More and more, we’ve seen U.S. conservatives unabashedly propagate revisionist historical narratives while shrugging off accusations of racism. Over the past year, public policies and political ideologies targeting communities of color—cuts to assistance programs, opposition to immigration reform, efforts to abolish the 14th Amendment, and voter ID laws have all gained mainstream acceptance within the Republican Party. Conservatives in Congress, state legislatures, and in the courts have embraced policies that disproportionately target and hurt communities of color, even as they seek to discount or dismiss the racialized implications of such policies.
As Allison Kilkenny, co-host of Citizen Radio and a blogger at The Nation, recently said:
It’s clear [Republicans] know they can’t be overtly racist anymore … but they try to talk in code now. So instead of attacking minorities, attacking poor people of color, they attack programs that benefit those people.
In order to divert attention away from their own rhetorical and legislative attacks on communities of color, and in an attempt to make their own racist public policies appear tame in comparison, many of these conservatives loudly condemn organizations or individuals whose overtly racial rhetoric or acts can provide them political cover.
For example, one of the Far Right’s favorite straw men is the Nazi Party and the “threat” of America devolving into a Third Reich state. This particular flavor of demagoguery helps conservatives create distance between themselves and more openly-racist ideologies, as they ostensibly disown racism while perpetuating it through public policy.
Leith, a small town in Grant County, North Dakota, has become the latest purveyor of straw men examples for the Far Right. Craig Cobb, a White supremacist who, in 2010, was charged with promoting hate for running a White supremacist website, has begun buying up property to create what he describes as a “Pioneer Little Europe” where other neo-Nazis could have the “freedom” to be White. After 300 protesters rallied against him, many of whom were Native Americans, Cobb said of them, “They’re loud, so what? They’re literally not human to me.”
Stories like this one allow more “mainstream” conservatives to declare, “See? That’s what racism looks like.” Ultimately, though, these stories hide these conservatives’ more veiled—but perhaps even more insidious—attempts at perpetuating discrimination and institutionalized racism though court rulings, public policies, and legislation. While the influence of neo-Nazis in Leith is largely limited to a small city with only a few dozen residents, Republican-supported congressional legislation cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), for example, has a devastating impact on communities of color throughout the country.
In the 2010 midterm elections, conservatives gained enough seats in the House to regain majority control of that body, and they’ve since done their best to oppose progressive social and economic legislation, from Obamacare to immigration reform. As progressives committed to ending all forms of oppression and racial injustice, we must oppose not only the racism of neo-Nazi ideology but also the ways in which such rhetoric is repurposed by “mainstream” conservatives for the sake of legitimizing more insidious and targeted attacks on communities of color.
**Eric Ethington contributed to this post**