shirts, buttons, etc. to antifascists—especially patches or other insignia of any organizations they were members of; 3) removing all Far Right contacts on social media, and not attending events (either social, cultural, or political) hosted by these individuals or groups; 4) making a sincere statement of why their former views were problematic, with apologies made to anyone hurt by their actions. (The letter written by former White nationalist Derek Black, son of Stormfront founder Don Black, is exemplary.23) If they want to become actively involved as progressive political organizers, they should also 5) be required to go through a debrief to provide information about their former Rightist group’s structures, membership, recruiting tactics, and beliefs.

The same approach should be applied to organizations and media with a history of providing a platform for Far Right and related (antisemitic, Islamophobic, etc.) figures. They should also be able to change policy, apologize for their past, and be treated as a regular publication or platform again.

The evidence shows that Far Right cross-recruiting and participation in progressive circles will not go away, and progressives should adopt policies—and have plans ready—to deal with anyone who falls under the above four categories who wants to enter, attend, or participate in any progressive organizations, physical spaces, events, or demonstrations.

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1. For such a small political movement, White nationalists are fantastically violent, although exact numbers are difficult to come by. A 2012 Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report lists “100 plots, conspiracies and racist rampages since 1995.” The SPLC’s Heidi Beirich calculated that users of the White nationalist Stormfront website “have murdered close to 100 people” between 2009 and 2014. See SPLC, Terror on the Right, 2012, http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/terror_from_the_right_2012_web_0.pdf; Heidi Beirich, “White Homicide Worldwide,” 2014, http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/publication/white-homicide-worldwide.pdf.

The victims of these White nationalist and neo-Nazi attacks have varied, and include government workers, unsuspecting members of the public, and their own family members—but also political opponents, whether progressive or merely anti-racist. The most famous attack on Leftists was the 1979 Greensboro massacre, a joint operation of Klansmen and neo-Nazis, in which five participants at a Communist Workers Party-organized anti-racist march in Greensboro, North Carolina were killed. (One of the participants in the massacre, Frazier Glenn Miller, was arrested in 2014 for murdering three people at Jewish community centers in Kansas.) In 1998, two anti-racist skinheads were murdered in Las Vegas by Nazi skinheads. And in 2011 in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people at a socialist youth group’s retreat.

On the Greensboro Massacre, see Jill Williams, “Truth and Reconciliation Comes to the South: Lessons from Greensboro,” Public Eye, Spring 2007, vol. 22, no. 2, http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v21n2/reconciliation.html; on Miller, see Spencer Sunshine, “Frazier Glenn Miller & The Ongoing Trend of Former-Military Neo-Nazi Murders,” April 17, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/04/17/frazier-glenn-miller-the-ongoing-trend-of-former-military-neo-nazi-murders/; on the Las Vegas murders, see Lynda Edwards, “Death in the Desert,” Orlando Weekly, June 17, 1999, http://www.orlandoweekly.com/orlando/death-in-the-desert/Content?oid=2263332; on Breivik, see John Nichols, “Glenn Beck’s ‘Hitler Youth’ Slur on Norway Victims Confuses WWII Sides,” July 26, 2011, Nation blogs, http://www.thenation.com/blog/162287/glenn-becks-hitler-youth-slur-norway-victims-confuses-wwii-sides#.

2. A note on the terminology used in this essay: “progressive” refers to the whole spectrum of political actors, from liberal Democrats to radical Leftists, who have a social justice approach that is critical of capitalism, and who oppose systems of oppression based on race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc. “Far Right” includes all right-wing elements which have a racial component to their ideology; therefore even libertarians, who usually would not fall under this term, will be included here if they embrace White separatism as congruent with their politics.

3. Code words are discussed in an interview with Martin Lee and former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet; see “Transcript: #26-98 When ‘Populism’ Has a Right-Wing Agenda,” Making Contact, July 1, 1998, http://www.radioproject.org/transcript/1998/9826.html.

4. For the anti-war movement, see “The Gulf War” section of Chip Berlet, Right Woos Left, February 27, 1999, http://www.politicalresearch.org/1999/02/27/right-woos-left; for progressive populists, see Spencer Sunshine, “The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement,” Public Eye, Winter 2014, 9–14, 18, February 23, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/23/the-right-hand-of-occupy-wall-street-from-libertarians-to-nazis-the-fact-and-fiction-of-right-wing-involvement/; for the radical Left, see “What is the Third Position?,” http://www.publiceye.org/fascist/third_position.html; for anarchists, see Spencer Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism: National-Anarchists,” Public Eye, Winter 2008, vol. 23, no. 4, 1, 12­–19 (posted online January 28, 2008), http://www.politicalresearch.org/2008/01/28/rebranding-fascism-national-anarchists/; for environmentalism, see  Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (Edinburgh: AK Press, 1995), http://www.spunk.org/texts/places/germany/sp001630/ecofasc.html; for animal rights, see Panthères Enragées, “International Animal Rights Gathering,” August 22, 2013, http://pantheresenragees.noblogs.org/post/2013/08/22/international; for anti-zionism, see Center for New Community, “Neo-Nazi Infiltration of Anti-Globalization Protests” (press release, dated June 21, 2002), June 28, 2002, http://interactivist.autonomedia.org/node/1039; for counter-cultures, see Graham D. Macklin, “Co-opting the Counter Culture: Troy Southgate and the National Revolutionary Faction,” Patterns of Prejudice, vol. 39, no. 3, September 2005, http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=2439; for esoteric and occult tendencies, as well as Heathens, see Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

5. See Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism.”

6. Thomas Rogers, “Heil Hipster: The Young Neo-Nazis Trying to Put a Stylish Face on Hate,” Rolling Stone, June 23, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/heil-hipster-the-young-neo-nazis-trying-to-put-a-stylish-face-on-hate-20140623.

7. For an extensive discussion of LaRouchite influence on progressive politics, see Berlet, Right Woos Left; for Edward Flaherty’s critique of ten myths about the Federal Reserve, see http://www.publiceye.org/conspire/flaherty/Federal_Reserve.html; for fascism and the environmental movement in general, see Biehl and Staudenmaier, Ecofascism; and for one high-profile fight over xenophobic interpretations of environmentalism, see Michelle Nijhuis, “Immigration controversy engulfs Sierra Club board election,” Grist, March 2, 2004, http://grist.org/article/nijhuis-sierra/.

8. Roddy Moreno, singer for the antifascist Oi! band The Oppressed, said: “I find most people who talk about no politics mean left-wing politics but seem to have no problem with right wing politics. Fuck the government and fuck the police are political statements but no one says a word when bands sing about these things but as soon as a band says fuck the Nazis and fuck the racists you get accusations of “POLITICS”. At the end of the day life is political and it’s hard to ignore life.” See “An interview with Roddy Moreno,” January 14, 2012, http://torontosharp.blogspot.com/2012/01/interview-with-roddy-moreno.html.

The blog No Condemned 84 in Toronto described their opposition to the “no politics” approach this way: “This isn’t about being ‘PC,’ and this isn’t just about one dodgy band either—it’s about a disturbing agenda being pushed by the fence-sitters and closet-fascists who, under the deceptive banner of ‘no politics’ want to make our scene a safe zone for nazi bullshit. This isn’t a coincidence—it’s been a conscious strategy of the nazis after being forced underground in previous decades: infiltrate the ‘apolitical’ fold and recruit amongst the fence-sitters; after all, if you already listening to nazi bands and claim ‘anti-antifa,’ how much farther do you have to go?  The fascists smell easy pickings.” In another post they are more blunt: “All ‘no politics’ means for these lowlifes is: boneheads welcome.” (“Fence-sitters” are skinheads and others who associate with both racists and anti-racists, either refusing to make their own stance clear on the matter or alternating their views; “boneheads” are Nazi skinheads.) See “Sleeping With the Enemy: Condemned 84’s Affair with the Extreme Right,” May 23, 2013, https://condemned84.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/sleeping-with-the-enemy-condemned-84s-affair-with-the-extreme-right/; “Légitime Violence Interview with Russian neo-Nazi,” June 11, 2013, https://condemned84.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/legitime-violence-in-their-own-words/.

9. For an overview of the Nazi skinhead movement, see “Racist Skinheads: Understanding the Threat,” http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/skinheads-in-america-racists-on-the-rampage.

10. For examples, see, respectively: Rose City Antifa facebook post on the Cascadia Rising Bioregional Confluence, April 9, 2014, https://www.facebook.com/rose.cityantifa.3/posts/1484366921779755; Sasha, “The New Face of the Radical Right?,” April 29, 2014, http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2014/04/29/the-new-face-of-the-radical-right/; One Peoples Project, “Brooklyn Show Next Weekend Sparking Concerns,” August 24, 2014, http://www.onepeoplesproject.com/index.php/arts-culture/hate-music/1449-brooklyn-show-next-weekend-sparking-concerns; “NATA Unwanted at Anarchist Bookfair, 4/20 Conference, or seemingly anywhere else,” April 8, 2013, http://nycantifa.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/nata-unwanted-at-anarchist-bookfair-420-conference-or-seemingly-anywhere-else/; @ndy, “When White nationalists attack! New Right @ Gaza solidarity rally, Sydney, November 24,” December 7, 2012, http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=33191.

11. See for example, Tiffany Willis, “This Biracial Woman Confronts A Klansman. He Tells Her ‘I’m Not Racist’ (VIDEO),” June 23, 2014, http://www.liberalamerica.org/2014/06/23/this-biracial-woman-confronts-a-klansman-he-tells-her-im-not-racist-video/.

12. Rachel Tabachnick and Frank L. Cocozzelli, “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right,” Public Eye, Fall 2013, 2–8, posted online November 22, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/22/nullification-neo-confederates-and-the-revenge-of-the-old-right/.

13. Many scholars consider “White separatism” to be either synonymous with or a subset of “White supremacy.” However, a return to White supremacy—as practiced by Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, or the Jim Crow South—was abandoned by many hardline U.S. racist groups, even self-proclaimed Nazis, decades ago; for most of them, their new goal is racial separatism (although the exact details vary). During the 1980s and 1990s, when openly racist groups like White Aryan Nations (WAR) and the Aryan Nations called for a separate White state, referring to them as White supremacist was less complicated, partly because of their vicious, derogatory views of people of color and Jews, and open Nazi references. However, the concept of White separatism has continued to evolve and expand out of the traditional racist White Right, and now groups are endorsing the notion for others without necessarily promoting it as their own central political goal. Using the term “White supremacist” to label a multi-racial group that endorses White separatism is a complicated affair—and one not likely to be easily understood by progressive activists who are unfamiliar with the more recent twists-and-turns of the Far Right. Therefore, it is time to reexamine the simple conflation of White supremacy and White separatism.

For the transition from White supremacy to White separatism, see Betty A. Dobratz and Stephanie L. Shanks-Meile “White Power, White Pride!” The White Separatist Movement in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997). See also

Mattias Gardell, Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

14. For National Anarchism, see Sunshine, “Rebranding Fascism”; for Attack the System, see Matthew N. Lyons,  “Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston’s Authoritarian Anti-Statism,” New Politics, April 29, 2011, http://newpol.org/content/rising-above-herd-keith-prestons-authoritarian-anti-statism; for New Resistance, see “Neo-Nazi Leader James Porrazzo Mixes Racism with Leftist Ideology,” Intelligence Report,  no. 148, Winter 2012, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/winter/the-fourth-position.

15. While this may seem like an oxymoron to many readers, it should be remembered that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party was mostly fixated on killing and persecuting other Europeans (such as Ashkenazi Jews, Romani and Sinti, and Slavs), in addition to leftists, disabled people, and queer folks—many of the latter sharing the same Aryan background as their perpetrators. In sharp contrast to the positions of U.S. neo-Nazis, Black people did not loom large in the original German Nazis’ imagination.

In fact, the Nazis sought alliances in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. One otherwise traditional U.S. neo-Nazi group, Rocky J. Suhayda’s American Nazi Party, uses this fact to actively solicit the financial support of sympathetic people of color; see Southside Chicago Anti-Racist Action, “Infiltrated: The American Nazi Party In Illinois,” April 20, 2013, http://southsideantifa.blogspot.com/2013/04/infiltrated-american-nazi-party-in.html.

There is growing documentation regarding the profusion of neo-Nazi groups in Latin America and Asia. For Brazil, see Cnaan Liphshiz, “Brazil thwarts neo-Nazi bomb plot,” May 24, 2009, Haaretz, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/brazil-thwarts-neo-nazi-bomb-plot-1.276586; for Chile, Colombia, and elsewhere in Central and South America, see Javier Duque, “Neo-Nazism in Latin America,” June 24, 2012, http://www.theprisma.co.uk/2012/06/24/the-nazi-shadow-in-latin-america/; for Mexico, see Elizabeth Rosales, “Youth Neo-Nazi Group in Mexico,” June 30 2014, http://www.sandiegored.com/noticias/54669/Youth-Neo-Nazi-Group-in-Mexico/; for Mongolia, see Tania Branigan, “Mongolian neo-Nazis: Anti-Chinese sentiment fuels rise of ultra-nationalism,” Guardian, August 2, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/aug/02/mongolia-far-right; for Malaysia, see Nick Chester, “Meet the Malaysian Neo-Nazis Fighting for a Pure Malay Race,” Vice, May 18, 2013, http://www.vice.com/read/the-malaysian-nazis-fighting-for-a-pure-race.

One Center for New Community article describes two New York City bands associated with the RAC scene as “nationalist supporters of the Colombian death squads. They also have strong ties with a variety of neo-Nazi groups both in the United States and in Latin America, including Tercera Fuerza in Columbia, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.” See MJ Olahafa, “Neo Nazi Show Cancelled in NYC,” October 8, 2010, http://imagine2050.newcomm.org/2010/10/08/neo-nazi-show-cancelled-in-nyc/.

Like all philosophies, National Socialism can be reinterpreted and appropriated by people of different backgrounds. Therefore the mere fact that activists are not White does not mean that they cannot be Nazis: after all, racist ultra-nationalists come in all backgrounds, whether or not they appropriate Nazi aesthetics and narratives.

16. On NOI’s connection to the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, and Tom Metzger, see Martin A. Lee, “American Black Muslims, Neo-Nazis, Foreign Muslim Extremists Join Forces,” Intelligence Report, no. 105, Spring 2002, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2002/spring/the-swastika-and-the-crescent/strange; on Malcolm X, see his 1965 speech “There’s a worldwide revolution going on,” in Bruce Perry, ed., Malcolm X: The Last Speeches (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1989), 119­­–26.

Metzger attended a NBPP rally in 1993, and an undated online video shows him giving a speech to the group, in which he recounts the history of cooperation between Black and White racial separatists. See “The New Black Panther Party is Unlike its Namesake of the 1960s,” Intelligence Report, no. 100, Fall 2000, http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2000/fall/snarling-at-the-white-man, and “Tom Metzger Addresses The New Black Panther Party,” uploaded July 4, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ5OHDJ_9FQ.

The Florida groups were the Pan-Afrikan International (PAIN) and John Baumgardner’s local Klan outfit. See Kirsten Gallagher, “2 Opposites Attract To Seek ‘Separatism,’” Orlando Sentinel, March 30, 1992, http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1992-03-30/news/9203300164_1_ku-klux-klan-descendants-of-african; see also Gardell, Gods of the Blood, 115–17.

17. One recent example shows how complex this situation sometimes is: a Native American man who is a member of Attack the System (a pro-White separatist pan-secessionist group) was uninvited from speaking at a bioregionalism conference in Portland, Oregon. However, this disinvitation only happened after an antifascist group—that had been asked to present at the same conference about (White) White separatists attempting to participate in bioregionalist movements—refused to speak alongside him. (His support for Native American self-determination was not at issue; his support for White separatist views was.) See Rose City Antifa, Facebook post.

Similarly, a handful of people of color also belong to National-Anarchist groups—a movement which was created as an explicitly “entryist” tactic to spread a fascist, White separatist ideology inside progressive circles, but which has recently has been moving closer to a pan-secessionist position. (Entryism is the strategy of entering other political groups in order to either take them over or break off with a part of their membership. There can be a fine line, however, between intentional entryism and an existing member of group being converted to a new ideology.) All together, the result is that today we are confronted with people of color trying to inject into progressive circles the same core values that 1980s and 1990s U.S. neo-Nazis held: a commitment to White racial separatism and antisemitic narratives, including Holocaust Denial.

Ideas that uphold systemic oppression and racial privilege should be rejected, no matter the identity of the person espousing them. Advocates of oppression can be found among all groups of people.

18. It should be noted that many contemporary conspiracy theories—such as some about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergs—have origins mixed up in antisemitic theories, but no longer identify either Jews or a subset of Jews as the active agents of the conspiracy. Therefore, care must be taken in distinguishing between a coded antisemitic theory and one that has moved far enough away from this thinking to be no longer considered as such—even though it may still be legitimately criticized on political grounds as flawed. For permutations of antisemitic conspiracy theories, see Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000), 192-96.

19. “Former ELF/Green Scare Prisoner ‘Exile’ Now a Fascist,” August 5, 2014, http://nycantifa.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/exile-is-a-fascist/.

20.  See Kevin Carey, “Too Weird for The Wire: How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories to confound the Feds,” Washington Monthly, May/June/July 2008, http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2008/0805.carey.html.

21. For background on the Pacifica Forum, see CJ Ciaramella, “University to address Pacifica controversy,” Daily Emerald, January 8, 2010, http://dailyemerald.com/2010/01/08/university-to-address-pacifica-controversy/; for its involvement in the Occupy movement, see Spencer Sunshine, “20 On the Right in Occupy,” February 13, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/02/13/20-on-the-right-in-occupy/; for the bookstore incident, see “Rose City Antifa: Statement on Anti-Semites and their Collaborators,” June 25, 2009, http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2009/06/392268.shtml; for the co-op board, see “Confronting Bigotry in Our Movement: A Call for Reflection and Support,” https://www.scribd.com/doc/109889899/Confronting-Bigotry-in-Our-Movement.

22. Alison Weir, see Spencer Sunshine, “Campus Profile—Alison Weir: If Americans Knew,” http://www.politicalresearch.org/campus-profile-alison-weir-if-americans-knew/; this is a section from Chip Berlet, Debra Cash, and Maria Planansky, eds., Constructing Campus Conflict: Antisemitism and Islamophobia on U.S. College Campuses 2007–2011 (Boston: Political Research Associates, 2014), http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/; on Shamir, see Will Yakowicz, “His Jewish Problem,” Tablet, May 16, 2011, http://tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/67305/his-jewish-problem; on Atzmon, see “Not Quite ‘Ordinary Human Beings’—Anti-imperialism and the anti-humanist rhetoric of Gilad Atzmon,” http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/p/atzmon-critique_09.html; on the Left-wing press, see “Zero Authors’ Statement on Gilad Atzmon,” Lenin’s Tomb, September 26, 2011, http://www.leninology.co.uk/2011/09/zero-authors-statement-on-gilad-atzmon.html.

23. “Derek Black Email to Mark Potok, July 15, 2013,” http://www.splcenter.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Derek-Black-letter-to-Mark-Potok-Hatewtach.pdf. His letter is worth quoting:

“I acknowledge that things I have said as well as my actions have been harmful to people of color, people of Jewish descent, activists striving for opportunity and fairness for all, and others affected. It was not my intention then, and I will not contribute to any cause that perpetuates this harm in the future. Advocating for redress of the supposed oppression of whites in the West is by its nature damaging to all others because of the privileged position of white people in these societies. … It is impossible to argue rationally that in our society, with its overwhelming disparity between white power and that of everyone else, racial equity programs intended to affect the deep-rooted situation represent oppression of whites. … I do not believe advocacy against ‘oppression of whites’ exists in any form but an entrenched desire to preserve white power at the expense of others. I am sorry for the damage done by my actions and my past endorsement of white nationalism.”

While Fischer Takes the Blame, RNC Israel Trip Will Be Led By An Even More Influential Christian Nationalist

Much has been made of RNC chairman Reince Priebus and 60 members of the Republican National Committee taking a trip to Israel under the sponsorship of the SPLC-certified hate group American Family Association (AFA). But while AFA has tried to minimalize the controversy by firing Director of Issue Analysis Bryan Fischer (although he’ll continue hosting their radio program), the right-wing operative actually hosting the trip is a less known, but much more significant player.

This duplicity of those on the Right known for loudly declaring their love for Israel in an effort to inoculate their activism from charges of Christian supremacism has become increasingly transparent thanks to the RNC’s trip. Waving Israeli flags at rallies may no longer be enough to camouflage an agenda that attacks the rights of American Jews and those of other faiths

The host of the RNC’s trip, and the man we should be more concerned about, is David Lane, head of the American Renewal Project at the AFA. While Bryan Fischer has received most of the public notoriety for declaring that only Christians should have free exercise of religion and that immigrants should be forced to convert to Christianity, David Lane’s work has successfully flown under the radar—until now.

Christian Right political operative David Lane

Christian Right political operative David Lane

David Lane: Wage War to Restore a Christian America

Lane just finished up his duties organizing The Response in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a religio-political rally headlined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and funded by AFA.  Lane, a self-declared political operative, has mostly stayed out of the limelight for the last decade, while hosting over 10,000 pastors in more than 10 states encouraging pastors to run for office, known as “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” or “Pastors and Pews.”  These briefings are often held over a couple of days in luxury hotels, with all-expenses-paid for pastors and their spouses, and have featured numerous politicians. For example, one event last year in Iowa featured Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) (and his father) and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R), and was also attended by billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks. Another Iowa event on the schedule for this coming March will include Jindal and Cruz.

As noted by PRA Fellow Frederick Clarkson, Lane’s rhetoric has become increasingly militant. An article by Lane later removed from the WorldNetDaily website was titled “Wage War to Restore a Christian America.”

As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the “Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media.

Lane frequently quotes Christian Reconstructionist Peter Leithart’s call for Christian martyrs, and says“Christianity has always been persecuted beginning in Acts 4 and throughout 2000 years of history.” According to Lane, the only exception is in the U.S., where Christians have had religious and civil liberty for about 200 years, but he adds that Christian America is now in ruins, “destroyed by liberal secularists.”  He equates the supposed failure of Christian America to fight back against secularism with the failure of the church of Germany to fight back against the rising Nazi party.

Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum, presents Governor Bobby Jindal with the "Gladiator Award"

Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum, presents Governor Bobby Jindal with the “Gladiator Award”

Events organized by Lane have also featured calls for like-minded Christians to “take back” government and society.  One of the organizers of The Response in LA was Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum.  During his speech, Mills challenged the audience to take back the “seven mountains” from “enemy occupation.” This is a reference to a campaign marketed internationally for like-minded Christians to take control over society by taking dominion over arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.  Mills presents annual awards each year to politicians who support the organization’s agenda, a number that he says has quadrupled during his tenure.  This past year he awarded the sword for the “Gladiator Award” to Gov. Jindal.

A Christian Nationalist Rewriting of History

AFA’s Bryan Fischer, at the heart of the RNC trip controversy, is known for his virulent homophobia. In Fischer’s version of Nazi history, Adoph Hitler himself was an active homosexual, who recruited other homosexuals.  Therefore, in his version of history, homosexuals were not victims but the villains of the Holocaust.

Lane has taken politicians to Israel, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) and Rand Paul, and is credited with helping the latter improve his credentials with evangelicals.  This past November, Lane hosted a group of “political and faith leaders” on a trip to Europe, including former Arkansas Governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, as well as pastors from Iowa and South Carolina. The trip was dubbed “The Journey: A Spiritual Awakening,” and the itinerary included sites related to the lives of Pope John Paul II, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and concluded at the Ronald Reagan Library.

Also on the trip was Floyd Brown, founder of Citizens United and the political operative behind the infamous Willie Horton ad and the ExposeObama website. Brown wrote about the trip in an article titled “Huckabee Declaring Holy War?,” and quotes Huckabee as calling for resistance against tyranny.  But the tyranny they claim to be fighting is that of President Obama’s administration and the “cultural Marxism” that Lane believes is part of a communist plot to indoctrinate Americans.

Stops at Auschwitz and Birkenau were also included, but they were spun by Lane and Huckabee and (as well as in coverage of the trip by conservative media) as a warning to rise up against encroaching threats in America.  An article in the Christian Post about the trip equated the actions of the Nazis with America today, saying, “The comparison to America could not be more blantant. The article quoted Austrian-born Kitty Werthmann, president of the North Dakota chapter of the Eagle Forum, the anti-ERA organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly, who gives speeches based on her claimed experiences in Nazi-occupied Austria and portraying Hitler as a leftist who abolished free enterprise and insisted on “equal rights for women”

Inoculating Christian Nationalism with Christian Zionism


Many Christians feel affinity with the Holy Land and the state of Israel, but Christian Zionism refers to activism attempting to hasten the second coming of Jesus, and helping Jews along with the role they are supposed to play in the drama of the end times. In recent decades, leaders embracing Dominion Theology have often rejected Christian Zionism, but some Charismatic Christians have embraced a different form of dominionism that couples aggressive Christian triumphalism with “pro-Israel” activism. In this hybrid narrative, Jews must be converted (particularly in Israel) to bring about Jesus’ kingdom on earth.

Although this brand of Charismatic dominionism is sweeping the globe like wildfire, many Jewish leaders either remain unaware of its agenda, or are hesitant to criticize the religious bigotry of those labelled pro-Israel.  The Israeli flag waving, shofar blowing, and Messianic music are sometimes mistaken as affection, when these are actually expressions of Christian triumphalism and a strategy to build Messianic congregations and communities. (Messianics are Jews who convert to Christianity but retain trappings of Judaism and a Jewish identity.)

This coupling of Christian nationalism with pro-Zionist activism is most visible among the modern-day “apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), many of whom helped David Lane organize, market, and lead The Response prayer rallies headlined by Rick Perry in 2011 and Bobby Jindal last week.  At both of these events, a designated “prayer for Israel” segment of the program included overt calls for the conversion of Jews.  At the Perry event in 2011, the call was made by Apostle Don Finto and Marty Waldman, rabbi of one of the nation’s largest Messianic congregations.  Finto is known for his role in promoting the “Israel Mandate” directing Christians to support Messianics.

The leader of the afternoon segment of Perry’s 2011 all-day prayer rally was Mike Bickle, head of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, an international youth-oriented ministry that also prioritizes the Israel Mandate.  The Response events were patterned after, and incorporated leaders from, TheCall, a tax-affiliated ministry of IHOP led by Lou Engle. TheCall holds large-venue events around the world that include prayers for conversion of Jews, including TheCall Jerusalem in 2008.

At David Lane’s prayer rally last weekend, the Prayer For Israel speakers included Rosemary Schindler, a distant relative of Oskar Schindler and a prominent speaker among Christian Zionists and Messianics. Last year, Rosemary married Jim Garlow, a pastor who organized support for California’s Proposition 8. Another speaker at Lane’s rally shouted, “We declare as a united body, revival in the land of Israel in the name of Jesus!”  (Garlow also spoke at both Perry and Jindal’s rally.)

This shift in theology has resulted in ugly undertones of religious bigotry among people who claim to love Israel, and a new acceptability in evangelizing Jews.  For example, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI), led primarily by NAR apostles and Messianics (including Rabbi Marty Waldman), featured Glenn Beck in 2012 at their annual gala and fundraiser. The following year the event featured former President George W. Bush.

The RNC’s trip with Lane will be accompanied by popular Messianic writer Joel Rosenberg, who also calls for the evangelization of Jews and has recently immigrated to Israel.  The Haaretz article also quoted David Lane from a past interview with Glenn Beck saying “Restoring America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establishing a Christian culture is the only way that we get out of where we are.”

Haaretz published an op-ed I wrote in August, 2011, when Glenn Beck was hosting events in Israel.  Beck had already alienated many American Jews with the promotion of virulently anti-Semitic writers and an attack on George Soros using anti-Semitic memes. His anti-Semitic words caused a protest from 400 rabbis, representing all four branches of Judaism. In the op-ed, I warned that Beck’s embrace by Israeli leaders would be further indication to Americans that support for Israel is linked to an extremist political agenda in the United States—one that threatens to further alienate both Jews and Christians, Democrats and Republicans.  Likewise, Reince Priebus and the RNC’s trip with David Lane risk further alienating not only American Jews, but all Americans who value religious pluralism and the separation of church and state.

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5 Right-Wing Media Narratives Attacking the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement

Black Lives Matter protests have electrified the country—mobilizing a wide and multiracial grassroots movement challenging the killing of often unarmed Black Americans by police and the pervasive, systemic racism that continues to fundamentally shape American society. This marks the first time since the 1992 Los Angeles riots—ignited by the acquittal of four LAPD officers after they were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King—that the United States has seen a national movement challenging the most lethal outcropping of the many-headed hydra of structural racism: local police departments.

black lives matter

The Right has responded with its usual bag of tricks, as it tries to ensure that the U.S. racial hierarchy remains intact.

Since August of this year, Ferguson, Missouri’s African-American community has been in a state of upheaval over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by White officer Darren Wilson—just the latest of numerous killings of unarmed African Americans by the police. But despite the broad media coverage, most protest efforts remained largely localized in Ferguson for several months afterwards.

Yet on November 24, when the grand jury announced its decision not to indict Officer Wilson, a national mass movement broke out almost overnight. The subsequent refusal, announced on December 3, of a New York City grand jury to indict an officer for the murder of another unarmed Black man, Eric Garner—who was choked to death by police while onlookers filmed the whole scene—together resulted in massive marches and demonstrations around the country, from Oakland to Boston, with tens of thousands of people marching in New York City alone on December 13.

But how is the Right responding to this outpouring of opposition to these clear-cut illustrations of structural oppression? The Right’s approaches include:

  1. Trying to make the conversation about anything but race;
  2. blaming the individuals themselves or African Americans as a group;
  3. exploiting racial fears;
  4. denying that systemic racism exists; and
  5. attempting to directly intimidate protesters.

Over the past 30 years, PRA has documented how these techniques are often part of the right-wing toolbox. By using these approaches, the Right props up the current system of profound racial disparities by blaming minority groups for their own oppression, and further fueling resentment against them.

The most popular right-wing response to the Black Lives Matter movement is to try to sidetrack the conversation into discussions of—literally—anything other than race. The most common tactic (and found not just on the Right), is to change the movement’s slogan “Black Lives Matter” into “All Lives Matter.” The change alters the focus from the police killings of African Americans, a pillar of structural racism, into a more general commentary on police brutality. While some argue this will broaden the appeal of the movement, the effect is to once again steer dialogue to “anything but race.”

Other examples include that of the National Review’s Rich Lowry, who took the opportunity in August to criticize the Ferguson police—not for committing horrific acts of state-sanctioned violence, but rather for not doing enough to stop the looting.

On Twitter, Fox News host Todd Starnes attacked President Obama for sending condolences to Michael Brown’s family, and not Darren Wilson’s.

Laurie Higgins, writing for the Illinois Family Institute, lays blame for the unrest on high school teachers, and their inclusion of liberal and left-wing authors such as Howard Zinn and Eric Foner in their curricula.

Conservative doctor and author, infamous racial revisionist, and possible Republican 2016 presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson blamed the killings of African-American men by police on a lack of subservience, which, according to Carson, is a by-product of feminism. Carson cites a lack of father figures, who supposedly teach men to relate to authority properly, and which, in turn, “had to do with the women’s lib movement.”

Conservative talk show host Mark Levin also blamed Brown for his own death. Levin says the national Black Lives Matter movement is the fault of the “reckless liberal media,” “the lawless administration (especially Eric Holder),” “phony civil rights demagogues, race-baiting politicians, and radical hate groups.” Sounding like a cross between Bull Connor and George Wallace, Levin goes on to say that “What we are witnessing now is the left’s war on the civil society. It’s time to speak out in defense of law enforcement and others trying to protect the community and uphold the rule of law.”

In December, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blamed high cigarette taxes for the death of Eric Garner (who was stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes). This blatant deflection from the issues at hand stands at odds with his past statements about mass incarceration.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also trotted out decades-old racist tropes, including the “the family situation in black neighborhoods,” as the core of the problem. He also cited the lack of respect for police officers, “disproportionate rates of crime in the black community,” and even teachers’ unions—for rejecting the neoliberal charter school system.

Fox News senior correspondent Geraldo Rivera agreed that “too many young black men are being killed unnecessarily in encounters with police”—but then engaged in a bait-and-switch by claiming the real problem was “family dysfunction” among people of color. He attacked LeBron James for wearing a shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” and said that, instead, the slogan should be “We’re The Problem.”

For years, right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones has claimed that Obama has purposefully sought social disruptions as a pretext to seize privately held weapons and instigate a dictatorship. Jones is now peddling a particularly noxious variant of his conspiracy theory, saying the protests will lead to “the attempted takedown of the Republic” and an “attempt to start a civil war, playing the people off against the police and people off against each other racially.” Crooks and Liars’ David Neiwert says Jones and company “have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of a nationwide ‘race war,’ though it is difficult to tell whether they fear such a prospect or are actively hoping for it.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky wrote a classic right-wing response. He simply denied that there is any racism in the justice system; attacked Obama for refusing to acknowledge this; claimed “the anger on the street in Ferguson was being fueled by false stories that had no real basis in fact”; blamed Brown for his own death; and, finally, blamed Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for damaging the justice system and deepening racial divisions.

In an interview with the National Urban League’s president Marc Morial, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly covered similar territory. Kelly first claimed that the grand jury results were the product of media attention, then repeatedly asserted that there was no evidence of racism in any of the recent police shootings of African Americans, and ended by saying the focus of attention should be on so-called “Black-on-Black” crime.

There have also been multiple attempts to intimidate those speaking out against the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Ferguson’s Flood Christian Church, where Michael Brown Sr. attended, was burned down in November. The pastor—who was active in calling for justice in Brown’s killing—said he received 71 death threats before the arson.

The Oath Keepers also came to Ferguson. The group recruits current and former members of the military and law enforcement who swear to defend the Constitution by disobeying federal orders which they believe violate it, and are awash in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their leaders claimed to be there to protect businesses from looting. What their presence showed, however, was that a majority-White paramilitary group was able to brandish high-powered guns at protesters. Ferguson police initially forced them out as an unlicensed security company, but they returned the next day after arguing they were not operating in a commercial capacity. Having previously appeared at Occupy LA and the Bundy Ranch standoff, coming to Ferguson shows not only the Oath Keepers continuing penchant for publicity stunts, but marks another stage in their transformation into what is looking like a full-blown paramilitary.

Similar to Jones’s conspiracy theory, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes said the government intentionally refused to suppress looting in Ferguson as part of a larger attempt “to justify a ratcheting up of police state power, and it will not end until all of our children have the boot of a totalitarian police state on the back of their necks.”

The NAACP held a seven-day march, starting in late November, from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Missouri; but in the town of Rosebud, the marchers were met by a crowd of 200. “A display of fried chicken, a melon, and a beer bottle had been placed in the street. A Confederate flag flew. Counter-protesters shouted racial epithets.” Even more ominous, the back window of one of the NAACP’s buses was shot out.

Last, in three different cities, cars plowed into the demonstrations. In Minneapolis, a teenager was taken to the hospital; in St. Louis, a driver also pulled a gun; and in Portland, Oregon, the police did not charge the driver—but did issue a ticket to the protestor whose foot was run over!

As various sectors of the U.S. Right continue their desperate attempts to convince White America that there is no racial divide in the country—and furthermore that the massive protests across the country are little more than the work of race-baiters deceiving local Black communities— it is critical that all social justice-minded individuals counter these damaging messages.

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Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.

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Racist Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen’s Long Family History of Reactionary Third-Party Politics

Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R) stepped down as speaker-elect of the Nevada Assembly on Sunday, following national publicity of a report on his racist and misogynistic columns in a local newspaper—including his labeling of Black people as “simple minded darkies.”  But given that memories are short, and politicians’ ambitions never die, this may be a good time to discuss  the Hansen families’ 50+ year history of right-wing third party politics, from George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign to the present.

Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen

Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen

Hansen is denouncing the “orchestrated attack” on his character, claiming that the inflammatory quotes are 20 years old and taken out of context—his use of the word “negro” in lower case in reference to President Obama is not two decades old—but it is true that national press failed to provide context for Hansen’s rapid rise to prominence in Nevada’s GOP.

The Independent American Party of Nevada

The Hansen clan, including Ira Hansen’s father, grandmother, aunt, and uncles, and other relatives, are practically synonymous with the state’s third largest party, the Independent American Party (IAP). The IAP in Nevada has included in its ranks Sharron Angle, who later ran for Senate as a Republican, and Cliven Bundy, who publicly abandoned the GOP and signed his registration form at an IAP event held in his honor in May, 2014. The IAP is the fastest growing party in Nevada, now with over 70,000 members and doubling in size since 2005.

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The John Birch Society (JBS) tried but failed to build GOP support for a 1968 presidential ticket with Ezra Taft Benson and Strom Thurmond for vice president. Benson was one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Mormon (LDS) church and the former Secretary of Agriculture in Eisenhower’s administration. After the attempt failed, the JBS played a significant role in getting George Wallace on state ballots as the American Independent Party presidential candidate. Wallace asked Benson to be his running mate, but LDS President David O. McKay either strongly advising him to decline, as published in 1968 by the Bell-McClure Syndicate for newspapers, or refused to grant him permission, as indicated in an article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, by D. Michael Quinn and based on letters in the Wilkinson Papers at Brigham Young University. Daniel Hansen was one of many John Birch Society members who campaigned for George Wallace in western states and was one of Wallace’s many Mormon supporters. Wallace won five Southern states and 13.7 percent of the vote in Nevada. Ezra Taft Benson, whose work to align the church and JBS in the 1960s was controversial, would become the 13th LDS Prophet and President in 1985.

The Party was founded by Ira’s father, Daniel Hansen, as part of an effort to get Alabama Governor George Wallace, a hardcore segregationist, on the ballot in Nevada for the 1968 presidential election. (See the sidebar about the role of Daniel’s fellow John Birch Society members and Mormon leadership in campaigning for Wallace in Western states.)  The IAP of Nevada was affiliated with the American Independent Party (AIP) in the 1960s and 70s, and later with the theocratic Constitution Party.

Daniel Hansen was the runner up in balloting for the vice presidential slot on the ticket with Gov. Lester Maddox in 1976, and would run unsuccessfully in Nevada for Governor and Congress before his death in a car accident in 2002. The IAP would continue, with Daniel’s sister Janine and brothers Christopher and Joel, also running as perennial IAP candidates.

The Hansens have been leading culture warriors in the fight against women’s and LGBTQ rights.  Led by Janine, the Hansens organized the STOP ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] movement in the western states. Janine continues today as the leader of Nevada’s Eagle Forum and as the Constitutional Issues Chairman of the national organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly. Janine has published a voter guide since 1988 and lobbies the Nevada Assembly on behalf of Eagle Forum.

Daniel Hansen wrote that homosexuals are “termites of civilization [who] have brazenly oozed out of their closet to proclaim that they have a right to maim, molest and embarrass society.” In 1994, the IAP published a 16-page advertising insert for local papers titled “The Homosexual Agenda Exposed,” promoting an amendment to the Nevada constitution that would permanently legalize LGBTQ discrimination. Talking Points Memo described it as including “virtually every homophobic myth ever conceived” after obtaining a copy during investigation of Angle’s role in the IAP.

By the 1990s, the Nevada IAP affiliated with the Constitution Party.  Daniel served as Western States Chairman for the national party, followed by Janine who represented Michael Peroutka’s presidential campaign at the Alaskan Independence Party convention in 2004.  She continues as Western States Chairman in the national party today.  (Peroutka has been featured in PRA articles concerning his successful infiltration of the Maryland Republican Party and election to an influential county council position.)

Janine and Christopher Hansen were behind a 2006 schism in the Constitution Party. The Hansens are Mormon (LDS) and Christopher, as the IAP candidate for governor, ran on a platform opposing abortion which included the Mormon church’s support of exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, as documented in Janine’s voter guide. This was unacceptable to some of the Constitution Party leadership, since the party adheres to a strict written policy “opposing abortion 100%, no exceptions.”  In the power struggle that followed, the Hansens and IAP were not expelled from the national party, and nine state parties disaffiliated in protest. Ironically, those states included Maryland, resulting in Peroutka being essentially locked out of the party which he had represented in the presidential election.

Ira Hansen himself has expressed disdain for his relatives’ third party efforts, complaining that “IAP candidates can only be spoilers and never win any major races themselves.” Only Ira, running as a Republican, has achieved success beyond a local office.  “I don’t want anyone to think I have anything to do with the Independent American Party,” stated Hansen, according to the Las Vegas Sun, which described him as not wanting his fellow Republicans to wonder whether he belongs to the GOP just to get elected. He disassociates himself from his relative’s IAP activity, even getting up from his seat and walking out of the Assembly when his Aunt Janine was testifying. 

The Battle for the Soul of the GOP

But Ira Hansen wouldn’t be the first politician to join the GOP out of expediency.  Sharron Angle joined the IAP and worked with the Hansens in circulating petitions to the get the party back onto the state ballot in 1992. Talking Points Memo interviewed three IAP members, including Janine Hansen, who described Angle’s departure in 1997 as a strategic move in order to run for office.

Ira Hansen’s critiques of the GOP sound much like those of his late father. In a 2014 interview, Ira claimed that it was Nevada Republicans who doomed Sharron Angle’s run for the Senate, and joined radio host Janet Mefferd in bemoaning what they described as the party establishment’s “leftward drift.”

Ira Hansen also appears to share his relative’s views on state’s rights and their admiration for Cliven Bundy—who gained notoriety after refusing to pay the fees for letting his cows graze on public land for decades, although the notoriety was short-lived after he made some incredibly racist comments on Fox News.

Janine Hansen welcomed Bundy into the IAP and described him as “her hero” in May, at an event honoring him for his “courage in standing up for state sovereignty.”  Bundy spoke for more than a half hour, calling for states to take over the federal land within their boundaries, including national parks.

Ira Hansen joined several other Assembly members in calling for the Nevada Attorney General to conduct an investigation of the Bureau of Land Management following its standoff with Bundy. “Whatever Mr. Bundy’s unfortunate comments [addressing the racist remarks] were, Mr Bundy is really not the issue per se,” Hansen told local news. “It was the overreaction by the Bureau of Land Management.” He is a co-sponsor of a bill in the Assembly creating a task force to “conduct a study addressing the transfer of public lands from the Federal Government to the State of Nevada.”

Like Bundy, Ira Hansen has also been fighting authorities for decades.  He is a professional trapper and refuses to pay fines accumulated for violations to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.  In this, Hansen echoes his Uncle Christopher who touts his refusal to file income taxes and made himself “Presiding Sovereign” over a political-religious entity called “The First Christian Fellowship of Eternal Sovereignty.”  The organization of about 650 “patriot saints” uses their “Testament of Sovereignty” to fight OSHA, the IRS, and other county, state, and federal entities.

In 2008, Ira Hansen and several relatives joined a local Nevada camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV), advertised as the largest SCV camp outside of the South.  A 2009 SCV newsletter includes a reprint of a column by Hansen titled “The Confederate Battle Flag – Symbol of Manly Courage.” (The SCV newsletter points out that Hansen knows the Stars and Bars was not the Confederate battle flag, but that he’s trying to connect with those not aware of this distinction.)

In the column Ira Hansen reveals he does his writing in a room adorned with a Confederate flag, but it’s the following paragraph that confirms his allegiance to state’s rights:

“Anyone who has read the Confederate Constitution, studied the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, read Calhoun’s arguments on nullification and delved into the ideology behind the attempts at seceding knows the Southern position represents the original intent of the majority of our founding fathers. The death of the Confederacy was in fact the death of Federalism, the division of power between the equal States with a common, intentionally weak central government handling primarily the foreign affairs and general needs of this union of states known as the United States of America. By way of contrast, today, as Nevadans know oh so well, the central ‘Federal’ government is an almost unbridled and an increasingly dangerous power, while the states have become practically impotent.”

Hansen also co-sponsored a 2001 bill in the State Assembly claiming state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment, and demanding the federal government “cease and desist, effectively immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”

In a year when the party establishment was supposedly outflanking the Tea Party wing, Ira Hansen’s rapid rise to prominence in the Nevada Republican Party indicates the ongoing appeal of the reactionary politics embraced by the Hansen family over the last half century.

For more on the growth of neo-Confederate ideology see Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the Old Right.

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TDOR 2014 and the Right-Wing Roots of Anti-Trans Violence

Since 1999, Nov. 20th has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR provides space to remember and honor those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The annual event originated when trans activists and allies came together to mourn the loss of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. Beyond a few transphobic mentions in the local media (the Boston Globe referred to Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes,” while the Boston Herald called her a “transvestite” and “a large man who lived as a woman”), her death garnered little attention, let alone outrage.

transgender day of remembrance PRA

While significant legal advances have been made for the LGBTQ community in the 15 years since Hester’s murder, trans people continue to experience horrific and disproportionate rates of violence. As the official TDOR website states:

“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”

Yet most media outlets, policymakers, and even the mainstream LG(BTQ) movement, have a long history—that continues to this day—of marginalizing the experiences, contributions, and needs of transgender people and people of color. The 1969 Stonewall Riots—often considered a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history—are frequently claimed by White, gay men as a triumph of their own doing, even though it was primarily trans women of color and homeless youth who led the charge. And whereas Rita Hester’s murder in 1998 was largely ignored, the murder of Matthew Shepard—a young, White, gay man—just two weeks later prompted nationwide vigils and helped lead to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The legislation expanded the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Indeed, disregard for the role of trans people and people of color has plagued the LGBTQ justice movement since its earliest days. Meanwhile, these are the members of our community who bear the brunt of the violence and oppression directed toward LGBTQ people.  In its annual report on hate-violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) documented more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013, and 18 hate-violence homicides. NCAVP’s findings also reflect the disproportionate impact of this violence: almost three-quarters (72%) of the documented homicide victims were trans women, and more than two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color.

TDOR interrupts this pattern of neglect, insisting that the LGBTQ movement—as well as our broader communities—acknowledge and mourn these lives.

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

To a certain extent, talking about violence against trans people as a “hate crime” abstracts it from any social or political context, and suggests that these attacks are isolated incidents caused by rogue individuals. As Kay Whitlock has argued in a PRA discussion paper:

“While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings […] It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

And so we must acknowledge—and then challenge—the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies violence against trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Christian Right Church Leaders

Earlier this year, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June signed a “Declaration on Transgender Identity.” With 16-plus million members, SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States (in terms of Christian organizations, only the Catholic Church manages to outnumber them). Consequently, SBC’s policy decisions carry tremendous influence.

Unfortunately, the declaration was far from affirming. It states that trans and intersex people are manifestations of “human fallenness” and “contrary to God’s design.” The resolution notes that SBC condemns “acts of abuse or bullying” (unlike many of the document’s other proclamations, the authors couldn’t seem to find any scriptural backing for this piece), but they are quick to note that SBC also opposes hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery, as well as any legislative or cultural efforts to validate trans people as “morally praiseworthy.”

SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), hosted a conference last month on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” At the event, ERLC president Russell Moore—who was recently invited by the Vatican to speak at a conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman”—took the opportunity to offer advice to pastors ministering to trans people during a live “Questions & Ethics” session, saying “The people who are coming to you—that biologically male person who says ‘I think I’m a woman,’ or vice versa—that person really experiences that and believes that. … You don’t have to agree with that at all, and I would say we can’t. The Bible teaches us that God created us male and female.”

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

Focus on the Family explicitly opposes “the celebration of ‘transgenderism’ as one of God’s gifts.”

On its website, FOTF explains its position: “Because ‘transgenderism’ violates God’s intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern ‘transgender’ movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.” Those who fail to follow FOTF’s guidance are told, “[T]he problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance.”

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), a right-wing legal ministry committed to “religious freedom,” has recently taken up the cause of isolating and shaming transgender students. Arguing against a Massachusetts school’s 2013 decision to allow transgender students to access facilities and recreation activities that aligned with their gender identity, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco warned the policy created “an atmosphere that could result in sexual assaults committed by minors.”

In letters delivered last month to similarly progressive schools in Wisconsin and Rhode Island, ADF suggested that creating inclusive policies for transgender students would “seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

The Family Research Council, a right-wing lobby group based in Washington, DC, similarly argues that gender identity protections would “purposefully threaten the public safety of women and children by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators tend to seek.”

Concerned Women for America has warned its members that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—could force “Christian businessmen” to allow transgender employees to wear male and female clothing alternately, and could “open bathroom doors for predators throughout the nation.”

As Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, put it, “These bills or policies are gifts to predators![emphasis his].

What’s Next?

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and co-author of the SBC’s anti-trans declaration, has warned that the trans justice movement is “the next phase of the LGBT revolution.” In actuality, the mainstream gay rights movement is already demonstrating a preference for other, international priorities in the post-marriage equality era.

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

Nonetheless, with leaders on the Right conceding defeat on the marriage front, we can expect to see them turning their sights toward other battlefronts, particularly ones they perceive to be winnable.

While it may seem that the trans community is that vulnerable, “winnable” target, what the Right doesn’t recognize is that the power of the gay rights movement—a movement that most would say has beaten the Right—was fueled first by trans women of color. These women—who find themselves at the nexus of White supremacy and heteropatriarchy—were fighting long before Stonewall, and they’ll continue fighting long after Gay Inc. closes its doors. They are fierce and formidable, and, as the Right will soon learn, they are undefeatable.

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Ebola: The Right’s New Code Word for Islamophobia, Homophobia, & Xenophobia

The recent Ebola cases in the U.S. have sparked popular news outlets and Religious Right leaders into an undeniable state of panic. The mention of Ebola is accompanied by an urging to close “the border,” as the U.S. Right re-employs its all-too-familiar tactic of using popular discourse as a platform for Islamophobic, racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic rhetorical shots.

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

The physical impact of the Ebola virus is well documented. According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been 1,018 deaths due to Ebola in Guinea, 2,413 deaths in Liberia, and 1,510 in Sierra Leone. In the United States, there have been only four confirmed cases, one resulting in death. As several recent articles point out, the medical effects of Ebola in the U.S. are miniscule compared to those of other common and well-known viruses, such as the flu—which results in between 3,349 – 48,614 deaths annually in the U.S.

The near ubiquitous discussion on Ebola is rarely solely comprised of statistics or its biological effects. Ebola—not the virus, but the newsworthy discussion topic—has become a cultural phenomenon acquiring meaning and consequence beyond its medical character. In approaching Ebola from a cultural lens, we expose how it has become a tool for the Right, inserted amid public discourses on race, religion, immigration, sexuality, and terrorism.

Conservative journalist Paul Sperry wrote an article in Investor’s Business Daily titled, “Islamic Burial Rituals Blamed for Spread of Ebola,” in which he states, “Islam isn’t just at the heart of the terror threat posed by the Islamic State. The religion is also contributing to the other major crisis plaguing the globe: the spread of Ebola” (emphasis added). Sperry names the religion of Islam itself as the culprit for the spread of Ebola and for the terror threat created by the self-described Islamic State, a militant Sunni Islamic group that has seized large territories in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, and whose casualties are mainly made up of fellow Sunni Muslims as well as Shiite Muslims. In naming Islam itself as blameworthy for these threats, Sperry adopts several of the pillars of Islamophobic rhetoric as identified by the Runnymede Trust Report including the following beliefs: Islam is monolithic and static, Islam is completely separate from other cultures and religions, Islam is inferior to the West, Islam is a political ideology used for military advantage, and Islam is violent and in support of terrorism.

Alan Keys, a conservative political activist, former diplomat, and radio talk show host, shares a similar sentiment when he warns that Obama’s “plan to import Ebola-infected persons into the United States” will have the majority of Americans “look(ing) upon a country no longer their own.” This begs the question, whose country is it? On October 14, 2014, conservative public interest lawyer, Larry Klayman, sued the Obama administration for using the Ebola virus to further Muslim bioterrorism on “Christian and Jewish Caucasian Americans.” Klayman alleges that President Obama’s actions exposing Americans to Ebola is a “direct result of discrimination against Plaintiff [Klayman] on the basis of his Caucasian race and Jewish-Christian religion and in favor of people of the African-Black race and the Islamic religion.”

Klayman has not written a single article about the devastating number of deaths the Ebola virus has caused in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. As journalist Hannah Giorgis aptly writes in the Guardian, the “death [of Black people] is remarkable only to the extent that its perpetrator could also affect citizens more deserving of sympathy, of news coverage and of life.” Judging by the upsurge in media coverage since the documented U.S. case, Ebola was not considered a threat to most in the United States until the lives of White Americans came into question. Klayman’s answer to the presence of Ebola in the U.S. is to blame “suicide terrorists from ISIS, [and] perhaps American Muslim traitors” and to sue Obama for refusing to issue a travel ban on persons flying to the U.S. from West Africa and from “all Muslim nations where terrorists have a beachhead.” In the face of public health experts’ nearly unanimous position that a ban could increase the threat of the virus spreading, President Obama continues to undergo pressure from Capitol Hill and others to prohibit travel into the U.S. from West Africa.

Moreover, despite lacking any backing from scientists or public health officials, several conservative politicians have expanded upon these nativist fears, insisting on the urgent threat of Ebola emanating from the “porous” U.S.-Mexico border. Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have all recently stated their beliefs that the U.S.-Mexico border is not secure enough to keep Ebola out of the United States. Representative Phil Gingrey (R – Georgia) agrees. In a letter to the director of the CDC, Gingrey writes, “Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” To date, not a single case of Ebola has been reported in Mexico or in any Central or South American country.

While some blame the spread of Ebola on a “porous” national border, several evangelical religious leaders have recently jumped into the Ebola debate by linking the virus to LGBTQ people and to same-sex marriage, including  New York Pastor James David Manning of the ATLAH Worldwide Missionary, who cautioned the public that Starbucks coffee shops are “ground zero for Ebola,” because they attract “a large number of sodomites” interested in “clandestine sexual activities” and who “exchange a lot of body fluids.” North Carolina Pastor Ron Baity, recipient of The Family Research council’s top “pro-family” award, warns the End Times—in the form of Ebola—are now upon us in the wake of recent court actions overturning North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. Conservative Christian radio host of Trunews, Rick Wiles, is more optimistic about the effects of Ebola on the U.S., “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.” Speaking on the causes of Ebola, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia asserts “one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality.”

This rhetoric mirrors religious conservative statements about the LGBTQ community during the height of the AIDS crisis. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and co-founder of the Moral Majority, famously referred to the AIDS epidemic as “the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.” While Liberian and U.S. religious and political leaders publicly ponder the “threat” of the LGBTQ community on the wider public’s health, the material effects of anti-gay policies and violence against the LGBTQ community in West Africa have escalated.

Disguised as concern over public health and safety, the Right’s discourse surrounding Ebola has become a shielded arena for the propagation of xenophobic attitudes and fears. Christian Right leaders use this rhetoric to suggest that White Americans, especially Christians, are being threatened by Black West Africans, Muslim terrorists, undocumented Mexican immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Meanwhile, thousands of Black West Africans, many of Islamic faith, including LGBTQ people, have actually died from the physical effects of the Ebola virus.

In the U.S., the word “Ebola” has become shorthand for a migrant, racialized threat to the body, whose very mobile nature challenges imperialistic notions of distinct, self-contained, isomorphic spaces. Ebola is personified as a terrorist body that needs to be quarantined, surveilled, and banned. Its origins are constructed as “over there” (outside of the West), and its threat is felt “here.” Because it isn’t capable of self-selecting a group to be aligned with, nor a group to invade, the virus is easily linguistically detached and reattached to different populations whose bodies are associated with threatening White, Western, heterosexual citizenry.

It may be tempting to dismiss the Right’s alarmist rants over the Ebola virus as bizarre and atypical. However, the ways contagions have historically been connected to public discourses on race, religion, sexuality, and the nation suggests that the current debates on Ebola are deeply rooted and easily mobilized. Several journalists have documented  (see here, here, and here) the relationship between the over-hyped Ebola threat to Americans, and the rhetoric of hate employed by the Right which poses a real material threat to bodies constructed as “other.”

In linking the abstract threat of “otherness” with a material entity that can invade the bloodstream and alter the biological cells of the body, right-wing Ebola discourse insists upon being felt. Infected by the force of tangible fear, how will affected persons be incited into action and whose lives will they threaten?

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Christian Right’s Historical Repetition – CAUTION: BEWARE OF [HOMOS]

On Saturday, August 30, 2014, I approached the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and Museum in South Africa. Mandela was arrested here in KwaZulu-Natal, and sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island. As I walked around these hallowed grounds, surrounded by the history of apartheid and oppression—it strongly dawned on me that human liberation has a cost, which only some people must pay.

nelson mandela museum

 

Visiting the site with me were 39 scholars, religious leaders and civil society leaders, who had joined me in South Africa for a three day consultation on human sexuality. These distinguished leaders came from around the continent and the diaspora, representing Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon, Lesotho, South Africa, and Tanzania. We had chosen South Africa because it is the first and only country in Africa to grant equal rights to sexual minorities.

Walking onto the Mandela capture site with Prof. Sylvia Tamale, Prof. Esther Mombo, Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, Dr. Nyambura Njoroge, and Dr. Manasseh Phiri was no small honor; their wisdom and courage have pioneered women’s liberation and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. And standing next to them, courageous young scholars like Dr. Ezra Chitando, Dr. Nyeck Sybille, Dr. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, and others were equally inspirational. These are the leaders and scholars who give me hope that someday all people of Africa will be treated equally, who had inspired me to help organize the Conference on Human Sexuality so that African scholars could discuss the treatment of LGBTQI people without Western influence.

The Mandela Capture Site is a small building on a very big piece of land—nothing much to see. On that day, it was full of people, young and old, boys and girls—most of them getting ready for a bicycle marathon. Inside the Museum, however, was a hushed reverence as we examined pictures and depictions of the life of Nelson Mandela and his family. Photos told the story of the civil rights hero’s life from his early years to the end. An old TV broadcasts the propaganda of the racist government of the time—craftily touting to international journalists the “beauty” of the Robben Island prison, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year prison sentence.

As I listened to the broadcast, I was reminded of how this shameful propaganda wasn’t limited to just South Africa, and how U.S. conservatives, particularly under the Reagan administration, amplified the smears on Mandela’s name. The attacks got so bad, Desmond Tutu was forced to declare the U.S. policy on Apartheid “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian,” in 1984. Political Research Associates published our report Apartheid in Our Living Rooms, exposing the Christian Right’s support of the racist authorities in South Africa. In July, 2013, Sam Kleiner called U.S. conservatives’ newfound respect for Mandela after his death “Apartheid Amnesia.” After all, national U.S. conservative figureheads like Jeff Gayner of the Heritage Foundation, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, and many others all supported the racist South African regime’s imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on the premise that he was “terrorist and communist.” To them, fighting for the fundamental human rights of Black people was wrong. Some even used the Bible to justify the mistreatment of black people—claiming it was God’s will to treat Black people as second class citizens.

caution beware of nativesAfter I left the TV’s eerie reminders of the past, one of the pictures on the wall caught my attention. “CAUTION: BEWARE OF NATIVES,” the sign in the photo read. In the old black and white photo, two Black Africans are walking past the posted sign on a road. I asked one of my colleagues to take my picture next to the photo, making us three. “Beware of natives?” I wondered. Were we a danger? I was struck by how closely the old propaganda mirrored how Africa is now treating our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex. With the help and encouragement of U.S conservative exporters of the culture wars, similar messages can now frequently be seen at anti-LGBTQ rallies across Africa—“Beware of Homos,” “Homosexuals are a Danger,” “They Are Coming After Your Children,” and many others.

To be LGBTQ is to be an enemy of humanity. African kids are taught to fear these oppressed minorities, constantly told they are a danger to the community. “If we allow them to exist,” Africans are taught, “they will destroy our families and humanity as we know it.”

It’s like watching history repeat itself: African governments copying the tricks of the past, using propaganda to deny the plight of sexual minorities in their countries, while running full steam to destroy them. I thought of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria—all claim that African sexual minorities are not under siege. U.S. conservatives working in these countries repeat these lies to their American audiences. Even as African LGBTQ people are murdered, beaten, and raped, U.S. culture warriors like Rick Warren, Scott lively, and Sharon Slater claim that the international human rights community are misrepresenting the facts. Africans now believe that sexual minorities are a danger to humanity—forgetting that we, Black people, were once viewed the same way.

As I walked through the capture site, my head was filled with thoughts of not only Nelson Mandela, but the millions of South Africans who were captured and the thousands who were killed by the apartheid government for standing up for their rights. My eyes filled with tears as I recognize this monstrosity happening again as sexual minorities are forced to fight for the basic dignity of being recognized as fellow human beings.

Will the world remember the capture sites of LGBTQ people who are currently being held and die in African jails from Lusaka to Cairo? Will the blood spilled by the countless murdered African sexual minorities who sought nothing more than to live in peace mean something at last?

Despite the vast amounts of money, guns, jails, and bibles being used to deny sexual minorities their fundamental human rights, the Mandela capture site is a reminder that justice will come one day. Just as those young boys and girls race in the Marathon to the finish line at the Mandela memorial, the race to freedom for African sexual minorities will not end in African jails or in unmarked graves, but in the heart of young people—boys and girls who will grow to see the day when people will not be judged by their sexual orientation or gender identity, but by their humanity. These are the ones who will laugh in horror at the posters that demonize sexual minorities today and like me, will take pictures with those posters and try to imagine what the world was once like. But they will also celebrate the courage of those who have risked their lives for the freedoms of all people—regardless of who they love or who they are inside.

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How Colorblindness Co-Evolved with Free-Market Thinking

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

As White supremacists shifted tactics in response to mass social movements, they needed a mass electoral base. Neoliberals helped build it for them—and colorblindness helped wipe out some inconvenient historical truths.

**This article appears in PRA’s Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

The following is an edited extract from a new essay in the 20th anniversary re-issue of the authors’ book, Racial Formation in the United States, 3rd edition (New York: Routledge, 2014).

The hegemony of neoliberal economics is matched and underwritten by the racial hegemony of colorblindness. In the U.S., neoliberalism is as much a racial project as a class project. Although it was developed by big capital, it owes its ascent to the mass electoral base that only right-wing racial ideology could provide. It is the convergence of neoliberalism with colorblindness—the right-wing racial ideology of the post-civil rights era—that accounts for the success of neoliberalism.

In the United States, neoliberalism is as much a racial project as a class project.

In order to acquire a mass base, neoliberalism had to undo the New Deal coalition, which had held power—under both Democratic and Republican administrations—from the 1930s to the 1970s. The New Deal had been politically and morally complicit with Jim Crow and indeed could not have been implemented without deference to the “solid South.” But in the post-World War II period, and in many ways because of the war itself, that complicity was no longer politically viable. The Black Movement challenged it and ultimately overthrew it, splitting the Democratic Party in the process and transferring the South, as Lyndon Johnson lamented, to the Republican column.

The rise of neoliberalism in the United States depended on the containment of the political challenge of the Black Movement and other social justice movements: other movements of people of color, the Feminist Movement, and eventually the environmental and LGBTQ movements, as well.

Containment meant more than restricting the reach of demands for greater racial equality and for a vastly expanded democracy. It also meant resisting the demands of the 1960s movements for the redistribution of wealth and power. The threat that the Black Movement and its allies posed to the New Deal coalition was quite severe. It involved the prospect of a full-fledged social democratic system in the United States, serious commitments to full employment, substantial curtailment of U.S. imperial adventures, and recognition of race- and gender-based demands for full-scale social equality and inclusion.

Capital, the Republican Party, and the Right Wing of the Democratic Party all united against those demands. Colorblind politics were developed from about 1970 as the post-civil rights racial ideology of this new coalition, this new power-bloc. As colorblindness became hegemonic, this new racial ideology incubated and buttressed neoliberalism, as well.

Genealogy of Colorblind Politics

During the 1970s, neoliberal politics was invented through a series of experiments with racial reaction. These experiments took form as “massive resistance,” the rise of the “New Right,” and neoconservatism.

Nothing in the early phases of racial reaction pointed toward what would become “colorblind” racial ideology. The initial response to civil rights demands had been driven by racist rage and full-throated rejectionism in the form of massive resistance. After segregation was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, southern states and local governments sought to outflank Brown and the decisions that followed it through a strategy of education privatization. (Incidentally, massive resistance anticipated many of today’s battles over public education, engineering closures of public school systems and establishing private, largely White, schools.)

But the massive resistance approach, for the most part, collapsed quickly. It was opposed by the majority of Americans; private segregationist groups, it turned out, could not afford to dispense with public education; and the federal government acted to undo massive resistance, albeit unevenly. In response to this failure, the organized opposition to civil rights reform had to regroup.

White supremacists had to make strategic concessions to win allies outside the South and to operate effectively within the national party system (both parties). The core task they faced was developing a New Right. This required what we call rearticulation. This concept refers to the ideological appropriation of elements of an opposing position.

In the early post-civil rights years, the New Right learned to make use of the deep-seated racism of the White working and middle classes, without explicitly advocating racial “backlash.” The rise of code word strategies was the first attempt at this. It was an effort to race-bait less explicitly, while making full use of the traditional stereotypes. Code words like “get tough on crime” and “welfare handouts” reasserted racist tropes of Black violence and laziness, often without having to refer to race at all.

But the use of code words was ultimately inadequate. Code words could not mobilize a mass base for racial reaction, especially one that would incorporate not only Whites of the Jim Crow South but also centrist Whites across the nation.

In order to reach out further, the New Right developed the ideologically grounded reverse racism (or reverse discrimination) framework. This took shape over the 1970s. Reverse racism had several advantages over code words. The most important of these was the claim that racially inclusive reform policies—notably affirmative action—were unfair to Whites: they were portrayed as “punishing” Whites who were merely seeking a job, admission to a university, or a federal contract. In seeking to overcome the legacy of past racism, it was charged, ostensibly anti-racist policy and state actions were themselves guilty of racism with Whites as the “new victims.”

Racism was thus recast as something that could affect anyone, something that was practiced as much by Blacks as by Whites. A whole century of White supremacy—with Whites as the subjects of racism, and Blacks and other people of color as the objects—was thus peremptorily dismissed. And that was only taking the post-emancipation period into consideration. When the entire structural legacy of slavery was taken into account—massive theft of life and labor, ongoing denigration and exclusion, not to mention torture and terror past and present—the chutzpah of the “reverse racism” claim mounted to the very heavens.

A racist animus bubbles beneath the hegemonic racial ideology of colorblindness. Photo courtesy of Wissotzky.

A racist animus bubbles beneath the hegemonic racial ideology of colorblindness. Photo courtesy of Wissotzky.

The concept of “reverse racism” was presented to Whites as an effort to protect them from “unfair” claims on the part of Blacks or other people of color. The agenda was to consolidate and expand the New Right’s mass base among Whites without appealing to racist tropes as the code words approach had done. Attacking affirmative action and other civil rights reforms as unfair to Whites (as “racial quotas” and supposedly “preferential treatment” of non-Whites, etc.) worked to defend existing systems of racial inequality and domination much more effectively than use of code words.

Colorblind racial ideology came later still. It represented a step beyond “reverse racism” because it repudiated the concept of race itself. Colorblindness built upon earlier articulations of post-civil rights right-wing ideology. Of course, code words did not disappear. Reverse racism charges did not disappear. Colorblindness simply advanced racist ideology to the next level, one premised on the concept of race “neutrality.”

To dismiss the immense sociohistorical weight of race, to argue that it is somehow possible, indeed imperative, to refuse race consciousness and simply not to take account of it, is by any rational standard a fool’s errand. But because colorblindness more successfully rearticulated Black Movement demands, because it expressed a sort of anti-racism “lite,” an aspirational post-racism, and most of all because it overlapped with the repudiation of the welfare state and was consistent with neoliberal individualism, colorblind racial ideology turned out to have political legs.

Racial Neoliberalism

Colorblindness advanced the neoliberal agenda piece by piece through successive presidential administrations, both Republican and Democratic. Reagan’s efforts were crucial. His iconic comment in his first inaugural address—“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”—distilled a political orientation that was hostile to civil rights, the welfare state, taxation (though Reagan did raise taxes several times), and unions.

George H. W. Bush maintained this approach, balancing the “mainstream” Republicanism of Wall Street with the New Right ferocity of his political gunslinger, Lee Atwater. Atwater became famous for the Willie Horton political ads (on behalf of Bush) and the “White hands” ads (on behalf of reactionary North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms). These attacks on presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and on North Carolina senatorial candidate Harvey Gantt invoked centuries-old racist themes: the criminal Black predator and the unqualified (presumably “lazy” and undeserving) Black worker, respectively. Without explicitly stating it, Republicans were coming out in opposition to civil rights and to racial equality while reframing themselves as the White people’s party.

Bill Clinton brought a more Democratic version of neoliberalism to the political arena. He campaigned for reelection in 1996 on a promise to “end welfare as we know it.” Propelled by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson had expanded the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Thus the Great Society had partially undone the New Deal’s exclusion of Blacks and Latinos from the welfare system. Commonly known as “welfare,” AFDC was the principal source of federal aid for poor people. It was the only federal program that directly provided cash to Blacks. AFDC had evolved out of the Social Security Act of 1935, slowly developing over the decades into its Great Society version of cash support for the poor and excluded, though still heavily stigmatized. Clinton sought White support by attacking this program.

Neoliberalism gave its adherents permission to ignore the “others”: the darker nations, the poor, both of the United States and the entire planet. It required colorblind racial ideology for this purpose.

Privatizing Welfare

Although it assisted many Whites as well, AFDC was seen as a Black program. It had always been means-tested, unlike Social Security itself and Medicare, which were “entitlements.” It was punitive and was subject to constant right-wing stigma, but it stood in sharp contrast to the 1935 law, which had been crafted by Dixiecrats and western Republicans to exclude Black and Brown recipients, in provisions FDR had never questioned.

Clinton’s proposal substituted for AFDC the much more punitive Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PWORA), which effectively privatized the welfare system. This was neoliberalism with a Democratic face.

George W. Bush implemented a hardcore neoliberal agenda that outdid Reagan on several fronts. He attempted to privatize Social Security. His effort failed, but only because it sought to apply the same rough treatment to an entitlement valued by Whites that Clinton had successfully applied to a program associated with Blacks.

Obama has also been under constant pressure to restrict entitlements, and he has sometimes capitulated to this pressure. Well-aware of the cauldron of racist animus that bubbles beneath the hegemonic racial ideology of colorblindness, Obama has avoided racial politics as far as possible. And like Clinton, he has deployed a more liberal version of neoliberalism, so to speak. We can question his judgment, but like him, we must recognize both the hegemony of colorblindness and the hegemony of neoliberalism—in other words, the combined power of structural racism and capital.

In its abandonment of all egalitarian social policy commitments in favor of a “free market” ideology (which was anything but free in practice), in its repudiation of the welfare state, in its passionate embrace of market fundamentalism, neoliberalism struck at the heart of the Black Movement’s demands for economic redistribution and political inclusion. Adopting the evolving racial “common sense” of colorblindness, neoliberalism was able to build a mass base composed of working- and middle-class Whites who were threatened by racial equality and racial democracy.

These Whites, or their parents and grandparents, had benefited from the welfare state under the New Deal when it was a Whites-only affair (and when it was quite anti-immigrant as well). But when the Black Movement and its allies sought to extend the welfare state to communities of color—when in the mid-1960s they sought to lift New Deal restrictions on social investment in those communities— many Whites got off the freedom train.

Neoliberalism gave its adherents permission to ignore the “others”: the darker nations, the poor, both of the United States and the entire planet. It required colorblind racial ideology for this purpose. The containment of civil rights was not the goal of the neoliberal project. Indeed the neoliberal objective was larger than that. It was to dismantle the welfare state, to limit taxation and other forms of regulation of capital, and to ensure the docility and desperation of the “others”: the poor, the workers who were increasingly people of color but also White people, women, and even the middle classes.

Toward A Market-Based Hegemony

This was the neoliberal agenda. Restricting the welfare state, abandoning and punishing the poor, the neoliberal argument went, was not about race, since we are all colorblind now. These policies were presented as an effort to treat everyone alike, to apply the same market-based rules to all. If you disagreed with this, you were the “real racist.”

Neoliberalism required a racial ideology that repudiated the movement agenda of state-enforced equality and the extension of democratic rights to people of color (women, labor, imperial subjects, LGBTQ people…). The exhortation to be colorblind avoided a regression to overt White supremacy or a reversion to explicit policies of Jim Crow segregation. Repelling, repressing, and rearticulating the Black Movement’s (and allied movements’) agendas would not be enough for this purpose.

In order to achieve hegemony for the neoliberal project of reinforced social inequality in a U.S. rid of its welfare state, with all the redistributive dimensions of social rights finally repudiated, it would be necessary not only to oppose demands for racial justice and racial democracy; it would be necessary to take race off the table. It would be necessary to become “colorblind.”

Michael Omi is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and the Associate Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society (HIFIS) at the University of California, Berkeley. Howard Winant is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is also affiliated with the Black Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Asian American Studies departments. Winant is the founding director of the University of California Center for New Racial Studies (UCCNRS), and the author of a number of books, including The New Politics of Race: Globalism, Difference, Justice (UMinn Press, 2004).

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